Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Different Kind of Resolution


If you're like me, you haven't even begun to recover from Christmas, much less realize that Friday is New Year's Eve. And yet, ready or not, 2009 is coming quickly to a close.

With each new year, a guilty twinge creeps into my consciousness, whispering that I'm supposed to make a list of resolutions. It's what you're "supposed" to do to better yourself.

When I was an optimistic young girl, I did make lists--exercise five times a week, read my Bible every day, be kinder to my brother.

But it never failed. Less than one month into a new year, and my clean slate started getting red marks on it. I'd break one resolution, then another. And before I knew it, I just gave up, once again feeling worthless that I couldn't be perfect in one thing for even a measly thirty days.

And yet I think the problem was my resolutions were flawed from the start--I was always the one making up resolutions for myself rather than asking God what He would have me to do and then asking Him to help me obey Him in His strength rather than in my own.

All I really needed to do was look in His Word. Look at His commands.

As 2010 rushes near, my heart isn't really looking for a resolution. Rather, God has been drawing me to Christ's charge for Christians to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.

But I don't think it's my heart alone that should be firmly resolved to get the Word out there, but should be the heart of every Christian as well.

During Jesus' ministry, He told His disciples, "'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'" (Matt. 28:18-20).

Later, after Christ's resurrection, He told those same disciples, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

In these two verses alone, Christ empowers you and me to act...but not so that we can fulfill our petty, individual desires. Instead, He empowers us for a greater purpose--to share the truth of Jesus, to teach God's word, to make Christian disciples.

It's an awesome charge not to be taken lightly, although many Christians do (myself included). It's a heavy command, yes, a command--Jesus says "go" not "go if you are brave enough" or "go if you have the gift of convincing speech" and He says "you will" twice, not "you might."

Christ made this a command because He knows the outcome--heaven or hell. And He knows how many souls are at stake. Consider the statistics. 1.5 billion people have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ (IMB "Who's Missing").

1.5 billion.

Wikipedia claims Yankee Stadium seats 50,000. So fill Yankee Stadium 30,000 times and that's how many people have never heard about Jesus, not counting the billions more who have heard of Jesus but not accepted Him as their Savior.

If each person who reads this would share Jesus with one each week in 2010. And if that one would share Jesus with another one....

As the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said, "If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where Are You Christmas?



One of my favorite TV specials of the season is A Charlie Brown Christmas. In one scene, Lucy lounges on the end of the Schroeder’s toy piano as he plays one perfectly executed classical tune after another.

Critical as ever, Lucy berates his song repertoire before asking, “Can you play ‘Jingle Bells’?”

As Schroeder begins playing the song in conventional piano style, Lucy cocks an ear to listen only to interrupt moments later: “No, no, I mean ‘Jingle Bells.’ You know, deck them halls and all that stuff?”

Schroeder then plays the same song, this time with the toy piano producing rich sounds of a church organ. True to character, Lucy interrupts again. “No, no. You don’t get it at all. I mean ‘Jingle Bells’ You know, Santa Claus and ho ho ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.”

At this point, Schroeder furrows his pencil eyebrows in irritation as he takes one finger and crudely pecks out the melody on a now plinking, hollow-sounding, toy piano.

Although this is the worst version of the song, Lucy finally recognizes it and shrieks, “That’s it!”

This scene reminds me of so many people I see at Christmas time. Listening, looking, hoping, striving each year to create the perfect Christmas experience; yet, not realizing the true spirit of Christmas is playing loud and clear through the story of the nativity.

And so they stand in long lines and agonize over finding the perfect present for a long list of family and friends. They dress up for smiling Christmas pictures to include in stacks of Christmas cards that must be mailed. They slave hours over a hot stove to bake dozens of cookies and candies for party after party. They endanger their lives to string brightly-colored lights from the rooftops and decorate their houses with trees, tinsel, and holly. Some even travel long distances to visit family.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities…unless you have bought into the notion that you will find the spirit of Christmas in them.

Sure, most of us have traditions we enjoy keeping. But if we seek to find the meaning of Christmas in traditions, activities, and things, then if something goes wrong, the words “Christmas was ruined because…” might escape your mouth.

When we’re separated from loved ones by death or a snow storm, when we can’t find that perfect gift, when we burn the cookies, when the cat climbs up and destroys the tree---when anything un-perfect happens, the spirit of Christmas lives on…if you’re looking in the right place for it.

The spirit of Christmas is found in the form of a small God-made-flesh child in a lowly manger.

The spirit of Christmas is found in an angel telling a group of frightened shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The spirit of Christmas is found in the multitude of angels who burst forth in song for those same shepherds: “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased’” (Luke 2:13-14).

The spirit of Christmas is found in the heart of every believer in Christ. As Christ said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17)

If you find yourself with the bah-humbugs this Christmas season, if you just can’t seem to get in the “Christmas spirit,” ask yourself what Christmas spirit you’re trying to find—the world’s version? Or the one found in the Christ child?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's In a Name?

When a business starts up, it takes special care to create a catchy brand name and image that will stick in consumers’ minds. For instance, “Carbonated Pop” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Coca Cola.”

The same holds true when naming a child. Some have even argued that a child’s name contributes to his/her level of success as an adult. I understand that—many might be hesitant to entrust their life savings to a Wall Street broker named “Jethro.”

Because of this, for all three of our children, my husband and I labored to pick a baby name that we kept secret until their births. We looked for names that gave homage to the generations who have come before us. Names that weren’t too common in our community but also names that would (hopefully) not result in our children getting picked on too much. And most importantly—we looked at each name’s meaning.

Mary and Joseph didn’t have this problem with choosing a name . The angel told them up front what the baby’s name would be: “and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).

The meaning of Jesus’ name was important because His very character was inscribed in His name. His name meant that as the second part of the trinity, He had left His heavenly home to physically come to earth and dwell among us in the flesh. He was 100% God. And yet He was also 100% human.

But why is this such a big deal? And for that matter, why did we need God to dwell with us anyway?

First, the fact that a sinless, holy God would see fit to dwell among sinful humanity blows my mind each time I think about it. There are many days when I want to cut myself totally off from the sin I see being so openly and guiltlessly flaunted in our society…and I’m a sinner, myself. But Jesus who was perfect chose to dwell here. That is incomprehensible.

As the disciple John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).

Secondly, God needed to dwell with us if we were ever going to be reconciled to God. His coming to earth and, ultimately, giving His life on the cross, bridged the gap between man and God the Father, whose relationship had been severed by an endless ocean of sin. Paul writes, “Now all these things 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” (2 Corr. 5:18-19).

Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesied His coming much earlier: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Mary and Joseph couldn’t have possibly known all that their son’s name would mean for them and for all mankind. But through Scripture, we can understand more of how God is with us even still—the Holy Spirit that resides within us, Jesus who makes intercession for us with the Father...

GOD WITH US

God is with us as our counselor in times where life’s circumstances leave us questioning our next step.

God is with us as Prince of Peace when anxiety, uncertainty, or depression threatens to drown us.

God is wish us as mighty, everlasting king of all creation who will come again soon to reclaim His earthly throne.

This Christmas season, thank God for His son, Jesus.

Immanuel. God’s word made flesh for you, for me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Knowing Your Limitations

I snuggle closer to the heater, pick up my crochet hook and blue nubby yarn. Chain one, two, three...I stop and look at the instruction page again to check myself. I sigh, knowing what I'm creating won't look like the perfect version pictured here. There will be mistakes. Some stitches will be looser than others. Some stitches, I might skip entirely.

I could give up easily. But, I continue, as always.

This is the story of my life. In college, I studied diligently to achieve a 4.00 GPA in Honors English. First in my graduating class--you'd think that would give me a huge boost in confidence. But, it didn't.

Not beautiful enough to be a model. Not much natural musical talent to be a Mozart. Not a strong enough voice to make me an overnight singing sensation. Not gifted enough with words to write a best seller. Not a powerful enough speaker to draw a following crowd.

No matter my achievements, my heart has always proclaimed the truth that no matter how good I am at anything--there's always going to be someone better, smarter... closer to perfection.

This mentality is good in a way because it helps be combat my human tendency toward pride. But it's also self defeating because it leaves me with a fear of trying something--anything--new, something else I won't be perfect at.

God's word says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecc.9:10).

I know this is true. The thing my hand strives "to do" is to live for Christ and obey His commands. But maybe you're like me--you strive to be perfect for Christ...only to fail.

Perhaps you're short-tempered with your children or husband. Perhaps you miss opportunities to share Jesus. Perhaps your prayer life isn't all it should be.

When our life's focus is split among so many things--job, children, household chores--it is difficult to keep our eyes on Jesus. So, what are we to do? Do we give up?

Do we just accept that our commitment to Him will always be second best?

The sixth Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, Philipps Brooks (1835-1893) discussed this very issue in his book, Visions and Tasks, and Other Sermons. He states that we incorrectly limit what we can achieve:

"There is nothing which comes to seem more foolish to us, I think, as years go by, than the limitations which have been quietly set to the moral possibilities of man. They are placedly and perpetually assumed. 'You must not expect too much of him,' so it is said. 'You must remember that he is only a man, after all'" (330).

Then, he explains why our self-imposed limitations are ridiculous: "Why man's moral range and reach is practically infinite, at least no man has yet begun to comprehend where its limits lies. Man's powers of conquering temptation, of despising danger, of being true to principle, have never been even indicated, save in Christ. 'Only a man!' that means only a Son of God; and who can begin to say what a Son of God, claiming his Father, may become and be and do?" (330).

You and I may not be perfect. We may not be number one. But in Christ, who knows what limitations we may overcome if we abide in Him.

I hope your prayer and my prayer will be this:

"O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come in you by the grace of God" (Brooks 330).

We don't know our limitations if we keep striving to work in God's ability and power. Let our lives be a miracle.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Preparing for a Thief to Rob Your House

When my oldest son was only a year old, I drove him to Oma’s house for a change of scenery. Even though our knocks on the back door showed nobody was home, I put him down and began wiggling the key in the always-difficult lock and then pushed my knee into the stubborn door, hearing it squeak slowly open from its too tight frame.

One step forward and I froze as my gaze reached across the room to fix on the front door standing wide open.

Over the past few months, one house after another on our road had been struck by thieves. And yet my it-won’t-happen-to-me mind was in such shock that I just stood as my son’s small feet padded right into the house and across the room to the open door.

What should I do? Should I close the front door? Call the police? Check to see if anything was missing first?

Shaky fingers pulled the phone from my hip pocket and dialed my husband. One of his first questions was whether the door to the hallway and bedrooms was closed.

It was. The robbers could still be in the house.

“Get out of there,” my husband said.

In a matter of seconds, I was across the room, son tucked under my arm as I fled the house and put my van in gear, not even taking the time to strap him in the car seat as I raced back home.

Once the two of us were safely locked inside our fortress, I sank to the floor and unloaded the stress of the past few minutes in a flood of choking tears. How could I have been so STUPID to just stand there!? I could have gotten us both killed.

The answer is simple. I wasn’t prepared. I knew the risk of thieves breaking in, but I hadn’t prepared because I didn’t really believe the risk applied to me.

How similar is this truth to the relationship many people have with The Bible? They believe it with their minds, but their actions show their heart believes it doesn’t really apply to them.

For instance, Scripture speaks of a “great white throne” of judgment for all “the dead, great and small” (Rev. 20:11-12, 15). It speaks of faith in Jesus Christ alone as being the only way to escape God’s “coming wrath” on judgment day (1 Thes. 1:10). And yet many are living in rebellion to God’s commands because they believe God’s lovingkindness, goodness and mercy alone will save them from hell in the end.

Jesus’ last sermon warned against this kind of false belief. In one of several parables describing our need to be prepared for His return, He describes himself as a thief. Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:42-44).

What a strange metaphor for Jesus to use. But imagine a midnight break-in at your own house. How fearful would you be? What terror would strike your heart?

This same fear will be found in the hearts of many when Jesus returns. For the unrighteous person, it will literally be a moment of fear and because of the judgment to come.

Earlier through the prophet Amos, God also warned that the unrepentant in Israel should not to look forward to the day of the Lord: “Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion And a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall And a snake bites him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20).

These two passages are not how we want to view Christ’s return. My own mind soars in joyous anticipation at the thought of the eastern skies breaking open and my Jesus descending from heaven to take His throne as King of all heaven and earth. I can almost hear the Statler Brothers singing on one of my childhood records: “ Oh the King is coming, The King is coming PRAISE GOD, He's coming for me!”

Judgment day will be a time of joy for those found in Christ. But it will also be the horrible end for those who have not repented. The point? We all need to prepare. Whether that preparation is deciding that now is the time to put your faith in Christ alone or deciding to live a more committed, faithful, obedient life for Christ.

Like a thief--Jesus is coming soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

STOP Giving Back!

Moving from green beans to corn, from yams to Stove Top stuffing, I take a box and add it to my pie crust mix, my frozen turkey. Just a few extra items added to my regular grocery run. Not enough to change the world by myself. But enough to give one needy family a well-rounded Thanksgiving meal.

We have entered the season of helping others. And yet a recent survey states “of the nation's 400 largest charities, half of them projected a decline of at least 9 per cent.”

In past years, Americans have been used to giving from their excess. But now with the loss of jobs, salary cuts, and higher costs at the store, we have tightened our budgets. Now, we’ll feel the pinch if we give. And for many, that has meant choosing to give less or nothing at all to those not as fortunate.

I, like many of you, am not rich by the world’s standards. This year alone, my family has added two hungry mouths at the table and has been impacted by the permanent loss of my husband’s career. So, I know about learning to do with less.

But I also know that no matter how stretched the dollar is around our house, God always has provided enough for us to give something when He places a need on our hearts.

I’m not talking about God blessing my family just enough to give our 10% tithe as commanded in Scripture. I’m talking about God enabling us so that we can give an offering above and beyond the requirements.

For we as Christians to be generous in our giving, though, our hearts first must be right with God so that we are willing to release the offering He has given us already. Secondly, we must understand that in the previousness of God, He has already provided us with offerings to give. Scripture gives several examples of these two concepts.

In the Old Testament when Hezekiah became king of Judah, he led the people to get their hearts right with God and then said, “Come and bring sacrifices and thank offerings,” and “all whose hearts were willing” brought more offerings than anyone could have imagined (2 Chron. 29:31). This wasn’t an ego-trip for the people, though. They “rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people” (v. 36, my italics). The people understood they were merely giving back what God had given them to offer in the first place.

King David understood this same concept when he asked Israel’s leaders to give an offering to help build the temple. They did—again, in great abundance as well as “freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD” (1 Chron. 29:9).

David’s prayer over this offering beautifully expressed his thankfulness to God for the ability to offer these gifts: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand….O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you” (v. 14, 16).

Oh how I love David’s prayer. But my favorite passage is found in Israel’s early history when Moses was building the tabernacle and asked “Everyone who is willing to bring to the LORD an offering” (Ex. 35:4). The people brought so much that Moses ordered everyone to STOP: “’No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more” (Ex. 36:6). Can you imagine too much giving?

Paul perfectly sums our why Christians should give with a willing heart: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God….Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else….Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corr. 9:11,13,15)

What if everyone who read this posting ate one less meal a week? Bought one less toy for our children this Christmas?

Small sacrifices to give out of the abundance God has given us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Endless Possibilities for Sweeping Reform

Each time America holds an election, the political candidates spout lofty goals and promises for change. We listen. Some of us hold out hope in our hearts that this person may be the one to finally make a difference and enact such changes. But once that person enters his term of office, we sit back in disappointment and watch as few (if any) of those goals are achieved.

And then we remember the old adage: “Change doesn’t happen overnight.” We accept the truth of this phrase. We give up on the concept of a true “sweeping reform.” We learn to be content with baby steps forward.

But what if change could happen that fast? Could one man really change an entire country in a matter of a month?

Twenty-five-year-old Hezekiah did.

There’s no way he would have been elected king in any democratic society. Everyone knew Hezekiah’s dad, King Ahaz.

Ahaz had been a bad leader in more ways than one. He led his people to defy God’s commandments and give themselves to idol worship. He sold off Judah’s temple treasures to hold off the King of Assyria who threatened to conquer Judah and send its people in exile. He “sacrificed his sons in the fire” as part of his idol worship (2 Chron. 28:3). In a way, Hezekiah was lucky to have survived his father’s reign.

And yet despite his family baggage, Hezekiah came to power in a big way--he didn’t start his reforms slowly. He didn’t wait 90 days to figure things out. No. He immediately went to work turning the country back around to God:

Starting on day one, he went to work tearing down every idol altar around the country and restoring the temple of the Lord that his father had defiled: “In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them” (2 Chron. 29:3). By the “sixteenth day of the first month,” the temple was open and ready for worship (v. 17).

And worship they did—sacrificing burnt offerings, sin offerings, and thank offerings to the tune of 3000+ sheep and 600+ bulls, so many that the few consecrated priests couldn’t skin all the offerings without help. The people didn’t balk at this quick reform, either: “Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly” (v. 36).

All in sixteen days.

But Hezekiah didn’t stop there. In month two of his reign, he sent messengers all over Judah and Northern Israel, inviting all to come celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Wow—this was different. Since the country split in two shortly after Solomon’s death, the kings of Northern Israel had done everything in their power to make sure the people didn’t return to Jerusalem to worship.

Scripture says some in Northern Israel “laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chron. 30:10). Not everyone loves a reformist. But for the many who participated in the Passover, healing and joy abounded: “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel” (v. 26).

Can you imagine a political leader making such sweeping changes in our age? He’d get mired down in legislative maneuverings before the ink dried on his swearing-in papers. And yet when God is behind something, He can move it through overnight…if that’s part of His plan.

Sweeping reform will take place when Christ returns. And I’m a firm believer that our nation isn’t beyond hope of a revival. But I also must realize that reforming an individual life is just as much a miracle as reforming a country. One soul transformed by the Holy Spirit and through Jesus’ precious blood…that’s the truest overnight reform you’ll find.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Art of the Counter Offer

“Can I have two gummy bears, Mommy?”

I opened the jar and brought out a green bear-shaped blob. “How about one.”

Surprisingly, he countered my offer: “How about three?”

Just earlier in the week, someone made my father-in-law and husband an offer on some land they’re trying to sell. But unlike my almost three-year-old, they understand the offer / counteroffer dance.

In the Christian life, we don’t use terms like “offer” and “counteroffer” in our prayer relationship with God. We use loftier terms like “intercession.” But the concepts are similar in some respects.

Scripture says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16b). And we believe that…when we need something, when we are hurting. We pray for God’s hand of healing on those whom He has afflicted with a terrible disease. We pray for God to supply a job where He has taken one away.

But how many of us sometimes give up on our families? Our neighborhoods? Our nation? Our world?

In what Matthew Henry calls the “first solemn prayer upon record in the Bible,” Genesis 18 paints a portrait of God sharing with Abraham His plan for destroying the city of Sodom. But more interesting than God’s plan to destroy wickedness is Abraham’s intercessory exchange with God, a pattern for how we should intercede for the world around us.

Abraham’s intercession begins with a simple concern for the righteous men and women living within Sodom’s walls and then a “counteroffer” of sorts: “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?” (v. 23-24).

I think it is key that Abraham doesn’t question God’s judgment of the wicked. He understands that a just, holy God must judge sin if He is truly just and holy. But he also knows God’s heart is with the righteous, and he appeals to that facet of God’s justice with a two-fold concern—(1) God destroying the lives of the righteous and (2) God destroying the place where the righteous reside.

Then, in a quick outburst that sounds like Abraham is reminding himself more than anything , he “reminds” God how destroying the lives of the righteous would not be consistent with His character: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (v. 25).

God doesn’t respond to the question about His just character, which is a response in itself and perhaps shows He understands the rhetorical nature of Abraham’s last question. But it does seem God accepts Abraham’s counteroffer: “So the LORD said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account’” (v. 26).

Then Abraham realizes who He’s dealing with—THE Supreme God. Jehovah. Sovereign over all. Who is he to ask anything of God? And his response is humble: "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes” (v. 27).

But he doesn’t stop there. He still intercedes on the behalf of the righteous, this time counter offering by asking what if there are only 45 righteous found in Sodom? God accepts.

And again, Abraham continues—what if there are only 40 righteous? What if only 30? What if only 20 righteous? Each time, God accepts the offer until Abraham makes one final request: “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” (v. 32). And God responds: “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (v. 32).

That was it. Abraham went home. And God destroyed the city of Sodom because there were not 10 righteous within its walls. The next chapter tells us Lot and his family were spared, but the city fell and all the wicked who were within it.

I’ve often wondered why Abraham stopped. God was still saying “yes” to every request. Why not ask “Lord, what if there are only 5 righteous?” Or three? Or one?

Why not keep asking until God said “no”?

Sometimes I think we as Christians almost seem happy to see God’s judgment falling like rain on our neighborhood, nation, and world. We clothe ourselves in a “well-what-did-you-expect” attitude and just submit to the idea that since America and the world is full of evil, we will just sit back and watch it fall…and watch the wicked fall to eternal damnation with it.

But what if we kept going in our intercession with God for our world? What if we were like Abraham and asked God to “spare the place” for the sake of the righteous?

Would that not give more time for the wicked to repent and be spared? Would not that show a true heart of compassion for the lost?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And Nothing But the Truth

From the back of the van comes a pitiful voice of a tired little boy: “Mommy, can I have some milk?”

I sigh because this is the thousandth time he’s asked me the same question. “Yes, sweetie. You can have some when we get home. I promise.”

“You promise?” he whines in that high-pitched voice.

“Yes, Wyatt. I promise.”

We repeat this exchange several times a week because I want him to know that I am to be trusted. But one day, he will learn that sometimes mommy may say something that turns out to be untrue because it’s beyond her control. Even though every time I leave him somewhere, I tell him I will “be back soon,” I know the truth of those words is contingent on God’s will and that I may never fulfill it if God takes me home to heaven first.

But my God is not me. My God does not make a promise that He cannot fulfill—there is nothing beyond His control.

Instead, my God is faithful and always keeps His word. He is a “God, who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). If He says it, it is truth.

Even when God says something that may seem totally unbelievable, He is always to be believed. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, found this out late in life when God promised her a child. She laughed at the idea—it was unbelievable. But Scripture says, “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11:11).

Although science would have said “impossible,” God was faithful. He spoke the truth.

Another Old Testament character, Joshua, reminded Israel of God’s faithfulness: “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

Did you catch that? “Not one word” from our God has failed.

This should give us great hope because of all the encouraging 100% truths God has given us in Scripture, His Word, such as Hebrews 13:5 where Jesus says He is always with us--“I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.

Or better yet, when Jesus says He’ll come back for us someday: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

But since God only speaks the truth, this should give us cause for concern, too, especially scriptures about God’s judgment of sinners who have not been saved by the blood of Jesus: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Rev. 20:12-13).

All that the Bible says is from God. All that God says is truth.

When it seems impossible. When it seems unbelievable. Trust in what His Word says. You can’t go wrong.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Till The Fat Lady Sings

“Do I need to pull over?”

Numerous strategies raced through my head as I tried to quickly assess the level of horror one little girl had silently achieved in the back seat, all while strapped in by her five point harness. Within seconds, I determined there was no way I could undo the damage with only my two hands. A car wash might not even do the job.

“Uh….yeah. We’re going to have to.”

Last Tuesday, my parents and I loaded up all three kids and went to my sister-in-law’s swearing in where she officially became an attorney. My one-year-old twins accepted Cheerio bribes in exchange for keeping reasonably quiet during the hour and a half long ceremony of less than memorable speeches. Afterwards, all the children continued to be on their best behavior as we celebrated with a sit-down luncheon.

As we exited the restaurant and buckled three tired children into their seats, I breathed a sigh of relief that everything had gone so well. My dad steered the van towards home and the wondrous stillness of naptime. And then it happened.

Amelia pooed in her diaper. Not such a bad thing—and we were only 20 minutes from home. But when my back was turned, she obviously decided to undertake a diaper change by herself…so she pulled a big wad of poo out of her bloomers . And smeared it on her face, her hands, her legs, the car seat, and (somehow) even inside the locking button for the car seat.

My dad pulled off at the next gas station and idled at the edge of the parking lot. My mom held a squirming, naked Amelia midair as I proceeded to wipe her down…all while trying to swat away swamp mosquitoes that were large enough to straddle a quarter. By the time Amelia and her car seat were cleaned enough to travel the rest of the way home, Emerson had five mosquito bites on his face.

In just a few short minutes, my memory of this day was permanently marked not by my children’s many well-behaved, uneventful hours, but by the disgusting horror that struck at the end.

As I was reading through Scripture this week, I saw this same pattern apply to several of Israel’s kings. I would be reading good historical “memories” of a particular king and then my jaw would drop when, at the end of his life, he would suddenly just lose it, turn against God, and commit such disobedient acts that this is how he would be remembered—for what he did last in life, not for the good he did for many years throughout his life.

For example, Uzziah was placed on Judah’s throne at age 16 and reigned for fifty-two years! During his reign, he “sought the Lord” (2 Chron. 26:5). With God’s help, he defeated the Philistines and several other nations. He fortified Jerusalem. He even commanded a standing army of over 300,000 warriors.

But with his strength and good reputation spreading far and wide, he became prideful and turned from his obedience to God’s law: “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense” (v. 16).

The priests called him on his sin. But did he repent? No. He became “enraged” that the priests would dare question a king’s action. And instantly, leprosy broke out on Uzziah’s forehead.

Sadly, Scripture doesn’t show him repenting of his sin. Instead, it shows a lonely ending to a life that had been otherwise focused on obeying God: “King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's house judging the people of the land” (v. 21).

How was he remembered? For what he did last. As the king whom God struck with leprosy because of disobedience and disrespect for the house of God.

This same pattern occurs earlier with a more well-known king—Solomon. While he is remembered for his God-given wisdom and for building God’s holy temple, he also sticks out in my mind for how he ended his 40-year reign of Israel: “when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kin. 11:4).

This King who had seen God twice, who had been given the privilege of seeing God’s Shekinah glory fall from heaven and reside in the temple…this same king spent the end of his life building high places for his wives where he could worship with them the “detestable idols” of the Moabites, Ammonites, and the Sidonians (v. 7).

How sad. To live a long life dedicated to the Lord only to have that witness marred by scandal and by disobedience to God. To leave a legacy that no longer solely glorifies God.

And what’s more, how terrifying. To think of how easy it is to let down your guard, to loosen your standards when you’re close to the finish line of life or any other task. How easy it would be for me or you to end like King Solomon or Uzziah.

I don’t want this to be the way I end my story.

Let us live in constant awareness of how easy it is to let pride and the cares of this world draw us from the truth and obedience to God. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2a). Let us end well so that we can say, like Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Different Kind of House

Over the past five years, I’ve had the same dream. I’m in my new house—sometimes in the living room, other times in the kitchen or descending the stairs. I am happy as I hear my children run from room to room. I thrill in the closet space and extra room. I am comfortable because this house is sealed tight.

But too many times to count, I have awakened to the reality of a 40 degree room where I breathe in the cold air and shiver under the electric blanket as I snuggle closer to my husband.

I am one of many who dream of owning a home.

In 2004, 69% of Americans owned a piece of that dream. Then came what some have called an “epidemic of foreclosures” such that by the second quarter of 2009, home ownership had fallen to 67.4%. As one journalist said, “That may seem a slight difference, but every percentage point equals roughly 1 million people.”

Approximately 1 ½ million people thought they had achieved this part of the American dream only to discover it was still beyond their reach. Disappointment didn’t begin to describe their feelings. One study by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that “nearly half” of homeowners undergoing foreclosure “reported depressive symptoms, and 37 percent met screening criteria for major depression.”

Would it help to know that God could build them a house that would last well beyond their death?

In 2 Samuel, David wanted to build a house…not one for himself, but one for God. The temple. And God said no.

But then, God turned the issue around as only God can do: “The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (7:11-13,16).

God said He would build a house for David! But this wasn’t a physical house of wooden beams, stone, or bricks and mortar. This was a house of people—sons, daughters, grandsons. This was a kingdom, a lineage…one that would lead directly to Jesus and His eternal throne.

David understood what God meant, and he was humbled: “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord GOD, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future” (v. 18-19).

And when David accepted God’s blessing, He did so not for his own personal glory but for God’s: “do as You have spoken, that Your name may be magnified forever” (25b-26a).

Take in the magnitude of what one man’s obedient heart for God did in transforming his entire family line.

This is the kind of “house” I want God to build for me—through my children, my children’s children, and for all generations born until Jesus comes again. I want my relationship with God to be so incredibly all-consuming that my whole house is transformed beyond what is humanly possible and that God alone will be glorified.

No, God has not promised me, like David, a house enthroned forever, but He has promised me life everlasting with the one who sits upon that eternal throne. And He has promised I can have an impact on future generations of my family: “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6)

Deuteronomy 7:9 repeats this promise to “A thousandth generation” for those who love the Lord with all their heart.

When I understand the word “house” in God’s economy, that physical house I desire so much just seems like such a small dream in comparison to this God-sized dream of a house that has the power to cross time down through the generations of my family that I will not live to see.

Five years ago while my husband and I were driving through the mountains of Arkansas to meet with a builder about our physical house, God was meeting with me in the quiet places of my heart, showing me how He desired to rebuild my heart so that it would desire Him more than anything.

As I poured over house plans to ensure everything was perfect, God was pouring His Spirit over me and demolishing strongholds in my life so He could craft me into the perfect image of His son, Jesus.

And as I sadly tucked away the tube of rolled-up house plans, hidden on a top shelf, God was busy hiding His Word in my heart and showing me what true joy is.

Through my obedience, God has already started building a house of lovingkindness for my family and for His glory alone. Whether we take the time to consider it or not, we’re all building houses for future generations of our family—houses of God’s iniquity or houses of God’s lovingkindness.Which house are you building?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Blew It...Again!

Screwed up lately? Done something in your past that you still grieve over? Think you’ve committed a sin so horrific that God can never use you again?

Then you haven’t heard about David. Or maybe you have but you don’t think his story can be yours, too.

David was God’s chosen man, shepherd, anointed King of all Israel, champion warrior over his country’s enemies, and even referred to by God as “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22).

And yet David screwed up….big time.

One evening, while wandering around the roof of his house, David saw a beautiful woman bathing on another roof. Instead of popping his eyeballs back in their sockets and fulfilling his desire with one of his many wives or concubines, he “sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?'” (2 Sam. 11:3).

While Bathsheba’s lineage might not mean much to you, this anonymous “one” person brought up her dad and husband’s names for a reason. Her genealogy should have acted as a flashing STOP sign to David.

Bathsheba’s father Eliam was the son of a man named Ahithopel, a man who just so happened to be “David’s counselor” (2 Sam. 23:34, 2 Sam. 15:12). Scripture also says that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was one of David’s “mighty men” (1 Chron. 11:26, 41).

So, David was looking to commit adultery with the granddaughter of one of his most trusted counselors and the wife of one of his most valiant warriors.

To me, this seems like a no-brainer.

But David didn’t even stop and think about his intended actions. In the rapid-fire of events found in the very next verse, “David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her” (2 Sam. 11:4).

But it gets worse.

News soon came that Bathsheba was pregnant from this one-night stand, and with her husband off to war, she couldn’t very well claim he was the father. David was in a pickle. How could he get out of this mess?

David’s answer? Call Uriah home from the battlefront. Send him home to his wife. Surely, Uriah’s desire for Bathsheba would overcome him so that later when he received news of his wife’s pregnancy, he would believe the child to be his own.

But Uriah lived up to his calling as one of David’s “mighty men.” He told David, “the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to drink and to lie with my wife?” (2 Sam. 11:11).

David tried again, this time making Uriah drunk, but still, Uriah refused to go in to his wife.

David should have come clean about his sin. But he didn’t. Instead, he sent Uriah back to the war with a letter addressed to the head commander…a letter instructing that commander to “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die” (v. 15).

Adulterer. Now murderer. And God was through with him, right?

Wrong.

The story doesn’t end there.

Psalm 51 records that David repented of his sin. He begged God’s forgiveness. And God granted it.

Yes, David still was punished for his sin: God took his son with Bathsheba. And the fourfold consequences of that sin (prophesied in 2 Samuel 12) played out in David’s family for the rest of his days—the rape of one daughter, one son killing another, a son sleeping with David’s concubines on his own roof in his attempt to usurp the throne.

But even though David had to pay the price for his sin, God wasn’t finished with him yet. God continued to use David’s repentant heart for His glory. He gave David and Bathsheba another son, Solomon. And what’s even more amazing, after his sin, God used David to collect all the gold, bronze, silver, timber, and stone; line up all the skilled workmen; and have prepared all the utensils of service needed to construct His holy temple in Jerusalem. The rest of his life was spent preparing the way for his son to build God’s earthly residence.

Still not convinced? Read Matthew 1. David and Bathsheba were part of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s lineage.

This can be your story, too.

It doesn’t matter what the sin is. As long as you have repented of and turned away from that sin, God can still use you. And what’s more, He wants to use you…if He didn’t have a future plan to glorify Himself through your life, your heart wouldn’t still be beating.

Your life is not over yet. Some wondrous work for the kingdom awaits.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Nose Knows

One of my best friends and I recently planned a visit. For weeks, workmen had been working on the road just a few feet beyond her front door, and she needed to escape the noise and putrid smells of asphalt that had been permeating her house. Since I knew she was coming, I decided it would be nice for her to enter a house that smelled wonderfully of fall. And since I needed to bake bread for an ill man from our church anyway, Wyatt and I began mixing everything together.

Cinnamon. Cloves. Ginger. A trinity of spices sure to waft a sweet-smelling aroma throughout every room. But rushed by the noise of unhappy twins crying, I mistakenly overfilled the pans. As the heat caused the loaves to rise, the batter overflowed the sides, dripping into the bottom of the oven. And for the duration of my friend’s visit, my house was filled with the stench of burning bread…probably no better than the asphalt she had left behind.

God crafted our noses to be sensitive to smell. We all delight in some smells and curl up our noses in disgust at others. Some smells are so powerful that they connect us to long-forgotten memories lodged deep in our mind.

Scripture tells us that God has a well-developed sense of smell, too. To His nose, each person emits an aroma that reaches all the way up into heaven.

The question is, what do we smell like? Is it a stench in his nostrils or a pleasing aroma?

In the Old Testament, God ordained sacrifices as a way of atonement for the Israelites’ sin. The scent of these burnt offerings was a pleasing aroma to God.

But the sacrifice itself as an act of worship wasn’t what smelled so good. It was the heart behind the sacrifice.

A humble heart repentant over sin and obedient to God caused the sacrifice to emit a pleasing aroma. But, a rebellious heart not repentant over sin was an offensive stench in God’s nostrils. The prophet Isaiah said to Israel:

’What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ Says the LORD. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.…Bring your worthless offerings no longer …. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow’” (Isaiah 1:11, 13a, 15-17).

Later, God used even stronger words about the sacrifices of those with unrepentant hearts: “These people gag me. I can't stand their stench” and “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable And your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me” (Is. 65:5, The Message; Jer. 6:20).

In essence, an unsaved person reeks of his or her sin, permeating God’s nostrils with a stench as no garbage dump can equal. If a person’s heart does not belong to God, his/her acts of worship or good works are not acceptable, not pleasing, and are, instead, a stench.

Two thousand years ago, though, Jesus came to earth and offered His body as a living sacrifice to God. Paul tells us: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2).

Christ’s perfect heart and perfect sacrifice offered the most pleasing, fragrant aroma to God the Father. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we cover our repentant hearts with the blood of the only pure and spotless Lamb of Jesus. And at that moment, the stench of our sin is covered with the fragrant aroma of Jesus’ blood. We then smell pleasing to our Father in Heaven.

What’s interesting is that others can smell the blood of Christ on us, too, as we share the gospel: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life” (2 Cor. 2:14-16, NIV).

One way or another, God can smell us. The only question is, does He smell your sin or does He smell the blood of Jesus?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Story: Transforming, Not Tweaking

Do you know my story? Do you really know who I am? A window into my soul. A door into my past. Open and waiting for you.

Our local Tanger Outlet mall has just this past year installed quarter-eating kiddie rides every fifty feet…a truck, horse, Garfield car, carousel, and Clifford. My almost three-year-old, Wyatt, bounces onto one ride after another as we make our way down the strip.

The catch? He doesn’t know the rides do anything but sit there. He has no idea they come to life when fed quarters. And so, he’s content to sit in each one and turn the wheel or giddyup the horse, himself.

This is an image of me until just a few years ago—not knowing what abundance and joy really existed if I let Jesus take complete control of my life.

From infancy through high school, my parents made sure I attended church every Sunday and Wednesday to be involved in Sunday School, choir, Bible Drills, and all the missions activities for each level in GA’s and Acteens (think “Christian Girl Scouts”). I tried on my own to read the Bible diligently, but I got stuck in lists of names I didn’t know and New Testament analogies that were over my head.

When I was seven years old, I understood that I was a sinner and had broken God’s law. I repented of my sin, and believed in Jesus’ death of the cross to save my soul. But for the next twenty years I asked, “Is this it? Is this all there is to life as a Christian?”

I knew John 10:10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” But I thought that Jesus was only referring to abundant life with Him in heaven. I considered my time on earth as more or less a waiting game where Jesus would tweak me into His image until He called me home.

But when I was 18, at a revival meeting, Jesus spoke to my heart and told me there was more to life with Him, but that He demanded obedience from me in all things. I needed to find out why I believed what I believed. I needed to learn prayer was more than a one-way street with me doing all the talking. And I needed to get out of the driver’s seat of my life.

So, each morning when I arrived at the university’s campus, I sat in my car for a half hour to an hour and diligently read my Bible. I understood a bit more. But I still thought this was all God had to offer me here on earth. And I wasn’t too good at giving up control of anything.

Then, ten years later at age 28, I started working through my first in-depth Bible study. Learning how to read and let the Holy Spirit guide me in understanding God’s word was like watching a rosebud’s petals open one by one. Each petal showed me a new, different aspect of God--a God of mercy and love but also a God of holy justice and righteousness. A God who desired to have an intimate relationship with me and to give me abundant life right here on earth. And the key to that joyful, abundant life was found in my examining and applying the Scripture.

For the first time in my life, I was finally starting to realize true joy in Jesus, in worship, in reading and understanding of Scripture…and that this was the more that I’d been missing out on all these years.

But for me to apply everything I was learning in Scripture, God would need to do a complete overhaul of me, to totally transform (not tweak) me into a new creation. So, God took the belljar that was my life and dumped out all the assorted pieces of the life my husband and I were building together.

After an uplifting Wednesday night service, we arrived home to a phonecall from his then-employer. Our joyful smiles turned to furrowed brows of fear as we learned one of my husband’s clients had given him forged medical records, which he naively passed on to the insurance company on her behalf. She claimed ignorance of her misdeed. And my husband was charged with insurance fraud.

Over the next year, my husband’s one-year-old license to practice law, his job, and his career were stripped away. The plans to build our house were rolled up and stuck on a shelf. And we suffered through infertility issues, ultimately miscarrying two babies in June and December of that same year.

To say the bottom dropped out of our world would be an understatement. This did not seem like abundant life.

But it was.

It was God taking control of my life and teaching me that to have true abundant life, I had to trust Him, give Him my everything—my finances, my desire for children, my living space.

He wasn’t content to be just an “attachment” to my life. He wanted to be my life.

I responded to each heartache by working through another Bible study, saturating my mind and heart with more and more Scripture. When that wasn’t enough to keep the depression from threatening to drown me, I took to printing out Scriptures and taping them on the doorframes and mirrors around the house.

My life now is nothing like it was before God started doing that major renovation in early 2005. But even in loss, there has been much more gain. In almost five years’ time, God has blessed us with three children who drive me crazy most days; a secure job I can do from home; and steady employment for Doug.

Doug will likely never regain his law license and his employment will likely never be secure unless God works a miracle. I won’t again see those babies I miscarried until I get to heaven. And our house plans are still gathering dust on the shelf as we wait for God’s hand to move. But I am walking in abundant life with the solid earth beneath my feet.

Jesus is everything I have. And He has transformed my heart from self-centeredness to a heart that grieves for those who have yet to find Him and submit to Him as Lord and Savior.

Maybe you’ve asked the same question I did, “Is this all there is to being a Christian?”

No. There’s more.

And you can find it just like me if you commit to in-depth study of the Bible.

He’s waiting for you between the pages.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

There is None So Blind

Cleopas had heard the women’s story of the angel who proclaimed that Jesus was alive. But his eyes weren't the ones to see Him. So his heart doubted. And sadness permeated his every step as he and another of Jesus’ disciples undertook a seven-mile trek on the dusty road to Emmaus.

As the pair walked, they inwardly mourned Jesus’ death, talking of their hearts’ disappointment--Jesus wasn’t who they thought He was. As they later said, “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Yes, “were hoping.” Past tense. Their faith and hope had been buried right along with Jesus in the tomb.

But then their faith became sight…well, almost: as “ they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him” (v.15-16, my Italics).

This was the Jesus they had followed so closely, developing such an intimate relationship with Him that surely they knew his mannerisms, the sound of his voice. And now, Jesus was near enough to touch, to smell, to hear, to embrace. But still, they didn’t really see Him.

As they walked, Jesus told His life story: “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (v. 27). This wasn’t your usual man-to-man conversation using the fewest words possible. Jesus was teaching the high points of the Old Testament to them. Words they knew. Words they even had likely heard from Jesus’ lips before.

Surely they looked into his face at least once on the journey. And yet, something “prevented” their identification?

In the Greek, the word “prevented” is more accurately defined as “to take hold of, grasp, hold fast” or “to have power over.” In essence, something or someone took control of their eyes so they couldn’t see Jesus clearly.

The Scripture doesn’t say anything about their vision being otherwise impaired. Nothing about them running into trees or having trouble finding a place to stay for the night. It was only Jesus they couldn’t see. As such, the commentaries I’ve read say this was a supernatural covering of their eyes.

But I think there’s a second equally valid interpretation: that their emotional devastation over Jesus’ death was clouding their actual vision. You know…the kind of blindness when disappointment clouds your view of life so you can’t see the blessings right before your eyes? So you can’t see Jesus before standing right before you?

Cleopas and his fellow disciple didn’t mentally understand how Jesus would accomplish salvation for all mankind by laying down His life and dying on a cross. They couldn’t really comprehend His triumph over death. They didn’t expect this kind of Savior.

And in that disappointment, they almost missed “seeing” Jesus entirely. The Scripture even implies that Jesus was just going to continue along down the road without them had they not invited Him to stay: “And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.’ So He went in to stay with them” (v. 28-29).

But even in blind disappointment, their hearts were still “burning within” them (v. 32). Their hearts knew Jesus even when their eyes did not. And once they invited Him to dine with them, He broke the bread as He had done shortly before His death, and their eyes “opened and they recognized Him” (v. 31).

May we not allow life’s disappointments to cloud our vision such that we miss Jesus standing right before us. And may our own hearts burn within us when we fail to see.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When God Doesn't Behave

Yesterday evening, I finally succumbed to some sort of cold that I’ve been fighting since Thursday. So, instead of going AWOL for a week, with box of tissue in one hand, I want to share one lesson from the Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed study that God has been using to teach ME this week.

After finishing my master’s degree, I was hired by my alma matter to teach for the fall semester. But as Christmas approached, I discovered that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. Although I was more than disappointed, I quickly learned of a job opening at the nearby community college and, as expected, made it to the final interview with the Vice Chancellor—just me and another young man. Surely, I would get the job.

Then, I got the call and a sinking feeling in my chest as I listened to the words, “Not chosen.” I was officially unemployed. No salary. COBRA insurance that would run out all too quickly. And no prospects anytime in the near future since teachers are usually hired for January or August start dates.

Over the next couple months, I was rejected for countless jobs, most that required less education than I had, including Wal-mart. What was going on?!? Had I listened to God wrong when choosing my degree path? (No.) Was I being punished for some unrepented of sin? (No.) Then why wasn’t God getting me a job…now?

I was devastated. God was not behaving like I thought He should.

King David suffered a similar devastation with God acting differently than expected after he decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem . There, the ark would at all times be before the people of Israel as a tangible reminder of God’s presence resting between the cherubim.

Talk about a huge parade: 30,000 lyre-playing, cymbal-smashing, tambourine-shaking men celebrated as they followed the oxen-pulled cart that carried the ark. Then, the unthinkable happened—the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah put out his hand to steady the ark, and God immediately struck him dead.

David became angry because of the LORD'S outburst against Uzzah…So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD come to me?’” (2 Sam. 6:8-9). Devastated, he refused to take the ark one step further and left it at Obed-edom’s house.

David was offended by God’s actions. And he was scared. This wasn’t the God David thought he knew. This was a fearful God of seemingly random judgment and death.

Yet God was the same as he’d always been. David just didn’t know very well the God he was serving, a righteous, holy God whose very character dictated that He demand reverence and whole-hearted obedience to His Word.

It took David three months to learn God’s reaction was as a result of his own disobedience in not seeking God’s law for instructions in how to transport the ark. And in the knowledge that God was still the same holy God he’d been serving all along, David finally brought the ark into the city of Jerusalem.

In a little different situation, John the Baptist was also devotedly serving God (no disobedience in sight), proclaiming the way of the Lord, when he was imprisoned. How devastating that must have been, to be doing exactly what God called him to do and to be left sitting in jail. He must have wondered why Jesus didn’t miraculously get him out!

In his devastation at where God had placed him, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, "’Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’" (Lk. 7:20). Jesus said to tell John of the miracles He was working and then stated, “’Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me’” (Lk. 7:23).

We all have the opportunity to be offended with God when He doesn’t act how we think He should. When we feel devastated or offended by God’s actions, we must return to our knowledge of who Scripture says God is. We must rest in the belief that He will always act according to who Scripture says He is, according to his full and complete character, not just part of his character...and that He will always act according to what He knows is best for us, our eternal salvation, and His glory.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Where's Waldo?

When I was growing up, my mother constantly complained about the plastic cups that I left in every room of the house. Now, years later, my own house is laden with randomly placed cups of water.

It’s not that I’m lazy. Quite the opposite.

As soon as I fill a cup of water to quench my thirst, I get distracted by a thought of a task I need to complete, a ringing phone, or a child. I then absentmindedly place the cup on some uncommon object like a bookshelf, window ledge, the dryer, or a shelf above my head.

Much like the unnamed laborer in Robert Frost’s “The Wood Pile” who “spent himself, the labour of his axe” only to “forget his handiwork” in the midst of a swamp, I, too, lose my train of thought because I keep moving. I am, as Frost says, “Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks.”

The problem comes when I grow thirsty again and try to find that cup. In my search, I will quickly cross back and forth in front of it, musing aloud, “I know I left it here just a minute ago?” It's like a real-life, more-frustrating version of "Where's Waldo?" Sometimes, my husband joins in the hunt. We eventually find it hiding in plain sight in a place we called ourselves looking at only moments before.

My search for truth and direction in The Bible is much like my search for these literal cups of water.

Each evening, I sit, Bible open in my lap, pen in hand, ready to receive a word from the Lord through His holy Scriptures. But after a day of wrangling with three small children as well as dealing with household and job issues, my thirst for God’s Word usually overcomes me and I have a tendency to gulp down the Scripture in front of me.

I’ve read all the Scriptures before. I’ve memorized many of them. I know the Old Testament stories.

And therein lies the danger.

Just like I pass by my water cup sitting right before my eyes, I often pass by the message God has for me because, in truth, I only think I know what the well-known Scriptures have to say. I know only what the Spirit has revealed to me thus far.

As such, I constantly have to remind myself to slow down, to read each word of each verse and to read them again. If I blow through the familiar verses, I might miss a word or a phrase I didn’t see before. Or I might miss a different message God is trying to impart to me through a verse that I knew but that had little meaning (or a different meaning) for me at an earlier reading.

Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life imparts this same message: “We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times,” says Warren. “Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning.”

Take the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an example of a Christian’s interacting with the Word. When Jesus came upon a few of his disciples, they initially did not recognize him. Even as they walked together and Jesus expounded upon all the Scriptures relating to Himself, they still were clueless. Only after He broke bread with them were their eyes “opened and they knew Him” (Luke 24:31). Afterwards, “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:32).

These disciples’ new understanding of the Scripture, of the Word made flesh, was not the result of being given any new word, any new scripture. Instead, they were enabled to see what was right before their eyes all along once their eyes were no longer veiled. The Spirit illuminated the truth in their hearts just like it can do in our hearts.

This week as you spend time in God’s Word, SLOW DOWN! Our prayer should be as David’s was: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps. 119:18). Read a passage several times. Read each word. Although God’s Word was “in the beginning,” God still has new revelations, which the Spirit will reveal to you as you carefully study the Scriptures (John 1:1).

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.