Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12-10-08

Thank you to all of you who responded to yesterdays post. It really helps to know you actually read and enjoy this blog and are encouraged or challenged by the words I peck out and the thoughts I string together. If no one is reading it, there is no point. I mean, seriously, I already know what I think so I don't need to post it for my own benefit. Your kind comments and sincere encouragement provide the energy I need to do it again.
Okay boys and girls. We are going to pick up our lesson where we left off yesterday. There is more to say about this confusing doctrine of the impassibility of God. I just don't understand why people have to complicate things.
I understand wanting to defend God's reputation. I do it myself, and while I'm sure He finds it endearing and mildly amusing, He is certainly able to take care of Himself.
I understand wanting to ensure God is accurately perceived as perfect, lacking in nothing. Because, of course, He is.
What I don't understand is why some very distinguished, educated and brilliant men have come to the conclusion that if God suffers--if He experiences anything like what we experience almost every day to some degree--He wouldn't be perfect.
Now I know that all of our suffering is a direct result of the fall of mankind, and that God didn't fall. And I know that sin causes suffering and God doesn't sin. So maybe these guys are just a bit confused. I am really not trying to be sarcastic or arrogant. I certainly don't have a monopoly on truth. Just a couple of houses on States Avenue and St. Charles Place and a rather uncomplicated view of Scripture.
When I read my Bible and I have this tendency to take it at face value. If it says something specific I tend to believe it means that specific thing. Especially when the concept is constantly repeated in different ways so we will get it.
And for the life of me I can't find anywhere in Scripture where it says God doesn't suffer. In fact, I find it screaming the exact opposite over and over again.
For example, in Hebrew 4:15 we read, "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."
Again in 5:8 we read, "...although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." Seems pretty clear to me.
Lest there are those who would argue that perhaps God incarnate, living as a man could suffer, but God in heaven can't, we need look no further that the verses in Genesis 6:5-6 which were referenced yesterday.
And let's not forget that if you can suffer you can also rejoice. Scripture is very clear that all of heaven rejoices over a single sinner who repents. Could it even be possible for all of heaven to be rejoicing while God is sitting there impassively? Is He filing His nails and yawning? No! He is, I'm sure, leading the celebration! After all, it's His idea, His sacrifice, His blood that made it possible. Wouldn't you think He'd be a wee bit emotionally involved?
One of the constant comparisons God makes in Scripture is how we respond to our children. I have run the gamut with mine: anger, exasperation, joy unspeakable, frustration, satisfaction, concern, disappointment, relief, grief, fulfillment, and the list goes on and on, just as I'm sure you have too, or will.
How could it possibly be any different with God? Although He is unchangeable in His steadfast love, in His character, in His desire that all would come to a knowledge of the truth, in all that is truly unchangeable, His emotions appear to change drastically as He interacts with those whom He has made like Him.
Like everything else in the Kingdom of God, we are presented with a paradox. Just because God is infinite, mind-boggling and incomprehensible on one level, doesn't mean He is unable to be comprehended on any level. It couldn't, or He wouldn't have attempted to communicate with us. But communicate He did, and I, for one, believe He means exactly what He says.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

12-09-08

The doctrine of the impassibility of God teaches that the God of the Bible is a perfect being and, as such, He cannot suffer. In other words, since God is perfect in every way, He can't be emotionally affected by outside events and thus cannot suffer, because suffering, somehow, is perceived as a sign of imperfection. I'm not quite sure why one must necessarily mean the other, but apparently in greater minds than mine, it does.
It always makes me uncomfortable to disagree with wise and intellectually minded men, because under that list the box I would have to check would be "None of the above."
Yet when I read these types of things, instead of nodding my head in amazement at their brilliance, I am often left shaking my head and wondering how well acquainted these pontificators are with the God they so decisively define.
I suppose we all, to one degree or another, read the Scriptures through the lenses of those who indoctrinated us. For example, I learned (and later discarded) the philosophy of Calvinism through the Presbyterian church I attended as a child.
I often wonder how someone would interpret the Bible who came to Christ as an adult, without any preconceptions-- someone who had never been churched--but who'd had a genuine and life-changing experience with Christ and then sat down and started reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Because when I read the Bible, I am confronted at every turn with the suffering of God beginning in, what for me, has to be the single most tragic verse in all of Scripture. In Genesis 6:5-6, in the aftermath of the horrific fall of Adam and Eve, we read, "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and was grieved in His heart."
How on earth can a reasonable person find impassibility in that verse? And that's just in the first part of Genesis! What kind of mental gymnastics do you have to do to make "better" sense of what is said than what is actually being said?
And I know people explain away a lot of those types of verses as being anthropomorphic, or in less fancy talk, as the Bible needing to apply human characteristics to God so we mere mortals can get a tiny grip on Him.
But from Genesis 6 on, Scripture is full of passages that reveal the pain God experiences as a direct result of the sin and disobedience of His people.
The God of the Old Testament is a God who chooses to identify with the suffering of His people. He tells us in Exodus 3:7, "I have seen surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their suffering." He goes on in verse nine to say, "And now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them."
Now it could be argued, I suppose, that the words "seen, heed and aware" don't necessarily convey direct emotional involvement, or shared emotional responses, but why else would He have rescued them?
If I see your house burning to the ground and you waving for help from a second story window, it is not my sense of duty or obligation that moves me into action. Rather it is an overwhelming sense of distress and compassion and desire for you to live and not die that compels me to risk my own life to save yours.
In the New Testament we see God, in the person of Christ, suffering on our behalf in much the same way. In the OT, God suffers with His people. In the NT, He suffers for them. Yet in both cases, the everlasting God is suffering with us and because of us.
To me, the idea that God can't be perfect if He experiences suffering is missing the mark. Certainly He is perfect. His character is changeless and His motive is always agape. But one doesn't necessarily cancel out the other.
And I need to know God suffers. Otherwise, how can I be sure that He can identify with me in my suffering? I don't want a God who is disconnected from my experiences and can't relate except in theory. I want a God in whose image I am created, who empathises with my suffering because He has suffered more than any human being ever will.
I posess mind, will and emotions and if I am created in His image then it only makes sense that God posesses them too. While there are things about God that aren't like me, there is nothing about me that doesn't reflect Him. I'm thinking mind, will and emotions here.
A lot of you have heard me tell you this story, but it is such a beautiful illustration of my point that I'm going to share it again.
The Monday after we buried Jordan on the previous Wednesday, when all the out of town company was gone, Jay was back at work, Jacob was back at OU and Jessie was back in school, I was alone in my living room crying inconsolably.
I was sobbing so hard I couldn't catch my breath and was sure I was about to drown in my own snot and tears.
Finally, after I'd gulped in a deep breath, I wailed, "OH GOD! I'VE BURIED MY SON! I'VE BURIED MY SON!"
His response was instantaneous. He whispered to me and said, "I know. I buried Mine too." And at that instant I knew, I knew, that God understood my suffering and loss in a way that few others could. It wasn't theoretical or sympathetic. It was a shared experience. And in that moment, my broken heart began to slowly heal.

Friday, November 28, 2008

11-28-08

I'm not much for ushering in the holidays. They seem to manage to come all on their own. But I've been asked to speak a couple of times during the coming Christmas season, and it occurred to me some insight into the gifts of the Magi might be appropriate.
What you are about to read is the talk I've put together. Just pretend I am talking to you, which I am, of course, except that I can't see you and am not always sure who you are...
Regardless, I hope you enjoy it, and if you think of it, you might offer up a quick prayer that this will provide new indights with practical application to those whom I have the delightful privilege of speaking. May it do the same for you.

Most of the time when the subject of the “wise men” or “Magi” comes up the attention is on the composition and phenomenon of the magnificent star they saw or speculation about who they were and where they came from.
But I want to focus on the practical and spiritual significance of the gifts they brought. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t actually tell us how many of these kings from distant lands came to honor the greatest King of all, but because our nativity scenes and Christmas carols all speak of three kings, most of us have been conditioned to think of that number! This is probably because, regardless of how many there actually were, we are told of three specific gifts they came bearing.
Most of us also assume that the gifts came in little boxes, but again, there is no record of the quantities of the offerings they brought.
Now if we correctly assume that not a single detail in the Bible is there by accident or without meaning, we won’t waste time on the details that don’t matter and can shift our attention to the ones that matter enough for God to have been very specific about them. He wasn’t specific about where the kings came from, who they were, how many there were or the quantities of the gifts. But He was very specific about what the gifts were so lets think for a moment about what they might represent and whether they might have any significance for us today.
On the most basic level, they brought items from their homelands which were of the greatest worth. All of the items were rare, precious and expensive.
Whatever else we might learn from this story, we know they came to honor the One they believed to be the King, the Messiah, and they gave the very best of what they had.
The Queen of Sheba was another visitor to Israel, who came to meet with Solomon as we read in 1 Kings 10:2, “So she came to Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels carrying spices and very much gold…” The Magi did the same, being spiritually aware, as it says in Matthew 10:42, “One greater than Solomon is here.”
They gave items which were found and valued in the region they lived in. Likewise, the Lord invites us to give Him what is available to us.
They offered the gifts as an act of worship. When the Messiah was still just a helpless baby, before He could speak a single word or perform a single miracle, “they fell down and worshipped Him.” (Matthew 2:11)
In both the Old Testament tabernacle and later the temple, gold was used extensively throughout showing both its value and its use in worship. The fact that Gentile kings would offer such worship had prophetic significance. We read in Psalm 72:10, “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; The kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; All nations shall serve Him.” And again in Isaiah 60:6 we read, “All those from Sheba shall come; The shall bring gold and incense; And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.”
Together they represent the three roles of the Messiah. Gold is representative of His Kingship. Frankincense represents His divinity and myrrh His manhood--being in a human body and subject to suffering and death.
We can also clearly see God’s providential and practical provision for Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the gifts provided the means to sustain them during a long and expensive journey into Egypt where they would remain for quite some time.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the gifts.
Gold has been a precious metal holding extremely high value from as long ago as 2,500 B.C. It has always been, and still is, especially prized as a medium of exchange.
It is scarce, and most things that are difficult to come by or are labor intensive, from pearls to raspberries, are expensive.
It is universally thought of as beautiful and is the preferred setting for gems on all spectrums of the price scale.
Gold is enduring. It can withstand all natural acids and even fire. In a wedding ceremony it becomes the symbol of a marriage that will hopefully endure the test of time, difficulties, disagreements, disappointments, illness, and bereavement.
It also speaks of God Himself who tells us in various Scriptures that His love, mercy, righteousness and Word endure forever.
Gold is adaptable for shaping and easily alloys with other metals. It’s soft enough to be molded but can be combined with other metals to provide even greater strength.
It is interesting that even gold, with all its beauty and qualities, becomes a better product when it works with others.
Wouldn’t it be better for us to want to be more like gold, rather than to want more gold? Think of humility, compassion, adaptability, selflessness, a servant’s heart and other admirable qualities. To be sure, a person who possesses and is increasing in these qualities is rare and beautiful indeed!
When the Magi presented gold to the Christ child, they were honoring Him with the very best they had and were recognizing that Jesus was King.
For me the most intriguing aspect of this first gift is that it is able to survive fire!
The Apostle Paul uses this analogy in 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 regarding Christian works. “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the Day will show it; because it will be revealed with fire and the fire itself (God’s discerning judgment) will test the quality of each man’s work."
In chapter 1:6-7 of Peter’s first epistle, he takes a bit of a different slant when he points out that there is something which, like gold, is refined by fire, but unlike gold, never perishes. “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
In other words, just like gold is proven to be gold by enduring fire without losing anything of its nature, weight, color or other properties, so also our faith is proven genuine by the adversities and trials we endure through faith.
“Yet even gold, in process of time, will wear away by continual use; and the earth and all its works, will be burned up by the supernatural fire whose action nothing can resist. But on that day the faith of Christ’s followers will be found brighter and more glorious. The earth, and universal nature, shall be dissolved; but he who does the will of God shall abide forever, and his faith shall then be found to the praise of God’s grace, the honor of Christ, and the glory and glorification of his own soul throughout eternity. God Himself will praise such faith, angels and men will hold it in honor, and Christ will crown it with glory.” Wow! That’s good stuff, isn’t it?! I wish I knew who said it...
Peter points out that there is something more valuable than gold and that is the process of our faith being tested and strengthened through the trials, adversities, and hardships of life which test and strengthen our faith which will hold us through eternity.
This is exactly why James can boldly and confidently tell us to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
If we truly understood God’s purposes, we would rejoice in our trials rather than simply enduring them or trying to pray our way out of them! Notice that faith grow and bears fruit, unlike gold, which as enduring as it is, will someday perish.

The second gift of the Magi was frankincense which is a very expensive and fragrant gum distilled from a tree that is found in Persia, India, Arabia and the East Indies. It’s actually a white resin, or gum, that you get by slitting the bark of an “Arbor Thurisfrom” tree which allows the gum to flow out. The word actually means “whiteness” because that’s the color of the juice which flows out of the wound in the tree. The gum is allowed to harden for three months and is scraped off at the end of the summer and sold in clumps or “tears” of the hardened resin.
It is intensely fragrant when it is burned and was used in worship where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God as we read in various verses in Exodus and Leviticus.
It was also used as a medicine and as perfume, but the lesson we can take from frankincense is that our worship should be pleasing to the Lord.
I find it very analogous that this sweet smelling resin comes as a result of a wound to the tree. When we can worship God in the midst of our sorrow and suffering, then our worship becomes a fragrant aroma before the Lord.
While joyful worship is also pleasing to God, our tears, like frankincense resin, oozing out of our hurts and broken hearts, and especially our tears of repentance, are a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord.
Anyone can dance and sing when they are happy and everything is going their way, but true worship takes place when we must overcome feelings of disappointment, doubt, fear and self-pity.
I find it interesting that God wants a “sweet-smelling sacrifice.” Do you really think He cares what it smells like? As with everything else, God is interested in the condition of our hearts when we pray and worship Him. And it is when we come to Him with a sweetness in our spirit, rather than a sense of duty, or bitterness because things haven’t turned out like we thought they would, that He is most pleased.

The last gift of the Magi was myrrh. Myrrh, like frankincense, is a gum resin that is produced from balsamodendrom myrrha tree that grows in Arabia and Ethiopia and is gotten, like frankincense, by wounding the tree. This tree can get up to ten feet high and is thorny.
When myrrh oozes from the slit in the tree is a pale yellow color, but as it hardens it changes to dark red, which represents, to me, the blood of Christ shed for my sins.
Myrrh is as bitter as frankincense is sweet. Its name was actually given to it because of its extreme bitterness. The Hebrew word is similar to the waters that were bitter when Moses and the people were coming out of Egypt in Exodus 15:23. “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.”
It is also what Naomi says to her daughter-in-law in Ruth 1:20. “Call me Mara, for the Lord has dealt very bitterly with me.”
Its primary use was for embalming the dead because it preserved the body from putrefaction. It was an ingredient of the holy ointment and was a favorite perfume in the ancient world. It is said to keep its fragrance for several hundred years if it is kept in an alabaster pot.
Myrrh also has medicinal qualities and was sometimes mixed with wine to make a antistatic like the drink offered to Jesus when He was being crucified.
Myrrh is brought as a gift to acknowledge the human suffering Jesus endured when He humbled Himself to enter His own creation and bore the sins of the world.
Why did He refuse the drink? Because He had already submitted to the will of His Father and drunk the bitter cup of His suffering.

Today, we can offer the spiritual equivalent of these same gifts to Jesus. We bring gold when we honor Him as King and yield to the purification process of fiery trials.
We bring frankincense when we worship Him in the midst of our brokenness.
We bring myrrh when we recognize that He identifies with us in our pain and sorrow.

“So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” (Hosea 6:3a)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

11-23-08

I've had two opportunities to serve the Lord this week. Well, more than that, truth be told, but two that stand out in my mind.
Last Tuesday I had the privilege of speaking to "The Women of St. James." This is the women's ministry of a local church which is, presumably, like a hundred thousand others across the country. There were maybe thirty or so women in attendance but it really didn't matter to me if there were three or three thousand. On the one hand, truth be told, I'm always hoping for a crowd. But on the other, truth be told, I am just thankful for the opportunity. And really (and I believe this) it's not about the number who show up, but the number who God draws and whose hearts He touches through the words He puts in my mouth.
They had this big poster just inside the door with my picture on it announcing the event and the title of my message, which I had forgotten, so spoke about something completely different...
The poster was quite a lovely shock! They gave it to me to take home, which seemed a bit hilarious. I mean, who has a poster of themselves in their house? I told Jay I was going to hang it over our bed! He told me he was going to draw a mustache on it....
The trash men are picking it up tomorrow morning along with the eggs shells and banana peels and the rest of the garbage.
But man, it was so much fun to feel important! I always feel most "in my element" when I am standing in front of a group of women with a microphone in my hand and sharing with a passion that can only come from the heart of God.
I prayed numerous times over the event and for the women who would come. And I preached my little heart out! The good news is that God showed up and the women responded. There was tremendous positive feedback which I hope will translate into an altered and elevated view of God and suffering and take them to deeper reliance on Him.
Then today I had another opportunity to serve. I worked in the infant nursery in our church, as I do when there is a fifth Sunday in the month.
I'll just go ahead and tell you the truth: It's not my favorite thing. Unlike Jesus, I have never been one to call all the children unto me.
I am not involved with most of them or with their parents as Jay and I have, by the miracle of just staying alive, navigated our way out of that particular time in our lives. So I don't know the parents of these kids beyond going to the same church and am not invested in their lives outside of church.
Even more to the point, I don't like slimy green boogers, stinky poopy diapers, crying kids who can't explain why they are crying, reading alphabet books or the annoying noise of the latest Fisher Price toy.
But I started realizing that all that stuff delights God. And I was thinking that His word is true and that, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "Whoever wants to be the greatest in the Kingdom must be the servant of all," and "As you have done to the least you have done to Me."
And I wondered if God wasn't more delighted with my nursery duty than He was with my "speaking engagement." I can certainly tell you which one I enjoyed more, and I can promise you it didn't have anything to do with changing stinky diapers!
Both are necessary, of course. And thankfully, He has me doing both. There is nothing wrong with, "Giving a word in season," and I love the opportunity to do so. But more often it is being kind to strangers, or the downtrodden, or the marginalized that God expects and honors and that will no doubt be the weighty jewels in our crowns of glory which we will lay at His feet one day.
That said, I hope we will all take advantage of every opportunity the Lord gives us to serve in whatever capacity it might be. And that we (read:I) can do so with an eye toward Kingdom values rather than earthly ones.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

11-20-08

My dear few but faithful readers. I apologize. I've been gone. I didn't mean to be gone so long. It wasn't premeditated. You didn't offend me. Only government workers can do that.
And no one knows better than me that if it's true the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I am well on my way. It seems that once I make a decision like, "I think I'll post on my blog consistently," it creates some sort of intense internal pressure and I end up sabotaging myself by doing the exact opposite.
I'm quite sure this is all part of the fall and I continue to blame Eve for most of the things that are inconsistent with life as God originally intended it.
The problem now is that I've been gone so long I'm not sure where to start recapping. Should I tell you about the nearly four week stay with my friends Gayle and Jimmie out in beautiful Manford, Oklahoma building health and enjoying time alone, time with God and time with them?
About the week I spent in Asheville, North Carolina, helping to care for my cousin's wife who was recovering from a hysterectomy due to a diagnosis of cervical cancer?
A brief discourse on the great book I am reading titled, "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard?
Or the one I just finished about heaven titled, who'd have guessed, "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn? It's supposed to be controversial, though I didn't know that before I read it and for the life of me, after having read it, I can't figure out why. It's nothing but Scripture...
And when you have one you love with all your heart in heaven, and knowing we who love the Lord will wind up there, it can be both exciting and a healing balm to read about it, think about it, meditate on it and imagine it.
Or shall I tell you what Jacob and Jessie are up to? Okay, I will. He is checking out seminaries and she is a junior at OU. Neither are dating and I keep thinking I am ready for that phase of my life and the addition to our family. They don't seem to take that into consideration...
The election and all the thoughts it generated before, during and after? Nah. Forget it. I'd be typing for a year and by that time, there would be more to type.
So maybe I'll just start again by copying part of a letter Jacob wrote to a friend listing all that he was thankful for. It seems marvelously appropriate given the time of year we have arrived at once again.
With his permission, we begin: Salvation through Jesus, being made human and not a bunny or a rock, or not at all; God's condescension to give us knowledge of Himself; weather; colors; food; music; friends; the church; God living inside us; the hope of heaven; the Lord's patience between my first sin and salvation; His patience with me now as I learn...slowly; flight benefits through my dad's job; enough money; having never gone hungry; laughter; the Bible; capacity to feel; redemption as a plan for man but not angels; technology; religious and other freedoms; love; imagination; memory; culture; language; ethnic diversity; spiritual gifts; God's love gift of Christ; Jesus' perfect moral example; the cross; joy; rest in God's wisdom and control; family; marriage; sex; children; intimacy with God; good books' movies; flowers; the ocean; space travel; a college education; physical and mental well-being; animals; prayer; pets; work; the Trinity; being used as an ambassador of the Gospel; salvation being apart from works; the rationality of Christianity; the seasons; stars; the five senses; the intricate complexity of the human body; dominion over earth; the expectation of future sinlessness; creativity; singing.
To that basic list I would add: God's incomprehensible greatness as expressed by the fact that He tells us twice in Scripture that He has named all the stars; every creative expression of mankind from ballet to rap to poetry to painting to theater to you name it that reflects an aspect of our Creator; atoms; quasars; jewels; the exquisite green mountainous bumps that rise out of the turquoise sea off Phi-Phi Island; my husband; my children; my country; my assurance that Jordan is with Him now and I will be with Him one day as well; fillet mignon; lobster and drawn butter; the fact that I have tasted both more than once; taste buds; the endless variety of flavors, food, colors, texture, pattern, faces, personalities, musical instruments and style; a sense of humor; that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard all that He has planned for those who love Him; being an American; driving a nice car; specific gifts and talents; crowns of glory to be laid at His feet; GRACE.
We could go on and on, couldn't we? Why don't you make your own list! Share it with me if you'd like. I'd love to read it.
So I'm back. Not consistently, of course, but I'm back.

Monday, September 15, 2008

09-15-08

I seldom forward e-mails and I try to be very careful about the things I recommend. Books, movies, devotionals, blogs....
But I have a friend, a very gifted friend, whose writing I admire and whose opinions I share, whom I feel compelled to have you read and discover.
Her name is Tara Lynn Thompson and you can find her very informative, humorous, thought provoking, video rich blog at: www.taralynnthompson.com.
Savor. Enjoy. Share.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

09-06-08

We took Jay's car to church today and he drove. This has become a highly unusual phenomenon in our two-person household. I decided on our 25th wedding anniversary that since he drove most of the first twenty-five years, I would drive the next twenty-five. The problem is, that neither one of us likes the way the other one drives. Think "Mr.Magoo vs. Mario Andretti," and you'll have a pretty good idea of things. For the record, Jay is not Mario.
Not only do I drive, we take my car. For two reasons. First, Jay is still driving the only brand new car we ever bought--which we purchased just a couple of weeks before I found out I was pregnant with Jessie. She just turned 21. It hasn't had a working air conditioner for over fifteen years.
The other reason is that we have this unspoken rule that whomever is driving has first say in radio stations. I don't follow that rule much, because Jay listens to ulcer inducing talk radio. Those guys make my blood pressure rise to unhealthy levels so it's really not good for my health to have it on. Ever. I like my tunes!
I just washed and vacuumed the RAV yesterday and since it looked like rain, decided it would be better to take Jay's car. Or what's left of it. Anyway, I didn't turn the radio station and there was some guy on there whose name was never mentioned during the short ride to church, and he was wondering what it is that compels people to be such risk takers.
I turned up the volume. I had just been wondering the same thing as I watched the movie about Antarctica that I mentioned in the last blog. As I was watching these men peer over the edge of a live volcano, or risk death to dive under the ice shelf, or live in a place you couldn't fly into or out of for seven months of the year, I was wondering what inner compulsion drives people to take such grave risks.
The man on the radio this morning mentioned Christopher Columbus climbing into three dinky little boats to get to the west by going east. Lewis and Clark searching for an overland route to the Pacific. Men attempting space flight and landing on the moon.
I was thinking of Steve Fosset the billionaire who has apparently lost his life trying to fly around the globe in a hot air balloon and the Wright brothers trying to understand the key to flight. The list goes on and on.
Of course, my first thought was that all this was just a reflection of us being created in the image and likeness of God.
Radio guy confirmed my thoughts. He read from Genesis 1:26-28. "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them. Then God blessed them and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth,'"
He went on to say that the Hebrew words translated subdue and have dominion, means to conquer or subjugate every living thing. Mankind was to overcome all obstacles and challenges. In other words, I realized, this desire, this compulsion, this need for people to conquer has been hard wired into our DNA.
It makes sense. God Himself is a risk taker. What bigger risk could He have possibly taken than to create beings with free wills? Unless it was the risk of offering salvation to those same people. Either way, an incalculable risk was involved.
He went on to say that our job is still to overcome. To the seven churches in Revelation God clearly stated the rewards to those who overcome.
To the church of Ephesus, the loveless church, He says, "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (Rev.2:7)
To the church of Smyrna, the persecuted church, He says, "He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." (7:11b)
To Pergamos, the compromising church, He says, "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." (2:17)
To the corrupt church in Thyatira, He says, "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations." (2:26)
To Sardis, the dead church, He says, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." (3:5)
To the faithful church in Philadelphia, "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name." (3:12)
And lastly, to the lukewarm church of Laodicea, He says, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (3:21)

At the dawn of creation, God brought everything into existence and told the crowning glory of that creation to overcome and conquer the created world. The fall hasn't changed that. We are still compelled to overcome and subdue things.
But after the fall, the picture changes. Now we are to overcome sin through the power of the Spirit. We are to conquer the deeds of the flesh the same way. We are to remain faithful to the One whose Spirit indwells us. We are to overcome the works of the evil one by the power of God and pray that, "His Kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
This life is only a training ground for the next. I've said it a million times, but it needs to be said a million more.
"Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor. 2:9)
We can't even conceive of all that God has in mind for us to do in the life to come. But much of it will be determined by how well we allow Him to prepare us for the next life in this one.
It reframes everything. Suffering, disappointment, trials. Our attitude as we navigate this life, our utter dependence on Him to meet every single need, our treatment of His body, the hope that keeps on looking unto Jesus, these are the things that will determine the responsibility God entrusts to us in eternity.

Friday, September 5, 2008

09-05-08

For those of you who live in Tulsa, I must tell you about the quaint little Circle Cinema "at the very large corner of Admiral and Lewis," to borrow the phrase from Ziegler's commercials.
It is a true hidden gem. They specialize in indie and foreign films and great documentaries. I have recently subscribed to receive their e-mail announcements of what's playing and what's coming, so hopefully I will never have to miss a great movie again. They do NOT show your typical (yawn or yikes!) Hollywood fare. I haven't seen a movie yet that didn't make me think about the wonder and vastness and creativity of God and how we are created in His image and reflect His likeness.
Here are just three of the ones I have seen recently: Man on Wire, Tell No One and Encounters at the End of the World. I've found that if you look for God, you see Him everywhere.
Let's work our way backward, and see how He reveals Himself, shall we?
In Encounters at the End of the World, filmmaker Werner Herzog, "sets his sights on the rarely photographed beauty of Antarctica." Ha! That's pretty much in contention for first prize in the understatement of the century contest! This is not a movie about penguins. Herzog does more than "set his sights." He pulls you in. He introduces you to the unique quality of highly educated and skilled people who seem literally pulled, as if by it's powerful magnetic force, to the South Pole. We are given snippets of their compelling stories and shown their scientific endeavors on the endless, barren tundra of ice where, for half a year, the sun never sets.
We watch a hole being drilled through eight feet of ice and sit mesmerized, shivering even, as the men, with ice crystals forming on their beards, drop a rope of dynamite sticks to enlarge the hole with the express purpose of putting on a mummy's worth of layers and entering the frigid water that is minus two degrees Celcius. The enormity and shock of the explosion nearly lifts you off your seat.
We watch the silent, almost reverent ritual of the divers putting on their gear and inexplicably, dive without lead ropes, knowing that if they get lost, disoriented or simply drift too far from their six foot wide entry spot, there is no hope of rescue. We follow along as they slowly move through a world of altered space and time. We watch their air bubbles rise and dance across the bottom of the sky blue ice shelf. We see the rhythmic, hypnotic, fluttering of giant, translucent jelly fish, their long tendrils indicating the direction they are swimming. Impressive as it was, I know what a jelly fish looks like. I even know what it's sting feels like!
But even more fascinating were both the microscopic and visible creatures no one has ever seen before. It was a good day for the diving scientists: they found three new species never before known to exist. Three!
We watched as others set up a camera over one of only three volcanoes on the planet where you can actually peer over the edge all the way down to the lava bed. Right there in one incredible spot you have the hottest and coldest extremes on earth! It was, quite simply, an astonishing sight.
All I could think about was how incomprehensible God is, how creative, how mind-boggling. Truly, "The whole earth is filled with His glory!"
Of course, there was all this talk of evolution and the Big Bang. And while I imagine that when the voice of the living God shouted into the void, it was a big bang of sorts, it was difficult not to weep that these very brilliant and dedicated scientists were blind to the God whose handiwork they are so taken with. I wanted to shout at the screen, "He's right in front of you! You're staring at and studying His incomprehensible brilliance! He's revealing Himself to you! LOOK and SEE!"

Tell No One is a thriller extraordinaire! For some reason, this movie has stayed with me like no other in recent memory. I am going to see it again. It's in French with subtitles, but it is not at all difficult to read along and follow the action and suspense. And let me assure you, there is action and suspense! The book made it's author a household name and the film maker deserves highest kudos for making a movie that keeps your heart pumping and your mind guessing from start to finish.
I left the theater praising God for the creativity and skills He has given the human beings He created and adores. As a writer myself, I kept wondering how a complex plot, with all it's requisite twists and turns, became a comprehensible story. The mind of the man who thought it all through intrigued me. The mind of God makes me fall to the ground in wide-eyed wonder and astonishment.
He has given us such imagination and creative powers! Yet it is merely the slightest reflection of His own creativity, imagaination and power. We are created in His image and likeness and when we utilize those things that reflect Him, we are reflecting His never-ending glory to the delight of His own great heart!

Man on Wire (the title comes from the terse lines on the police report) is a documentary, replete with original footage, of Phillipe Petit, the daring tightrope walker from France who "walked" between the Twin Towers in mid-air shortly after they were built in 1974.
It's such a great story! This aspiring tightrope walking Frenchman read an article in a doctor's office about the Twin Towers being under construction and immediately became consumed with the idea of suspending a wire between them and walking across! It's a story of an obsession becoming a reality and the years and commitment to his purpose that were required for him to achieve his dream. It's also a story of a team who worked together to help realize one man's goal; of intrigue and deception to scope out the towers in order to formulate a plan and execute it; and of the power of the mind to accomplish what it desires to do.
There is so much original footage you can't help but think Phillipe himself must have known this was an event that needed to be documented so the story could one day be properly told.
Of course, he pulled it off, or there would be no reason for the documentary! He literally danced on the wire for over an hour, suspended above the ground how many feet in the air? with no net. As if one would have helped at that height....
Not only did he have to take into account the up and down and side to side sway of the wire, but it also twists back and forth like a pepper grinder. Can you imagine? Yet he was so in his element, basking in the realization of his dream, that he was completely relaxed. He laid down on the wire, he walked backward, he did ballet turns. All with a giant smile on his face.
I don't mean to spiritualize every single thing, but that movie inspired me beyond belief. It reminded me that God, who has endless capabilities and potential has armed His creatures with the same. I kept thinking of Phillipe's obsession and all I could think was, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Phillipe believed, truly believed, even when his skeptical friends were fearing for his life and sanity, that HE COULD DO IT. And so he did.
And we can too. If Phillipe could do what he did without the direct intervention of God, just think what any of us can do with any insane, impossible thing God tells us to do. It was eight years from the time Phillipe read the article until he took those first tentative steps onto the high wire. The police were sure he was insane and, quite frankly, so were some of his closest friends. But he had faith. No matter what, he would not be disuaded.
He did the impossible, the unthinkable, the risky.
I can't think of a better epitaph than doing the same for the Kingdom of God and His eternal glory, because He has equipped us with the power to belive and to do "above and beyond anythign we could ask or think." Let's do it!




Thursday, August 21, 2008

08-21-08

I wanted to share Jacob's journal entry to further explain the point I made yesterday about hell and how it will not be a cause of sorrow for the saints but rather one of rejoicing:

"And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." ~ Isaiah 66:24

"After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants'. Once more they cried out, 'Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever'". ~ Revelation 19:3

I’ve been re-reading a favorite of mine lately, “The Count of Monte Cristo”. It is a masterfully told story of betrayal and revenge. Dumas really draws you in to care deeply about the characters. In brief, the main character is betrayed on his betrothal day by two close friends. The judge, knowing his innocence, instead declares him guilty because it serves his own ends. In prison for 14 years, Edmond plots revenge. After escaping and finding untold riches, he goes back to slowly and carefully exact vengeance from the three men who have enjoyed prosperous lives while he suffered unjustly. One of them even married his fiancĂ©e. As the plan unfolds, you really root for Edmond to mete out justice; there is no pity for these despicable men who have been blessed for so long and are now only getting their just deserts. And it is a wonderful triumph.
Simultaneously and seemingly unrelated, I have been considering hell for a while now. It stemmed from a few chance readings and the verse in Romans 11:22 that says “Consider then the goodness and severity of God”. We are commanded to consider both. So I’ve been thinking about hell and it has been tough. It seems to be an area most people either gloss over or make it something other than what it is – conscious, eternal, fiery torment. I told God yesterday that I just didn’t see how this was right or good. I felt unable to rejoice in something God had made. I decided to trust and imagined I would simply need resurrected perspective to really get it.
Then it clicked! The book, of course! Edmond is the Christ figure, handing down a delayed but fully deserved sentence of judgment. In the book I had no desire for mercy to be shown. The convicted were not sorry, and they had enjoyed many blessings in the meantime. I rejoiced to see Edmond’s innocence vindicated and his enemies denounced. In the same way, when sinners are judged as sinners they will remain hating God and without remorse for their sins. It will be a righteous and good thing for them to be condemned. It will be part of the fullness of Jesus' vindication that he finally and fully triumphs over his enemies, as it is cried so often in the Psalms. Incredible as it sounds, this work of fiction helped me grasp this concept much better than if someone had merely told me the same thing. In the book, I was totally drawn in and felt all the emotions in full.
I think a lot of the problem comes from not viewing the damned in their proper light. They are “alienated and hostile in mind”, “haters of God”, “liars, depraved, inventors of evil”. Somehow we get the idea that when it’s all over people will realize who God is and cry out for mercy but their chance will be over so God is forced to torture them forever. No way! They will see God for who He truly is, but this will make their hearts (no longer restrained by any measure of grace or love) revile Him all the more. They will never ask for mercy unless it be in a self-seeking way, only wanting to save themselves from pain. It reminds me of those crime documentaries on TV. They follow the whole case and when the creepy, twisted criminal is in the courtroom he remains cold. It’s sickening to see them show no sorrow for their murders and rapes and other unspeakable crimes. Then, if they do show emotion, it’s only because they want to lower their sentence. They aren’t sorry at all. For those people I want justice, swift, sure, and without chance of mercy. This is the lens through which to view the reprobate and it allows us to rejoice in God’s righteous punishment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

08-20-08

The Olympics have me incensed. The burning kind, but the aroma is not so sweet. If any of those Chinese gymnasts save one, is actually sixteen then I'm still 39. They are cheating, and except for some laissez-faire comments by all the commentators except Bela what's-his-name, no one seems to be that upset about it! No one is calling it what it is! No one is doing a darn thing about it!
For all the good it will do, let me go on record as saying I'm upset! I keep asking myself why I'm getting so riled up and it finally dawned on me. I am created in the image and likeness of a just and righteous God. Everything in my being cries out for fairness and justice and everything in me cries out against injustice whenever I see or experience it.
I understand King David's anguish when he shouts out in Psalm 94:3, "How long, O Lord, shall the wicked prosper?"
He felt that same righteous indignation, that same internal imbalance we all feel when things are out of order. It's not right that the wicked prosper or that the righteous suffer! It's not right that people lie and cheat! It's not right that people deny who Jesus is and ignore "so great a salvation." It's not right that God is mocked!
I was talking this over with Jacob the other day. And let me just say right here that the only thing more soul-satisfying than having a wonderful dialogue about spiritual matters with my children is having one with the Lord.
He made a shocking point. Jacob, that is. He said, "That's why we will rejoice when the wicked are condemned to hell. We will SEE the righteous justice of God carried out and we will rejoice! Part of Christ's victory and vindication in the end is triumph over his enemies."
I'm not saying we will be glad they are going to eternal punishment in a sort of thumb on our nose, finger waggling, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah sort of way. Absolutely not.
But I do believe we will experience a deep sense of satisfaction when sin is punished, when wickedness is dealt with justly and when God finally vindicates Himself and His standard of righteousness is upheld and honored.
It made me feel a little better about things even though I know I need to pray for the cheaters.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

08-17-08

Well, I'm back again, erratic as ever. I'm assuming it gives you all something legitimate to gamble on. Will she post today, or won't she? I'm going with N-34 and a "yes!" Bingo!
The truth is, I don't want to sit here and peck out words just to be doing it. I really want to have something valuable to write or I am guilty of being just another version of "clanging cymbals."
But the truth is, when God is in your life, there should always be something of merit to talk or write about, right?
We simply can't exhaust the subject of Him. He is too big, too vast, too powerful, too amazing, too incomprehensible, too involved in our lives.
I can never get over the fact that He hears my prayers! It makes me weep every time I think about it and it is one of the things I give thanks for constantly. (Note to self: never have your prayer time after you have put on your make-up.)
Whether I am in my antique recliner, my "prayer chair," in my living room, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or in the shower or in my car or anywhere I might be, when I open my mouth to pray, or even think the thought, the great and mighty God of all creation, the incomprehensible King of all glory, adjusts His cosmic GPS, answers His cosmic cell phone and gives undivided attention to the concerns of my heart. This is so astonishing I can never quite get over the wonder of it all. And not only does He hear my feeble prayers, He answers them! He answers me! Personally. Specifically. Lovingly. Beautifully. In ways both supernatural and practical, to the point I have no doubt it's Him. Is it any wonder we will worship Him for all eternity? As if the essential element of salvation wasn't enough, He has made me a joint heir with Christ and He hears my prayers and moves to answer them!
This is radical. Is it any wonder "the gospel is foolishness to those who don't believe"? I mean, come on! People think you're kidding. That you're nuts. But it's TRUE!
I can take the deepest heartache, the most nagging question, the most desperate need and lay it at His feet. And when I do, the most remarkable thing in the world happens. The Spirit of the Living God begins to stir and move. He dispatches angels, activates circumstances and arranges divine appointments. He moves in the unseen realm until the manifestation comes in the realm we live and move and breathe in. The realm we call "reality."
And that's where the essential, deal-breaking element of faith comes in. We pray, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is being done in heaven," and "call those things that be not as though they were." Most of us have been Christians long enough to have more than a mustard seed of faith. I'm thinking watermelons here.
Yet we get discouraged at times, when prayers seem to not be answered. That's when we have to get back into our prayer closet and tell ourselves the truth! We have to pull out our mustard seed and look it over real good. We have to activate our faith. Affirm it.
Beacuse even if a mustard seed is all we have, Jesus makes a remarkable statement in Matthew 17:20 when He says, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, 'move from here to there' and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you."
What an incredible statement! Faith is the key. And faith is only built in the times of private prayer, where we pour out our heart, our dreams, our hopes, our frustrations to the God who hears and answers. Where we lay at His feet every problem and concern and "the sin which so easily besets us." Where we ask for wisdom when we lack it (James 1:5), comfort when we need it (2 Cor. 3-5), a refuge when we are being assaulted (Ps. 46:1). When we need to defeat the enemy of our souls (James 4:7), stand firm in our faith (1 Cor. 16:13; Eph 6:14) be a witness (John 15:27), glorify God (Rom. 15:6; 1 Cor.6:20), extend forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15), and on and on it goes. Whatever you need, God is the source.
Oh, Dear Ones, this is not what I was going to write about! I was going to talk about how hell is just and those of us who love Jesus will rejoice when justice is served and be glad for it! But another time.
If you are frustrated or overwhelmed; if you are defeated or despairing; if you are in any way walking in your own strength, let me ask you how much time you spend in private prayer. It is only at the feet of our Lord that we find every need met. In fact, the very art of prayer lies in the pouring out of our souls before God who hears and answers. It is the most spirit- nourish- ing of duties, and should be a constant delight.
We are His friends and true friends enjoy spending time together, they arrange it, and they pour out their hearts to each other. How much more should we, who profess to be deeply in love with Christ, make a point of meeting with Him regularly to tell Him all that concerns us, to be encouraged, to listen for instruction and simply enjoy His presence?
If you are struggling in any area, have a deep unmet need, goal or desire, I would encourage you to evaluate the time you spend in deep and earnest private prayer. Like a lover, (because He is the lover of our souls...) He is waiting for us to sneak off to be with Him. Do it now! He is waiting!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

08-06-08

Time flies. Or so they say. And they must be right because we are ankle deep into August, Jessie goes back to OU this Saturday, Christmas is once again going to be sooner rather than later and I haven't blogged since July 21st. Sigh.
There has been a lot going on, to be sure, but none of it seemed blog worthy until I was reflecting on all God has been doing lately. It's like He is working overtime to make up for lost time. Though I know that's just my perspective, it certainly seems to be the case.
God answers prayer. We all know that. It's in the Bible. We say it, we believe it, we tell others even--or especially-when it seems not to be the case. When God seems silent. Or uninterested. Or sloooooooow to move.
My favorite answers are the ones that come immediately, or at least by the next business day. And that happens quite an eye-popping lot, actually. Though which of us ever gets used to the idea that the immortal, invisible, incomprehensible, completely unique God of all creation moves on our behalf and answers our meager, heart-felt prayers, the cries of our heart, the thoughts in our mind and the passions in our spirit?
I am ever amazed that He sees me sitting in my comfortable antique recliner, in my living room, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and listens attentively to my prayers. Not only does He listen, He moves in the heavens, in circumstances, in people, in situations, to actually answer those prayers! If, like me, you have been a Christian a long time, you sort of expect it, but do we ever get used to it? I must admit that I don't, because when I see that He's moved, that a prayer has been answered, I am always as amazed as I was the first time it ever happened. It makes me weak in the knees. I am constantly embarrassed that my awe hinders my thanks. I stutter.
On the other hand, I'm at the point in my life journey where I have lived long enough to have prayed for years about something without seeing the answer. Inevitably, doubt sets in. Despair. Unbelief. The death knell is resignation. I become resigned to something simply because I can't see what is happening in the unseen realm, therefore I am fooled into thinking God must have put it on the back burner or that nothing is happening!
Oh! Foolish Galatians! Or something like that. It's not true. From the moment the words leave our lips or the thought escapes our mind, God is at work--in us, in others, in circumstances, in every possible area. The God who never faints or grows weary is calling us to do the same. To trust, to believe, to not lose hope, to cast all our cares on Him. We need to fill up those "golden bowls of incense that are the prayers of the saints" that Revelation speaks of twice.
I am saying this because I have been praying for years about something and I am finally seeing God move! I am astonished! Delighted! But I am also a bit disappointed that I ever doubted and fell into to the brier patch of resignation.That I quit praying. Or quit praying with passion.
Truly, is there anything to hard for the Lord? I am learning first hand, having been told and having believed that my entire Christian life--yet still falling into my own version of unbelief-- that there is not.
If God can create everything seen and unseen, if He can name all the stars, if He can take dry, bleached bones and turn them into a living, breathing army, He can do anything I ask. The problem for me, and for many of us I think, is that sometimes it takes time. And the more time it takes, the more apt we are to assume God has chosen not to answer.
But I am here to testify that I am seeing the most amazing and creative answers to prayers I have been yearning and praying for for almost 25 years! God hasn't forgotten. He does hear! He IS able!
So take heart. Seriously. The hardest most difficult thing, the one you have lost faith over, the one you have resigned yourself to and quit praying about. That one. Take to Him again. Ask. Expect. Believe.
He hears.

Monday, July 21, 2008

07-21-08

Well, my cadre of faithful blog readers, you have seen first-hand how far my resolve takes me. I resolved to blog more consistently and so far I have only managed to be consistently inconsistent. This might also help explain my inability to lose weight. Apparently dieting for the better part of the day, or even the better part of an entire week is not sufficient commitment for double digit weight loss. (Long, heavy sigh.)
In my defense, I don't want to write to just be pecking away with no point, and I don't want this blog to turn into a rant, though trust me, there is plenty to rant about. In fact, if I'm not careful, it would be much easier to rant than edify and that would be counterproductive on so many levels.
So....with a few exceptions, I do my best to confine the rants to my prayer closet. With the door tightly closed. And locked. That way God can't get out and no one else can get in. It's better for everybody that way.
That's one thing I really like about God. You can rant, you can even rant at Him occasionally, and He doesn't pout or withdraw or get His feelings hurt or threaten to smite you. He doesn't even roll His eyes. He lets us duke it out. He listens to everything we have to say. He lets us tell Him everything that frustrates and confuses us. Even when we accuse Him of appearing to be absent or slow or distant or uncaring or a procrastinator.
Job did it. And Jacob. And Moses. And David. And Elijah. And Jonah. Heck, the list of who didn't give God a piece of their mind in their brief appearances in Scripture would be shorter than the one of those who did.
In fact, to take a bit of a left turn here, I'm going to put together a talk about all the people in the Bible that begged God to just go ahead and kill them!
Moses, Elijah, Job and Jonah spring immediately to mind. Every one of those guys had some fairly heated conversations with God about what the heck He was doing and why He was doing it. They were essentially saying, "I don't get it; I don't like it; and You've got some serious 'splainin'' to do, Big Guy."
But perhaps the best part, the most essential element, is that God always listens and, if we are also listening and not just ranting or pouting, He eventually answers. And His answers are perfect and brilliant and wise and provide the perspective shift that allows us to reframe our thinking, calm down and put our trust firmly back where it belongs.
When David, having acknowledged the incomprehensibility of God, asks with head-shaking gratitude and awe, "What is man that Thou art mindful of him?" the answer is loud and clear. "You are loved with an everlasting love." Valued. Treasured. Adored.
"Why?" we ask. "How, when I have violated all Your commands in a thousand different ways?"
The answer seems to be the same one our parents told us and we told our children: "Because I said so."
That's all I need to know.

Friday, July 11, 2008

07-11-08

A few months ago, I was driving back from the funeral of a friend's not quite 22 year-old son who had died suddenly and without warning.
He was almost exactly the same age as Jordan had been when he left this mortal life for the one he is enjoying now and will enjoy forever.
Although Jordan was closer in age to this young man's older brother, the boys had grown up together in Sherman, Texas. Our families went to the same church and on Friday nights every one dropped their children off at the church to attend our home fellowship group while the kids enjoyed their own version of "fellowship."
I was one of the first people my friend called from outside her son's apartment. She and her husband were two of many who had walked with us through the nineteen year roller coaster ride that was Jordan's life. They were on my "Dear Ones," newsletter list. They wept with us when Jordan died, and she kept (and still keeps) in frequent e-mail contact with me.
So I had to go to the funeral. And as much as I dreaded it, I wanted to go to the funeral. I needed to offer whatever small comfort I could. I understood her unspeakable grief and I needed to hold her tight and let her sob.
It was a very dignified service. Simple. Sad. Yet full of the assurance he was enjoying the same joys Jordan was experiencing. We even asked each other if Jordan might have been one of the ones who were privileged to usher him into the presence of God and giggled at the thought of these boyhood friends exploring heaven together.
I followed the caravan to the cemetery then started the drive home, but I couldn't get him off my mind. There was no explanation for his death. He had just died. A month or so before his twenty-second birthday his earthly life was unexpectedly over.
I was closing in on a semi and mindlessly gauging when to pull left to pass him when I saw something on the back of his truck I had never seen before. There was a sign with his picture on it which read, "Congratulations Marvin: the 1,000,000 mile club." I realized with a shock that Marvin was being acknowledged for having spent enough time in an 18-wheeler to have driven over a million miles!
I wanted to honk and wave as I passed him, but I was afraid he might get the wrong idea. Still, a million miles! I couldn't help but wonder how long it had taken him, how many days and weeks and months and years of his life he had spent behind the wheel barrelling down some highway. I wondered what he did when he wasn't driving; if he had any hobbies he enjoyed or interests he perused. I wondered about his family and how old he was. I wondered if he acknowledged and served the God who had granted him life and continued to grant it to him.
I kept thinking about the contrast of these two men: One I knew, one I didn't. One young, one older. One taken, one left. One sitting, one soaring.
My mind went to a little Scripture chorus we used to sing in YWAM taken from Psalm 90:12 where it says, "Teach us, dear Lord, to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
I couldn't help but reflect on how well I was doing that. Was I properly applying my heart to wisdom or just barrelling down the highway of life?
We often read those good intentioned slogans that are supposed to help us focus on what's important in life like, "Live each day as if it is your last." That's ridiculous, of course. I mean really, if you knew this were your last day on earth, what would you do? Go to work? Take out the trash? Dust the mini-blinds? Send a frantic e-mail? Pray? Read this blog? Well, okay, I'll grant you that one...
But seriously, there is no way we can realistically live each day as if it were our last. But I know what the people who spout that tripe really mean. We should live fully. We should savor life. We should appreciate all we have. We shouldn't sweat the small stuff. We should worship God and enjoy those He has given us.
We should live as if this life matters. Because it does. And so does what we do with however much of it God allows each of us.
"May you live every day of your life." Jonathan Swift

Monday, July 7, 2008

07-07-08

I had an interesting e-mail exchange with a friend of mine the other day. It made me think about the different gifts God has given each of us.
Some have what could commonly be called the more "visible" gifts of apostles, prophets, pastors evangelists, and teachers. Others have what might be considered the "invisible" or "behind the scenes" gifts of administration, organization, hospitality or intercessory prayer.
Every gift is necessary. But I think we are all guilty at times of putting more value on the gifts that get attention than on the ones that don't. It makes sense, on a certain level. After all, we see these people operating in their gifts! Therefore, we often slip into assuming they are somehow more important than others, including ourselves. It can also lead to putting them on a pedestal. It's a real human tendency, but not necessarily a good or accurate one.
During the years we were going back and forth to the "Children's Hospital" in St. Louis on a regular basis for Jordan's pre-transplant check-ups, and certainly in the days and weeks following his surgery, I saw firsthand a marvelous picture of how the church should work.
A hospital might not be the first place you would think to look to find a picture of the body of Christ in action, but I have never forgotten the startling insight it afforded me, and that's what I was explaining to my friend.
Every single person who was employed by the hospital had a job to do. From the custodial staff to the technicians to the nurses to the residents to the surgeons. And although in that secular setting there was a very real pecking order, it occurred to me there shouldn't be.
After all, if the people who were responsible for creating a germ-free operating room and sterilizing the equipment didn't do their job, the surgeon's skills would be wasted because the patients would invariably die.
If those responsible for making and delivering the meals didn't do their job, the patients would have a difficult time getting the nutrition they needed to recover.
If the nurses didn't tend to the patients after the surgeon brought all the years of his schooling, training and skill to bear, the outcome might be quite different than if they received the post- surgery care and attention they needed.
If the technician didn't perform the necessary tests, there isn't a single doctor who wouldn't be at a severe disadvantage in treating the patients.
Likewise, if the surgeon wasn't highly educated and rigorously trained for years, a lot of the other jobs I just mentioned might not be necessary.
So whose job, in this unique community of joint effort for a specific purpose is most important? Which is more valuable?
I think the correct answer is: None of them. Or all of them equally. The truth is, it takes all of them performing their individual responsibilities to the best of their ability to create a successful outcome.
And so it is with the church.
Paul makes the point quite clear in 1 Corinthians 12:14-27, where we read: "For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, 'because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,' it is not for this reason any less part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,' it is not for this reason any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you;' or again, the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and on our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, but that the members should have the same care for one another."
So there you have it. We each have a job to do that has been graciously bestowed on us by our loving heavenly Father according to His unsurpassed wisdom.
None of us are more important than the other. And God makes the paradoxical statement that the weaker parts are really very important and the ones we think aren't worth much are the ones we are to give the most care to. Remarkable.
If you don't know your place in the body of Christ, I hope you will pray and ask the Lord to show you where and how He would have you serve.
If you already know, I hope you will pray that the Lord will keep you from comparing yourself to another and thinking your part is less important than someone else's.
And when you have a chance, you might give a hearty pat on the back to someone whom you know is listening to their "Head" and exercising their gift and contributing to the body.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

07-03-08

Well boys and girls, it been a busy, productive day. Lots going on that's probably too boring to tell. But in keeping with my new commitment to write every day....okay, that probably won't happen... but more regularly, at least, let me leave you with a prayer.
But not just any prayer, mind you. A Puritan prayer. I'm tellin' ya the truth, those Puritans had it going on! They had a different understanding than some of us do of sin and grace and contrition and our spiritually poverty stricken state and desperate need for Christ.
So, from "The Valley of Vision," I quote you a beautiful prayer and hope you will make it your own.
"Thou art the blessed God,
happy in Thyself,
source of happiness in Thy creatures,
my Maker, Benefactor, Proprietor, Upholder.
Thou hast produced and sustained me,
supported and indulged me,
saved and kept me;
Thou art in every situation able to meet my needs and my miseries.
May I live by Thee,
live for Thee,
never be satisfied with my Christian progress
but as I resemble Christ;
and may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct
grow hourly in my life.
Let Thy unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience,
and render my duty my delight.
If others deem my faith folly,
my meekness infirmity,
my zeal madness,
my hope delusion,
my actions hypocrisy,
may I rejoice to suffer for Thy name.
Keep me walking steadfastly towards the country
of everlasting delights,
that paradise-land which is my true inheritance.
Support me by the strength of heaven,
that I may never turn back,
or desire false pleasures
that wilt and disappear into nothing.
As I pursue my heavenly journey by Thy grace
let me be known as a person with no aim
but that of a burning desire for Thee,
and the good and salvation of my fellow human being."

I sincerely hope I am not violating any copyright infringement laws. It's a beautiful prayer, but I'm not sure it's worth going to prison over...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

07-02-08

I was with two different groups of women today. Both groups are comprised of awesome, godly women it is my privilege to know. I deeply love and admire every single one of them, and I treasure how God made them.
The morning group is doing a weekly abbreviated "Celebrate Recovery" version of the program over the summer. I have the distinct honor of facilitating the group, but the goal is to help with a ministry one of the women in the group is starting. The name is, "Hope Restored," and it is designed to be a house where women who are trying to get their lives put back together after prison, drug abuse, etc., can come to heal, let go of shame, learn practical life skills and be restored to a place of dignity in society. Lives will be changes and that's awesome!
One of the requirements for acceptance in the house is that they be actively involved in "Celebrate Recovery," a Christ centered 12-step program.
I told the woman starting "Hope Restored," that it didn't seem fair to ask the women who would be coming into the house to do something the women who would be working with, and hoping to minister to them, hadn't done. Not only was I concerned that we wouldn't be speaking the same "language," I was afraid there would be not a real point of contact. A lot of the women who have volunteered to help have the appearance of having all the blessings and none of the heartaches of life. It's not true, though. We are finding out first-hand, as we are open and honest and candid with one another, that we all have, "Hurts, habits and hang-ups," that God needs and wants to address in each of us. He is graciously doing a work in us so that we can aid Him in doing a work in the women He brings to the house. I think we have all been surprised, sometimes painfully, sometimes pleasantly, by all He is doing in us so he can work through us.
The second group of women were my "core group" in the weekly Bible study I attend. Every year the groups are mixed up again with no more than 15 in each group. But for some reason, that year, God did something unexpected and marvelous. We bonded to such a degree that we didn't want to stop meeting. So we didn't!
We met all through that first summer, throughout this past year and now into the second summer. We call ourselves the "Yadas" and not after the book. We are a prayer group and supposedly Yada means something spiritual. I've forgotten what, so until I remember, just take my word for it.
At first I thought the name was really corny, but I have come to love it. We meet once a month. and we can't wait to be with each other! It's one of the biggest highest highlights of our collective month. We talk and share and laugh and eat, of course, but we also pray.
In both of these groups, we are open and honest and real. Warts and all. Because we all have warts so there's no sense pretending we don't.
Pretense always breeds isolation because you think you can't afford to let anyone really know you. These women are the antithesis of what is all too common in our churches these days and I love them for it almost as much as I need them.
I also have a small prayer group of four women that meet in my home to pray for our families every other Tuesday, as well as my almost weekly meetings with my favorite 30-somethings, Tara and Kristen.
Then there is the other group of three women who are determined to see, "The Rhyme and Reason Series" published.
My gosh! As I type this, I realize how incredibly blessed I am! God has given me not one, not two, but an entire bevy of solid, get-to-the-point committed Christian friends who love and pray for each other. I feel rich beyond measure in the things that matter most. I don't wear a diamond on my finger. Mainly because I don't have one. Instead, the Lord has sprinkled sparkling diamonds of greater and eternal value all around me. And I cherish them with more passion than I could ever value compacted coal.
My heart is overflowing with gratitude, but here is my point: Twice in Scripture (and I know I've said this many times before because it's one of my favorite themes...) God tells us He has named all the stars!
We all know that if God says something once, He means it. If He says it twice, He's making a point of making a point.
Isaiah 40:25-26 says, "To whom will you liken Me that I should be his equal? says the Holy One. Lift your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing." Wow. That should be enough right there. But Psalm 147:4 confirms this incredible statement: "He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to them all."
I personally don't think this is hyperbole. I think He said exactly what He meant. With the same care and thought with which we name our children, God has named the incalculable stars in the incalculable galaxies of which we can't even find the end.
And if it's true that the universe is ever-expanding, that means He is giving birth and naming star babies all the time.
And yet. Oh! And yet! We are His priority! He loves us with an everlasting love! I am convinced the stars are just a hobby. It's us He adores! It's us! What a worship inspiring thought!
And if we love and serve a God who can name more stars than we have a number to count, doesn't it make sense that the "hurts, habits and hang-ups" that seem so monumental and confusing and trying to us are nothing at all to Him? Nothing! Besides, He promises that, "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
I'm afraid in my case even that won't be long enough, but what a marvelous, comforting, hopeful thought!
Not only that, He's grace-gifted me with all of these women I can just be myself with, whom I know will pray for me as I pray for them. And I do.