Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Privilege Minus The Mysticism

Prayer, if I'm honest, has always been a struggle for me. So many people, most likely buying into stereotypes of disabled Christians, automatically assume I'm a "prayer warrior." I actually vacillate between almost being offended by the underlying implication that prayer is the only service someone in my condition is capable of performing and wishing I could live up to the perception that prayer is my primary ministry. The truth is, however, that praying requires enormous discipline on my part, and I often fail at it.

Yet, the Lord commands Christians to pray. And it's a privilege to come before Almighty God with our concerns, requests and joys, confident that He has given us His undivided attention! Prayer, then, is an honor. Yes, also a duty, but the duty is secondary to the amazing privilege of having audience with the Creator of heaven and earth. So, although the practice doesn't come as easily for me as reading and studying the Bible, it's definitely a daily part of my relationship with the Lord. If someone asks me to pray for them, therefore, they can rest assured I will!

For years, I felt inadequate because I couldn't get the hang of "listening prayer." Maybe the expectation that I should be silent and "hear God's still, small voice" contributed to my difficulties in developing a prayer-life. In part, though, I doubted that prayer was meant to be such a mystical conversation with God. And now, thanks to wonderful blogs like Sola Sisters, Herescope, and Pyromaniacs, I see that such "prayer" has more to do with Hinduism than with Biblical Christianity.

I generally have my primary prayer time in conjunction with my time in Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to help me understand God's Word and show me ways to apply it. It's through reading and studying His Word that God speaks to me, complimenting the time I use prayer to address Him. I'll add the caveat that, during the confession portion of my prayer time, He does work on my sinful attitudes, bringing me to dependence on Him.

Therefore, I'd say today that my struggle with prayer has greatly diminished since I've "demystifyed" it. The Holy Spirit is active in my prayer life, but His activity comes as I read, study and apply His Word. I use a prayer list most days, not as a legalistic standard, but as a guide to help me achieve consistency. With a grid of discipline in place, I find it easier to come before my Father's throne.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Unfamiliar Old Paths

Yesterday's post may have given the impression that I believe God speaks in new, fresh ways. During my many years in a Charismatic church, I half believed He did, even going through a period in the early 80s when I'd feel disappointed if a Sunday service passed without at least one person giving a "prophecy." I remember many personal prayer times when, as I struggled with various issues, I'd feel that there must be something beyond the Bible (or hidden in some mystical interpretation of the Bible) that would address my concerns. I routinely expected the Holy Spirit to speak to me in His "still small voice," the way my friends claimed He spoke to them.

Another time, perhaps I'll share about my journey away from Charismatic theology. To be honest, I'm still sorting out a few residual vestiges of my theological past, and I suspect that attempts to tame my narrative into words could get decidedly messy. Anyway, my purpose this evening is to clarify matters, not to generate even further confusion.

Alrighty, then!

I have, as I indicated yesterday, been understanding Scripture in ways that I never have before. This difference, however, comes from a more careful study of His Word, as well as more exposure to commentaries and sources of Reformed Theology (yes,  you can label it Calvinism).

Interestingly, much of what I'm learning takes me back to beliefs I started to hold in my early years as a Christian, before I got so caught up in Charismatic teachings. It's as if the Lord has returned me to my beginning, and is walking me in paths I should have taken soon after coming to Christ. I'm not getting new revelations, in other words, because of the fact that God's final revelation is His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Bible offers all that we need to know as we prepare for His return, and extra-biblical insights only distract us from applying the clear teaching of Scripture to our daily lives. The freshness in my relationship with the Lord, therefore, is not that He's "doing a new thing," but that He's teaching me to walk in established paths. And those established paths feel delightfully new.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

An Old Doll Teaches New Tricks

I'm really late for a project that a friend asked me to do back in January. She needed me to complete it by the beginning of March (and it requires snail mail delivery). Although I woke up this morning fully planning to do other things with my day, the Lord somehow reminded me that I'd been neglecting this commitment. So, I've spent the last three hours using Paint Shop Pro to draw Raggedy Ann, who is an integral part of this project.

Isn't she cute? I tried techniques that I generally don't use in drawing her, which actually stimulated me by coaxing me to think a bit differently. There's irony in that thinking differently bit, since my Raggedy Ann doll has been with me for 53 years.

When something is so familiar, you usually assume you know how to represent it, whether you're speaking, writing or drawing. You don't anticipate new approaches. After all, you believe you know your subject. But as you speak, write or draw, ideas you'd never considered pop into your mind, throwing all your preconceived ideas out the window. And amazingly, the difference, even though it's only a slight variation on your normal way of speaking, writing or drawing, works ever so much better than your original plans.

A similar principle applies to walking with Christ. Even people who have followed Him for decades can read a familiar passage, but suddenly understand its proper context, and therefore make a better application. That's been happening in my life these past  few years. I'd considered myself quite knowledgeable about Scripture, but as I've begun seeing how the Word of God fits together, and have put it into practice, my relationship with the Lord seems totally new and exciting! All from looking at Scripture from a better angle!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Does Grace Shine For You?

Lately, a disturbing trend in evangelical  circles has once again become prominent. It's always been a temptation for Christians to misconstrue the grace of God into a license to sin, but the attitude has surged in the past few years, particularly in connection with sexuality. Oh, it extends to other areas as well, so please don't think I'm just harping on sex because I'm somehow repressing  my own perversions by looking down my judgmental nose at people who enjoy more "Christian liberty" than I do.

From Christianity's earliest days, grace has been distorted into a presumptuous "freedom" to sin, prompting Peter to write:

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. ~~1 Peter 2:16 (ESV)

Admittedly, as the Lord has deepened my understanding of His grace in once and for all removing me from judgment for my sin (a concept that my works-oriented mind has accepted all too slowly), I've had times of taking advantage of my liberty. Since I won't be judged, I reason, why shouldn't I cross this little line, or indulge in that little comfort? Only God will know, and Jesus has already paid the penalty... Please believe me when I say that I'm casting the first stone at myself, acutely aware that I've misused grace in my own life. I see my potential to fall  back into that misuse of freedom at any time, unless I cling to Him, trusting His Holy Spirit to keep me in paths of obedience.

In my saner moments, however, I understand that God's forgiveness for sins past, present and future (as wonderful and unfathomable as that amazing aspect of grace is) only reveals part of the picture. Grace also changes its recipient! When we really consider the Lord's grace in dying on the cross for sins that we committed, willingly accepting the punishment that rightfully belongs to us, a huge sense of gratitude transforms our perception of sin. Rather than His grace becoming a permission slip to play with our fleshly indulgences, we recognize it as the power to resist our cravings in favor of being representatives of Him.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

Grace, therefore, is meant to draw us away from the futility of living for our selfish pleasure and toward the type of life that He intends  for us. Far from leaving us to wallow in the pollution of lust (sexual or otherwise), it changes our priorities, not to mention our way of looking at life. We still feel all the old temptations, certainly, and sometimes with an even greater intensity as the world, the flesh and the devil conspire to wrench us out of God's loving embrace. Ah, but grace shines brightest when it leads us to choose holiness!

Friday, February 24, 2012

And Today, Snow!

Okay, so summer doesn't really begin in February. John took these videos out our bedroom window as the morning news on Fox 25 played in the background. Kinda funny, after talking yesterday about feeling as if summer had begun, but what can I say? After all, this is New England! And anyway, it didn't stick... It fell for maybe half an hour, just to look pretty and to humble me a bit, being more of a pleasure and an amusement than the pain it usually is. And folks, I enjoyed today's little show!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

First Day Of Summer--In February

February in New England shouldn't have almost 60 degree temperatures, but oh how wonderful to have such a spring-like day yesterday! John's health is manageable at the moment, and he's between tests, so we decided a Boston Adventure was entirely in order. Boarding the bus to Ashmont Station felt so good, although a little strange for this time of year. Getting off at Downtown Crossing thrilled me, though, as our favorite MBTA Inspector met us on the subway platform with the bridge plate. His familiar "Hi kids" greeting made me feel as if we'd come home.

In fact, as we wheeled through Downtown Crossing toward Boston Common, I kept repeating "I'm home. This is where I belong." As we sat outside the Visitor Center, waiting for a young man in a wheelchair to vacate the restroom, we watched a Freedom Trail Walking Tour Guide hawking his tour and realized tours were running probably because it's school vacation week. Despite coats and scarves replacing shorts and tee shirts, the tourist activity made me feel as if summer had started.

As John took his turn in the men's room, I watched the man in the wheelchair wander off with an able-bodied woman and the dog she had on a leash, thinking they made a nice couple. Once they disappeared, I turned my mind to God's mercy. Just three weeks ago, John's health caused me to despair of ever seeing my beloved Boston again. Now, here I sat on the Common, crazily wishing I knew how to embrace it and say how happy I was to be there. John returned, and I told him how amazing it felt to be back.

We wheeled toward the Public Garden, again glimpsing the couple with the dog before crossing Charles Street. I was eager to see if the Lagoon had been drained, as it had been when we saw it two years ago (see Empty Lagoons And Sea Creatures for a photo). Yes, it had been, and we speculated that the reasons might be to clean it and/or to inspect the moorings of the Swan Boat pier. As we headed toward the suspension bridge (planning to take a photo of the lagoon from that vantage point), we again saw the fellow in the wheelchair, along with the woman and the dog.

"Who's following whom?" we asked jokingly. They laughed, declaring that they'd just moved to the area, and therefore were following us. From there, a lively conversation that ran the gamut from why the Downtown Crossing T Station is more wheelchair-friendly than the Park Street Station to where to find a Primary Care Physician to how John and I got engaged ensued. I was surprised to learn that the woman, instead of being the man's girlfriend (as I had assumed) was actually his mom. At her suggestion, we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.

Finally, I interrupted, reminding John that I wanted to hear the Paul Revere bell that had been installed at Old South Meeting House last fall. We invited them to come along, and then join us for lunch at Quincy Market. On the way to Old South Meeting House, John took them to  the elevator for the Downtown Crossing T Station, while I happily wheeled up Washington Street toward the Meeting House. First time I'd ever driven that far in Boston without John. And the locals were shocked.

The four of us (and the dog) huddled by the clock tower at Old South Meeting House, waiting for the 2:00 chime, with the young man expressing concern that it might be too loud. He needn't have worried--the tower is so high that the sound went out instead of down, so we only heard two faint pings. Still, I was completely satisfied!

Quincy Market was packed, since school vacation week meant...well, school vacation. And yeah, mild weather means less skiing in New Hampshire, which in turn directs more people to Boston. So, even though we got the same table as our new friends, we sat on one end and they on the other, with two families between us. The vendors recognized me and John, and even sold us a freshly-made cannoli rather than one from the display case.

Once lunch was eaten, we parted ways with our friends, and zipped down the Rose Kennedy Greenway to South Station. Dewey Square looked so terrific without the Occupy Boston tent city! We briefly chatted with our friend who sells newspapers outside South Station, bought tickets and boarded the Commuter Rail train. At the JFK/UMass Station, our train buddy joined us, and we enjoyed a glorious reunion with him.

As far as I'm concerned, our "summer" has begun!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Uncomfortable? I Should Hope So!

Twitter provides a good source of blogs and videos. Sifting through all of them can eat up a good chunk of time, but the Lord often leads me to items that minister to me. Now, occasionally such ministry is anything but warm fuzzies, as in the case of the video I found earlier this afternoon:

The speaker, James White, said some things that (to put it mildly) make me really uncomfortable. Which is good, because Christians should be uncomfortable as our culture confuses good with evil! It troubles me particularly that many people who identify themselves as evangelicals or Bible-believing Christians adapt to the moral overturn in society, sometimes even championing its causes.

Perhaps White is correct that, by abandoning us to our sinful pursuits, God is allowing Western society to experience His wrath. Not his wrath in its fullness, though a day is coming when He definitely will unleash that degree of righteous indignation. And I grieve that human rebellion against His standards will justify Him in doing so. We should all grieve over the perversion of His creation, and we ought to be much more than merely uncomfortable with the moral breakdown we're currently witnessing. Certainly, however, we can rejoice that Christ will have His way in the end!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meat, Not Seasoning

What did your pastor preach yesterday? Did he use the Bible, explaining the text and then demonstrating how that text applies to everyday life? Did he keep the text in context with Scripture as a whole, taking great care to make his points conform to Biblical doctrine rather than adjusting verses to fit whatever points he wanted to make? And did he challenge you to study the Scriptures for yourself rather than blindly accepting his teaching?

Biblical illiteracy continues to climb in America, despite the abundance of Bible Study resources online. Pastors bear partial responsibility for the ignorance of even basic theology so rampant among those who identify themselves as Christians by diminishing the truth that the Bible is nothing less than the very Word of God, authored by the Holy Spirit. They may "augment" it with Charismatic experiences, pop-psychology, or even mystical practices adapted from other religious or spiritual traditions, as if it's incomplete in itself to address life's issues. Such pastors forget that the Bible is the only tool Christians require to  navigate through life.

16  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work ~~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

Instead of sermons powered by faithful exposition of the Bible, many pastors spend 20 minutes each Sunday performing stand-up comedy or leading their congregations outside Biblical parameters. The goal shifts from urging people toward repentance and holiness to making them feel good or generating an emotional high. Scripture provides a seasoning, but it ceases to be offered as the meat of the message.

But before placing all the blame on pastors, let's remember that each of us can study the Bible for ourselves. 21st Century technology (as I suggested earlier) makes so many Bible Study tools available that anyone able to read this blog post is without excuse. You may live in an area that doesn't have a church where the Word of God is preached faithfully, but you can check you  pastor's sermon against Scripture and trust that, as you study carefully and prayerfully, the Holy Spirit will show you His truth.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Facebook Reveals Your Heart

Does your Facebook page show your faith?

Well, that pithy little question, which could be an interesting Status Update or tweet on Twitter (depending on your social medium of choice), pretty much gets to the heart of matters. In essence, it asks if professing Christians have lives that reflect a life of obedience to the Lord. It's less about what you post online per se, and more about how your daily activities (online and off) honor Christ.

For instance, I read posts by people I've known from various churches that both shock and sadden me. Some proudly announce that they're watching TV shows that promote teenage sex, New Age philosophies and/or  materialism. Others post daily horoscopes or "Like" yoga pages. A few support groups like Planned Parenthood. More than a couple anticipate consuming alcoholic beverages that are a bit more potent than a glass of wine with dinner, and a few use language that warrants washing their mouths out with soap.

Are such posts merely online personas? If they are, why would a Christian wish to portray themselves in such an ungodly manner? Certainly not as a tool of evangelism, for then God would be misrepresented as a overly indulgent Parent who can't be bothered to move anyone toward holiness and freedom from sin. And if the motive is to demonstrate that Christians are "just like everyone else," the ploy backfires by instead confirming the charge that Christians are really the hypocrites that everyone has always suspected them to be.

Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and blog entries don't always need to be bashing people over the head with Bible verses. A good friend of mine rarely mentions Jesus directly online, yet her Status Updates and photos  display a wholesome lifestyle that's unmistakably centered on her love for Him. The point is that, as Christians, our lives should show a distance from worldly values rather than an entanglement with them. Online, as well as in "real life," Christians must represent the Lord, with His values and standards. Our behavior, regardless of the venue, lets a dying world know that He is indeed a risen Savior.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Squint, And Shut Out The Light

About nine years ago, words in magazines started looking curiously small and fuzzy, requiring me to squint a bit to make sense of them. I remember being rather surprised that squinting actually helped. According to an article from Cornell Center for Materiel Research, squinting helps aging eyes focus by reducing the light that enters the retina, or lens. Thus, when I narrow my vision by deliberately screening out light and concentrating exclusively on what is immediately in front of me, I can see what I want to see.

Peter recognized this principle of squinting when he wrote his second epistle, cautioning his readers to be on their guard against false teachers. He first enumerated qualities that attend healthy Christian growth, and then points out the near-sightedness of people who lack those qualities.

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. ~~2 Peter 1:3-11 (ESV)

This morning, I studied verse 9, and understood Peter's argument. He asserted that professing Christians who train their gaze on matters of this present life (as well as the false teachers who encourage them to do so) squint to focus on the immediate, consequently blocking out the light of the Gospel. They become indifferent to matters such as the forgiveness of their sins. Frankly, eternal judgment is inconsequential to them as they concern themselves with utilizing God to benefit them, as well as society, in this life. Their near-sightedness blinds them to the eternal qualities that the Lord desires to develop in them.

The examples of this near-sighted blindness abounds in the contemporary church. I've participated in some of its forms myself, losing sight of the fact that I'm on this earth to represent Jesus Christ, hopefully calling people to Him...that they might also enter into eternal life with Him. Sadly, such myopic vision isn't unique to me, and permeates churches to an alarming degree. We focus on personal fulfillment, spiritual experiences, political dominance and psychological understanding, all the while squinting out the light of His calling on us.

False teachers, according to further passages in 2 Peter, tend to present the notion that we can, and as a matter of fact should live "our best life now." In contrast, the Lord Jesus Christ demands that we live in holiness, with an eye on eternity. We must open our eyes to the clear teaching of Scripture, applying it in preparation for eternity with Him. Squint at magazines if you wish, but  keep your eyes wide open to His Word.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Man In Love

With all he's going through right now, my sweet and wonderful husband arranged to give me flowers for Valentine's Day.

The fact that John has so much going on in his life, and in directions that neither of us wants, makes this bouquet extra special. Truthfully, I expected nothing but the meal of steak tips (which he had delivered), knowing how much stress he's been under these past few weeks, and had decided that this Valentine's Day would be all about him. I should have known that John wasn't going to cooperate with my plan!

I had him photograph the flowers this morning so I'd have a reminder, long after they wilt, of how selflessly John loves me. Maybe next year things will be better, and he'll be able to buy me some pretty little keepsake, but I doubt anything could mean as much, or convey his love as powerfully, as this simple bouquet from our neighborhood supermarket. This gift, given during a time when his world appears to be crashing down around him on so many sides, makes it abundantly clear that he's a man in love.

(I love you too,  honey.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Puppies And Valentine's Day

The dog I had from age 16 to 32 was born on Valentine's Day, though admittedly his demeanor sometimes seemed more appropriate to either Halloween or April Fool's Day. At least, that's probably what my sister (and a few other people) would have said. Corky was the sort of dog people either loved or hated.

I loved him. Yes, I understood why many people disliked him. I took him out of obedience school because, using the profound wisdom and logic of a 16-year-old, I decided that choke collars were inhumane. Anyway, I looked past his many obvious character flaws, preferring to see him as my "Baby Dog." After I had him put down, I missed him.

The year we were engaged, John surprised me with a stuffed toy dog for Valentine's Day. He knew how much I still missed Corky, so he sent me Puppy Love. The toy was so cute, and we've enjoyed giving him his own personality and creating funny situations involving him. Silly, most certainly! But Puppy Love (and his growing entourage of stuffed companions) provides us with smiles.

So, when I visited PSPFamily yesterday and discovered that this month's challenge was to draw something "cute" for Valentine's Day, all I could think of was...

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Mind's Not On Whitney

Sad about Whitney Houston, though I confess to not understanding the massive outpouring of grief and commentary her death has generated. But then, I'm not very educated on pop culture. Forgive me if I appear sanctimonious, especially since I know (better than anybody) that I'm definitely not holier than anyone, and that some very godly people follow celebrities. For me, however, secular entertainment and interest in pop culture seems distracting, and pulls me into a fascination with this world that troubles me.

When I sense myself getting too interested in the values of this world (even politically conservative values, if they loom larger than my love for Christ), I have to back up and ask myself if I've forgotten that I'm a citizen of heaven. For me, too much saturation with music, television, movies and books that emanate from a media that clearly resists Christian priorities (and, worse yet, hides such resistance under a veneer of spirituality) can seduce me away from the voice of God. I'll read my Bible, but then tuck it away as the world calls me to adjust my thinking to its standards. thinking! That's precisely the battle-field for Christians! Will my mind be on celebrity gossip, man-made theories, and self-serving desires? Or will it be on the Lord, and working under the guidance of His Holy Spirit for His Kingdom? According to the Bible, I  can choose how to train my thoughts, and conform them either to the system of the world or to His perspective.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. ~~Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

When the Word of God influences my mind, I begin seeing life in ways that puzzle people who prefer more conventional ideas, such as practically deifying a singer who sacrificed both her religious upbringing and her wonderful talents to the idol of drug addiction. As sad as it is, the story doesn't captivate my attention as much as discussions on returning to Biblical preaching or living in ways that honor Jesus. Rather than being disturbed by her death (tragic though it is), I'm troubled by Facebook Status Updates by Christians who are watching TV shows glorifying teen motherhood and blogs by Christians who invoke "grace" to justify immoral lifestyles.

Scripture has separated my mind from the way most people think. That separation is still incomplete, admittedly, which is why I keep reading it, studying it and writing about it, working it into my life as a baker works yeast into bread dough. I need it to so permeate my mind that I begin to live our the Lord's values, whether they're popular or not.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Positive Becauses

Before our circumstances started improving (and yes, they are showing signs of improvement), the Lord gave me and John a sense of peace. As we discussed ways of living with the impending changes that seemingly would be forced on us, we slowly found positive aspects to those changes. No, we weren't eager for what seemed inevitable. But the fear dissipated to a large degree, leaving us feeling a little more empowered.

And I feel closer to John because we talked so intimately.

Yesterday, the circumstances took a few hopeful turns, meaning that we may not have such severe changes after all. If some changes do occur (prayerfully, that won't happen), we can now see ways to adapt to them...and even one or two benefits to them. Yet we feel encouraged by the possibility that things can carry on as they are now.

And I feel closer to John because we have hope.

In all that's going on, I find it interesting that I'd begun studying 2 Peter before our trials started. The Lord led me to this epistle after taking me through a study of Jude, which examines false teachers. Okay, I know you're scratching your heads, wondering what in the world Scriptures about false teachers could possibly have to do with feeling better and seeing hope and a deeper sense of closeness with my husband, but I'm getting to that. You see, as Peter refutes the false teaching that some people have "special knowledge," he makes a claim about God's sufficiency:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, ~~2 Peter 1:3 (ESV)

While the context of this verse makes it clear that the knowledge of God, as set forth in the Bible, is all we need to live Christian lives, the application is that the Lord has given me and John resources with which to respond to our current situations. In so doing, we can even serve as a reflection of Him to a watching world. As we put the Scriptures we read into practice, we'll both grow in our intimacy with Jesus, and we'll demonstrate His glory and excellence.

And I draw closer to God because of His Word.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peace, Snugged Up To Joy

Our circumstances got complicated yesterday by unrelated problems that threaten John's health from another angle. All we want to do is cling to each other, weeping and praying that these threats turn out to be mere boogey men, introduced by Satan to cripple our ability to share Christ. But I don't need to let myself play with that type of speculation. Anyway...we're hurting, confused, and frightened. (Think Judy Garland draping herself over the witch's crystal ball sobbing, "I'm frightened, Auntie Em--I'm frightened!")

As best I can, I recall some of my memory verses. One in particular, actually.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. ~~Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)

Okay, I need peace, whether it surpasses all understanding or not. So I thank the Lord for blessing me with John, and plead for help in these situations. But then I catch myself reducing that Scripture to a formula. Not necessarily a formula to fix John's problems (although that would be nice...), but to feel peace in place of my anxiety. Oh Lord, I'd like that peace! And I wonder if I'll ever stop trying to control God. (Sigh.)

Then another memory verse (which I've also memorized in the New King James Version) makes its way into my head:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, ~~1 Peter 1:6-7 (NKJV)

At first, it reminds me that I'm failing to rejoice in these trials. But as I mentally recite the words, I realize that it doesn't negate the grief that I feel. The joy doesn't lie in the trials, but rather in how the Lord wants to use these trials to prove (perhaps to me) that my faith really is in Him after all. Oh yes!--I can rejoice in that prospect! When I stand before Him at the threshold of eternity, I indeed long for Him to agree that I really did trust Him, despite all the obvious imperfections of my faith.

There's my peace! Do you see it? It's sitting over there, snuggled up to the joy of knowing that these awful trails are no mere boogey men. At their heart, they are God's tool, both to prepare me for eternal life and to display His glory. I still feel fear, and I cling to my precious husband, treasuring him more than ever, but through the fear and pain (and even doubt), I see flickers of hope that I can honor Jesus.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Life As An Interruption

My husband is having a health problem. We're not sure how serious it is. He'll be having a test either later this week or Monday. Of course, the test, for him, will be more complicated than it would be if he were able-bodied, so naturally I'm very concerned.

Sort of makes me less interested in blogging, you know? Partly, because sharing details with friends on Facebook and through email (though I know privacy controls aren't really that air-tight) seems substantially different than putting personal stuff on a blog post that could be read by anybody. I mean, lately people in Slovenia have been reading! And, as grateful and excited as I am that Slovenians have an interest in my writing (am I a missionary to Slovenia?), John's health issues don't need to be broadcast to them.

So, I'll take life as God lays it out, even if His plans interrupt my agenda for the moment. You may hear from me all week, or I may be silent. I really can't predict how things will go. John and I would greatly appreciate your prayers as we go through this stressful time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Disposable People

Yes, humans are inherently sinful. I make that point often, in response to post-modern thinking that would deny the need for a Savior, insistent on the assumption that we can attain God's blessing apart from Him. So I fully expect I will continue to state this vital truth in hopes that even one of my readers, upon seeing their helpless spiritual condition, will turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and find His grace.

Yet, Scripture always presents paradoxes in its great doctrines...perhaps so that we will recognize our human limitations and acknowledge that God knows more than we do. He put everything together, so He alone knows how all the moving parts harmonize. And so, while He declares our total depravity, He also immensely values human life in all its stages (beginning with conception). He currently delays His final judgment because He desires all people to repent and have relationship with Him 2 Peter 3:9.

Since He values helpless human life, Christians best imitate Him by standing against abortion and euthanasia. The unborn, the disabled and the elderly require special protection, not because we can offer anything to the world, but because God created us to be as valued as any other member of society. As all humanity is helpless in comparison to Him, so the unborn, the disabled and the elderly need compassion from the young and the strong. As you look past our apparent impotence, you see us as individuals who need love, and may on occasion actually find ways to return your love.

Jesus taught that we must love all people, regardless of any abilities they may or may not have. Consider His command:

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” ~~Luke 14:12-14 (ESV)

Can we "invite" the unborn to the banquet of long life? I don't believe I'm misapplying the Lord's words  by putting them into the context of resisting abortion. A pregnancy may be unwanted, but in such cases a mother needs encouragement to let her baby come into this  banquet, even if it means letting someone adopt that child upon  birth. Even if the pregnancy is inconvenient, that child is valued by her or his Creator. If He values that unborn child (or that disabled man who pesters you at Wendy's, or those Alzheimer's patients at the nursing home), reflecting His nature requires us to follow His example by declaring that no human life is disposable!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Let The Unborn Speak On Facebook

Earlier this week, I was thrilled to hear that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had withdrawn its support to Planned Parenthood, America's leading abortion supplier. Since studies have shown a link between abortion and breast cancer, it struck me as an odd (and rather stupid) alliance in the first place. If you're dedicated to saving life, why on earth would you fund an organization that terminates lives before they're even born? I was proud of  Komen's courage to stand for life!

Apparently, many people failed to share my conviction, and various forms of social media exploded with the outrage of those who think opposing abortion somehow reflects a disdain for women's health. As a result, Komen buckled under public pressure, and reinstated the funding.

So, I figure that the pro-life community can also use social media to (at the very least) call Komen on its obvious hypocrisy. I've started a Facebook group called Tell Komen Not To Fund Planned Parenthood ( If you're pro-life and  on Facebook, please join this group...and tell your friends. We need a huge following in order to get Komen's attention.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Agree With My Sin

The RIDE provides transportation to elderly and disabled residents in the Greater Boston Area who, at least some of the time, can't access public transportation. Yesterday's cold temperatures (which got colder as the day progressed) made it necessary for us to use The RIDE to go to Massachusetts General Hospital for John's doctor appointment, as opposed to getting there using buses and subways.

When the van picked us up at our apartment building, we were delighted. The driver was a woman we hadn't seen in probably a few years. The RIDE has so many drivers serving our area that it can be years between seeing any given driver, or we can see a driver four times in the same month. Anyway, we boarded with smiles, anticipating an enjoyable ride into Boston with a driver we knew and liked.

Well...that's not exactly what happened. Without going into detail, I'll say that she spent the entire trip either arguing with Dispatch or complaining to us about the dispatcher. Since she had to pick up another passenger in Back Bay before dropping all three of us off at the hospital, this was well over an hour's drive.

I found it interesting that, at several points, she worked very hard at trying to pull John into her complaint-fest. To his credit, but not to my surprise, my wonderful husband remained politely non-committal. (If she had listened as she boarded him, she would have realized that he was much more concerned with his impending doctor visit than with the petty squabble between her and Dispatch.) But her apparent need for John's validation of her indignation, and indeed of her contempt for those in authority over her, typifies, perhaps, the insecurity all of us experience when we sin openly.

Although I doubt she regarded her complaining as being sin, I suspect that deep in her heart something told her that her attitude and behavior weren't quite right. Usually, when I complain, I realize that I'm crossing a line. Not just when I complain, actually--when I'm indulging in any sin, the Holy Spirit lets me know that I'm displeasing Him. And often, I'll react to His pressure, not by humble confession and repentance, but by self-justification and by implicitly soliciting support from other people. If I can get someone, or several people, to agree with me that I'm the innocent victim of another person's incompetence or stupidity, I can ignore my own flaws. Maybe turn my flaws into virtues, even.

The apostle Paul wrote about the human tendency to draw those around us into our sins:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. ~~Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)

That driver's behavior yesterday challenges me. Am I complaining? If so, am I seeking sympathetic allies who, instead of calling me to repentance, will participate in my disobedience, assuring me that my vitriol is totally understandable?

(By the way, John's appointment ended up going very well, with us getting the answer we wanted.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

For Christ's Sake

Christians should, by all means, rejoice in Christ's blood shed for the remission of sin. What a glorious wonder that He, though He is God from all eternity, would become a Man Who would willingly die on a cross to accept punishment for sins committed by His own creation. Flabbergasting!

Many contemporary evangelicals interpret Christ's sacrifice as something He did for them. That point of view obviously is true.The apostle Paul writes:

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~~Romans 5:8 (ESV)

And once a sinner glimpses the power of Paul's statement, understanding that Christ died as his or her substitute, the gratitude gushes forth! Such freedom can't be met with nonchalance...not if the sinner truly comprehends the magnitude of sin that Christ bore in his or her place. One who sees how deeply sin offends God, Who is perfectly holy, and then sees that this perfectly holy God actually bore that sin on His own body as He suffered an agonizing and humiliating crucifixion will respond in joy and amazement. 

Any lesser response betrays a lack of understanding either regarding the reality of personal sin or the hatred God has toward sin. Both deficits result in pride, making Christ's sacrifice woefully ineffectual for the person. Unbelief blocks any application of Christ's atonement by rejecting the need for it. But to the person who recognizes his or her spiritual helplessness to please God apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ, His atonement shines as the most astounding miracle ever!

Yet, this miracle is only secondarily for the sinner's benefit.The Lord's ultimate purpose in paying the terrible price for human sin was that He might be glorified! As much as Christians benefit from His abundant mercy, He subjected Himself to the cross because His sacrifice held out a promise for Him. The writer of Hebrews embeds this idea in an exhortation towards obedience:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~~Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

"For the joy set before Him!" Whatever joy that may be, it strengthened Jesus enough to willingly put Himself through the torture of an excruciating execution as well as separation from His Father. Ultimately, He died for His sake, knowing that the redemption of humankind, as stinky and corrupt as we are apart from Him, would bring greater honor to Him.

Following Jesus does bring both temporal and eternal blessings to believers, and the Bible bursts with wonderful promises to those who surrender their lives to Him. That being said, a narrow focus on what He has for those who love Him distorts the entirety of the picture, shifting the attention from the glorious Lord of all creation to the creatures who exist to glorify Him. The true perspective must be restored, so that the joy Christians express centers completely and exclusively on the Lord Jesus Christ!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...