Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I want to do chronic pain right this time

English: "The man with the burden", ...
"The man with the burden", illustration from John Bunyan's dream story (based on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) (p. 18) abridged by James Baldwin (1841-1925) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, to be perfectly honest, I don't want to do chronic pain at all. But since it looks like that's God's will for my life at this time, I don't want to mess it up. I don't want to miss the blessing God has in mind for me in it.

 I've failed to seek His best in my pain plenty of times.  My first battle with chronic pain began when I was eight years old , when spinal deformity began grinding my vertebrae down into the wedge shapes that would result eventually in permanent kyphosis. You can read more about the story here if you like.

 Pain has been a pretty constant companion ever since then, some times worse than others.  And so I learned to study, knit, crochet, and write to my heart's content...sedentary activities which I thoroughly loved and which became my focus.

Activities that caused more pain...or that I feared might cause more pain, became anathema.

In the past several years, thanks to medical interventions of various types for various problems, the pain had become a lot less … until peripheral neuropathy entered the scene. My search for the right medicine continues, as the pain invades more and more of my life.

 But I don't want this to be a depressing article, nor should it be.  You see, I've been reading Jerry Sittser's helpful book, "When God Doesn't Answer Your Prayers." In it I found this mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting quote:

"If we pray for healing, it will be to render better service to God. But if we continue to be sick, we will strive to honor God all the same, 'whether we live or die,' as the apostle Paul put it.  If we pray for a job, it will be to use our position and resources to build his kingdom and not our own. If we can’t find a job, we will use our time and struggles to glorify God. We will put God first in everything."

 That quote stopped me in my tracks. When I pray for healing, is it so that I can render better service to God? I have to admit, it's not. I pray for healing so that I can be free from pain, for no other reason than that I don't like pain. And to be honest, when I imagine my desired pain-free life, it looks like a whole lot more self-indulgence.

After all, that's what my life tends to look like anyway. I have the luxury of being allowed to indulge my appetite for study and for craft work, at the expense of (at the very least) my homemaking.  And I'd like to continue to focus on those things without pain, thank you Lord.

But... "If we pray for healing, it will be to render better service to God."

Last night I bowed out of doing AWANA because my feet and legs hurt so badly.  But I couldn't help wondering, shouldn't I have tried?  What if I had gone and served, despite my pain?  I can think of a limited number of possible outcomes:

  • The pain might have increased until it was unbearable, and I might have had to give up and go home.  But I would have known that I had done my best. And, at least for a time, God and others would have been lovingly served.
  • The pain might have been lessened or even removed by an act of God's grace, and I would have had a wonderful testimony of His mercy.  And both God and others would have been lovingly served.
  • The pain might have stayed the same, or even gotten worse, but I might have felt God strengthening me to endure it, and I would have had joy in that gift of grace.  And yes, God and others would have been lovingly served.
Now don't's not my intent to say that no one should ever bow out of things because of pain.  Sometimes there's really no choice.  Nor do I mean to imply that God is calloused to our pain, and frowningly expects us to "buck up."  Of course our tender, loving Father cares!

But what if, in His great mercy and wisdom, He has decreed our "thorn in the flesh" to keep us humbly dependent on Him while we, by His grace, pursue Kingdom goals?  What if the "Good works which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph 2:10) include works done in pain?

What if God sees that the rewards, joys, and glories that await us in heaven are far more worthy of our pursuit than anything we try to acquire for our own fading, earthly kingdoms? 

The Apostle Paul certainly believed that!
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
I know myself, and how I default to comfort, to ease, to pursuing my own interests in my own tiny, self-indulgent world.  Frankly, if I'm not careful, I can easily turn even "serving others" into a self-indulgent pursuit of pharisaical notches in my spiritual belt, rather than as the joyful privilege it truly is. And as soon as serving becomes inconvenient or painful, comfort takes precedence with me, almost every time . 

As a point of doctrine, I believe that the rewards of heaven are infinitely worth whatever we suffer on this earth. But when I take a painfully honest look at how I live, I am forced to conclude that that belief hasn't infiltrated my life. 

Can you relate?  God help us!

 The only way out is to be changed by the Spirit of God into people who truly seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness...and to do that for His sake, not for our own religious pride.  When His Kingdom and righteousness are our true goal and focus, we can honestly pray for healing in order to render better service to God and others … and we can more often find the strength to serve even when the pain persists.

 If you're in the same boat with me, please join me in prayer.  (And yes, this prayer DOES scare me to death...)

 Father, I repent of holding my own comfort up as the ultimate good in my life. Help me to believe all the way to my fingertips, and to the ends of my burning toes, that serving You and others in love is a far greater joy and privilege than the comforts I so doggedly seek.  Help me to have the courage to step out in faith and do as much as You enable me to do; by Your grace rather than by my grit, with joy rather than complaint, and with love rather than a martyr complex. Make me more like Jesus! In Jesus name, amen.

P.S.  Another excellent book that I can't recommend highly enough is Joni Eareckson Tada's "A Place of Healing."  Get it and soak in it if you can!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Love Poured Out (A bit of free verse)

Lord, my soul brims.
Your Word, Your beautiful Self-portrait
Ripples in my heart,
Makes it tremble with love for You.

Fullness overflows.
My words cascade.
Though they can't express the loveliness I see,
Nor vibrate in perfect sympathy with my heart's strings
As You draw out their music.

You accept my humble gift with humbler joy.
You smile.
You love.

Should I write my heart here,
Where none but a handful will ever read it?

Like Mary, I will break my alabaster box,
I will pour out my fragrance of love
Though only a few around Your table will breathe their aroma,
And some may not approve.

Judas thought the anointing wasteful,
Too much for Your poor body.
I sorrow that it's not enough
For Him who reigns in Glory.

You accept my humble gift with humbler joy.
You smile.
You love.

I have no eyes for those who frown.
But I feel the warmth of tearful smiles
From those who've also given You
Their paltry best
And felt Your blessing on it.

Our Bridegroom,
We rejoice to have no further need
To anoint You for Your burial.
With great anticipation we pour our hearts out to You
For our wedding day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I Can Do What Things?

English: Saint paul arrested
English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The great Apostle Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

So why didn't he pray up an earthquake to rescue himself from prison every time he was in there, like the one that rescued him and Silas in Philippi?

Why didn't he power his way out of floggings and stonings?

Why didn't he just keep those ships afloat instead of suffering shipwreck two times?

Why didn't he pull together a slick presentation that wowed everybody's socks off and made everybody fawn over him, instead of being slandered, beaten, hated, and drummed out of town all the time?

C'mon, Paul, why didn't you do those things?  Don't you know what you wrote?  Don't you know "all things" means ALL THINGS?  You should be healthy, wealthy, and loved everywhere you go!

You should be enjoying your best life now!

But what if "all things" doesn't mean "everything we want?"  Everything we think is best?

Does "all" always mean "Anything in the universe," or does God say "all" within pre-defined parameters?

When I took my little kids to the store and (on rare occasions) pointed to the candy display and said, "Pick whatever you want," was I inviting them to rush away to the sporting goods section and pick out a bike?  Of course not!

What are our parameters?  What are the limits of God's "all?"

Paul knew what God's power in his life was for.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Php 4:11-13).

Paul knew that God's power was there to enable him to suffer well.  He also knew that God's power was there to enable him to receive God's pleasant gifts unselfishly, and to use them for ministry rather than for his own luxury.

And where did he get this perspective?  Do you remember what God promised when He told Ananias about His decision to save Paul and use him for gospel ministry?

"I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16)
"Well that's all well and good for Paul," you may say, "but God never said anything like that to me!"

Didn't he?  Have you ever read Luke 6:20-36?  Were His disciples lying to the suffering Christians in Acts 14:22?

Jesus probably hasn't told any of us what we're going to suffer, but He has promised us that we will suffer (John 16:33).

So if "all things" doesn't mean delivering ourselves from suffering, then what good is it?

It means that whatever God has put in your life, whether suffering or pleasure, He will enable you to turn both of these temporary things into eternal treasures as you endure or enjoy them with contentment.

"I have learned to be content in all circumstances...I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Christian power doesn't come by rebuking so-called "demons of whatever I don't like" (which we'd better be cautious about doing anyway, Jude 1:8-10).  It doesn't come by "naming it and claiming it" (2 Co 12:8-9).  

Christian power comes through the immovable strength of contentment in Christ Himself.  Contentment, in fact, is nothing more than the peace which comes from faith in a good and loving God who will "work all things (including suffering) together for the good of those who love Him" (Rom 8:28).

Contentment strengthened Paul to go back to minister in places where his life was threatened.

Contentment strengthened Paul to sit in a dank, filthy prison, chained to guards night and day, with his back lacerated by brutal whippings, and to write epistles which overflowed with love, praise, and joy.  And every time we read Paul's epistles, we who love God are still receiving the promised "good" which God brought from those incredible sufferings.

Will you pray for the faith-filled contentment which is the only thing that will empower you to love and serve and praise and rejoice in the midst of your tears and tiredness?

Godliness with contentment is great gain indeed (1 Tim 6:6).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Loving Challenge to My Fellow Eaters

A chocolate-chip cookie.
A chocolate-chip cookie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear consumer of food,

I'm not concerned at this moment with whether you're a healthy eater, a glutton ( me...), or someone who barely eats at all.

I'm challenged to think about the reason God gives us food.

Yes, of course it's because we need it, and He loves us.  But what do we need it for?

To keep our hearts beating?  Sure, but beyond that, what?

Lately I've been having auditory memories of the same few words:  the words my father habitually said as "grace" before our meals.

"Thank You, Lord, for this food.
Please nourish it to our bodies, and our bodies to Thy service.
In Jesus Name, Amen."

Grammatical error aside, there was some awfully good theology in that prayer, but I never paid attention to it as a child.  Never, in fact, until it began echoing in my brain a few days ago...decades after I stopped hearing him say it.

"Nourish it to our bodies, and our bodies to Thy service."

I prayed it aloud at our dinner table last night for the first time.  Not the exact words, but the same concept.  "May we never forget that you created us in Christ Jesus to do good works, which You prepared in advance for us to do.  Help us to remember always that the strength which You give us through food is to be used for serving You."

Suddenly, the meal felt holy.

Will you join me in looking at food this way?  That's my challenge:

- To the healthy eater:  Do you eat healthy food only so you'll feel great and look great, or so that you'll be fit to carry on in His service?  Will you pray about that before eating?

-  To the glutton:  Will you...will I... commit to praying such a dedication before we consider doing what we always do... indulging simply because we loooove (worship?) food?  Is this handful of chocolate chips something we honestly could consume to His glory and His service?

-  To the anorexic/bulemic:  Can you thank God that this food is designed to strengthen you for the good works He designed for you to do, and then consume it for His glory, with thanksgiving?

Please comment below if you're willing to join me in this.  Thank you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prayers For Daydreamers (And Other Mental Escapists)

Photo by Vera Kratochvil        

I confess, I'm a daydreamer.

Okay, to be more honest, I'm an extreme daydreamer.  Or perhaps "pathological" would be a more honest word.

Perhaps you don't daydream...but you DO fill up your mind with other people's imaginations in the form of novels, TV shows, and movies.  Or perhaps you feast your mind on endless video games.  Whatever your mental escape may be, it's probably fine in small doses.

The problem with me was, daydreaming became a drug.  It became Escape.  I never had to "be there" mentally, even if I was there physically.

Do you have a problem with mental escapism?  Perhaps, like me, one of the reasons you find it easy to slip into "escape mode" is that it's hard to see what's wrong with it.  If that describes you, and you really don't feel like you're missing out on anything by excessive escaping, you'll definitely want to prayerfully consider the requests I've written below.

Or, perhaps your form(s) of escapism have become an I'm ashamed to admit they have with me. Especially my imagination; my skill at weaving compelling dramas in my head.  It's so much a part of me that I hardly feel like it's optional.  The stories are always there, always waiting, always beckoning, always entertaining, always seeming to fulfill a need.

In fact, our mental escapes are far more responsive than God is.  We've got to wait on the Lord, but entertaining screens are never far away.  We never have to wait for our imagination either.  And how do you walk away from a drug that literally resides inside your head?  There's no passing by the fantasy counter, the way people can choose to pass by the cigarette counter.

But after a while, as Christians, we have to come to terms with the fact that we love and trust our oh-so-available escapes more than we love and trust the God we can't control.

Then what do we do?

Scripture tells us that conquering bad habits by mere force of will doesn't make us righteous before God.  That's the Pharisaical approach, and it only trades the original sin for the greater sin of religious pride.

Romans 8 tells us that we must put sinful deeds to death "by the Spirit."

And how does the Spirit work?  He works by drawing us to read the Scriptures, illuminating it to our minds, helping us love and revere God as revealed in His Word (and to love His word for revealing Him to us), recalling the truth to our minds (especially if we memorized it), teaching us to love what God loves and hate what God hates, and changing our hearts to want to obey Him.  In this way, He turns our hearts onto the right paths.

So I decided to attack the problem of excessive daydreaming with some specifically targeted prayers, ones which help me aim for ways to pursue a joy in Christ that's better than mental escapism.  And I thought I'd share them with you, in case I'm not the only one with this problem.  So without further ado, here are:

Prayers for Daydreamers
(and other mental escapists)

1. Father, instead of daydreaming/mentally escaping today, may I love the Lord my God with all my mind.  If love is spelled "T-I-M-E," then my mind is loving its constant escapes more than I love You.  Help my mind to be set on You and seeking you more and more of the time.

2. Instead of daydreaming/mentally escaping, by Your grace may I obey the command to "Love my neighbor as myself."  Because the fact is, I can't recognize my neighbor's needs or prioritize them in my life if I'm wrapped up in my fantasy world. 

3. Help me to "Walk as as child of light, trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord" (Eph 5:8-10).  I can't be constantly trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord in my real circumstances if I'm daydreaming about being in different ones.

4.  Help to obey Your command that says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men."  Forgive me, Lord, that I used to think this meant "Try not to mind the work by distracting myself with my imagination."  After all, what's heartier than my imagination?  But no, it means putting my heart into the work itself in order to lovingly serve others and willingly obey You in the situation You've actually created for me.  It means "redeeming the time," in my real world.

5.  Spirit, please help me to "In everything give thanks."   Daydreaming prevents me from noticing things to be thankful for, or from even committing to noticing them.

6. Help me to remember that I can't "Behold the Lord and be changed into His image, from one degree of glory to another" (2 Co 3:18) if I'm constantly beholding the contents of my imagination instead.

7.  Help me, Spirit, to obey the command: "You shall meditate on God's Word day and night, that you may be careful to do it."  Ignoring Your Word is the same as disdaining Your commands, Your promises, and Your blessings.  It means not caring whether I obey You or not.

8. Help me to "Pray without ceasing."  I clearly can't do that while mentally escaping into fantasy or video games.

9. Help me to receive the blessings of Truth, such as sanctification (John 17:17) and freedom (John 8:32).  All commands, promises, and blessings related to Truth are blocked by an insistence on living with the mind marinating in what is not true. The blessings of Truth can only be applied to my actual reality, even in all its periodic ugliness.

10. Help me to cooperate with You as You prepare my heart to "Go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13)  In our daydreams we feed our lust for glory, we dream of human accolades, we focus on mastery rather than dependence, and we further unfit our hearts for bearing His reproach.

Can you see how different this is from "white-knuckle fighting" with our sin?  By the Spirit we seek to love God more, to find our joy in God instead of in sin.  He alone makes that possible, because we can't change our hearts ourselves.  But we can and must choose to seek Him, to "fight the good fight" against our tendency to believe the promises of sin more than the promises of God.  We can and must pray and wrestle and repent in the fight for the greatest joy there is...the joy of believing and knowing Him.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When a Disliked Verse Becomes Beautiful

Photo Licensing: See footnote

"Save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh."  (Jude 1:23)

Clearly this verse, when viewed in its context, is talking about doing something good for sinners.  And we can easily recognize that the first part of the verse mirrors the kindness that the angels showed to Lot in Gen 19:16.  But what on earth is that "with fear" and "hating clothes" thing supposed to mean?

I always disliked the latter portion of this verse.  It made me picture a sneering guy in priestly garb, his nostrils flared with disgust while doing whatever charitable deed he felt forced to do.  If this "mercy-giver" had to touch the recipient of his "kindness," he'd do so with as few fingers as possible, and with an expression of nausea on his face.

But whether I like it or not, this verse says, "hate even their clothes."  So I have to be the arrogant jerk described above, because that's what it says, right?

Or is that what it really says?

Thanks in part to the wonderful website, which allows laymen to study Biblical words in their original languages, I was able to learn that this verse is, in fact, beautiful.  It is a command to walk in humble love and mercy toward others when they sin, knowing that we're sinners ourselves.  But in order to understand that, we have to get a handle on some fundamentals here.  Namely, we must understand:

1.  Why the fear and hatred?
2.  What is the proper spirit of this hatred and fear?
2.  What do the clothes represent?

First of all, it's important to note that "show mercy" is a command, but unlike what I had assumed for years, the word "hating" is not!  (It looks like it could be a command in the English, but in the original Greek it's quite clear that it's not.) "Hating" in this sentence is a simple statement of the emotional condition that you're in while you're being negatively affected by something.  In this case the negative is the idea of "staining" or "contamination."

Okay, but isn't "hating clothes" a weird way to talk about our reaction to sinners?  Not to the First-Century Jewish writer and his audience!  Back in Leviticus 15, the Jews were taught the laws regarding items, including clothing, which were contaminated by contact with an unclean person.  Those items had to be dealt with in ways that sometimes seem drastic to modern readers.  And these laws were deeply ingrained into the Jewish psyche and way of life.

God's reasons for such laws were multifaceted.  He taught the people the basics of quarantining and hygiene, millennia before germ theory ever entered the human mind.  But he also taught them a strong loathing for sin by equating sin with uncleanness.  Don't miss that.  In the Bible, sin is uncleanness.

Back to our verse in Jude.  The hatred here is not primarily for the clothes.  The focus is on the uncleanness.  It's about hating uncleanness so much that you hate even clothes which have become contaminated.  And hatred for uncleanness (sin) is commanded all throughout the Bible.  It's the right thing to feel.

Yes, as distasteful as this fact sounds to modern ears, sin is offensive.  It is offensive to our holy God, and when it affects us, it offends us, too.  If we're honest, we have to admit that the sins we excuse when they're done by us, really bug us when they're done to us.

The Bible makes it clear that we're to hate sin.  And the Bible also makes it clear that it's impossible to truly love our neighbor and remain indifferent to the sin that is destroying his soul.  If our own souls have tasted the sweetness of undeserved mercy and salvation, how can we not hate the sin that destroys our neighbor?  Hating sin is part of loving our neighbor, no matter what the modern mantra of tolerance says.

It's also important to understand that, in Jewish ceremonial laws, when a clean thing comes into contact with an unclean thing, it's always the uncleanness that spreads.  The clean thing doesn't cleanse the unclean thing.  Rather, the unclean thing contaminates the formerly clean thing (Haggai 2:12-13).

So why would a Jewish person hate and fear touching an unclean thing?  Because he would become unclean himself!  "The garment stained by the flesh" is metaphorically loathsome because it represents contagion...the contagion of sin.

But wait...didn't Jesus touch unclean people, like lepers, without becoming unclean Himself?  Absolutely!  That's because Jesus' cleanness was not merely ceremonial.  He was the perfect, holy Son of God.  So His cleanness can never be lost.  He's the only one who cannot be contaminated.

Photo licensing:  See footnote
And here's where, if we're looking at our Bibles humbly, we recognize that there's no place in the "fear of contamination" for us to be proud. No place for the sneer.  No place for the "holier-than-thou" attitude.  Why?  Because we know we are absolutely contaminable.  We are not God, we're mere mortals.  Other people's sins can influence us to sin.

This is one of many things that the Pharisees (the religious elite of Jesus' day) got all wrong.  They really did think they were better than everybody else, and so they wouldn't touch anything they considered unclean (and they had made their own rules about clean/unclean things, which were even more restrictive than God's law)!  So blind were they to their own uncleanness, that they would order the murder of the sinless Son of God on trumped-up charges in an illegal court proceeding, but during that process, they would refuse to go into the house of an "unclean" Gentile, so that they wouldn't be contaminated and be unable to celebrate the Passover.  They would stand in the Temple without a qualm about their own uncleanness, while declaring that the blood money they had used to pay for Christ's betrayal was too unclean to be put in the Temple coffers. Blind pharisees, indeed!

No, though we must hate uncleanness, it can't be an arrogant hatred if we know we are sinners.

How do we know that the hatred and fear in Jude 1:23 is a humble recognition of our own contaminability?  By comparing it with verses like Gal 6:1, which command us to be gentle with others and careful of ourselves when confronting someone who is caught in sin, "lest we also be tempted."

So what is the point of this verse as I now understand it?  Simply this:  When rubbing elbows with sinners like yourself, who are currently in a really dangerous spot and need spiritual rescue, of course you need to show them mercy!  That's a command.  And of course you're likely to feel a certain revulsion if the sin offends you...but be revolted at the sin only.  Love the person and show mercy to him despite those feelings!  Don't let those feelings stop you from showing mercy!  And be humbly aware that you're in the same boat with this guy.  Unless you're God (and you're not), sin is contagious to you! You can easily be tempted and fall into the very same sin that you're trying to help him escape.  So you must be gentle with him, and fearful of your own sinfulness...not rudely condescending to him and fearful of his sinfulness.  No plugging your nose here.

This verse is a call to be like Christ, and to bring people to Christ, the only one who gently, lovingly touches sinners like us and makes us clean.

Sinners like us.

This is a beautiful verse.


Footnote:  I was unable to find licensing information for these photos.  Please contact me in the comments section if you own the rights to either photo and wish to rescind or altar my use of it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Loving Religious Freedom, But Not Christ

English: Ruins of Laodicea engraving by Willia...
English: Ruins of Laodicea engraving by William Miller after T Allom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To what shall I liken this generation, this Laodicea?

You are like men who fight for freedoms you do not care to enjoy.

When you pull your noses out of entertainment long enough to notice that your government-given rights are threatened, you get mad. You get really mad.


You fire off angry words at whoever you think needs to be reminded of your rights.  
And then you put your face back in your screens and ignore Me,
because you never really wanted Me.
You just wanted your rights.

You want your pride.  You want the right to choose Me if you ever get around to it.

But you never get around to it.

There's just so much else that's more important.
You know... the next level on that video game,
the next episode of that show,
that next hand of solitaire,
the next novel,
the next round of shopping for that next cute thing or cool gadget to stuff in your house.

Yes, you want the right to Me,
but you don't want Me.

I died to save you from sin.
You designate a huge portion of your budgets to be entertained by sin. 

I died to give you the gift of enjoying Me forever, instead of suffering the eternal punishment your sins deserve.
You feel you're doing me a favor by showing up at church on Sundays... because you still can do it without fear... but I'm too boring, intrusive, demanding, and irrelevant for the rest of your week.

I died to give you the power to become sons of God... to live under the authority of your Heavenly Father, to die to this world, to take up your cross and follow Me into glory!
You only want the right to show up at a building on Sunday without fear, and the right to keep living just like the world for the rest of the week.

"What?" you gasp. "I'm not just like the world! I don't do this sin, and I don't do that sin."
But I tell you that you "don't do these things" because it pleases your religious pride not to do them, and because you believe you can throw these "proofs" in My face to defend your utter self-absorption and contempt for Me.

Don't kid yourself. For you, persecution for My sake is a moot point. The government will never take away your right to freely worship as you see fit. They'll only take away your right to freely worship Me.

Even if you do go to prison fighting for your right to a God you don't want, and even if you give up your body to be burned for your rights, but have not love for Me, you gain nothing.

I am not your God. And the freedoms your pride defends will come back to haunt you on that Day, because when you had the freedom, you did not use it to come to Me.

Repent and believe the Gospel. I died to save you from godlessness and bring you to Me.  So come to Me that I might save you!

But oh, tender words for those of you who love and trust Me!  Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom, a Kingdom which cannot be shaken, a salvation stored up in Heaven for you, ready to be revealed in the Last Day. If your government throws you in prison, you will not lose Me. They can NOT take us away from each other! You have nothing to fear. When (not "if") you walk through the fire, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.

The government did not give you this right. I DID.  And they can never take it away.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, in this day of false prophets and prophetesses claiming to channel Jesus while contradicting the Word of God, it is necessary for me to explicitly state that I do not claim to have received these words by divine inspiration. But I do believe them to be a biblically informed and scripturally faithful restatement of feelings that our God has already plainly expressed in His Holy Word. And I believe them to accurately represent the Laodicea in which we live.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

When God's Covenant Looks Like It Died

I'm on bedrest again. 3rd time in a decade.

Between a heart attack (2004), hysterectomy and repair of prolapses (2011), and now deteriorating disks pinching nerves and causing foot pain, my body has betrayed me often.  (Spinal surgery may be necessary. Prayers appreciated!)

I know I am a child of the Covenant of Grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I also know that this covenant has nothing to do with making my life a bed of roses.

Considering that this life is microscopic compared to eternity, I don't want my best life to be NOW!  So I have a lot of peace about this... certainly much more than I had in 2004 when I only had religion, and no relationship with Christ!

But still, it's easy for us to feel we can excuse a certain amount of spiritual wandering at times of hardship, isn't it?  God promises grace to endure, but I'd rather have escape than endurance, thank you. 

So the old familiar idol of escapism rears its many seductive heads, tempting me to forget my troubles... and to forget seeking to love God and my neighbor, too!  How easy to want everything to revolve around my quest for comfort!

Looking at Genesis today, I was struck by the bizarre-seeming covenant-cutting ritual in chapter 15. Could there be anything more foreign to modern Western eyes?

But as I think about it, I am even more struck by the image of Abram chasing away carrion birds which kept trying to pick apart the animal carcasses... those bloody, nasty carcasses which God had ordained to be signs of the covenant (Gen.15:11). 

Carrion birds are often used to represent satanic forces.  And don't the enemy's minions love to swoop down and tear up all visible evidences of God's promises to us?

How often do God's promises look like ugly, dead things to us? What beauty or hope did Abram have to look upon in those mutilated animal carcasses? And how relentless would those carrion birds have been! How frustrating and discouraging to have to keep chasing them, non stop, for who knows how long!

I would have been tempted to walk away, but Abram stayed and chased the birds away, over and over again.

If Abram had allowed the birds to pick apart the bodies, wouldn't the signs of the covenant have become hideous and loathsome in his eyes?
So, when he chased them away, he preserved the integrity of what he had to look at. 

Do I have carrion birds in my life? What do they look like?  I believe I know.  

Doubt, distraction, anger, self-rule, lusts of various kinds, discouragement, fear, irritability... these things don't merely indicate understandable human weakness. No, if unrepented of, they can distort my view of God and His covenant promises, until even the physical evidences of His truth can begin to seem like ugly, worthless corpses.  The carrion birds tear them apart.

But in Abram's story, even without carrion birds, the dead bodies would have become loathsome on their own, just through the process of decay while he waited for God. In the same way, the process of waiting for God makes the promises lose luster in our eyes, unless we continue to see them through the eyes of faith.

Lord, help us to recognize those carrion birds as they appear in our own lives, and help us to resist them tirelessly by Your Spirit (because we can never do it in our flesh).  Help us to remember that Your covenant promises are all about resurrection, so even when things seem dead, there's hope!

Help us to seek to love You with all our hearts and souls and minds, and with all our strength, no matter how long You see fit to delay, or how many carrion birds of temptation we have to fight off. In Jesus' name, amen!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When I'm weak, then I'm strong? Why?

Power Board
Power Board (Photo credit: yum9me)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
(2 Co. 12:10)

I memorized this verse when I was a teenager.  (Let's not talk about how long ago that was, please!)  And I thought I knew what it meant.

Somehow, when I'm weak, then Christ comes and bolsters me up to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish by His strength instead of mine.  

In other words, His strength looks and acts just like mine, except on steroids.

Is that what it means?  I wonder.  In fact, I doubt.

Is Christ just the proper power cord for my goals?  Does "plugging in to Jesus" feel like a power rush, ready to mow down the world?  Or have we got this "power vs weakness" thing wrong?

I read this helpful article a little while ago, and it got me thinking.  Here's an excerpt from a comment I wrote there:
     Slowly, slowly, I'm learning that godly parenting isn't about wielding human power but extending grace in wise ways.  And whenever I forget that, whenever I start trying to be powerful again, I get ugly again.

     The beautiful power of humble grace doesn't feel like power at all, but it does more good than all of my prideful/terrified power-grabbing could ever do.
Does this sound like a "Jesus is my power cord" theology?  Not to me it doesn't, and I'm glad.  But until I wrote it down today, I didn't realize just how radical it was, or how much I still default to wrong-headed "power cord" thinking.

Why, in Christ, am I strong only when I'm weak?  Perhaps we can't understand that until we define our terms.  What, in God's eyes, is strength?  What is weakness?

"Strength," as the Bible promises and commends it, is the power to accomplish God's will, not my own.  Such strength was displayed most clearly in two places that I can think of.  First, during Jesus' wilderness temptations, when he was starving, but refused to use His power to relieve His hunger without authorization from the Father.  And second, at Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done."

"Strength" - the kind which is promised and commended - is the power to do things which have eternal Kingdom significance, as opposed to things which will burn up on the Day of Judgment (1 Co. 3:13-15).  Such strength most often shows itself in Christ's life in acts of humility and sacrifice.  There were "Temple cleansing moments," but those were very much in the minority (and were still done in godliness, but that's a different subject).

By contrast, my strength, human strength, is an ugly, grasping thing when it doesn't have what it wants.  It gets violent, in words if not in deeds.  Human strength has done much good (at least temporarily), and it has done much evil.  It has gone as far as genocide many times in our history.  And yet, in God's eyes, it's puny.  Laughable.  It will come to nothing.  (Ps 2.)  In fact, it's weak.

Human strength is weak.

But what is "weakness?"  Specifically, what is the weakness which is commended, which is sought, which is boasted in (2 Co 12:9)?  Surely God doesn't commend the weak, futile rage of the earthly strength in Ps. 2.  So what weakness does He commend?

Could it be that He loves the weakness which not only lacks human power, but disdains it?

When I have felt powerless as a parent, yet have yearned for power, and have felt angry and hopeless because I didn't have it, was that the weakness that God commends?  Or was it the weakness that makes me ugly, grasping, enraged and snarling like a trapped tiger?  Isn't yearning for human power just as weakening as having it?  Doesn't it leave me just as powerless to do eternal good?

Do I just need to "plug in" to Jesus to regain the power my flesh craves?

Or do I need to recognize that human power always gets it wrong in the end?  Do I need to turn my back on it and go the way of God's power...the way of humble grace, of love and service, of meekness...and discover the hidden, gentle power there?

If you truly believe in the meekly Crucified One who lives...who died in weakness and is mighty to save, and who is exalted above every other name...then you don't need me to answer that question for you.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Me? Rejoicing at Wrongdoing?

Pile of stones
Pile of stones (Photo credit: Michel.h)

Love your enemies (Matt 5:44)
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.  (1 Co. 13:6)

(I must apologize.  For reasons I can't understand or explain, I haven't yet been able to write the resolution to the farce I introduced back in October.  I felt like I was ready to write it at the time I posted part 1, but for some reason, it just won't come out.  I trust that God will bring it in its time.  And now, on to today's post.)

You, good Christian, are certainly not someone who rejoices at wrongdoing, right?  Same here.

Why, we hate wrongdoing!  We prove it every chance we get!  We are so diligent about jumping on every sin we hear about in public figures, and personally lambasting the offenders on Facebook or wherever else we can do so.  Nobody could ever deny how much we hate wrongdoing!

Nobody clucks their tongues louder than we do.  Nobody's voice can get more shrill.  Nobody's quicker on the draw with the social media megaphone...and why should we wait for verification of the facts we're spreading?  Why would we hope that the badness might be less bad than we thought, when it feels so good to hate those people?

Why, it's a pure, delicious pleasure to be horrified, offended, and hit that "Share" button with righteous indignation.

Yep.  It shows.  The pleasure, that is.  It shows.

It's called, "Rejoicing in wrongdoing."  We mustn't kid ourselves.  That's exactly what it is.

And love does not do that.

When we do that, we are not loving our enemies.  We are loving their sin, because we love feeling superior.

We love licking our chops and diving in for the kill.

We love being offended at those who we feel are wrongfully offended by us, or by the things we hold dear.

We love hating the haters, mocking the mockers, attacking the attackers.

It feels so good.

And it's eating away at our souls.

C. S. Lewis addresses this better than anybody.
"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper.  Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.  Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible?  If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.  You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker.  If we give that wish [free rein], later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.  Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it; we shall be fixed forever in a universe of pure hatred."  (From "Mere Christianity.")

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing. and I who claim to follow Christ...when was the last time we followed Him into praying for those who persecute and mistreat us, or who sin against us in some other way? When was the last time we mourned over our neighbor's sin and wept for his soul, rather than hurrying to click, rejoicing at the chance for a social media scandal?  When was the last time we followed Christ into dying to self for our enemies' sakes?

When was the last time we followed Christ?

Yes, there's a time to speak against what is wrong!  But no, there's never a time to rejoice and prepare to feast on our neighbor's downfall.  Not in this Age of Grace; grace without which we, too, would be damned.

How, with rocks in our hands, will we ever help our enemy believe we follow a merciful, forgiving Savior?  Is that even what we want him to believe?  (It had BETTER be!  But search your heart, really, and I'll search mine.  Because I fear that it's not always our desire.)

As long as we clutch our rocks and rejoice in the throwing, we're utterly, damnably blind to our own corruption.

And we will only be forgiven as we forgive.  (Matt 18:32-35)

We will only receive mercy as we give it.  (Matt 5:7)

We will only receive grace as we are humble.  (James 4:6)

Ever wonder why nobody out there believes we're children of the One True God?

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God."  (Matt 5:9)

May God forgive us for rejoicing in wrongdoing, and failing to love our enemies.

May God forgive me.  Because I know I've been there.  I've done that. But this week an organization which I care about, and for which I meet with others to pray regularly, has been the victim of a viral whirlwind of misinformation and false accusation.  A Christian brother has had his good name smeared all the way up to the level of national news.  The organization has issued a clarifying statement, but somehow it's not forwarded nearly as often as the delightful, beloved, rejoiced-in offense.

These are people for whom I pray.  And praying for them has made me care.  Has made me love them.  Has made me grieve at the delighted stone-throwing that I'm seeing.

Praying produces love.  Make yourself pray for others until you love them...and then you'll pray for them because you want to.

Pray for your enemies.  And join Christ in mourning over the sin that threatens to destroy them, instead of joining the enemy in hurrying their destruction.

And pray for me, that I will do the same.

We don't have a clue how much depends on it, and not just for them, but for us, and for the honor of Christ's Name.

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