Saturday, December 30, 2006
I learned to ride a bike when I was seven. My parents gave me a small, beaten boy's bike and I rode like the wind on the sidewalks of our sleepy desert town. I got another bike when I was twelve after we moved to the Midwest. It was bigger, a girl's bike, also old, but I loved it! My sister and I rode the streets of suburbia long after dusk on summer nights. Leaving childhood behind, we zipped around with excitement at our newfound freedom. My mother would sometimes ride with us, but only in the dark. She thought the neighbors would think she was silly. This bike went into semi-retirement during my high school years when it wasn't cool to ride a bike. But I brought it to my first apartment, and having no car, rode it miles back and forth to work through dark and quiet neighborhoods. I pedaled hard and traveled far. I was free, living on my own.
When my boys were school-age with bikes of their own, I found another used bike at a yard sale for $5. It was big and clunky and red. No handbreaks, no speeds. Sturdy. We lived in an area perfect for biking and the boys and I rode many evenings after dinner. Unlike my mother, I didn't worry about the neighbors. But as the boys got a little older, they were embarrassed to be seen with me on my old red bike and I often rode alone with my thoughts, escaping from unfulfilled dreams. I don't know whatever happened to that bike, but I've thought of it many times through the years, looking for one similar and never finding it. At the Jersey shore every year I admire the basic, no-frill bikes and wait for the day we will rent them instead of the surreys.
This Christmas, Fred and I agreed on no gifts for each other, but he didn't follow through on his promise. He told me he ordered me "a little something for your health." No big deal. I didn't give it much thought. But then he said he needed to pick it up--in the van. What in the world? Of course, you guessed it, since I'm writing about bikes, but I had no idea. I heard the door chime announcing he was home. The girls ran to the basement as he came in and I heard their delighted squeals. Still confused I went downstairs. I admit, I shrieked with joy too! Such a childish gift for this old woman! A beautiful, brand-new, girlie-pink bike! It is shiny and flashy, with a wide white, padded seat and a thick frame. The handlebars are set far apart, safe and solid, and there are no fancy, shifting gears. Written on the frame is "Beach Cruzer" and "Classic." It has my name written all over it. My first new bike! What a dear husband who bought it for me.
It is night but I take it out to the driveway for a spin. Biking is impossible on our steep hill, but I couldn't resist crossing the street and trying it out in the church parking lot. Wow! My bike is like an old, familiar friend. The cold air whips past my ears and I still ride like the wind. But this time I'm not running away or breaking free from anything. I'm traveling eagerly, expectantly, into the new year. Oh, the adventures we will have!
I recently read Psalm 103 again, the passage my son Dominic read at our wedding. It was so fitting then, as it is now. "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." Vs. 2-5.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We attended an interactive Christmas program at this same couple's church. Children were invited to participate in re-creating the nativity story, and volunteers were requested for the various roles. My girls were a little too shy to participate in a new church, but my friend's daughter very much wanted to be Mary in the play and waved her hand enthusiastically. But she was not chosen. In tears, she ran to her mother's arms, hid her face and withdrew from the action around her.
After being dressed in her costume, one of the chosen girls decided she didn't want to do it anymore and pulled the gown over her head and sat down. Another angel was needed! "Who wants to be the angel?"
My friend tried to get her daughter to turn around. "Look, they need an angel! Raise your hand!" But her daughter was too upset and too disappointed to see the chance to join in. Another child took the part.
How often do we miss God's gifts or fail to recognize opportunities God holds out to us because we are looking inward, focused on losses of the past, bitter over not getting exactly what we had hoped for? Our church service often ends with the pastor saying, "Look up and receive your blessing!" Jesus said, "It is the Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12.32.
Sometimes, though, his gifts are not so obvious as a new house. They might come disguised in plain paper or come in a box that doesn't seem the right size for what you really wanted. But our Father knows us better than anyone and he chooses the very best gifts. Look up! What has he given you for Christmas?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
As promised, Fred took Liana to the mall. Without any hesitation she chose her earrings and climbed into the chair. A kind and careful woman marked the spot, and zap! Liana didn't even flinch. She sat stoically as her other ear was pierced, climbed down, and accepted her lollypop. Then we saw a small, satisfied smile. The rest of the day she would suddenly turn her beaming face upward, waiting for a response from us. She's a changed woman.
I sense disapproval from some of my friends. Well, maybe not that exactly, just moms who have decided to do things differently with their own children. I say no to so many things, but in this case I couldn't think of a good reason to deny her wishes. (And of course, her dad gave permission.) Does this mean I'm a wishy-washy mom, easily influenced by the whines of my children? Just ask my grown boys. I'm usually much too harsh and negative, a side of myself I don't like. It felt good to say yes for a change!
In this small incident I saw confirmed a character trait of my little daughter. She is decisive and unwavering in her decisions. Those qualities will serve her well in the future. She does not waffle back and forth between options and then second guess her choice. She is also courageous, willing to face possible pain to achieve her goal. I wish I were more like her.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Liana was just getting out of the tub, her hair in a little bun, her tiny hands with the shiny pink nail polish gripping the towel wrapped around her. She found Dad busy with his trains under the Christmas tree. I wanted to hear the conversation, so I hid behind the wall.
"Daddy, I need to ask you a question."
He doesn't look up. "Go ahead."
"Okay...um...I'm scared! I'm afraid of what you might say. Guess what it is."
"I don't know, just tell me."
"You'll say no, I know it!"
"Try me. Don't I give you just about anything you want?" (Except a kitten, I'm thinking.)
Liana is bouncing in her excitement. "Well...I can't say it! Mommy said it wasn't a good decision."
"What is it? You can ask me." Dad is so patient with her.
"Maybe Mommy should ask for me."
"No, you can ask me yourself."
"Well..." Deep breath. "Well...well..." Then her words rush out, "CAN I GET MY EARS PIERCED?"
Dad is calm, examining a train. "Okay."
Liana shrieks with delight and runs to look for me, towel whipping around her. "Daddy said yes!" Her big dimpled smile can melt any heart. Then she races back to Dad. "When, Daddy, when?"
Oh, Fred, you were supposed to agree with me. Those Romans are to blame for this. We've been studying ancient Rome and Liana learned the women wore their earrings looped over their whole ear. Awhile back Fred helped her make a few sets, beads on threads hooked on her ears. She's been wearing them ever since. Silly, but she loves them.
I thought 13 was a good age for ear piercing. Is there a spiritual lesson here?
Monday, November 27, 2006
I need to give you the background on how all this came about. Our whole church is reading a book by Rick Warren called Better Together. The book shows us how to deepen our fellowship in the church and then how to reach out in love to our surrounding community. He says participation in a small group is essential. We can't do this alone and we can't do it in the large congregation. He says, "You can attend church services your entire life and still feel lonely and disconnected." This shouldn't be.
We've always had small groups within our church, but now there was a major push for everyone to be involved with one. Many new groups formed until the number was over 140. The book confirmed to us all that the small group can be a warm, nurturing place to encourage, support and care for each other, and a good place for deeper Bible study and worship. But we learned that the small group should go beyond these confines and serve the community. Our own small group has discussed this before but somehow we never moved forward with it. But Rick Warren's book gave me the first glimpse of a bigger picture.
Not too long ago I attended an international dinner at a nearby church. The room was filled with people from all over the world, mostly immigrants who came to our country to work or to study. In touching and humorous stories, many shared their testimonies of struggles they had in a new country. Here I am, the mother of two immigrants, and sitting next to me are good friends who came from three different countries at different stages in their lives. I've heard their personal stories. This is where my heart is.
Another piece of the vision came through an e-mail. We have an adoption ministry at our church. Some of its goals are to encourage people to adopt, to help finance those who want to adopt but cannot due to income, to locate and share resources for adoptive and foster parents, and to support the children left behind in orphanages who will never be adopted. Also each year the ministry participates in the Welcome Home program for Russian orphans. These children come to the U.S. for three weeks in the summer and stay with host families with the goal that either the host family or someone who meets them during that time will adopt them.
I have been only marginally involved in this ministry due to other commitments. Fred and I did speak at a Family Life seminar in the spring so we are on an e-mail list to keep us updated on what is happening. I learned the Welcome Home program is expanding to include children from the Philippines and Guatemala. I read it with interest, but so far Fred has never expressed any desire to host a child in our home. I never mentioned this bit of news to him.
Now came the final piece of the picture that culminated with an explosion in my heart and set this idea on fire. I walked into the bedroom and heard Arielle asking her dad why we can't adopt another child since she wants another sister. So far, we have not entertained the notion of adopting again since I was sick three years ago. We realized then we were too old and we regret we don't have more years to share with more children.
So Saturday night when I heard Arielle ask this question, the whole Philippine/Guatemala project just burst from my lips. To my surprise and delight I heard Fred say, "We could host a child here and try to find her a home." Then I thought, why can't our small group sponsor a child, each of us networking with our own friends and family and acquaintances with the supreme goal of finding parents for this child? Each of us would use our own gifts and talents to minister to this child. Of course, the child would stay in one home (ours!) but we would all be involved. Then, what if each small group in our church (140 of them) took in a child and found him or her a family? The idea is huge! Homes for many, many children! Right now our church sponsors a whole village in Africa. What is every church supported one poor village? What if every small group in churches across America found a home for a child? God could move in mighty ways if only we each did a small part!
I know, I know. Orphans are not everyone's calling and ministry. (Should they be?) The small groups in our church are reaching out to the community in many other ways, all good, all needed. But what if some of them focused on the parent-less and homeless?
Sunday morning I was lit up with this idea. We sat right in front of my friend who coordinates the Welcome Home program for Russia. I rattled on and on about my plan. She is not quite so excitable, but she listened. She said that even as we spoke someone from a participating adoption agency was in Guatemala choosing children to bring to the U.S. in the spring. She then added, "You know, at our age we might not be eligible to adopt again." True. But who said anything about our family adopting? We want to host.
The first thing I did when I got home was go on-line and find out the parent qualifications for adopting from Guatemala. Guess what? There is no age limit. Parents only have to prove they are physically able to care for a small child. Well, we already have two!
"Find the intersection of God's will and your gifts." (Rick Warren)
"Each of you has been blessed with one of God's many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well." I Peter 4:10
Friday, November 17, 2006
We attended the viewing and funeral service of an acquaintance, a 38-year old woman who died in childbirth. She left behind her husband, small son and newborn daughter, as well as many others who loved her. The casket was closed and covered with a white cloth, so it was not the prominent feature in the front of the church. As people walked down the center aisle, they were drawn to the family instead, who welcomed them warmly. Then the husband pointed out the pictures of his baby girl arranged on the top of the casket. What do you say? "Congratulations?" How can such profound joy and sorrow be contained in the same moment of time? The husband seemed so frail and vulnerable when I hugged him, like an empty shell that could easily be broken if squeezed too hard. An older woman, the mother I guessed, stood next to him. I didn't know her, but she pulled me to her, clutching me hard to to her chest. More hugs for the sister and assorted strangers as we moved down the line saying over and over, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
We had come early so we sat in a pew and watched the friends come and go. The family standing up front reminded me of a receiving line after a wedding. Except the guests were in tears. During a lull the husband fingered the baby pictures and gazed with empty eyes into the distance. Sometimes as people passed through the line the mother broke into a wail that filled the church, her agonizing sobs ripping at us all. How can a mother survive losing a daughter? The thought is terrifying to me. My mind cannot go there. Yet, here is one living this nightmare. This mom would grab her friends passing by like a drowning person reaching for a life ring. The sister tried to be brave all morning, sometimes wiping the tears streaming down her cheeks with the palms of her hands and focusing hard to keep control. How can she endure this? Later in her eulogy she called her sister her best friend.
At one point the wind howled and rain clattered noisily on the roof of the church. I'm sure some wanted to shout up to God and ask, "Why?" As people walked back down to find a seat they shook their heads in disbelief. This shouldn't be. It's not the natural course of things. Where are you, Jesus? If only you'd done something... I thought of two sisters long ago, accusing Jesus when their brother died. Jesus hadn't come in time to be of help. But when he saw the mourning crowd, he also wept. What a miserable plight we humans have here on earth. Jesus knew the outcome--he knew Lazarus would live again. Jesus knew his own death and resurrection would bring eternal life to us all. Yet still he cried along with everyone else. Are you crying here with us today, Jesus?
Maybe it isn't such a strange custom after all. Maybe the family is comforted by the long line of people who come to show their compassion. Maybe they long to be held in the arms of other humans, to share pools of tears, and to hear the promises of help and friendship. After all, we all share this same earthly fate. If we haven't known it yet, we will surely travel this same road of pain and fear.
When the service ended and the family left their front row pew to walk back down the aisle, I couldn't help but think that not so very long ago there was a wedding, probably with many of these same people in attendance. They saw the happy couple, glowing with joy, turn to face the congregation as new husband and wife, then walking down the aisle to new life. Now, instead, an old woman staggers with grief on the arm of her son-in-law. The sister who was once a bridesmaid sobs openly, her courage spent.
I think Jesus understands grief so deep and overpowering that it cannot grasp the promises of God. Yet scripture says God does not want us to grieve like those who have no hope. Like Martha, we say to Jesus, "I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus responded, "Your brother will rise again." John 11:21-25. We encourage one another (and ourselves) with those thoughts. I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Before we had left for the service, Liana noted my dark clothing. "Black for death, right, Mom?" I said yes. She picked up the small topaz on my necklace. "But gold for heaven."
Please pray for this family.
Friday, November 10, 2006
In the Christian life, there is no such thing as, "now I have time for ME." As Rick Warren says, "You were put on earth to make a contribution...not just to consume resources." We are called to serve. One Sunday I read with interest that our church was hosting Alpha. Help was needed. A good friend of mine attended Alpha years ago and I knew how meaningful it was to her, so I got the "spark." You know what I mean--that nudge, that voice within that says, "Yes!"
In case you don't know what Alpha is, here is what the introduction to the course reads, "Alpha is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed, non-threatening setting over ten thought-provoking weekly sessions...It is low-key, friendly and fun--and is supported by all the main Christian denominations." Now if I'd just read that, I don't think I would be "sparked" but my friend showed me how life-changing this course is.
From my past experience, I thought my skills could be used as a table discussion leader. But no, what was needed was a cook, as the program offers a free meal to all attendees. Now how's that for using my gifts and talents? I've been cooking for a crowd for over 30 years! As a bonus, Fred and I could do this together. We volunteered.
The behind-the-scenes church work was new and refreshing, yet also challenging. There was the stress of keeping to a tight schedule--dinner at 6:00 sharp, the mess of large quantity meal preparation, and the mental focus needed for ordering supplies and planning the food. (The latter is not my natural talent.) But I enjoy the fact that our work is important to God. For the most part, he is the only one who sees the labor behind the food. I'm learning to find contentment and joy in that kind of service, not seeking the praise of people.
God had unexpected surprises for us. My step-daughter, who has avoided church for years, happened to call right before we left for the very first night. Instead of coming to our house for a free meal, she came to Alpha and has continued ever since. Two friends I've missed lately also came with their children. And my girls! While Fred and I work, they have the time of their lives with the children's choir preparing a musical for Christmas and then Awanas.
God is always up to something. We miss out when we confine ourselves to our own little world. Alpha will be ending soon and again I'm asking, "What now?" I'll probably continue cooking for the next session, but I believe God revealed to me another vision for our family. It's big! It's exciting! But we can't do it alone. I will need the help of friends near and far. More on this later.
A verse to keep in mind: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
I'm not sure how many kittens there were because little fluffy bodies of grays and blacks and whites, striped and solid, were crawling all over the girls. Arielle was a little leery of their sharp, gripping claws but Liana was awe-struck. She picked up one, then another, holding them gently, petting them, looking into their eyes. She was drawn to a multi-colored one, black and white with streaks of gray. It had a little black dot on its nose and cried piteously. She held it against her chest until it fell asleep. She played with the kittens for a long time. I enjoyed seeing her so kind and nurturing. "Mom, I like this one. Isn't he cute?" She showed me her favorite one, as if this small kitten was the greatest treasure on earth. "Mom, I REALLY like this one," she said again.
Nick said the kittens were hungry and needed to go back to their mama. They were carried out two by two to the other room. Liana's worried eyes kept darting to mine. Did she have to give up the kitten? Finally, she let it go.
On the way home I realized there was some kind of big misunderstanding. Liana, for some reason, thought she might keep that kitten. Dad soundly said no. All the drive home Liana gave her reasons why she would be the best mother ever to that kitty, tears rolling down her cheeks. Dad was patient for awhile. But he is adamant about no more cats. Our ancient outdoor cat is on his way out and Fred is looking forward to a pet-less house.
By the time we got home, Liana's silent tears became sobs. Her heart was broken. She realized she would probably never see the kitten again and couldn't bear the thought. Dad telling her she could have all the cats she wanted when she was grown up didn't matter. "But then that kitten will be grown up too!" she protested. Inside the house, the sobs became wails of grief; this was more grief than her little heart has ever known in all her six years. Now Liana can certainly be whiny and manipulative at times to get her own way, but I sensed something more.
First of all, she's never wanted anything so much. She's never before cried for toys or pleaded her case so convincingly for anything else. But she was also heartbroken because she saw a new side of her dad she didn't know existed. Before he was a dad who never denied her anything. She reminded him of that. "You always promised to give me anything I needed!" I know it hurt Fred to tell her no. He would like to be the kind of father to grant anything his beloved daughter might wish. But he knew this was not the right time to do that.
Liana fought hard but did not get her kitten. In the end she trusted her dad and accepted his decision. She didn't understand, but she knows he loves her. Was her bargaining and arguing and persistence wrong?
Coincidentally, the very same night I read an excerpt from Philip Yancey's new book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Yancey suggests God invites engagement with him in the kind of prayer that struggles and argues. God desires us to appeal to his grace and compassion and promises. Sometimes God comforts and calms us as we pour out our grievances. We see his wisdom and accept his final answer. Other times we wrestle, and like Jacob, we say, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Genesis 32:26. Sometimes God changes his mind.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes--
The rest sit around it, and pluck blackberries."
Autumn in Pennsylvania. What could be more beautiful? My favorite month has passed by in a rush but we did have a couple of days to enjoy a glimpse of heaven here on earth. Two weeks ago the girls had a science class at a rustic camp and in the afternoon enjoyed a boat ride on this creek and a long hayride through the colorful woods.
Last weekend was no less enjoyable and all we did was work. Dad wants the garden cleaned up, I told the girls. They enthusiastically put on shoes and jackets and ran outside. As always, it is sad to put the garden to rest for the winter. How did summer go by so quickly? It was hard work gathering up the dead pumpkin vines still gripping the soil and dragging the huge dry sunflower stalks from the ground. The fragrance of the basil lingered in the air as we loaded the wheelbarrow. I pulled up the zinnias, still blooming, and marveled at how sturdy and thick their stems were, remembering the delicate seedlings we gently planted in the spring, wondering if they could possibly survive unpredictable storms.
I looked over at my daughter--Arielle, solid and strong, collecting the last of the green tomatoes and yanking up the withered remains. The frail little baby we brought home from China not so very long ago is as hardy and resolute as her peasant ancestors. The earth draws her, and she is truly joyful when her hands are touching plants and rocks and dirt. She was less than two years old when I noticed her unusual fascination with the moon, with flowers, with butterflies and praying mantises. She used to walk behind me in the rows of green beans, quietly studying the art of picking. Now she can harvest as well as anyone. She liked to hide among the corn stalks, listening to the slippery sounds of the long leaves in the breeze, pollen from the tassles dusting her black hair. My daughter-- she is no ordinary child. The hands that roughly shake off the dirt from a clump of roots right now can glide so smoothly across the piano keys. Her heart still hears the distant voices from her past, but she dances with enthusiasm to the music of her life with us.
After the garden is cleared, the girls want to play in the leaves. Arielle has already raked a huge pile. The two sisters jump over and over, squealing with abandon. I want to keep these moments forever, to treasure them always. But all I can do is grab a camera and a pen and preserve what fragments I can. Autumn, soon to be gone. The girls eagerly anticipate the Christmas season. They CAN'T WAIT! But let me linger here awhile longer.
Now the wind has turned cold and it has stripped the beautiful leaves from the trees. A vase of faded flowers that the girls salvaged from the dying plants is all that's left of October.
Arielle was invited to their home for a birthday party. I was very curious to see where this family lived. Our church has many wealthy members so I'd often visited palatial homes owned by generous, giving people. Even so, I wanted to know how this particular family lived. Maybe I suspected their home would be different. This family could have had everything our privileged American culture has to offer--fancy cars and houses, dream vacations and every luxury thought up by mankind. I already knew their vacations were always either visiting family members across the country or going on short-term mission trips. But what about their home?
The house was big and old. It was simple, plain, sparse. Nothing fancy anywhere. But it was also warm and welcoming. The birthday party itself was old-fashioned fun. Their children were boisterous and joyful, but had few "things." I never forgot this home. A family who understood real riches lived here.
Not surprising, this family left their home several years ago and are full-time missionaries in a remote country. If their hearts clutched worldly goods, they would never have been able to detach from them when God called them to leave everything behind and go out to serve him at the ends of the earth. Without ever saying a word, their lives spoke loudly and clearly where their true priorities were. I am troubled by the American lifestyle. It's bad enough I'm living it, but I can't promote it or ask God for more. My family already has too much, and I am too attached to what I have. At this point, I don't think I could walk out and leave it all behind. I like my "stuff" and I like comfort. I don't want to go to a hot and humid place or a place where people don't speak English and eat weird food, or a place with strange insects and snakes. Or a place where Christians are persecuted. My heart is far from where it should be.
1. If we are seeking financial blessing, will we still be content in whatever our circumstances?
2. How much is too much? When is enough, enough, and we don't ask for more?
3. When do our lifestyle and possessions become offensive to God when the money spent could be spent on others instead?
4. When does our wanting "stuff" venture into the realm of covetousness?
5. When does God become a means to an end, and not the end in himself?
Kenneth Hagin has a whole chapter in his book based on I Timothy 4:8. "...godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." The King James version says "godliness is profitable..." Curiously, the book of the Bible he ran with also has some sobering thoughts for us about riches. I'll end this topic with these words from scripture.
This passage begins talking about false doctrine and "men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." I Timothy 6:5-10.
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." I Timothy 6:17-19
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The rich young man in Matthew 19 asked Jesus what good thing he must do to inherit eternal life. After a short discussion, with this man affirming that he's kept all the commandments, Jesus concludes, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." After this, scripture records, "When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth." Matthew 19:16-30.
Consider also the widow's offering in Mark 12. What's interesting is what Jesus is doing. "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts, but a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny." Mark 12:41, 42.
Jesus responds to this by saying, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." Mark 12:43, 44. These are hard sayings! The rich man had much to give but couldn't part with it, yet the poor widow gave it all. Jesus directs us back to the heart issues.
Luke 16 begins with Jesus telling the parable of the shrewd manager to a group of Pharisees. Verse 14 says, "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus." Jesus responds, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." Luke 16:15.
In one of the seven "woes" of Matthew 23 Jesus says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness." Verse 23. Do we do what is "required" but forget the suffering world? Jesus said the Pharisees were "full of greed and self-indulgence." Matthew 23:25. This sounds like an average American. (Myself included.)
In Luke 12 Jesus says, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Then he goes on to tell the parable of the rich man with no place to store all his crops. So the man decides to build bigger barns. The man says to himself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." But God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" Jesus concludes the story by saying, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Luke 12:13-21.
In Luke 19 Jesus meets Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. We all remember Zacchaeus as the "wee little man" who climbs the tree to see Jesus pass by. But do we remember his attitude? "Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount!" Luke 19:1-10. As the crowds are listening to this, Jesus goes into the parable of the ten talents about the two men who invest their master's money and the one who hoards it.
So "name it and claim it"? It just doesn't fit. Yes, Jesus does say in Matthew 7, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you...if you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Verses 7-12. But the Word also says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him." I John 5:14. "According to his will" is key here. What is his will for us when it comes to wealth? Our heavenly Father is extravagant and generous, showering us with gifts we never deserve. But we also need to be mindful that as any good parent, God gives us what is good for us and sometimes says no.
As for the pastor who says it is unbiblical not to own land? Jesus says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Luke 9:58. Do we deserve better than Jesus?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Yet, my husband is out of work on a disability and we're learning to be very creative in paying our bills. If you knew my life story, you would know that material wealth (as seen through American eyes) never entered the picture. But these facts don't diminish my view of my riches. We have more than enough "things". My children have food and clothing and we live in a comfortable home and drive reliable cars. But this isn't where my true wealth is.
As I searched the scriptures for Jesus' words on money, I found he has plenty to say on the subject. The Pharisees were rich and Jesus was always at odds with them, so many of his comments were directed at them. (Or maybe us?)
First of all, let's put to rest the passage from John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Or "more abundantly" as the King James Version says. This chapter is not about material wealth at all. It is about Jesus being the true shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. We live life to the full when we follow him, but promises of having "stuff"--no.
Let's look at Jesus' life. First of all, he was born into a poor family. Did Jesus use his miraculous powers to give his parents a mansion to live in? Did Mary and Joseph expect material gain due to their "rights" as God's chosen people? Many of Jesus' followers were poor too. Are there any miracles recorded where Jesus zapped them with riches? Or that they even asked for them?
Jesus was more concerned with heart issues. "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...No one can serve two masters, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." Matthew 6:19-24. Our wealth (and our time and concern) must lie in what is eternal--God, and our relationship with him, and the souls of people.
It's not wrong to have money. It's how we feel about it, how we pursue it, and what we do with it that matters. If you have it, thank God for it, and use it for his kingdom and to serve others. If you don't have it, right after this teaching Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?..." He ends with, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34. A key verse in this passage is: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (food, clothing, things God knows we need) will be given to you." Vs. 33. We are to seek God, not for the goods he supposedly wants to hand over to us, but for him to fill our thoughts with his desires for our lives. He promised to provide for us. Don't "worry". He says it six times in this passage.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
The article is from the September 18th issue and is titled, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" I discovered there are several huge churches in this country that proclaim that one of God's top priorities is to shower blessings on believers, and we should not accept anything less than what we are entitled to as God's children. This message is called Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, or the new term--Prosperity Lite. The emphasis is on personal financial gain that supposedly our heavenly Father is more than willing to bestow upon us if we would only ask. Opponents describe it as "materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism." The premise is that Jesus promised an abundant life and "abundant" is interpreted to include money and possessions. One pastor even says, "God wants you to own land. ..Land represents that God is with you and God has blessed you." The article says this is peculiarly an American theology but I was told it is popular in Singapore too, another wealthy, materialistic society.
A now deceased pastor was one of the granddaddies of this teaching. He wrote a book on financial prosperity and I read enough of it to get the gist of his ideas. He says poverty and sickness are a curse while prosperity and good health are indications of God's blessings. He believes people are poor because they have dishonored God in their way of living. He said his ideas came by way of revelation from God to claim whatever he wanted and speak it out in faith. (Name it and claim it.) The last chapter is "Godliness is Profitable for All Things." He says godliness ensures protection (tell that to the Amish families), godliness ensures promotion, godliness ensures perpetuity (long life), and godliness ensures prosperity. He lists why some don't prosper financially--laziness, extravagance and excesses, and poor management. The back cover states, "God wants His people to prosper financially...many Christians have never entered into the dimension of prosperity that God intended for them." Highlights in bullets say: How to eat the good of the land, Your authority in Christ concerning finances, How to release your faith for finances and The role of honoring your pastor so you can walk in prosperity. (You can guess what that section is about.) As with any false doctrine, there is always an element of truth to bring a measure of confusion.
Is this liberating news for the poor, or is it offensive and exploitive? What does the Word say? Specifically, what does Jesus say?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Even as we look back with longing at summer, we find autumn has its own joys. I love fall for many reasons, and browsing through church bazaars is one of them. We live across the street from a church, so it's a September tradition to walk over and look for treasures.
This past Saturday the girls and I found nearly new jeans for $2, "Little Women" and "Swiss Family Robinson" videos for $1, and Liana got a big, bright, fluffy, yellow duck for only $1. (Family members know the significance of the duck.) Excited about our finds, we headed over to the junk room. Everything from toys, bedding, lamps, dishes, to old phonograph records, typewriters and food processors were crammed into a small room. The girls began sorting through a table jumbled high with rejected old toys in no particular order and without prices.
Arielle pulled a doll from the heap. In wonderment she asked, "Is this an American Girl doll?" The doll was filthy, her hair tangled and scissored carelessly and her vinyl body marked up. But the big round eyes and the cute smile revealing two little teeth were unmistakable. It was an American Girl doll. I saw Arielle's hesitation. Even if it was, did she want it? She was thoughtful as she looked into the brown eyes of the doll. I told her we could clean it up. Arielle looked doubtful as she studied the doll. "Do you want to take her home?" Finally deciding, she firmly answered yes.
We did need to check the price. New dolls like this sell for $87, but I wasn't prepared to pay too much for this old thing. The woman said, "All dolls are one dollar." As I paid, I reminded her that this was a great bargain. She shrugged. "It's all beat up."
We took the doll home and washed and trimmed her hair. We scrubbed her body with a soapy toothbrush. As she was drying, I sewed her new clothes. Arielle was thrilled with the result. "I just love her!" she proclaimed.
As we worked, I told Arielle that some people are like this doll. Maybe they don't look so good. Maybe just living has beat them up. Maybe no one notices them and no one thinks they are worth much. But to God, each person is precious and valuable. He rescues us and redeems us and adopts us into his family where we are forever loved. See the picture at the top? They are Arielle's two "daughters." Which is which? No one cares. They are both home, cozy and safe, snuggling under great-Grandma's quilt.
After thumbing through a baby name book, Arielle chose the name Francesca for her new doll. It means "free." Free from the past, free to have a new life.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" II Corinthians 5:17.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
My role and my work became more clear to me the other day as I was reading through II Timothy. Glorious summer passed by in a flash and now the girls and I descend the stairs to our classroom at 9:00 sharp. At first we were excited about our new school year, but it's five weeks in and they are balking. "It's too hard." "I don't want to." "Why do we have to?" Or they are fighting. "She's looking at me." "She touched me." And then it gets me going too, and the joy of homeschooling seeps out like the air from a stale balloon.
I was reading through II Timothy after a particularly difficult week. This is the last letter Paul wrote before his death. He is reminding Timothy of what is truly important. I had just begun reading and took notice of 1:11. "And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher." Yes, I'm a teacher--of reading, math, science, and history, but God has also called me to teach the gospel. I am a herald of the good news! (Aren't we all?) Does the importance of this task sustain us in our daily frustrations? In 2:2 it says we are to entrust this gospel to reliable men (women and children) who will teach others. "God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his." 2:19. My daughters came into this family by no accident. They belong to God. They have also been appointed heralds and teachers of the gospel. I have the privilege and obligation to pass the baton to them before I'm gone. It should be my primary concern.
In verses 2:3-7 we're told this job is like a war--it's hard and we need to listen to orders from our commanding officer. It's like a race--it takes training. It's like farming--we'll reap a harvest. "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." 2:10. Endure everything. In light of the early church Paul was speaking to, my problems seem miniscule. I think about how lost I would be without the comfort, the peace, and the security I have in Jesus to face life in this world. I want that for my daughters. Without the hope of the gospel, the alternative is also a possibility: "People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power." 3:2-5.
But what does that have to do with our day-to-day plodding along? Teaching, laundry, cooking, cleaning, over and over again, no time for much of anything else. (Even this blog!) Do you collapse into bed at the end of the day wondering if anyone appreciates anything you do? Do my children and husband care that I give every hour of my day to them? As I was feeling sorry for myself I was reminded I'm to be "an instrument for noble purposes, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." 2:21. Am I useful to God?
The rest of the book has instructions for mothers. We are to teach and practice these things: "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead she must be kind to everyone, able to teach, NOT RESENTFUL. Those who oppose her (and they do) she must GENTLY instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth..." 2:22-25. (Emphasis mine.)
As Paul told Timothy, I say to my daughters, "Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." 3:14, 15.
A final word: "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." 4:2. Great patience! Careful instruction! My example and my attitude says so much more than my words. Is this hard? Yes! If only I can say with Paul, "I am already being poured out like a drink offering..." 4:6. That's the way its supposed to be.
A friend of mine said she wanted to be running when she passes the baton, not having her children look around in the dirt for it after she's dead. Keep running--finish the race! But remember it's a RELAY.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Disturb us, Lord when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
--Sir Francis Drake, 1577
I thought of my son Dominic when I heard this. He has big, bold dreams and he's never sailed close to shore. The picture at the top is the view from his doorstep of his home (for now) in Wales. How fitting!
May God disturb us all and never let us be complacent when there is so much to be done in this world. In John 17:4 Jesus prayed to his father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." What did God give you to do?
Dominic, my prayers are with you as you ventures on ever wider seas.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
I'll continue our topic next time, but first a few thoughts about our family trip last week.
We have a yearly ritual that would devastate the girls if we discontinued it. We go to the Jersey shore every September. Maybe Fred and I look forward to it as much as they do. But why? We do exactly the same things every single time we go.
We stay at the same hotel, usually on the exact same floor. Every morning with Dad, the girls run down the hall in their pajamas to get coffee to bring back to the room. After breakfast we rent a surrey and ride up and down the boardwalk for an hour. We always go past the place where the sign says "No Surreys Past This Point", but we go anyway because we were told it's okay after Labor Day. Then some bossy person always feels the need to reprimand us. But that's part of the fun. We have to go to this forbidden spot to get the homemade doughnuts. The rest of the day is filled with endless walking up and down the boards and endless hours in the sand collecting shells and splashing in the waves until the sun spreads its golden evening light over our faces. Dad always helps construct a sand castle and the girls are fascinated to watch it slowly flood and wash away with the incoming tide, like some ancient civilization. In the evenings after dinner, the amusement park awaits. The girls pile into the wagon, the wheels clackety-clacking across the boards as we pull them for miles. We always buy caramel corn, uncovered and overflowing, of course, to eat while we journey back to the hotel.
Every trip really is a bit different though. On one of our first trips Liana was a baby and some adjustments had to be made for her. She slept on the beach in the wagon, a huge striped towel wrapped around her. As she grew, she first ventured into the sea in the safety of my arms, her legs velcroed to my waist. Then in no time it seems, she learned to jump the waves with me holding both her hands until my arms ached. This year, she refused to hold my hand at all, jumping all on her own with her sister. Arielle used to enjoy special time with Dad playing miniature golf while the baby napped, but those days are gone now that Liana is older and wants to join them.
What will change next year? We figure this is the last year for the wagon. Surely Arielle won't ride in it when she is nearly 10! I probably won't ride the carousel again. Next year Liana will be tall enough to go alone. I think now of my first ride at this shore, holding tightly to a tiny Arielle high on the painted horse. A rush of memories had filled my mind and I was once again riding with my own baby sister in Balboa Park in San Diego, my grandmother carefully keeping her eye on us. Oh, what wonderful times...
When the girls are teenagers, will they still walk the boardwalk with us, their old parents? A day will come when our daughters can't come to the shore at all. They will be in college, or married, or living far away. Then Fred and I will be one of the elderly couples on the benches, watching the young families stroll by, lost in our memories. But it's really all about the girls' memories.
Will they one day hear a snippet of the song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and remember their dad doing a little dance in front of their favorite golf place that continuously played that song on a loud speaker? Will the smell of burnt sugar make them think of that caramel corn they ate in the wagon, shivering in the chill night air? When they sit on a bench, teaching their own children how to eat an ice cream cone, will they remember how patient Dad was when their ice cream dripped all over their hands? Maybe they won't remember details, but hopefully they will remember how very much they were LOVED. That's really why we continue our family rituals, isn't it?
Each trip I thank God for one more year we're all together, because these times really aren't endless at all. For generations the waves have deposited their treasures on the sand and children have delighted in them. But our time here on earth is short. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James 4:14.
On our last night on the boards, instead of my arms aching from holding my babies, my heart was aching for my little girls growing up too quickly. I looked out over the ocean and noticed a full moon, the surface of the water shimmering in its light. Beautiful, powerful, mysterious. It's a gift, a sign of God's presence and his endless love for us. I'm reminded to put my hope in him, who "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I Timothy 6:17. Just like we do with our children.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
After lifting their faces to the sun all summer, my sunflowers are now bowing their heads. I searched the internet for pictures of people prostrate before God and found only a few--and they were all pictures of Muslims. It was Liana who reminded me of the flowers bowing down.
What happens when people are aware they are in the presence of God? I've been looking back through scripture and found some interesting encounters. See how they compare with your own.
In the very beginning, after Adam and Eve chose to please themselves rather than God, they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden. Their reaction? "They hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8. Why was that? Adam answered, "I was afraid..." vs. 10. Then, when confronted with sin, he blamed his wife. (Some things never change.) Have you ever hidden from God out of fear or shame?
Jacob hadn't seen his brother, Esau, in years. He'd deceived Esau and cheated him out of his inheritance and Esau held a grudge and wanted to kill him. Years later, Jacob found out Esau was on his way for a reunion and Jacob was terrified. All through the night before their meeting, Jacob wrestled with God and was even injured in the struggle. At daybreak Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Genesis 32:26. Can we relate to wrestling with God in prayer? Are we as persistent? Maybe, like Jacob, we'll never be the same after this kind of encounter. By the way, Jacob and Esau were reconciled. God answered.
Moses' dramatic meeting with God is famous, thanks to the movie, "The Ten Commandments." From a flaming shrub, God called out to Moses and Moses listened. " 'Do not come any closer,' God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' " Exodus 3:5. Removing shoes was a sign of reverence and humility, and we assume Moses did as God said. Then Moses "hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God." vs. 6. God commissioned him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and Moses was obedient to fulfill God purpose. Later on, after Moses was given the Ten Commandments for the second time and descended from Mount Sinai, we read that, "he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord." Exodus 34:29. He was so changed that he scared people. Have our encounters with God changed us? Do people notice?
When Samuel was just a boy, the Lord called his name, and once he recognized that voice, he lay still and said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." I Samuel 3:10. Do we find the time to quiet our hearts and listen?
Isaiah had a vision and saw the Lord seated on a throne in heaven in all his glory. This is what Isaiah said, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." Isaiah 6:5. God's righteousness next to ours is a frightening thing to behold. But Isaiah was assured that his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for. Then when the Lord asked him, "Whom shall I send?" he answered, "Here I am. Send me!" Isaiah 6:7, 8.
Everything changes when we know we're redeemed, loved, his. Next time we will see how people responded to meeting up with Jesus. What happened when you first encountered him?
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
We don't bow down to anyone. It's the American mindset. Besides, it's culturally foreign to us. The most we might do is stand up to show respect--a standing ovation or rising when the national anthem is sung. We might stand in church when God's word is read. I know kneeling is common in the Catholic church, but not in ours. In ancient times people were accustomed to bowing down to kings and to idols. Sometimes this was mandatory. Picture Americans bowing down to George Bush! I can hear my sons' choice words to that idea.
Let's look at what it means to worship. (This is from my sermon notes.) The word "worship" in this Psalm means "to cast yourself prostrate on your face." Not exactly what we think of when we hear the word. This posture expresses humiliation and surrender. Our director of music filled in as pastor on Sunday. He said Psalm 95 traditionally was a public call to worship. So falling on your face was done publically? Who in this day and age would do that, even in church? We might mess up our clothes. What would other people think?
When was the last time you fell on your face before God, even in private? Maybe we should. Is he worthy of that kind of worship? "For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." Psalm 95:3. "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise." Revelation 5:12. Are we serious about our surrender to this God?
"Bowing down" expresses humility and respect to someone greater than we are. It shows we are indebted to someone. Kneeling is a position of submission and receptivity. It is acknowledging that we have been blessed and given gifts. Do we regularly bow down or kneel in prayer? We could do this to show we appreciate what God has done for us and to be ready to listen to him.
We were invited to worship in whatever way we desired during the service, in a long, silent moment with our own director of music in his fine suit kneeling with his face to the floor in front of us all. I wish I could have torn off my inhibitions and fallen prostrate to the floor. I don't know if anyone did. People did kneel, a mostly strange concept in our conservative church. It was a very private moment and yet a very public declaration. I felt freedom in giving my body to the God I love. I thought of Peter when Jesus was about to wash his feet and Peter said no. Jesus said, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Peter then said, Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well." John 13:8, 9. Take all of me, Lord.
Does God care what position our bodies are in when we worship him? He does care about the position of our hearts. Maybe our bodies reveal our hearts. Or maybe our body posture can change our hearts when we throw off our pride and allow ourselves to be broken. Then we would be ready to hear from God. I will end for today with a quote from our director, "My body tells the story...it reminds me in whose presence I dwell and who I worship." What is your body saying to God?
Saturday, August 26, 2006
When I explained our position, the clerk wasn't sympathetic at all. In fact, he was rude and defensive! He said the company was being gracious to credit our account (all of $17) and that I should be grateful we weren't charged for the repair. I was angry! No, I didn't yell or curse, but I did not respond in a way pleasing to God. I was still quite indignant into the next morning until I read Colossians 3. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Vs. 12, 13.
Was I compassionate, kind, humble, gentle or patient with this man? No. I was the opposite-- arrogant, harsh and impatient. "You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander..." Colossians 3:7, 8. When the pressure is on, I still revert back to my old nature, which unfortunately is still with me.
That clerk in customer service? Jesus died for him too. No telling what his life circumstances are that contributed to him talking to me the way he did. I had an opportunity to extend kindness and grace to him, but I did not. So what should I do now? Ask God to forgive me, of course. And...oh, no, please don't make me do that, Lord! Not the man on the phone! Well, I tried but I was not able to talk to him again. He had no extension and they could not connect me with him.
A couple of days later a quality assurance rep called to ask about how the phone company handled reconnecting our service. This time I explained the situation politely. I declined to tear apart the man I had spoken with. Without God's convicting words to me, I most surely would have.
What if Jesus had been indignant and angry with the way he was treated? There would be no hope for any of us. "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus..." Romans 12:13.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Scripture uses many words to illustrate God's protection: refuge, fortress, stronghold, rock, tower of strength, sanctuary. "Shadow of his wings" is my favorite and the most meaningful for me. The image of God as a bird? It seems kind of strange, but listen to what Jesus says in Luke 13:34 as he cried out about the future of the city of God and his people. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"
When I was seriously ill a couple of years ago, I memorized Psalm 91. The first four verses say, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."
Just these few verses use the words shelter, shadow, refuge, fortress, feathers, wings, shield and rampart to portray a place safe from danger. Where is this shelter of the Most High, so I can live there? How do we rest in his shadow? To be in someone's shadow, that person would have to be very near. Is this shelter the very presence of God? We know he doesn't dwell in a particular place. He is everywhere we invite his presence.
Picture it: You are a tiny, defenseless baby bird in a nest set high above the activities on earth. Soft feathers over your head conceal you and soothe you. In the shadow made by these great wings spread over you, it is dark. But you are not afraid. You are protected and safe. We sometimes associate darkness with something bad, but maybe what appears to be a black cloud hovering over is really just the shadow of his wings. We're in the shadow of his very presence. That was what I realized when I was sick. Outwardly, life might seem gloomy and hopeless, but I was safe, cared for, and tended to by Almighty God. In that, all of us can sing for joy and say to God, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings until destruction passes by." Psalm 57:1.
"Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge." Psalm 62:8. "May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, ...under whose wings you have come to take refuge." Ruth 2:12.
We come into God's presence in prayer. As we end Psalm 63, may I make a suggestion? Read verses 1-8 as a prayer to God--aloud--with arms raised. Invite his presence and rest secure in his faithfulness.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
I was thinking about this after the trash accident when we were getting ready for bed by candlelight. A crowd of men were gathered on our street right outside our bedroom window. They planned to work through the night to restore our electrical power. It was eerie to lie down to sleep while others labored so near. We couldn't forget they were there--their generator rumbling, lighting up the broken poles and wires. But it was strangely comforting to hear them clanging and pounding. We slept and didn't have to concern ourselves with fixing our electricity. The night crew took care of that and we could trust them to do their job. And they did, right on schedule.
Nothing happens that God doesn't see. He's at work behind all the scenes of our lives, preparing and fixing, building and restoring. "I think of you in the watches of the night." Psalm 63:6. Just as we think of him, he is always thinking of us. He can be trusted. Whatever our darkness, it doesn't scare God. No problem is too big to fix. Just because we can't imagine any solution doesn't mean God can't find one. He works all night for us, so we can sleep.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
An idyllic day could have turned to disaster. Sometimes it does. Accidents, hurricanes, terrorists, tragedies, are with us. Life is precious and fragile. We always live with this undercurrent of uncertainty about life. Some are able to tune it out while it consumes others.
What do we do with the fear and anxiety that life as we know it will someday end? Some block it out, don't even think about it. Some live in a hyper-vigilant mode, seeing danger at every turn. (Guilty.) Some can accept whatever happens knowing nothing comes from God uncensored. He has already filtered it and allowed it.
"My soul clings to you..." (Psalm 63:8) We pray for God's protection and we trust him with our lives. "...Your right hand upholds me," even on the day we pass from earthly life to life eternal, whenever that might be.
Monday, August 14, 2006
We drove home in a jovial mood, making plans for the fabric treasures--furs, corduroys, fake suede and double knits. (What in the world do you make out of double knits??) The girls envisioned their dolls with dozens of new outfits. With those thoughts, we came home to a disaster on our street.
A crowd of neighbors stood watching a tow truck grappling with a trash truck. Two telephone poles had crashed down across the street, one of them directly in front of our property. Power lines were strewn across the yards, ripped from their mountings on the houses. Shattered electrical equipment littered the area. Police ribbons prohibited us from getting close. While we were gone, chaos and violence visited our little street. A trash truck lost its brakes. The men all jumped out as the truck careened unmanned from the top of the hill. The truck crashed into one pole, which pulled down the other and disconnected us all from the phone and electricity.
The rest of the story will have to wait, as I write from the library with two girls at my feet.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:1-5.
The question was--what are we to be seeking? God's presence, to remember his blessings and be grateful for his gifts, big and small. That led to seeking contentment. Let's read on.
"On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." vs. 6-8.
Your bed is an intimate place. Guests aren't invited there, not even your closest friends. It is a place where we are most comfortable, most uninhibited, and also most vulnerable. If we're married, we share a bed with our husband. Maybe you share your bed with your small child on occasion. Your bed is a private place. Is God in your bed?
In this Psalm, David sounds like he has insomnia. What do you do when you can't sleep? New moms are awake a lot at night. At an older age, women tend to have more problems with sleeplessness. The night can be a time when our circumstances look most grim, when fears take flight and swoop and soar, when mistakes rise up and condemn us. The enemy can have a heydey--or we can spend this time with our Lord.
Arielle used to sleep with us when she first came home because she was terrified to be alone. In the dark and fearful night she needed to be enveloped between her loving parents in the most secure of all places, our bed. She clung to us and we sheltered her and kept her safe. Being alone with our thoughts when darkness descends on us can also be terrifying. But we can cling to Jesus. Invite him into the deepest parts of your soul. Pour out your anxieties, fears and regrets. He will be there to comfort you and fill you with peace.
"I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8.
I love the old hymn "Jesus, Lover of My Soul." Michael Card has a beautiful version of this song, first written in 1740 by Charles Wesley. Here are the first two verses:
"Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high,
Hide me, O my Savior hide,
Till the storm of life is past,
Safe into the haven guide, O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee,
Leave, O leave me not alone, still support and comfort me,
All my trust in thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring,
Cover my defenseless head, with the shadow of thy wing."
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Maybe some people are just naturally optimists and others are pessimists. It's a personality thing.
Or maybe it's how we are raised. Someone credited her parents for teaching her that true value is not found in possessions. (What are we teaching our children?)
Another said she has so many "creature comforts" that she's satisfied with life. It's an easy road.
Or we're content as long as there are others worse off than we are.
Maybe it's society to blame. I read that our culture creates in us an insatiable desire for more. We are daily bombarded with advertisements that stir us to covet what we don't have.
Maybe contentment is a gift from God?
I found the cure in Philippians. If we follow Paul in his letter of joy to the church at Philippi, we will discover the prescription for contentment. What is amazing is that he wrote this letter from prison. Philippians is called the book of joy because the words "joy" or "rejoice" appear 16 times. How could Paul be joyful while he was locked up, not knowing if he would live or die? For best results, read the whole book and let the Holy Spirit direct you to the source of your discontent. Then take your medicine. Paul says, "Join with others in following my example, (sisters), and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." Philippians 3:17. There is so much that I can only touch on it. But here are some practical ideas we can begin to apply immediately:
Be thankful for the people in your life and pray for them. "I thank my God everytime I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy..." 1:3,4.
Know that God will complete his work. Be patient with yourself and with others. "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." 1:6.
Look for opportunity in your circumstances. "Now I want you to know, (sisters), that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel." 1:12.
Rejoice and have hope because others are praying for you. "Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope..." 1:19, 20.
Accept difficulties as part of God's refining. "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him..." 1:29.
Be humble. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." 2:3-5. Jesus gave us an example of humility, servanthood, and obedience to God.
Rely on God to give you the desire and the strength to do whatever he's called you to do. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" 2:13.
Don't complain. We already talked about this one. 2:14.
Be a witness and allow God to use your life as he sees fit. "...you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life--in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering..." 2:15-17.
Guard your heart. "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you." 3:1. (What are we listening to, watching, and reading?)
Make it your life mission to know Jesus more deeply. "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them but rubbish, that I may gain Christ...I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." 3:8, 10, 11.
Forget the past. "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." 3:13, 14.
Look ahead. "...many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ..." 3:18-20.
Don't worry--pray. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 4:6, 7. This beautiful passage sums it all up. We can bring to God all our fears, all our problems, all our tears and anguish, and he hears us. He cares and he listens and he answers. Then the peace comes, and it is a precious gift from our Heavenly Father.
Think good things. "Finally, (sisters), whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." 4:8. Our attitude, our words and our actions begin with our thoughts.
Accept the season of your life. We discussed Paul's secret of being content whatever his circumstances. We can do anything God calls us to do through Christ who gives us the strength. 4:11-13.
Help others with their burdens. "Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles." 4:14.
Rely on God's promises. "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." 4:19.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Liana provides our lesson today. She was playing with her felt board, an elaborate set with several scenery backdrops and so many felt characters and props she could re-enact any story in the Bible. She's partial to Moses and the Exodus, but this time she was making up her own story. Jesus is sitting in the palace throne room and a line of people are waiting to approach him. Each person goes forward and makes a request. The first woman wants a baby and magically the Jesus figure produces one and the woman leaves with praise on her lips. The next woman wants a little girl and the felt girl is suddenly in her arms. The next woman asks for a husband and Jesus holds out...Joseph, dressed as the Prince of Egypt! The felt woman is so thrilled with her princely husband in his royal robes. Everyone leaves happy.
I'm glad Liana knows that we can boldly and confidently approach the throne of God in prayer. He gives us good things and grants our requests. But there is some immature thinking that is fine for a six-year-old, but not for us. God is not a genie, instantly performing signs and wonders when we snap our fingers. Would we want a God like that? One who gives no thought to our true need and no care for our souls? What kind of love would that show? God desires people who will worship and love him for who he is--our Father who is intimately involved in our lives. Anybody would line up in front of a magical god who wowed them with gifts from the sky. What kind of mother would you be if you gave your children everything their eyes and flesh crave? You don't do that because you have their greater good in mind.
Let me make clear that our God is an extravagant giver! He's given me above and beyond all I could ever have dreamed of receiving. But he's more concerned with my character and transforming me into the image of his son than any shallow pursuit that I may have. So if I am discontent with what I don't possess, then maybe I need to examine my heart. Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life says, "When you grasp the eternal consequences of your character development, you'll pray fewer 'comfort me' prayers and more 'conform me' prayers."
Back to the child's picture of God. Liana's choice of husband for her felt woman was a prince! We all asked for a prince, didn't we? Are we content with how God answered that prayer? Are we content with the children that God has graciously given to us? When we begin to stop complaining, let's start here with our own family that God saw fit to give us.
"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets?" Jeremiah 12:5. Let's learn to have a grateful heart in good times, so we will be prepared when we travel through the thickets. What is the cure for discontent? Please give me your thoughts!
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Paul said, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Phillipians 4:11, 12.
This reminds me of a book I recently read. Contentment is not the "American dream" fulfilled where "we claim solidarity with Paul from the easy chair of middle-class America. We profess to having learned the secret of contentment in all circumstances, yet we've never experienced (like Paul) forty lashes, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, thirst, homelessness, or imprisonment. Perhaps none of us should presume maturity until the truer tests have been endured. To snuggle up alongside Paul and profess contentment without having known want seems a bit impudent on our part. Paul's contentment in need and plenty is mostly of interest because of the need. Until we know true need and survive the test, we must not presume to be his companion." Richard A. Swenson from his book Margin.
So what is the secret of contentment Paul was writing about? We need to read the next verse. "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13. We don't know how we'll act or what our attitude will be in a time of testing. We pray we will always be content because we believe what God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" Hebrews 13:5, 6. We don't have reason to fear. Whatever road we have to travel, Jesus goes with us. In fact, he's already been there. He knows the way and he will see us through.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Are you satisfied? What more do you want? In our human-ness we need people as well as God. We're created that way. So if you have family or friends, is that enough? Even Jesus acknowledged we need food and drink and clothing. He said not to worry about these things. If we seek God, they will be provided. Matthew 6:25-34. "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19.
A home is good to have. But we could live without one. People do. Jesus did. Do we thank God for our house, or do we long for a different one? God has blessed us abundantly, way beyond what we actually "need." So why do we always want more? Why are we not content?
Are you content with your meal, or are you still searching the cupboard for more? Are you content with your husband or mentally cataloguing his faults? Do you wish to be single if you are married, or do you wish for a husband if you are single? Are you content with your children, or do you wish they were smarter, more talented, prettier? What about your looks? If only you were shorter/taller/ skinnier/fatter/older/younger? Are you content with your life, or is it boring or burdensome?
Some of us are living in very difficult situations with family problems or health issues. Being content does not mean pretending everything is fine. But there is a difference in complaining with an ungrateful heart and sharing deep concerns with our friends and crying out to God for help.
I admit to being a complainer. But I want to change. I want to recognize God's blessings and turn to him in time of need instead of looking for something this world has to offer, which will never satisfy for long. Do you live in a general state of grumbling? What do you reach for when you are discontent? I want to further explore this common problem among women.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. vs. 3. When we recall what God has done in the past, we remember we are loved.
We know we are loved simply because "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son." John 3:16. So God could be reconciled to his people, he sent his son to die. It was that important to him. And Jesus willingly gave his life because he loved his father and us. If God had done nothing else for us since then, we should still know we are loved. It had nothing to do with anything good in us. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.
Yes, God loved the "world", but he also loves YOU! You, the individual. You, the sinner. You, the woman after his own heart. Why would he love you and me, as imperfect as we are? Jesus gives us the answer. "The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." John 16:27.
"I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands." Psalm 63:4. Are you committed for the long haul, no matter what?
Last Saturday night, at our families' Bible study, we gathered the children to pray for them before dismissing them to play. Our teacher, Francis, asked them how they would receive a gift if one were handed to them. One child reached out her hands to take it. Francis then instructed the children to lift up their hands during the prayer to receive God's blessings. It was a beautiful picture to see the children with their hands raised. What an example to us. God so desires to give to us, simply because he loves us. Will you lift up your hands to receive his gifts?