Friday, March 30, 2012

#10 Proverbs 11:18 "Does My Work Count?"

"The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward."

Today I had the privilege of attending a fundraising luncheon for an organization that raises money for scholarships for underprivileged inner-city students so they can realize their dreams for a college education.

During the many speeches given from the podium this afternoon, a few people were recognized for their work in education and mentoring. These were extraordinary folks who went the extra mile and helped their students turn their lives around in profound and lasting ways.

Are you like me, when looking at such exemplary educators and civic leaders, secretly think, "Wow...compared to them, I've done nothing good in my life...."?

I know, I know...I shouldn't compare myself to others. And yes, I also know that recognition doesn't necessarily mean you've accomplished God's work...and the lack of recognition may not mean you haven't done His work, either.

Looking at Proverbs 11:18, I am not focusing on the wicked man and his deceptive wages. What God has brought to my attention is the latter half of the verse: the righteous and their sure reward.

In our earthly lives, "reward" usually brings a couple of things to mind. One is financial or material reward. We expect those who work hard and do the right things to be paid a fair wage and to live well. The other reward we think of is recognition...the pat on the back, the round of applause, the trophy or plaque, undying appreciation, the thank you note for your tax-deductible donation.

When you receive very little of these things, it is easy to think you've done nothing good. Or, at the very least, what little good I have done is nothing compared to the fruitful and far-reaching ministries of those around me.

But, look again at what the writer of Proverbs says, "...he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward."

What does this mean, to sow righteousness? Well, to sow is a farming term. It means to scatter or plant seed over the soil for the purpose of growth. In our lives we all scatter seeds, metaphorically speaking. Our seeds are many and varying. It can consist of our resources, our time, our influence or our talents. It can be our personality, our message, our love and loyalty.

Do we scatter seeds of love, encouragement and hope? Do we sow God's love and salvation, or do we sow seeds of discord and selfishness? The seeds we sow may turn into a large plantation, such as with the founders of that wonderful scholarship program I heard about today. Or...our seeds may be sown in a small, well-worn flower pot. One batch of seeds might reap a large harvest from its plantation that will feed thousands. The other, may yield a single blossom that might provide joy to one lonely person.

God reminds me that it is not the size or the magnitude of the work we do that is important. God tells us in Prov. 11 that what we sow is more important than how much we sow. That is where the "deceptive wage" comes in. The ungodly might sow seeds that yield earthly recognition and reward. And the corrupted lives of some of the rich and famous is practically a cliche.

But, the seeds of righteousness, of God's love and compassion, will reap a sure reward. And just what is this "reward"?

Unfortunately, I don't really know. Sometimes, the godly will receive recognition here on earth. I saw evidence of that during today's luncheon. There is nothing wrong with this. I applaud our efforts to commend others who are doing God's work.

But, I suspect that most of us will have to wait until we reach heaven before we see our reward. This earthly life is not always kind to us. Sowing seeds of righteousness is usually its own reward...for now. I may not see the results or the impact of what I do in this world. Much of what we do is invisible to most of society. But God has reminded us that He is watching. He sees what we have done. No good work is invisible to Him.

My work may not move mountains. It may not even move any molehills. Maybe I only have a teaspoon that I can swirl around in the dirt. But for those whose lives are in the middle of that soil that I move with my teaspoon, what I do is important.

And, praise God, He thinks my work counts.

Monday, March 12, 2012

#9 Galatians 5:14 "Love Myself as My Neighbor...?"

"The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

If ever there was an important command, this is it.

Not only does the verse itself tell you how important these words are, they are repeated several times in the Bible. In Leviticus 19:18, Moses gave this command from God to the children of Israel. Jesus cited this command in Luke 10:27 (and other places in the synoptic gospels). Paul quoted this command in both Romans 13:9 and here in Galatians. And then, James mentions this same command in James 2:18.

So, okay. I get it. If we seek to implement this principle, to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will be doing right. Simple, right?

Well, for me... not so simple.

There are a couple of words in this command that I struggle with. No, it's not "Love your neighbor." I think I sort of get that. I think I can understand that loving my neighbor does not simply mean loving those who live near me. My neighbor is anyone I come in contact with and whoever God leads me to interact with.

And loving my neighbor means doing right by others. This can include anything from not holding grudges (as Leviticus mentions) to being a "good Samaritan" at great personal cost to myself. Yes, I am working toward understanding this part of the command.

What I struggle with, believe it or not, is loving my neighbor as I love myself. Yes, I struggle mightily with loving myself.

There is no easy answer to this. Loving oneself is not simply a matter of boosting one's self esteem, or repeating positive, biblically-based messages to oneself throughout the day. It isn't a matter of hearing (and believing) a good sermon or bible study on the topic, or getting down on my knees and "repenting" of my bad attitude and lack of faith in God's unconditional love.

I won't go into all the grungy details of my inner psyche, my childhood issues or my personal wounds. Those specifics are not important for this discussion.

What is important is that I know I am not alone. Many of us struggle with having a healthy self-love. We have been given messages throughout our lives that we are flawed, that we are not good enough. Little girls, especially, are taught to be invisible and low-maintenance. Many of us in the Japanese-American culture were raised in a shame-based culture, with personal shame and self-belittling seen as virtues, not mental health concerns.

Even in the church, we are given double messages about self-love. Sometimes self-love is portrayed as selfishness or vanity. We are told, "It's not about you!" Yes, I know...sometimes it ISN'T about me, but it usually feels like it is NEVER about me.

So, how can we grow in "self-love"? How can we minister to ourselves in ways that really matter?

Today, as of this writing, I don't have an answer. And that's probably okay.

You see, what I DON'T want to do is offer an easy answer.....a pat, Christian-like solution or a quickie sermon message that's supposed to fix everything. It won't work, and it wouldn't respect and cherish the hearts out there who are hurting and struggling.

As I said before, there is no easy answer. But I do want you to know that I am a fellow struggler. And guess what? It's okay to struggle.

I remember a great man who was also a struggler. His name was Jacob. He was a memorable guy in Genesis 32 who wrestled with God, in a wrestling match that lasted all night long. And he got two significant things from his struggle. One, he was given a hip injury, which resulted in a life-long limp. And two, he received a blessing. "You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome. (32:28)"

I may not overcome this anytime soon, but the struggle is worth it. After all, God has commanded us to love ourselves. I will struggle with this, possibly for the rest of my life, but God understands. I will have my days when I struggle more than other days. I will become discouraged and will let it turn into depression.

But I won't give up the struggle to learn to love myself. Because I know that it is not just for my own sake (and my own personal happiness), but it is part of the sum of God's entire law.

That makes the struggle worth least for me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

#8 Mark 6:49-50 "Hello? It's Jesus!"

"But when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.' "

Jesus walked on water. Every time I think of this image, I envision a glorious, supernatural sight, a miracle, a wonder, an awe-inspiring vision.

But not those crazy disciples. They weren't struck with awe and wonder. They were terrified. Don't think "The Greatest Story Ever Told" or "The Ten Commandments." Think "Poltergeist" or "The Ring." They were scared!! My goodness. What were they thinking?

Well...I usually am not one to be too hard on those poor disciples. After all, when WE consider what we know today about Jesus, the disciples' fears and "crazy thoughts" seem pretty lame, considering the leader they were following was the Lord of the Universe Himself.

But remember, at the time, they really didn't know that.

This story of Jesus walking on water to get to his disciples is preceded by the miraculous event when Jesus fed 5000 people using just a small amount of food. This was no small miracle. It wasn't simply a matter of Jesus, in His wisdom and cleverness, taking a small boy's lunch and somehow stretching it out into enough food to tide people over until their next meal.

No, this was a miracle that took the loaves and fish (which, really, were more like small buns with sardines) and supernaturally made it into a feast, with 12 baskets of leftovers. This wasn't done by a whiz chef from The Food Network. This was the work of God.

So, since the disciples witnessed this wonder first-hand, Bible scholars conclude that they should have known that Jesus could only have produced that miracle as the Son of God. So, why were those guys afraid of a storm at sea (especially the experienced fishermen who had no doubt met such conditions before) and the figure that walked on the sea toward them?

Simple. They weren't expecting Jesus to come they way He did, by walking on the sea as though it was solid ground. (Who had ever seen something like that before?)

Do I know Jesus as my Lord and as the Son of God? Yes I do. Does this mean I always recognize Jesus' presence in my life when He comes to me in a totally unexpected way? No, it doesn't.

Haven't you ever been in a troubling or painful situation, and felt confused? Sometimes you think you see guidance in your life or hear a word from God....but then you doubt. You're not sure what you were seeing or hearing was from God....or from yourself....or from the world or our pop culture....or maybe even from the Devil.

How many times have I heard from other believers, "I think I know what God might be saying to me, but I'm not sure if I'm hearing God's wisdom, or just 'hearing' what I want to hear because that is the message I prefer"?

Yes, we all get confused sometimes. An unexpected and unlikely occurrence might be something sent by God...or it could just be coincidence. That voice in your head might be God telling you something important....or it might be your own guilty conscience or your fear talking. do we know for sure where those messages, situations or words of wisdom come from? Simple. Look at this verse once again. When the disciples got confused, Jesus identified Himself and said, "It is I. Do not be afraid."

During those times I get confused and really, really, really need God's guidance, I know I can trust God to identify Himself to me and assure me that I have nothing to be afraid of.

Jesus desires to come to us. He desires to guide us, keep us safe and meet our deepest needs. When you doubt your own ability and discernment to know wisdom from folly, trust Him. When He guides and comforts you, trust Him to identify Himself, assure you it is He whose arms are wrapped around you, and trust Him to allay your fears. that's not so simple as it sounds. It takes a listening ear, a watchful eye and lots of trust. But remember, it's not your own discernment you're trusting. It's Jesus you'll be trusting.

Jesus...the Man who can feed a multitude with next to nothing, and can stroll on the stormy seas without sinking or falling.

Jesus....the Man who can guide and care for you and me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

#7 2 Peter 3:9 "Is God Slow?"

"The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Have you ever found yourself praying to God and saying things like this? "Dear Lord, please help me in this situation. I need help now. I need this to be resolved. Please hurry with your answer. Impatiently yours, Your servant [fill in your name here]......"

Yes, I will admit it. Sometimes I, too, think God is slow. But, of course, from what I know of God, He really is NOT slow, He just seems that way.

We are a generation who lives by the half-hour sitcom where everything is resolved and satisfied within the 30 minute time slot. We are the audience who loves the overnight sensation, the break-out performer, the Hollywood Happy Ending.

That's because we mortals want things to happen NOW. We're willing to work for things, as long as resolution is already in sight. We have to see the light at the end of the tunnel before we even enter the tunnel. We won't tune in to the ball game until the 4th quarter. (Okay, no die-hard sports fan will do this, but I confess that I do...)

In this passage from 2 Peter, God's promise refers to the Coming of Jesus Christ. First century believers hoped that Jesus would return to earth during their life time. They hoped for that resolution, not only for their faith's sake, but for the sake of the suffering, persecuted brethren.

Those who were skeptical of this new faith, Christianity, scoffed and mocked them. They laughed at them because they believed and hoped for a salvation that didn't appear to come. They prayed for Christ's supernatural appearance on earth that seemed futile and foolish.

Quite honestly, I don't tell everyone I meet that I hope to be caught up in the Rapture of the Church any time soon. (For the record, I DO place my hope in Jesus' rapture of His church, but that's another sermon topic for the future...) And I know most non-believers and modern day scoffers are not watching to see if I am raptured .

But they ARE looking at my life and observing whether or not my prayers are answered, if my trials are resolved, or if it appears that some Higher Power is watching over me and taking extraordinary care of me. In other words, they're watching to see if my faith is worth it, and if my God is worth waiting for.

Let's face it. There's no way to hurry up God. This verse makes it quite clear that God has His own time schedule, and that schedule isn't always to our liking.

But we can still hope, knowing that God has a purpose for this world and for His children. The world may not see God answer quickly or expeditiously, but the world can watch our trust, our unwavering hope and our firm belief that He is in charge. After all, isn't faith the substance of what we hope for and the evidence of things we can't see? (Heb. 11:1)

I can't usually see beforehand how God will work out a situation, but I can always be confident that He will. I can't hurry the answer along with more prayers, more fasting and more pleading. But I can wait and know that He has taken care of it.

The world and its scoffers will see our quiet confidence in Him. They can make fun of that, but they can't argue with the results. I remind myself of this, primarily, not just to you, my readers. I, too, get caught up in my anxiousness and doubt.

God quietly reminds me that it's already taken care of. If He said it, then I believe it.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

#6 Ephesians 6:4 "God: My Dear Old Dad"

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the LORD."

Okay....if you take this verse in its most literal sense, we women (and any non-parents) would be tempted to say, "Well....I'm not a father, so this verse doesn't apply to me. I'll just read it to my husband and tell him to apply it to his life!"

Yes, you can say that. But, truth be told, we'd all be missing out on one of God's gems of truth.
So why should a non-father (much less a non-parent) listen to this verse and discover its application to our lives? What does Eph. 6:4 have to say to us non-dads?

Well, I can honestly say, that since becoming a mom in 1987, I have learned in greater depth and understanding, just how God loves and cares for us as a parent. I have been learning (and continue to learn) what it means to BE loved by my Heavenly Father, and how I am to feel and respond in return.

As we all know, God never gives a command or word of encouragement that is not consistent with His character and being. God gives instruction to fathers primarily because He Himself is a father. Moreover, He gives instruction that reflects His parenting style.

Parenting style? God has a parenting style? You bet.

In studying what the field of developmental psychology says about styles of parenting, I found that there are 4 basic types.*

1. Authoritarian parenting. This is when children are expected to follow a strict set of rules laid down by their parents. Failure to comply results in punishment. Orders must be followed without question or explanation.

2. Authoritative. Rules and expectations must still be followed by the children, but this kind of parent allows and encourages dialogue and questions with their offspring. When children fail to obey, although they are still corrected, they are met with more grace and forgiveness, rather than just punishing.

3. Permissive. Here, leniency is key. Few demands are made, children are allowed considerable self-regulation and parents avoid confrontation.

4. Uninvolved parenting. While basic physical needs of the children may be met, these parents are generally detached from their children's lives.

Even without much discussion, it is easy to see where I'm going with this. God is too often seen by others as being either the first, third or fourth style of Father, or perhaps a combination of them. Those with very strict, rule-oriented backgrounds will fear that God is parent #1. Those who believe that "God loves us and wants us to be happy, so I'm allowed to do what I want" worships God as parent #3. Still others see God as the uninvolved parent #4, who cares little for the day-to-day worries of lowly mankind. He's too busy running the universe...or something like that.

Happily, I have known God as parent #2. Yes, the Word of God makes clear to us what God considers a righteous life. He encourages us and instructs us in living a life pleasing to Him. But doesn't He also allow His children to question Him, to discuss our concerns and worries with Him? Isn't our failure to be perfect usually met with grace, forgiveness and the assurance of His continued love?

The fathers mentioned in Eph. 6 are said to be exasperating. Their children are tired, discouraged and always failing to meet unreasonable expectations. Their sense of self-worth is low and are probably at a high risk of leaving the family.

Oh man....does this sound familiar?

This hits me right in my heart.

First of all, how have I been viewing God? Am I obedience-oriented to the point that I feel like a failure every time I am confronted with my own imperfection? Do I beat myself up every time I let an opportunity to share God's love pass by because I was too busy or too self-involved, for instance? Do I fear God will not forgive me because I did [fill in the blank of whatever moral imperfection you have]? Do I, deep down inside, find it hard to really believe that God has forgiven my sins? Do I expect punishment rather than grace? Admit it, we all have had moments like this. Some of us more than others.

And secondly, how do I view and interact with others? Do I, in my own way, exasperate others with an endless list of expectations? Do I remind them, usually quite indirectly of course, of the times they failed to do the best thing possible? Do I extend grace or mete out "punishment" when my fellow Christians (and yes, non-Christians!) hurt me or display behaviors that seem ungodly? Ouch.

Yes, God told earthly fathers not be exasperating fathers because He is not one Himself. God is authoritative without being authoritarian. There isn't anything He won't do for our well-being. He even went so far as to send His Son to die on the cross for us. He could have punished us all, but He isn't that sort of Dad.

Oh, and according to the same source on developmental psychology, children of parent#2 tend to be happy, capable and successful.* Isn't that what God intends for His children as well?

Wow...with such a wonderful Father, we have reason to rejoice. We have every reason to feel loved and encouraged. Every day is Father's Day.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#5 Acts 5: 38-39 "Can't Stop Me Now!"

"Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

For many Christians, the name Gamaliel may not be familiar. He is mentioned twice in the Book of Acts. Acts 22:3 tells us that he was the Apostle Paul's teacher. In this passage in Acts 5, Gamaliel is the voice of reason.

Acts 5 recounts a story when the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to silence the Apostles as they taught in Jesus' name. Throwing the Apostles in prison didn't work. An angel of the LORD opened the prison doors and freed them. Commanding their silence did no good, either. Peter and the Apostles refused by saying their obedience was primarily to God, and not man.

So, the Pharisees met and plotted to have them all killed. Under natural circumstances, they probably would have succeeded.

But they didn't.....thanks to the words and reason of Gamaliel.

Gamaliel recounted a couple of instances when a persuasive leader had gathered many followers toward his philosophy. But once that leader died, his devotees scattered, no longer adhering to their late leaders' teachings.

If these followers of Jesus are like that, then their philosophy or religion will die with Him in good time. But, if this is genuine, then you don't want to find yourselves fighting God.

And considering this "religion" of Jesus has continued for over 2000 years, I'd say the Pharisees were correct in listening to Gamaliel. The Apostles of the early church certainly demonstrated that their faith, and their Messiah, were the real thing.

I have yet to be threatened with death for being a follower of Christ. In our country, where we enjoy freedom of religion, Christianity is certainly not a risk factor for death or imprisonment. But I do feel like I am being silenced at times. No, the pressure to remain a silent and inconspicuous disciple of Jesus is not legal or physical. I believe it is much more subtle.

No stones have ever been hurled at me. But, there are times I hurl those stones at myself...those stones of fear and shame. I talk myself out of speaking the truth, because I'm taught it's bad to offend anyone. I talk myself out of doing the right thing, because it seems to hard, or too inconvenient.

And yes, I could probably even talk myself out of believing, because sometimes God seems silent and absent.

But, thank God, He and His work cannot be stopped. God's purposes will go on, not because I am so brave, loving, committed or heart strong. It will go on because God is God. He will triumph, not because of me, but (usually) in spite of me.

As Gamaliel reminded the Pharisees, if someone's work is not of God, it will ultimately fail. But if it IS of God, no man can stop it. I too often feel like a failure. I have never done anything "great." My speeches would not fill a large arena, prompting hundreds of folks to race down the aisle to declare their faith in Christ.

I've built no orphanages, published no best-selling books on the Christian life, nor founded my own world-wide ministry to feed the poor or heal the sick.

But, I am called by God to serve Him nonetheless. My sphere of influence is small. I am not well-known in my community or even in my modest-sized church. But I still have a job to do for His kingdom. It might be cleaning up the mess someone left on the floor at the church, it might be spending a little time with a child in need of love and understanding...or it might be silently praying for that friend or stranger who suddenly finds herself out of work.

I fear failure....but more than that, I fear being insignificant. Gamaliel's words in Acts 5 reminds me that, whatever work I am doing in Jesus' name, if this is what He has asked me to do, I cannot be stopped. If someone tries, then he is fighting against God. It doesn't matter if God calls me to preach to millions, or to silently help one individual. If I am doing God's unstoppable work, that is my defense, that is my proof that God is real and that is where my significance lies.

I thank God for calling me to His work, however humble it may be. In God's workforce, size does NOT matter. What matters is what is in your heart, and how close to God's heart it is. The work will follow.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

#4 Matthew 6:5-6 "Shhhhh! It's a Secret!"

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

There are two very personal reasons why I hate the word "hypocrite."

One reason is because I am an actor. Yes, I like to get on stage and perform a role in a play. But, the church has had a long and mostly unfriendly relationship with theatre, for multiple reasons I will not get into.

And the only time I really hear about theatre and actors is when the pastor is preaching about hypocrisy. You see, the word "hypocrite" comes from the Greek word hypokrisis, which means "play-acting." In ancient Greek theatre, actors on stage often wore masks to portray the characters in the story. Hypocrites are those who pretend, or put on a mask, as one type of person, but in reality, are really another type of person altogether.

I know some in the church have viewed my theatrical endeavors with mild suspicion. Arts and the Christian life seem to be limited to worship music, in some peoples' eyes. I know not everyone will be a theatre fan. It just hurts that the only mention of theatre in church is when they equate us to hypocrites.

The second reason I hate this word is because I am a Christian. "Hypocrite" is a word-bomb that gets thrown at us believers by those outside the church. It is the common insult (and excuse) used to justify why some non-believers refuse to go to church or why they dismiss the church and its members.

I once heard a pastor tell me that when he invites people to church, they often say, "I don't want to go to church. The church is full of hypocrites." Then he'd say, "Well,'ll fit right in!"

Okay...I'll be the first to say that, yes, there ARE hypocrites in the church. I have also met many hypocrites outside the church. We Christians have no monopoly on hypocrisy.

But that doesn't excuse any of us, believer and non-believer alike, from walking our walk and talking our talk. Hypocrisy is something we all need to get over.

Matthew 6 tells us that God, too, disapproves of hypocrisy. Play-acting the life of a holy and righteous person who has a dirty, secret life within is exactly why our critics are calling us to the carpet. Our secret life within (as Matthew says, behind closed doors) is what God calls genuine. When the secret life is pleasing to God, this is what He rewards. Our secret life is what is in our hearts, in our deepest thoughts and desires.

God knows what's in a person's heart, even though the rest of the world may not. As this verse shows, not everything in our hearts is portrayed by our actions. Just last evening, I had the opportunity to watch a play. The play was a "comedy" based on the question, what would happen if several deities from various religions got together and planned the apocalypse?

I heard the words, some bordering on blasphemous, being delivered by the actors (yes! the hypocrites!!). A couple of the actors I knew personally. One was a believer, the other was not.

I doubt that either actor personally believed what their characters were saying. But when the Christian actor had to deliver offensive dialogue, I prayed silently. But God assured me, "It's only a role on stage....Don't worry, I know what is in his heart."

And that's what God looks at, the heart. Yes, our actions should flow out of what is in our hearts. But this is where it begins. That way, there will be no disconnect between our hearts and our actions. When people meet us, they'll get the genuine deal.

Am I giving God my genuine self? He is the maker and healer of my imperfect and wounded heart. I have to begin there. When God gets the real me, then He can work on that hard heart of mine. And the whole world doesn't need to see that heart work. Matthew reminds us that it is done in secret.

I pray that when His work continues in me, my actions will naturally follow suit. Oh but wait, that heart work is secret. I wasn't supposed to tell you about that.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

#3 Genesis 1:3 "Lights, (no) Camera, Action!"

"And God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light."

When mankind seeks to understand something that can't be explained, he develops a theory. To be fair, these theories are based on scientific observation and extensive data collection. But, even when the data still leaves science somewhat in the dark, a theory is born. Thus, Hubble's Big Bang Theory sought to explain just how our universe was created. Darwin's Theory of Evolution seeks to explain the origins of life and man.

Now, I am not necessarily taking sides on this debate, I am just trying to make a point: that man has always wanted to search the unsearchable and know the unknowable. This is what man is about. We are the species that asks "how" and "why" rather than just marvel at the fact that something "is."

And yes, I do know that there are varying interpretations of the Genesis account of creation. Some see it literally, and others see the account more poetically. Still others consider it just a myth, a primitive attempt to explain the inexplicable.

I have not decided just where on that theological continuum I sit (hint: I do NOT subscribe to the myth school of thought). But I do know this: the first words on record uttered from God's mouth is "Let there be light."

Whether you believe this to be a literal truth or a poetic expression of the truth, it is no mistake that God began His creative work by proclaiming light into existence.

The word "light" has many meanings for us. Here are a few that help me.

First, "Light" means understanding.

Without light, God's creative genius would have been expressed in the dark. He's God. Can't God see in the dark? Well...yes, He can.

But, the Bible tells us that God IS light. John 1:4 says that (referring to Jesus) "In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind."

God wants us to know that we need never be lost in the dark. He is our light, He is our illumination when we seek answers. The scientists Hubble and Darwin sought answers. With God's illumination and understanding, we too can seek and find answers.

Secondly, "light" refers to holiness. A life lived in God's light is one that seeks righteousness and godliness. A life lived in darkness is separated from God, and is lived for sinful desires and self-righteousness.

It's no mistake that evil is often called "the dark side." When Jesus told us He is "the light of the world," He was telling us that He is the way to righteousness. John 1:5 tells us that, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

And lastly, "light" reminds me that I can see. Literally, see. My cat is pretty good at seeing in the dark, but I fail woefully at that. I need light in order to see where I am and what obstacles might be in my path.

God's light gives me vision. Yes, the literal, biological vision so I can navigate through this world. And it also provides my spiritual vision. I can see God and know God in this world. I may not see God in the way Moses was able to, but I can see Him through His creation, His people, His Word and in my heart of hearts.

This was God's first act of creation. It was a work of genius. Light, needed to see, understand and overcome evil, was the first gift God gave to mankind....even before mankind ever existed.

Imagine that. Even before we were born, God was already giving us a precious gift. And that was just the beginning....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#2 James 1:12 "Blessed Are the Rich?"

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."

Today, in Tacoma, we have snow. By our standards, lots of it. In a region that sees little snow, we don't really have the snow and ice removal systems in place, unlike the Midwest or parts of the East coast.

So, snow becomes our "trial." Our neighborhoods are impassible. A car belonging to a home two doors away only made it one block from home before a tow truck had to assist it back to its driveway.

Randy and I put on our winter gear, carried our backpacks and hiked to the market so we had something to cook for dinner. I fell once during the trip. Luckily, no injuries.

The rest of the day was spent cooped up at home. Boredom set in. Restlessness ensued.

I know what you're thinking. The "trials" of today were NOT what James had in mind as he wrote the opening verses of this epistle. The First Century believers endured persecution and suffering for the sake of their faith in Christ. We who are sheltered and privileged usually know nothing of perseverance under such trials.

James 1:12 tells us that those who persevere when tested will receive the crown of life. What a wonderful promise. But, for those like me who live a rather cushy life, how am I to receive any crown of life? Am I even eligible?

This is what I have pondered, not just today, but for many years. What does perseverance in middle class and upper middle class America look like?

Have you ever heard the term, "affluenza?" It's that "virus" that can infect those of us who are rich by the world's standards. We have whatever material things we need, and much of what we really don't need. Meeting our needs doesn't seem to depend on God's provision, but our own ability to gather wealth.

We've never known hunger or any real persecution. Life for us, and for our non-believing neighbors, is a piece of cake. So, if we are pretty much able to meet our own needs, why would most of us need God?

By God's grace, I have yet to suffer greatly for His gospel. But, I feel I have been tested in my faith. One of my tests is, despite what my eyes see, to keep on believing, and to urge others to do the same.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we don't see. What do my eyes see? My cushy bank account. Lots of clothes in my closet. A roof over my head, a dependable car to drive and plenty of food in the cupboard.

What do I not see? I don't "see" the Hand that provides all this to me. I don't "see" the grace that freely gives me the comforts of life that I have not earned. I don't "see" the One who is the invisible source of my life and well being.

I am protected. I am loved. I am forgiven of all my sins, past, present and future. This, I cannot "see," but will acknowledge. For this reason, I seek to serve Him and proclaim Him to a world that also cannot see Him.

It is a natural tendency to only acknowledge God when we are in trouble or pain. My test of faith is to acknowledge Him when I am comfortable.

What is my other test of faith? It is to let go of some of that comfort and share it with others....share my time, my money and my love with those who need it. I admit, I can be as selfish as anyone. And it is easy to develop a sense of entitlement to my "wealth."

But God challenges me to give as He directs me. And He has blessed me with more opportunities than ever before. And with each opportunity, it brings me great joy.

Okay, so maybe that can't compare with those saints who suffer for the gospel. But, each of us has been put where God wants us to serve in our own unique way. For today, this is how I have been asked to serve.

For tomorrow, who knows?

Friday, January 13, 2012

#1 Proverbs 31:30 "You Look Maaah-velous!"

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."

Ah.....New Year's resolutions. I've made them, so have you. This year, 2012, Randy and I have made one together: to go on a "healthy" diet, exercise more, and lose some weight.

Heard that one before? Yes, so have I. Only this time, I am the one making the resolution. I need to lost weight for my health? Maybe....but I have to admit, for a person my age, I am doing pretty well. I am probably only about 10 lbs. above my ideal weight. I don't have diabetes, heart or lung problems, I take no prescription medication, and my blood pressure is normal, as is my cholesterol.

So why go on this diet and exercise program? Simple: vanity.

I want to fit into this nice dress I bought a couple years ago, but never had the occasion to wear, until now. I don't want the world to see me and my middle-aged belly at a formal event. I am chasing after beauty...or the world's idea of beauty.

I stepped on the scale today for the first time in over 20 years. I was appalled. I never realized just how much weight I had gained over the past 10 years.

Proverbs 31 reminds me, however, that the Woman after God's Own Heart is not the supermodel. She's not the one with perfect skin, or the most fashionably dressed.

Yes, Proverbs 31 sets a high standard for women of God. She is hard-worker. A faithful and loving wife and mother. A shrewd businesswoman. A woman of respect and wisdom. A gracious and generous person. All these traits God says are more valuable than rubies.

I find it interesting that, at the end of such a description of a praiseworthy female, God knows to address the issue of physical beauty. After all, that is the primary trait for which womankind has been judged and valued throughout human history.

God tells us that physical beauty is fleeting, as my middle years has shown me all too well. If you compare what else God said is fleeting, recall Matt. 6: 30, when Jesus calls the grass of the field "here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire." In other words, fleeting.

And, as in Prov. 31, Jesus tells us NOT to run after the things that are fleeting. Things like grass....and beauty.

What does He tell us to pursue? Matt. 6:33 says to first seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Prov. 31 tells us to fear the LORD.

This also exhorts me to seek after His word...and to try to reach my goal this year of blogging about 52 verses in 2012. Psalm 119:11 reminds me to hide God's word in my heart so that I might not sin against Him. I need the Word of God in my heart. I need to seek after Him. This year, and every year.

So, what about that diet and exercise plan? It's still on. After all, God's word also says that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). I am taking care of God's temple. the "beauty" thing will still pop up in my thinking. Can't help that. But I pray that, this year, my beauty will come from the Spirit within me.....

...and maybe a bit from losing a few excess pounds.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Week #31 Deuteronomy 4:29 "It's Never Too Late"

"But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."

Do you ever screw up?

Silly question, you might say. Of course we screw up. Some of us screw up a bit everyday.

Some days, we make choices that not only displease God, we displease ourselves, too. Everyone goes through those times when we walk our own way, ignore godly advice and worship self over the Almighty. And we hate it. We really do.

I've been there, too. I think that's why so many of us identify with the Apostle Peter. One minute he's swearing his eternal allegiance and devotion to Jesus, the next day he's denying Him publicly not once, but three times. It's enough to make the hardiest believer into a pile of mush.

So what's a discouraged, wayward Christian to do?

Simple. Seek God.

When I first read this verse from Deuteronomy, the initial question in my mind was this: The verse begins with "...if from there you seek the LORD...". But where is "there"? Where would Israel be coming from when Moses spoke this to them?

Deuteronomy 4 is a wonderful piece of scripture. It is a prime example of how God took this man Moses, who was "slow of speech and of tongue" and made him into an extraordinary preacher and prophet.

Moses was exhorting the Israelites to take the Promised Land God had given to them. But, this land flowing with milk and honey came with a price. The Children of Israel needed to heed God's commands and live a life of obedience. This obedient lifestyle involved turning away from idolatry and anything that would take God's place in their lives.

So, after hearing such a moving and rousing sermon from their man Moses, did the nation of Israel live the rest of their existence in obedience and godliness? History answers us with a resounding NO.

In other words, they screwed up. A lot.

And Moses warned them ahead of time that the consequences were dire. "...If you become corrupt and make any kind of idol...I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you." vs. 25-27


But praise God! Although these verses are about Israel (and all of us, to be sure), these verses are also about God, the Forgiver of the unforgivable, and the Lover of the unlovable.

Moses tells Israel that "if from there (meaning, from a life of disobedience and rebellion) you seek the LORD your God, you will find Him..."

What does this tell me? It comforts me in the message that it's never too late. Even when (in my best intentions to remain a faithful follower), I still screw up, God will forever be there if only I seek Him with all my heart and soul.

And the good news doesn't stop there. Moses goes on to remind Israel that no one has ever been as privileged and blessed as they. God was not simply a stern task-master, always cracking the whip of obedience at them. He was the Giver of all gifts, the Blesser of His children and the Savior to those desperately needing salvation.

It is the same for us today. No matter what wilderness you find yourself wandering through, no matter what idol you find yourself bowing to, He is there. All we have to do is look for Him.

God isn't hiding from us. If we look for Him, His loving hand will be right there to meet you.

Praise God for His unmatchable love.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week#30 Ephesians 5:1-2 "That's My Girl!"

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

There's a well-known poem by Dorothy Law Nolte called "Children Learn What They Live." You may be familiar with it. It tells us that if children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. But it also says, on the other hand, that if children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

From where I sit, that about sums up our Christian life. It also sums up nicely what the Apostle Paul is telling us in this verse from Ephesians.

The Book of Ephesians is an incredible encouragement to me. It reminds me of what it is to be a believer, a child of God, and what it means to be His church.

Here is what God is reminding me of today. I hope you find encouragement in this as well.

One, God is reminding me that, if I am to truly be an imitator of Him, I must focus on love. In these verses, I am reminded that I am dearly loved by God. Christ loved me by giving Himself up for me. And I am, in turn, to live a life of love.

Although God's love for us is not an earthly, human love that can sometimes spoil or indulge the child, God's love began for us before we were even born. Earlier in Ephesians (2:4-5), Paul says that because of God's deep love for us, He made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin.

What does that tell me? That God totally accepts me just as I am, warts and all. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I will try my best to do the right things, but I will fall down on occasion. I will do the very things I tell myself not to do. But, (good news!) that won't stop God from loving me just as I am. So, can we cranky, self-centered (but very human) members of Christ's church still live a life of love? Yes we can. Because we are accepted and loved. That gives us the ability to do the same for others.

Two, God reminds me that, when Christ loved us (and sacrificed Himself for us), it was to God, a fragrant offering. Remember that word: fragrant. It paints a picture of something that is pleasing, beautiful, aromatic, precious.

I have not yet given myself to others in the way Jesus did. The things I have been asked to do may not be anything that involves intense suffering and mortal sacrifice. But we all have been asked to give of ourselves in ways that may not always be pleasant.

How about all those afternoons you spent with that frightened and uncooperative child you'd been asked to tutor after school? Or that day you spent weeding and cleaning up the church grounds that left you with a sore back and blistered hands? Remember that holiday food drive you organized when it seemed all the thanks you got was criticism and stress?

Well, God remembers it, too. To us, those times were challenging, at best. But, God smelled a lovely fragrant offering. It pleased Him. It made Him smile.

I understand why He smiled. I have the same reaction when one of my own sons displays a talent or behavior that I know I taught him. I smile proudly and say, "That's my boy!" So, when we are imitators of Him, I believe He smiles just like that!

That's one of my greatest hopes. That God will see what I am trying to do, and trying to be, and smile to Himself and declare, "That's my girl!"

Thank you, Father.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Week #29 Psalm 119:2 "Seeking God With All My Heart"

"Blessed are they who keep His statues and seek Him with all their hearts."

Wow....I am way behind on my blogging! It's already November, and I am only on my 29th bible verse of the year. Last blog post: August. Ouch.

Life sometimes gets busy. Then we start to put off things that are important.

But, look what also happened. My "busy-ness" has become a habit. That means I have put things off, important things like meditating and sharing God's Word. That, unfortunately, has become a casualty of my busy life.

So, it is no accident (there are NO accidents in our life with God, don't you think?) that He has called me back to His word with this verse from the Psalms. "Blessed are they Him with all their hearts."

Seeking God. What exactly does that mean for us busy, computer-connected folks of the 21st century? are a couple of ideas that have been laid on my heart today.

First, seeking God involves something that might seem obvious. Prayer. Getting on my knees, lifting my eyes to Him and telling Him the deepest thoughts and feelings I have.

Don't worry if you can't always physically kneel. Sometimes deep, heart-felt prayer must occur in places and situations where you can't actually get on your knees. While driving in the car. At work. During an emotional business meeting. Getting on my knees to pray is a matter of attitude. It means I need God. It means I humble myself before my Father and tell Him what His little girl (me!) is feeling. Yes, there's no substitute for this type of prayer.

Second, seeking God means making Him and His word a habit. This might mean reading a bit of scripture each day. No, it doesn't have to be a long passage of scripture that is difficult to understand. It can be just one verse. One verse that our Father has given you, to instruct you, admonish you or to just tell you how much He loves you.

Making God a habit also means for me, keeping up with my blog posts. That is a habit that helps me to focus on Him. He speaks to me as I write. He comforts me and encourages me through this blog, and yes, through your responses to me in the comment section!

And finally, seeking God means looking for God's presence and wisdom in our everyday life. Was that piece of advice from your co-worker today a word of encouragement from the LORD? And that tree with those beautiful leaves of changing fall color? Could that be God's glory in your neighborhood? How about that song that was just played on the radio? God's love song to you, perhaps? You get the idea.

So, I thank you, LORD, and I thank you, dear Readers, for reminding me to seek God. I needed that today. I need it everyday, but praise God it happened today.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week #28 John 3:16 "I Am Valuable"

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

This was probably one of the first bible verses I learned after becoming a Christian many years ago.  It is famous.  It is well-known. So well-known that maybe we have taken it for granted?

When this particular verse popped up (on a verse-a-day website) as my next blogging topic, it gave me the opportunity to ponder this verse anew.

So, what "new" insight have I been given?  Nothing new, but here is what perspective I have been pondering.

I have zero-ed in on the word "gave."  God gave.  God gave to the world.  God gave His Son.  God gave out of love.  God gave to whoever believes in Him.  God gave so that we could have eternal life.

Wow...that's a LOT of giving.

Most of the time, I am very aware (and thankful) for what I have been given.  I have been given a wonderful husband and family.  I have been given a comfortable life, with privileges and blessings not available to many others around the globe.

I have been given resources and skills that can benefit my family, church and community.  I have been given interests, personality traits and silly quirks within that personality that occasionally amuse others, keep life interesting and can be used for God's glory.

But there are times in my life when I don't feel so blessed.  There are times when I look in the mirror and wonder why I wasn't given the gift of a flawless complexion.  Sometimes I watch other actors on stage and wonder why I wasn't given the level of talent they have.  I often wonder why I wasn't given the personality of an out-going, personable charmer, instead of my introverted, melancholy spirit.

So, when I heard the word "gave" and pondered it in my heart, I was moved.  I know that life isn't fair.  Some are born with more physical beauty and talents than others.  Some live in relative wealth while others live in poverty.  Some have radiant, attractive personalities, and others have personalities that are harder to appreciate.

But there is one thing we have ALL been given.  Jesus.

God isn't a stingy deity spending His days plotting to bring us deprivation.  God is a generous, giving Father who longs to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  And on top of that, He gave us the most precious gift He could ever give us:  His Son.  Anyone who's ever raised a son (or a daughter) would understand how precious and valuable that is.

Sure, there will still be days when I feel "deprived" and indulge in a self-pity party.  Life has a way of doing that to us.

But God gave me His most valuable and sacrificial possession possible.  That means I am loved.  It means I am also valuable to Him.  It means I count.

The reflection in the mirror doesn't make me valuable, nor will my acting ability on stage, my "wealth" or my personality.  God makes me valuable.  I am the recipient of a most valuable gift.  John 3:16 tells me so.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Week #27 Hebrews 11:11 "My Own Miracle from God"

"By faith Abraham, even though he was past age - - and Sarah herself was barren - - was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise."

I love God's promises. I think we all do. And, according to this verse, Abraham and Sarah really loved His promises. It reassured them. It encouraged them. It built their faith. And, what is most exciting for me, God's promise to them worked miracles.

Abraham was old, past the age when men fathered children. Sarah was "barren" and had also reached the age when women no longer considered childbirth. In other words, it should have been impossible for such a couple to bear a child.

But, God promised them a family. In fact, God promised them that they would be the father and mother of a great nation. They were to be the start of a nation, chosen by God, who would bless the people of the earth. Their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. That's quite a promise. All this, to an old, childless couple.

But, when God speaks, and God wills, don't worry about the odds. They're already beaten.

And this promise to Abraham and Sarah, was also their life calling. God chose them, God called them and God worked miracles to enable them to fulfill that calling.

I often think so many things are impossible for me. I spend a lot of time wishing. I wish for miracles, and for that calling from God that will change the world, or at least my corner of the world.

I keep forgetting that, if God calls me to serve Him, miracles will follow. It may not be the Red Sea parting, or I may not walk on water. But miracles, those unexpected gifts and inexplicable circumstances that could only come from Divine Intervention, will follow.

Those miracles will help me serve Him in ways I never thought possible. Miracles will make a way for things to happen that never could have, if left to my own power. Miracles are those "coincidences" or "lucky breaks" that I didn't see coming. Miracles enable me, like Abraham, to become who God intended me to be.

So, if you're like me, and sometimes feel like an old, useless person, remember that a great nation (or a great ministry, a great idea, a great act of love) may come from you anyway. All you have to do is listen to God's promise and calling. You can beat the odds. God will see to it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Week #26 1 Cor. 3:18-19a "A Fool for God"

"Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For this wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight."

I spend a fair amount of time with people who consider themselves educated, intellectual and open-minded. As a whole, these are good traits to possess.

I am all for education. I am also highly in favor of developing the intellect and of being willing to hear other perspectives and ideas. I also try to see a bit more of the "big picture" that makes up God's universe. It helps me to get over myself, see past my own troubles and circumstances and look at life from a more eternal perspective.

After all, life doesn't end with our death, God created a universe that is vast and infinite, and the course of human history is not dependent on mankind getting its act together and saving itself.

So...considering the big picture perspective that the Bible teaches us, why is Christianity still called "foolishness" by the world?

Well, for one thing, we Christians have been accused of being closed-minded. Non-believers sneer at our faith because we claim to testify of the truth. We are told we are intolerant of other belief systems because we can't agree with philosophies and religions that don't acknowledge God and His Son Jesus.

We are also told that we are crazy because we hope in the Second Coming of Christ, the Rapture (which has gotten a bad rap lately, thanks to a misguided "prophet" named Harold Camping) and eternal life with the LORD in heaven.

In other words, we Christians are fools. Closed-minded fools.

But look at what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3. We Christians ARE "fools," and we should seek to be foolish. But look, too, at how foolishness is defined in these verses. "Wisdom" is associated with deception, the standards of the age, and the world. "Foolishness" is associated with God's sight.

So, what does the world tell us is "wise"? There are a lot of things, too numerous to list. But I will list one thing our world (here in the USA, at least) values: open-mindedness. Open-mindedness that claims that all systems of thought and religion are valid and true. Open-mindedness that says to preach the Bible as if it were God's truth shows intolerance, ignorance and stupidity.

At what does God say is "foolish"? The "wisdom" of this world.

I prefer not to call myself open-minded. I prefer the term big picture-thinker. My God is bigger than any philosophy or world view can contain. His universe and knowledge is infinite. His love for us is beyond imaginable. His peace passes all understanding.

I also know these things to be true, because I know God, and He is truth. If that makes me closed-minded and a fool, then praise God! I am a fool for God.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Week #25 1 John 4:13 "Not Merely an Emotion"

"We know that we live in Him and He is us, because He has given us of His Spirit."

If you're anything like me, you have found that there is a lot of confusion and disagreement surrounding the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is, for many of us, the most mysterious and hard to understand person in the Trinity.

But, the Spirit is worth trying to understand. After all, I find that the quality of my relationship with God, how I process what is happening in my life and in the world, and even my preferred style of worship on Sunday morning is affected by my beliefs about the Holy Spirit.

In fact, if it weren't for the Holy Spirit, I may never have experienced healing from my depression. (Although my depression still pops up once in a while.) I probably wouldn't still be a Christian...I would have gotten too discouraged and given that up a long time ago. And I definitely couldn't have made some of the difficult decisions in life that I have without His guidance and assurance.

So, who is this Spirit anyway, and why do I give Him so much credit? I am no expert, but here are some of the most valuable things I have learned.

First, the Holy Spirit is not an emotion. The Holy Spirit is not the same thing as "school spirit" during a college football game or a wave of emotion that we get caught up in during a moving and inspirational moment. Yes, there are times that the Spirit speaks to our feelings and uses them to guide us, but He is not primarily a feeling.

Second, the Holy Spirit is a person. No, that doesn't mean that He is a human being. It means that He has qualities that the Bible defines in personal terms. He teaches, comforts, guides and speaks. He has emotions and intellect. He is united with God and Jesus, but is also individually His own person.

Thirdly, I have learned that the Spirit speaks to and guides us even today. The New Testament is filled with stories of early believers being guided and enlightened by the Spirit. That still happens today, to all of us "regular" Christians as well. I know from experience that it does.

And fourthly, I know that the Holy Spirit dwells in me and is my constant companion. He gives me the words to say during those times I must speak God's thoughts to others. He assures me that I am loved when the people in my life snub me or ignore me. He reminds me of just the right Bible verse to help me through a tough situation.

No, a mere emotion or group wave of consciousness could ever do that. Only a personal, divine companion can accomplish that.

So, as 1 John tells us, we know that we belong to God because God gave us His Spirit. I know my faith in God is not just an intellectual assent to His existence. It is not just a theoretical understanding of His principles and values. My faith is a real relationship that transforms my life from aloneness to united-ness (is that even a word?).

You get what I mean.

Thanks to the indwelling companionship and mentorship of the Holy Spirit, I am never alone. And neither are you.

Thank you, God.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Week #24 Matthew 22:37 "It's All About Love"

"Jesus replied, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." "

Listen to these thoughts and ask yourselves if any of this sounds like you. "I don't know how God can bless and use a person like me." "I wish I knew God's will for my life." "How am I supposed to live the Christian life? It's impossible to do!"

Sound familiar? If you're like me, I have found myself saying these things on more than one occasion. A Christian life that is pleasing to God can be a tough one. Sometimes I feel like giving up. It all seems so complicated!

But, wait. Before I throw in the towel and sit out the Christian walk, I need to ask myself the old adage, "What Would Jesus Do?"

Look at the above verse. What DID Jesus do, and what is He telling US to do?

Matthew 22:37 is often times referred to as The Greatest Commandment. It's easy to see why. Jesus summed up (basically) the entire aim of the Christian life in this one sentence. We who call ourselves Christ Followers are to do exactly what Jesus would do: Love God.

Wow...can it really be that simple? Well, yes, it can. Love God. Period.

While that may be simple, it isn't easy. Loving doesn't always come naturally for me. I become selfish. I want to control my life and my surroundings (including the people in my life) to suit my own purposes. I don't always feel loving. I get lazy and can't always do the loving thing. And that's just a picture of how bad I am at loving people.

Loving God is even harder. He's invisible. He can seem silent and distant. He's hard to understand. His ways are not my ways. Sometimes He asks us to do hard things. But Jesus doesn't let us off the hook. He tells us to love God with our entire being. Our hearts, souls and minds are to lead the way.

I can't say that I entirely understand what loving God means. But, God Himself gives us a few clues. As His beloved child, I have experienced what it means to be loved BY God. God always forgives me. God accepts me for who I am. God believes in me and patiently teaches me a better way. Sometimes God disciplines me when I need it. All of these things suggest a logical and natural response from us. That's a good place to start.

And Jesus....He's the greatest role model in history for what it means to love God. He obeyed God unto death...even death on the cross. He is united with God in purpose and lived to please God and do His work on earth.

I am not perfect, I cannot love perfectly like Jesus could. But I can make love my aim (1Cor. 14:1). I can focus on learning to love God better.

So, I guess it's all about love, and the things that love leads us to do and to be. What is God's will for my life? How will God use me to do His work on earth? By showing me how to love.

I can start right now. Even as I write this blog entry, I am experiencing the blessing of being with God, of hearing His thoughts and sharing them (in love!) with others. I can't give any of you specific steps toward achieving The Loving Life. But I can tell you that you, too, can start right now. Spend a little time with God today. Tell Him you love Him and you want to learn to love Him even more. He'll help you. That will give Him joy.

It's that simple. Once you start on your journey toward loving God, He will lead you. All you need to do next is to follow. Then, you will be on your way to understanding God's will for your life and how He can use you for His kingdom. It's all about love, my friends.

Thank you, LORD.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Week #23 Jeremiah 29:11 "Always the Loving Father"

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

I love this verse. I love it so much that I have a framed copy of it hanging on my wall in beautiful calligraphy with the words "Be Encouraged" at the top of the picture.

Yes, this is one of those bible verses that we believers like to quote when the chips are down, when we need to know there is hope and more prosperous times ahead. This verse can indeed be quite encouraging.

But wait. Before we run away with visions of wealth and financial freedom, there are a few important questions we need ask first.

Is this prophecy from Jeremiah too good to be true? Does God really promise all believers prosperity and an limitless future? Is this one of those biblical promises that we can "take to the bank?" Just what is Jeremiah saying here, and to whom?

I think it is helpful to remember that Jeremiah was speaking to the Children of Israel during the time of their exile in Babylon. The Israelites had lost their homes, their freedom and (for some of them) their faith. Due to their chronic disobedience toward God, the LORD allowed their enemies to conquer them and take them into captivity.

But, despite their unfaithfulness, God showed Himself to be ever faithful and always the loving Father. He tells them that His plans for His people hadn't been cancelled. His love for them hadn't changed. Their future as God's children was still intact.

During a time when Israel felt they were at their lowest point, when their unfaithfulness resulted in mass incarceration, God went out of His way to tell them how much He still loved them. His plans for "prosperity" didn't mean financial gain, either. Instead, God was promising them an end to their time of trouble and restoration to their land and to Himself. And no, it wasn't a "get rich quick" scheme. Israel's captivity lasted 70 years. Not exactly instant gratification.

So, if God isn't necessarily promising all Christians prosperity and a great future in this verse, why do I love it so much?

I love Jeremiah 29:11 because it reminds me of God's faithfulness, no matter what. I, myself, have been in bad situations, many times due to my own poor choices. Although I end up paying a price for those life choices, God has never abandoned me. Yes, I've gone through tough times, and I expect that more tough times may be in my future as well. But this verse is God's encouragement to me during those times.

I know I won't get rich by becoming a Christian. I know that my trials and times of trouble may last a long time. But, I know that, no matter how much I've fallen short of the Glory of God, I am always welcome to sit at the feet of my LORD and rest in His presence.

He loves me all the time. I never want to forget that.

Thank you, Father.