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.