Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Check is in the Mail

     Picture this:  You go to the mailbox with your payment to the power company.  You drop the envelope into the box and then wait for the postal employee to pick it up, which, in few hours, she does.  You then hop into her postal truck and accompany her on her rounds, returning to the postal center with her.  You then walk boldly in with her to the sorting area, searching desperately for just a glimpse of your bill.  You spy it.  All is well.
     You then watch the sorting process.  You are contentedly keeping your eye on the bill, sitting beneath a stack of other letters and bills.  When your bill goes into the delivery bag, you are standing right there, waiting to go with it to its destination.  You once again pop into the delivery truck and away you go with the postal mail bags.
     You haven't slept in days.  You need a shower.  But you will not rest until that letter reaches its destination.  You want to watch the power company employee open that bill, and credit your account.
     You grab some zzzz's in the truck that is carrying the postal bags and your bill.  It arrives at the post office in the downtown office.  You wait, watching, hoping the day comes soon when you bill hits the power company's desk.
     After much sorting and loading, away goes your bill, headed to the power company's office.  You rejoice, although you  have slept poorly, eaten poorly and have been in constant worry about that bill.  You accompany the postal employee as he delivers the mail to the company; you then walk boldly to the elevators, because you will be there when the envelope is opened.  You hang around the accounts department.  You scan each employee's computer screen, hoping to catch a glimpse of your name on the screen and your account being settled!  Wait?  It that it?  No.  Another screen.  Is that it?  No!  Oh, the waiting, the wondering...then you see it!  Your name on the computer screen, and joy of all joys, your check's information is being applied to your account.  You walk out victorious.
     Or do you?  What was victorious about dogging every step of the process, exerting as much control over it as you could, even though you were really only watching.
     Maybe you should have helped sort the mail?
     Drive the truck?
     Deliver the bags?
     Sort the mail on the other end?
     Handed your bill to the accounts person directly?
     Hey!  Why not bypass the whole USPS process altogether and deliver, in person, your bill to the accounts department?
     No!  Better yet!  Why not hand-deliver the bill yourself, and then excuse the employee and enter the data yourself!
     Now, that's victory.  You start it, you carry it and you make it happen.
     Right?
     Wrong.
     May I present another scenario?  How about doing what you know you must do:  Write the check, place a stamp on the envelope and put it in the box.   Done.  Trust the post office to pick it up and trust it will reach its destination.  Trust the employee at the power company knows how to enter data and trust that if there is a problem, the power company will let you know.
     The second scenario is one we do everyday.  Occasionally a problem arises, but overall, we pay our bills and our accounts get credited.
     The first scenario leads to exhaustion and a false control over the situation.  Our watchful eyes and lack of sleep will not speed up the process in any way.  But we think, at least I am doing something!
     But is that something really somethingOr is it just an anything--anything to keep us distracted from the real issue underlying all our worry and flurry:  our fear.
     We have more faith in the Post Office than we do in our Lord.  We leave our mail in the box and never give it a second thought.  Not so with our praying. 
     Let's look at prayer and how we conduct ourselves after we pray. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Acts 12. Peter is miraculously released from prison by angel. He goes to John Mark's house: "He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, 'Peter is standing at the door!'
     'You’re out of your mind!' they said. When she insisted, they decided, 'It must be his angel.'
     Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. 'Tell James and the other brothers what happened,' he said. And then he went to another place."
    So, the apostles were in prayer. Good. But instead of rejoicing in the "answer" knocking at the door, they dismissed the report, came up with their own explanation as to what was happening, and went back to praying. Then, when they got off their knees and went and looked at the "answer"--Peter himself--they were "amazed."
     So, let's tie this in to our bill. We have a request to make of God. We have two choices: We can either drop our request into His mailbox: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb. 4:16) or we can hover over the process every day and in every way, exerting some level of control over what we hope will be the answer.  
    If we trust Him, we rest in Him.  We rest in His goodness and mercy, and know He will bring about the best for the situation. 
    If we don't trust Him, we do not rest in Him.  We dog the process with our own worry, concern and fear.  We ask Him and then watch, wait and worry.  Our faith really isn't faith.  It's us exerting control after we've asked Him, for our fear is what is really driving us, not our faith.   
    Now, if we put the request into His Mailbox, we walk away.  We enjoy His company and fellowship, knowing that our request is in good Hands. 
    One last thing:  The process of the Holy Spirit working in the life of someone we care about, or in a situation that we care about, cannot be rushed.  Real, lasting change takes time.  
    So, while we wait on the Lord, we should not complain, act victimized and share our stories as if the envelope isn't in the Box.  
    In other words, we should not behave as if the envelope isn't in the Box.  We behave as if, yes, the check is in the mail:  "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  (Phil. 4:6)
    While we wait, we should be hanging out with Jesus, basking in His presence, not hovering around the Post Office. 





Friday, January 29, 2016

Why is the Trinity Important?

     Good question.  "Father, Son, Holy Spirit" doesn't neatly fit into the Logical File.  But, really, the bottom line is: This is not about theology.  It is about relationship.  In fact, the One who desires a relationship with us is so eager to do so that He presented Himself to us in ways that were understandable to us.
     In order to walk with me on this, you need to take off your toga.  Our Western heritage descends directly from the Greeks and Romans, who made logical argument an art and a science.  Rhetoric itself--how to persuade others--was a key part of classical education.  William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson both were well-schooled in the art of rhetoric.  They both understood logic and its fallacies, and practiced it as an artist and as a statesman, respectively.  That is one reason that their words are so potent--they carry depth of thought and elegance of reason.
    The Greeks and Romans robustly debated, seeing the world as a "Cascade of Reason."  This means that if A is true, then B is true, and then C is true, and so on.
    Think of a courtroom, where an attorney builds his case before a jury, based on such a progression.  Whether it's the prosecution or the defense, both sides seek to set up a series of events, based on evidence, to create a conclusion in the jury's mind. 
    But, in order to understand the Trinity, I must ask you to don a prayer shawl, and think about things the way people did in the Middle East, specifically the Jews in Israel.  Jews had no problem entertaining two seemingly contradictory ideas.  Logic did not drive their thinking.  Things did not have to fall in a logical sequence to be true.  Yes, they reasoned that God was a Divine Being Who cherished order (Genesis 1 and its creation sequence points to that) and Who sought to eliminate chaos. 
     Sin, as I have explored in an earlier blog, reintroduced chaos into creation.  On one hand, the Jews said that God was El-Shaddai (the Almighty One) and yet compared Him to a loving earthly mother: "Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; But they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; And I bent down and fed them.…" (Hosea 11:3).
     The Greeks would have said, "OK, Which is it?  Is He the mighty God or a loving gentle parent?  How can you have both?"
     Exactly.  To the Jew, you could have both, because the Holy One was not Someone we humans could completely comprehend.  Look at the name that God gave Moses when he inquired of Him: He called Himself, "I AM."  That means I have always been, I am now and I will always be.  Moses went down the mountain happily bearing this name. 
     The Greeks would have said, "What?  He has always been?  Even our gods had a beginning.  Zeus was created.  How could someone, albeit divine, have no beginning?"
     So, fast forward to Jesus.  He used illogical comparisons all the time.  We call them paradoxes.   You have to lose your life to find it.  The poor are blessed.  The meek are blessed.  Seek God first and then you will have what you desire.  You need to be born a second time.
    The Greeks would be rolling their eyes at this point.  "How can you die and then find life?  The poor and the meek are far from blessed.  The pursuit of knowledge and reason lead you to security.  Seeking the gods will lead you into trouble.  Climb back into Momma's womb?  We need some wine about now..." 
     Thus, when Jesus said...

     "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

     "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father '? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.…" (John 14:9-10)

     "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.…(John 14:16-19)

     Jesus was accused of blasphemy.  His fellow Jews did not chide Him for being illogical.  Those listening were startled to hear Him blending Himself into the Father and promising to return again as the Spirit.  Because of their fierce respect of God and the monotheism of Judaism, His listeners only had two ways to go: Either God was manifesting Himself in the likeness of this Man to rescue them from sin and death or a mere man was claiming to be God, and such blasphemy deserved death.  
     They didn't try to argue with Him.  Greek listeners would have enjoyed a heated debate with Him, because what was at stake, in their way of thinking, would have been reason itself.  A skilled thinker could prove his intellectual prowess and then walk away.  No harm, no foul, no relationship to the subject at hand; only an intellectual Wimbleton and then, game over.
     But to the Jews, their relationship to God was everything.  So, Jesus made His relationship to the Father front and center.  He was way more intimate with God, making His listeners very uncomfortable.  Jesus called Him "Abba," meaning "Daddy."  Then He spoke of His oneness with this  Father.  Then He spoke of never leaving the ones who were following Him.  He would return and dwell within them, and the same power in Him would reside in them.
    The Trinity, although not by name, is evinced all throughout Jesus's relational teachings.  I have only cited a few.  They are key, however, to why the Trinity is important:  These statements by Jesus speak of the relationship within the Godhead, and of the relationship between Him and us.
    God the Father gave His only begotten Son to the world.  The Son agreed, and dwelt among us.  The Spirit came to live in us, now that we are cleansed from sin by the Son's blood. 
    If God is our Father, He wanted to walk among us.  He was the prodigal son's father...always waiting for the return of his lost child.  Then He became a Child, born in a stable and encased in fragile flesh.  He was tempted, cried tears, humiliated, betrayed and beaten.  He then faced a horrible death. 
    He was then resurrected by the power of His Father, and returned home to be seated at His Father's side.  He sends the Holy Spirit, to dwell and empower us to walk in His footsteps.
    With every aspect of the Trinity, we are blessed with relationship:  a Father Who waits for us, a Son Who died for us and a Spirit Who lives in us.  Theology, schmology....He wants to live in us and reveals Himself to us to bring us into His arms.   





















     

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Caterpillars Before Christ

In our former lives as “caterpillars,” some of us faked it well…


Some of us were larger than life and looked good...


Some of us were, well, not popular…


Some of us just rolled along and got the job done… 


At the end of the day?  We were still just caterpillars. 

The world gave us leaves and we ate them.  We dodged hungry birds and just tried to survive.  Our lives were sometimes good, bad and ugly.  The sky was too far away to think about.  We couldn’t have gotten there anyway, even if we had tried.

Then we came to know Jesus.  We wanted to wear the beautiful wings of our salvation proudly.  
 
But over time, even with all our best efforts, the wings grew heavy on us.   It’s hard to crawl upon leaves and branches with large wings; such wings get entangled and don't seem suitable for the environment we crawled around in day after day.   We tried to fly with them; we hit the ground all too often and wondered why.  The wings got in our way after a while.  They just seemed incompatible with the life we were trying to live. 

Now, being a caterpillar became a lot harder.  Instead of becoming stronger, we grew weaker.  Praying and an occasional leap of faith from the treetops just confirmed a deep nagging suspicion: Either we have misunderstood this life in Christ, or maybe the whole thing is suspect.  A lumpy, bumpy caterpillar with added on butterfly wings is designed for failure.  We sometimes even wondered what life would be without those wings. We thought leaves were all we could eat.   We wondered why the life inside of us couldn’t just take flight. 

But Christ died to make possible a newness of life for us and in us.  He didn't come to merely stick new butterfly wings on an old caterpillar body.  

We need to reassess what salvation means.  We are saved from sin and death, yes, but we are also renewed and released to be what He wants us to be.


First, our caterpillar selves must choose to die:  "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Rom. 6:4).

We must be buried with Christ in a cocoon.   His image must reproduce in us, slowly but surely. 


What emerges from that tomb/cocoon?  The New Creation.    We now want to drink nectar—liquid sugar from the source of the life we now possess:  Christ Himself.  Now we can take wing and those wings lift us ever higher in Him.


Listen to the Word:  “My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Gal. 2:20) 


 The beauty of this is illustrated in an excerpt taken from an online article from Scientific American:


How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?


First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar's life; in other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon…



Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth… One study even suggests that moths remember what they learned in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.


 Do you see this?  Inside of the caterpillar is the butterfly.  But the caterpillar must first die in order for the butterfly to emerge.  The caterpillar didn't earn those discs.  They are an integral part of the caterpillar, placed there long ago, in a garden far away...


When were our "discs" placed in us?  "Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes." (Eph. 1:4)


The Word also teaches us: "And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." (Rom. 8:10-14)


Yes, you may remember with great pain the days of leaves and crawling.  But He has forgiven all of that.  Forever. 

Allow Christ to work in you and live His life (not yours) through you.  Don't try to be good--your caterpillar nature will not allow it.  Rest in Him and trust Him to transform you, cell by cell, day by day.  He forgives sin, yes, but don't allow sin to dominate who you are, because you now have "Christ in you, the hope of glory."  (Col. 1:27)

His word is your nectar.

Sitting in His presence is your nectar.

Talking with Him is your nectar. 


Take Him in.  Every day. 

Become what He destined you to be all along:  His child.  

He died for you.  Now let Him LIVE through you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Faith-healing or Healing Faith?

     "I am trusting God to heal me," is a common declaration many good Christian people make when faced with an illness or disease.
     They take a stand on faith.  They trust God will see their faith and heal them.  Done.
     In going deeper into this, I find they are trusting Him to heal them miraculously, right now, no muss, no fuss.  It appears that the faith they have mustered combined with their spoken declaration is what will unlock God's healing power.   So, they stand and wait.
     Is that Biblical?  First, let's take a quick survey on how Jesus healed people while He was here.  His methods of healing are instructive.
     In John 4:46-54, Jesus is at Cana in Galilee, and is approached by a "royal official" whose sick son is in Capernaum.  He wants Jesus to come with him but Jesus does not.  Instead, He tells the man his son is healed.  The man leaves, believing what Jesus had said.  The son is found to be well, and the man realizes the healing took place when Jesus spoke the words.
     So, healing can take place at a distance.  The key here is Jesus did not have to present with the afflicted person.
     In Matthew 9, we witness several healings:  First, Jesus not only heals the man of his paralysis, but also his sins.  So, healing is just not physical, but has a spiritual component as well.  Jesus determined that this man was afflicted in both body and soul, and He choose to heal both.  The man and his friends, while trusting in Jesus, did not see the man's deepest need, and focused only on the physical.  But Jesus saw more. 
     Next, we see a woman reaching out and teaching Jesus' cloak.  She knew in her heart that a mere touch would heal her.  Jesus turned and affirmed her faith.  So, healing can be a mere touch from Jesus.  Words are not always needed.
     Then we hear of two blind men calling out to Him.  He then asks if they believe He can heal them.  They say, "Yes, Lord" and He does.  So, sometimes He first poses a question, to search the person's heart.  The fact they said "Lord" shows their willingness to believe in Him.
     Then a possessed man is brought before Jesus.  The evil that has made this man unable to speak is driven out with the most powerful words possible.  So, sometimes illness has an evilly destructive aspect to it and that has to be dealt with as well. 
     Jesus heals a blind man in John 9:1-11.  Jesus mixes mud and spit and rubs the mixture into the man's eyes.  He then tells the man to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.  The man does so, and can see.  So, sometimes Jesus uses very earthly means to achieve heavenly goals.
     What is my point?  There is no single formula that Jesus used while here on earth to impart a healing.  The common denominator is the person had to have a measure of faith when facing Jesus. Having faith is essential, to be sure, because we are acting on the trust we have placed in the Savior and Who He says He is.  But Jesus responded differently because the settings where different: Some healings took place while He was among the crowds outdoors; sometimes it was in a synagogue with a smaller group; sometimes it was in a quiet room.
     But always, Jesus took compassion on the afflicted one as well as the ones who knew the patient. 
     But the method of healing was of His choosing.
     So, the person's faith did not dictate how He would heal; only that He would heal.
     Today, Jesus has a wide variety of ways to heal us. 
     When I am trusting Him to heal me, I stand on faith.  Yes, that is my part.  You see that in all of the healings where the person was in their right mind and could focus on Jesus.
      But I have to trust His method.  I have to wait on Him to find out what that method is.  I can't just stand on a formula or ritual and away I go. 
     Jesus is about our relationship and wanting me to come to know Him more deeply as a result of this encounter with my morality. He sees me in eternal terms; I see me in temporal terms.  He wants me to shift my view from me to Him.  That is why Jesus interacted with those He healed:  He wanted to establish a relationship with them before the healing.  Once the healing is over, He did not want to see the newly established relationship go likewise.  The healed person would celebrate the here and now, and lose sight of the there and eternal. 
     Today, we are faced with more choices for our health than the first century people could even imagine.  So, let's take a moment to see how this all fits in with healing and faith. 
      I fear that the reason many people are so angry at the medical profession is that they expect miraculous results.  They wouldn't use the word "miraculous," to be sure; the word they would use is "complete" or "quick" if not "instant." They go to the doctor long after they sense something is wrong; by the time they reach out, the illness is advanced and the doctor's hands are tied by the illness' progression. 
     Why do people wait?  I think the main reason is fear:  fear that the diagnosis will not be an easy one; that what they don't know won't hurt them; that they really aren't in control and that they will have to rely on others to help them.  The advanced condition and the doctor's limited response then justifies the person's anger that doctors don't know what they are doing.  
     Doctors for many people are the ultimate authority figure; they don't like people over them, so they view the doctor more as an enemy than an ally.
     People have experienced poor or inept care at the hands of doctors and so they feel justified in condemning the whole profession. 
     Worse still, they will go to the doctor, and then not follow the doctor's instructions.  They do not take the prescription; they do not control their diet and increase exercise; they do not stop smoking; they do not go to follow-up appointments to see how they are progressing.  They do not comply and they do not get better.  They then assume that the doctor is ignorant and that the Internet is more competent to diagnose and treat their condition. 
     In other words, people go to the doctor assuming a quick and relatively easy fix:  the secular equivalent to a miraculous healing. 
     They do relatively little but go to the doctor and expect the doctor to do all the heavy lifting of healing.
     People do the same thing with faith healing.
     They do relatively little but stand on faith and expect Jesus to always do an instantaneous miraculous cure.   When the healing doesn't come as expected or their condition grows worse, they think they need to just muster up more faith and wave it in Jesus' face. 
      May I propose a better way?  Jesus wants a relationship with us, pure and simple.  "Be still and know that I am God" is one of my favorite verses.  Why?  I have to be still--no running around and trying to fix it myself and then expect Jesus to rubber-stamp what I have done.  I have to know Him:  I must sit at His feet, drinking deeply from the water of the Word and listening for His voice.  Relationships take time and I must invest my time in Him, and not in everything else but Him.  Then I will know that He is God--not me, not the doctor, not anyone or anything in this earthly realm.  His powerful love and wisdom will be mine.
     Now, armed with His wisdom and coupled with my faith, I ask Him, "How do we proceed, precious Lord, with this health challenge?" 
     Now I wait for His response.  Remember:  I must trust Him and the method of His choosing.  
     If it's to go to a doctor, then I pray for the right one to go to.
     If it's to take a recommended medication, then I pray for peace in taking it and for positive results.
     If it's a lifestyle change, then I do what I must do.
     If it's a miraculous instantaneous healing, then I am grateful.  I will, like the healed leper, go to the priest (the doctor in my era) and seek a confirmation of His healing.  I will ascribe it to Him and let that doctor know that. 
     I am guided by His voice, to choose His method and act faithfully on what is revealed to me. I will not let fear of the unknown isolate me, while I call my stance, "faith."  Faith is not a whitewash over fear.  Fear leads to inaction; faith is rubber to the holy road:  I actively seek Him. 
     Let me share a story in closing.  When I first met my husband, he suffered from a terrible ulcer.  He took medicine for relief, and yet he was never really pain-free.  At a Bible study he started attending (where he met me) the pastor asked him if he would like to be healed.  My husband had just started going back to church and had recently reunited with the Lord.  He is very intellectual and scientific in his thinking, so you can just imagine his response to the pastor's question.  But, he was tired from the pain.  So, we all stood up and placed hands on him.  The next day, he went to his already scheduled doctor's appointment, and lo and behold, no ulcer.  It was truly a miraculous healing.
     Thirty-five years later, as I shared in a earlier blog, Clayton was involved with a series of medical emergencies.  A painful attack of a kidney stone lead him to dash to the ER.  After all the tests they ran on him, the doctor commented that his heart sounded strange.   A follow-up appointment reveal a aortic heart valve that needed replacing. 
     One year after that surgery, he had a heart-attack.  The whole time the Lord was speaking to me as we dashed to the ER:  where to go, not to panic, all was in His hands.  He was whisked to the operating table and during the course of that surgery, he suffered a stroke.   Eight weeks later, my husband came home.
     The whole time in the hospital, we were impressed with the level of care he received, all the way from the CNA's to the doctors.  Clayton cried several times, so touched by the loving care he received.  Clayton also grew immensely in a spiritual way while dependent on God's love in a very trying situation.
     Spiritual healing.  Physical healing.  It's all important to Him.
      So, it's a Person, not a procedure.  It's a Relationship, not a ritual.  Jesus healed my husband both instantaneously and over time.  But, His love shone through in both, and that is the greatest miracle of all.  
     






Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christ-missed

     Societal change is a funny thing.  It is truly like the frog in the pot.  If suddenly the government legalized murder, we, as dutiful frogs, would jump out of that pot and protest.  But if one year we can abort babies coming out of the womb, and a decade or two later we can authorize a physician to assist an ailing elderly patient to end his or her life, and because these changes only affect a small segment of our population, we sit in the pot.
     If you had told people in the 1970's that we will end up with 57 million aborted fetuses in the decades to come, they would have said, "Oh, you're just using scare tactics."  If you had told people that counselors at Planned Parenthood someday would advise underage pregnant girls with older boyfriends to get an abortion, rather than report the fathers to the state under child abuse allegations, they would have said, "No way.  Abortion is for consenting adults who are not ready for children, or for adult women to have the right to choose."
     Now, people look at where we are in all of this, and say, "How did we get to this?"
     It's been a slow-societal boil.
     Many other pots are currently on the stove, but in this Christmas season, I would like to focus on one in particular.  While it is not as morally reprehensible as the devaluing of life on either end of the bell curve, i.e. the newborn and the elderly, it indicates another shift and one that I find disturbing. 
     I have lived long enough to see this beautiful holiday be transformed from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays," "Season's Greetings," and "The spirit of Christmas."  But, it's been a long time coming as we have sat in this particular pot.  Look on the outside of the pot and it says, "The Secular Christmas Takeover."
     I grew up in a little suburb of Santa Barbara, California, in the 1960's.  I loved Christmas time.  We hung a plastic Santa sign on the front door, decorated a tree and waited for Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought.  I read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and figured that Santa only talked about coming down the chimney.  He probably slipped in and out through our front door. (We had that sign on the front door, after all!)
     I was crushed when my older brother proudly announced that there was no Santa.  I figured that he was probably make-believe anyway, but hey, there could be a guy in a red suit flying around the world on Christmas Eve...
      What kept the message of what this holiday was really about were the Christmas carols.  I could just picture the three kings of the orient making their way to the little town of Bethlehem.  I tried to imagine the angels touching their golden harps and singing about the newborn King.  I was confused with the words "with angelic host proclaim," however.  What I heard was "with a jello host proclaim."  This was after all, the early 60's, when Jello in all its splendor dominated salads and desserts.
     We learned to sing "Silent Night" in German in elementary school.  We also learned "Oh Hanukah, Oh Hanukah" and spun dreidels.  We ate green and red Christmas cookies in class and hurried off to Christmas Break (that's what it was called--not Winter Break or Holiday Break).
     We moved to Los Angeles and on our first Christmas there, we drove up a street well-known for its light displays.  I thought it was pretty, but how it fit into Christmas and those angels was a mystery to me.
     I received a book of carols with lots of illustrations and I loved it.  Family, egg nog, going to Grandma's and opening gifts was all part of the season, but the wonder came with the music.  I fell in love with "Greensleeves" the moment I learned it in school.  I was over the moon when I discovered "What Child is This?"!    I delighted in the these haunting melodies that spoke of a distant and sacred time.  This music seem to be a kind of time travel for my young imagination.  The songs spoke of a stable, a sleeping child upon hay in a manger, a star unlike any other...It was as if I could touch the face of the Baby and hear the animals lowing when the songs were sung.
     Now?  I turn on even the local Christian station (which, sadly, is currently indistinguishable from the secular stations) and the songs are about everything and only a little about Jesus' birthday.  Walking in winter wonderlands, letting it snow, and decking the halls seem to be played over and over, interpreted by different artists from different eras.  To be fair, the Christian station plays songs that the secular stations will not play, but when I channel surf across the stations that are playing Christmas music, they all yield a common musical set list.
     The wonder seems to be hard to find.  The music talks of sleigh bells glistening, sitting by a fire, being good for Santa and rockin' around the Christmas tree.  The malls are festooned with lighted deer, colorful ornaments and lots of toys.  The card section in any given store is largely devoted to holiday themes, with a smaller (it seems with every passing year) percentage of cards depicting Jesus' birth.
     Nativity scenes on public lawns are gone.  In our little Idaho town, we still have Mary, Joseph and Baby cut-out wood figures chilling out on the lawn with an inflated Santa.  But, that is now very unusual.  When I was growing up, Christmas still was about the birth of Jesus, with all the other holiday traditions.
     Today, His birth is an after thought. 
     If you are a child now growing up in America, what would this holiday season actually mean to you?  Toys, lights, presents, family, food and fun would probably dominate your thoughts.  Jesus' birth would seem like a distant light on a hill--visible but not part of the overall atmosphere.
     My granddaughter goes to a Christian school.  She sang in a school play recently.  The play was about a man selling trees on his lot and having no interest in Christmas other than how much money he was going to make.  Through the efforts of some sweet and devoted children, he comes to accept the Lord into his heart.  The children sang songs that told of Jesus, His desire for us to follow Him and how much He loves us.
     Wow.  It touched my heart so much to hear of children singing of the wonder of Who He is.
     But what about children outside in that bigger, post-Christian America?  If children only have the culture to learn from, this Holiday Season is very far removed from that manger and that little Baby.  Sadly, the message that the angels sang is no longer heard.  Do children out there hear that Jesus was born to save us and He invites us to gather around Him? 
     I stood on the front lines watching the Christmas Takeover when my children were in school.  In the 1980's (20 years isn't a long time, is it?) my daughter was in kindergarten.  I would help out in the classroom and I especially loved it when a woman came in to play the piano and lead the children in singing.  I shared with her teacher the Hanukah song I had learned many years ago, and she was excited to have the children learn it.  During one session, one of my daughter's little friends asked the music leader if they could sing, "Away in a Manger."  The woman turned from the piano and said in a voice that could have stopped time, "That's illegal."  I was boiling inside, not only from the tone of her voice but the look on the little girl's face.
     Later I was told that our city had an ordinance that any songs referring to anything religious during this Holiday Time could not be sung in a public school classroom.  It was then I learned that the Wonder was being slowly being replaced with Ordinances.
     I loved A Charlie Brown Christmas  as a child.  But even that had to be updated, so as to not offend people with that stirring speech Linus makes taken from the very words of Matthew.
     In fact, as my kids were growing up, we didn't have a Christmas tree for many years.  We would set up a nativity scene, and on Christmas morning, we placed the Baby in the manger--He was, after all, the greatest Gift we could ever receive.
     Having lived a half-century, and seen how the Christmas Takeover has gone, I wonder what Christmas will be like 10, 20, 30 years from now.
     But when I think of my granddaughter singing about her Savior, I still have hope that Christ will be honored in the years to come.
     
 

     
    

    

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A.W. Tozer's Perspective


     I have come across Mr. A. W. Tozer's salient observation about the nature of the world we live in.  He was a pastor and teacher, who lived from 1897-1963.  His words ring so true today as we look about us.
     Truth is truth and God is always willing to pour into the hearts of His servants what needs to be taught and said.  The only criterion is that the servant be willing.
     This except is taken from This World:  Battleground or Playground?   I am, in my walk in the Lord, trying to grasp the spiritual battle aspect of what the Word teaches.  Tozer's words hit me between the eyes:

     "Going back no further than the times of the founding and early development of our country, we are able to see the wide gulf between our modern attitudes and those of our fathers. In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other. By their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility. Man, our fathers held, had to choose sides – he could not be neutral. For him it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if he choose to come out on God's side, he could expect open war with God's enemies. The fight would be real and deadly and would last as long as life continued here below. Men looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them.
     "Sermons and songs in those days often had a martial quality about them, or perhaps a trace of homesickness. The Christian soldier thought of home and rest and reunion, and his voice grew plaintive as he sang of battle ended and victory won. But whether he was charging into enemy guns or dreaming of war's end and the Father's welcome home, he never forgot what kind of world he lived in – it was a battleground, and many were wounded and slain.
     "That view is unquestionably scriptural. Allowing for the figures and metaphors with which the Scriptures abound, it is still a solid Bible doctrine that tremendous spiritual forces are present in the world. Man, because of his spiritual nature, is caught in the middle. The evil powers are bent upon destroying him, while Christ is present to save him through the power of the gospel. To obtain deliverance he must come out on God's side in faith and obedience. That in brief is what our fathers thought, and that, we believe, is what the Bible teaches.
     "How different today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. Men think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. his, we believe, is a fair summary of the religious philosophy of modern man, openly professed by millions and tacitly held by many more millions who live out that philosophy without having given it verbal expression.
     "This changed attitude toward the world has had and is having its effect upon Christians, even gospel Christians who profess the faith of the Bible. By a curious juggling of the figures, they manage to add up the column wrong and yet claim to have the right answer. It sounds fantastic, but it is true.
The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their position, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world, gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun – Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable. The "worship" growing out of such a view of life is as far off center as the view itself – a sort of sanctified nightclub without the champagne and the dressed-up drunks.
     "This whole thing has grown to be so serious that it is now the bound duty of all Christians to reexamine their spiritual philosophy in the light of the Bible. Having discovered the scriptural way, they must follow it, even if to do so, they must separate themselves from much that they had accepted as real, but which now in the light of truth is seen to be false.
     "A right view of God and the world to come requires that we have a right view of the world in which we live and of our relationship to it. So much depends upon this that we cannot afford to be careless about it."

     Ponder that.   Jesus is our Truth.  His truth sets us free.  But far too often, we choose bondage.  And Satan is more than happy to offer us chains. 
     Perhaps the greatest bondage we choose is our unwillingness to see evil for what it is and to see God for Who He is.  Our blindness is the most regrettable when we are standing at the Grand Canyon called, "Modern America":  We miss the dangers as well as the beauty. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holy GPS! Part II

     The one thing they always tell you is, "Don't panic!" 
     Those very reasonable words are said in a classroom, a training session, a manual.
     Easy, right.
     Yup.  Til the moment hits you and you are feeling that rising panicky feeling in your stomach.  Then all you can think is, "What the *&^% am I supposed to feel other than panic?"
     Yet, we've all heard it:  Panic can kill you.  
     My faith-walk-turned-hike taught me another valuable lesson:  the power of fear.
     We've all heard the Scriptures about trusting God, and not fearing.  Here are seven out of fifty that I found on a website by Christine Abraham called WomensBibleCafe.com:  
  1. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
  2. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 NIV
  3. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34:7 NIV
  4. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matt 10:31 NIV
  5. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. Deuteronomy 13:4 NLT
  6. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT
  7. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 NLT
     I am sure you have your favorites.  But, we read such verses sitting at our computer, in church, or sitting up in bed before we go to sleep.
     I had been listening to a wonderful Bible teacher at the retreat.  What she said resonated with me.  Then I got lost in the woods.  Now, the rubber hit the holy road.
     Once I realized that I was lost, I could feel the fear starting to percolate up from my gut.  At first, by optimistically staying focused, I could keep it at bay.  But as the afternoon passed, it took more and more effort to keep the fear down.
     At one point, I thought, "I could sit down right now and have a good cry..."  True, but I resisted it.  How?  By focusing on what I had learned in the retreat and what the Bible told me about God's faithfulness.
     The worst damage fear inflicts is deafness.  When you are panicking, you don't hear the directions that are coming your way.  If you are caught in a river, and you are panicking, you won't hear what the rescue team is saying to you from the shore.  Fear deafens you with a kind of white noise that becomes louder and louder as time goes by and the situation hasn't changed.
    In fact, look at fear as having its own database, so to speak.  You start uploading all the horror stories you've heard about how badly it went for others in your situation; you think about what could happen; you lose less and less connection with what is going on, and focus more and more on the data in your head.
    The only way to counter fear's database is with another database that overrides it.  The Word is our Database.  It provides the conduit whereby God speaks to us.  If we are listening to that Database, then Fear's white noise lessens.
    I had to keep reminding myself what God promises in His Word. 
    But, I learned that it goes way beyond the "I need to think of key Bible verses to keep fear at bay."  I actually need to hear from God Himself.  Fear drowns out not only what we know of Him to be true, it drowns out His voice as He is speaking to us.
    That was my gravest (pun intended) concern:  if I let Fear talk to me, I will not hear the Father's voice.  I kept praying as I hiked; I was in constant communication with Him as I went down this path or had to turn around on that path.  Why?  Because I eagerly sought to keep my mind quiet...quiet enough to hear Him calling to me from the shore.
     I know when people say, "Yes, I speak to God and He speaks to me!" you may be looking for the "This Person's Been Eatin' Kooky Krackers Again" sign stuck to their back.  But, think about it.  God has always spoken to His people.  Adam and Eve.  Noah.  Abraham.  Gideon.  David.  Jesus.  Now, don't say, "Well, that was in Bible times.  He doesn't operate that way today.  We have His word."  Yes, we do, but hear what His Word says, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better."  (Eph. 1:17)
    Paul knows the Ephesians have the Old Testament and the various epistles in circulation, but he is praying for them to know God better.  How?  By learning from His Spirit, Who reveals Who God is.  Wisdom comes from hearing His Word, and coupled with the illumination of His Spirit, we walk into a deeper relationship with God.
    The Spirit will not reveal anything that is not in harmony with God's Word nor with the Son.  God's truth is just that:  it is consistent and pure.  So, whatever we hear, must be in harmony with His Word and His Son.
    Walking through that forest made me learn how important it was to stay quiet and listen to His words of guidance.  Fear would have deafened me; I neede to hear His gentle voice.  He didn't speak in long sentences--just a few words here and there, and I eventually made it home.
     Jesus was always listening to His Father.  He spent time in prayer, reading the Word and hearing His Father's voice.  How can we, especially in these troubled times, do anything less?  
     Finally, the first verse of Addison Road's "What Do I Know of Holy" puts it beautifully:

I made You promises a thousand times.
I've tried to hear from Heaven,
But I talked the whole time.
I think I made You too small.
I never feared You at all, no.
If You touched my face would I know You?
Looked into my eyes could I behold You?

    If you haven't heard His voice, perhaps you have been doing all the talking. 
    Listen.  Someday, your life may depend on it. 



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