Monday, December 30, 2013

Planning for the Future


Schedule
December is a month of planning at my house.  I'm a college teacher planning next term's lessons.  I'm a home-schooler picking textbooks, printing off calendars and preparing projects.  We'll be moving summer of 2014 and I am looking with a critical eye at things that need to be sold, thrown away or boxed up.  More than any of that though, I'm planning with my two daughters in mind. 

This year I read two books, Sacred Parenting and Parenting by the Book.  Though they were on a very different topics (the first on spiritual disciplines for parents and the second on parenting like Grandma) they asked a painful question.  What do you want for your kids not next year or the year after but at 30?

Think about that a minute.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Silly Statement


Autumn-country-church - Virginia - ForestWander
Have you ever said something and then realized how silly it sounded?  I did the other day.  I said, "Wednesday night church is a time to recharge, to take time out of my busy schedule to worship and learn about God."  It's a pretty common thing to hear on a Wednesday night, and people who say it (including myself) mean well.  But when I thought about what that statement says about me, I decided not to say it any more.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Paying the Piper

Have you ever made a commitment in all good faith and then twinged when it came time to pay the piper?  I am in the middle of one such episode in the life our family. 

When we left America, we sold pretty much everything we owned.  It took a number of garage sales and classified ads but we reduced our "stuff" to half a room in my parents basement and 8 suitcases.  In the intervening years we have reduced even further.  As we began to face up to the reality of our 2014 move back to the States, we realized that we would be coming back with about 8 suitcases of "stuff."  That sounds like the same amount till you realize we're a family of 4 now instead of a family of 3.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

God of Love, God of Wrath

The other day, I was watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I know, I know, that isn't our usual blog fare, but a conversation that took place in this particular episode really got me to thinking.  In the show, a girl named Hannah has had some unpleasant supernatural things happen to her. (This is a sci-fi show, after all).  She believes that God is punishing her for a mistake she made at work that cost people their lives, and that she deserves the punishment.  This is what one of the S.H.I.E.L.D agents says to her: 


No, no you don't. No one does. I had a few nuns around me growing up, and they would talk like that, scaring kids with stories of God's wrath. It made not want to believe.  The only words that stuck with me were something Sister McKenna said from the Bible, I think. She said, "God is love."  It's simple, and it's a little sappy, but that's the version I like. God is love; the thing that holds us together. And if that's true, I don't think He would punish you for making a mistake.  I think He'd forgive a mistake.

As I listened, I realized that this was a perfect example of how the world views God.  He is either a "loving God" who would never punish anyone, and certainly never "send anyone to hell," or He's an angry, vengeful God who sent his chosen people into other nations to destroy innocent people for no reason.  God is loving or God is angry.  Never both.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Woman to Woman: A Book Review

I recently started teaching a Ladies Bible study on alternating Thursdays with my congregation.  In our first two meetings, we had 20-25 ladies. I ordered thirty books. That was almost six months ago.  In one of our recent meetings, there were two of us. Needless to say, I was discouraged. Multiple people told me not to take it personally, and they were probably right, but I could not help but feel like I could have done more to encourage the ladies from the beginning.

At just the right time, God sent a little book to me.  Woman To Woman: A Guide to Teaching and Leading Women is one of the most practical books I've ever had the privilege to read, and I read it right when I needed it most.  It was written by ten different experienced Christian women, and it covers a whole host of leadership roles that women can take. From teaching a ladies Bible class, to speaking at a ladies day, to leading a prayer, the book gives practical and Biblical advice for what women can do as they lead other women. The entire first third of the book covers Ladies Bible Class. I learned a lot of things that will help me as I continue to grow as a woman of Christ called to lead other women.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jesus: Lord

Do you remember this little ditty from the sixties?

You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys
And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display 'cause
You don't own me

In our society, we don't like the idea of being owned.  Maybe it's reminds us of the horrors of slavery or the days when women were treated as commodities rather than people.  Maybe it's just because we like to be independent.  Even our slang words reveal that the thought that we belong to anybody but ourselves is uncomfortable.  If someone loses a game, we say, "You got owned." 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Flashback:Double Vision

Bible and Lord's Cup and Bread

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.
 (Lowry, Mark. "Mary Did you Know?" 1984.)
Double vision happens when our two eyes won't work in concert.  It's a result of a blow to the head or damage to our eyes. However it's not usually something we would pray for!  In the spiritual realm though double vision is just about as good as it gets. A true gift from God, it lets us see two true things at the same time.  Mary must have had the perfect point of view.  From 12 inches away, she looked into the face of her nursing son and saw the eternal Word of God. Two true things.  Mary swaddled her tiny son.  Mary's tiny son created her!  And we wonder, in the song and in our lives, if she could see it both ways. Do you have double vision moments?  Moments when with clarity you see two true things, one physical thing and one spiritual thing? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Jesus: Prince of Peace

What do you want for Christmas?  My littlest one has Barbies on her list.  Instead of dreaming of sugar plums, she has high-heeled shoes and doll houses in view.  She and her compatriot upstairs were comparing notes; "If she gets 2 Barbies and I get 2 Barbies and I have 2 Barbies and she has 2 Barbies, Mom, that's 8 Barbies!

Me? My list is shorter.  I want peace.  

I have peace.  I have no enemies (well at least no one I hate.  Anyone who hates me is thankfully keeping it to themselves right now.)  I am happy in my marriage, and my tween and I still talk instead of argue. Our extended family is warm and supportive.  Our church spans two continents and is true spiritual family, but still I want peace.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Jesus: The Way, The Truth, and The Life



I went through what might be called a crisis of faith as I was finishing high school and entering college.  Between my junior and senior year of high school, I went to a six week residential program for "gifted kids." It was called Governor's school, but perhaps it should have been called "liberal indoctrination school."  While there, I wanted badly to fall for the idea that there are many ways to heaven.  Wouldn't a loving God allow people of many faiths who were sincere in their beliefs come to him?  Did it have to be through Jesus? Thankfully, I still had a profound respect for the Bible, and one verse kept tripping me up.  

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

I believed the Bible to be true, and this verse made it clear that there is only one way to heaven.   I didn't like it.  The problem was that I was focusing all my attention on the exclusive part of the verse: no one comes. The very center of this verse, and of everything I believe, is not no one, but Jesus.  As the Way, the Truth, and the Life, He did too much for us to even seek salvation by any other means.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jesus: The Lamb of God

Sheep, Stodmarsh 6
I want you to imagine something for me.  Picture two lambs.  One is well fed, fluffy, and pure white.  It lays contentedly in the shepherd's arms.  The other is dead, its throat slit.  The scarlet blood pooling beneath its body, shocking against the pale wool.  These are the two predominant pictures of lambs found in the Bible, and beautifully depicted in the song "Lamb of God," by Twila Paris.   Jesus became one lamb so that we could become the other. 

Your only son, no sin to hide...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Jesus: The Servant


When we think of Jesus as a servant, one image springs immediately to mind.  The Savior at the table with his disciples, wash basin on the floor, towel cinched around his waist, washing their feet.  We've read the story a hundred times.  But did you know that one of the prophetic names of Jesus is "The Servant" and that the meaning encompasses more than the startling lesson of the Rabbi kneeling on the floor?  The Jews of Jesus' day had a prophetic picture in mind of who "The Servant of the Lord" was and what he was coming to do.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Jesus: The Christ

How often do we use the word "Christ" without really thinking about what it means? You've heard the joke about the person who thinks it is Jesus' last name, right? Christ is not a part of Jesus' name, but rather a title that was rich in meaning to the Jews who believed in him.  "Christ" is the Greek word for "Messiah," and both of them mean "Anointed." Someone who was anointed was set aside for a particular purpose. There were three different types of people who received anointing in the Old Testament, and Jesus is the final fulfillment of all of these roles.

From the beginning of the Mosaic age, priests were anointed to their office (Exodus 28:41 and others).  This anointing set them apart for God's service.  The basic job of the priests was to make intercession to God for the people.  They were the ones to offer sacrifices to God for their own sins and the sins of the nation.  They were a kind of intermediary between the people and God.  Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, where the presence of God was, and then only once per year (Leviticus 16). 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Eye

What are you afraid of?  Bats, witches, zombies?  Or the more mundane-heights, mice and snakes?  Me, I'm scared of a hymn.  Now don't laugh!  There's this song that we used to sing at church when I was in college. It was called, "Watching You."  

We really loved that church. Surrounded daily by professors, PhDs  and professionals, we enjoyed our weekly visits to the tiny country church.  We were by far the youngest members-the pets of an aging assembly of saints.  It was a wonderful place to be.  Till that song came up.  

Can you imagine a giant eye in the sky peering down at you?  Watching you every moment, haunting your most private thoughts, staring at you on the front steps as you kiss your boyfriend good night? If you're not having flashbacks to Nazguls and the Eye of Sauron on Mount Doom, you're obviously less nerdy than I am. To really understand how terrifying it was, you have to imagine the mournful, country twang that turned the chorus into something wandering hobbits might have sung.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jesus: the Branch

Imagine a dried up stump. Or a city devastated and uninhabited where the voice of children playing or the sound of the wedding march is unheard.  This is the image of Jerusalem while her citizens were in exile (Jeremiah 33:10-12). The city God chose for his holy temple was a ruin.

What could God say in this situation?  What promise could he make or renew that would make a shred of difference?  The punishment of exiling an entire country was breathtaking.   A nation whose backstory is their freedom from captivity sent back into captivity by their God-the entire book of Lamentations is dedicated to the horror of it.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Word of God


Recently I was reading Immeasurably More, by Casandra Martin, the book we are using in my Ladies Bible class.  I came across this quote: "In God's immeasurably more, we live by a different standard.  A standard is a measuring tool. It is an authority or principle by which we test what is true.  The standard becomes our model and pattern." My first thought was, "Yes, our standard is the Bible." Then I read a few lines down. "Our standard is Jesus." The more I studied, the more I realized that we were saying the same thing.  Jesus IS the Word of God. (John 1:1-14). 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sing the Name of Jesus

Why do we sing?  James says we sing for joy (James 5:13).  We sing to keep our minds focused on what's true, noble, and just. (Philippians 4:8).  The Psalms teach us to sing for the praise of God.  But in a recent post, Dene Ward  pointed out that we also sing to teach ourselves.  

As moms and Sunday School teachers we know that.  We sing the books of the New Testament under our breath to find Philemon. I'd never remember the sons of Jacob, all the names of the judges or the apostles without those little ditties.  Passages like Philippians 2 record what were most likely the earliest Christian teaching hymns - a gospel retelling predating the Gospels themselves.  In a more modern expression "The Wise Man Built his House upon a Rock" and "Jesus Loves Me" teach some of the deepest Biblical truths in the simplest child-friendly language.  

We may be less familiar though with teaching hymns for adults.  One of our Christmas carols falls in that category.  "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is a translated 8th century Latin teaching hymn.  It dates from a time when art and music were two primary ways that Christian education was done in an illiterate society.  

The Carol lists 5 different prophetic names of Christ and then explains one of the amazing things that the advent of Jesus into the world means.  For example the first verse

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel is the name identified by Isaiah that the virgin will give to her child (Isaiah 7:10-16).  It means "God with us."  In an amazing turn of events this prophetic name did not indicate that God would once again dwell in his tabernacle or his tent (after he left so spectacularly in Ezekiel 10) but rather that the Son of God himself would come to live in Israel.  For the first time since the garden of Eden men would walk with God not metaphorically but side by side and hand in hand.  

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The day-spring means the place from which the day springs in other words from the East or as it is sometimes translated, "The Sunrise." Both Malachi and John also use the imagery of Jesus as the "sun."  Malachi calls him the "Sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2) and John identifies the New Jerusalem as not needing a sun in the sky because the Lord is the light (Revelation 21:23, 22:5). Yet it was Zacharias who originated this name at the end of his prophetic song. 

Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 quoting Isaiah 9:2)

The lyrics to the song are a paraphrase of Zacharias' prophecy. The rising light of the Son/Sun will send the shadows fleeing.  It's an image designed to bring hope.  It brought me back to Lamentations 3:21-23 

This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.   They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 

Which each new sunrise God's compassion floods the world.  With one amazing Sunrise, the mercies of God defeated darkness and death forever.  That's a reason for rejoicing if I've ever heard one.

I've enjoyed this Christmas carol for a long time but I didn't really pay much attention to the words.  The soaring music on the other hand kept my attention. I have heard a sermon or two (you probably have as well) on how important it is to understand and pay attention as we sing.  In Colossians Paul indicates that the singing is a kind of teaching, a kind of admonishing, and a matter of the heart (Colossians 3:16).  "O Come O Come Emmanuel" manages all these things.  We can learn about the names of Christ; we admonish one another to rejoice, and we should feel the joy that the coming of Jesus brought and his coming again will bring into our world!

 
Helene
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Name above all Names

"In Jesus name, Amen."  I say it; you say it; my 5 year old says it.  But what on earth does it mean and what's the point?  Peter and John knew things about the name of Jesus that I think we might have forgotten. 

The church was just weeks old, and Peter and John were on their way back to the temple. They were walking into the Beautiful gate when they met a son of Abraham begging alms from the passersby.  Peter looked at him and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene rise and walk."  And he did.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Having Enough Oil

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom ! Come out to meet him." Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the prudent answered, "No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves." And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, lord, open up for us." But he answered, "Truly I say to you, I do not know you." Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

There are two schools of thought on this parable.  One is that the five wise virgins are those who are believers, and the five foolish are not.  The other is that the five foolish virgins are believers, but are disqualified from the kingdom of heaven because they were unprepared.  I am willing to admit that I may be wrong, but I lean toward the latter interpretation, and I'll tell you why.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Making God Powerless

Jerusalem Tomb of the Garden
Have you ever thought of how powerless we can make God? It's the only explanation for some really strange pieces of scripture.  When we withhold our belief, we limit God's ability to bless us. 

This all came to mind when I was listening to "Today in the Word" a radio show/podcast that Melissa recommended.  I caught a sermon by Tony Evans.  He was going over the raising of Lazarus and mentioned the line by Jesus, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"  I've always found that part of the story puzzling.  Jesus told her to remove the stone; Martha replies that Lazarus stinks by now; and Jesus responds, "If you believe you will see." 

Huh?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Give Thanks to the Lord

Prayer
This morning I read Isaiah chapter 12. It talks about thanking Him for what He's done: "Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known his deeds among the peoples" (Isaiah 12:4). He's been with me and my family through some very difficult times the last few years. 
 
Two years ago my son was burned very badly on his face and back. Although there is a significant scar on his back, you can hardly tell on his face today. I give thanks to Him for healing my son and for carrying us through these tough times. We were surrounded by His family who blessed us immensely during those difficult times. Thank you Father. Please take a moment today to tell what He has done in your life. 

Jane

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Families are the Best

StateLibQld 1 68979 Portrait of the Ferner family, 1905
Family can be the best...

At holding grudges: "Well! I still remember that Thanksgiving when you took off with your boyfriend instead of eating with us!"

At gossip: "I heard that your cousin Michael is out of a job again.  He is going to be the death of your Aunt Susan."

At despair: "I gave up years ago.  You're never going to change.  Why do I even try?"

At blame: "Mom, you're the reason I'm miserable. How was I supposed to learn how to have a happy marriage with you and Dad always yelling at each other?"

At envy: "Don't tell me how to feel!  With your house in the suburbs, dog and 2.5 kids, I don't want to hear it!"

Okay, maybe not the best.  But I bet yours isn't the worst either.  Just look at Joseph for example!   First his mother Rachel was bitterly envious.  She fought a lifelong cold war with her sister Leah with weapons fashioned from the people they loved (Genesis 29-30). Joseph's father, Jacob, whose very name means deceiver, honored him openly as the best-beloved child, setting up the envy and hatred of his brothers that was destined to change the course of his life. (Genesis 35:26, 37:3)

The best of his brothers were Reuben and Judah who decided for their father's sake that Joseph shouldn't DIE while the other eight plotted his death.  Reuben left him in a pit thinking he'd come back later and pick him up before he died of exposure, and Judah came up with the bright idea of selling him instead of committing murder!  These were the best of the lot.  The other eight just wanted the bragging little twerp to die (Genesis 37).

And yet God was working.  He brought Joseph through, despite slavery and a prison stay.  He showed Joseph his favor by using him as a tool to save not only the entire population of Egypt from famine but the children of Israel as well. Then he brought those same brothers back around.

For vengeance, right?  Don't we wonder, when the brothers came begging for grain, why Joseph didn't have them all summarily executed? Surely there's a family member or two you've quietly imagined the wrath of God barreling down upon. No?  Just me? 

No, God brought the brothers back to Joseph so that through his forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace Joseph could become their redeemer.  The lamb saving the wolves from starvation. (Psalms 105) 

It's in our families that we learn service.  It's also in our families that we face our greatest hurts and temptations.  The small and mundane annoyances- toothpaste on the sink, groceries forgotten, the last piece of pie gone from the fridge again, socks on the floor-cause us to explode. The colossal betrayals, the heinous acts, the unforgivable sins-the drugs and alcohol, the adultery, the pornography, the violence- cause our families to implode. Sometimes we are betrayed. Sometimes we are betrayer. 

But whichever side of the dais we stand on, we can find ourselves in Joseph's story.  We are either the brothers hanging our heads in horror, awaiting our punishment for hurting the people we love, or we are Joseph with all the power; will we forgive or will we damn? 

Joseph had received years of God's favor and attention and apparently he learned something important because he forgave.  Can we learn to...

Replace grudges with forgiveness?  Let go of that Thanksgiving dinner 5 years ago, and be grateful for this one.  

Replace gossip with an encouraging phone call to that out of work nephew.  

Replace despair with prayer and hope.  Suddenly we believe not in our loved ones power to change but in the power of the Spirit to change them if they will only submit!  

Replace blame with confession.  Every human being OWNS his own sin.  It does no good to blame the person we learned it from instead of confessing to the God who can redeem us from it.

Replace envy with love.  Love rejoices in the good of the loved one. It refuses to compare our state with theirs.  Real deep honest love would rather they be blessed than we.  

The holidays are coming.  Families are going to be together driving each other nuts.  Old hurts and old hopes are going to collide and tears will be shed.  I hope this year is different for you.  Leave us a comment and tell us how this year can be a Joseph year in your family. 
Helene
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
- See more at: http://www.maidservantsofchrist.com/detail.asp?DetailID=324&Return=bymonth.asp?Start=11/1/2013#sthash.NAgl3fgS.dpuf

Friday, November 8, 2013

More than a Mansion

Some of my favorite hymns are the ones about heaven.  From "I'll Fly Away" to "When We All Get to Heaven," I love singing about the inheritance God has for us.  After a week of seeing the sin in the world, I need a recharge. Singing about peace in the valley helps me remember Peter's inspired words: 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

What I'm looking forward to most is not the mansion over the hilltop or the streets of gold or crystal sea.  No, what I am eagerly anticipating is the Presence of God.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cast of Stones: A Book Review

Recently Patrick W. Carr, a popular Christian fantasy author, offered the first book in his trilogy, The Staff and The Sword, for free.  Because I'm the mother of a kid who can easily read books far above her age range, I preview books for her.  Not as many as she would like, since she can devour books in no time flat, but still I try to be careful about what she reads.  

So when a Cast of Stones began with the main character of the book, a teenage boy, Errol, lying sodden on the floor of the tavern, I was not too enthused. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Snooze Button

This morning my alarm went off.  I hit the snooze once.  It went off again.  I thought I should get up and read my Bible.  Then I thought again.  Snoozing some more sounds much better, or I could play my iPad some before I get up.  

Just as I was reaching for the iPad for one of these more appealing sounding options, James 4:17 came to mind: "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." Ouch.  I got up, got my  iPad out and read James 4.

Monday, November 4, 2013

We are Her

In my mind's eye I can see her.  Her dark hair would have been ruffled; her clothes rumpled or missing, her face the color of sunset or perhaps as white as snow.  I can imagine why she found herself in bed with that man-she needed the attention and physical comfort, she fancied herself in love, or perhaps she was striking out in anger against a husband she had grown to hate.  

Motivation aside, being dragged literally out of bed, through the streets, and up the hill to the temple by those smug Pharisees must have been the most horrifying moment of her life.  And one of the most public.  All sin has an element of secret humiliation.  All sin is a work of darkness, it shies from the harsh light of knowledge (John 3:19-21). We don't even talk to ourselves about the worst of it; we're too ashamed.  

Standing there surrounded by the hundreds of people streaming through the temple, there was no secret to her sin.  In this crowd, she couldn't have been more alone.  Even her partner in this tango had abandoned her.  She might well have stared at the ground rather than meet the eyes of her accusers. 

We are her. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thanksgiving Reimagined

Take a moment and imagine what your Thanksgiving table might look like 3 weeks from now, if you took Jesus's words literally.  

I'm serious.

Picture your table groaning with food, the cute placemats that your kids make and the china you pull out once a year.  Now replace one familiar chair with a wheelchair.  Imagine a person with serious disability sitting there between Aunt Donna and Cousin Mark; one of them will need to help him throughout the meal.  Finally there is your husband, leading in from the living room a lady, bent and blind.  That is the Thanksgiving Jesus had in mind.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Aberration of Death

Plaenitz Rathenow Grabkreuze
Recently, someone in my church family lost a relative in a motor vehicle accident.  The young lady was only 16 years old.  The family is devastated.  Six years ago, when my husband's grandfather passed from this world, there was much weeping and mourning. He was 92.  When my sister's ex-husband died, I felt the gut wrenching pain of not knowing if his soul was secure.  Yet, when my grandfather died six weeks after being baptized, I still felt pain.  Young, old, Christian, non-Christian, death is painful.  We could argue that we are not mourning for them but for ourselves and our loss, but I think it is more than that.  Death jars us because it is wrong.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stingy

I was in two places at once.  I was on my way to buy the day's food at the outdoor market, and lost deep in ancient Palestine where Jesus is rebuked by the Pharisees for not making his disciples wash their hands before dinner. (Earbuds in, I smiled to myself; I wonder how the Pharisees would have felt about Purell?)  Then Jesus taught them that compared to the stuff that comes out of people, food or a few germs for that matter have no power to pollute.  He said: 

What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. (Mark 7:21-22 NKJV)

Jesus seems to be saying that from deep inside of us, from our sinful hearts, comes the external actions that appear so clearly as sin to others.  I hate that.  I want to pretend that when I do something bad it was a one-off, an accident, that I was having a bad day or was just surprised and didn't know what to do.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Biblical Ugly Word

What's the worst thing you can think of to call a fellow Christian?  What?  You don't think Christians call each other names? Oh, we don't use curse words; instead we find Bible words to call one another.  One I've heard a lot lately is "Pharisee."  Often when I hear that word, it is aimed at a Christian who tries to obey God and thinks you should too. 

Calling someone a Pharisee is a serious charge.  After all, Jesus called them a brood of vipers and ascribed eight woes to them.  Before we call someone this Biblical ugly word, we had better know what it means.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Sins

I told you that I discovered Stuart Briscoe on the local Bible radio station.  Since then, I have bought one of his books, Holiness Without the Halo, and listened to several of his Telling the Truth podcasts.  In them, he uses Scripture to tackle the topic of sin and how to defeat it with remarkable grace.  

Sin is something we struggle with every day, and it isn't always the "obvious" sins that give me the most trouble. In the book, Mr. Briscoe talks about two lifestyles of sin that seem opposite at first.  In his discussion of Paul's letter to the Galatians and our freedom in Christ, he addresses legalism and licentiousness.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lessons from the Gym

Highgrove Gym
"You going to the gym today?"  This was a frequent question around my parents' house this summer while we were vacationing in America.  For my husband's birthday, I bought him, my mom, and myself a one month gym membership. While exercising, I couldn't help but think of Paul's saying how "bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (I Timothy 4:8).  In I Corinthians he talks again about disciplining his body in order to lead the life that he should live (9:27).  I believe that one reason he uses this terminology in relation to our Christian walk is that it is easy to make parallels between the physical discipline of exercise and the spiritual disciplines.  Looking back on that month of exercise, I learned some lessons that apply to my Bible reading as well as to other areas of my spiritual life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Running Buddies

Runners (2109878771)
My husband and I are running again.  I told you before we are (slowly) training for a 5k, right?  So there we were back at the track after vacation.  We'd done our first 8 minute run, walked our 5 minutes and then he said it...

"Honey, I think I'm going to ease into this."  

I replied, "You mean you're going to walk?  That's ok.  But I'm going to run."  

He sighed.  And guess what?  He ran.  About half-way through the eternity that was 8 minutes of running, I was thinking, "This is totally a mistake.  I should have walked..." Then I looked over my shoulder at him running beside me.  I took a deep breath...and I ran.  

Everybody needs a running buddy. Somebody who is going to meet us at the track so we actually go. Somebody we can follow when we don't feel like running anymore. Someone who is counting on us so we don't give up.  

You need a running buddy too - a spiritual one. I want to suggest a few for you.  

1. The Sprinter

Romans 12 says, "not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." It's a passage describing the new life in Christ Jesus.  I'd love to be that girl who never lags behind the others, but sometimes I am the girl who is in the back of the pack hating the next step and sucking wind.  I need to see the diligence and fervency of a sister who is sprinting up ahead of me.  I need someone to set the standard so I can keep going. Not only do I need a track friend, I need a Christian friend who invites me to co-teach a class with her, who calls me when she is going to visit the sick to see if I want to come, who assumes that I'm going to be enthusiastic when she's collecting for "Coats for the cold." I need someone to follow!

2. The First Responder

Why do we really need running buddies?  Solomon pictures it this way in Ecclesiastes.  

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.  For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 

Because heaven help us if we break a leg and we are all alone!  In our Christian race these first responders to our emergencies.  James 5 says: 

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

I have friends that love me fiercely. Don't you?   I know that if I ever gave up, stopped worshiping, stopped praying, and stopped running, they would be on me like white on rice.  They'd be on Facebook, email, Skype and the phone.  They would never let me fall quietly without a word.  "Woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up."  

3. The Finisher

This guy is up in front of us.  He sets the pace.  He shows us the route.  We say to ourselves, "If he can keep going we can too."  In fact, it's a lot easier to look at him than to hang our heads and watch our feet fall.  He'll help us stick to it.  All we need to do is...

Run with endurance the race that is set before us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Hebrews suggests that we not only have Jesus who runs ahead of us but we have a stadium full of the faithful watching us run. The Old Testament is full of them: Noah, Abraham, Jochebed, Moses, Rahab and a host of others.  Not only that, but later the Hebrew writer points out that our leaders also run ahead of us setting a path that we can successfully follow. (Hebrews 13:7) When our churches are healthy, each set of elders and their godly wives illustrates following Jesus in our local circumstances in a pattern we can imitate. 

There's one lesson here, I think we can't neglect.  All of these runners, run with us. No one makes it to the end of the Christian life alone.  It's a life surrounded by witnesses; each one following the footsteps of the Author and Finisher of our Faith. It's a life alongside of faithful sisters and brothers who help and are helped by us. Look around. Don't neglect your running buddies.  They need you as much as you need them.   
Helene
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Care and Feeding of Tweens

USMC-120403-M-OT671-113
Of the three of us girls who write for Maidservants of Christ, I have the oldest child.  At 12 my brown-eyed girl is all of our vanguard into the world of tweens.   I've been exploring the ways that I can bring our Whatsoever Wednesday model to life for her.  

As homeschoolers, we've always studied "Bible" a bit like we did math.  Get a curriculum, read the material, do the exercises.  I've long thought of Bible as the most interesting academic topic I've ever studied.  That's not a terrible way for an introverted nerd to relate to the Word of God, but it is limited.  As I've grown, I wanted her to grow too-in service, in study and in heart.

Friday, October 18, 2013

When Emotions Run Riot

Emotions3
As I grow more mature in Christ, He makes me more aware of my sin -- I can't get close to His light without seeing the darkness of sin in my life.  One of the things He has shown me lately is that I sin the most when my emotions are running high.  I get angry and say hurtful things to the people I love; I am sad and take more comfort in food that in my Savior; I become anxious and try to handle the pressures of life myself instead of joyfully casting them upon the Lord.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Faith and Imagination

Have you ever thought about the role imagination plays in your faith?  Um...not me.  

I am girl with imagination.  Tons.   When my girls were babies I spontaneously made up dialogue for them and spoke both parts.  My husband contends that they were early talkers out of self-defense.  My kids have survived many a long bus or train ride by begging, "Tell us a story!" I am a long-term lover of novels, poetry and finding the pictures in clouds.  

But when I recently read Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster, I stumbled with some suspicion over his emphasis on imagination as an important part of meditation, prayer and Bible study. "Isn't using our "imagination" the exact opposite of knowing the truth?  We don't need to "imagine" things about God," I mumbled to myself, "because he revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ." 

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Servant in My House

"I am not a servant in this house!"  That is what my five-year old emphatically declared when I asked her to take out the trash.  She hates that job above all others.  Have you ever seen someone under 4 feet tall try to put on her shoes, hold the trash bag and never let go of her nose?  It's a sight.  

I took the trash from her hand, snagged a nearby stool with my foot and sat down with her on my lap.  Then we had a heart to heart about what it means to be a servant and how Jesus became a servant.  We recited "taking the form of a bond-servant and being found in appearance as a man."  I gave her a hug and reluctantly she picked up the plastic bag.

I walked away wondering if she understood the lesson.  Not the one about obedience; she got that!  I wonder if she got the one about pride and humility.  Maybe the better question is did I absorb the lesson?  And if I didn't how do I start? 

It seems lessons on "service" are everywhere.  I went to Amazon and typed in "servant leader" and I found pages full of business books teaching how to be great leaders by engaging in service.  I'm not criticizing; who wouldn't like to see the business world follow more of Jesus's principles? 

Yet a recent re-reading of Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline," brought me this painful line, "In service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves.  Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial."  Mundane service isn't the kind that people write books about.  It's the kind of service we find in a family. 

Families, especially ones with small children, run on service.  Dishes must be washed, floors swept, groceries bought.  Children must be bathed, hair must be brushed, and homework has to be checked.  

Every family does it-some better, some not so good. Yet I dare say not every person doing the service is being transformed by it into the likeness of their Savior (John 13:1-7, Philippians 2:1-13).  In fact, in many young mothers, the seeds of bitterness that will grow into 30 years worth of grumbling, anger, and discontent are sown in the laundry, the diapers and the dishes.  

I have been there.  

My five-year old is there, right now.  "I am not a servant in this house!" 

Yet there is no other situation in my life where I have a greater opportunity to serve in secret, in silence, and in humility.  Where else can I truly serve and be rewarded by my Father? Jesus harshly condemned religious activity like fasting and prayer to be seen of men.  Service that gains me an earthly reward does not gain me a heavenly one (Matthew 6).  Serving at work earns me a wage.  Serving as a volunteer earns me a pat on the back. Serving at church earns me the gratitude of my leaders and the encouragement of my friends.  But trust me, no one pays me to scrub the bathtub.  No one even knows I scrub the nasty thing.  They might notice if I stopped...I'm not sure.  

Sometimes I wish I could put my "real" life on hold.  I could go to a convent, a retreat center, or a cabin in the woods and try to grow as a Christian.  I could spend hours a day in Bible reading, stay up all night praying, and plan how I was going out into the world in humility like Mother Teresa to serve the down-trodden.  And yet the trouble is that very image is overlain not with piety but a desire to escape the actual service God is calling me to. 

Real humility, real growth is here, in the dishes and the dirty tub, in being a real servant in my house.
   
Helene

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Nothing to Offer

Cela
I sat in the meeting with many questions in my heart.  Our congregation is considering involvement in a prison ministry, and we were listening to the director of the ministry tell about the needs of the prisoners.  My questions were not about the ministry itself.  I knew that Jesus commands us to visit those in prison, and this particular organization had been helping people for a long time, baptizing and making disciples.  No, the questions were much more personal.

I know nothing about the world these women have lived in.  How can I help them?

I'm a "good girl" who has never had to struggle for anything in my life.  How can I relate to these women?