Friday, February 17, 2017

Humblin' history made here

It happened here—a hall corner between my daughter’s and son’s bedrooms--where I tried to “train up” my children in the way they should go regarding relationships. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” I didn’t get out a “discipline rod” to resolve petty arguments, but I did use “time out” in their bedrooms before coming to this spot in the hall to apologize and ask forgiveness.  At times their hugs and “sorry’s” were quite wooden, but I trusted that this discipline would reinforce truths about living God’s way. They grew up to be responsible adults with many friends.

As I thought recently about “apologies,” three powerful Bible examples came to mind.
Insincere apologies—“Sorry you had a problem about it....” As King Saul geared up for a major battle at Gilgal, he had a problem. The prophet Samuel told him to wait a week for Samuel to come and offer the proper pre-battle sacrifices. When Day 7 arrived with no Samuel in sight,  Saul panicked and performed the sacred “sacrifice” of animals himself. An appalled Samuel showed up just as Saul finished. Saul’s excuse was full of “I” words, ending, “I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12). Samuel scolded him: “You acted foolishly.”  From then on, Saul’s days as king were numbered. 

Cover-up apologies—“Sorry I messed up, but don’t make me look bad.” A few chapters later, the prophet Samuel told Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites: people, cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys. But Saul and soldiers disobeyed, keeping some of the animal “booty.” Plus, Saul put up a prideful monument in his own honor! When Samuel came and heard all the noises of the Amalekite livestock, he condemned Saul for not following the orders for annihilation. Samuel declared:
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. (1 Samuel 15:22b-23a)
Saul’s reaction: “I have sinned.  But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel” (v. 30).  (Read that again! The nerve of it floors me!) 

Sincere apologies—“I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). King David succumbed to lust, committing adultery with a married woman. Learning he got her pregnant, he arranged to have her husband killed in the heat of battle. He tried to hide his secret until the prophet Nathan pulled a confession out of him. The best mirror for David’s confession of this incident is his Psalm 51:
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4)

I see these applications for today:
Insincere apologies—The pouty “s-o-r-r-y” which tries to appease an offended person.
Cover-up apologies—The insincere “s-o-r-r-y” that says, “Sorry, you don’t agree with me, but I had to do it.  It’s all about me, after all.”
Sincere apologies—The humble “I am so sorry” that expresses: “God has convicted me of my sin in (description of offense). I was wrong and know I have sinned against you. Could you find it in your heart to forgive me and give me a second chance?  I want to obey God in every way, and this struggle is part of my journey to a life of pleasing God.” 

True, life-changing “I’m sorry” goes along with growing in Christ.  It’s the real thing because the Real Thing is just ahead. Someday, instead of standing in the hall between siblings’ bedrooms, we’ll kneel before the throne of Almighty God. He has seen every single action of our lives, and judges rightly and righteously—even considering how we have said, “I’m sorry.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hard and soft hearts

A "heart" of stone!
I was glad to see him as I exited our worship service this Sunday—a friend who is recovering from surgery that saved his life after a heart attack. Age and disease “broke” his heart but now it’s “mended,” an adjective survivors like him are glad to claim. With reminders of Valentine’s Day all around—from candy and flowers to jewelry and clothes—I decided to add an extra entry to my blog schedule. For some reason God reminded me of “heart” verses I’d read long ago in from Ezekiel, that Old Testament prophet known for amazing, symbolic visions (like dry bones, chapter 37).

If you really want to boil the message of the prophets to one word, you need to go with “heart” and the “heart problems” that led to the downfalls of Judah and Israel hundreds of years before Christ. Ezekiel’s message from God was bad news followed by good news of somehow returning to their homeland.  God said:
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them: I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezekiel 36:26)

Do you see Jesus in these verses?  I do. He waits for us to turn to Him, admit we have hearts of stone, and allow Him to transform us with hearts that beat in sync with His. The apostle John saw a lot of love and hate in his long life of proclaiming the truths about Jesus.  But he always came back to the transforming love of Christ. I’ll never forget the comment by a Christian co-worker from a newspaper where I once worked. He had come to Christ out of a rugged background.  When I asked him his favorite Bible verse, he quoted 1 John 3 and expressed amazement that he was now a child of God.  His voice broke as he quoted verse 2: “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

So maybe those little plush bears clutching soft red hearts—displayed all over stores these days (including this one I spotted at a thrift store)—have it theologically right. Our world needs Christ-softened hearts, not hard, selfish ones. Today, while going into a grocery store, we spotted a friend who is going through a very difficult time. After she shared and became quiet, I asked if she could use a hug. She said yes. Her long embrace reminded me that God needs more “soft hearts” out there. We’re praying for her, too.

Feeling a bit beat up lately as a result of someone’s hard-hearted behavior? Tell it to Jesus.  I did, and today, out of the blue, I recalled some powerful words from a church choir cantata I sang forty-some years ago. The song expressed how Christ’s wonderful look of love “broke and won my heart.” When I turn my attention to Jesus, He puts His nail-scarred hands on my pain, and I know His love.
Coming in Friday's blog: forgiveness.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Love lights

"It makes a circle!” my three-year-old grandson declared as he played with a flashlight he pointed at the ceiling. I chuckled over how he was showing off his command of “shape” words. If only he knew how the study of light has baffled and intrigued scientists for ages! Maybe, if he takes a bent toward art, he will find enjoyment in portraying light patterns.

Recently, as I prayed over and grieved a dark situation with people I know, I sensed the Lord pushing me to read again the “light” verses of First John. I’d already been thinking about “light,” after my husband “romanticized” our evening meal of leftovers with a candle in a Haitian-made clay pot with cutouts, a gift from a friend who did mission work there. Initially, it reminded me of this scripture:
For God who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).

As a “clay jar” I try to reach out to others with God’s grace and light.  But sometimes it's hard to shine before others. I think that’s why I recently felt a God-nudge to reread the counsel of the apostle John, written before his old-age death:
If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.(1 John 1:6)

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

By the way, “brother” is a gender-neutral term for someone in the family of God, whether or not they’re blood related. I find these verses very sad because they highlight the alienation that results from broken relationships.

But it doesn’t have to be that way:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

I’d rather be in that type of a “circle of light”!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Tablet talk

When my first grandchild was born, a friend gave me this erasable tablet with the suggestion that I use it to teach him to write his name. As you can see, we’re not making much progress when he’s on his own. But I’m guessing that in the next half year (he is now 3 ½) we’ll see an attempt at spelling J-O-S-I-A-H.
My greater concern is that he gets it “right” on his Proverbs 3:3-4 “tablet”:

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. (NIV, an identical verse is in Proverbs 7:3)

            Although the proverb names just two characteristics, they’re powerful:

            Love conveys kindness and mercy, the type of outlook that seeks justice for others.

            Faithfulness expresses loyalty, behaving responsibly.

The “bind them around the neck” conveys the idea that such behavior will be as noticeable as wearing a richly ornamented necklace. Talk about fashion coming full circle since Bible times! (How “fashion” changes.  When I graduated from high school in the ‘60s, girls wore demure single pearls on fine chains!)

So where does one shop for the “love” and “faithfulness” necklaces? That’s where the next verse, so much better known, comes in:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  (vv. 5-6)

These days of the electronic revolution have brought a new meaning to the word “tablet.”  In Bible times, a “tablet” was usually a clay plaque inscribed with a sharp instrument. When I was a child, “tablet” referred to a thick notebook of glue-bound newsprint with wide-apart writing lines for little learners. What did these cost?  Twenty-five cents?  Fifty cents?

 And now we have mini-computer$ (dollar sign intended) even smaller than those newsprint “tablets.”  Because they can download virtue as well as vice, they bring new meaning to that old verse. We make the choice of what is dumped into our minds.

 It comes back to this:  Trusting God. Acknowledging Him in our behavior and life choices. And making sure that unworthy scrawling is erased through confession, so that God can write His imprint on our lives.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Arm strengtheners

Before January ends, we probably need to talk about fitness. Okay, so I don’t have wonder weights, and my elastic pulley is a bit puny. I do have just enough “aids” (thanks to yard sales) to help with some arm fitness. But none of these provide the marvelous “arm” promises I get from the prophet Isaiah. I read beloved portions of that prophet several times this past year as I got punched down by negatives in my life.  If that was your situation, join me in recalling these words:
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:9b-10)

The first rule in Bible study is context, and this verse addressed a nation that was falling apart because it had rejected God.  Soon, the southern kingdom of Judah would fall to the Babylonians (the “one from the north” of 41:25) and the unthinkable—getting carted off as prisoners to a foreign land—would take place. In this passage, God reminds them that He chose Israel through Abraham to represent Him to the world because He wanted to, not because they deserved it. In our times, all Christians are chosen to represent God to the world. Though hard times may scatter believers, God hasn’t forgotten them. We need not fear because:
He is with us (“I am with you”)
We have a relationship with Him (“I am your God”)
He offers His strength, help and victory.

Long ago, when teaching a young girl’s Sunday school class this verse, I led them in hand motions for what God does.  “Strengthen you” was the bicep pose.  “Help you” was an open hand out.  “Uphold you” was an open hand reaching up.” 

Later I realized how the hand is the organ of personal action.  The “right hand” of verse 10 implies God’s personal action in making His promises come true.  I think that’s why this passage in Isaiah touches me so deeply.  When I am feeling  alone and emotionally beat up, I need a divine advocate.  And there He is, right behind me, with that strong, righteous right hand that is mightier than any assault from the enemy. Sometimes, it came in the form of caring, mature Christians.  Other times, it was a whisper from a devotional book or scripture reading that said, “Jeanne, I will help you and uphold you.  That’s My promise!” 

“Exercising” faith in that promise was a great fitness move for me!  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Grandpappy Carrot

Go ahead and laugh. Of all the carrots I have seen in my life, this one easily takes the title of “Grandpappy Carrot.” It came from a friend who for years has shared  produce from his large garden with us. That includes many carrots with humorous knobs and strings.  But none quite matched this one for size and weirdness.  We sometimes joked that he must lace his soil with radioactive substances to get such alien specimens. Of course, that’s not the case.  He’s very much into “natural foods,” and this is sometimes what happens.
As I stood at the sink scrubbing the dirt off “Grandpappy,” I admit that my mind was elsewhere, praying for people who drag around buckets of anxieties and worries. The Bible's take on this:
Cast all your cares upon him, because he cares for you. (I Peter 5:7)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Who of you by worrying can add a single day to your life? (Luke 23:25)

Worrying implies that God isn’t big enough to take us through our cares and trials. Often, chronic worriers think that by piling up prayers, and enlisting others to pray-pray-pray, they’ll win God to their way of thinking of how He should run the world. 

I like how Roy Hession, an evangelist of the last century, expressed it in his now-classic book on revival, The Calvary Road.  Using a journey analogy to express the goal of peace with God and concern for others, he names the sins (like the weird growths on my Grandpappy Carrot) that impair us along the way: “self-pity, self-seeking, self-indulgence in thought or deed, sensitiveness, touchiness, self-defense, self-consciousness, shyness, reserve, worry, fear, and so on.”(1)

Such behaviors should be alien to the life of a believer. When we decide to follow God, He takes us (like that misshapen carrot), ugly character bumps and all. But He doesn’t leave us like that. The very trials and tribulations that we resist are part of His paring knife to shape us into the character of Christ. He is lovingly, intimately concerned about all our concerns and worries.

As for my Grandpappy Carrot, anybody hungry for carrot salad? 

(1) Roy Hession, The Calvary Road (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1950), p. 54.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Psalmn 137: "Oh, rats!"

I was in for a not-so-pleasant surprise the morning I went to the home of my vacationing son and family to feed their cat and check on things. As I rounded the corner after fetching mail, my eye caught sight of a critter.  Backing up to look closer, I can truthfully say I’m glad it was dead! We’ve had an occasional mouse at our house, and they’re barely bigger than my thumb. This was no mouse. My city has had increasing complaints about (ugh) rats, and this was one of them. With my hand in one plastic grocery bag as an improvised glove, I pushed it in another grocery bag, tied a knot, and dumped it in their trash.

Psalm 137 expresses a dead-rat sort of disgust. It comes at an interesting point in the book of psalms. Right before, Psalm 136 has risen in a crescendo of ways to give thanks to God for His enduring love. After singing that, the people were on a spiritual high.  But at one point in history—one that happened long after the “Exodus” events of Psalm 136—the Jews weren’t singing much any more. God had judged their disobedience by allowing the Babylonians to conquer them and march them more than a thousand grueling desert miles away to that pagan land.

Talk about being homesick!  Their captors mocked them, saying, “Sing your old songs about your temple in Jerusalem.” No way could the Jews do that. They’d never stand for pagans making fun of the songs dearest to their hearts. So they hung their harps on trees and kept doing their slave work, their distaste for their captors growing by the day.  They may have been transplanted in Babylon, but they weren’t rooted there. Their hearts still yearned for their homeland and Jerusalem, “my highest joy.”

They had as much love for the Babylonians as for the Edomites, a wretched tribe in their homeland that had cheered the Babylonians on as they captured and destroyed Jerusalem. (The minor prophet Obadiah similarly scolds Edom.) The Jews’ disgust got quite ugly, in fact, wishing a horrible thing—murder of Babylon’s infants, its next generation—by the future nation that would conquer Babylon. Where was the Jews’ compassion? On the other hand, the Jews had probably watched the Babylons slaughter Jewish babies as part of their sick military practices.

I don’t like Psalm 137 or any of the other “imprecatory” or condemning psalms. But they present a sobering reality: that those who oppose God will someday pay the price of their sin. Today, ancient Babylon is ruins. Edom’s fortresses are desolate. God judges evil. Romans 2:6 says he will judge every person “according to what he has done.”

But here's the hope: through the death and resurrection of Christ, we can have our lives transformed.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:5)