Archive | February 2012

Helping God…

I love how God uses familiar passages in scripture to present truths that are personalized to exactly what *we* individually need to see! In my women’s Bible study, we are studying the end of James, Chapter 2, “Faith without works is dead.” This brought up how Abraham showed his faith when asked by God to bring his son Isaac up the mountain for a sacrifice (James 2:21, Genesis 22). The point was that Abraham’s action demonstrated his faith. Fair enough… But, was this always the case? Thinking back to the story of Abraham, did he always put his ultimate trust and confidence in God’s plan? The more important question is Do I? Let’s just say, I can definitely relate to Abraham’s earlier impatience regarding God’s promise to him.

God made a covenant with Abram (before his name was changed to Abraham) that he and his descendents would rule a great nation. The only problem was that Abram was already ‘advanced in age’ and had no children (Genesis 12). Clearly not understanding the mechanics behind this, Abram brought his concerns before God. God assured Abram, in a vision, that his son would be his own flesh and blood. Abram believed God, and this was “counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15).” This is reassuring, as it is proof that it is okay to ask God for clarification when we don’t fully understand how His plan is going to work out in our lives. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that He will give us all of the details.

Abram’s trust in God proved to be short-lived, as he took matters into his own hands in Genesis 16. Abram’s wife, Sarai (later changed to Sarah) was obviously concerned about her inability to conceive and thought she might be the ‘problem’ in God’s promise being fulfilled for Abram. Technically, she blamed God, “And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai (Genesis 16:2).”

Uh oh…. We’ve seen this formula before. The particulars are very reminiscent to the ‘Fall of Man’: Woman has been deceived; woman persuades man to be deceived; God gets blamed for everything; bad things result! But, this is more than a man versus woman conflict. The major problem is a lack of human trust in God’s plan!

This scenario is repeated many times in the Bible and in our modern lives and the result is never good. By failing to wait on God’s plan, and taking matters into our own hands, we are essentially telling God that our decisions are better than His, and that we can take care of everything without His help. Every time this happens, especially in my life, problems ensue!

Let’s get back to the story from Genesis… Sarai’s servant Hagar bore Abram a son, at the age of 86, and the boy was named Ishmael (Genesis 16:16). As we will see, problems definitely resulted from Abram’s impatience to become a father. In fact, those problems are still evident today!

Thirteen years later, God appeared to Abraham (age 99) and promised that Sarah (age 90) would bear him a son, who would be named Isaac. Abraham “fell on his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17)” at the impossibility of this occurring! Again, God reassured Abraham of his plan; and, as a result, Abraham’s son Isaac was born.

So, now we have two half-brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, who would carry Abraham’s seed to all the nations. Abraham loved his sons, and God blessed both brothers and divided the land…. And fighting has been going on regarding the ownership of that land that ever since. Talk about a sibling rivalry!

Paul delves into this issue a little deeper in Galatians 4:22-23, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.” God assured Abraham that he would bear a son. Isaac was born from God’s miracle, according to God’s timing. Ishmael’s birth, however, was arranged by mortal efforts, as a result of unbelief and impatience. Thus, he was born according to the flesh.

This ended up being significantly more difficult to explain than I intended, and I had not previously noticed the strong parallels to the fall of man or the end times! I might need to revisit this story one day and focus more on those aspects!

I hope my original point is clear. We (‘I’) should always trust in God’s plan for our lives, and be patient with His timing. Problems will likely result when we fail to do this! It doesn’t matter how smart we (‘I’) think we are, the only perfect plans come from God! God does not need our help to accomplish His will…. Why can’t we (‘I’) just take the easier route and trust Him with our lives! “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”

Let me tie this back to the James Bible study, where my original thought came from. After writing this blog, I saw a question that asked what James meant in 2:22, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”

I believe that Abraham continually showed his current level of faith by the decisions he made, sometimes completely trusting God, other times having doubts in God’s plan. Abraham’s faith, and thus actions were imperfect, but they constantly improved as God tested him. Interestingly, when Abraham is described in the ‘Hebrews Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:8-12),’ the author only mentions his successes. This is encouraging!

We, too, will grow spiritually by making good and bad decisions in our life. The important part is that we trust that God will strengthen our faith from our choices. This process will help us develop a deeper relationship with God and prepare us for eternity!

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Ash Wednesday Testimony

I can’t remember if any of my older writings completely describe this, but in honor of Ash Wednesday, I feel led to tell the story of my personal Lenten miracle. Let’s rewind to 11 years ago. I was in graduate school in the Midwest, and had a party with my friends to celebrate Mardi Gras (the last day of partying before the Lenten season).

At the time, I was a non-practicing Catholic, and had absolutely no involvement whatsoever with a church or church doctrine. I was, however, a highly accomplished alcohol drinker. I excelled in this frequently, and this Mardi Gras was no exception. I was in a pretty rough spot emotionally, and my friends – wanting to help me out of my funk – encouraged me to have sex with the on-again-off-again guy I was “interested” in. Since this was an activity I generally avoided, and this particular guy did not really care about me, I knew it would require a fair amount of liquid encouragement.

Everything went according to my faulty plan, although protection was neglected. However, it never crossed my mind that anything would result from this one experience! The next day, I felt terrible from the hangover and vowed that this Lent, I was going to give up alcohol.

I truly don’t know what possessed me to give up alcohol, other than God working in me, but it ended up being an amazing miracle! When I found out I was pregnant several weeks later, I knew that God had protected me from fetal alcohol syndrome (which, ironically, I had researched a few years prior to this). I knew God loved me, and I wanted to get back into His good graces! I found the first priest who was willing to hear my confession, spilled my guts, and I started attending mass again.

That particular Catholic church was amazing. I felt like I belonged and became very active in the parish. My son was born, and was baptised in that church. I wish I could say that my salvation resulted from this experience, but I do not believe it did. I think God knew I would walk away again, but ultimately return to Him later in my life.

However, He loved me enough to protect my baby from damage that I would have undoubtedly caused – and that one miracle proves to me that He loves all of us, even when we’re stuck in the midst of our sin. He holds us tightly to Him, even when we’re trying to run from Him as fast as we can! God loves us even when we don’t know how to love ourselves….and that’s why I later chose to give Him my life.

Have you experienced your own personal Easter miracle? It’s not about giving something up for Lent; it’s about believing that Jesus died and was resurrected so that your sins could be forgiven – permanently. It’s about trusting in God’s miracle and beginning a life-changing relationship with Him. You don’t have to clean up your act or have it all together. Jesus meets us where we are, and will deliver us from our sin. It’s never too late to choose eternal life…. What are you waiting for?

Trying to Fix What’s Broken – Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

“I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ESV)”

In the not too distant past, I was the “fixer” type. Jobs, friends, boyfriends, even societal norms… I was convinced that I could make a difference. Plus, having tons of energy, I knew *I* could make everything better!

Once upon a time, I was a new instructor at a moderate-sized University. I wasn’t even on the tenure-track, but I thought I could help the department improve many of their problems! I was naive to say the least, and all my “great ideas” managed to accomplish was to alienate the tenured professors. A year later, another new faculty member traveled down that same path and enjoyed the same outcome.

When I became a Christian, I chose to ignore the scripture regarding the importance of being “equally yoked”. My only new dating requirement was that the guy be open to the possibility of God. I was convinced that dating me would encourage him to pursue God. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that all this accomplished was to pull me back into the flesh!

I’ve had to learn (the hard way), that not all problems can be completely resolved. And even when they can, the result isn’t always the warm and fuzzy feeling you expect…

In these verses, the Qohelet describes how pursuing wisdom regarding the burden God has given us, as well as wisdom in general, is meaningless, a chasing after wind. I don’t believe the author is implying that wisdom is bad, only that it illuminates the true nature of the world, and is thus disheartening. “Ignorance is bliss,” or so I understand….

Wisdom is not pointless, and is definitely better than folly, but if one seeks wisdom with the goal of “saving the world”, they may be missing the point. Have you ever noticed that the more society tries to solve some problems, the worse they become?

Sometimes I feel that the more laws we have to “protect” people, the more foolish society, as a whole, becomes. It’s almost like increased legislation seems to decrease personal responsibility. Telling someone they can’t or shouldn’t do something makes them want to do it more! Censorship is a good example….

Does this mean we should stop trying to make a difference? Not at all! I just think we should remember that we live in a fallen world and that we cannot save everyone and everything completely on our own. You cannot fight spiritual battles with worldly weapons! Trusting God for wisdom and looking to Him for intervention in solving our problems is our best opportunity for a joyful, meaningful life!

The Message of the Cross (March 1, 2009)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Corinthians 1:18).

I recently attended a Catholic wedding and found it difficult to concentrate on the ceremony because I couldn’t take my eyes off of the crucifix.  I was a practicing Catholic for the majority of my life yet, the depiction of Jesus on the cross had never made such a powerful impact.  This time, even a beautiful bride could not take my focus off of Jesus and the amazing gift we were given because of God’s ultimate sacrifice.

One of the songs from our Easter musical, “Where the Nails Were,” kept running through my mind, as it truly should have been my hands and feet where the nails were!  The entire impact of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins is so incredible that I really don’t have words to describe my emotion, but pardon my indulgence as I try to reflect on three awesome truths from the crucifixion – the love of God, the obedience of Jesus, and immense joy that resulted from Jesus’ resurrection.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This is the first verse that the children in the Awana program memorize, and it truly says it all.  How perfect is God’s love that He sent His sinless, blameless Son to die for our sins to be forgiven!  We are completely undeserving of the grace that we have been extended, but the freedom we have been given in Christ is unbelievable.  Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God’s love for us can overcome physical death, something we can also experience when we accept Jesus as our personal savior.

Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will is something we should all strive to emulate.  Jesus “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  Crucifixion was a painful and humiliating way to die, but Jesus took up His cross and walked the path that should have been ours.  Jesus’ obedience continued even as he uttered His last words “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46b).  In contrast, God asks nothing from me, and yet I still struggle with being obedient.  Thankfully, God’s love overcomes my many shortcomings.

Crucifixion was a common practice in the Roman culture, implying that had Jesus simply died on the cross, His death may have been considered ordinary.  However, it was His resurrection on the 3rd day which made His death extraordinary.  When Mary Magdalene saw firsthand that Jesus was resurrected, her sorrow turned to incredible joy.  She joyfully proclaimed to Jesus’ disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).  The death of Jesus may be difficult for us to accept, because we may focus on the pain and suffering that He endured.  But, Jesus is risen!  He is alive!  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven, and the Holy Spirit lives in those who accept this precious gift.  Praise God!

The crucifixion and resurrection clearly shows God’s love, and Jesus’ obedience, character traits we should strive for in our lives.  We can also focus on the joy that resulted from the risen Jesus.  When Jesus appeared to the disciples for the third time after His resurrection, he instructed Peter three times to “take care of his sheep” (John 21:16c).  This not only shows that Jesus forgave Peter for his three denials, but it also instructs all of us to love others and share the good news with them.  Then, the Holy Spirit can help those who may see the cross as foolish be able to see the immeasurable power of God!

There are two immediate events that I want to encourage you to attend.  First, our Church is showing “The Passion of Christ” on Saturday April 4th at 5pm.  I encourage you to not only participate in this activity, but to invite a friend to join in our celebration of God’s enormous love for us.

Second, on Sunday April 5th at 6pm, the Adult Choir will present the musical “Raise the Crown,” which is a powerful depiction of Jesus’ final days on the Earth, culminating with His resurrection into Heaven.  The arrangement is beautiful and the impact is strong.  Mark your calendar and bring a friend to share in this powerful event.

Come to the Feast

As part of a Bible study on James, I spent some time researching and meditating on the parable of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14). The verses related, in the James study, to whether we can lose our eternal rewards. Better than that, however, I think this scripture ties in well with my previous thoughts on salvation.

There are two main points in this parable that are just as relevant today as they were to the original audience. The text compares “the kingdom of heaven” to a wedding feast, which implies this is about our salvation. The imagery described provides a dire need for us to pay attention and understand what Jesus meant by these words, as the scenarios for those who did not were disastrous!

The first point of this parable is that being invited does not mean you will be present at the wedding feast! God gives us all free will to choose to accept His invitation. The Jews believed they were “chosen” and set apart for heaven. That may be true, but they were too busy living their religious lives that they did not attend the feast of the king. Or worse, they were violently opposed to the king!

This lesson is every bit as applicable to us today as it was for the Pharisees! It doesn’t matter who you are, who you’re related to, or what you have done… You are single-handedly responsible for accepting Jesus’ invitation to attend His feast. Only you can make sure you will be in heaven.

You can’t get there by your works, or even being holy enough, because Jesus was the only sinless man! We are so far away from Jesus’ perfection that we cannot fellowship with God! But, God loved us so much that He allowed His only Son to die for our sins. The greatest part is, He wants us to spend eternity with Him!

But, we have to believe in Him and trust that we are saved because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Not making a decision to be at the wedding feast is just as detrimental as choosing not to be there!

All of mankind is invited to the wedding, and Jesus desires your presence. He invited everyone, but not everyone who attended the feast was allowed to remain….

There was a man, not wearing the proper garment, who caused the king to tell his attendant “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 22:13).”

That doesn’t sound too promising, especially in light of hell being described in the same manner elsewhere in the gospels! But, what does the garment refer to?

Fashion?? Not exactly!

I don’t believe the king expected the common people to have the appropriate attire for the wedding, therefore I believe it was provided for them. That means if someone was not wearing the garment, it would have been an act of blatant disregard for the king!

I take this part of the parable to mean this… The garment represents our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation. However, if someone accepts Jesus’ invitation for salvation, but continues in their rampant indulgence of sin, while completely ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then maybe they did not truly understand what Jesus did for them on Calvary!

I am not implying that once we accept Jesus’ gift of salvation that we have to immediately stop sinning and have our lives completely together. But, I do believe we must be open to the change!

Jesus did not die for our sins so we would have an excuse to continue exactly as we were, completely unchanged. We were reborn in Him, given a second (and third, and fourth, and infinite) chance to do better! God wants our heart, all of us, not just a “one and done” prayer. It’s a lifelong journey, but the rewards are eternal!

Have you accepted God’s gift of salvation? It may seem scary to go from a worldly, finite view of life to an infinite, spiritual one, but God will help you make the transition. He will be with you every step of the way, and the journey is exciting! You will learn so much about yourself and God when you embark on this path; it’s amazing!

God doesn’t expect perfection from you, but rather a heart that wants to grow to be more like Him! He’s preparing us to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

I wouldn’t choose any other way, would you?

Trying to Control God – Ecclesiastes 1:5-11

The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after (Eccl 1:5-11 ESV).

I taught earth science years ago, and my favorite topic was running water, including rivers, streams, flooding, etc. I used to show a video about the power of running water, and our efforts to control it. The movie focused on the Mississippi River, which if left completely up to ‘nature’ would take a faster path to the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, the course of the River would shift and follow the higher gradient route down the Atchafalaya River.

There are control structures in place, which keep a certain ratio of flow between the two rivers, to ensure that the Mississippi does not change course. The reason for this is to preserve the Port of New Orleans and the economic activity related to the city. Scientists must keep a close watch on the River’s flow patterns and open and close gates in the control structure to keep the flow split at a constant ratio. However, the flow monitoring was not always so frequent. In the 1970s, the control structure was damaged by a flood, as the Mississippi tried to change course despite our best efforts (at the time) to control it.

If you look a the historical courses of the Mississippi River, you will notice that its course has been naturally altered many times. In fact, this is how Lake Ponchartrain and the area of New Orleans were formed in the first place – from sediment deposits that occurred as the River changed courses.

Some scientists believe that we are overdue for another course change for the Mississippi, and that it may still occur despite our best efforts to control the flow of the River. I agree with this hypothesis, and suspect that at some point in the future, the Mississippi River will change courses, no matter what we do to stop it.

As much as I enjoy studying the earth’s systems, we certainly do not have a complete knowledge of how all of nature works. As we all know from weather predictions and even hurricane tracking, meteorology is not an exact science! Scientists do the best they can, but it is impossible to fully comprehend the intricacies involved.

I think that leads us to weariness of some sort… We, as humans, like to know how everything works; we like to understand our world to the fullest. However, that isn’t always possible. We cannot describe the mechanisms for many natural phenomena. We don’t understand how God created the earth to exist in a state of equilibrium, as these verses describe. We don’t even fully understand the extent that our neglect and abuse have on the earth.

We cannot, with any degree of certainty, predict what will happen in the future and/or when it will happen…. so, we are left with no choice but to put our trust in God.

I find it interesting that people find the Bible to be outdated and not current with the times. But, if you really consider history, it is true that “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).” The Bible is just as relevant as it’s always been, maybe even more relevant, since we can see how the truth in Old Testament prophecies have come to light.

God is Love (February 4, 2009)

This month, I want to share something from my prayer journal, and how the Holy Spirit directed me to a particular scriptural passage to calm my fears.  I hope you can relate to my struggles, and will find the same comfort in God’s Word that I did.

“Dear God, I am so grateful for Your grace, and I know I am saved because I have accepted Jesus as my savior.  I just worry that I won’t measure up when I get to heaven.  Don’t get me wrong, being the worst Christian in God’s presence is so much better than the alternative.  But, I want You to find that I took care of Your temple and lived my life for You.  Unfortunately, I’ve spent more time not doing that, than I have so far in honoring You (and I still don’t always get everything right).  If I were to die tomorrow, I worry that You will think I wasted my time ‘under the sun’ and will punish me in heaven.  I know that You forgive and forget (subjectively though, I mean can God really forget?  I don’t think You can literally) and that works will not get me into heaven.  But, works are important once I get to heaven, when we are judged on how we lived our lives on Earth.  So, what are You going to think?  What can I do to show You how much Your love means to me?”

Do you struggle with accepting God’s amazing love for us, realizing that even though we fall short, He still loves us despite our sin?  Do you ever compare yourself to other people who seem to be better Christians (or have had longer relationships with God) than you?  I suspect that I am not alone in the fears that I had regarding this.  I use the past tense here, because I felt the most amazing peace when I was directed to the following scripture (1John 4:7-18) from the ESV translation:

God Is Love

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

We’re all probably familiar with the verse “We love because He first loved us” (1John 4:19), but if you look at what leads up to that statement, there are other important truths, as well.  This passage tells us that we should have confidence when God’s love is perfected in us.  But, then there’s fear, which has to do with punishment – which is the exact fear that I was having.  John explains that whoever fears has not been perfected in love (1John 4:18b).  This doesn’t sound good at first glance, but all it means is that we are works in progress, and God’s love is growing in us, but it is not yet perfected.  If we love one another (1John 4:12b), God will abide in us and His love will be perfected in us.  It doesn’t say that the effect is immediate, so if we continue to love others as God loves us, His love will be perfected in us, and we will not fear judgment.  How awesome is that?  “Love is patient; love is kind.” (1Cor 13:4) – We just have to be also; patient with ourselves, and kind to others in everything we do!