Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Default Settings

Default Settings

  It’s Monday morning, you hit the print button on your computer, and instead of the 20, color copies you asked for, the dang machine has mysteriously reverted to its default setting, and spitefully turns out one black and white.  Grrrr!  Don’t you hate when that happens?  You thought that everything was set up the way you wanted, and then it goes back to the factory installed setting.  Over a third cup of coffee, while I do some resetting, I got to thinking about how all of us are like that pesky computer.  Every one of us comes into this world with our own default settings.  The Bible calls these settings “original sin“, or our “sin natures“. Since the days of Adam’s blunder in the Garden of Eden, all of us have inherited a human, fleshly sin nature.  It’s there from day one.  Watch little children for a while, and you’ll see it at work.  Paul puts it like this: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.” Galatians 5:19-20.

 I like to think that I’ve left all that stuff behind when I decided to follow Christ, but almost daily, a default setting tries to click on.  Cut off in traffic, paper cut, frustration with kids or spouse, any of those can cause us to revert, and sometimes it just happens with no provocation at all.  Once again, Paul, a Super Hero of faith, tells us about his own battle: “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Galatians 5:  and again in Romans 7:15, “I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”  If this guy had problems with his settings, what chance do I stand?

Even for those living under the grace-filled blood of Christ, it is a daily battle, I’ll be honest.  But, it is a battle we are prepared for, and can participate in victoriously.  We must live a life guided by the Holy Spirit, so that every choice, action, word spoken or decision will not fall back on the old sinful nature,  Sure it’s tough, I hardly have to tell you that, but we have the supernatural power of Christ living within us, even when the default settings kick in. “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” Galatians 5:16. Exchange those old settings, for these: “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

 To sum it up, I refer to Paul, again: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Galatians 5:24-25.  Remember, we’re not in this alone, and default settings no longer have to control us!

Friday, March 13, 2015

You Want Me to do What??

You Want Me to Do What?  As kids, my Mom always came up with chores for us to do.  Some were easy, others took time, effort and skill to accomplish.  One of the tasks I remember hating was ironing the organdy curtains and damask tablecloths.  Mom wanted them done right, and that took skill.  No spray starch, no easy care fabric, those babies were 100% cotton, and awkward to handle.  Ugh.  They always got done, but I dreaded the day when they went into the wash again.  I’m sure you have your own stories to tell regarding undesirable jobs, who doesn’t?  As bad as that task seemed to me then, I wouldn’t  have switched positions with some of the people God called into service.  Sit back, relax and be glad you weren’t saddled with these jobs.

Noah.  This poor guy was sitting around, minding his own business, and staying out of trouble, when God gave him the nod.  This guy was perfect for the project he had in mind.  "Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. "This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. "You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.…”  Genesis 6:15-16.  Noah wasn’t a carpenter, he didn’t know a cubit from a “what’s it”, and where the heck do you buy gopher wood???  Can you imagine what Mrs. Noah had to say about this?  An ark, in my backyard, no way!!!  His neighbors had a hay-day with him, and even more so when the animals marched in.  Sad to say, you and I most likely would have been on the scoffing team.  But,  he persevered.  This noble man didn’t scrimp and buy cheap material, nor did he change the blueprint to make it smaller and easier.  He never asked why, which certainly would have been justified, instead Noah, who knew the rest of the story, did everything just as God commanded him. We know how that story ended for the outsiders, but Noah’s obedience was rewarded.

Abraham.  Wow, God gave this fellow a ton of chores, and plenty of reasons to ask, “You want me to do what?”  You want me to leave home?   “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  Genesis 12:1.
You want me to take the bad ground?  You want me to cut off what with a semi-sharp stone?  “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised” Genesis 17.  The guy was 99 years old for pity sake, but he did it, and was blessed.  Then the ultimate task was ordered;  “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2.  I’m afraid I would have broken down and asked at that point, but Abraham trusted God implicitly.  We all know how that turned out, and should be thankful for Uncle Abe’s faithfulness.

Moses, Enoch, Abel, Isaac, Judah, Joseph, Mary, John the Baptist, the Bible tells us about the supernatural faith that these folks possessed. Why?  Because it is available to everyone of us.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1.  Do yourself a favor and read this chapter in Hebrews if you are unfamiliar with it, and re-read it if you aren’t.  I like to call it the Roll Call of the faithful.  These ordinary people, who because of their deep-rooted faith, were able to accomplish the extraordinary.  Did you get that, God wants to take our ORDINARY, and make it His EXTRAORDINARY.  I’m all over that!!  Has he asked me to iron his curtains?  Yes, in a way.  He’s approached me about doing things I didn’t think I could do, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve asked him why.  But, every time, he’s taken my inability and transformed it into an amazing ability.  Do I still ask, “you want me to do what?”, sure,  but now I complete it like this, “with my faith and your power, let’s do it!!”  Jesus looked at them intently and said, "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God."  Mark 10:27.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I Want to See!

I Want to See!

After the subzero temperatures, and heavy snow we’ve had this winter, it’s a joy to see it melting, and the ground reappearing.  But, there is a downside to the warmer weather, FOG.  Any combination of cold ground and warm air, and vice versa, makes for a dense and dangerous condition.  While driving home last evening, neither my husband, nor I, could see the turn-off to our house. The usual landmarks were there, but shrouded, rendering us “blind“.  It was frightening not knowing where we were, even in familiar surroundings. This morning was no better.  Luckily, when the sun appears, the fog vanishes, and sight is restored.

 This scary experience got me thinking about what it would be like to be blind all the time. Those who are blind from birth, seem to handle their disability easier, since they’ve never known the joy of vision. On the other hand, those who, because of disease or accident lose their sight, know what they are missing, and that‘s difficult to accept.  The Bible refers to the word blind, 91 times.  Unlike leprosy, one was not considered unclean, but the disability held its fair share of side-effects.   People always wondered what sin you had committed, or what evil your parents had been involved with. Blindness was a curse, and was always linked to God’s punishment.

 We read about Bartimaeus, such a person,  in the 10th chapter of Mark. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.  But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”  So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.  “My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”  And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

It’s obvious that old Bart may have been many things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. He must have heard about Jesus, and believed in the healings associated with his ministry.   There was a large crowd following Jesus, sighted people, who kept telling the blind man to back off.  But he didn’t, in fact, in desperation, he yelled all the louder . The story tells us that he was so convinced that he could be healed, that when Jesus called him over, he cast off his coat and left it behind.  I always think it’s humorous that, Jesus asks him what he wants him to do for him.  Well, duh, it’s obvious to everyone else what his problem is, so why does Jesus ask?  Jesus knows exactly what this man needs, but he wants to hear it from his lips, and Bart tells him, “I want to see!”  Those words always give me goose bumps.

We don’t know how many blind people were healed by Jesus,  and that doesn’t matter, the thing to remember is, you can’t appreciate sight, unless you’ve been blind. We must remember that all of us were, and some still are as blind as Bart. One day, when we in desperate need, approach him, he will ask each of us that same question, “What do you want me to do for you?”  He knows that we’re blind, but he needs us to acknowledge our predicament, and our answer confirms the diagnosis.   We can continue to grope our way through the fog of life, or call out to God and let the Son’s light clear away our blindness. When he asks what you want him to do for you,  answer “I want to see!”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Developing Thicker Skin:Not Easily Offended

Not Easily Offended.

  Part of our human nature is the ability to feel, I don’t mean just in the physical sense, but emotionally.  Happy, sad, excited, and depressed to name a few.  Today, let’s look beyond those, and concentrate on what our reactions are when someone irritates, annoys or ridicules us?  It’s not easy, but knowing how we, as Christians, should respond is a vital part of spiritual maturity.

 Think of someone you know, who is so emotionally fragile, that they must to be treated with kid gloves.  There's that person who comes right to mind, am I correct?  The one that popped into my head is a fellow Christian who takes offense at the most minor infractions. In fact, they told me that 30% of their time is spent being annoyed.  Can you imagine confessing to that?   Every time they’re around my 2 second brain-to-tongue delay turns on.  It’s my hope that before any “offensive” words are spoken, my brain will send the cancel notice to my tongue.   Talk about walking on egg shells! You never know what they’ll consider an offense, so spending time with them is nothing short of a crunchy, nerve-wracking roller coaster ride.

 No one wants to hang around with people like that, and no one is drawn to Christ by that kind of behavior. Jesus was familiar with being offended.  He was belittled by his peers; “Then they scoffed, ‘He's just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ “ Mark 6:3.  He could have felt sorry for himself, but instead he told them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”  His own disciples must have offended him with their doubts and accusations, but he used the time to build and encourage them rather than mope.

In addition to these spiritual wounds, we’re acutely aware of the physical offences he endured.  “Easy for him”, you might say,  “he could blow them off ,because he was God“. But, remember he was also a human man, with human feelings. “ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.”  Hebrews 4:15.  His response to offense should be ours.  “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; “ Luke 6:29.  Even on the cross, the greatest offense that he endured, he uttered this; "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34.

 Impossible? Without his help, yes!  Take a look at yourself closely.  Are you covered with spiritual Band-Aids?  Do you wear your emotional-offense bruises like badges of honor?  Jesus wants to thicken your skin, to add insulating layers that will  protect you from the offences that are sure to come your way.  Are you ready to tear off those Band-aids and toughen up?  Together, with Him, we can, and must let go of offense. “"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great;” Matthew 5:11.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's a Miracle!

It’s A Miracle!!  This phrase is used quite frequently, but not always in the true sense of the words.  If I were to describe a miracle I guess the best way to do it was to say it was the place in time when God steps into, and causes a change in our human experience.  The secular Dictionary.com puts it like this; an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.  Man’s way of doing, and thinking goes only so far.  That which goes beyond human comprehension is labeled a miracle.

Some people aren’t comfortable with miracles, even some Christians, because they don’t trust what they can’t understand.  Through the centuries, religious folks have tried to figure God and his ways out. Years ago I attended a group that wanted to begin a Bible study.  The woman in charge, told us she didn’t know much about the Bible, so she would show us a video lesson. Fine with me, but I was to be proved wrong.  The celluloid professor began with the story of Moses, and his experience at the Red Sea.  I figured everyone was on board with this miracle, heck Charlton Heston had filmed it for posterity.  As the discussion continued, the teacher pointed to a map and boldly stated that everyone knew that Moses hadn’t gone through a parted Red Sea, oh no, he had in fact crossed a dried up REED Sea. Parting of a large body of water was, and is, humanly impossible they pointed out. At his point  I was about to rend my clothes, and I turned around to see the reaction of the other group members. They, and the woman in charge, were all nodding lamely in agreement. I decided this was not the group for me. It’s a miracle that this church is still in operation!

Is this story hard to swallow?  Certainly, with our limited human comprehension, but not when we put God in charge.  Those doubters, and unbelievers, could have saved themselves a lot of time, and aggravation, by referring back to God’s word.  "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”  Isaiah 55:8.  Through the years, and my own attempts at trying to figure God out, this verse finally made sense, and it didn‘t make me feel brain-dead either!  Let’s face it, God is bigger, smarter and infinitely more capable of pulling off an impossible display like this one.  Miracles can only be manifested once we acknowledge we can‘t figure everything out by ourselves.  That in no way brands us as ignorant, but it is a declaration of faith.  Get over yourself, God is bigger than all of us combined will ever hope to be.  I, for one, feel very secure with that, and you should too.

 The problem with trying to figure out miracles is that we assign lame human explanations to interpret supernatural occurrences.  It can’t be done!  And my question is, where do you stop?  Was there a Noah and an Ark?  Where Adam and Eve inhabitants of the Garden?  Did Jesus feed the multitudes with a few fish and barley loaves, or did the people open up their baskets and share?  What about Jonah, was he in a fish or on a raft? How about the virgin birth, and the resurrection?  We can go on and on, but when we dumb down one miracle, the rest fall like dominoes, and God is reduced to a magician, at best.

The Bible details almost 100 miracles, and every one is humanly impossible.  The prophet Jeremiah told us this, "Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”  And Jesus confirmed it in his own words by stating, “…. "The things that are impossible for people to do are possible for God to do." Luke 18:27.  Why even Albert Einstein said that there were only two ways to live; believing nothing is a miracle or believing everything is. God is in the Miracle-working business, and whether your need is a healing, emotional or  spiritual desire, even something as mundane as monetary, He longs to do what he does best.  Do you still have doubts?  No problem, that means you’re almost ready to give up your plans, and turn them over to Him.  Today, trust, let go and wait for your miracle!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's in Your Fillin'?

What’s in Your Fillin’?

 On any cold winter day, you can find my husband in his La-Z-Boy watching the western channel.  While they’re not my favorite shows, unless it’s Gunsmoke, every so often some small clip proves to be priceless.  Such was the case this week.  As I was about to punch in HGTV, I paused for a second, and was rewarded with this scene.  Don your black and white goggles, and imagine four dusty cowboys lazing on the steps of the local mercantile.  The cattle drive is over and it’s time to kick back.  As they contentedly talk, and chaw on their “tabaccy“, out of the store step two pretty young women dressed in brand new blue jeans.  I’m guessing this was set in the late 1800’s, and women seldom wore denim in any form, and never pants!!  The whistling told them that they had the men’s attention, unwanted as it was, so one of the indignant gals spoke, saying, “What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a woman in pants before?”  Quick as Matt Dillon  in a gunfight, one of the cowpokes replies, “Shur we have, but it’s not so much the crust that makes the pie, it’s the fillin’.”  See, is that not priceless?  You know I had to write it down immediately. That wise cowboy knew that the outward denim wasn’t worth their admiration, but what made those jeans whistle-worthy was what was inside!!

 I may be stretching the fabric a bit on this one, but bear me out.  We can all put on a pretty good Christian crust if we have a mind to.  Going to church, following doctrine, serving on committees and so on, all reflect, at least in outward appearance, that we are good Christians.  As I’ve said before, none of those things are wrong, but they are superficial.  What I’m asking you today, and what God will ask you, one day soon is, “What’s in your fillin’?”  While it’s easy to check things off a spiritual list: church, done; serve as a greeter, check, God is looking for the internal stuff.  “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."  1 Samuel 16:17.  This passage, written down by the prophet Samuel,  describes David, the one chosen and anointed to be King.  He didn’t look royal, but oh was his fillin’ rich!  His exterior may have been soiled, but his heart was fully attuned to God.

 Skip forward several hundred years to when Jesus began his ministry. The nation of Israel was burdened with list keeping, and looking good on the outside.  The Pharisees were the official list/Law enforcers, and Jesus confronted them in all their external “holiness”.  Here in the 23 chapter of Matthew is a small section of that in-your-face teaching.  “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! Matthew 23:25.

Yeah, their crust looked great, but their fillin’ was rotten. So, what is the recipe for good fillin’?  Paul, talking on just this topic to the church in Ephesus, is a great place to start.  “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ…..For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; “  Ephesians 5.  Carefully determine what pleases the Lord, and imitate God, I love those lines.  We need to know God, and his word, intimately, the way he knows us, so that we can truly be filled with what pleases him.  Making a good fillin’ can’t be left to chance.  God has the only authentic recipe, and he wants to create it in us, using his ingredients.  Both you and He will enjoy the results!!!  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jesus is Willing

Jesus is Willing.

 And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. "Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." Matthew 8:2-4.   Most of us are familiar with the account of Jesus healing the leper, but that doesn’t mean we fully understand its significance.

 If you’re not in the middle of anything, leave your 2015 mindset for a bit, and travel back to 30AD with me.  In the ancient world, leprosy was the most terrible of diseases.   Not only was it physically horrific, but the emotional consequences that accompanied it had people calling it the “Living Death“. Depending on the type of leprosy one contracted, the life expectancy, if you could call it life, could be anywhere from 9-30 years.  The physical condition was too horrible to detail, but there was something which made it even worse.  As soon as an individual was diagnosed, they were absolutely and completely banished from human society.  It didn’t  matter if you were, young or old, rich or poor, adult or child, male or female the Law said this:  “he is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean; his infection is on his head. "As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' "He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Leviticus 13:44-46.  At a time when you needed the love and support of family, friends and community you became a pariah, doomed to live forever “outside the camp“.

Only one thing was considered more unclean than contact with a leper, and that was contact with a dead body.  It’s impossible to understand what these people experienced, but we get an idea of the desperation though the leper in this story.  He knew full well that to come close, let alone touch, an unaffected person was forbidden.  But, desperate times called for desperate measures.  He must have heard of Jesus, and about the miracles that were attributed to him, so even though it was against the Law, he approached.

Let’s look at this passage again, more closely.  1.) The leper came near with confidence.  He somehow knew that Jesus could do it, but would he?  2.) He came in humility.  He didn’t demand healing, he politely asked Jesus if he was willing to make him clean.  3.) He came with reverence, bowing before him.  The Greek word that we translate to bowed, is never used for anything other than worship of the gods.  Without telling anyone else, he  knew that he was in the presence of God.

Now, take a look at how Jesus responded…he stretched out HIS hand, and touched HIM.  It doesn’t say that the leper held his hand out, it says Jesus made the move first.  With compassion, he, a Jewish man, who had been raised to follow the Law, reached out physically to the desperate man.  It was not uncommon for Jews, even the rabbis to throw rocks at any leper who came within 4 feet of them, but Jesus touched him. Don’t overlook the enormity of that move.  Forget the healing, for a moment, and concentrate on the human connection in that touch.  What joy must have flooded over him, followed by the realization that the disease had left his body.  Mere words can’t express the emotions in that moment.

You may never have thought about it, but we were all that diseased man, before coming into relationship with Christ.  Our life was lived apart from him, outside God’s camp.  Somewhere along the way we heard about the Savior, and only then did we realize our predicament. In asking for his cleansing touch, we, too, were made whole.   Jesus didn’t come to save the well, but to heal the sick, and that’s still the plan.  And Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:31-32.  Don’t waste another minute living apart from his healing, saving and grace-filled touch.  He is still Willing.