Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Joy.

Last night, after running several errands in town, I stopped by one of our local nursing homes, loaded down with chocolate and some other pretty little things.

Over the months, our church has built a unique relationship with the residents there, through adoptions and visitations and caroling.  But I'd never had much of a chance to visit with anyone personally.

Last night changed that.  And now, I know I'm going to stop back there -- often.

After visiting with the two elderly men our family "adopted" and giving them some chocolate, I wandered into the room next door where two women were watching television.  The one lying on the bed by the far window was not coherent, but the one in the wheelchair by the door could string a few faltering words together. 

I crouched down by her chair and listened to stories of her childhood and all the myriad ways our town has changed since she was in school.  (She also gave me detailed directions on how to prepare chitlins, then when she learned I was from Pennsylvania, sniffed that I was a "northern girl" and "that explained it".  She made me smile.)

I asked everyone the same general questions, "How was your Christmas?  Did you do anything special?  Did you have any family come in and visit you?  What do you find to do around here?  Do you like the food?"

Most of the answers were the same, "I slept.  I watched TV.  I don't have any family left. I didn't do anything special.  There's nothing to do around here.  Sometimes the food's good; sometimes it's bad."  My heart cringed for many of them -- their boredom and hopelessness.  It was a dismal place.

Until I met Willy in room 217.  He was sociable and kind and lively.  When I walked into the room he shared with a gentleman who couldn't speak (but who had completed an impressive stack of daunting crossword puzzles) he immediately offered me a chair and asked me how my Christmas was.

I was a little taken off-guard.  "Oh, it was fabulous!  The first white Christmas we've had in a long time.  How was yours?"

"Oh, sweetie, it was great.  I had a good Christmas.  How are you doing?"

Every time I asked a new question, he either turned it right back to me or came up with questions of his own.  When I gave him a big handful of chocolate, he smiled and thanked me profusely and ate several them as I sat there across from him.  I asked him about the teddy bear on his bed and he told me that the bear's name was George and that he loved stuffed animals and if I ever felt like bringing any more, he'd love to have them.

Hanging on the wall over his bed, I saw a picture of a younger man and woman -- the man bearing a close resemblance to him.  "Is that a picture of you?" I asked.  I could tell his vision was poor, but he knew what I meant and smiled right away.  "That's me and my wife.  She passed away in 2003.  Best woman in the world."

"I bet you miss her terribly.  She looks really sweet."

"Oh, she was -- she was.  If she were still alive, I wouldn't be here in this place."

Then I asked him what he found to do all day, confined to one hall.  "Oh, you get to know people," he said.  "So many people and everybody has something to say.  Usually you can just joke around with people and sit in the cafeteria and watch a show or something.  There's always something if you're really looking."

Wow.  There, in that dark, decrepit, smelly room that was barely 10x10 and shared by two people, I saw a glimmer of true joy.  Willy knew something vital: that it is only in truly reaching out to others that your own troubles are diminished.

And then there were the others:

Beulah, who said she would keep the necklace I gave her as a special keepsake and asked if I could bring crossword puzzles the next time I came (she promised to teach me how to become proficient with them since I complained that they always confused me).

Rita, who, despite being in a wheelchair, was impeccably clothed in pale peach (with an added touch of unique jewelry) and deeply concerned about my travels home, alone, through the dark city.  She added a special caution to me, making me promise that I would be safe in Kenya.

Maryanne, with a surprisingly deep voice and a brightly-colored head scarf that coordinated with her purple sweatsuit, who told me how much she loved chocolate and how much it meant to her that I would sit and talk to all of them.

Joy, Patty, Mary, Bobby, and the little man with the big smile who never gave me his name, but informed me that he only ever ate cheese sandwiches....the list could go on.

I left with promises of magazines and story books, crossword puzzles, cookies, and stuffed toys upon my return.  Some of the elderly folks, I know, won't even remember me by next week -- but I won't forget them any time soon.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kenya.

So....I'm going to Kenya!!  I'm really going!!  If all runs according to plan, I'll leave in mid-February -- and not come back until the end of April.  I've been hesitant to blog about it before because there was a lot going on and I never felt a full release to go until Christmas.  The day after Christmas confirmed it even more.

It's a long story that began on Valentine's Day of this year -- when God first showed me the door and whispered to me about the possibility of opening it.  And now, I'm really going!  I got things finalized with my passport today and now the fun begins!  ....The whole trusting God that He'll make my paths straight thing.  You know, the fund raising.  He's faithful, though.  I'm not worried.  He's brought me this far already.

I'm going to work on writing another book while I'm there too.  I know I'm going to learn so much.

I'm kind of really, incredibly excited....

Kenya!!!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saving Face.

After avoiding most of the people I'm closest to, in a silly attempt to save my own face, I finally went back to the circle I know.  And you know what?  Turns out it wasn't a big deal to anyone but me.  I hadn't done anything wrong, so what did I really have to hide?

I lectured myself the entire past week. "You have no reason to avoid people, so you won't.  And you will tell everyone the truth if they ask."

So I did.  Every free moment I had, during fellowship time and after the sermon, I stood and talked to people.  I was honest with them.  I was open.  I was truly free for the first time in months.  I looked them right in the eye and, if they asked, told them all I needed to say.  It was brief, it was honest, and I was right -- it wasn't a big deal to anyone but me.

Before yesterday, I felt like I'd be straggling into church as half a person -- and everyone would instantly see how deceived and used I was -- and how I was unable to be real with anyone anymore -- and pity me.  Turns out, I was the same person to them.  Stronger, even.  And I could be real.  By magnifying a situation in my mind, I'd let it take control of me.

I wish I'd realized that that weeks ago.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Dirty Glass.

I'm a germophobe.  Not just your ordinary I-hate-being-sick-and-therefore-I-hate-germs germophobe, but I mean a die hard.  Like, really hard.  I'll catch myself holding my breath when I'm in public and I know something is going around.

The other day, I was walking through the grocery store and someone sneezed just as I turned into the aisle.  My response was completely instinctive.  I flung myself about two feet to the right, ducked way below head-level and hurried to the opposite end of the aisle.  Holding my breath, naturally.  Good thing their back was turned.

Hand sanitizer is my Star of Elendil -- my saving grace.  I'm never without a bottle (or two).  When I worked as a counselor at a summer camp, I kept a massive bottle of it on the dresser beside my bunk.  "Feel free to help yourselves anytime," I always told my kids.  And prayed that they would.

And public restrooms?  Don't get me started!  When I leave a public restroom, I feel like burning my shoes.  I'm not kidding.  My feet absolutely crawl; I can almost see the bacteria festering on the underside.  Public restrooms must be the equivalent of Purgatory or something.  Want to torture me?  Lock me in one some time.  And turn off the lights.  You'll get the information you need within five minutes.  (I promise.)

Even the soap feels contaminated.  I wash my hands in scalding hot water, use my jeans as a towel if there are only hot-air dryers available (bacteria breeding ground, much?) and then either wait until someone else leaves (or enters) the restroom and will open the door for me, or (if I don't have an amused crowd of onlookers) I'll perform one of my greatest acrobatic maneuvers of all time.  It's called something like the, "Jenn-strrrretches-and-opens-the-door-with-the-back-of-one-flip-flop-while-trying-to-maintain-her-equilibrium-by-hopping-erratically-about-on-the-other-foot" move.  (I think the Olympics has an official category for that.  Just saying.)

I worry about food poisoning too.  Not that I've ever had it, mind you.  I just worry about it.  So much, in fact, that when dishes come out of the dishwasher with residual crud on them, I feel sure that if I unwittingly eat something out of a contaminated bowl, I'll be among the unfortunate 9,000 or so people who die annually from food-related illnesses.  (Yes, I know these elusive facts.)

So, this evening, I was unloading the dishwasher in search of the perfect cereal bowl to use for my late-night Cheerios indulgence.  I tend to be a little particular about which bowls and spoons and plates and -- yeah, you get the idea.  So, when I did find the perfect bowl, I turned it over only to find some of the aforementioned residual crud.  FOODPOISONINGALERT!

I went over to the sink and began to diligently scrub away at it (it was a teensy, crusty spot along the rim, but hey....), using plenty of soap and hot water.  As I scrubbed, I reflected on how many times crusty or smudges dishes had sent me to the sink with soap and hot water.  And then I remembered drinking glasses.

I have this thing about drinking glasses.  Every time I pull one out of the cupboard, I never fill it immediately with water.  I first hold it up to the light and rotate it slowly, checking for residual crud.  As I washed my bowl, I realized that, without even thinking about it, when someone else asked me to grab a drink for them (except under very rare circumstances) I almost never checked their glasses for crud.

Not a huge deal, I suppose.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how little that makes sense.  Other people may not be as obsessed about food poisoning as I am, but that doesn't mean they want to drink out of dirty glasses either.  If we honored the preferences of others even half as much as we honored our own (little things: like, remembering which spoon is our favorite; washing our drinking glasses before filling them; leaving off the Cool-Whip or serving our steak well-done) we'd be living in a different world.

"Do to others as you would have them do to you."  The command seems so simple.  And yet, it's not! Big sacrifices are sometimes just easier to make.  Besides the fact that everybody notices and you get to feel generally heroic for giving up your rights, they're also pretty cut-and-dry!  Small sacrifices?  Not so much.  A life of "doing to others" demands a consistent, sometimes excruciating death to self.  And that's not easy!

Do you do unto others?

(There should be a bumper sticker that says that.)

(It's catchy.)

(Kind of.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas.

I remember this day a year ago.  I sat in almost the same spot, looking at the tree and at the wrapping paper strewn across the floor.  As I sat there, I remembered how quickly a year could come and go and wondered what I'd be thinking as I sat in the same place a year from then.  Well, now I know.  It's not what I expected to be thinking -- and I'm not who I expected I would be -- but the Lord is gracious.  And I am thankful.

A year has changed me.  How has this year changed you?  For the better?  Worse?  Are you more confused now than you were last year at this time?  Have you grown in your relationship with Christ?  Do you have a better understanding of the fruits of Spirit and how they apply in your life?  There's so much to learn and so little time in which to exercise it.  A year is gone so quickly.

This is my favorite passage to ponder at Christmastime.  From 1 Timothy 3:16.

"Beyond all question, 
the mystery of godliness is great:
   He appeared in a body,
      was vindicated by the Spirit,
   was seen by angels,
      was preached among the nations,
   was believed on in the world,
      was taken up in glory."


In a nutshell, this is why we celebrate.  Have a very Merry Christmas, you guys.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Broken.


Are you like me?  I often make impulsive decisions, based on emotions and the people around me.  Earlier today, I was thinking of that verse from the end of Galatians that says, "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load."

I haven't always done that this year.  I've inflicted hurt on myself and others because because I failed to test my own actions.  Failed to carry my own load.  (In fact, often, I carried someone else's unnecessarily.)  It's left me broken.  But I suppose brokenness is a good place for new beginnings....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oops.

I'm not even close to being done with my Christmas shopping.  And Christmas is in 1, 2, 3....4 days?  Not possible.  I remember feeling proud in September when I knocked the first few items off my list.  Obviously, that wasn't a trend.

Despite the snow, someone needs to take a shopping trip.  Soon.  I felt pro-active when I ordered something online a few days ago -- until I realized how long shipping takes.  Maybe it will be here before the new year?

A couple days ago, I heard myself starting into the, "Christmas isn't about gift-giving anyway" rant, but I think it was just to make myself feel better.  I think we all know the true meaning of Christmas, but the fact remains: gift-giving is a neat tradition -- and it's more blessed to give than to receive.  The gift doesn't need to be costly or phenomenal, but it should be thoughtful and individualized.  (Granted, it's fine to buy your coworkers the same soy candle, but maybe your family would prefer something more suited to their individual tastes.)

It's neat: the better you know someone, the more thoughtful you can be with the gift.  Just because all my shopping is going to be last-minute, doesn't mean I need to sacrifice the personal touch.

I don't know.  Am I alone?  Does anyone else have shopping left to do?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not Finished Yet.

Last week, I got a phone call from a good friend of mine.  Her great aunt was in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt. She was doing poorly—and she didn’t know Christ.

"I want to visit her and tell her about Jesus," Hannah told me.  I encouraged her and prayed with her, figuring that would be my only part in the matter.  I told her to call me back to let me know how the visit went, but instead, when I heard from her several days later, she asked  if I would also go along to help share the Lord with the family.

So, I just got back from Washington, DC.  It's a good thing the trip was last-minute and I didn’t know many of the details before we left.  Two and a half hours into the trip, Hannah told me the family was devoutly Buddhist.  And I was floored.  I didn't know anything about Buddhism—I was nervous enough about sharing the gospel with unbelievers....but Buddhists?

I watched the highway disappear under the car, mentally bracing myself for the fact that we were on our way—we weren't turning around—and we were going to share Christ with the family no matter what.  Buddhists.

Then, as if the Buddhism factor wasn’t enough, about 15 minutes from our destination, Hannah told me that her great aunt didn't speak or understand English. Her uncle and cousin (who were looking after her great aunt) spoke Vietnamese as well, but were also (thankfully) fluent in English.  "I'll translate for you if you need it," she promised.

Now I was really in a state of semi-panic.  Buddhists that only spoke Vietnamese?  What was I even here for?  I stared blankly through rain-streamed windows as the countryside fled past.  What am I going to do?

“One thing you’ll notice about my uncle and his family is that they’re so rich—they have everything they need—they don’t think they need Christ,” Hannah said as we pulled up to their brick and pillared mansion.

Her uncle came to the door and let us in without a smile.  We took off our shoes, dropped our luggage in a corner of the massive kitchen and looked around.  Her uncle pointed to the sofa in the livingroom—the one with its back to us.  Of course.  Her great aunt wanted to see us.  We greeted her enthusiastically and she immediately asked Hannah to help her take her medicine in the other room.

So, in less than five minutes, I found myself alone in the livingroom with her rather-imposing, rather-Buddhist uncle.

First, “How do you know Hannah?” Easy enough. “Church,” I said.  We looked at each other awkwardly before the phone rang and he went to answer it.  I stared around at the 10-plus Buddhas I could see from my vantage point on the couch.  My heart sank.  This wasn’t going so well.

By the time he came back, I’d lectured myself sufficiently and the conversation wasn’t quite so stilted, but it was far from comfortable.  He still scared me to death.  I knew right then and there I’d never be able to share Christ with this rich man who was clearly self-satisfied with his life, his accomplishments and his beliefs.

After a grand tour of the house, Hannah suggested that we give her aunt a massage.  I could read the message in her eyes.  In the seclusion of her aunt’s bedroom, Hannah pulled out her Vietnamese Bible.  I prayed silently as Hannah read and shared Christ with her aunt.  Tears sprang into my eyes as I listened to Psalm 139 in another language.
  
Her great aunt fell asleep at some point.  Hannah and I looked at each other over her head, feeling defeated.  “How about your uncle?” I asked.  “Will he listen if I try to talk to him?”  She looked hesitant.  “I think so,” she finally said.  “I can’t be the one to do it, though.  In Vietnam, younger people never speak to their elders about things like that.  I don’t know if he’ll be angry or not.”

As her great aunt snored and we massaged her bony, wrinkled arms, we whispered about our plan of attack.  I had a massive list of questions about Buddhism, some of which Hannah knew the answers to, but most of which, we just guessed at.  Looking at the wall covered with her uncle’s awards and certificates, a lump formed in my throat.  To ignore a conviction was sin.  And I was convicted to speak to Uncle Hung—somehow.  Lord, give me strength, I prayed.  I still didn’t think I could do it.

I think that afternoon was the longest of my entire life.  When Hannah’s great aunt woke up, we helped her out to the livingroom sofa and massaged her back.  Hannah read the Bible again, keeping it tucked into her lap so as not to rouse her uncle’s anger.  I also held my Bible on my lap, partially covered by my prayer journal, and continued finding passages for Hannah between silently praying and journaling.

As I listened to the truth spoken in a tongue I didn’t understand, I desperately begged the Lord to open this poor woman’s ears and breathe hope into her hopeless soul.

Over and over her great aunt said, “I feel like such a burden.  I just want to die.  I wanted to get better, but now I know I won’t, so instead I want to die, then I won’t be a burden.”  It broke my heart.

After dinner, Hannah and I cleaned up the kitchen, then went back to sit with her great aunt.  Her uncle was again absorbed with work in his office—the French doors faced out into the livingroom and we felt like we were in a hostile fishbowl.  We’re leaving tomorrow, I thought.  I have to do something—tonight.  But how?

Finally, her uncle came in with a camera and snapped a picture of the three of us on the sofa together.  As he walked past me, back to his office, I said, “Um, excuse me.”  He said, “Yes?”  I said, “That picture—right there on the wall.  What do the words mean?”

He turned and studied it for a moment, then replied, “It says, ‘Breathe, my child’.”

“What does that mean?”

“Breathing is a big part of meditation—that’s what we have to do when we meditate: forget everything except for breathing in and breathing out.”

“Really?  What’s the purpose of that?” I asked.  “Like, what are you meditating for?”

He obliged and the conversation grew.  Eventually, he seated himself on the floor, beneath the picture and set the camera beside him.  The minutes ticked on.
  
“So,” I continued, “just saying there is a little Buddha inside of me and I never acknowledge it, what’s going to happen to me?  Do I go to hell?”

Uncle Hung winced slightly.  “Well, I think there are other options for you.  You will be reincarnated as something less desirable, for instance.  But you get nine chances.”

“And then what?” I asked.  “What if I still never acknowledge Buddha?  Or—what about all the people who never realize they have a little Buddha inside them: what’s going to happen to them?”
  
“I don’t think the past or future is worth discussing,” he replied.  “The present is the only thing that matters.  That and your personal happiness and peace.”

“But see, I guess I want to believe something that answers my big questions,” I said.  “I want to know where I came from, who put me here, what they want from me…and where I’m going.  It just seems like Buddhism isn’t answering those questions.  I don’t think I could have true peace and happiness unless I had more security.  I mean, you believe Buddha was a good man—well, so was Jesus, right?—so was Mohammed.  What sets Buddha apart?  What makes Buddhism more appealing to you?  Why choose it over the other religions?

“I know all religions require a certain degree of faith since there’s no way to prove everything, but Christianity at least answers more of my questions than Islam or Buddhism.  Such as the question of where I came from.  I mean, it makes more sense to me to know that an all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful God created this world and placed me in it for His glory—than that I’m just floating around, trying to do good things and hoping that the little Buddha inside me will think it’s good enough to let me achieve humanity again.”  Can Buddhism answer those four questions?”

I could see the thoughts swimming behind his eyes.  I tucked my shaking hands further under the pillow that I clutched to my stomach.

“Well,” he said.  “Maybe not those questions necessarily.  But they’re not the important questions.  “Are you a good person?” is the most important question.”

“But who gets to say what’s right and what’s wrong?”

“The Buddha inside you will tell you.”

“Who gives him permission to say what is right and what is wrong?  Wasn’t he a human just like us?”

“But he was the person who did the most good.”

“So if I do a lot of good, does that mean I can be like Buddha some day?  Will I get to say what’s right and what’s wrong then?”

“Well, perhaps it is possible, but the only people who really have enough time to become so good are the priests, I think.”

It went back and forth.  But at one point, I had the perfect and unforeseen opportunity to present the gospel—from a completely objective standpoint: “I….guess it just makes sense to me that I was given the will to disobey God, and that when I did, I faced the fatal consequences of my sin (because the cost of sin is death).  I brought it on myself. But God gave me a second chance: He had mercy and sent His only Son to be the sacrifice for my sin—to pay the penalty for me—so that I don’t have to die—you know, I don’t have to go to hell—and I can have eternal life.

“He died so that I don’t have to.  In the Bible, God tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We all fall short, but He has promised salvation if we repent of our sins and confess Him as Lord.  I guess it just seems like Christianity has a good answer for those hard questions.”

When I finished, Uncle Hung studied my face carefully for several seconds before finally replying, “All I can say is that right now, all that matters is your own peace and happiness.  If you are happy by living a good life, you don’t have to worry about the future.”

“But….what if you’re wrong?” I asked.  “What if you’re wrong and you die?”

He was silent for a long time, reflecting.  “I don’t know if that’s something I can think about right now,” he finally said.

That night, as I lay awake beside the bed of Hannah’s great aunt, listening to her talk and moan in Vietnamese, I thanked the Lord for taking my weakness and inability and fear, and using it—despite me— for His glory.  I thanked Him for Hannah’s heart and for the burden she’d been given for her extended family.  I prayed that the seed would continue to grow in their hearts—and that it might eventually yield a good harvest.

The next afternoon, as we packed our suitcases and made our last round of farewells, Uncle Hung approached me and said, “Thank you for the discussion.  It was very interesting.  It gave me a lot to think about it, so thank you.”

“No, thank you,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Come back anytime,” he added.

When Hannah and I pulled out of their driveway and drove four hours home through the streaming rain, the dread was gone.  Only hope remained.  The Lord wasn’t through with this family.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow.

I remember the last time it really snowed.  It was almost an entire year ago.  And I slept outside on the porch.  It was after 5 AM by the time I finally turned in -- I called one friend to say "goodnight" and another, to say "good morning".  Those simple phone calls marked the end of an era -- and the beginning of a new one.  I don't really like to think about it.  So much has changed in one year.

It wasn't just a blizzard that night -- it was an ice storm, too.  There is nothing like turning out all the lights in the house while it's still dark, and snuggling down into a sleeping bag on an upstairs porch....seeing the light reflect through ice all over the trees -- and have sleet and snow sifting down as you're falling asleep.

I woke up with my sleeping bag crusted with ice....and little icicles in any exposed part of my hair.  I don't think  there's any replacement for that experience.  The wind was blowing: full of fog and mist and freezing rain....and the ice was rattling down out of the trees and crashing on the gravel driveway and the frozen grass.  Even my cell phone screen was fogged up with condensation.

It was beautiful.

And now, that year is over -- so quickly.  So tragically.  The snow began falling yesterday afternoon -- and it's been falling steadily ever since.  But I don't think I'm going to sleep out on the porch tonight.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pro-Life.

I've always considered myself to be pro-life.  I mean, I'm pretty sure I am.  If you followed me through my week, you'd probably agree.  I spend several days a week counseling young women in crisis pregnancy situations.  I believe in the sanctity of life -- that anything created in the image of God is worth defending.  And, as much as is possible, I speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves.  Pro-life, right?

But a few days ago, I realized I wasn't very pro-life at all.

What on earth am I talking about?  Well first, what exactly does it mean to be pro-life anyway?  In my limited estimation, "pro-life" meant, "Any stand taken against abortion (and abortion only)".  The term used to evoke images of special interest groups, campaigns, protests against abortion, and crisis counseling for young, unwed mothers.  Ultimately, I thought it meant making a commitment to help others choose the gift of life.

But I've come to realize that being "pro-life" is more than merely acting as an advocate for the unborn.  It's a worldview.  It's a lifestyle.  Jesus told us that He came to give life -- more abundantly.  He demonstrated that very fact when He gave Himself up for us on the cross and took the death penalty for our sins upon Himself -- so that we could live forever.  Has there ever been a greater pro-life act in the history of the world?

Because of God's ultimate sacrifice, we are also called to be pro-life in every area of life, not just in the most obvious sense of defending the rights of the unborn. 

How does that work?  It means building people up by speaking life-giving words instead of tearing them down with discouragement, anger, and manipulation -- all life-taking actions.

Gail Dillinger of LIFE International says, "How can we deliver a life-giving message to a [young woman in need] and at the same time express a life-taking message towards [others]?"  She continues, "Whether we realize it or not, when we wake every morning, we decide which side to be on in the cosmic battle between life-givers and life-takers.  We reveal our choice through our language and actions, beginning with the first person we speak to and proceeding through the rest of the day.  When we interact with our family members, friends, co-workers, and enemies, do our words and actions increase life or diminish life?"

When I leave the center, my work is over.  I've made my contribution to the pro-life movement.  But my family? I live with them every day -- and they get all the leftover yuckiness: criticism, complaints, and my largely divided attention.  Life-taking.  I'm tearing them down.  De-valuing them.  And something's wrong with that picture.

James 3:9-10 says, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be."

Sin is death.  Are your words and actions life-giving or life-taking?

Maybe we're not as pro-life as we think.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Enforced.

The other day, I was driving home from work when I saw flashing lights in the oncoming lane.  Instinctively, I checked my speedometer. Nope, couldn't be me.  Whew.  As I watched in my rear view mirror, a truck in the opposite lane made its way onto the shoulder, an unmarked car sliding in behind it.

Ooh, I hate those unmarked cars.  As a rule, I'm pretty strict about following the speed limit, but that doesn't keep my heart from skipping a beat when I see those lights (especially because those few times I've been late....yeah).  To be on the safe side, I employ the use of cruise whenever possible, but traffic around here is unpredictable -- it's not always an option.

I love getting stuck behind a car that's going the speed limit.  Really.  Once I've followed them for a while to ensure that they're being careful and consistent, I only need to maintain the proper amount of distance between my car and theirs, before zoning off into my own thoughts.  My only responsibility is to make sure that I don't end up tailgating them.  Simple, really.  Kind of like an external version of cruise.

But then I have a problem.  When I'm not behind a car that's dutifully traveling along at the speed limit (and I can't use cruise), I have to be on my guard.  Which means watching for speed limit signs, those flashing school zone lights, and those annoying things that switch between red and green and yellow at intersections.  Stuff that I just might be out of practice for.

How about you?  Are you a good driver -- or do you depend on the conformity of others to ensure your own adherence to the law?

As with driving under controlled circumstances, growing up as a "good Christian kid" in a "good Christian family" has its own special insurance policy.  It's likely that you won't end up in a variety of messes, just by default.  But when the big test comes -- when those familiar safeguards are removed -- how do you respond?

That's when you figure out if your convictions are your own, or if they were merely gained by assimilation.  I posted earlier about "accidental virginity" -- a few thoughts by Gabriel and Becka Anast.  I think Becka's comment in particular, applies here.

Becka says, "A few weeks after I married Gabe, he told me something funny. He said one of the things he most valued about me was that I wasn’t an “accidental” virgin. He said he had met conservative home schooled youth from a dozen families who were virgins just by happenstance. They hadn't personally made a choice to be pure. The parents had made that choice for them - which is good - but the kids had never made that choice for themselves.  He said there was no telling how many of them would have given away their virginity if they had been placed in new circumstances and allowed to do whatever they pleased.

"Have you made a choice yet? Are you doing as much as you can get away with in the confines of your parents' ruling, or are you personally walking after the Spirit of God? Do your convictions change with the crowd you're in, or do you know who you are?"

Have you made a commitment to do the right thing, regardless of the people around you?  Or are you hanging around hoping the safeguards won't be removed, that you won't eventually be forced to compromise?  Life is too short to hope or make guesses.

Driving is more than just avoiding a ticket.  It's about making a conscious decision to be safe and obey the law -- on your own -- regardless of the circumstances, people, pressure, convenience, feelings.  Then, when you see flashing lights, there'll be no reason for your heart to ever skip a beat.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Marriage: A Business Transaction.

Are you in love?  Unfortunately, heightened emotions can cloud your better judgment and lead to poor decision-making and lots of heartache on the flip side of things.  Is your guy really who he says he is?  How can you be sure?

There's no real litmus test for determining whether your suitor is really all he appears to be.  I find it humorous (and vaguely disturbing) the number of Google searches that are made by anxious girlfriends, in an attempt to discover if their boyfriend is the Antichrist.  I mean, really.  If you think you're dating the Antichrist, that just might be a red flag.  Run -- okay?

In all seriousness, however, you need to know who your guy is.  And you can't just figure that out by asking the people who love him most.  However nice their complements, they're biased.  Bear in mind that if you meet him at school or college or work, he's out of context.  If at all possible, view his behavior around the people he's most familiar with.  Is he demanding?  Lazy?  Disrespectful?  Manipulative?  How do these people respond to him (and his behavior) in return?  Are they guarded?  Stressed?  Surprised (that he's so nice)?  Sarcastic?  Foul-mouthed?  It could be that he easily accepts these things (or returns the favor) when he's not in your presence.

What kinds of things does he rationalize?  His choice of reading materials?  Recreation?  Distasteful humor?  Friends?  Use of money?  Language?  Time management?  If he's rationalizing the grey areas now, it's only bound to get worse.

Committing to a lasting relationship is a big decision -- even for the best of us.  And you deserve to be informed.  Like a good friend of mine said, "Marriage is a business transaction.  All the mushy-gushy stuff is nice, but it's not important.  It's a business deal, plain and simple.  You need to know if you want to buy what they're selling and live with it, 'cause it's not going to change.  In fact, it's only going to get worse!"
   
When you buy a used car, one of the first questions you want to ask is if it's been in a wreck -- but why?  Because it's going to affect your life as its driver!  It might cause you a lot of grief and stress in the future.  So find out: what are they trying to hide and why?  Is there serious damage?  Baggage?  I'm not saying whether these things can be dealt with and reconciled or not (that's for another post).  I'm just saying, don't be afraid to ask questions.  Don't be afraid to poke around.  It's your life -- and you should know who you're going to have to spend it with.

Still, it's all very confusing.  What can be done?  A few things, maybe.  But two things, for sure:
  • First, hear the advice of those who love you (and who are also emotionally detached from the situation).  I think there's a quote about that.  "Hear the advice of those who love you, though you may not like it at present."  Or something like that.  It's a valuable tip.  There's a lot you can't see in the haze of feel-good-iness.  Trust the ones who love you most.

  • Second, pray every single day that the Lord will only let you be attracted to evidence of His Spirit in your guy's heart.  It's a prayer I've not forgotten to pray -- and it's a prayer I'll continue to pray.  If your guy is a true and Godly man, the attraction will follow.  In the meantime, don't be swayed by appearances or by smooth words.  Those things aren't going to last.  Character will.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Number My Days.


Hard to believe it's December already.  I had high hopes for this year -- I really did.  I wanted to start running consistently.  (I've been out here and there, but mostly in the warm weather.)  I wanted to go without sugar, wheat, red meats, and dairy for an entire year.  (I only made it for three months.)  I wanted to finish writing another book.  (I barely scraped together a few chapters.)  I wanted to study my Bible for at least an hour every morning.  (There are still some days I don't study at all.)

The worst of all these things?  I could have succeeded in doing those things.  I wasted a lot of time on fruitless pursuits this year.  I had no eternal perspective, whatsoever.  And I made a lot of excuses.

Running:  I had a million reasons to stop -- and happily accepted them all.  Shin splints, foot problems, bad running shoes, no decent track to run on.  Basically, it was hard.  And I wanted out.  Quickly.

The diet excuses weren't as obvious -- or as plentiful.  But do you know how boring it is to eat only steamed vegetables and brown rice and oatmeal day after day after day?  When my starved taste buds begged for the once-yucky taste of liquid chlorophyll, I knew things had gone too far.

Oh -- and I had another really good reason to end the diet: weekend company around the 3-month mark.  I didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable at mealtime.  (How thoughtful and self-sacrificing of me.  I mean, really.  Wouldn't you feel bad to be eating lasagna when your table-mate is eating almonds and spinach?)  So, for their sake (naturally) I ate "people food" for four days and promised myself that when the visit ended, I'd get back on track.

Trust me when I say that after eating pepperoni pizza -- and salad with feta cheese and dried cranberries -- you don't want to eat plain brown rice with broccoli anymore.  So, I didn't.

The writing problem.  For some reason, it's been a struggle to even update my blog this year -- let alone work on another book.  I realized the other day that I spend way more time reading about writing and studying the art of writing than actually writing.  No, really.  You know those writers who get in sloughs of unproductivity?  The ones who read and read and read and then get discouraged because someone else already said it better (first)?  Me.  I'm one of them.  Somehow morphed overnight (or so I'd like to think).

I want next year to be different.  I want to stop being blown about by whims and excuses.  I want to wake up every morning and ask the Lord to teach me to number my days so I can gain a heart of wisdom.

Do you know what that verse really means?  (I think it just hit me in one of those vulnerable "Ah-ha, I-might-have-known-this-all-along-but-didn't-think-it-applied-to-me-yet-for-some-reason" moments.)  "To number your days" means realizing the brevity of life -- the purpose of life -- and living like you believe it.  Living because you believe it.  When you apply your knowledge and abilities for God's ultimate glory, you gain a heart of wisdom.

It's that not-simple.  Because, for one thing, it means no more excuses.

But, sitting here at the end of 2009, I realized how very much I need to pray those words every day of 2010.  And maybe, if I can wrap my heart and head around it, with the Spirit's help, I won't chase after so many vain (and time-consuming) pursuits.  I won't make excuses to avoid self-discipline.  And I'll focus more on bringing glory to God and less on what I want or what I feel.

Being disciplined is rough.  It's discouraging.  Sometimes boring.  Often painful.   But we're called to run as if for the prize -- not run as if we'd take the first excuse to cower back into the sidelines.  Our reward is in Heaven -- not on earth.  So run like you believe it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Makin' a List, Checkin' it Twice


I don't think it's too early to make a list of New Year's resolutions.  I know there's a lot of hype surrounding these lists, which easily warrants the just-tone-it-down-already-would-you comments: ("Oh, you're going to discourage yourself; just do the best you can.").  But I don't buy any of it.  I've always been a big goal-setter and contract-writer.  Many of these said contracts have come close to saving my life.  (Well, slight exaggeration, maybe.  But hey....)

Is it only the choleric perfectionist who falls for these lists?  Perhaps.  (Or maybe it's a sweeping generalization and all the naysayers (i.e., phlegmatics) should come apologize.  Handwritten notes, please.)

I know I tend towards extreme perfectionism in all things--except for the organization of my bedroom.  I refuse to even think about the best way to store my bountiful collection of clothing.  And shoes.  And books.  In fact, my messy room is probably the one area of my life I'm not quite ready to become obsessive-compulsive about.  But I know that this coming year, I must, because ignored conviction is a dangerous thing.  (It's at this point I begin playing, "Painting Pictures of Egypt" by Sara Groves.  Listen to it.  You'll understand.)

So, for now, I have two items on my Resolutions List:

1. Clean my room.
2. Keep it clean.

Sounds like 2010 is going to be a good year.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hurt.

A few days ago, I sat across from a girl with a hurting heart. Her life was in shambles—her innocence, left amidst the wreckage—her spirit, without the strength or motivation to do the next thing.  She’d made some poor choices and found herself violated, rejected, and filled with despair.

After sharing her story, she looked up at me, waiting to hear the verdict—the prescription.  What could I say?

At first, I wanted to take her by the shoulders, look directly into her eyes and say, “How did you not see?  How could you have missed it like that?  How could you have messed up so badly?”

But I’ve made mistakes in my life too.  I’ve lied to myself—covered my eyes with both hands, and blundered off the edge of cliffs that I knew (but didn’t want to believe) existed.  I’ve hurt myself and other people: I’ve failed to forgive both.  I’ve walked into walls that looked like doors.  There are scars on my heart; there are choices that I can no longer live down (I don’t even try—they belong to God now; I gave them to Him).  But the memories are mine for the rest of my life.

I used to be intimidated by the mere thought of sharing my testimony with girls in crisis situations.  (Especially when I worked as a counselor for inner-city youth two summers ago.  So many needy girls: I couldn’t even begin to understand the hurt in some of their hearts—so how could the story of a “good, Christian girl” possibly help them?)  As a kid, I’d been blessed with a Godly heritage, wise and involved parents who nurtured and encouraged me to grow in the knowledge of Christ—and I’d never been saved from such drastic things as drug or alcohol addictions, illicit relationships, or abuse.

Or had I?

As I journaled one evening, I realized that I had, in fact, been saved from all those things.  Before I’d ever endured the pain of living through them.  I haven’t been spared all scars in life, but I’ve been spared most.  My testimony is a glorious one: a true picture of God’s grace.

Sure, I’ve struggled here and there, but there are those who have struggled more.  I’ve been hurt, but others have endured torture.  I’ve encountered heartbreak, but some girls gave everything to men who changed their minds.  For today, I have been spared these things.

A few days ago, I sat across from a girl with a hurting heart.  And instead of condemnation, I took a deep breath and told her the story of grace.  For without it, I’d be in the exact same place.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Crossroads.

Well.  I made my decision.  (Or rather, I suppose the Lord finally chose to reveal the path He would have me take.)  I've sought out advice, listened to counsel, and (hopefully) received instruction.  I've dragged my stubbornness, my anguish, my wayward will before His throne and left it at His feet every morning, every night -- nearly every waking moment these past two weeks.

He spoke.  He spoke through the voices of people who loved me and knew what I was going through.  He spoke through the words of those who had no idea what I was going through, but who had wisdom to share anyway.  He spoke through the books I read.  The Bible I lost myself in.  The prayers that I prayed and the silences I forced myself to endure.  The journal entries I made myself write when all I wanted to do was run (and keep running).  He spoke through tears and disappointments.  Through anguished thoughts and sleepless nights.  He spoke through the decisions of others.  But most importantly, He spoke -- and I finally chose to listen.

So now, everything is in order and I am tired.  Nervous.  Bracing myself.  Not really ready for tomorrow.  I've been asked to do a very hard thing -- to handle a situation I never wanted to face (and certainly never reckoned for) -- but my God will go before me.  And if He is for us, who can be against us?

I don't want it.  I don't want this responsibility.  I don't want to hear myself mouth words that I only mean because I know they're right.  But tomorrow, I will speak those words, I will surrender my will only because, through God's grace, I've finally acknowledged that He will use this situation for good -- for His glory.

His way is always best.

Someone gave me a quote today.  I've read it a lot.  It makes sense -- and I trust the wisdom of it, even though I can't feel it right now.  "God never takes away anything that He doesn't replace with Himself." (Jacquelyn K. Heasley)  My Savior is all -- and "fillest all in all".

Courage to all you who stand at a crossroads.  Choose our Savior -- and His way first -- for even through the valley of the shadow of death, He will lead you.  His right hand will hold you fast.  And in the end, His glory will be your everlasting reward!  Is it worth it?  Yes, yes, and amen!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Masters.


It's a dreary, rainy day, tacked onto the end of a vicious windstorm.  I fell asleep to the sound of the wind rattling the house, shaking the brittle trees -- and the noise of the rain, pounding against the roof, splashing at the windows.  When I looked out the window this morning, the ground was plastered with wet leaves.  The trees are nearly bare.  Winter is coming.  And soon, this year will be over.  I'm ready for the seasons to be made new again.

I've been plodding away, working on several blog posts simultaneously these past few weeks.  (It's a good thing you can't see all the drafts I have, lurking in my "Edit Posts" folder.  It's shameful.)  But I'm feeling so terribly distracted these days.  I meant to publish part two of my previous post today, but I can't stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.

You know how it is when you're faced with a big decision?  It's the only thing you can think about.  It plays over and over in your mind.  You can barely sleep.  When you dream, it's all you dream about.  It's all people ask you about.  It's all God speaks to you about.  And, knowing what you should do, and knowing what you want to do, leaves a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Because soon, you'll have to choose.  "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve...."

And I cringe.  It would be so tantalizingly easy to do the wrong thing.

A friend of mine recently told me that you can't serve two masters -- if you desire something more than you desire God, you end up resenting God.  And oh, how true that is!  So often, over the past few weeks, I've felt myself at the edges of resentment towards God for that very reason -- I'm not willing to give myself (and every area of my life) completely to Him.  Instead, I argue with Him:  "Why did you have to bring this to my attention right now?"  "Why did you have to make me unsettled about this?"  "If things had to end up this way, why couldn't you have revealed it all months ago?"  "How could you let me go so far?"

Humans arguments, I can answer.  I can speak and minds can change.  I can even lie to myself for a time.  But I can't hide or contend with the unsettledness in my heart.  The lack of peace.  When I pray, it's there.  I still don't want to make any decisions.  But I must.

That's where I am right now.  Soon, it'll be over.  The decisions will be finalized and maybe peace will come again, but for now, I'm losing all my focus for daily tasks.  There are things to write -- deadlines to meet -- work to get done -- and I'm stuck here in this slough of turmoil.

In moments like these, it's almost embarrassing to remember that God always comes through -- that He works all things together for good (His good, mind you.  Not always our initial perception of what it is good.  But in time, He makes His good, our good, through His grace).  When I look at my narrow-minded, stubborn, willful self....it's disgusting, the way I've often lost focus.  God already promised to lead me in a straight path if only I trust in Him.  He already promised to give me wisdom if I ask for it.  He already promised to take my cares if I cast them on Him.  So why this doubting?  Why this refusal to surrender my will to His?

Two masters.  I've tried to serve them both, keep them both happy.  And in doing so, I have honored no one.

Dear readers, pray for wisdom every day.  And when you feel that nudge at your heart, that twinge of conscience, that unsettledness in your spirit....listen.  Life is too short to serve two masters.  Decide where your allegiance lies, and spend your life proving it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Forgive Often, Trust Once?

I never thought I had an issue with forgiveness.  (I mean, I don't hold grudges, if that counts.)  But, this past week, I realized that, while I'll forgive many times, I usually only trust once.  And once I stop trusting someone, it's nearly impossible to trust them again.

Under what circumstances is reinstated trust a wise thing?

The girl's Bible study that I attend is currently going through the book of Romans -- and for starters, we reviewed a bit of Paul's (then Saul) history.  Saul grew up in a Jewish family and belonged to a strict sect known as the Pharisees.  As he grew, he became a zealous leader of those determined to exterminate Christianity.  He was so zealous, in fact, that he was responsible for the brutal murder of hundreds upon thousands of Christians.

Remember the first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen?  Saul was responsible for his death.  If you read the account of Stephen's murder in Acts chapter 7, you'll see that "a young man named Saul" was the one who encouraged the town to riot and cast Stephen out, finally stoning him to death for his faith.

Do you know how horrific stoning really is?  It's not like Stephen had pebbles thrown at him repeatedly until one finally hit him at just the right velocity to enter his brain and kill him, as with David and Goliath.  No.  Imagine being crushed and bruised by massive rocks, hurled with a man's full strength at your head and chest.  How brutal!  And how gruesome.  And yet, this is the death that Saul ordered upon Stephen.  "And Saul was there, giving approval to his death."  (Acts 8:1)

As a side note, I find it incredible that, when Stephen knelt there outside the city, committing his spirit to God even as the life was being pounded from his body, he prayed that the Lord would not charge his murderers on account of his death.  What grace!  (I think his prayer was answered.  Read on.)

After overseeing the murder of Stephen, Saul began another riot in the city -- dragging Christians (regardless of age or gender) out of their houses and into the streets, treating them shamefully as he herded them together and drove them before the magistrates.  This was business as usual for Saul.

To be perfectly honest, Saul's bottomless, murderous hate towards Christians is difficult for me to understand.  (Sure, he disliked them.  But, enough to persecute them?  Explanation, please!)

Now, read Acts 9:1-2:  "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

He got permission.  The warrant was in his hand.  He was already on his journey, traveling the famed road to Damascus.

Then suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him.  A blinding light -- so bright that he fell to the ground and hid his face for the glory of it.  Then he heard a voice that said to him, "Saul, Saul: why do you persecute me?"

I love Saul's next question.  "Who are you, Lord?"  It's like when you ask a little kid to tell you their name:  "What's your name, Timothy?"  You know the answer (obviously); you just want to hear it from their own lips.  I think this is a good indicator of the work God already began in Saul's heart.  At this point, he knew God was calling him -- he just wanted to hear Him confirm it.

And the Lord humors Saul: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

Have you heard about Ananias?  He was a disciple of the Lord, living in Damascus -- one of the Christians doomed by Saul's mission.  Well, after Saul had been in Damascus in three days, still blinded from the exposure to God's glory, and weak from lack of food or water, the Lord called to Ananias in a vision.  And Ananias answered. 

Acts 9:11-16:  "The Lord told him, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.  In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.'

" 'Lord,' Ananias answered, 'I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.' 

"But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Ananias knew who Saul was.  In fact, it was likely that Ananias had even lost family members or friends to Saul's ruthless regime.  Yet, the Lord directed him and he obeyed, albeit fearfully.  Can we blame Ananias for doubting?  Of course not!  Look at Saul's track record!  Ananias was fully justified in fearing for his life (after all, the Lord never promised him safety -- only directed him to go to Saul).

After the Lord healed Saul (through Ananias), he allowed him to spend several days with the disciples in Damascus, preaching in the synagogues, proclaiming Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.

But, the Christians weren't so quickly convinced.  "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?  And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?"  (Acts 9:21)

As Saul became more powerful, the Jews were "baffled" -- and eventually conspired to kill him.  Distrusting, much?  But do you blame them?  Just in time, Saul learned of their plan to take his life and his loyal followers helped him escape the city in a basket, let down through an opening in the city wall.  He was on his way to Jerusalem.

We read on: "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple."  (9:26)  Barnabas spoke up on Saul's behalf, recounting the story of the light from heaven and of Saul's fearless preaching in Damascus -- and for a short time, they accepted him, allowing him to preach and move freely about their city.  But it wasn't too long before the Grecian Jews also began to plot against his life.

Because Saul's conversion and repentance was true, (however hard it might have been), it was the duty of the Christians to forgive him.  But it was hardly Saul's place to demand forgiveness.  "Well, I said I was sorry, so you guys need to forgive me."  I'm so glad he didn't.

So often, I find that when a brother or sister sins against another brother or sister, they expect immediate forgiveness.  They're forever presuming upon their fellow believer's better qualities.  However, there are two parts to forgiveness: first, the agreement to withhold punishment from the wrongdoer (thereby, taking the suffering for the offense upon yourself) and second, the restoration and embracing of that person.  The second part of forgiveness is not so easy.  (And it by no means must be proven in some practical way as the newly-forgiven one often asserts.  On a rabbit trail: often, I think people ask for forgiveness in order to receive some form of personal gain -- the return of status, trust, responsibility.  Not merely because of heartfelt contrition.  (Or maybe barring contrition entirely).)

Look at it this way: when the Believers finally did forgive Saul, did that necessarily mean that they needed to prove it by entrusting the lives of their children to him, for example?  No.  That would be foolish.  They were under no obligations to prove their forgiveness for Saul in those ways.  (Also, is it true repentance and sorrow that demands the forgiveness be proven by the expenditure of something precious to the one who forgives?)

So, although forgiveness was required (and given, in some cases), they still needed time, with God's help, to wade through both steps.  And so did Saul.  Knowing this (and having other plans for Saul at that time), the Lord led Saul to Arabia, where he rested for about three years (according to some sources) -- receiving revelation from the Lord: being taught, strengthened, and giving everyone time to heal.

Personally, I find it difficult to swallow the fact that the story of Stephen's stoning is found only a few chapters before the story of Saul's conversion.  And then the very next book of the Bible is written by Saul himself -- containing God's plan of salvation for sinners, and then telling the church how to live: first as Christian servants, then as Christian citizens, then as Christian brothers.

This man was a murderer -- he was probably responsible for the death of people they knew and loved.  And now they were supposed to listen to him?  Accept him as their teacher?  Become his disciples?  Also, when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he'd never even visited Rome yet (hence the letter).  How could they simply take him at his word, without seeing his changed life?

I'm not going to argue with God about how fast He can save and change a sinner.  But, after seeing horrendous sins repeated over and over, it can be a little hard to trust.

Think of Saul's conversion from the perspective of the Jews.  He entered their city in a weakened state, needing medical attention and care.  He was utterly helpless, having lost his sight.  The Jews had to help him.  But when he recovered, he could have easily faked a conversion experience, just to get out of the city safely (most of the Jews would have been anxious to take his life, knowing what a cruel and murderous man he'd been) -- he was already thoroughly at their mercy.

I'd have been one of the skeptics.

But look at how the Lord eventually used Paul!  I've often thought that, although the Lord redeemed and used Paul in ways we can't even begin to imagine, He also allowed him to undergo all manner of persecution and trials and imprisonment just to prove to the Believers that he had truly given his life to God.  Because truly, if he were leading everyone on and faking his conversion, there would be a limit to his endurance.  But, through Christ, he was able to endure all manner of sufferings in his body.

After his light-from-heaven experience, Paul was ready to jump head-first into the ministry: his heart burned with passion and conviction to do the Lord's work.  His mouth was filled with words and truth.  But, understandably, not every heart was ready to hear and receive it.  And so Paul had to be patient and wait.  He had to persevere in his good work.  In fact, he had to remove himself from the situation entirely -- sit at God's feet and learn, grow, and prove his repentance, through time and committed, consistent obedience.

So, perhaps I need to rethink my, "Forgive many times; trust once," policy.  While it's sometimes good to remain cautious, there is no end to what God can do in someone's heart.  Time can prove it.  Maybe even in less than three years.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pure.

What will you bring to your marriage?  Regrets and moral downfalls?  Past impurity?  Guilt?  Do you realize how these things can affect the marriage relationship - even when both parties are now fully submitted the Lord's leading in their lives?  Even if you've seen it "work" in such situations, uphold a high standard for yourself.  The marriage relationship is a wonderful thing -- but not if it's entered into with distrust and insecurity.  Is this what you want for your life?  Is that what God wants for your life?

This morning, I was reading through some notes on Facebook and saw that one of my friends posted this excerpt from a book by Michael and Debi Pearl called, "Jumping Ship: What to do so Your Children Don't Jump Ship to the World When They Get Older".  This excerpt is written by the Pearl's daughter and son-in-law.

(To the Youth -- Becka Pearl Anast:)

You are the future. I won't tell you that waiting for your mate isn't hard. It is. I have wondered a million times why God gave teenagers such powerful, raging hormones. Why couldn't He have placed that hormonal curse on the old folks that have all the patience and discipline in the world? It’s hard just to keep your thoughts straight, sometimes. But if you knew what is waiting for you . . . if you only knew how good it could be! You would never accept a toy car in the place of a real, shiny red Porsche.

Don't listen to the disillusioned and bitter couples who talk about how hard marriage is, struggling to get along and trying to make it work. If they talk like that, you can bet they messed up somewhere in the past and have no idea what marriage was intended to be. They think their broken product is the way all marriages are constituted. They are wrong. Out of dozens of marriages (good marriages, but not trouble free), we know of only three that came from pure pasts on both sides, neither of them bringing into the marriage any regrets or moral downfalls. Those three marriages were fantastic from the start.

The Bible says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” If you sow trouble with your flesh before marriage, you'll reap trouble later on. If you sow purity - oh, yes! It can be soooooo good! Take it from us (my husband and I): a pure youth makes for a fantastic marriage, without regrets, without heartache, and without fear. Nether one of us has had second thoughts, and we never will. Be assured: waiting is so worth it!

A few weeks after I married Gabe, he told me something funny. He said one of the things he most valued about me was that I wasn’t an “accidental” virgin. He said he had met conservative homeschooled youth from a dozen families who were virgins just by happenstance. They hadn't personally made a choice to be pure. The parents had made that choice for them - which is good - but the kids had never made that choice for themselves. He said there was no telling how many of them would have given away their virginity if they had been placed in new circumstances and allowed to do whatever they pleased. Have you made a choice yet? Are you doing as much as you can get away with in the confines of your parents' ruling, or are you personally walking after the Spirit of God? Do your convictions change with the crowd you're in, or do you know who you are?

Even the Bible College for missionary kids that I attended taught a watered-down form of righteousness for the single person. They discussed whether or not dating, holding hands, kissing, sexual deviances, etc., were okay. Everyone had different standards. One day a frustrated student called out, “Why didn't God just tell us what we ought to do? Why didn't He just give us a list of dos and don’ts?'' The professor couldn't answer him. At that time, I didn't know the answer either. I felt just like that student. Why couldn't there be a list of rules to go by? But he gave us something much better - his most HOLY Spirit.

(Gabriel Anast:)

God was actually specific. The word “fornication'” in the Scriptures is sexual activity outside the confines of marriage. That means, any activity or thought that you pursue for sexual pleasure. This law of God allows for different standards for different people. A thirteen-year-old boy won’t be able to look at or do things that a sixty-year-old lady could, with a clear conscience.

Sexual highs are meant to be enjoyed by one man and one woman in a context that is sacred and safe from the intrusion of other people. But in order for marriage to be holy, those who enter into it must themselves be holy.

Imagine a couple standing at the altar in their wedding finery both of them having slept around, more recently with each other. What does the “holy bonds of matrimony” mean to them? What privileged act of pleasure are they going to receive now that they are married? What could have been is now spoiled and gone. They have the same stolen goods they took before their vows, plus doubt, mistrust, and a nagging sense of discontentment and shame. There is no elation or joy in the perfect gift of physical union. There is no gift at all; only spoiled stolen goods.

Sex is not just a pleasurable act of procreation. It is an act of kindness, care, and generosity. For a woman, it is like an act of worship; for a man, it is an act of joy in the blessings and gifts of his wife. Those highs are righteous, glorious, and a pure. God gave us these intense feelings and pleasures as a gift to be enjoyed. He also gave us boundaries to protect that gift, boundaries to ensure maximum enjoyment and freedom, and boundaries that prevent guilt, shame, regret, and ultimately the destruction of that gift. When the boundary of sexual purity before marriage is disregarded and violated, the enjoyment of His gift is lessened and corrupted. Persistent violation of those safe perimeters will eventually replace all enjoyment with shame and fear. Many couples get married only to discover one or both of them is broken in the area of enjoyment due to the violation of boundaries in the past. God, in His grace and mercy, can mend the broken pieces, but…oh, the joy of having no broken pieces to begin with!

Maybe your parents have a marriage that you admire and desire for yourself; but maybe they don't. If they are working through their past mistakes and are making a go of it, I'd say their efforts are admirable, to say the least; I wish more couples had that fortitude. But don't take their example, however good or bad, and aim for the same. Aim for higher, better, purer, and more glorious examples! Make a decision within yourself to stay pure for the spouse God is preparing for you. There are some folks who need a list of rules; but the highest standard flows out of a sincere love for God. He will show you by His Spirit and with your own conscience when to draw the line. Believe that it is worth it. Be a virgin at your marriage by choice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Blessings.


I'm trying to read a book of the Bible every day.  (Not just the short ones.)  I'm not going to do it forever (I can't), but while I have the time, I thought it would be a good discipline.  Yesterday, I chewed through 1 Kings.  All 22 chapters.

Solomon's gift of wisdom makes me pretty jealous.  I'd like to think that if God told me to ask for anything I wanted, that I'd ask for a discerning heart and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong as Solomon did, but I just don't know.  Right now, I'd be more likely to ask for a clear path and a memory charm.  (Fail.  I know.)

Something jumped out at me as I read.  You know how God tells Solomon that if he continues to follow the statutes and commands laid out for him, he will be blessed with wisdom, riches, long life, and honor?  Yeah.  It seems so simple.  God says, "If you do this, you can continue to have this."  And Solomon is like, "Great."

But not so simple.  The next part of this story always reminds me of those lines from Gilbert & Sullivan:  "Of all the woes that curse our race; There is a lady in the case."   Remember Solomon's foreign wives?  He had like 700 of them.  Well, they served foreign idols, and I suppose, to stay on their good side (but that's no excuse), Solomon began to construct idols for the "detestable gods of Moab and the Amorites" around Jerusalem.  And his wives offered burnt incense and sacrifices to their gods.

And the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates." 

Now, get this part: 

"Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime.  I will tear it out of the hand of your son."

If I've learned anything this past year, it's that sin has consequences.  Of course, when I was young, my mom would tell me, "Be sure your sins will find you out," (ominous) and I figured that when (not if) I was found out, painful consequences would ensue.  But, after committing a few offenses that completely went over my parent's radar, I began to get self-assured.

At that young age, I didn't realize one very important fact: God sees everything.  Like, everything.  And He's called the Righteous Judge.  Whatever man fails to see and punish, God still sees.  And God punishes sin.

The thing that gets me here, though, is not just that God always punishes sin....it's the way God chooses to punish sin.  I mean, look at this!  Solomon was the one who sinned.  And God chose to punish the next generation -- Solomon's offspring.  They suffered for something they had no control over.  And Solomon was spared because his father (David) obeyed the Lord - and the blessing (for his obedience) was extended to the next generation.  

Have you ever heard the song, "Generations" by Sara Groves?  I probably listened to it a hundred times before realizing what she was singing.  I'd explain the words, but you'd probably lose the beauty.  So here's the song.

I can taste the fruit of Eve. 
I'm aware of sickness death and disease. 
The results of her choices were vast. 
Eve was the first, but she wasn't the last. 
If I were honest with myself, had I been standing at that tree,
My mouth and my hands would be covered with fruit. 
Things I shouldn't know and things I shouldn't see

Remind me of this with every decision.
Generations will reap what I sow. 

I can pass on a curse or a blessing
To those I will never know.


She taught us to fear the serpent. 
I'm learning to fear myself and all of the things I am capable of 
In my search for acceptance, wisdom and wealth. 
To say that the devil made me do it is a cop-out and a lie. 
The devil can't make me do anything when I'm calling on Jesus Christ 

To my great-great-great-granddaughter, live in peace. 
To my great-great-great-grandson, live in peace.

How often do we really think about the next generation?  The generations to come after them?  To be perfectly honest, when I sit here and try to think about how my great-great-great grandson's life could be affected by my obedience or my sin, it's kind of hard to care.  Who is my great-great-great grandson?  (And isn't the Lord going to return before that guy makes his appearance anyway?)

Regardless,  we've been given a clear picture in Scripture of how the Lord chooses to delay His blessings and curses.  (Think Moses, Joshua and the Children of Israel: the Lord promised to deliver the Israelites to the Promised Land, but because Moses sinned (by not trusting the Lord enough to honor Him before the people), he was cursed and Joshua was subsequently chosen to lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.  He (eventually) fulfilled His promise to the Israelites -- and blessed them; He just did it in an unexpected way.)

Today is the day to begin praying for the generations to come.  Pray that blessings, not curses, will follow you, and that your offspring and their offspring and the offspring to come after that will receive the favor of the Lord because of your obedience.



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lover of My Soul.

My God is the God who never changes.

The God who is enough.

The God who loves me despite my shortcomings and sins.

The God who knows me intimately.

The God who is always eager to hear me speak.

The God who listens.

The God who never walks away.

The God who knows what I mean, even when my words come out all wrong.

The God who is jealous of me -- my love, my affections, my pursuits.

The God who never chases after other loves.

The God who is never asleep.

The God who I can be honest with.

The God who forgives, even when my apology is garbled and imperfect.

The God who gave His life for me, even while I was still His enemy. 

This is my Father and Friend -- the Lover of my Soul!