Glimpses of grace seen in the everyday

Archive for August, 2013

When People Decide What Is Right

Speaking of sordid stories—the current headlines have nothing on the final chapters of the book of Judges which I read recently with growing loathing.  The “disclaimer” says, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (17:6 & 21:25)  Since they had already turned away from God in favor of pagan gods, these are the sorts of things that seemed “right” to them:

Abimelech killed 69 of his half-brothers and convinced the people of Shechem to make him their king solely on the grounds that he was their relative.  The whistle-blower went unheeded.  After three years, the citizens finally caught on that they’d made a poor choice.  Abimelech cared only for himself and for power, not for them.  But when they resisted, Abimelech slaughtered them all and demolished their city. (He met his end when a woman dropped a big stone on his head.)  (Judges chapter 9)

Micah stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mom.  When she found out, she blessed him (!) and dedicated that silver to be made into an idol for him to worship!  He made other religious trapping to go with it and even hired his own priest to serve his manmade religion—concluding that the Lord would bless him for it. (Chapter 17)

An unnamed man went to retrieve his runaway concubine.  On the way back home, they overnighted in the territory of Benjamin.  That night they were thronged by a gang of perverts who gang-raped the woman and left her dead.  The man rounded up an army from all over Israel to take revenge on the Benjaminites, who refused to hand over the culprits.  After three bloody battles, 40,000 of the Israelites were dead and 25,100 of the Benjaminites—all but 600 of them. Then, feeling sorry for their “cousins” whom they had almost wiped out, the Israelites sat down and wept and then took more drastic measures to procure wives for them.  (Chapters 19-21)

That’s enough!  Enough to make one sick!  These are the kinds of things that happen when people do what they think is right.  Are we any different today?  Should we be surprised at how low society stoops when they have turned their backs on God?

One more story, though.  After all the sordid stories of Judges, I turned the page and breathed a sigh of relief!  There is Ruth, a bright spot of faithfulness and hope in the midst of all that darkness.  God was still at work, preparing the way for the Savior who would be Ruth’s descendant. Interestingly, it was a foreigner (she was a Moabite) who showed this unfaithful nation the faithfulness of God.

A Real Hero

Antoinette Tuff is my heroine today.  And she gives all the glory to God, who gave her wisdom and courage to talk a gunman out of carrying out his plans to shoot up a school full of elementary kids.  One tool she used was her own story of weakness, loss and need.

Another hero is Gideon whose story I’ve been reading again (Judges chapters 6-8).  These same two things stand out in his experience:  his doubts and fears, and then his obedience and effectiveness in saving his people. 

His fear: 
–Threshing wheat in a wine vat to hide it from the marauding enemy. 
–Waiting for the cover of night to carry out God’s order to demolish idols worshipped by his townspeople.

His doubt: 
–When God appeared to him to commission him (addressing him as “mighty warrior”!), Gideon asked for a sign of confirmation, which God graciously provided by burning up his meal and then vanishing! (6:20-21)

–But that wasn’t enough.  He still needed confirmation.  So God arranged for a wet fleece on dry ground and then vice versa (6:36-40). 

Then God threw in one extra confirmation for good measure.  He sent Gideon to eavesdrop on a couple of enemy soldiers discussing a strange dream which they concluded  meant that Gideon was going to defeat their whole army!  (I wonder how they knew about him by name?!?)

God is so patient with those who really want to please and obey Him!

The tools:
–Personnel:  Just 300 people, whittled down from an original 32,000! (7:1-8)
–Weapons:  Trumpets, torches in clay jars, and their voices! (7:15-22) 

God’s strategy:

–As the noise and light show by Gideon’s men commenced (with the weapons listed above), God caused the enemy army to panic and kill one another!

What power!  What irony!  I love God’s battle strategies!  (For more, read the books of Exodus through 2 Chronicles.)

I also love the fact that God uses imperfect people who have doubts and fears and yet are committed to obey God to be used for His purposes, and to be sure He gets the glory!  I’m one of those.  So is Antoinette Tuff.

All Tribes and People and Tongues

The other day we watched the annual parade in the city where we live, celebrating the ethnic diversity of its inhabitants. What a dazzling array of ethnic costumes and dance!  And the pride in the the cultures they represented!  

Dancers 2 photos

Do you suppose that in heaven, when “people from every tribe and language and people and nation” are assembled, we’ll all forget our languages and national origins and cultures and just all blend into one another?  Or will each be given opportunities to praise God in our own language, dressed in our cultural finery and performing in our unique way?  What a program that would be!  What fun, and what glory!  I’m looking forward to it Smile.

Sinfully Sweet Tomatoes?

Sinfully sweet tomatoes

What is sinful about sweet tomatoes?  Now, the fruit that Adam and Eve ate may be called “sinfully sweet” because God had forbidden it.  But tomatoes?  Did God say not to eat sweet tomatoes?  (My husband might say so in jest, since raw tomatoes are definitely not one of his favorite foods.)

We did a quick search of current usage of “sinful” on the Internet, yielding these results, among others:

Sinful Colors—a line of fingernail polish. 

A certain kind of wine:  “Delicious!  So good it must be sinful.”

A recipe:  “Wow, I don’t know if banana bread can get any better than this!          Every bite was the ideal combination of sweet and salty! Sinful…fantastically sinful…”

What makes something sinful?  Is the advertiser trying to imply —
–that sin is fun?
–that God doesn’t want us to do enjoyable things? 

Either of these messages is blasphemous to the character of God who loves us, knows what is best for us, and gives us all good things to enjoy.  It also perpetuates Satan’s lie in the garden that sin is fun, tasty, and cool.  (After all, you’ll be like God!)

So if God provides you with sweet tomatoes, rich chocolate desserts or yummy banana bread—eat moderately and enjoy Smile.  It’s not a sin!  On the other hand, if something is truly sinful (offensive to God), it’s better to make tracks in the other direction!  Let’s not make the mistake of associating sin with enjoyment.

Angel Appearances

A few days ago a startling headline appeared in the secular news:  ‘Angel’ priest visits Missouri accident scene.  You can read the article here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/07/angel-crash-missouri/2630227/ 

Who doesn’t love these accounts of God breaking through the gauze curtain and letting people like us see something truly amazing?

Speaking of angels–The story of Balaam and his donkey is both funny and amazing.  He’s riding along on a dubious errand when all of a sudden the donkey starts taking evasive maneuvers.  Balaam’s foot gets crushed against a wall, and then the donkey just lies down and refuses to go any farther.  Balaam is so upset as he beats the donkey, that he doesn’t seem to notice that the donkey is actually speaking!  Listen in on their conversation and see if you can keep a straight face:

     “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.
      “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”
      “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”
     “No,” Balaam admitted.
Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.  (Numbers 22, especially verses 21-31,  NLT)

It’s fascinating that an angel can look like an ordinary person or an intimidating warrior—or be totally invisible.  I am comforted by reminders that God intervenes in the affairs of ordinary life and reminds us that it’s not ordinary, after all!  He is there and He cares!

My Friend, Brother, King

A line of a favorite song says, “You’re my Friend and You are my Brother, even though You are a King.”

Paradoxes fascinate me, especially when when I struggle to get a glimpse into the mysterious nature of God. 

I imagine falling to my knees before Him in awe, and then climbing into His lap and snuggle with His arms wrapped around me!  This is my God, my King, my Father, my Friend!  The One I can both worship and confide in, the One who is infinite and yet lives with me and in me. 

Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.  (Psalm 73:23-26 NLT)

The World a Chessboard

The other day at a mall we saw hundreds of chessboards set up and young contestants arriving in yellow-and-white t-shirts.  Chess is a game I don’t care for, personally, because it takes too much thinking.  I prefer more relaxing activities in my free time. 

But I did ponder a similarity between chess and real life—the lives of people and nations.  Both are serious, intense.  People and nations, like chess players, are out to promote themselves and their interests at the expense of others. 

Now just imagine a dog or toddler coming along and dumping over the whole board with its strategically placed pieces.  Poof! It’s all gone—unless someone was recording every move. 

The time will come when God will swipe his arm across the chessboard of the world, in one fell swoop dismantling nations, rulers, resources, plans, pride, programs, powers, intrigue, intelligence, human wisdom and achievement.  Then He will set up His own glorious Kingdom, where He will reign unopposed with perfect justice, goodness, power, and wisdom.  His subjects will be those who have gladly accepted His sovereignty over their lives.  I’m so thankful to be one of those! 

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!

From Groans to Glory*

Why do we groan?  Often it’s an expression of physical or mental anguish.  Like when hearing a bad pun (wish I’d thought of that myself!), being hit with bad news, or coping with a migraine….

Groaning appears three times within just five verses in Romans 8—groans coming from three different sources.  But these are not all bad news; there is hope in each scenario!

1)  All creation groans (verse 22) as it endures its imperfect state, the ravages of sin which holds it captive.  But the day will come when it will all be restored to the paradise it was meant to be (verse 21).

2)  We who are God’s children through faith in Christ groan (verse 23).  We are also enduring the devastation of sin—pain and problems, illness and death.  But “we eagerly wait with patience” (I’m afraid I’m more eager than patient!) for the time when our bodies will be fully redeemed and we will enjoy the full benefits that belong to us as citizens of heaven.

3)  The Holy Spirit groans as He expresses our cares and needs to the Father (verse 26).  We are not alone as we struggle to pray. And the result of the Spirit’s groaning is that God’s will is done in wonderful ways.  The outcome is glorious—God working out all things according to His purpose and for our good, glorifying Himself and bringing us to glory as well.  This is the triumphant peak of the book of Romans, culminating in a thrilling hymn about God’s powerful, incomparable, enduring love.  (Romans 8:28-39)

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these?
If God is for us, who can ever be against us? … 
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?
Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity,
or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? …
No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ,
                   who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.
      Neither death nor life,
          neither angels nor demons,
               neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—
                    not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
                         No power in the sky above or in the earth below—
indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

*Section title of Romans 8:18-30 in HCSB version

How Far from Here to Heaven?

Tears came as we sang “Hallelujah to the Lamb.”  We were in a small group of a dozen or so, but in my mind were other settings:  One was in church singing the same song ten days earlier with hundreds of people.  But even more, I visualized the larger choir that we were a part of:  the family of God all over the earth and in heaven—of all races and languages since the world began. 

More specifically, I pictured my newly-departed granddaughter in that choir, singing beside my dad (also who “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” as he said, while on earth) and with David the psalmist—all in beautiful harmony side by side praising Jesus, the Lamb on the throne:

Lord I stand in the midst of a multitude
Of those from every tribe and tongue
We are Your people redeemed by Your blood
Rescued from death by Your love …

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!  Hallelujah to the Lamb
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue, every tribe, every people, every land
Giving glory, giving honor, giving praise unto the Lamb of God  (by Don Moen)

I turned to my husband and asked, “How far do you think it is from here to heaven?”  We think of heaven being gazillions of light years away, somewhere outside our universe.  But I suspect it’s much, much closer than we realize—in another dimension just beyond a gauzy veil.  When our songs of praise and those of our loved ones already in God’s presence join together to delight His ears, just imagine the glory!  What a privilege to be part of that! 

One more note here:  I was blessed yesterday to read a friend’s blog about an experience in a dentist’s chair where her dentist started humming the song, “Because He Lives.”  That happened on July 3 here in the eastern hemisphere.  Calculating the difference in time, I realized that this was within the same day (July 2 in the US) when we grandparents and parents were singing that same song around the newly-vacated body of our beloved granddaughter, Emmeline.  (It was her lifelong favorite song. The lyrics are below.) Do you think someone in heaven was coordinating the music?  I think so—and with a smile. Smile Note

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Chorus
     Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
     Because He lives, all fear is gone;
     Because I know He holds the future,
     And life is worth the living
     Just because He lives!

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!

And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns!  (by Bill Gaither)

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