Glimpses of grace seen in the everyday

Archive for June, 2014

A Long Wait

Another workweek has come and gone, and before we know it, the weekend will be gone, too.  Time doesn’t wait for anyone, and that can be scary.  (Except for the day when Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still, and it did–for a whole day to allow the Israelite army to finish an important battle!  See Joshua 10:18.)

On the other hand, time can drag interminably if you’re…

…languishing in prison as Joseph was on a false charge.  (Genesis 39 & 40)

…or serving as slaves in Egypt for 400 years as the Israelites were (Exodus 1)

…or exiled to the desert for 40 years as Moses was (Exodus 2)

…or dodging a mad king for years on end as David did (1 Samuel 18 to 29)

…or…you fill in the blanks for the worst times of your life!

But their stories didn’t end there!  Those long periods of seemingly wasted time were part of God’s plan for building character and for getting ready the next step in the life of each one and as benefit to myriad others:

Joseph suddenly became governor of Egypt and supervised a strategy to save them all during a seven-year famine. 

The Israelites became a large nation through which God displayed his glory and power to the world.

Moses was used to liberate some 2 million people from slavery lead them for 40 years.

David became the greatest king of Israel and the composer of scores of Psalms that have encouraged God’s people for thousands of years.

What is the end of your story and mine?  I admit that I get tired of waiting as
     day follows day,
          week follows week,
               and year follows year. 
Is anything happening?  Yes, God has amazing plans. And when he says it’s time, things could change very suddenly and decisively.  Are we ready for God’s next act? 

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Worship as Drama

Last week I heard of two scenarios in which worship is analyzed as drama:

In worldly worship:
the performers are the worship leaders
the audience is the congregation
and success is measured by how the “audience” is satisfied.

In real worship:
the performers are the congregation
the audience is God
the prompters are the worship leaders
the director is the Holy Spirit
and the aim is to please God, the Audience of One.

What do you think?  Is God pleased with our worship?

A Safe Distance?

Keeping our distance is a good way to stay safe from things that would threaten our safety–
–another vehicle on the road
–a live wire
–fire
–a wild animal

We tell our children, “Don’t get too close; you might get hurt.”

Keep Distance

On the other hand, how could we as humans relate to one another without getting close enough to communicate and express affection?  When we get close to someone, it’s true that we are making ourselves vulnerable to hurt, but we are also opening ourselves to love.  I’m reminded of back in the 60’s and 70’s when cars were made with bench seats in the front.   Often one would see what we called a “two-headed driver”—a couple sitting as close to each other as possible while the guy drove! 

What about getting close to God?  If you’ve read or seen the tales of Narnia, you will recall that most beloved character Aslan, the great lion that symbolizes Jesus Christ.  When the four children first hear the Beavers talking about Aslan, they ask, “Is he quite safe?”  The answer was, “’Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”  And all through the seven books, the children take great delight in being as near as possible to Aslan.  Real love of God will overcome our fears and give us the greatest joy and security.

These are some of the my thoughts as I read this short article by Dr. Harold J. Sala in his book Today Counts:

I’ve been thinking about our lives in relationship to God. Often we don’t want to be too far away from Him, but neither do we want to get so close that He can easily get to us. A comfort zone is okay. After all, it’s good to be on the side of God but just don’t get too carried away with this business of religion.

Why are we afraid of getting too close to God, or letting Him get too close to us? There are three clusters of fear that keep us on the spiritual beltway – neither too close nor too far away.

Fear 1: You can never really please God, so why try? A lot of folks – especially those who have had parents whose expectations were difficult to meet – think they can never be good enough or spiritual enough for God to receive them and fully love them.

Fear 2: You will lose control of your life if you allow God to get close to you. The issue of “who is in charge” keeps lots of people on spiritual beltway. Yes, they want to be close enough to get God’s attention when things get desperate but not so close that they can’t make a spiritual detour.

Fear 3: You will be asked to do something you don’t like and to stop doing something you like but God dislikes. But most of our fears are irrational and without foundation. God is a loving Father who wants the best for us.

When you understand who God is and how compelling is His desire to have fellowship with you, you quickly abandon the beltway of your comfort and strive to move towards the presence of the Almighty.

What Would Jesus Really Do?

A friend of mine has a game where players try to predict who would be most likely to do or say a certain thing.  It works best, she said, with people who already know one another very well.  Strangers wouldn’t have any basis for such decisions.

So what about all the people who go around saying that “Jesus would (or wouldn’t) do” this or that? 

Here are a few of the things I found on the Internet that people claim Jesus would do or be:

He would have been a biker.
He would have been a proud feminist.
He would be a socialist.
He would hate Christians.
He would go around making computers work.

And some people were quite sure Jesus wouldn’t do these things:

Unfollow people.
Yell.
Have a mortgage.
Wear sunglasses on the back of his head.
Teach an eternal hell.
Call the Bible God’s word.
Do something violent, like chase moneychangers out of the Temple with a whip.

But how can people claim to know what Jesus would or wouldn’t do unless they actually know Him well?

And if they don’t know care enough about Him to cultivate His acquaintance, why are they concerned about what He would do? 

Could it be that they are fashioning their own “Jesus” to mirror their own worldview and then using that false image to claim Jesus’ endorsement of their cause, regardless of whether it would be consistent with His character and consistent with Scripture?

This seems to have been the strategy of the Jesus Seminar, a controversial group of two hundred scholars who decided among themselves that Jesus actually said only 18 percent of what the gospels attribute to him! 

If we really want to know what Jesus would do, we should go to the nearest source.  Read & study the gospels, learn who Jesus is, where he came from, what motivated him.  We will find that his motivations were
     to show us God’s holiness and love,
          to teach the truth,
               to save sinful humankind,
                    to please the Father. 
These were His motivation for the shocking, unheard-of things that he did—leaving audiences aghast, angry, astonished, awestruck, appalled, delighted…and many of them eternally changed. 

Who else would or could…

…declare that lust is equivalent to adultery, and hate is equivalent to murder?

…pronounce a paralytic forgiven and then proceed to heal him with just a word?

…forgive a sinful woman and then warn her not to sin again?

…choose a notorious  swindler for his dinner companion with the result that this guy decides to return four times as much as he extorted?

…exorcise demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and then tell people not to tell anyone?

…spend long hours alone praying while crowds were clamoring to see him?

…dismiss manmade religious regulations as worthless?

…and yes, yell and upset the moneychangers’ tables, release their animals and drive them out of the Temple?

…allow Himself to be arrested, flogged, and executed in the most painful and humiliating way, taking the punishment that you and I deserve for our sin so that we might be acceptable to God!

I invite you to read the authorized biography (actually, you have your choice of four—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and see what kinds of things he really does and does not do.  Let him speak for himself!

The Mind of a Martyr

What is a martyr?

According to Islam, a martyr (Fedayeen) is one who kills infidels [that is, non-Muslims] and commits suicide as a means to that goal. He is “encouraged with liberal promises of earthy rewards in heaven, including food and sex.”   (TheReligionofPeace.com)

In Christianity, a martyr is “a person who suffers death rather than renounce his faith” (Collins English Dictionary).  His motivation is faithful commitment to his Savior and the hope of eternal life with Him.  However, Christians see life as a precious gift from God and they don’t seek martyrdom.  Neither are they seeking to kill anyone but rather they pray for God’s mercy on those who persecute them, as Stephen, the first Christian martyr did in Acts 7:54-60.

Meriam Ibrahim is a hero of mine.  A Sudanese doctor, devoted wife & mother, and faithful follower of Jesus Christ, she has been shackled in prison together with her toddler and baby girl born there in prison. And she has made it clear that she will not renounce her Lord even if it means suffering her sentence of 100 lashes and hanging!

She reminds me of the apostle Paul, also chained in prison, who wrote the verses I’ve been memorizing:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed,
but will have sufficient courage
so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  (Philippians 1:20-21)

When my time comes, I pray that I will have the courage and conviction of Paul, Meriam, and others like them.

Meriam, I pray for your release, but more than that, I pray that you will continue to have courage to honor Christ whether through freedom, suffering, or even death.

Wise Investment

Every once in a while my husband and I wonder if our modest retirement savings are in the right place.  Will they be there when we need them?  Or should we invest them somewhere else?  Experts don’t agree, and of course they can’t see into the future. 

Even more important—because its effect goes way beyond our retirement and even our death—is how we invest our affection, our priorities, our time, our energies.  Are our thoughts and efforts focused on physical pleasure, possessions, power, and popularity—OR on things that will last forever?  Why is this such a difficult choice?

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.  (1 John 2:15-17 NLT)

Pigs or people?

It’s another normal day.  The field work, the children, the cooking, laundry, watching the pigs…  oh yes, and the local madman living in the cemetery just  outside town.  They’ve tried to tie him up but it was no use, so they just avoid him and hope he leaves them alone.  (Story from Mark 5:1-20)

Then comes Jesus and invades their day.  Upsets their world.  What did He do?  He, who had the power & authority to liberate this human being from the demons that had reduced him to a beastly existence, took pity on him and did just that. 

I don’t know why Jesus allowed the demons to invade the herd of pigs and drive them to drown themselves in the lake.  But obviously, His priority was the life and sanity of one man, much more precious than a herd of pigs. 

Normally, when Jesus did a miracle, the people who witnessed it were thrilled.  Not so this time.  When the townspeople came out to see what had happened, this was their reaction:

–They were afraid. (Mark 5:16)  Why?  Of having their world upset?  (Surely not afraid of a man who was no longer violent…)

–They begged Jesus to leave them!  They preferred the company of pigs and madmen.

Which do you and I prefer today? 

–Life as usual, economic security, tolerance of evil as long as it stays in its place?

           OR

–Jesus sweeping in with His pity and power, bringing freedom for the hurting and oppressed?

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