Glimpses of grace seen in the everyday

Archive for July, 2014

Just doing our thing…

The ancient book of Judges in the Bible is so contemporary–everyone “doing what they considered right.”  Does this sound familiar? 

Moses, who had given the people God’s commands for a godly and orderly life, was dead and gone. 

Joshua, who had victoriously led them into the Promised Land and urged them to continue to follow the Lord, was dead and gone.

The generation who had lived under the leadership of these men and experienced God’s amazing miracles was dead and gone.

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:10 NLT)

And that’s when society broke down.  With no personal commitment to God and his standards, everyone decided what was “right for them” and lived accordingly.  This meant…

…failure to push ahead with their occupation of the land God had given them

…”forgetting” God who had done everything for them, doing what He considered evil

…intermarrying with the pagan peoples around them, producing children who no longer knew right and wrong

…worshiping and serving false gods, participating in their violent and obscene rituals

…infighting and treachery, sexual abuse and butchery

What was the result?  Were they happy and fulfilled? 

God allowed them to experience the natural consequences of their choice.  They were oppressed, ravaged, and impoverished by wave after wave of neighboring nations, for over 300 years.  At the height of each wave of misery, they would appeal to God, who would mercifully rescue them through a powerful figure such as Gideon.  But as soon as things settled down again, they went right back to their rebellious ways and the cycle repeated itself.  What a horrible existence! 

And for us today–
–Are we who know the Lord effectively passing our faith to the next generation? 

–Are we who follow godly generations also genuine in our faith, making it our own—               or just taking the easy way down the mainstream of society?

–What can we expect if we continue down the same path of defining and                   doing what we think is “right for me” instead of what God says is right?

A Mother’s Sacrifice or Selfishness

Recently I read two stories, side by side, that contrast as day and night. 

The first was of a woman who discovered, 17 weeks into her pregnancy, that she had cervical cancer.  Instead of agreeing to an abortion in an attempt to save her own life, she chose life for her baby.  He is now 2 1/2 years old.  His mother was treated for cancer, but it’s back now and she has limited time.  Does she regret it?  No!  This is true love.

The second is of Sarah, who survived an abortion attempt that was carried out very late in her mother’s pregnancy.  When it was discovered that the baby was still alive, the baby was delivered in a hospital and then left to die, without any attention at all for 24 hours.  Finally a nurse took pity on her and a loving family adopted her.  Severely handicapped, Sarah has now died from her injuries five years later.  Where is love in this story?  Not the mother nor those who attempted to take Sarah’s life, but in those who saved her and cared for her until God took her into his own arms.

Which is ideal womanhood?  To be willing to die for one’s own child, or to kill one’s own child for one’s own convenience?  Aren’t women more noble than the latter?  We honor men who have given their lives for their country.  How about women who give theirs for their children?  Do we honor selfishness or self-sacrifice?  On which of these can we build and maintain a stable and enduring society?

A Jewel of a Story

Like a high-quality diamond dazzling on a background of black velvet, the book of Ruth in the Bible stands out against the sordid stories of Judges which just precedes it and during which era the events of Ruth took place.

Having read and studied this jewel of a book countless times already, I am awed again today by the wisdom, love, power, and faithfulness of the great God who orchestrated these events and then made sure they were recorded for all generations to enjoy and learn from.

On the surface, it is a beautiful love story of Ruth, a young foreign widow, and Boaz, a kind and respected citizen of that place.

On a historical level, this story is set in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  In fact, the book closes with a brief genealogy which is unique in that it projects forward to link to David who is the great-grandson of Ruth & Boaz and the royal ancestor of Christ. 

On a thematic level, the book of Ruth is a story of faithfulness, the hesed (Hebrew) or loyal love that runs like a golden thread through the whole Bible:

God’s hesed to Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, who lost everything and then received so much more.  (Does this remind us of Job’s experience?)  She and her husband suffered economic loss and displacement, then she lost her husband and sons, her joy and confidence, concluding that God had become her enemy.
        In the end, God restored her to fullness with a daughter-in-law “who is better to her than 10 sons,” a secure place in Boaz’ home and even a very special grandson whom she considered as her own.

Ruth’s hesed to Naomi and to Naomi’s God whom she acknowledged as her own, turning her back on the god Chemosh of her native Moab.  Her pledge to Naomi is well-known:  “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”  Ruth’s hesed was displayed in her commitment to the welfare of Naomi and obeying her rather than seeking marriage with a younger man.   

Boaz’ hesed to Naomi and Ruth and even to their deceased husbands and family line.  This is seen first in his unusual kindness to this foreign widow who came to pick up bits of grain left behind by his reaper.  And then as a step of much greater commitment, his loyal love leads him to take on the responsibility for Naomi and Ruth, redeem the mortgaged family land, and allow his firstborn to be considered as another man’s son (Ruth’s first husband, according to the custom). 

While it may well be argued that Naomi is the main character of the story, Ruth and Boaz are its heroes.  They are well-matched! Each of them is called a  “man/woman of outstanding character” (2:1 & 3:11).  And for each of them, this virtue is highlighted by a contrasting counterpart who exhibits the attitude and behavior of a “normal” self-centered person. 

–Ruth’s sister-in-law Orpah decided to go back to the security of her home instead of  going with Naomi and Ruth to embrace a new life with its potential inconveniences.

–Boaz’ unnamed relative decided not to take up the first option of marrying Ruth and all the responsibilities that entailed, thinking first of his own financial security.

Did Ruth have any idea, when she insisted on going with Naomi, of the security and love that she would find, much less that she would have the incredible honor of becoming an ancestor of Jesus Christ?  What might be the surprise ending of my own story as I follow God out of my comfort zone?

By the way, I hope you will take time to read this very short story—whether for the first time or as re-reading a worn love letter.  You’ll love it! 

Samson—Taking God for Granted

Samson.  Famous for his strength but not for his character.  His strength was his hair—no, that’s not right.  His strength was God who brought this man into existence (born to a barren couple) for His own purpose of bringing down the Philistines who were oppressing His people, Israel.  Samson’s strength was conditional on his obedience to God as a Nazirite, one who lived under a vow to God symbolized by uncut hair and abstinence from alcoholic drink.

His weakness was women, including the infamous Delilah.  Or is it more accurate to say that his weakness was taking God for granted?  Over and over, he got out of his scrapes by means of his superhuman strength, when “the Spirit of the Lord empowered him”
to tear apart an attacking lion with his bare hands,
     break his shackles,
          kill 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey,
               uproot monstrous city gates and carry them 40 miles,
                    and do other amazing things. 

But a woman’s crocodile tears were enough to defeat Samson.  Plus the fact that he took God for granted.  Samson finally divulged his secret to Delilah, who had his hair cut and then awakened him shouting, “The Philistines have come to capture you!” He assumed that he would again be able to escape again by his great strength—as usual.  But—and here’s the saddest part of the whole story—“But he didn’t realize the LORD had left him.”  (You can read this whole account in the Bible, in Judges chapters 13-16.)

The strength of our nations and our families, the blessings of freedom and plenty are all gifts from God, to be used for His purposes.  When we forget why we have these and assume that we’re entitled to them regardless of how we live our lives, we’d better be ready for an unpleasant surprise. We must not take God for granted!

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
for all its strength, it cannot save you.
But the LORD watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
  (Psalm 33:16-18)

Why do we do what we do?

Why do we the things we do every day?  How much would be different if we know there would be no tomorrow?  What we believe about the future determines how we live today.

People paint their houses so they will be able to sell them in the future. 
People take blood pressure medicine to avoid serious health problems. 
People change the oil in their cars because they need them for future use.
People go to school so they can get a job and support themselves. 
People diet and work out so their body will be attractive & healthy.

Likewise, what we believe happens after we die should determine how we live this life.  As the apostle Paul said, if we believe that there is no life after death, we might as well “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32) IF there is nothing beyond this death to prepare for, why be concerned about living a pure life, helping others sacrificially, getting to know God better and doing what pleases Him? Why not live a totally self-centered life, focused on pleasure, applause, and comfort?  After all, as some fallaciously say, “you only live once.”  (I looked up this quote on the Internet and it gave 7,810,000 results!)

But IF we believe that this life is only the entryway to an eternal existence–either enjoying unimaginable delights in God’s presence OR unrelenting misery away from Him—this is what will determine and motivate what we do here and now.  The short-term costs of hard work, delayed gratification, and even suffering (along with the many delights the Lord furnishes along the way) won’t be worth comparing the glory that we’ll experience when we finally get Home!  Which will it be?  We have a lot of choices to make every day. 

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

A Dearly Loved Daughter

Last week we celebrated both the first anniversary of our granddaughter’s move to heaven and the 32nd birthday of one of our sons.  Both of these events bring memories that stir in my thoughts about being a dearly loved child of God.

During Emmeline’s last weeks, her mother would read to her in the evenings from the diaries she had written over her 11 years of life.  My husband and I were honored to be included at these precious times of sharing, including funny things she did and said and poignant memories like the time when she came to faith in Christ.  I am impressed and amazed that my daughter-in-law took the time and care in the midst of her super-busy life to write down all these things which she could then share to show her love and delight in her daughter and the details of her life. 

I wonder if God is keeping a journal of the life of me, his daughter, anticipating with a tender smile the day when he will share it with me and I’ll finally see my life from his wise, powerful and loving perspective. He would explain to me why he allowed me to struggle with acceptance at certain stages, how he built character in my life, how he worked behind the scenes to provide when it seemed impossible, and maybe also ways in which I have unknowingly been able to bless someone.

For our son Brent’s birthday, I put together an album on Facebook from his first 19 years of life, recalling events, friends, and situations that would be meaningful to him.  It was delightful going through those photos and reliving the feelings I have had for him as a newborn, then as he grew up and found his way in life, and now is a godly and responsible husband and father. 

I wonder if God has a collection of photos of me (not the same ones that are in my parents’ albums) through the stages of my life, starting at conception, that he will share with me someday.  He would show me how he planned every detail of of my appearance, interests, abilities, life circumstances, and every single day of my life.  He would tell me how beautiful I am in his sight, both inside and out.  He would tell me how he has seen my heart that tried to serve him even when it turned out so awkwardly.  He would reassure me that he always loved me through my ugly times. He would tell me how he’s kept my picture and my artwork “on his fridge” through the years and how much he values me just for who I am, for who he made me! 

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.  And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.  (1 John 3:2-3 NLT)

(To clarify:  The fact that I am God’s child is based totally on my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am trusting in his forgiveness for my sin–punished on the cross–to make me acceptable to God.  I am eternally grateful to God for lovingly and wisely providing this means for me to be reconciled to him, and now I delight in the privilege of being his daughter. 
          “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”  John 1.10-12 NLT)

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