Monday, December 28, 2015

Traversing the Testaments: Word Studies for Women, An Introduction

Breathtaking vistas.  Gushing waterfalls.  Immense panoramas of eye catching splendor.  Whether it was hiking Yosemite (pictured above), traversing the immense Grand Canyon, trudging through turrets in China’s Great Wall, or finding a shortcut up the mountains of Nepal, I’ve witnessed a treasure trove of amazing sights in my lifetime.  But as I consider the vast wonders of knowledge contained in God's Word, I am awed that these other views, which comprise splendid screen savers and magnificent memories, actually dwarf in comparison to the words of God, which He has preserved forever.
And yet, for years of my life, these words, contained in the precious pages of Scripture, remained completely uncharted territory.  Traversing China’s Great Wall some years ago, I felt the the conspicuous sense that modern man had failed to touch this antiquated region and it remained, in many ways, unscathed by the litany of legislation that might surround it in another location.  The same dearth of human interference existed as we hiked rim to rim across the Grand Canyon, where, with only the light of a flashlight to guide us, we traversed slender footpaths that overlooked treacherous heights.  In Nepal, we careened about mountain paths in a heavily-laden Land Rover, beeping our horn in hopes that no larger vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction.  There, too, where we saw a bus toppled from a mountain summit, I felt the lack of OSHA regulations, of protective fences that contain warning signs so familiar to the majority of visitors who stay in the popular areas of national parks in the United States.
But, unlike the sheer cliffs of the Himalayas or the dipping Rift Valley, which I experienced this past summer, God’s Word contains no “off limits” signs as far as word investigation goes.  One can open up this Book, study a word in its context and throughout the Bible for its usage, and unearth incredible treasures.  And yet, for years, this landscape lay completely unknown to me.
How did that change?  The shift occurred a few weeks after our marriage, when my husband encouraged me to begin not simply reading but actually developing a plan in which I would study a portion of the Bible each week.  As I began taking time to "study to show [my]self approved unto God," (2 Timothy 2:15) I noticed that this Book began to blossom before me beautifully, in a way I had not previously experienced.  
Have you ever assumed that, because you do not know Hebrew or Greek, you must not be as capable of studying God’s Word as one familiar with these languages would be?  I did.  Have you perhaps assumed that focusing on your womanly role is of more importance for you than is studying God's Word?  I did.

          While it is true that we ought to serve our husbands and families, preferring them above ourselves, it is likewise certain that we must envision God as He is, holy and set apart from us.  He must be worshiped and esteemed very highly in our personal lives.  “Enoch,” the Bible tells us, “walked with God” (Genesis 5:22, 24).  This decision Enoch made and aspired to.  Walking with God—it’s a phrase we hear frequently but today, as you go about your daily duties, consider just how much time you spend walking.  You walk from your bedroom in the morning and walk down the stairs to begin your morning routine.  You walk about in your home and outside your home, accomplishing daily tasks, walking as you go.  As you walk this day, is God with you?  Certainly as the omnipresent One, His Spirit is everywhere present.  And yet, does He permeate your existence?  Do you walk in His company upon first arising and, if summoned during the night by a crying child or a pesky family pet, do you turn first to Him?  Is He the One to Whom you bow in humble submission in the evening, before you drift off to sleep?  Does He consume your dreams, even, shaping the life you pictured and making it instead His dream come true?  And how do you respond to His gentle promptings, His still, small voice that guides your path with gentle proddings, “This is the way; walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21)?
How such fellowship seems distant and unattainable at times!  The pressures of life weighing in upon us, the insecurities caused by our own weak personalities, the latent conflict that seems to arise so easily under certain circumstances—these reek havoc upon our souls.  So frequently, these upsetting situations disturb the inward peace that our Prince of Peace longs to partition to us in abundance!
Imagine the dread of the disciples as they saw waves crashing into their small bark on the Sea of Galilee, filling the ship, and threatening their lives.  And all the while, the Savior rode along in the back of the ship, undisturbed, at peace, asleep.  At last, when the foaming sea became too much for them, the disciples arrested His attention, pleading in frustration, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?”
We know the words of Christ, Who said to the wind and waves, “Peace, be still.”  But we are not given His thoughts.  Perhaps He pondered how the Father had, in the words of David, “beset [these disciples] behind and before" (Ps. 139:5), how His own right hand upheld them, how the Father knew their present circumstances, being “acquainted with all [their] ways” (Ps. 139:3)  As Christ stilled their storm, so in the midst of our turbulence is peace possible.   
How Martha was encumbered with much serving!  And our lives, too, can be consumed with this worthy task.  Christ Himself, the Master, taught us that service to others is in itself a reflection of our lowly Lord and Savior, Who girded himself with a towel and washed His disciples’ feet.  He came, we learn, “not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 10:28). And being in the form of God, He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:6-7).  But in our service, in every act of work done for the Kingdom, in every word of kindness offered another, in each deed, Jesus Himself must be present with us, enabling us for our every task, empowering our actions, and energizing us so that it is “not I but Christ” whom others view when they see us at work. 
Truly, Martha’s can be the plight of many dear Christian women, for when our Lord reminded this focused, well-intentioned, serving woman that “one thing is needful” (Luke 10:42), He proceeded to commend Mary for choosing that worthy portion.  One thing—that is the focus of this article series.  The one needful thing that is essential in our lives:  waiting, resting at the feet of Jesus. 
Our eyes frequently see only the needs about us—physical tasks and duties comprising our obligations.  That vision too frequently results in a heart of impatience, ingratitude, or independence.  But a heart of quiet rest can become realized amidst the bustle of activity as our eyesight becomes adjusted to viewing the world God’s way. Then, in the courts of eternity, we shall hear, “You have chosen that good part (Luke 10:42) and, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).

This upcoming year, I plan to share a weekly article series compiling God’s working in my life as a result of particular word studies.  I truly hope it will serve as a challenge to you to study for yourself the living, powerful Word of God (Hebrews 4:12)!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Twins of Joy: Thanksgiving and Obedience (Lessons from my Africa Journey)

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The Dark Continent of Africa, like a sealed envelope, became gradually opened to Westerners and the gospel of Christ by men such as David Livingstone.  Even when he was too ill to explore uncharted lands, the smoke of a thousand villages caught his eye and affected his heart, so that he traveled to as many places as possible to give them the good news of salvation.

When the news of Livingstone’s death reached the ears of a twelve-year-old girl in Scotland, she determined that she too desired to take the gospel to the unreached in Africa.  Mary Slessor would travel to Calabar, where she would become known as “Mama” and “Queen.”  She would hold government positions, teach the natives to read, and would rescue African children.

Twins especially were considered cursed and doomed to die.  But Mary spared their lives, took them as her own, and raised them to serve God.  From the heathen darkness of their culture they turned to receive the light of the Gospel of Christ.  Their plight of doom was exchanged with the privilege of deliverance! 

Doomed to utter desolation and destruction, we who once were unsaved are like these twins whom Mary rescued.  Now, God desires for us to raise twin attitudes in our lives which are prepared to bring glory to him.  These are the attitudes of praise and thanksgiving.

Traveling throughout the Masai Mara on Kenya’s border with Tanzania, my husband and I recently found ourselves surrounded by God’s magnificent creative genius.  What human would have considered forming a hippo or framing an elephant, who eats up to 350 kg a day?  Which of us could have tailored the cheetah, the wildebeest, the giraffe?  Our God, who owns the cattle the world over, is Designer of all.  As such, He needs nothing.  And yet He desires two beautiful attitudes from us, His children—the twins of praise and thanksgiving.

The children of Israel called God the Lord.  They came to Him with drink offerings, with meat offerings, with valuable sheep and oxen from their folds.  The tribal Masai people’s wealth is likewise in their cattle.  Women collect cow dung to construct houses.  Men bring a dowry of cattle to purchase the bride of their choice.  A savory Masai drink is blood and milk mixed together, which one young Massai villager told us on our recent trip would help make him “healthy and strong.”

God asks an interesting rhetorical question in Psalm 50:13: “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”  God neither “needs” anything that we have, nor will He take from us that which is not offered of our own free will: “I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds” (verse 9). It seems to me that what God really desires is our hearts, for He states, “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:  And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (verses 14-15).

How can I make God’s wishes my own?  How can I embrace God’s vision for me--to view this world with a heart of praise to Him and thus daily present to Him an offering of thanksgiving? 

First, I can embrace a joyful attitude regardless of the circumstance in which I find myself.  The Africans’ smiles, offered sincerely and regularly, speak of their pervading sense of contentment.  Many live in three-room houses, with bare floors, little to no furniture, and an outhouse in the backyard.  Goats, chickens, and vegetables, placed behind fences around their homes, are luxury items from which they receive many good things.  They don’t own many outfits, and many aren’t consumed by materialism. Yet they offer hearty welcomes and extend meaningful gratitude about the common things of life.  They joy in relationships and work with a song in their heart.

Joy and thanksgiving often work hand in hand.  By choosing thankfulness, I exchange an inaccurate perspective on any circumstance in an instant.    My heart can easily deceive me into viewing life incorrectly.  Feelings of discouragement can be washed away by purposeful praise. Let my life be characterized by what one author calls “thanks living.”  She says, “Thanksgiving is good, but thanks-living is better.”  When it is easier or feels natural to complain, make it a point to praise instead. 

Second, I can give the Lord all of my heart.  Such yielding is a moment by moment decision.  Discontentment zaps joy.  And yet, every daily experience--whether easy or challenging, expected or unpredicted--I can embrace as a gift from Him.  As I obey in this crucial matter of surrender, I will more readily offer God what He so longs to hear:  praise.  Thus, I will fulfill my purpose on earth--to glorify Him!  

As Mary Slessor raised twins for the Lord, may I likewise allow the twin attitudes of praise to God and surrender of self to glorify God in my life.  As I yield myself to His way, I no doubt will be able to watch Him put thanksgiving (or “thanks-living”) into my heart and life, so that the theme of my  heart is blessing the Lord at all times, regardless of any external circumstance about me!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day, 2015

 
“Happy Mother’s Day.”  The words came out of my mouth easily today, with a meaningful smile.  The newest mother, just married last year, beamed with her precious bundle, and I hugged her, wishing her joy on her very special first Mother’s Day.  But it hasn’t always been easy.  There have been other mothers' days where I have inwardly cringed, not exactly anticipating another Mother’s Day message, in which I was forced to recall that I was yet without children.  My desire hasn’t changed:  I still long to be a mother.  But today God’s been reminding me of a verse I found some time ago in my study of the Scriptures.  I’ve been meditating upon it and finding in it exactly the transformation I need.
Psalm 43: 4 calls God "my exceeding joy."  Mirth, gladness, and delight--these attributes from God exceed expectation.  He is the light amidst cloudy days; He brightens cheerless corners; He illuminates otherwise drab and dreary circumstances.  He makes mundane miraculous; from status quo He brings supernatural; what once was worthless He makes worthy.  Truly in God is found my best life now (not a wealth and prosperity gospel but a reality as we live by faith and see God, amidst even unpromising human circumstances).   
No matter that your dreams have been disappointed: He remolds them.  No matter that your life has taken a different course than you expected: He shapes your minutes.  If you are yielded to Him this hour, this life is abundantly full of His goodness.  Is not the entire earth full of His glory?  (Isa. 6:3) Then what in your circumstance cannot be transformed by a vision of Him, your exceeding joy?  Truthfully, nothing.
And so this day—I joy in the mothers about me, enjoying their precious children and I praise God that I can partake in this moment and view it as it is in His economy—a priceless treasure packed with His abundant grace and mercy for me.  
Whatever your need, see Him, the eternal God, as your exceeding Joy, and let Him fill your every moment with His fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)!  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lessons from an Orchard

 

The orchard was vast, long columns of apple trees laden with fruit bent down under their weight.  Gorgeously proportioned, the crimson, gold, and green apples decked the trees like ornament balls on stout Christmas evergreens.  Each fruit tree boasted hundreds of apples.  Any marred or misshapen fruit was detained by the owner to be made into jam, sauce, or pie.  Only the best, the perfect, the most beautiful specimens would be sold at market.

What fruit!  From one small apple seed, a large and bountiful tree—and that story repeated time and again as I walked the rows and gazed upon the breathtaking display, inhaled the sweet aroma, and munched on one of the delectable Honeycrips.

This morning, I read in the Word of God, “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God,” and I considered the orchard.  I thought of the fruits produced in my life by Christ’s righteousness—mercy, grace, peace, temperance, goodness, faith—and suddenly the truth resonated within me.

Those fruits of righteousness resulted from the seed I had in me—Jesus Christ the Righteous.  When I partook of His righteousness through His free gift of salvation, a spiritual orchard began to grow in the garden of my heart.  Any good work was really a product of His righteousness.  Any time I showed grace, demonstrated mercy, or acted in love, I evidenced the fruit of the righteous, indwelling Lord.

My life should abound in His love.  My actions should be covered in His grace.  My words should be seasoned with His wisdom.  And, as I walk in the Spirit, yielding each moment to that indwelling Comforter, the Spirit-produced fruit of righteousness will bring credence to that Seed within.