Friday, July 7, 2017

My High Tower

Tucked away in the tousle of multi-colored, Spanish-style homes near the ocean sits my friend’s house.  I’d visited her for years but, with the hustle and bustle of city traffic, I’d missed something—perspective.  The first time we met, I had arrived in an airport shuttle.  The driver’s way took him through the grand downtown district, so that when I arrived at my friend’s home, the drizzling rain and noisy cars distanced me from the beauty of her home’s location.

Retired and set in her ways, my friend is a creature of habit, frequenting the same grocery stores, the same exercise route, and the same approach to each day in a familiar, mimeograph sort of way.

And so I’d missed proximity to beauty.  Sure, I knew a lovely park sprawled, blocks away from her city home.  We’d walked there multiple times, inhaling the fresh scent of eucalyptus, crunching needles beneath our feet, strolling through a luxuriant rose garden.  But always we took the same route—or a variation of it.  And yet, how long this park stretches eluded me until I recently explored its acres of territory, which extend far across the heavily populated city where she lives.

Beyond trash-strewn city sidewalks and foul-smelling subway stations, a haven of beauty beckons.  Here, flowers of multiple varieties and shrubs of various hues accentuate the fingerprint of God’s handiwork.  Breath-taking displays of manicured flora and fauna highlight man’s work upon God’s planet, as individuals exercise dominion and stewardship over this corner of earth.

But until recently, I never realized my friend’s precise proximity to recognizable landmarks like the Bay Bridge.  I didn’t see just how her home fit into the giant jigsaw puzzle of her huge metropolis.  Because I hadn’t climbed high enough on a clear enough day, I didn’t know just how far one could view the grand ocean that diminished to ever-graying blue and stretched for unseen thousands of miles into the distance.

But when I trekked up several flights of stairs and even higher, I saw.  That vantage point provided a view of an overwhelming patchwork of beauty that surpassed my ground-level perspective, that put all into its proper view.

And as I sat atop the mountain, taking in the now miniscule townscape before me, Psalm 18:2 came floating to my brain—“The LORD is my . . . high tower.”

The Lord, my High Tower, provides a vantage point that stands distant from the mundane existence of life.  My High Tower uses His true and living Word, which is “forever settled in Heaven” to shape my perspective as I enter into His presence, away from the secular realm of this universe. By His every word we are to live, and when we get up into Him, through His eternal Book, we understand His heartthrob.  We realize what’s actually significant.  And He provides perspective—that our tiny, individual lives are only part of a bigger picture.

A picture that reflects all that He is. 

His sovereignty. 

His perfection. 

His goodness. 

In fact, our lives exist as particular parts of His perfect plan.

It doesn’t always appear that way to us.  In fact, it often seems that something’s off.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s gone awry.

But that’s not because of Him.

Too often, we bypass His perspective for our own.  We might choose to do a Google search on a topic before we complete a topical study on that same issue in God’s Word. Instead of praying about problems, we might rather just talk about them, making God's Source Book a last resort.  Instead of getting to the heart of an issue, we might rather avoid the discomfort of confrontation or people who point us to Scripture truth.  In these ways and more, we can choose to walk by what we see (our own feelings) rather than believe what we can’t see (faith in God’s perspective).

It’s tragic, actually--this lack of perspective that makes us trust our own vision instead of God's perfect Word.  It seems to me that the discrepancy between faith and feelings lies at the heart of most battles. 

Paul lamented to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). In Ephesians, he explains that the believers need not be, like children, so easily tossed from one “wind of doctrine” to another (Eph. 4:14).  In both passages, Paul illustrates a common human tendency—to easily remove ourselves from God’s way to our own way.

It’s a childish thing.  But it’s a dangerous thing.  Another Gospel means another Jesus, which means no salvation (Acts 4:12).  Another doctrine means a lack of truth, which means no actual worship, since God must be worshiped in both spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The question at the end of the day remains, Will we trust God’s Word implicitly or will we rely—even just a tiny bit—upon our feelings, our own way, our own understanding?

Let us ascend into our High Tower this day.  Multiple times, we can acquire His perspective and view the world with His wisdom!

Monday I finished reading Broad is the Way by Dr. David Sorenson.  This preacher commends the habit of reading through the Scripture seven times a year.  His method is nine chapters in the morning, nine chapters after noon, and nine chapters in the evening.  In reading about 27 chapters each day for several decades of his ministry, he has been able to see life from God’s perspective.  Understanding it is only God’s grace that has caused him not to move from his doctrinal and practical positions for decades, he also realizes that this habit of Bible reading has greatly shaped his view of life.

Another book I recently started is called For Instruction in Righteousness.  In her introduction, Author Pam Forster refers to herself as “just a mother," saying, “I am not a Bible scholar; I am just a believer, studying the Bible as the guidebook for my life.”  And yet, as a seeking believer, she has compiled a book of topically arranged Bible verses specifically geared toward child rearing from a biblical perspective.  She says, “We must turn back to the Bible, the source of all wisdom.  In it we will find all that we need to know to be godly fathers and mothers.”  Pam and her husband realize that God’s perspective must control their actions if they are to raise their family God’s way.  They have put together this resource that others, too, might have a help in seeking to make “God’s Word ... the center of”  

Fellow believer, let us likewise make God’s Word our Portion multiple times throughout the day, using it as our sole authority for faith and practice.  In so doing, we can live by the perspective our High Tower offers us.

From His eternal Word.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Better This Way

The tiny stuffed dog lay beside my three-year-old nephew.  Its long, rounded ear touched Andrew’s face. His bedtime trademark, the fuzzy blue blanket with its silky edge pulled just under the chin, lay behind the toy dog's collar. 

“What is that hard clump on the doggy's back?” I wondered. 

And then I heard it.  The same sound the mobile in our baby crib at home used to play when I was a child--the tinny, tinkling tune of “Rock-a-bye, Baby.”  Andrew had wound up the toy and, by now, was gazing upward, a far-off look in his eyes.  I looked at my nephew—the picture of adorable—nearly asleep.  There he lay, surrounded by two of his favorite things—a stuffed doggie and his cozy blue blankie.  His mommy had just given him a good night kiss and tucked him into bed.  Within moments, the rhythmic breathing of sleep sounded from his corner of the room.  What else could a little boy want?

The sweet picture of my nephew at bedtime reminds me of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter.  When Jesus bodily left this planet for paradise, He promised not to leave His people comfortless.  The knowledge that their Precious Savior would depart seemed unbearable to the disciples—at first.  But in the midst of pain, God always works a divine plan.  John 16:7 describes Jesus’ concept of this new arrangement:

            Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.  

That special stuffed animal and much-used blanket nightly help transition my nephew into the world of sleep.   Those comforting objects, pulled close, somehow make the segue better.  And that’s the idea of the word expedient—something that’s better.

Before Christ's departure from earth, only a few special individuals throughout history possessed the indwelling Spirit.  Now, every believer would experience His abiding presence!  Had those first believers not experienced loss, Christians throughout time could not have comprehended God's tangible Comfort to us, His Holy Spirit.

Like the ring of comforting objects surrounding my little nephew, the Holy Spirit surrounds us with God’s Truth. As we endure the difficulties of this world—pain, death, tribulation, persecution—the Holy Spirit sheds light upon the objective truth of God’s Word, and we experience His shielding in the midst of tribulation as we trust our Eternal God.

Security, rest, and quiet exist for the believer because the Comforter takes the pure words of God and applies them to our hearts.  He allows that Word upon which we meditate to penetrate into the very fiber of our redeemed hearts so that our rebel wills, molded by His divine influence, soften into hearts of child-like, implicit trust.  Where once our own way dominated, our own will guided, now our Guide into Truth leads the way--as we permit Him.

I once met a man whose face glowed with the joy of the Lord.  An elderly pastor of a Southern congregation, he mentioned something that I believe could well be the secret of that radiant countenance--his Bible reading plan.  Reading the New Testament through once each month and the Old Testament in its entirety four times per year had been his practice for decades.

“If Christians would just spend 45 minutes to an hour reading their Bibles each day, they could read the entire Bible through often!”  he told me.  Because he had practiced such a plan for many years, it was his testimony that “during the day, when a thought comes to mind—it's Scripture.” 

And have you not, dear Christian, experienced such leading in your life? Have your daily thoughts not likewise been shaped by your morning quiet time, so that you too follow the Spirit's leading throughout your day?

            “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21).

That application of God's Word to our hearts encapsulates the ministry of God's Spirit.  What security to know that this Comforting Spirit not only quickens our innermost being to truth but also illuminates our next step on life's winding pathway!  What comfort to know that our own faulty understanding (Proverbs 3:5) need not direct us into our next steps but this Spirit of Truth who reveals truth to our hearts (John 14:26;15:26; 2 Peter 1:20-21) can lead us with God’s Word!

"O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!  Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments" (Psalm 119:5-6).

Asleep in the wee hours of the morning, my nephew is not consciously aware of the stuffed animal doggie and silky blue blanket that lay at his head.  But the objects still rest there, relatively undisturbed.  Come morning, they will provide further comfort as needed.   

Far better, our precious God the Holy Spirit is with us--waking or sleeping.  He lives within, sealing us until that day of ultimate redemption in Heaven (Eph. 1:13).  Let us listen, then, to His leading each day, imbibing God’s Words to our souls and walking more and more under His divine leadership.

It's better this way.

For the indwelling Spirit is God's perfect plan.

For believers today.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

God, My Expectation

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; 
for my expectation is from him."  (Ps. 62:5)

The cake sat on the table, a trophy of exquisite workmanship.  My mouth watered as I waited for dessert to come.  But, when I tried the first bite, I internally grimaced, for interlaced within the crème and sweet fluff, I discerned the hidden taste of a smoker’s house.  Every bite elicited the same result, so that I barely finished my piece and gladly refused seconds.  The baker’s habit for cigarettes had, unbeknownst to her, affected even this masterpiece of culinary art.

We’ve all had expectations and then found that those same anticipations yielded unfortunate results.  Throughout the meal that day, my mind had not failed to consider dessert.  But when it was time to enjoy the torte, my expectations did not deliver as anticipated. 

So in life, our expectations shape perspective.  They stimulate joy or misery, assist contentment or covetousness, and even encourage faithfulness or lack thereof.

I believe that theology has a lot to do with expectations.  In fact, much of that word expectation is dependent upon our concept of what we deem valuable in life.  Wrong theology eventually results in sinful actions.  So, practically speaking, we don’t want to be wrong here.  We want to expect things in a theologically accurate way.

There are two specific areas where personal expectations and biblical thinking can collide—success and results.

Success.  We live in the age of prosperity gospel and mega churches.  What God calls the “favour” of men in His Word is often mistaken as success in the minds of many believers.  Since the favor of men (popularity) is deceitful—actually a lie (Prov. 31:30)—God’s definition of success stands in direct contrast to popularity.

Joshua 1:8 tells us how to find success—“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Meditating on Scripture 24/7, seeking to obey every one of God’s commands—this is success.  Although the crowd to whom he preached left and went to Egypt, Jeremiah experienced success in his preaching—not because he appeared successful to his generation but because he obeyed God.  When only eight people were left to join him in the ark, Noah likewise experienced success—for he, too, obeyed God.  Obedience to all of God’s commands—that is success. 

Defining success as God does is imperative for the believer; otherwise, our expectations will be disappointed.  Was Christ’s ministry a success?  Yes, for He fulfilled the will of His Father.  Was He always popular?  No.  Did many leave His “church”?  Yes. In fact, Christ’s message was so strong and divisive in John 6 that  “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus  unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?  Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (v. 66-68).  

How is that possible?  God’s Word is a sword that cuts deeply and literally divides. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Results.  Another area in which our expectations and biblical definitions may collide is in the area of results.  Fruit is the biblical word describing results; and, as in the physical world, spiritual fruit always occurs in a season different from that in which the seed was planted. 

During the spring of my second or third grade year, my father planted a peach tree.  One of my jobs that summer included watering the many tiny saplings about the front yard of our farmhouse.  I would string the green hose out, count to thirty, and then, kinking the hose so as not to lose the precious water, move to the next tree.  Watering trees seemed to take forever, especially when the sun beat down upon me, pounding its way onto my uncovered head and leaving burn marks on my skin.  But at last, come August, we enjoyed the fruit of our labor.  As I had held the hose on that tree, I had counted four tiny peaches.  At last, gold and bronze overtook green, and the soft fruit was ripe and ready to be picked.   Fruit at last! 

While the young peach tree produced tiny fruit that same summer, when we choose our own way over God’s, the fruit of that pathway is not immediately seen.  Proverbs 1 reveals the ultimate punishment for fools, scorners, and simple who fail to heed God’s warnings.  When counsel is considered as nothing, God will turn from Merciful Savior to Judge.  Verse 31 says, “Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.” 

Although the unrighteous man goes his own way, seemingly without consequence for a time, the patient endure to the end.  They turn their eyes upward, beholding a coming day of judgment, where the wheat will be separated from the tares, the sheep from the goats, and the wood-hay-stubble from the gold-silver-precious stone.  We read of the Thessalonian believers who endured persecution—but anticipated a heavenly reward (2 Thess.1). 

From a human perspective, both results and success focus the attention on the horizontal.  From God’s perspective, results and success can be defined biblically, so that our attention is drawn heavenward.

Throughout the Psalms, our attention is riveted vertically—that is why I love this book so much.  In its pages, we read of God’s people looking upward for peace, joy, and satisfaction. These writers understood that joy was not sourced in any external circumstance or relationship:  it was rooted in God. 

Note the psalmist’s words in Psalm 43:4— “Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.”  As our Joy, God can give us the spirit of thanksgiving and the eyes of faith that allow us to see all the joys He brings into our lives.  We can determine by His grace to be joyful, even if our earthly situations or relationships seem threatened.  Nothing need steal our peace.  With God’s strength, we can embrace every situation with thankfulness and joy, delighting in His pure and holy way. 

No one else can so clearly tell us the path for our feet; but He can.  Thou wilt show me the path of life" (Ps. 16:11).  Nothing else can deeply fill and satisfy—ever.  No longing fancy fulfilled, not even faith realized, prayers answered, or victories won is the same as God’s abiding presence, as His un-understandable peace.  Truly, it is “in [His] presence” that “fullness of joy” exists.  “At [His] right hand, there are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11). 

I vividly remember the day that a young girl brought a birthday treat to my elementary school class.  The cookies tantalized from the plate, a perfect brown with glints of chocolate chips tempting our taste buds.  But we had to wait until after lunch to enjoy the birthday treat.  When she handed out her chocolate chip cookies, the girl sat down, smiling.  I bit one, distinctly tasting moth balls.  I tried another bite and received the same sensation. The cookie did not offer the delight I had anticipated, for the odor of the home where it had been baked had worked its way into the cookie. 

Like that cookie and later the cake from my experience, neither of which offered what I had anticipated, everything this side of eternity will come crashing down and we will be left with gravel in our mouths (Prov. 20:17)—if our focus is incorrect.  If our expectations have rested in the wrong places, we will continually ask “Why?” and the smattered bits of those dreams will hurt us, causing wounds and difficulty—which never would have resulted had our expectations been in God.

But if our expectation is in Him Alone, if He is the One in which we hope—then we shall never be disappointed! 

After recently celebrating a wedding anniversary, I can truly say God has been good!  I expected to have five children by this time.  I planned for them, anticipated for them, and idealized my expectations for them long before I was ever married.  But God is my expectation—not my own dreams.  His Word tells me that His way is perfect and I can live in that reality!  

The next time you feel yourself drawn aside to fret in any way, ask yourself, “What am I hoping for?”  If your expectation is in God, whatever is happening around you will seem incredibly insignificant in light of the truth of this verse.  

 Let us embrace the biblical perspectives on both success and results, living every moment to the glory of God.

When our expectations are in anything other than our God above, we will be disappointed. 

Ever set your hope in God.

He alone is Your expectation.

Your expectation...

Is from Him.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Condemned by Judas or Praised by Jesus?

 To the probing observer, portraits emerge from Scripture’s eternal pages.  Some are masterpieces of the rarest quality, startling the onlooker with the very presence of Christ.  “Sitting at the Feet of Jesus”— this caption underscores the life of Mary of Bethany.  A woman of faith, Mary discerned  what others did not.  Her words are few, but her actions testify of her heart for Christ’s words.  

It is Mary whom Christ commends on two occasions of note.  In Luke 10, Mary’s ability to perceive the “one needful thing” is praised over Martha’s well-intentioned service.  Later, at a feast commemorating Lazarus’ resurrection, Mary anoints Jesus’ body and receives the breath-taking commendation—
          “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath  done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her (Mark 14:9). 

Three Gospel writers record this story; comparing these narratives helps shape the incident in our minds:  Mary lavishly poured costly ointment upon both the head and the feet of her Messiah.
             And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3).
            “Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3).

Many sat under Christ’s teachings, heard His stories, and listened to His parables.  But Mary glimmers forth from Scripture’s pages as one who took away from Christ’s presence something others did not.  Even His own disciples balked at the reality of His crucifixion and burial, but she seems to have comprehended these difficult subjects, for Christ’s commentary sheds light upon her intentions: For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial” (Matt. 26:12). 

How often did Mary meditate upon the words of her Lord?Faith cometh by hearing,” Romans 10:17 tells us, “and hearing by the Word of God.”  So many heard the same message—and could not bear it.  Yet it seems Mary’s faith increased as she imbibed the Messiah's eternal words to her soul.  That faith produced vision, which caused her to  “get it” when others did not.

Mary’s actions illustrate her comprehension of the sacrifice urged in Romans 12:1-2—“I beseech [beg] you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

It was as if Mary understood the mercy of God in allowing her to be part of Jesus' time on earth.  Using those moments, she drank deeply His words of life. Shaped by these eternal truths, she willingly poured out precious spikenard—worth about a year’s wages--upon His head and feet.

It’s reasonable—if we see what God has done for us—to present ourselves to Him.  But one will never present his body to Christ who has not first recognized the battle for his mind. Though Mary’s mind had been marred by sin—like every other creature's on the planet—drinking of Christ’s eternal words transformed her into a woman who willingly worshiped (even when others misunderstood).

A container of alabaster
It is only as the Word of God penetrates our minds that our reactions, our relationships, and our reality is affected.  Romans 1:21 says, “. . . when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”  Mary knew God.  And because of that, she chose in her life to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus came through her village of Bethany, she honored Him.  Martha opened up her home to Him—a noble and noteworthy service—but Mary clearly opened her heart to Him, for she let His words penetrate her thoughts, which resulted in actions that glorified Him.  

While Martha intruded upon Jesus’ teaching, calling for Him to rebuke her sister, impugning Him as “not caring,” Mary sat silently at His feet, imbibing His words.  Perhaps Martha inwardly ascribed “laziness” or “lack of awareness of the need at hand” to Mary’s desire for Christ’s teaching.  In reality, Mary saw the value of hearing God’s Words.

When God looks down upon our churches, our homes, and our daily lives, does He view believers that love His words?   How many today see the absolute necessity of  choosing the“one needful thing” that Christ commends?  How many base their every decision upon it, seek to obey its every precept, and willingly structure their lives around its eternal truths?

Mary was listening.  And she was listening to the right thing.  That’s why she heard that Christ would be buried and she did something about it.  That’s why she made the choices she did when Jesus visited her home. 

Dear believer, Jesus is visiting your home today.  Seeing your weariness, He beckons you to come to Him.  Come unto Me,” He invites, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  Christ longs to shape your mind to see the world from His perspective, to shape your thinking to prioritize His life.  How do you listen? 

Others attended the same sermons, heard the same parables, and saw the same miracles.  One of those was Judas.  When Mary anointed Christ’s body with precious ointment, Judas saw waste.  He saw a foolish woman, worthy to receive condemnation for her lavish sacrifice:
            “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?”            (John 12:5).
            This he said,” John writes, “not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6). 

Interestingly, John tells us Judas started the contentious spirit that day, but Matthew indicates it was “the disciples” who “had indignation.”  How easy for one scorner in a crowd to get Jesus’ disciples to doubt the good intentions of other true believers!  One scorner’s comments can affect church members and bring them to “great indignation” for what appear to be culturally foolish actions of a truly devoted follower of Christ.  Judas seems to have riled up the other disciples against this dear saint, so that when Jesus understands the comments He asks them,
            “Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.  For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always” (Matt. 26:10).

While He commends the sacrificial spirit of Mary, Jesus rebukes the Judas spirit in the midst of His disciples. 

Who really heard His words?  Who really comprehended the vast superiority of His way?  Judas’ words sound pious—“Give to the poor!” but Mary’s whole-hearted sacrifice is what Christ commends.

Dear believer, do you respond negatively to the lavish sacrifices of God’s people?  At a graduation ceremony this past Sunday, young people testified that they would gladly serve Christ with their lives, pledging even to return their diplomas if they denied His Gospel.  A New Yorker spoke of his passion to return to that populous city to spread the Good News; a broken young man spoke of God’s capturing his heart and renewing his commitment to serve the people of Eastern Europe.

Does full-time ministry seem a waste?  Let us consider Christ’s opinion.  Does He honor such sacrifice?  In a world that has quadrupled in size in the last eighty years, we do well to question the lack of love for full-time ministry in the church, the supposed lack of “being called” to Christ’s harvest field.  Is the Judas mentality causing many to doubt the worthiness of sacrifice?

I love these words of William Booth, which sum up the spirit of Christ-honoring sacrifice: 

"'Not called!' did you say?  "Not heard the call,' I think you should say.  Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin.  Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help.  Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there.  Then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His word to the world."

Mary's lavish sacrifice reminds us that if we take the time to really hear Christ's words, we will clearly perceive our need to surrender our all to Him.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Yet I WIll Rejoice

The days had dawned overcast and gray for the last several mornings.  The muddy brown of early spring found puddles in which to collect.  Umbrellas accompanied those leaving their homes, and the wet seat of my car reminded me that my once pristine sun-roof had turned twenty this past January.

So many things crowded my to-do list that I wondered how they would all get done.  The next day we were to leave on an out-of-state trip, but another thought flashed on the radar screen of my mind, beeping at odd moments, corralling my thoughts in one important direction: I must visit my friend before I left-- the one who’d been diagnosed with multiple brain tumors three months before.

I’d been praying for an opportunity to share Christ with her and had sought, each time I saw her, to plant little seed thoughts of spiritual things.  I’d left tracts and even an audio presentation for her, but I knew I needed to open my mouth and share with her how she could know, from the Bible, that she would have eternal life.  Thus, I’d prayed for the right opportunity, specifically asking for an absence of distractions, that I might openly share the Gospel with her. While I believed God would open the door, I also knew I had a job:  I must walk through that open door.

And that day, after a week of rain, a situation occurred that nearly distracted me from God’s plan.  It tugged at my spirit, seeking to bring it down into a mindset of discouragement and defeat.  But I knew that spirit was not of God. 

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; 
the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; 
the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:  
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD
I will joy in the God of my salvation. 
The LORD God is my strength, 
and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places”—Habakkuk 3:16-18.

Some years ago, these treasures tucked away in Habakkuk had ministered to my spirit.  They reminded me in a spiritually difficult time that, although eternal results do not appear to be occurring as we would like to see them, we can—in the midst of such circumstances—rejoice. 

A fig tree
I was reminded of what I'd learned of the fig tree back in January on our trip to Israel.

“Do you see this tree?”  Our guide had asked, as we made our way through a nature preserve to the historic site of Tel Dan.  When we looked up, we discerned two tiny pieces of fruit on the tree, which towered a few feet above the tallest member of our group.  Our guide identified this as a fig tree and explained that this tree should always have some kind of fruit on it.  He reminded us how Jesus had cursed the fig tree He passed which had no fruit.   

While the fig tree should hypothetically always have fruit, it doesn't always blossom.  And sometimes that's how the spiritual world around us looks-- as we note a seeming dearth of eternally significant fruit in the landscape about us.  And it is in those difficult times that we must rest in these directives from Habakkuk--rejoice!  Regardless of what you see around you, take heart and joy in God.

As I asked God for His help in giving the Gospel to my friend, He directed me to claim Habakkuk 3:17, go forward in faith, and rejoice in Him.  He also amazingly granted me an extra hour in that event-packed afternoon so I could make the visit which I desired.  What a gracious God He is!  

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  I was quoting the verse as I parked my car.  I was speaking it quietly to myself as I made my way out into the dreary rain and rehearsing it in my mind as I walked down the halls of the building where my friend lived.

I knocked on the slightly-opened door and a voice I did not recognize signaled me inside.  Looking up, I noticed a friendly nurse, who had not been there the week before.  After I had introduced myself, the nurse informed me it was about time for my sleeping friend to awaken, though she'd experienced an unprecedentedly difficult night the evening before.  

My friend was curled up on her bed when I entered the room, face slightly swollen from her illness.  Oxygen tubes extended from her nose and mouth, but she was completely cognizant.  We had several things in common, and as I shared with her the truth of being born again, from John 3, her intent look and manner informed me that her heart was ready to hear. 

“No, I haven’t come to Christ,” she told me, after I’d shared with her my testimony.  Like me, she had been raised in a very religious home, but today she'd heard from God’s Word that it was not baptism or communion that saved a person—it was repentant faith in Christ. 

“Would you like to be born again?” I asked her. 

“Yes,” she said.

“You can do so now, right here, in this bed," I told her—mentioning how in my own story, I had gotten saved as a child, ready to be tucked into bed for the evening.  You don’t have to be in a church building or anything.” 

She told me she wanted to turn to Christ later--when she was alone, by herself. 

Together, we prayed and I asked God to continue to help my friend understand her spiritual need and to give her freedom from the feeling of pain.  When I said “Amen,” she added, “If it be Thy will.”

After leaving the visit that day, I called some dear sisters in Christ and prayed with them.  I feel confident that my friend did, indeed, trust Christ for salvation, as she indicated she would.

Door of Opportunity
My friend passed away within days of my return.  She had slipped into a coma and then departed from this earth before I could see her again.  How grateful I was for God’s open door, for His direct answer to prayer in allowing me to see her and share the Gospel with her, and for her words to me that she would come to Christ.

With the events surrounding that visit, I was reminded of our need as believers to ever walk in faith, live by the truth of God’s Word, and be continually aware of the devil’s devices to distract us from a very intentional goal of our Savior--to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  Anything that diverts us from this mission must not capture our attention. Rather, we must place our gaze upon Him, our eternal Strength and Savior, so that we might gladly proclaim His name.   

Has He not redeemed us to be to the "praise of His glory" (Eph. 1:12)?  Let us then stand ready, ever aware of the enemy’s strategy for our minds and hearts to be distracted by times of barrenness or a seeming lack of eternal fruit and instead walk by faith, following the voice of our Savior, our ever-present Help in trouble.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Bloom with Grace: A Lesson from the Buganvellia

Glossy leaves cover the Buganvellia bush most of the year, but this April, it burst into color.  Laden with blossoms, its fuchsia blooms brighten the garden with their singular hue.  Most often, as it graces the corner of a tucked-away garden in the big city, it lies forgotten, unnoticed, and isolated.  But regardless of passers by, inconsequential to any circumstance, it perennially blooms, adding loveliness to its out-of-the-way corner in this garden plot.

Rarely do any stop to notice it.  Even less commonly do those appreciate it.  But, regardless of its clear lack of popularity, this bush thrives, almost smiling in its habitat.  Days frequently dawn dark and dismal.  Storm clouds threaten.  Ocean winds traverse, sometimes ferociously, across this rather barren spot.  A weather beaten fence, its wood greening from lichens and moss, stares back at the floral-covered bush.  Nevertheless, the shrub happily cascades flowers, dozens upon dozens of them, each day bringing forth new blooms.

How faithfully God's servants can likewise offer Him their worship as they continually give themselves to Him.  Numbers of individuals the world over labor in places where few see or appreciate them.  Some believers are persecuted, experiencing daily torture at the hands of their enemies.  Others suffer forms of verbal abuse.  And, tucked away in Christian homes the world over, numerous mothers of children labor, unnoticed by many about them.

I think of my own mother, now in her sixties, who once lived in the throes of rearing ten children.  Many of her duties cried "mundane" to thousands of her counterparts in the culture.  And yet, amidst the commonplace of daily life, she continues to exude warmth and friendliness to the many individuals who partake of her hospitality--including those in her own family.

Once, upon returning home from elementary school, I recall a transformation in our kitchen as I noted tiny strips of noodles dangling from every imaginable hanging spot around the kitchen table.  The cast iron black chairs and even the metal fixture of the kitchen light offered niches of all varieties for the drying pasta--one of several culinary experiments my mother joyfully undertook in an attempt to provide nourishing, cost-effective meals for her family.

Some delicious treats from my mother's kitchen
 No cooking project seemed too daunting for my mother to tackle--from crafting homemade candy on the marble table top to kneading loaves and loaves of the softest homemade bread--a tradition that continues to this day and finds its outgrowth in all types of creative and delicious home-baked treats (which she has shared with many others)--including sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, Swedish tea rings, and dinner rolls.

Savory soups from farm-raised chickens and a variety of garden vegetables warm weary travelers visiting from the world-over.  Hungarians around our Thanksgiving table offered praise with us one year, and my mom was sure to season her chicken soup with the paprika flavoring she purchased in that country.  Zsolnay porcelain dishes of the finest blue, rimmed in a delicate gold, and shipped as a gift from my father, added their own dimension of loveliness--as laughter, Christian fellowship, and home-baked deliciousness contributed to a special holiday.

Zsolnay porcelain
When I was  college student, a Russian violinist and his family, recent emigrants, entertained our family with a lovely concert, including numbers such as the moving minor tones of Vittorio Monti's famous "Csardas."  How I enjoyed helping my mother arrange scrumptious scones on a platter and offer samples of savory tea to our guests.

In high school, I assisted in the kitchen as we entertained a Singaporean woman.  Egg rolls, rice, and sweet and sour chicken graced our palates that evening.  Such hospitality breathed beauty into our home.

Sometimes, we found ourselves frantically preparing to ready our rooms for guests' arrival.  I took charge of refreshing the bathroom or vacuuming the living room, dusting the bookshelves, and attempting to enliven the decorations with fresh flowers.  But everyone worked together, and the end result provided memories to be treasured.

How many other children, reared in homes where parents embrace hospitality and cultivate a joy in serving others, likewise reap the benefit of individuals who, like the Buganvellia in my friend's flower garden, literally "bloom where they are planted," thriving in an element where many may not appreciate, few may notice, and even fewer may express approval.  And yet, such is the reality of the Christian experience.  Faithfulness, obedience, and service--day in and day out, 24/7, continually living out the beauty of the truths of God's Word.

Hundreds of faithful stewards in Christ's churches the world over serve Him happily where few may appreciate.  Perhaps their duties include cleaning the church building or caring for small children in the nursery.  Their daily service might be teaching others' children in a Christian school classroom or pouring out their hearts in prayer for the members of Christ's body.  Seemingly unnoticed and unseen by the eyes of many, they continue to offer the sacrifice of praise to their Redeemer as their lives offer the joy of faithful service.

And from the throne room of Heaven, the King of the Universe looks down and beholds.  He hears every word, sees every act, and notices the cheerful worship of His saints.  Their lives bloom before Him, beautifying the corner of earth where He has set them. 

May they ever bloom with grace.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Concert of Praise: God's Plan for His Church

When my husband told me a few weeks ago that he had arranged for us to attend a Baroque concert, I found myself anticipating the event.  The night arrived, clear and cold. Orion's commanding presence looked down from the sky as we found our way into the crowded auditorium.  After Thomas picked up the tickets, he met me at the back of the auditorium.  But that evening's experience exceeded my expectations and found me drawing parallels to a greater group of which we are both a part, God's institution for this age--the local church.

The concert was beautiful, breathtaking, better than most.  The musicians, mainly Italians, spoke through their instruments.  Virtuosity, interplay between the musicians, and a collectively choreographed and sonorous sound graced the ears of the audience.

It's the first concert I've attended where the audience received two encore numbers as a result of our hearty and continued standing ovation.

"I guess they feel like playing tonight," the woman beside me remarked.

But I said to Thomas, "I think it's because they're Europeans."  In Italy, concert goers attend the opera with musical scores in hand.  Pavarotti was booed offstage once because his voice cracked.  Italians are musical connoisseurs.  They taste the delicacies of classical and Baroque music and know what to expect at a concert.

Not only was their performance of Baroque masterpieces from Vivaldi to Corelli excellent, but also their presence as actors was apparent.  Their eyes spoke.  They communicated grace, joy, and pleasantry with each other as they worked together to portray contrapuntal melodies, echoing motives, and graceful accord.  Beauty frequently works into my eyes unwanted tears that form in the presence of such ecstasy.

As I left the concert, overcome by its unmistakable sense of collective artistry, I was inspired to consider the way in which the local church is to function.  The kind of relationships that ought to exist.  The ways in which individuals are to beautify Christ by exercising themselves to godliness.

The concertmaster, an unspeakably talented man whose first encore selection included a cadenza with notes so high they appeared to transcend the fingerboard, led with authority.  When the selections finished, the group members applauded one another--something I hadn't witnessed before.  Highly trained and talented musicians, they lacked the stiff formalism of many performers I have witnessed.  As any skilled instrumentalist would, each made his portion of the work appear easy.  Each one voiced the music and evidenced a relationship with his own instrument, as if it were an extension of himself.  Fluid readers who clearly understood the composer's original intent and singularly embraced their own particular roles in adding a unique hue to the colorful performance, each instrumentalist contributed wholly and meaningfully to every selection.

Frequently, in a passage characterized by rests, the musicians, catching the spirit of the music, smiled pleasantly at one another, looked away from their musical scores, and took time to enjoy the performance.

It's rare to be entertained by such qualified musicians who understand their instruments and the musical selections they perform, who visibly respond so positively to their leader, who applaud each others' accomplishments, and who have clearly mastered their craft.
Imagine the beauty of God's church if each member would see himself thus. Indeed, every member is part of a greater body, which has been designed for an eternal purpose.  Understanding this, would that each member would tap into his potential, letting the joy song of Jesus flow out from him, in the context of the local church, to grace the lives of those in the surrounding community!

Imagine the kind of experience the lost should enjoy if they were to behold such Christians, who, with joy and love, heartily follow the men of God whom God has placed over them.

Imagine the impact upon our surrounding communities believers such as these would be, who interpret Christ's Gospel so skillfully, who revel in the pleasant songs of Zion they are creating as they live as masters of their craft--unafraid of "what ifs," for they have spent hours developing their lives with a Master Who has shaped them, formed them, and breathed life into them.

And because of their ability developed by the Master's hands, their relational interplay within the church itself is harmonically pleasant.  With jealousy never given even a passing thought, they applaud the accomplishments of others.  With strife and contention buried under a pile of rubble, they joy in the unique giftings of one another.  With words of strife never spoken from their lips, they live with harmonious grace and kindness, breathing life into each relationship and clearly portraying the original intent of the Composer's score--the actual meaning of the Word of God.

Let us be of that number in God's church who powerfully interpret the everlasting text of Scripture in our lives as we live together in unity and exquisite oneness, experiencing the power of God's Spirit as a result!