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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Stars and the Greatness of God

I was driving in the middle of the night this weekend, and found myself examining the stars on the horizon in front of me.  I recalled a lesson on astronomy from my school days.  It pointed out that distances in space are measured in light years, that is, the distance a beam of light can travel in a year.  We know that light travels so quickly that we don't perceive a delay between when it leaves the source and when it reaches our eyes.  Think how far away the farthest stars must be!

This school lesson in the vastness of space continued with the stunning revelation that in order for us to see the stars that are the most distant--let's say, over a million light years away--the light that reaches our eyes tonight has been traveling through space for over a million years! It is as if we are looking back in time.

These facts make me think about the vastness of God in His power and omnipresence.  He is higher and farther than the highest stars, looking down at the creation He has made, missing nothing (Job 22: 12-18).  At the same time, He is near to those who call on Him, and hears their cries for help (Psalm 34: 17-20).  He set the stars in their places, so far away (Psalm 8: 3-4), and He sent us their light to light our days from the very beginning, not even waiting for the light to travel that great distance (Genesis 1: 16-18).

The same God who created all of these vast distances can cross them in an instant.  He made these spaces, not to keep us away, but to draw us closer to Him by showing us how powerful He is and how important we are to Him.  The stars are ancient witnesses to His favorable regard toward mankind, not things to be worshiped in themselves.

Something to contemplate today.

Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.  Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away. (Psalm 148: 3-6 NIV)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Eternal Seed

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass,and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall, 
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you. 
                 --1 Peter 1: 15-25 NIV 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Giving God What is His

He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22: 20-22 NIV 2011)
So often we read this passage around tax time and focus on how Jesus tells us to pay our taxes, as required by the government, but this story has a "flip side."  Jesus was speaking much more directly about mankind, and how they belong to God.  Just as the coin had Caesar's face on it, the human being is made "in the image of God," (Genesis 9:6), and therefore owes God their entire being.

What does this mean?  Though God has the entire world and all of its money in His possession, He has found it unsatisfying, even lonely.  He wants something only we can give, and that is our friendship, our love, and our obedience.  He can make followers who have no choice but to obey Him, but what He wants is people who obey Him because they want to, and because they want Him.

Today I woke up thinking about all the things I could do to increase my income right now.  Like many people around the world, I was letting my work steal my focus.  Worry can do that to us.  I had to take a moment to remember that work that results in money is necessary in this world, but it began as a punishment to Adam (Genesis 3: 17-19), to teach mankind a lesson.  Adam thought that, as a god in his own right, he could save himself and meet all of his own needs without God's help, but God made him work so that he would be humbled.  Human hands cannot save us; even in work we need God's hands to help our work prosper.

What God wants us to value is Him, not money and all the things it brings.  He even made Caesar and all of his denarii.  He takes care of us, even when we haven't humbled ourselves enough to admit it yet.

Today I am taking a break from money-bringing work to honor God with my hands in a blog post.  I want to challenge you to step back from your money-pursuing thoughts and praise God for His provision in your life.  I am asking you to change your thinking, not your work ethic.  Please don't do something that gets you fired!  When you receive praise for all your hard work, I challenge you to remember the God who prospers your hands, and who daily makes success possible.  He cares more about you than all the riches in the world!  Ask Him to show you His hand in your work, and to take away the worry about things that cannot save.  He will provide.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127: 1, 2 NIV 2011)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weekly Snippet: What Is Done in Secret

He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?  For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open." --Mark 4: 21, 22 NIV 2011
 I have always strongly believed that we should not try to keep dirty little secrets, because God sees everything, and often rips off the curtain to reveal to the world the real man behind the facade.  I can't count the number of times in my childhood that I thought I had gotten away with something, only to have it somehow "get out."  Who told my mother to check inside the ceramic figurine on my dresser to find my secret midnight candy stash?  How did she figure out that after she tucked me in for the night, I was getting up and reading a book for hours by the dim yellow light of the nightlight?  Who told her to walk in on me while I was testing the drawing potential of her lipstick on the bathroom floor?  Somehow, though my sister often supported my secret sins at the time, there was still a mysterious tattler who was always getting me into trouble.

I  am certain it was God.  I think He got me in trouble, over and over again, to prove to me that whatever I did in private was meant to be brought into the open.

At the end of all things, we will stand before God's throne, and in the presence of all mankind throughout history, we will stand and confess and be judged openly according to what we have done (Revelation 20: 11-15).  There will no longer be any secrets, and anything we may have "gotten away with" in this life will be revealed before every ear.

With this in mind, I have tried to conduct my personal life in a way that I wouldn't one day regret.  I won't claim I am perfect.  I am far from it.  This is why I need Jesus to help me become more like Him, so that even in secret I will have nothing to be ashamed of.

This morning was one of those mornings I was glad I had taken God's tattle-tale plan seriously to heart.  I received a text message from my boyfriend's number, but it was a stranger.  Apparently, through some sort of snafu, my boyfriend's online phone number was sold to a different phone carrier and assigned to a 13 year-old boy's new cell phone.  Now his mother was investigating.  For at least the last two days, he has been receiving private texts back and forth between my boyfriend and I.

I realize that many people carry on a relationship in private that would not measure up to public scrutiny, even in the Christian community.  Especially in the Christian community.  I want to praise God again for the rules for living that my boyfriend and I take so seriously--they are a path of life (Proverbs 2; Proverbs 12: 28).  Even when we didn't know other eyes were watching, we were secretly honoring God with our words and behavior.  We entrusted every deed to God, and now we have no reason to regret.  Nothing incriminating or inappropriate was said, nor will it be as time marches forward.

Those who pattern their life after God's blueprint will never face the shame and potential life-altering repercussions of being "found out" by a complete stranger.  God's ways are so perfect.  In them are the paths of peace!  This is proven daily, even hourly, for those who will see it.

I am speaking, I suppose, to several recent scandals in the news, where famous people's secrets were outed, and those secrets tore apart the perfect life they lived in public.  I won't name any names, because this will likely always be a current event topic.

May we not look to them and say, "I'm glad nobody knows the truth about me." Rather, may we always look at ourselves and submit to God's scrutiny.  He already knows the truth about us.  Let us ask Him to rewrite the secret stories of our lives, adding an ending that says that, though we sinned, He forgave, and though we were guilty, He taught us righteousness.  The God who reveals secrets can redeem us from them if we are humble enough to submit to Him.  God's ways really are a path of life for those who follow them!

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. --Proverbs 28: 13 NIV 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

Diamonds in the Deepest Deep

Think of your biggest know the ones.  They are so horrifying even to imagine that you never have allowed yourself to fully do so.  They might include fears of being penniless and homeless, of losing a loved one to sickness, or of being abandoned by a spouse.  They might range from being unloved to being unlovable, or from being too successful to being a total failure.

So ask yourself this.  What if the worst case scenario came?  Would it mean that God had left you?

I can tell you that human beings are never the same after a disaster comes, and I've come to believe that they can never, by their own power or craftiness, heal themselves.  However, I have hope that God can heal what a man cannot, and that even the worst case scenario cannot separate Him from us.  There isn't a pit so deep that God cannot reach the bottom of it.  In fact, the lowest place we can sink is still held in God's hands (Psalm 95: 3-4). God is bigger than the worst disaster.

Apparently David's worst-case scenario was his fear that Saul would catch him and kill him.  David wrote often about feeling that God had cast him into a pit, in other words, that he was at the lowest point he could be without being dead.  In fact, the imagery is like the grave. 

Even at that lowest point, David demonstrated the attitude that God wants from us--a dogged hope and trust in Him.  David understood that God could stop Saul, yet had chosen not to.  Though he couldn't understand this, he didn't lose faith in God's goodness and power, because even in the depths of his pit, God was still with him.  David could face the greatest fear in his life because he knew he wasn't alone.

That's the kind of faith God wants in us when He goes to the depths with us.  He is capable of lifting us instantly out of the deepest depths, but sometimes He lets us go there to test the genuineness of our faith. In these depths, He can refine dirt into diamonds.  Can we stand with Him in the process?

Furthermore, He has promised to raise us up from the last and greatest of our fears--that is, death--so that even at those depths we will be with Him.  In fact, Jesus was already there, and by the testing of His faith and obedience, salvation came to all who would believe.
Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, you who have done great things.  Who is like you, God?  Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.  You will increase my honor and comfort me once more....My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I whom you have delivered. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion. Psalm 71: 19-21; 23-24 NIV 2011
Will you, like Christ, praise God in the deepest depths?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Keep Rowing

For centuries, one of the things sailors most dreaded was to find themselves in the doldrums.  When the winds died on the sea, death often followed.  Without wind to push their ship, it seemed they were just sitting there, eating all of their rations and drinking their fresh water supply, waiting for the moment when the hot sun beating down on the water finally cooked them, too.  The usual solution, as far as I know from my reading,  was to send one or two guys out in a dingy to tow the ship out of the doldrums with their feeble rowing efforts.

It wasn't fast, but eventually, with dogged persistence and a whole lot of effort, they could escape the doldrums and head toward their destination with a fair breeze in their sails.

Sometimes life is a bit like rowing in the doldrums.  This is such an old metaphor that it almost doesn't need repeating, but I thought I would today.  If you are there today, don't get discouraged!  This too shall pass.

Monday, June 6, 2011

God Always Plans Ahead

There are days when life seems chaotic and random, and we wonder if God neglected to mention something to us that would cause everything to make sense again.  We struggle along through a trial that seems endless and ask God a million times a day, "Why is this happening?"

Then, the next day, something changes, and we are shocked with the revelation that the trials of yesterday, and all of those chance occurrences, were preparing us for today.  Sometimes years have to pass before we can look back and see this, but that day does come.

I've seen in my own brief life that this is true.  Sometimes the cutting words of today have prepared me to resist the shattering disappointments of tomorrow, as if I had been inoculated with Satan's cruelty so it was easier to rise above it later.  On the positive side, I've discovered that the chance decision to read a book or take a class has prepared me to understand and learn from a brief conversation five or ten years later.  In any case, I didn't know what would be useful for the days ahead, yet when those days arrived, I discovered that I had been equipped to handle it.  Isn't that a miracle worth celebrating?

Yesterday I heard news reports of a man who was cured of AIDs, by chance, by undergoing a bone marrow transplant from one of the rare 1% of Caucasians who are immune to HIV.  Interestingly enough,  this immunity is a mutation that may have been caused by exposure to the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages.  So this man, by chance it seems, was given a new lease on life, due to something that happened to someone else hundreds of years ago!  Well, I don't believe that such things can happen without Divine planning.

The Bible is full of this theme, yet we struggle to believe it in our own lives.  When Adam and Eve sinned, God predicted that Christ would come, born of a woman, and put an end to Satan's stronghold on human kind (Genesis 3: 15), even though this wouldn't come until many thousands of years had passed.  Later on, God saw to it to train a teenaged boy in the use of a slingshot and sent him on a lunch errand to a battlefield, where by seeming chance, he would start his career as future king.  Some of the events in the Bible were prophesied hundreds or thousands of years before they happened; some of the predictions, such as the restoration of Israel as a nation in 1948, are still happening today.  None of these things happened by accident, nor could the full outcome be predicted from the human perspective at the time prophecy was given.  These people did what God had put them there to do, at the appointed time, and history came together.

It turns out that life and all of human history is like a giant web, and God is the Weaver, bringing weak and strong threads together and making a sturdy and beautiful piece of cloth.  Nothing that happens has failed to be anticipated; whether people make one decision or another, God has seen it and prepared for both possibilities.  Isaiah the prophet wrote,
"Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff." (Isaiah 40: 21-24 NIV 2011)

Jesus pointed out how closely God monitors the lives of every human being when He said, concerning prayer, "your Father knows what you need before you ask him," (Matthew 6: 8 NIV 2011).  In the case of those who believe in God, before the trouble came, an answer was already on its way!

Let me be clear:  I don't believe in fatalism.  I don't believe human beings are deprived of choices, or that some are born doomed and some are born to succeed, and I don't believe that Scripture reflects a fatalistic attitude toward life and history.  God doesn't take away our choices, but He does always work to further His plans, namely, that evil will be destroyed, and good will prevail, as the Bible says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," (Romans 8: 28 NIV 2011).  Those who resist God's plans for this world will fail, and this by their own choices.  This is true of the grand scheme of history, and of the commonplace events of every human life.  We read in Proverbs 19: 21 (NIV 2011), "Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails"; from this we can conclude that those who wish for future success should let God do their planning, since He has already seen the future and set His plans in motion from the start.

I find comfort in knowing that what I didn't foresee was already known by God, and that He never sends me into a situation without preparing me first.  I pray that you, my readers, will find comfort in this as well.  For those of you in the midst of random hardships, I want to remind you that God has a plan for your life, which He has already put into place at the dawn of time, and which He will carry out to the end.  If you trust Him, He will bring you out of this, and you will someday see His hand in it all.

I leave you with these words, which I find especially comforting, because they remind me of how Scripture, and even Christ's coming, was planned from the beginning with each one of us in mind:
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1: 9-10 NIV 2011).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Take a Moment to Thank the Lord

In case my regular readers wondered where I went last Friday, I can tell you I spent a big part of the Memorial Day holiday visiting with people I knew, making lots of new friends, eating fantastic homemade Indian food, and most importantly, spending a lot of time in prayer.  By the end of the weekend, I felt like I had spent time in church camp, not visiting people's homes.

I have shared, here, a restful picture taken on one of my adventures last weekend.  When I took this, I paused a moment and thanked the Lord for such a beautiful scene at sunset, and for the eyes He had given me to see it.

When I got back home and launched back into the "daily grind," stresses from which I had momentarily escaped came rushing back in to my awareness.  It seemed as if some of them had been lurking in the shadows, waiting for me to arrive home, and perhaps that is what happened.  I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories, but I do believe that the constant enemy of Christians is Satan.  He is always waiting to make trouble, because he knows that a distracted Christian is useless for the kingdom of God.

So today I overslept, and have spent the entire day feeling as if I am running to catch up, and beating myself up for my lack of focus on my job.  Has this ever happened to you?  It came down to a mad dash to the post office just over an hour ago to deliver a box I intended to deliver by 2 o'clock, and just as I got there, I saw the postman closing the mailing office and locking the door (it was 5 o'clock, after all).  Several grumbling people walked out the door as I stepped in to drop off my box in the bin in the outer foyer of the post office.

That's when I remembered to thank the Lord for prepaid postage!  If I hadn't had that, I would have been forced to come back tomorrow.

In fact, on my way back home, I remembered to thank the Lord for air conditioned cars, traffic laws that fend off accidents, sunshine and warm temperatures after a long cold season, mail in the mailbox (even if it is just junk mail), libraries, my college degree, good friends who care, and so many more things.  By the time I got back home, the stressed feeling was falling away, and now I felt empowered enough to finish my tasks for the day, late or not.

Because of this, I am feeling convinced right now that if we want to fend off Satan from our lives, it has to start with an attitude of thankfulness, even if it is over a tiny thing, like prepaid postage.  The fog of Satanic distractions that threatens to pull us under can fade away in an instant, when we remember what we have in Christ.  We are always blessed, always cared for, always comforted.  The God who looks down from above on all our little worries is willing to deal with them personally.  He isn't just the God we talk at when in the throes of our stressed-out routines, He is the God who listens.  He sends us peace.  He sent us His Son (John 20:19)!

Our energy comes from the Lord, and our help is found in Him!  Let us remember that God is greater than our troubles and distractions, and let us thank God for caring about us.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2: 6,7 NIV 2011)