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Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend Snippet: Old Eyes, New Eyes

As I write this, a new second-cousin is being born--one of several new additions being added to my extended family this year. It makes me think about the value of human life, which was first valued by God.

If judging by the contributions an individual makes to the "greater good" or some physical beauty or ability, it is easy to miss the point and bog the argument down in politics and statistics and supposed scientific measurements.  It is way too easy to overlook the value of one person while praising the apparent value of another. It is also easy to look at all the pain and suffering that comes with living and decide that living is no longer worthwhile.

In fact, it is too easy to take life for granted while we have it, to overlook the beautiful gift that it is when we look at others, and to miss the point of life entirely while we have the chance.

The basic reason for living is God. The basic value of life was set by God, when He called it "good." Finally, the basic purpose of life is to find eternal life, and hold on tight to it when we've found it.

"Good" Is Such an Understatement

When God created life, He looked at it and called it "good" (Genesis 1: 31 NIV). I always thought that was an understatement, especially at high points in life when we feel like shouting for joy at the "stupendousness" of life.  You know what? I see now it didn't need extreme words to describe it. There is something simple but perfectly elegant about life, which can only be summarized in such a simple but completely fitting word. Life is good, even when it seems bad.  But, I'll get to that.

Life got so complicated, full of crests and troughs like the surface of the ocean, when Adam and Eve tried to have life and live it their way, too. They stepped away from the pattern of goodness and planned to continue in this broken pattern forever. Then God put a deadline on their evil--a little thing called "death" (Genesis 3)--and it looked like it was all over. But, was it?

Pressing On Toward the Goal

 God called life "good" because it was one of those absolute qualities of Himself that creation reflected, dimly sometimes, but clearly.  Death was necessary because He also had to uphold justice and mercy (two other eternal qualities of himself), but He couldn't let life come to an end because of sin. Failing to uphold this eternal ordinance was just as bad as letting injustice stand.  He couldn't do it!

That is why God sent His son, Jesus Christ, to uphold life by paying the penalty for sin with His own life.  He sent Christ because He wanted to show to us how seriously and personally He took this whole situation.  Christ was sinless, just like His Father, but He willingly died, so we who had sinned could have a chance to regain the eternal life we had forfeited.  It was the only way to uphold justice and uphold life at the same time, and Christ did it!

Now, people laugh and scoff at this, saying it's all a fairytale, but it does make logical sense that the toughest, most complicated questions have simple answers.  We don't need to figure out where life comes from, or try to isolate a substance, or draw up genealogies. We just need to believe that God is the source of life, and go to Him, and ask for Him to give us the life that He won on the cross.  If we go to Him seeking life earnestly, He will reward our search (Hebrews 11: 6).

God made life.  He values it so highly that He committed His own son, the embodiment of His Word, His goodness, and His purposes (John 1: 1-5 NIV) to the preservation of life.  And finally, He offers this perfect life which He has protected as a replacement for this broken version of life we are now living.  I can't think of a greater goal for this current existence than to seek the things He values--the foremost being eternal life--which we receive now and enjoy even after these old eyes have closed for the last time.

This Easter season, Christians everywhere will celebrate the life that God birthed with the Resurrection of His son, "The firstborn among many" (Romans 8: 29 NIV). What we are talking about is this eternal life, this "new" life, that is pure and clean like new eyes, patterned the way life should have been before sin broke it.  Do you have eternal life today?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Snippet: Thirst

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.--Isaiah 55: 1a NIV

On the long drives to and from the Colorado trip, I brought along a big liter bottle of water and developed a reputation as the person in the car who drank the least water. Part of this was intentional, but the rest was the fact that I just didn't feel thirsty.  Sometimes I craved salty foods, which I've heard sometimes is really thirst signals getting confused with hunger.  Any time I noticed this (and knew that I wasn't just genuinely hungry), I drank more water.

The Bible frequently relates God's gift of salvation and eternal life to a drink of water.  Just as water brings life and vigor to the weary, Christ's offering can repair the most run down of souls.  There's just one catch: We have to "thirst" so that we can "drink."  We must first become aware that we (individually and personally) are thirsty.  It doesn't work to expect to benefit from another person drinking the water, nor does it work to merely live near it all our lives.  Christ cannot bless us and help us until we face our own thirst, that is, come to terms with our own lack.

Sometimes people recognize this need right away, and turn to Christ early in their lives (these people are the luckiest ones).  The rest get mixed signals in their minds, and chase after things that they think will satisfy their thirst, but which aren't really water.  This is like eating crackers instead of taking a drink.  It only leaves them hopeless, because they are thirstier than ever.

Many keep saying, "How could God help me, now that I've [eaten all these crackers]?" and they persist in their sin without turning to the living water they suspect could help them.  Some get so mixed up that they keep "eating the crackers," insisting this is what they need, until it makes them ill, or worse, kills them.  If only they would see what will satisfy their thirst before the disaster comes!

Whether they are feeling only slightly thirsty, or so lacking that they have fallen ill or are nearing death, it is our challenge as Christians to offer them what we have found, "the richest of fare" (Isaiah 55: 2 NIV), which satisfies completely.  It's not boring stuff.  Even in its simplicity, it is essential to life and health.

This grave responsibility to our fellow human beings calls for true wisdom in the Christian community, not pop psychology, and this can only come to us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We who try to reach out to the world have not helped anyone if we offer Christ's salvation to them, but don't explain to them how this fulfills their needs--that is, we don't explain thirst, or the fact that this alone quenches it.  Without a clear, straightforward, and truthful answer to this question, we have wasted our time and theirs, to their much greater loss.  Furthermore, if we offer them "crackers" of even the purest sort, but no "water," we have condemned them, and they just might choke to death on our blessing!  This should not be. 

Until next time, I challenge you to remember your own past thirst, and taking Christ's model for your own (John 4: 8-30),  pray for wisdom in reaching out to others when you go out of your door each day. They so desperately need this living water!  Who will share it with them?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Trusting God's Guidance Through the "Fog"

There is something secure about being able to see what is directly ahead of us. We feel somehow better able to handle the situation (even if that is just a delusion), as long as we know which direction it is coming from.  I think this feeling of helplessness is what makes fog so disturbing to us, even on a spiritual level.  At least, I feel I learned a few spiritual lessons from fog during my recent nighttime drive through it!

The Dark Heart of a Cloud

On the way to Colorado Springs, my fellow vacationers and I drove all day in heavy rain, but we didn't feel alarmed or even troubled about the weather conditions until it got seriously foggy that evening.

As the sun set...
Really, really foggy.  We snapped these two pictures through the car windows, half an hour or so apart, before and after sunset.

We were literally driving through the heart of a cloud at that altitude. Traffic slowed to a walking pace, as weird white arms of cloud slid across the road ahead like giant snakes.  Visibility was at zero; we could only see about half of a car length ahead of us at times.  We even passed a large-eared fox and later a bunch of mule deer waiting beside the road to cross.

Fog bank at night.
Unable to pull off anywhere, I kept edging the car slowly down the steep mountain slope.  Conversation in the car shrank to hushed monosyllables.

Then our radio started playing what I would call "Christian Anthems" about walking bravely with the Lord. We spontaneously turned it up and sang along, and suddenly we felt better, even though it would be another hour before we escaped the fog bank.

Guidance Through the Fog

Frequently, life is like driving through that heavy fog bank with zero visibility! Strange things seem to come at us from out of nowhere.  Sometimes they are threatening, and sometimes they aren't, but either way, we feel off-balance and terrified when they suddenly appear.  The thing that shrouds them from our view becomes itself a kind of enemy--an ally with our fears.

We can give in to a fear of "fog" in life, like changing circumstances (which makes planning and foresight impossible), impending money and resource shortages, health issues, and personal relationships, but that fear will soon destroy us.  Thoughts of ways to defend ourselves against any threat will consume our thinking and snuff out everything else.  Fear might even cut us off from God when we allow ourselves to think that God has abandoned us to the fog.

There is an alternative.  We can choose to lean on the Lord and go forward without embracing those fears.  I'm not saying that God has asked us to live without feeling the sensation of fear (it is perfectly natural and good for us at times), but God wants us to leave the worrying about what we cannot predict and the constant scanning of that foggy horizon to Him.  When the darkness really presses in, we need not focus on it, but should instead remind ourselves in praise of His past victories while He works another one in our lives (2 Chronicles 20: 15-28).  He can see what lies ahead, after all, and He isn't afraid of it.  Because He is with us, we shouldn't be, either.

Our task is to trust His guidance, and that is far easier than trying to create our own.

 The Bible says, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path," (Psalm 119: 105 NIV). Instead of overloading us with worries and revelations about what might lie ahead, God has given us His guidance for this present moment (His Word, the Bible, and Christ who models for us the way [John 1: 1-5]), and a firm and irrefutable promise that He will save us from every alarm if we follow Him (John 3: 16; Joshua 1: 9). We don't need to fear the fog, or what might lie ahead.  We will face those things when we come to them, and we won't be alone!  God will be with us in the future, just as He is with us right now. We just need to trust Him, and He will guide us home.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend Snippet: In a Worshipful Mood...

This past weekend, I took a short trip into the Colorado Rockies with two other ladies. We stayed in the Colorado Springs area at a Christian retreat center called Glen Eyrie (I heartily recommend!), and soaked up the natural beauty of the area.

Especially since we grew up in "mildly hilly" landscapes, we were awestruck by the soaring heights and vibrant colors. God makes lovely things!  Here is a photo from scenic pullout along a highway, with Pike's Peak in the background, and "The Garden of the Gods" in the foreground.  I don't care for the name of that park, because I believe there is only one God who could have made those strange red rocks (and He happened to make the big snow-capped one behind it, too).
Pike's Peak and Gateway Rock

This landscape put all of us in a worshipful mood, and we frequently sang along with Chris August's song, Canyons as we drove from one place to another.  Not worshiping the mountains, mind you, but rather the Lord who made them, and who, after completing such a gigantic project, still cares about the large and small problems we deal with daily.  It is an amazing and humbling thought!  For my past reflections on Pike's Peak, you might want to read my post, "God of the Mountains and Valleys."

Mountains symbolize power and authority to the human mind.  Such a sight makes it hard to believe that God is somehow powerless to attend to our needs.  It was a good spiritual reminder for me to have faith without doubt, and to walk with the Lord with confidence.  The first evening, I re-read Isaiah 55 and this verse stood out for me:
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55: 12 NIV)
This is precisely the way I felt when I surveyed that landscape.  In Christ, and by no other, I can claim that kind of joy and peace.  It's the assurance that whether I'm on the mountain peak or standing in the valley, I know I'm safe.  Since I have put my trust in Christ, I know He will rescue me from death.  That kind of good news makes me want to join in with the song of the hills and mountains!

I wanted to share a couple of other inspiring photos (and these are by no means hard to come by in that kind of landscape).  Don't they inspire awe of God?
Glen Eyrie, Near Echo Canyon, at Sunset

Overlooking Glen Eyrie, with Colorado Springs in the Background
We had quite the adventure, and on a few occasions, we had to trust entirely in God's power (for instance, our nighttime trek down a mountainside in the densest fog we had ever seen).  It was wonderful, though, and we all plan to go back again when we can!

What about you?  What do mountains make you think about? I'd like to hear from you!

Friday, March 9, 2012

In Case of Emergency (and Even When It's Not)

In public buildings in the US (I don't know about other countries), there is always a fire extinguisher, encased in glass, on every floor, marked "In Case of Emergency, Break Glass." The obvious understanding is that you don't break the glass for any emergency--only for fires.

While it's an imperfect comparison, I can say I've observed people treating God like that fire extinguisher: He just sits there behind the glass, only to be used in an extreme situation, and only in a situation when we think He can help us.  The problem with this image is that it's unrealistic, and will lead to trouble.

God isn't only there to help when we can't solve the problem; He's always there, always available, and always able to help.  We are taught to be resourceful and self-reliant, and that is fine as far as our interactions with other people go.  We are taking it too far, however, if we think that we only need God "in case of emergency."  We need Him, always.

I am reminded of a "non-emergency" prayer I prayed in college one weekend. I had so much homework that I had opted to say in the dorm rather than going home to enjoy the comfort of familiar surroundings and Mom's cooking.  I felt weary at heart and not just in my body, and as I sat poring over some research papers before dinner, I wished for the one meal the school cafeteria did especially well--breakfast food for dinner.  It was comfort food, and that's what I felt I needed at that moment.

I decided that it wouldn't hurt a thing to just ask God for it.  He claims in His word, "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry," (Psalm 34: 15 NIV).  The Bible never says, "God only listens when He thinks it's worth His time."  Keeping in mind that the worst He could say was "no," I prayed for biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs and bacon, and maybe some hashbrowns and pancakes.

Guess what the cafeteria workers had whipped up by the time I made it to the cafeteria two hours later?

If you guessed a full range of breakfast products, you got it right.  They didn't taste like something out of a box, either!

As I munched on my third helping of biscuits and gravy with my friends, I attributed this miracle to God.  Unfortunately, only a few accepted this explanation.  Most of them chocked it up to coincidence and dismissed it.  I could have agreed with them, but I have chosen not to.  I believe that "Every good and perfect gift is from above," (James 1: 17a NIV), so there are reasons to thank God and spiritual lessons to be gleaned, even in a good plate of eggs and bacon.  I also believe that frequently "coincidence" is the hand of God dismissed, since nothing happens outside of His awareness or without His permission (Psalm 33: 13-15).

So, returning to the fire extinguisher metaphor, I'm asking you to change your thinking if you are still thinking of God as a fire extinguisher.  Call on Him, even for "silly" needs that you think you can handle without Him.  He wants to show you how closely He is listening, and how easy it is to depend on Him for everything.  Be prepared to be amazed.

P.S. I will be out of town for the Monday post, so I will see you back here next Friday.  Meanwhile, I welcome you to peruse the archives here at SavvySheep.  I hope you will find something good there that will bless you!  Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Choked by the Weeds

I hate to admit it online, but in the spirit of writing toward the interests and needs of real people, I'll admit that I have a problem lately of over-multi-tasking.  With all of the projects I've started, it is sometimes amazing that I'm able to finish them well, or at all.  Since at this moment I can't really stop any of them altogether, I've been looking for ways to make the less-important tasks drop into the background while I try to develop and improve my lifelong goals.  I think it's important, even for the sake of my spiritual development.

I bring this up here because I've noticed that when I'm constantly switching between tasks, I tend to spend less time with God and His Word.  This results in more anxiety and stress, and a loss of peace.  How about you? Is life beginning to keep you from the spiritual growth of your dreams?

In Jesus' explanation of the Parable of the Sower, I see a warning when Jesus said, "The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13: 22 NIV). I don't want to be unfruitful! I don't want to waste my energy worrying, since that usually comes to nothing. I certainly don't want to make money (or any other kind of advancement, for that matter) into some kind of god that I serve at the loss of everything.  Nothing on my super-long to-do list could possibly be this important.

Studying this plant symbolism further, I see that the key to overcoming the choking weeds is to focus on God, not on peripheral things. Just like the seedlings growing among the thorns, we have to look up (keep our eyes on God) instead of looking to either side (at our scary-looking neighbors).  Plants that focus on the sun will eventually rise above the weeds, through growth.  Similarly, if we stay in constant contact with the Lord, He will make us grow spiritually, until we can look down at our worries and say, "My God is bigger than you!"

So, today, I'm going to take a few minutes to read the Bible in the middle of the day, when nothing is quite done and it's kind of inconvenient.  I'm going to close my eyes and pray during one of those moments when it looks like the whole world is going to fall apart if I don't keep both eyes riveted on the problem at hand.  If I really believe that God is in control and that He will take care of me, I need to act like it.  That means catching myself when I'm trying to hold up the weight of the world on my own, and just believe that God is going to take care of me, even when I'm not "on duty" or "totally with it" today.

God is not going to let His own interests in me get choked out by the weeds. He put too much work into my salvation already when He sent His son, Jesus, to die for me.  If He's not afraid of these things, why should I be? If He has overcome every trouble in this life, I know I can do the same, by His strength.

I'm reminded of a memory verse from children's church when I was small. It's good to return to what I knew first, so I'm sharing it here:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3: 5, 6 NIV)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Weekend Snippet: Impossible to Ignore

As a writer and small business owner who does her own marketing, I spend a lot of time figuring out how to get my words read.  A big part of what I do to make a living is attracting people's attention, and making them want the thing I'm selling. If I fail, I don't get many shoppers, which translates to a skinnier wallet.  Of course, I'm naturally better at failing than succeeding, so I have to work to overcome my own handicaps.

I was thinking about the effectiveness of God's campaign for our souls as I re-read the "marketing" chapter in Isaiah, chapter 55 to be exact, which I've been talking about for two posts now.  The passage begins with cries to "come and buy" something more valuable than the usual fare.  I spoke in detail about that in my recent post "Bought Without Money or Cost."  As the chapter unfolds, we are more clearly told that the thing of great value that can be found in this marketplace is a covenant with God (verse 3) which is something new, exciting, and previously unknown to the world (verses 5-8).  In fact, part of what makes it so wonderful is the fact that none of us deserve it, yet it is available for all of us to receive anyway (verse 7).

Frankly, no one can beat that.  It's brand-new, previously unknown, better than anything we have previously known, and freely given to anyone who wants it.  Who can hear of such a thing and still walk on?

Perhaps the reason why so many have not taken this offering is because they haven't heard about it yet, since God goes on to say,
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55: 10, 11 NIV)
 The reason why every word God says accomplishes His will is that every word is something we all need to hear.  God's word is kind, true, just, merciful, healing, faithful, fulfilling, comforting, and so much more!  It has 100% appeal to every walk of life.  On the other hand, when He pronounces judgement, no one can overturn it.  This is why even those who feel they can escape God will ultimately feel the need to listen.

Marketing campaigns or other kinds of work at a job or at school have their own kinds of usefulness, but God's word is ever useful, and always applicable. You might be able to turn off commercials and block out all the ads on the web, but you can't shut out the need you have for God's word.  If you've felt Him calling you and speaking to you today, I advise you to let Him in.  Give Him your ear, and watch Him transform your life and repair all the brokenness, like the flourishing bud in spring.