Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I was sorely tempted to title this one “Lighten up, Cheryl!” But suggesting you might want to laugh here was a better idea, I think.
As I have often mentioned, I love historical and Bible based fiction. It just seems that seeing the things we know so well through someone else’s imagination helps draw me into the story a little deeper. Beth Moore’s Bible Studies do that very well and she is not even writing fiction, just imagining what might have been going on in each scene. You may have noticed that I end my introduction to the blog with the phrase, “Do not fail to use your imagination.” (With thanks to my wonderful Pastor, Tim Baker.)
So, my next question is, what do you see in your minds eye when thinking about the people in the Bible. Are your images, like mine, influenced by the movies and paintings all around us? Do you see everyone as svelte, and lovely or handsome? Do you imagine that prophets were regal looking and that all the women are long haired, graceful young women?
Well, for sure, Walter Wangerin Jr. does not have that handicap. His mind runs to a very real assortments of people: skinny, fat, tall, short, beautifully attired, dressed in the worst of taste, real people, not movie images. They live in my brain so much easier that way.
But it is his description of the woman at the well that really caught me up short and made me laugh out loud. And then I wondered if I should have… was I being disrespectful? Was he? I think not. After all she was a woman who had been married five times and was presently living with a man who refused to marry her because he was “afraid of dying, too.” And her love for the Lord whom she had found was loudly spoken and celebrated right from the beginning of her faith. The thing is that he does not mention her until Jesus and his disciples return to Samaria to celebrate a festival with the followers there:
Moreover, there was a woman here whose affection for Jesus was so grandly dramatic none could not laugh and dance within the sphere of her jubilation.
“You!” she bellowed the moment she noticed him coming toward the city. “It is you!” she cried, and started to run.
She was a human of formidable proportion. She was a globe, an earth, a maker of her own weather.
Jesus stopped, half raising his arms in helplessness. The disciples shrank backward. It looked like a convergence of worlds!
The woman came layered in paints, green at the eyes, rouge on the cheeks, henna in her hair, orange henna on the palms of her hands.
“Yoo-hoo! Teacher! Master!” She waved her great arms over her head, gathering speed. Jesus stood completely alone. His eyes grew large. His jaw sagged.
“Oh, Lord, it has been so long since I’ve seen you!”
At this point you can imagine the ending, or you can read it for yourself in The Book of God. I am LOL all over the place right now. This woman was by no means the Hollywood version of Jesus followers. She was a very real, very emotional woman who was fully in love with her Lord. Oh, that we may be just as jubilant in our affection for Christ. May our love for Him be just as obvious to others and may He use that love to bring laughter and joy into the lives around us! Let us jump for joy as we also run to Jesus every day and every night, for everything.
Monday, February 27, 2012
After my last post, I was thinking that a follow-up might be in order lest someone think that I am against speaking up for Christ. I was reminded on Sunday about how hard Paul worked to keep the Truth alive and well in the face of adverse teaching, and I had to pause for a minute and sort out some of the things I had expressed that might seem to contradict Paul’s actions.
It seems to me that as Paul determined to make corrections in false teachings and misinformation, he did not do that from a public platform. He did not avoid having the public hear what he had to say, but much like Jesus in His last year of ministry, Paul kept his eye and his aim on believers who needed encouragement and re-teaching, rather on making a public spectacle of arguing with the false teachers. Even Jesus, after having dealt with the false teachings of the Pharisees and scribes, walked away and went out sharing Himself with strangers who needed to hear the truth and to teach the truth more thoroughly to his disciples.
Recently I was confronted with an opportunity to speak with someone who had a truly distorted view of the phrase, “with God, all things are possible.” It seemed to become necessary for me to finally say quietly that though it is true that “With God all things are possible,” the “With God…” part is extremely important to the outcome of our expectations. I don’t think anybody has ever screamed at me quite like she did at that point. Thankfully, we were in a private meeting at the time, so no public spectacle came of it. But I don’t think that we will ever be having conversation again.
But back on point, we will constantly be running into people who “make up” their own faith or choose to proclaim having no faith at all (which is impossible.) Sometimes we will have a chance to speak quietly to the propositions. Other times, no amount of arguing will settle anything at all. We had a neighbor who was an avowed atheist here in these apartments. He was very loud about his beliefs. I have every reason to believe that someone or something has hurt him terribly, and he blames the God who does not exist. Ironic. I never bothered to “straighten him out” on the matter, but neither did I stop talking to other people in the building who enjoyed talking about Christ and His Word as we socialized in the common room.
To me there is a time and a place and an audience for sharing the pearls of faith. This does not in any way exclude evangelizing. But it does exclude screaming and arguing and name calling in attempts to prove ourselves and our God right.
As for the state of the union that current political candidates desire to run, it is every bit as deplorable as in the days of Noah, of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Israel in her worshipful adultery, or of the countries that proceed with murderous genocide and population destruction under barbarian power struggles. Our hope is only this: God. God, who is in control of the nations, and will ultimately have victory over the wicked: He will be glorified in the end.
In the meantime, may our lives be daily glorifying our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with the humble telling of His Word to all who will listen. And may we speak every chance we get.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Ah… at last, I think I can tell you what I have been struggling with for a couple of weeks. It has been difficult to put my thoughts to paper, perhaps because they are so very personal and not studious. Perhaps because I have felt like a yo-yo running up down on a string as I tried to decide what I actually conclude from my reading in this area. But now I think I am ready to share.
My study in Matthew triggered these thoughts and a novel I am reading nudged me into finding out what was troubling me. In the novel (placed around the time of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and following) our heroine is a very young converted Jewish Christian. who’s father is deemed to be the “widow’s son” who was raised from the dead. The story is that he taught about Jesus and told his testimony everywhere he went and raised his family to love and obey their Lord. But during the destruction of Jerusalem, he was murdered, as was his son and wife, while one of his daughters starved to death. Hadassah was spared and taken as a slave to Rome. It is very hard reading, but I was interested in the broad subject and have kept reading, watching what the author saw as God working in her life to touch others for Him, even though they did not know she was a Christian. It was just too dangerous to tell “the whole truth.”
There comes a time when her masters ask her about her life because her very being has had a tremendous impact on them and has convicted them of their own lack of peace. She has often regretted not speaking up and she knew it was her duty, but, in the meantime, God was blessing her with great influence just through her peace and patience in servitude and genuine concern for her masters.
Here’s the thing: Life around her was truly an unimaginable horror. Rome had changed through the years and had become nothing more than a whore, according to the thinking of her master. Much of what was going on is exactly like life today with slightly different characters. This is where the pain of reading on became acute. I was reading a novel based on our country, our supposedly civilized world. Oh, we don’t throw people to the lions or cheer on the biggest and strongest killers, or worship with prostitutes… Oh, wait a minute. Yes we do. That is the heartbreak of it all. We do. We are the filth of the earth, a stench in God’s nose. This is not a new thing. This is the age old story.
So what do we do? Do we jump in and fight to the death? I do not think so. I think we have been very clearly instructed about this. We are to put on the full armor of God and pull out our “two edged sword” to keep ourselves sharp while RESISTING the enemy who would love to have us try to battle him. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7. A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power. Ephesians 6:10
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 It keeps us on our toes!!! It keeps us aware of our short comings and it keeps us aware that the One in us is stronger than the one in the world.
Here is where my thoughts come together. Even as Jesus told us to “turn the other cheek” He was preparing us with all that we need to RESIST the pressures around us and to keep from throwing pearls before swine. It is not our job to protect GOD. He can protect Himself. The most self destructive thing we can do is try to make our point by blasting someone else. Arguing or degrading others is not what God has in mind. Exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit for all to see is more like it.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:39 If someone tries to rile us over the things of God, I think it is our job to let God protect Himself and us while we simply live for Him in obedience and trust, a living testimony of who He really is. May we humble ourselves in service to Him every day. I know I surely need to do that in my own life.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
So, have you ever been invited to a “come as you are” party? Do you even remember that they existed? I am not sure that any are ever held anymore. It seems like we pretty much “come as we are” everywhere we go these days. Back in the day, it was a treat to be other than “dressed up” when we went out. Even going to the movies, or school, or on a picnic we dressed “up” for the occasion.
I have very fond memories of walking around in San Francisco in “stacked heel” walking shoes and a dress or suit just because that is what everyone wore when they visited the city. I also remember that a “casual attire” party meant school clothes (boys in slacks and nice shirts, girls in dresses or skirt outfits.) “Dress up” meant at least a sport coat for the guys and special dresses for the girls, while “formal” was rare, but exciting for very special occasions. Even picnics often required dresses and slacks, depending on the occasion.
Today, of course, we pretty much “go as we are” everywhere we go. Even many theatre and classical concert events are filled with people who are wearing anything from jeans to tuxedos. Those in tuxes may wish the rest of us would get a brain and wear the right attire but that doesn’t seem to occur to the masses anymore. Las Vegas is an absolute wonderland of mixed dressing. Even there it is getting harder and harder to demand a certain type of “dressing up” in order to attend a function.
But back in the day, “dress up” was a given. And it was enjoyable. That is when “come as you are” became a fun kind of party to go to. The party hosts would call you out of the blue and say “come as you are” to our party at… And they meant it. What ever you were wearing when they called is what you were supposed to wear to the party. Did you ever go to one of those? If you did, did you wear what you were wearing when they called?
Most people cheated: I can’t wear THIS out to a party; it has paint all over it, or grease from the car, or mud from yard work. And, if it was a come right now party, there was always a stop to fix hair or change some part of the outfit to be more acceptable. There was something about going anywhere just as we were that was quite intimidating; it was like we didn’t want anyone to know that we ever got dirty or wore worn out clothes to work around the house. For sure a woman could not possibly show up in a dirty apron. That would have to be taken off. Suffice it to say, few people ever showed up exactly as they were when they were called.
But today, as I was driving home, a song was played that encouraged us to know that “we can come as we are.” Again, a difficult thing for many people to do. Thus we stop to put on make up (or wash our face,) have our hair cut and styled, buy some new clothes, maybe even have our teeth whitened before we even think about speaking with God, let alone coming into His presence. After all, we certainly wouldn’t want HIM to see our dirty, worn out clothes and scruffy shoes.
Thank God He loves us all scuffed up or spit polished. It doesn’t matter to Him what we look like, it only matters to Him who we are to Him. Yet, sometimes when we mess up all we can think about is how bad we must look in His eyes and we are embarrassed to even know that He is looking at us. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be humbled by what we are trying to keep from Him, but it does hurt to keep on keeping it from Him. He already knows, so what are we hiding, anyway? NO ONE is too bad for Him to look at and NO ONE is too good that He doesn’t have to see what they are up to. We are totally exposed before Him and all that He asks is that we come to Him, now, for whatever our needs are. He doesn’t want us to stop and fix ourselves first. He wants us to come, just as we are, NOW. May we all be bold enough to come “as we are” to the party and find JOY in doing just that. We are, after all, His very special Valentines!
Monday, February 13, 2012
The simple answer to that is a resounding, “No!” God knew me completely before I was ever formed and yet He loved me… ME, not someone else, ME. But I have trouble getting my mind and heart wrapped around that truth. Even my own mother once suggested that “if” I was someone else, things might have worked out better. Knowing that there are others who seem to “wish” that I was someone else is difficult to live with. Praise God I can know who does love me exactly as I am.
One time, while playing a game of “Imagineiff” an opportunity came up to play a higher scoring one-on-one round with my cousin. She knows me quite well and she is very honest so I was sure she would pick the same answer as I would, even though the answer was a little condemning. The question was “Imagine if (Cheryl) was a timepiece, what would she be?” The choices varied from a watch to an alarm clock, but included something that described me to a “T.” And, as I knew she would, she chose “time bomb.” We scored big! It was a lot of fun. But being a time bomb is no fun at all.
Two places where I am reading and studying right now are very adamant about confessing our sins and leaving guilt behind on the Cross and moving on with our day. In Hebrews 10, the power of Christ’s death on the cross is shown to be absolutely the way through which we have better holiness. He has forgiven our sins “once and for all”, and we need to accept that forgiveness and move on with our lives every single day. That is the emphasis that Max Lucado gives in his book, Every Day Deserves a Chance.” I’m thinking I need to listen here.
Have you ever spent time thinking that you would love to be the “quiet” one because you feel that you are too “noisy?” Or, perhaps you are the quiet one and you wish you could speak up more? Have you ever admired the one who seems to never complain about anything and smiles all the time and then thought how much better it might be to be like that? One time in a bible study the question came up, “How would you describe a saintly Christian?”
I started the answering with this personal observation: The woman who shares her life with God openly, struggles and triumphs, ups and downs, all giving light to the power of God in her and the strength of Christ’s sacrifice for her as she moves along the path to a closer walk with Him. (Well. I was not all that eloquent since I had been seeking God’s path for me for a very short time, but nonetheless….) My picture was of openness and honesty.
As I had presupposed, other answers took an entirely different outlook. In my arrogance I called it the “Don’t bother me with your real life” syndrome. They went toward the woman or man who keeps personal needs close to the breast and smiles, saying fine when asked “How are you doing?” and not bothering us with the real struggles going on. God bless those who share with at least a few, because they know they need the power of prayer in their lives.
Anyway, I guess the point I am making to myself is that, for now, sainthood is a declaration of our position in Christ but will one day be the condition in which we live. For now, we are needy and feeling guilty and forgetting the power within us to grow into the person Christ wants us to be, rather than be that person right now. He is delighted with us and loves us exactly as we are and He will never let us go because we are not perfect. We are who we are because God knew who we were when He chose us and saved us from our sins. We have no need to be someone else. WE are who God LOVES. We are His Masterpiece.
By the way, I do not advocate blubbering your problems to everyone who asks, “How are you?” But I am suggesting that we need to be involved enough in some small group where we can at least share what we struggle with knowing that it will be held in confidence but also knowing that others will be holding us up before God in our needs. Group praise will eventually follow as God hears and works in our lives. That is what the Christian community is about: sharing the greatness of God and bringing Him the Glory for all. May we all recognize an earnest inquiry and ask for prayer from those who really care. Meanwhile, let’s drop the “guilt” of not being perfect and get on with gratitude for each and every day. May God help us.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
The session with my coffee cup this morning was quite an eye opener. The Bible study I was reading brought up the question of forgetting. That happens to be one subject that is close to my heart. In the process of growing among many others who have been damaged by loved ones, friends, family, or even themselves, I have discovered the importance of remembering in order to forget.
Most people deal with bad memories by trying to wipe them away somehow. They stuff them deep in their hearts and cover them with mind numbing chemicals or outrageous behavior or even withdrawal from society. Others wear them like badges of honor claiming that everyone owes them something for what they have been through.
My own conclusion about forgetting is that IT IS NOT THE SAME AS NOT REMEMBERING. No matter how hard we try to forget some things, we really do not have power in ourselves to rid ourselves of memories. As we age, some memories get pretty messed up and we find that some of them are even fictitious and never happened while others can remind us of things that are true from our past that we really have no recollection of. This makes for some pretty hilarious conversation between family members and with long time friends.
But here we are basically concerned with traumatic memories: The ones that cause our lives to take a turn that we never quite catch up to. Joseph had such memories. He even names his first son Manasseh “…because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He has a wife, he has a job--an important job-- and now he has a son, a jewel in his crown. His life is beautiful….
I wonder, has he talked to anybody, anybody at all, about what happened to him? Has he really dealt with the pain? When his memories are brought back to him, will he find a chill running down his back? Will he have a “fight or flight” reaction? Or will he simply keep walking forward toward the goals God lays before him? Check Genesis 41 and 42.
I like to think that Joseph didn’t FORGET his family, the way we think of forgetting, so much as he filed them away under things that hurt him, but he no longer wants to keep fresh in his mind. He moved on. He made a kind of peace with God over these things and got on with his beautiful life, remembering that it was God who gave him this life. Others think differently.
Have you ever felt a chill at a sudden flick of memory that comes out of nowhere and stops you short with whatever you are doing? I have. It has happened a lot. Usually these come about something I have said or done that harmed. I freeze up and can’t move forward for at least a minute or two. Obviously I have not forgotten these things even though I put them away. Sometimes, they are things that I have already confessed and been forgiven for, but they shock my memory anyway. Not so often they are memories of trauma; trauma I have forgiven but obviously have not wiped out of my brain. Even though we cannot always pull our memories out of the past and come up with clear thoughts about what went on, our memories are still in there. The question is, “Are these memories still capable of hurting us or are they worked out enough to be just things that we remember, but no longer need to react to?”
Worked out? Yes. Have these memories been talked out, spilled out, free flowing? Have these memories been shared so that we can see them more clearly and deal with them and how they affect our lives? Have we been held accountable by someone for the way we are handling them? The key to healing from our past, and still keeping our past as part of who we are, is to share our past. We need to find someone or a very small group of someone’s with whom we can share our pain and get it reorganized in our filing system so that it becomes a SIMPLE memory rather than a controlling one.
Question is, did he do it for real or did he just stuff it deep down inside trying to force forgetfulness? What about the name of the son he is so proud to have? Talk about a constant reminder of what he is forgetting.
Another important point for us is how often do we try to forgive and forget without really forgetting and then feeling like a failure because we can’t forget? The failure is in forgetting that FORGIVE and FORGET are not equal partners. We must forgive and then work out the forgetting so that what happened does not control us and our behavior toward the person(s) or incidences making it no longer a painful, hurtful memory. We cannot force forgetfulness on ourselves; we can only get rid of the need to feel hurt by letting God change our hearts and grow us.
May God help us to rid our lives of the need to feel pain over our past and give us His “peace that passes all understanding.”
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Sunday was an interesting day. First, on T.V., I heard a sermon where it was suggested that seeking God’s face and focusing on Him was something we needed to do every day. Absolutely true. And it isn’t like I haven’t said that before. We know that. And we know that we need to try to learn something special from what we read.
But, later, as I was listening to a sermon at church on the beginning of Hebrews 9, and when I thought about the fact that the whole setting of Hebrews 9 is found in Leviticus, I got to wondering about our daily time with God in His word. Leviticus, of course, is where the instructions concerning the LAW are told and it is where the earthly tabernacle is constructed according to the pattern of the Heavenly tabernacle which God revealed to Moses while they were on the mountain. What an amazing picture that is. A holograph without a computer! Wow!
But how many people actually enjoy reading Leviticus, anyway. It’s a tough book to swallow. We are not under the law, but we are asked to read all about the law as we read Leviticus. But what is in there for me? Isn’t that what many people ask? And this is where I split with the popularity of reading God’s Word or going to Church to see what God will say to me about me. It is NOT ABOUT ME! It IS about God. Do we have to apply God’s Word to our own lives? Absolutely! But FIRST, we must get to know GOD. If we do not know Him, we cannot begin to imagine what He might be trying to tell us about us.
This is why I like to ask, “What is God telling me about HIM?” What does this passage tell me about who HE is and what He can do or what He expects? Later I may find that it speaks directly to something in my own life, but first I need to see and focus on what I learned about God. That is the way I handle my study of His Word.
I was blessed a few years ago, when reading Leviticus, to discover a truth about God that appears over and over and over again in that book. Here we can realized the enormity of the fact that God, Himself, spoke directly to Moses with every word written there. “The LORD said to Moses…” Over, and over again we are reminded that “The LORD said to Moses…” Then, intermittently we are also reminded that God spoke to him in absolute authority… “for I the LORD am your God....” “I am the LORD.” “…for I the LORD, am your God.” He (Moses) and we are not to ever forget who is speaking here. This is not boring nonsense. This is GOD speaking and He will hold His followers to what He is declaring. And through this He will show His Glory through our inability to even come close to what He declares here. He was not indecisive about what He wanted and expected. Nor was He unsure of how sins would one day be forgiven once and for all by one huge sacrifice of the only perfect being to ever live. That is a major personal application.
Then, in Numbers, He makes His case even stronger. Here, the truth is, “The Almighty God said…, and Moses (or the people) did.” Instruction followed by immediate obedience. I was so excited with this revelation that I could hardly contain it. In fact, I bugged many people repeating those phrases over and over again. My personal take was and is “Do I do?”
Moses was devoted to God and that led him to FOCUS on God every single day in his efforts to lead the people of God toward the Promised Land. Am I so devoted to God that I focus on Him every single day? Do I learn from Him and about Him every single day? When He speaks to me do I respond by doing?
To me that is huge, and it is one of the reasons why I love the Old Testament so much. I do not have to “live by the Law” but I do have to learn about my God, God the Father, if you will; and I need to become aware of how easy it is to walk away from God without a backward glance when I find that things He expects of me are just too boring or too hard. I also have to remember that God does ask us to do painful things as we travel His road, and not to resent Him for that.
But most of all, I have to daily remember that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross gives me the privilege of knowing God and being able to learn from Him and about Him daily. And that the presence of the Holy Spirit in me gives me accountability to listen and to do what He asks from me. Some days I do not do so well. Other times… Well, I hear Him and submit to Him as He desires. “All who have ears, let them hear.”
May we all see Him for the goodness and love He freely gives and hug Him close when we stop to talk!