Friday, September 25, 2009

Wait five minutes and it’ll change

You bless all of those who trust you, LORD, and refuse to worship idols or follow false gods. Psalm 40:4 CEV

Life in the Southwestern United States has its advantages when it comes to the cool season. We have gorgeous winters with clear, crisp air, and brief storms, and nearby are mountains with snowy mantles to remind us how, just a few miles from that snow, we are able to wear flip-flops for gardening, even in winter. The downside is that we get windy blasts after each storm, which blow desert dust over the cities, knock down palm fronds and uproot large trees, and blow big vehicles off the highways.

In general, the weather is predictable. All summer long, it’s hot, rainless, and smoggy in California; and in Arizona, there are monsoon thunderstorms rolling off the piney mountains and down across the sun-blasted desert. All winter, there are long periods of perfect weather punctuated by welcome rains.

My friends in Oregon and Georgia, though, say that if you don’t like the weather there, wait five minutes and it’ll change. In their pop-up downpours, there’s almost no oxygen for the water falling so densely!

Life on Earth is always changing. All lives, flora and fauna, are made to change from conception until death, and even then, we “push up daisies!” Change is inevitable, but many of us find change frightening because we can’t see the future and plan for it or take control of a situation. We are helpless to change the weather, our stature, or the future (Matthew 6:25-34).

Perhaps God forbade our consultation with astrologers, mediums, or the occult because our not knowing the future places us, like trusting, innocent children, in God’s hands where we belong. “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.” Psalm 40:4 NIV

He Who is unchangeable and holds our destiny, is preparing a home for us where we can forget all the stress and hassle of changing. Our joy and peace, our fuller knowledge of God’s grace and character, and our love for each other will increase through the ages of eternity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Clouds in the east

One late-summer day in Phoenix, Arizona, where it gets very hot, I’d taken my mother to the air-conditioned mall. I left her and the purchases in her wheelchair inside the coolness, took out my sunglasses and car keys, and inhaled a deep draft of chilled air before charging through the blast-furnace to my parking space. But a monsoon storm and its cool downdraft had swept in from the east while we’d been shopping, and the temperature had dropped 30 degrees. I got Mom loaded in comfortably. Another summer, after a seven-month drought, we had a monsoon thunderstorm that brought torrents of rain. Cars stopped on busy Thomas Road, and people got out to dance for joy, reveling in the refreshing drops.

About this time of year, I feel cranky. I really, really need a vacation! East Coast leaves are turning color, and they winterize the garden for spring. Department stores have nothing but sweaters and knit caps. But here, I want the hot, smoggy, endless summer to be finished! It’s still 140 degrees in my car when I leave for lunch, and my lawn looks like stubble. At the fast-paced office, I’m working the multiple, overlapping deadlines for major projects that must be accomplished well before Christmas.

It’s dry and dusty, and everything is hot to the touch. It seems like we’ve been waiting forever for Jesus to come, and many signs seem to point to His imminent return, but where’s that miraculous cloud in the east? (Most storms, riding the jet stream and prevailing winds, come from the west.) “Where is He?” we demand impatiently.

The answer is that He’s with us always (Matthew 28:20), and nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Until He comes, when we need His pillar of cloud by day, He protects us from sunburn and heat stroke. When we are stressed, we need to take our sabbath-rest (every day, especially today) in Him, by casting our troubles at His feet.

The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest. Hebrews 4:9-11 MSG

Friday, September 18, 2009

Being "good"

Find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:10 NIV

One of my dad’s ancestors was Hywel Dda (“the Good”), a tenth-century Welsh king who lived in the era of Charlemagne and Alfred the Great. Hywel’s “good” appellation did not come from his holiness, although he was a Christian, because statesmen of the era had to be ruthless; rather, he compiled and combined the Celtic brehon law with Christian laws and customs. Hywel’s laws, which stood for 600 years, were noted for their fairness, and especially for the emphasis placed on restoration over punishment.

Growing up in a Christian home and enrolled in Christian school from first grade through university, I had many advantages. I became a church pianist and organist at age 10. I knew my Bible proof texts and obeyed my parents, pastors, and teachers.

One might conclude that I was “good” because I didn’t do “bad” things. The danger was that I might be convinced that whatever decision I made must be good because I’m good. Not so! The very thought that I’m “good” is corrupt! If we refrain from immoral, unethical, unlawful things, and we support the downtrodden or work for the church, we must by default be good people, right?

I received a forwarded email from a friend in my music group at church. It fits this article well!


One day God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the rascally behavior that was going on. So he called one of His angels and sent the angel to Earth for a time. When he returned, he told God, 'Yes, it is bad on Earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.'

God thought for a moment and said, 'Maybe I had better send down a second angel to get another opinion.'

So God called another angel and sent him to Earth for a time. When the angel returned he went to God and said, 'Yes, it's true. The Earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are being good.'

God was not pleased. So He decided to email the 5% that were good, because he wanted to encourage them, and give them a little something to help them keep going.

Do you know what the email said?

Okay, I was just wondering. I didn't get one, either.

The Bible says that no one is good or without sin (Romans 3:10). We can only claim the goodness and righteousness of Jesus shining through us. Without Christ’s nature, we are the people who say, “Lord, we did these things in Your name,” but Jesus answers, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matthew 7:21-23 NIV

How do we enter an intimate relationship with God? First, let’s get rid of our pride in being “good” -- or even in being well-behaved. As a member of a church fellowship or particular denomination, you have no "advantage." You're a fourth-generation member of a church? You're a professional pastor or leader? John the Baptist was not impressed that the Jews of pure descent from Abraham claimed salvation through their heritage, and said that they had to repent (turn away) from sinfulness (a state of rebellion) and be immersed in the belief that God cleanses from all unrighteousness. God is powerful enough to both forgive and forget your sins. (That is deep!) How can you become intimate with God? Lay your heart bare to Him and ask Him to dwell in you. Jesus came to save the individual, not the group.

Earnestly ask God to show where He wants you to fit into His will. Ask Him to forgive: to empty you of sin and its penalties, and fill you with His righteousness, to declare you acceptable because of His sacrifice. The same God who looked at the newly-created world and declared it "good" will look at the re-created heart in you, and declare it "good."

And in that humble, healed attitude, we take baby steps and then lengthen our stride as we run after His leading. Every experience, positive and negative, can build our faith and trust if Jesus is always in view!

Like Hywel Dda's compilation of laws, God's laws, written not on tablets of stone but on the conscience of the believer, are about restoration and the abundant life, not about punishment.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:8-10 NIV

Monday, September 14, 2009

Singin’ in the Rain

Let Wilderness turn cartwheels, Animals, come dance. Psalm 96:12 MSG

There’s a General Electric “green” commercial playing on TV, and I drop everything to watch the commercial when I hear its theme, “Singin’ in the Rain,” on the soundtrack. Not only does it have a light, carefree melody and orchestration, there’s the happy tappity-tappity tap dancing of—not Gene Kelly—a baby elephant frolicking in the puddles of a rain forest. The carefree, splashy choreography is amazingly like the 1952 movie. A macaw and chimp watch the tap dancing pachyderm with amazement and a little envy.

And I know just how they feel. I wish I could dance. Not only did I grow up in a Christian environment that discouraged social dancing, but I had a disabling accident at age 23, which required extensive physical therapy to even walk again. I’m grateful to be able to walk several miles without a cane, brace, or a limp. But when I walk, I must constantly look at the path or sidewalk before me to avoid tripping, and rarely look at distant scenery unless I stop for breath. Compensating for my paralyzed muscles, I must look sharp for level changes, rocks, acorns or pine cones, cracks in the cement, and many other tiny hazards which could send me painfully sprawling. So to see an elephant joyfully tap dancing in the forest makes me smile, and I join the little guy, if only in my spirit.

What about the wounds dealt us by loss of relationship (death, divorce, breakup), loss of income or property, severe or chronic illness in a loved one?

When Emmanuel comes to rescue us from this world of infirmity, we’ll be glorified and we shall be changed, inside and out, in an instant. (1 Corinthians 15:51). It's difficult to remember eternity when the present is so in-our-faces. But the Lord sees the big picture, the mural he's painting, the tapestry he's weaving. He has us in his tender, nail-scarred hands. He will show us our purpose, the calm assurance that he is in control, and the peace that comes from trusting his providence. That peace allows us to relax, let go of the controls we think we have, and (even if in the privacy of our homes) flop around in a happy dance!

Get out the message—GOD Rules! He put the world on a firm foundation; He treats everyone fair and square. Let’s hear it from Sky, with Earth joining in, and a huge round of applause from Sea. Let Wilderness turn cartwheels, Animals, come dance, put every tree of the forest in the choir—An extravaganza before GOD as he comes, as he comes to set everything right on earth, set everything right, treat everyone fair.Psalm 96:10-13 MSG.

“What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!” Tappity, tappity, tappity, tappity, tappity, tappity …

Thursday, September 10, 2009

No Bibles

Thy word hath quickened me. Psalm 119:50 KJV

We in the twenty-first century have the benefit of written Scripture in our modern vernacular and thousands of years of commentators. But to people who had no Bible and only inherited stories, the audible words of God, the clouds of glory, and supernatural wonders were awesome! (Even in this age of special effects and computer-generated imagery, we are still struck by the power of an earthquake, hurricane, or flash flood.)

Noah and Abraham acted on God’s audible command. Job trusted without comfort of Scripture. Moses led millions before he wrote the Pentateuch. David’s and Solomon’s subjects didn’t have much Scripture (only Moses’ books), because most of the psalms, wisdom, prophecy, and historical chronicles were compiled and edited during the Exile to Babylon and Assyria and thereafter.

It’s easy for us to say, “Those stiff-necked people should have studied their Bibles and known better than to disobey God.” Their Scriptures were hand-copied on sheepskin or metal scrolls, and were expensive and in short supply.

Do we treasure our Bibles? We do. We have several versions on the shelf, our favorite at our bedside, and one in the car to take to church or just have on hand when needed. We have bookmarked on the computer. There’s no shortage of the Word of God—now.

But “the days are coming, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.” Amos 8:11-12 NIV

There is life-giving bread, satisfying water, and a healing touch, though. “This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.” Psalm 119:50 KJV

Quickened. That’s “conceived” or “brought to life,” and we can all use that. God’s Word produces eternal life in all of us. So close this article right now and open your Bible, or click over to BibleGateway. You need to fill your life with eternal life!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Built upon the rock

What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. Romans 1:19 NIV

After receiving my university degree in another state, I moved back to my family’s church. My comments during the Bible study were the “correct” answers I’d learned in 16 years of Christian school. But the young adults teacher, Steve, saw the world, the Bible, and God very differently. I was frustrated that my memorized answers were shot down with a staccato “No,” but the simple answers offered by those less-educated but more spiritually mature than I were accepted with “Yes! That’s it exactly!”

Instead of accepting every teaching at face value or having it run through the “acceptability filter” of a seminary committee or denominational-doctrines list, Steve persisted in making us look for the gospel in every Bible verse we studied. In time, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, and I found His gracious salvation. Praise God for Steve’s role in that time of my life—and in all my study since!

California is famous for its landslides and unstable soil, particularly during the rainy season. Buildings buckle and wash away, because they’re founded upon sandy soil, not anchored on solid rock. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus spoke of the wise and foolish builders, investing in the places where they kept their temporal treasures.

24 Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

He said that whoever puts His words into practice is the wise one who built upon the solid rock.

Jesus’ story is not about building codes, architecture, or geology—it’s about the primacy of His words. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:28, 29 NIV

The religious leaders of that time quoted from commentaries, doctrinal theories, and various schools of thought. They let others think for them. But Jesus, the very Word of God, quoted Scripture and spoke with divine authority. The lesson is that we seek first the words of Jesus and how they apply to our lives. Security and salvation are not built on the sandy interpretation or commentary of fallible humans, but upon the solid, clear words of Jesus Christ.

That’s all anyone needs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Strength for the journey

Short-term missionaries wonder what in the world they're doing on their spiritual journey. What is it? Can we prepare for it by what we pack, both materially and spiritually? Once we’re on the road, where do we turn or stop? Is there a goal or place, or is the journey itself the “destination?” Can we even read the road signs correctly? Does the missionary journey begin with a plane ticket, or is it an experience we can have in our everyday lives? What does God want me to do? How will He change me? How can the Creator of the universe use little ole me to stimulate eternal change in the lives of others?

One evangelism speaker was a little disappointed because he expected more visitors (non-church members) to turn out for the evening meetings. What he didn’t see from the stage, was the faithful “church ladies” in the first three rows, eagerly soaking up every word, enrapt at the gospel of grace they may have forgotten or never seen in that light. Those ladies have been changed by God’s work in that man.

There is absolutely nothing like the knowledge that at this moment, in this place, God is using you. He has a way of making it very intimate and personal, as if you were the only one among the countless trillions of life forms He’s creating and sustaining, on whom He’s lavishing His love and grace.

During personal devotions, I listened through earphones to “His Strength is Perfect,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. When we’re feeling worn out by the long days and short nights of the missionary journey, this 20-year-old song reminds us that

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect.

The lyrics are based on scripture: “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 NIV.

God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20 NIV.

If anyone knew about missionary journeys, it was the apostle Paul. He was even on a mission to kill Christians when God called him, stopped him, and turned him onto a different road. And then, when Paul was physically restrained from travel, he wrote long letters of teaching and encouragement to his flock. No one can estimate the millions of people since who have heard God’s compassion, mercy, grace, and peace through Paul’s writings. In fact, in Paul’s weakness, infirmities, discomfort, grief, and confinement, God created strength, health and vitality, comfort, joy, and freedom for Paul’s soul and ours.

Not only does God “fix” what is broken, He creates anew. He restores us to the perfect condition for which we were created. In God’s eyes, we are already perfect because He has given us His perfection when we accepted Him. He emptied heaven’s vaults to make us rich with His love.

So where does that leave those missionaries on the journey? None of us knows the answers to all those questions at the top, except God. We are all held firmly and safely in God’s hand.


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