Thursday, August 27, 2009

Apoplexy or Apocalypse?


He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 NIV

When I staffed our ministry exhibit at a fair, I attended the Steve Green vocal concert. A thousand fans enjoyed the repertoire of this musical minister. Earlier, he had autographed my copy of his CD and had visited our exhibit.

At the concert, I glanced at the open laptop computer of the man next to me. Instead of enjoying the program, he was typing a Bible study of Revelation, and was having trouble with the spelling of “apocalyptic.” He attempted several versions, but kept getting the spell-checker red underline. Finally, he accepted an alternate spelling the program offered: he clicked “apoplectic,” and it was automatically inserted.

I was becoming apoplectic myself, stifling my giggles during the music. Apologizing for my visual eavesdropping, I whispered to the writer that perhaps the word he wanted was for end-time major events, not for cerebral hemorrhage.

After the concert, I opened my Bible to the text Mr. Green had written in his autograph. It was “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV

I’ve been writing stories and articles since elementary school. At age 14, I sold my first articles to a newspaper, and in university, I studied writing and print communications, which has been my career. My skills are by no means “complete,” but God is not finished with me yet. Nearly all my writing and editing has been for Christian publications and institutions.

One ministry subscriber wrote that the apostle Paul should have listed Christian writers with evangelists and teachers. Paul was a gifted writer. When there was no word to describe a concept, he invented one. He was colorful, intellectual, logical, and above all, directed by the Holy Spirit. God did some of His best work in Paul!

What are your gifts? Have you asked God to bring you the experiences and insight to develop your gifts to full potential? Will you allow Him to carry you to completion in Christ Jesus? How will you use your gifts today to expand the borders of His kingdom?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Get a life!



A solitary person, completely alone—no children, no family, no friends—yet working obsessively late into the night, compulsively greedy for more and more, never bothering to ask, “Why am I working like a dog, never having any fun? And who cares?” More smoke. A bad business. Ecclesiastes 4:8 MSG


My time is short—what’s left of my life races off too fast for me to even glimpse the good. Job 9:25 MSG


Hey, I resemble those remarks! I was searching an online concordance on another theme when I found these verses, and they pierced my soul. OK, not enough to leave the office so I’d go home and play with the dog, but enough to make me rethink balancing my life.


My mother used to say that I needed balance, when I was working 60-hour weeks in addition to leading the singles ministry for my state and being a church musician on Saturdays and Sundays. (But I thought Mom was jealous of my time.) My boss told me to find balance. My doctor said that being tired and stressed was preventing weight loss. I’m not so unbalanced that they ganged up on me: these are comments I’ve heard over many years. (And I haven’t learned yet?)


A partial defense is that I earned my Christian high school and university tuition, paid for my own second-rate car, and found employment without the advantage of being the relative or crony of someone “important.” I relish solo vacations. I made my own family-of-choice at work and church. Work is fun, and it’s good fellowship, so I often steal from leisure time to work at home. I love working at church. As a single woman with a mortgage, it’s terribly difficult to say NO to paying work—or to a request from the pastor, who thinks that 1 Corinthians 7:34 means that singles have oodles of time for church projects!


But a weekly rest with God, and making a daily “quiet hour” to commune with Him tends to level the teeter-totter of my life. If someone says, “Get a life,” I can say: “Thank you, but would you like some of my excess?”


[He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 AMP


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

God's treasures, the "peculiar" kind

Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. Exodus 19:5 KJV

Comedienne Rita Rudner said, “I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.” Poodles are mostly shaved, but they have hairy pom-poms on their ankles and tail. We were told our family dog was pure poodle, but she only had wavy, not curly, hair. So we groomed her as a very cute schnauzer.

You’ve probably observed religious practitioners of many denominations who dress distinctively. Mennonite women wear a bonnet signifying their prayer life, and Jewish men wear the yarmulke cap. Devout Latter-day Saint (Mormon) families wear special undergarments, and their outer clothes are always modest. In some charismatic faiths, the women wear no slacks, only dresses, and their hair is never cut. Some communities believe in plain dress, with no buttons or bright color allowed. In some fundamental churches, men’s neckties are required, but women’s necklaces are disallowed. And the difference would be…?

Four hundred years ago, the King James Version of the Bible was translated from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew sources. One Jamesian word, “peculiar,” has been used as a reason for godly people to set themselves apart from the worldly. (“Peculiar” today means strange, weird, eccentric, odd.) “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 KJV; and “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” Exodus 19:5 KJV

The Lord called us His chosen, holy, obedient treasures! Seventeenth-century peculiar meant special and sanctified, and set apart for holy purpose—not the twenty-first century meaning, odd and bizarre. Not dowdy and unattractive. Like living sculptures of precious metal, we are God’s treasures, His jewelry, if you will.

As handiwork, the poema, of the Creator (Ephesians 2:10), our bodies and our spirits should shine, sparkle, glow, and reflect the Lord’s glory as Moses did on Mt. Sinai. Knowing that we are the special, holy treasures of Almighty God gives us reason to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light!”

Our inner and outer beauty adorns our Creator with honor and praise. He created us as spectacular works of art, and we can only reflect His beauty by acting with love, compassion, mercy, and justice. Now that is some gorgeous jewelry!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Up close and personal


God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me? Hebrews 13:6 MSG

Over the years, my pastors have often preached on Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary of Bethany. Their subjects were on prioritizing spiritual matters over the physical, stress management, asking if you were a Mary or a Martha, and other sermon topics. I like to think about the relationship Jesus had with the family.

In a culture where women were property, Martha surprisingly owned the home. Her siblings Lazarus and Mary, and uncle Simon depended on Martha for their home. She must have been quite the “Proverbs 31” woman! Between Martha’s family and servants, Jesus, at least twelve male and an unknown number of female disciples, and the obligatory community invitees, Martha must have managed food, hygiene, and lodging for more than 30 people any time Jesus came by! And she wouldn’t have “opened her home” to Him unless the love and honor were heartfelt.

Perhaps when Mary had anointed Jesus’ head and washed His travel-weary feet before the meal, she got lost in His message or His adventure stories of recent travels, and abandoned her basin and cloth to sit at Jesus’ feet. She could look up into His eyes, drink in the animation of His face and hands, and feel herself enveloped in warmth, unconditional acceptance, and the completion of everything missing in her life. Why would you remember to prepare supper when the Bread of Life and the Living Water were satisfying every need? So when Martha asked for help, Jesus reminded her that being in close proximity to Him was the treasure.

That’s where we want to be—at Jesus’ feet. When it comes to career or house and garden, it’s OK to be a Martha. But remember that though home or livelihood may be taken away, our relationship with Jesus cannot. He freely gives us the gift of His love and salvation, and He will never withhold His love. Be relaxed and content with what you have: a friendship with Jesus.

Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” we can boldly quote, God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me? Hebrews 13:5, 6 MSG

Friday, August 14, 2009

True worship

You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Luke 7:46 NIV

One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is the one of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, tears, and kisses. Bible commentaries suggest that she had been a prostitute. She may have risked stoning to come out in public to see Jesus. The dinner host, Simon the righteous church leader, had intentionally insulted Jesus by omitting the kiss of greeting and the washing of His feet. The other guests observed the insult, but the woman acted. Her love and outrage made her forget the hostile, contempt-filled crowd as she crept to Jesus’ feet.

She kissed His travel-worn, dusty feet. She offered her love in tears and kisses, to cover the insults Jesus had received. She unveiled her hair and let it fall over His feet as a towel. This was a physically intimate gesture which outraged the company.

Her extremely expensive perfume may have been used in her prostitution business. In her love, the woman gave the value of a year’s income, and with it, her heart, as she poured the perfume on Jesus’ feet. The scent filled the room, ascending with her prayer of devoted love. Jesus turned toward the woman, but addressed Simon, His host. A woman of ill repute, Jesus honored forever in God’s Word.

“Do you see this woman?” Jesus said. “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.” Luke 7:44-47 NIV

Worship is not always something you feel during hymns or prayer, although those are means of entering God’s presence. You can anoint Him with the perfume of kindness and mercy toward God’s children. Imagine sending a bolt of light and joy back to God! He’ll tell you the same thing He told this loving woman: Go in peace, your sins are forgiven, for you love much.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ayn Mousa, Jordan--the Spring of Moses


Several years ago, Candace, Audrey, and I, amateur archaeologists, took a weekend off from excavating near Amman, Jordan, and visited the ancient city of Petra, where building facades and interiors are carved from the red sandstone of a dry, desert canyon. Boys pointed to their donkeys and asked, “Taxi, Madame?” Audrey and Candace hiked to the top, while I walked downhill in the morning, saving the uphill return journey, in the July afternoon heat, for a camel-taxi. (Hey, I wasn't born and raised in the hot Arizona desert for nuthin!)

Near Petra, we saw the tan, barren, rolling hills where Moses and the Israelite multitude spent 40 years camping, grazing their flocks, collecting manna, living, and dying. From an air-conditioned car we saw the black goat-hair Bedouin tents, and laundry drying on rope lines, as they’ve done for thousands of years.

Crowne Plaza Resort pool at Wadi Mousa, Petra, Jordan.
 After being on our dig for only a few weeks, we were thrilled to have hot showers, toilets, delicious meals, and bug-free beds in our hotel, the Crowne Plaza. There was such luxury after a few weeks of dirt and squalor that we felt like rednecks who had just fallen off the turnip truck. After 10 pm, we slipped out to the pool for a night swim—and what bliss!

Just beginning our return journey to Amman, we found a sign that read “Ayn Mousa, the Spring of Moses.” For several thousand years, predating Muslim times, this has been thought to be the place where Moses struck the rock for water, though God had told him to speak to it. Water gushed from the rock nevertheless, and the Israelites were saved yet again by God’s grace. (see story in Numbers 20:7-12.)

Ayn Mousa is a block building with a paved floor. It backs up to the base of a cliff, a boulder juts from the floor, and a stream of cool, fresh water pours from the base. (We drank some—it was sweet.) That water supplies the town around Petra, including our hotel and its pool. When we asked our supervising archaeologists if this was truly the Spring of Moses, they said probably not, but—who knew?—it could be the place.

I hope it is the same place, with its miraculous water flowing steadily for 3,200 years. I like the idea that at the hotel pool we were swimming in God’s grace, being cooled, refreshed, and exhilarated after our exertions.

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you…have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
Philemon 1:7 NIV

Monday, August 3, 2009

Security in desperate times

During one of those recent stock market 500-point dives, this was an exchange between friends on Facebook:

Annie: I’m glad that my retirement is still 30-some years away.
Matthew (some years older): Funny, now so is mine!

The late-night TV comics assert that the stock market fell 500 points in a day, but that’s good news, right, because who knew there were 500 points left on the board?

The route between home and work is strewn with House for Sale signs. Some businesses and auto dealerships have moved out of their rented space. We wonder if the bank with which we’ve done business for years will have the same name tomorrow as it does today. On the morning news, we see that a man who saved carefully for his whole life is about to retire, and finds that his retirement account will only last three to five years because his investments have gone sour and he has no time to replace those savings. We read that a family of six died by murder-suicide because the provider lost his job and could think of no solution for his “shame;” or that a single mother killed herself and her child rather than accept charity or face homelessness. We learn that an international insurance company, which “saved” millions of dollars over the years by denying claims to its own clients, has been rescued by the government (which means us taxpayers), to the tune of $85 billion. All of that in less than a week.

Some people say they’re surprised at this financial crisis. But it’s a simple formula: War leads to a temporary economic boom (or bubble), followed by a “correction” in inflated prices, followed by a recession (when the bills come due for the costs of the war) — or even collapse. Like a weight-loss plan, when it took a while to put on the pounds, and it will take longer to work them off; so, too, we will sacrifice comforts for years to return to a balanced life. Read on, though, because there is a remedy, from the lips of our Savior.

A pastor’s widow found herself in desperate circumstances:


One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead. You well know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves."

Elisha said, "I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?"

"Nothing," she said. "Well, I do have a little oil."

"Here's what you do," said Elisha. "Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few—all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside."

She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, "Another jug, please."

He said, "That's it. There are no more jugs."

Then the oil stopped.

She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, "Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what's left." 2 Kings 4:1-7 MSG

God supports microenterprise! More important, He honors and delights those who trust in Him. This widow knew where to go for resources. She was not too proud to meet every neighbor and put herself under their mercies as she borrowed their household goods to set up her business. She and her boys carried home heavy clay jars as large as themselves. (She went from nothing, to a houseful of borrowed empties. This is actually a negative number!) This widow had the faith to fill her 400 square-foot, one-room house with empty amphorae and bowls, and then pour her “little oil” as if she had a pipeline to the olive grove oilpress. Along with her full jars, she had a grateful heart to report the miracle and ask for new instructions. She had the courage to set up shop in the marketplace and sell her commodity, then pay off her creditors. Surely she returned the borrowed vessels to her neighbors with her joyful testimony of grace. Out of her “abundance” of emptiness, she was miraculously filled to overflowing. And she obeyed the prophet and lived.

When we are at our weakest, lowest, most hollow, echoingly vacant point, remember that this is the place with more space for the power of God to fill us to overflowing. The Lord said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

And Paul wrote, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

During an election season (in the United States), we sometimes hear Christians say that they don’t want to support “lazy people” with food, shelter, and health care, that they want to keep all their hard-earned money for themselves and their family. This is a natural human reaction. But the Bible says, We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." Romans 15:1-3 NIV

The Lord has commissioned His people to care for the widows and orphans, the helpless, the sick, the prisoners; to take up collections for the famine-stricken and poor. To pay our taxes faithfully to support the work of our governments and support the infrastructure needed for commerce and emergency services. In fact, we are to pray for our leaders (even if they despitefully abuse us).

In times of hardship and insecurity, it seems, incredibly, that God is telling us not to worry about our own financial security or welfare (because we can’t grow taller or live an hour longer anyway), but to cast our burdens on Him and get busy helping others. Get your nose out of your navel, forget yourself, and work for others. This is the Lord’s remedy for financial insecurity.

That is not logical by this world’s standards. But we know that this world where we’re busy measuring stacks of stuff, defining our own borders, pouring concrete to nail down our territory, buying and selling, grabbing and counting — this world is only the shadow of the real, tangible kingdom of God. All is upside down and backward from what our senses tell us! The first shall be last, a child shall lead adults, the repentant sinner is justified while the religious professional isn’t, the humble is exalted, a widow’s mite is worth more than a rich man’s major gift… Jesus was out to bend our minds, apparently!

So here’s the thing to remember when we hear the news, or even if we make the news! The Lord Jesus says to you (surely with love, understanding, and concern in His voice), “Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. [Get busy with helping others!] Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:29-34 NIV

What is your treasure? It’s not something anyone can measure or assign geophysical coordinates to. Your treasure is Jesus living in your heart. It cannot be exhausted or drained in financial failure. And it is the ultimate security, the only retirement plan. Eternal life with the Beloved.

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