Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31 A God Who Relents

Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

The immutable God – the God who cannot change! Sometimes I get frustrated with how we try to put God in a box. We call him immutable, so now he cannot even respond to us in loving, merciful ways because somehow it brings his character and word in question.

I am so glad that God relents, that in his love for me and you, he lavishes his grace upon us. We can do nothing to be good enough to deserve eternal life. We deserve eternal death and damnation. But God, relented. He provided a sacrifice that covered our sins.

And every day, he pours out his mercy on us – as Lamentations 3:22-23 say, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed , because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”

I guess I only began to understand all of this when I became a parent. I loved my children so much that no matter what they did, I couldn’t stop loving them. It didn’t matter what they did or said, how much those childish or teenage outbursts might have hurt, I loved them and forgave them.

So God loves us; well, better by far than we love. Without condition, regardless of what his children do, he still loves them. And as I think about this passage, and God’s changing his mind, I think about why he did that.

First, God gave the law and commandments intentionally. He had a purpose, to draw his children to himself. When they changed, the things he had threatened no longer were necessary, so he no longer had to carry out his threat. As a mother, there were many times I told my children certain behaviors would result in some kind of discipline. When they understood I was serious, and changed their behavior, so did I.

So, I don’t get all that charged up with the idea that God changed his mind. I just rejoice in his mercy and kindness.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30 Equality of Atonement

Exodus 30:15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.

Smith talks about how everyone is on equal footing before God as it relates to salvation – we all have the same access to the Father and the same future hope through his grace and our faith.

I read this before we left for church today, and this “happened” to be a communion service where the focus was again on the grace of God. Pastor talked about two things – you cannot do enough good works to earn salvation and you cannot have real salvation without works – not that the works earn salvation, but they evidence salvation.

Yesterday I was wrestling with being the dwelling place of God, thinking about what I put in that dwelling place. And over the last few days, I have been also thinking about how changed am I because he is in that dwelling place.

At first my tendency was to beat myself up because of the bad choices or failures in my life. I think that probably made the evil one real happy because it depressed and discouraged me. But then God reminded me of how changed I am, how many of my choices are made without thinking and made right because of the work of the Spirit in my life, because of the closeness of our relationship.

I don’t say that to point out how good I am, but because it illustrates Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” You are influenced by the company you keep. The more you hang out with God, the more your choices will reflect his presence.

So, by the grace of God, he made me his own and he dwells within and he has influenced my life. Oh, I haven’t arrived; temptation still stalks me, but God walks beside me. He dwells within me helping me to choose good works, not to earn his love and grace, but as a response to it.

I picked up my Bible, and it struck me, as it often does, how much I love it. I love it. I get to read it, to listen to God speak through it. It brings me peace and joy and hope and I know I am blessed by God to be able to read it. I don’t read it to show God a good work. I read it because I love him back and I want to know what he has to say to me. That hunger reassures me that God is still at home in my heart.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29 A Patterned Sanctuary

Exodus 25:8-9 Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

I love the book of John, and I am so glad that when I was young, I memorized so much of it. This passage reminded me immediately of John 14 and 15 where Christ says this in 14:17, “Even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him, but ye know him for he dwelleth with you.”…then verse 23 gives me such comfort, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.”

Today we don’t have to go to any building, regardless of how beautiful to enjoy the presence of God. We, as believers, carry him around with us every moment. I began this entry early this morning and have been thinking about it all day, thinking about it as I went about my Saturday chores, thinking about where I was taking him, thinking about what kind of a sanctuary I was.

Smith brought up the specific instructions God gave for the Old Testament sanctuary, and it must have been a beautiful environment designed to please the eye and the soul and to draw one’s thoughts to something greater than, just greater than anything they otherwise experienced. Through history, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Churches all were glorious places of worship, intentionally designed to draw the eye upward in worship and awareness of God.

I wrote a poem once about a visit to St. Patrick’s in New York I sat there, quiet within and I wanted to worship. I wrote that I wanted to genuflect and didn’t even know how, but it seemed appropriate to give God some sign that I appreciated him and his work.

So back to the sanctuary within: I wonder whether it is that same kind of place, where someone would be compelled to worship God, if they could go there. And I wonder about all that I have stored within, all that I have watched, listened to and read, how it has decorated that sanctuary. I wonder just how closely I have followed his instructions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28 Incremental Holiness

Exodus 23:30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take the land.

Exodus 23:20 and 23 Behold I will send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared....For mine Angel shall go before thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, an the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I will cut them off.

God through Moses reminded the Israelites of the reality and ministry of angels, here to go before them, preparing the way. It is interesting and comforting here also to note that God has a timetable designed for the good of his people. He is going to give them victory but with the right timing, preparing them to handle it when it comes. (It make s me think of the mess many young star athletes make of their lives when they are suddenly paid millions of dollars but have no training or coaching for that part of their lives.)

Though the New Testament doesn't say a lot about angels, it does say enough to confirm their continued ministry today. The writer tells us much about angels in Hebrews 1 and 2; in sum that they initially worshipped Christ and then that Christ in Hebrews 2:9 took a place below them (where we are) to taste death for us (to bear our sin debt).

Hebrews 1:14 says this: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation. I wonder if we could think of it this way: Little by little, angels go before us, clearing out the enemy and preparing us in ways we cannot see for what is ahead.

Somehow the angels minister to us. Perhaps they bring thoughts to our mind to encourage us, reminding us of Scripture we have read or heard, bringing past experiences of God's grace and sufficiency back to our mind. Perhaps God uses them to move us into place where we can be taught or influenced in such a way that we grow.

I keep thinking of this picture: God driving out the enemy before the Israelites, so that when they are ready, mature enough to take the land, it is clear.

Whether it is through the work of angels or not, the reality is that God wants to grow us and prepare us for what is ahead. This brings to mind something I have seen on and off for the last 25 years; a new believer from a sin-filled background arrives on the scene with an amazing conversion story. This individual is placed on the stage in the limelight to tell his story. The problem is that he has not had opportunity to be nurtured, to grow in his understanding of who he is in Christ or just to develop a real relationship with God. No fertilizing of that seed of faith, if you will.

And then we are surprised when this person we have rushed to center stage falls.

I guess I take away from this today the importance of always being teachable and of always growing, of being patient as God works in my life, and the lives of others. He is always preparing us for what is ahead.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27 Putting God to the Test

Exodus 17:7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

There is so much to talk about here: God's provision, their becoming so used to it, how quickly they take it for granted and start complaining, their demanding constant and new affirmation of God's presence in ways that please them....and finally, how similar our behavior is to theirs.

There is also the discussion of whether this is a test of God's love and provision, or their love and trust. Which is going on there and here?

One thing that comes to my mind is that God made us, and he made us with a desire or need to love and be loved, like his own. He commands us to love him and to love others. The issue is how do we recognize love? What makes us feel loved?

When I meet with prospective RDs, one of the exercises I use is designed to determine whether they are communicating their love to one another in ways that each understands it. My goal is to help them see that what they want to feel loved may not be what the mate wants, needs or recognizes as loving.

Now, let's transfer that to our reality...we, as humans, and maybe this is part of the consequences of the fall, appear to want to have what WE recognize as God's blessings to feel loved by him. When we are challenged, when we have painful circumstances come into our lives, we question God. "Where are you God?" we cry out. "This isn't fair, God. You have given them so much more of your blessings, and me so much less. You don't really love me, after all."

It makes me wonder how conditional our own love for God and others is. Or is this our reality: "I will love you as long as you love me by providing and doing that which makes me feel loved."

Then, I wonder, how much consideration we give to making God feel loved. How much time do we spend meditating on loving him back, responding to his love?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26 Trusting in God's Deliverance

Exodus 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today...The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."

Moses told the Israelites that they should not allow fear to control them. Rather they should find comfort in God's promises, that he will fight for them; he would deliver them. OK, that was his message for Israel thousands of years ago; what about for me today?

These words in Exodus made me think of the following passages in Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1-2 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Hebrews 12: 1-3 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. for consider him, that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds

Hebrews 13:5-6 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

So, to sum it all up:

• Others have gone before me, suffered horrifically and remained faithful because they believed God would never leave nor forsake them, and they kept the future in mind.

• It does appear that we should expect bad stuff to come our way. There is an enemy out to destroy us - it is normal! God gives us these promises of comfort because he knows we will need them.

• God will deliver us - see us through it...deliver us through to the other side. Deliver says that there are challenges we will face to be delivered from, through, out of. Delivery signifies a journey.

• We must be aware of the danger of covetousness - looking at what others have and what we have not. I find that it, in a bizarre way when Satan is attacking us, is far easier to look at what others have than to look and value what I have.

When we are hurting, when we ask ourselves why and we challenge the goodness of God, we might better consider what we know than what we feel...and I am grateful that God has given us plenty to rely on.

Again, God's timing.  Yesterday someone came to see me overwhelmed with the battle to have a right persepctive.  I guess it impresses me again how we need to be always arming ourselves with truth because we never know when the enemy will attack or what he will use in the attack.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25 The Next Generation

Genesis 12:26-27 And when your children ask you, "What does this ceremony mean to you?" then tell them, "It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians."

Sometimes I wonder how God does it, but it does affirm my belief in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God - the way he times things in my life, connecting the human and the divine sides.

A couple of days ago I talked with someone who had visited a Catholic church and watched the communion service. He noted that there was a solemnity about it all, a serious awareness on the faces of the participants, some even approaching the elements with tears in their eyes. Now he had no idea if why they had tears in their eyes, whether it was because they were truly participating in a memorial service of the death and resurrection of Christ, the cost at which they can anticipate eternal life, or whether it was a reminder of their own rescue, their redemption from a life of sin or fear. We don't know any of those things.

But it made an impact on him. He said he had never seen that kind of seriousness in his experiences of communion outside of the Catholic Church. I didn't ask him if he was comparing what he saw among his peers. Nor did I ask him if he had any idea of what the others in his church(es) were thinking as they participated in tendency to get defensive.

Then this was the topic of today's reading and meditation. OK God, What's going on here? Oh, and our church has announced Communion Service for this next week - an announcement to call us to consider personally our participation, readying ourselves for it.

I do not believe in coincidences; I believe God is intentional and purposeful. Was all of this thinking about communion and memorializing the works of God a call to something, even a personal call - perhaps. I remember being fearful during communion - fearful that I would take communion with unconfessed sin and thus draw God's judgment.

I am no longer fearful of that - God's immediate judgment because I missed confessing some sin, but I am mindful of my sin, of what I have allowed to separate me from God and from any one of God's people. And maybe the communion service should do that - after all the word is communion- community - a memorial to refresh that in our minds, that the cross and resurrection not only made community with God possible but also that we have been invited into community with each other.

A couple weeks ago our pastor used a clump of dirt dropped into a jar of pure water to illustrate the power of even a little dirt, a little sin. I wonder if it is all coming together now- even a little disruption in relationship within the body sullies it all.
This entry seems kind of rambling, but it is moving me toward action, and I guess that is always what should happen when we read and think about the Word.

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24 Living with Purpose

Exodus 9:16 But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Smith talks about how God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that God had raised him up for a specific purpose: to save the Israelites and to demonstrate God's power. Then Smith poses the question: What might God show me of his power even today, and what unique opportunities will I have to proclaim his mighty name?

This is a powerful question. I wonder if we are sometimes too busy to notice or to full of ourselves to admit when God might be at work and using us. This last weekend I saw something that I thought impossible happen. I believe God was in it. But though God can do amazing things, I wonder if he doesn't then entrust it to us - to give us an opportunity to honor him through it.

This living with purpose is not always easy, and it’s not because of God having problems. It is because of my own weakness. I have wrestled with this posting all day. Like you, I want to be used; I just didn’t want it to hurt so much. I didn’t want to feel this way, to risk being so misunderstood, to have my motives so questioned. But here I am. Now I wait for God to show me what to do, how to live out his purpose in this situation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23 Bargaining with God

Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relieve, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.

Smith talks about bargaining with God – foxhole prayers come to mind; you know, when the soldier tells God that if God will save his life, the soldier will change his ways. Of course, God saves the guy, and how quickly does he forget that prayer of desperation?

Not many of us pray from literal foxholes, but we do pray from tough circumstances – begging God to intervene when a loved one is sick, a child is making a life-threatening decision, or when job loss is at the door. Smith calls them “frogs,” like the ones that threatened Pharaoh’s peace. And I would guess most of those reading these words lay out their frogs, or prayer requests before God, asking for his leading, and his will.

Then, he answers! And his answer might not be exactly what we wanted, or under the circumstances we requested. Then what? Smith refers to bargains, but I am not sure it always a bargain that is the issue. Sometimes it is maintaining belief and trust and faith when the thing we want comes with such strings that we hardly recognize it as what we thought we asked for.

The loved one is dying, and we ask for God’s will and relief from the pain, and the loss brings a pain greater than we imagined. Oh, God answered the prayer, but we didn’t know it would mean this.

God is still God, and He is still good and loving and kind and doing something good – didn’t we just read that: Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. I guess that is the bottom line – rehearsing that when our circumstances would scream out something else.

God is not a merchant in the open market huckstering his gifts to the highest bidder. He is ever the loving One, no matter what I am feeling, no matter how fierce the attack might be, no matter how alone we might feel…he is right here, ever the same, ever loving.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22 Reverence with Awe

Exodus 3:5  "Do not come any closer," God said.  "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."

The providence of God: that is a big thing to me right now - I have seen it manifested so clearly recently - where God brought seemingly ordinary events together to extraordinary ends.  In the providence of God, as I was praying for someone last night, that person called - and the fact that I was praying for them made a difference in what happened.

In relationship to today's meditation, and the providence of God, I talked recently with someone about their visit to a Catholic church, and this person talked about how the people there seemed to really be aware of God, be reverent, be moved by the communion service.

Then , today I read this passage, about reverence with awe, and it struck me how "for granted" we take God.  I have thought for a long time that we have too much stuff here in this country because we don't need God, or we don't think we do.  In some sense, we think we are gods, the master of our own destiny - we can make it happen.

I wonder if the stack of Bibles most Christian families have, the ease with which we can go to church, the number of Christian related books, magazines or other programming we have, has made us see God as little more than an extra chair to pull out when we need it - for company...for an emergency.

I encouraged prospective RAs this week, in a class I am teaching, to consider loving God back, to think about what it would look like if we made our daily and life choices in response, as a response, to his love.  When I was teaching that the Lord brought to my mind a line from an old hymn or chorus: "How can I do less than give him my best?"

Oh there's more to the song, but those few words spoke to me about this topic - reverence with awe.  And I guess I will take just a second to say how frustrated I have become with how casually we use the word awesome....  the cookies were awesome, the movie was awesome...was it really?  or was it just pretty good?

OK back to the topic at hand: reverence with God - have we become so used to God that he is no longer awesome to us.  We take him for granted like a sweater we pull out of our closet, one among many to keep us warm.  Or, do we cultivate a sense of awe that God would love me, amazed that he would so move in my life that I would hear and believe the gospel?

Think how far back in Joseph's life God began to move to have him in the right place at the right time.  How far back in your life did God have to move so that you would hear and have opportunity to respond to the gospel?  Think about the reality that God, who is the eternal sovereign One, loves you.  Then consider how you could show him you get it, you understand, in some small measure, and you want to live out a response to that awareness....another thought that could fill a whole day - maybe should fill a whole life.

January 21 God's Mysterious Providence

Genesis 50:20  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Joseph is referring to what his brothers did to him, ultimately selling him into to slavery, but God!!!  Isn't it cool, the way that all ended - even though Joseph went through some horrific years in between.  God never left him, and Joseph's life manifests that relationship - from enduring to persevering through to resisting and overcoming temptation.

Smith addresses the questions, not of whether God can or will accomplish his will, but how God does that.  Whether we can live a self-centered life, make sinful choices, damage our testimonies for a time, and God still be involved, be able to use those messes to accomplish his purposes.

The story of Joseph certainly illustrates this reality for us in the Old Testament, but I also love the illustrations we have in the New Testament of people who messed up big time, yet were greatly used of God.  I think of speak first, then think Peter.  Or doubting Thomas.  Or Saul who in the name of God pursued Christians to the death, yet God used those men to accomplish his purpose, despite their choices.

As I read through this, I thought of my own choices, some that seemed irredeemable - like dropping out of BBC in my second semester.  As I look at those choices, I see how God gave me grace and mercy and second chances, and I promise you, it made me much more prepared to minister grace and mercy.

The final thought, the one I wrote in my book yesterday, was this: God can use my mistakes, my sinful choices,  to accomplish his purposes.  But I don't want him to have to.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20 Second-Guessing Motives

Genesis 47:20-21 The land became Pharaoh's, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other.

Smith focuses here on Joseph's motives for taking the land from his family and making them Pharaoh's indentured servants. Smith points out that it is not clear what Joseph's motives were for this. Further, he says we must be careful about how we judge those motives since we are told nothing about them.

Then he talks about how we must be careful about judging other's intentions or motives when we don't have enough information to evaluate those motives or intentions. Finally he admonishes his readers to consider that others may have information we do not have when they make decisions we criticize.

His comments are all based on human interactions and the motives for them, but I wonder if they apply as well to our desiring to know why God does what he does or allows what he allows. We are so quick to demand why, if not out loud, then silently, in our heads and hearts, a if we had the right to know it all, or even understand it all.

For me, it boils down to how I view God; do I allow him to be the omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise and loving God, or do I shrink him down into something manageable to serve my purposes? As if God owes me an explanation, as if he cannot be trusted.

I think there are some things we will not, we cannot ever understand. And there is more at stake here than God's reputation and God's abilities. We forget that we live in a world infiltrated and scarred by sin. Furthermore, I think we have no idea of the ripple effects of, as Paul says, having "sin in our members."

God designed us to live forever. Sin brought about death, and all that leads to death. Sin messes with our very DNA, scarring it, bending it, breaking bits of it causing all manner of birth defects and illness and tragedy, and the ripple effects of those tragedies.

Rabbi Kushner lost his 14-year-old son to progeria - a disease where the afflicted age prematurely. This loss shook him to his core. As he fought to make sense of it, he came to agree with and quotes Dorothee Soelle who said that "why is the wrong question to ask about suffering. The correct question is, in fact, what we can do about our suffering to confer meaning upon it, to create good from the evil we must each endure." I add, and glorify God by exercising our faith.

As far as humans go, we would be mindful that we should not be quick to judge their motives because we seldom have or know the whole story.   Love calls us to give the benefit of doubt, just as we would want it to be granted to us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19, The Fine Art of Forgiveness

Genesis 45:15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

I love God’s sense of humor. I was asked to speak on marriage – staying married and happy, and they wanted me to write the blurb tonight. I said, in my head, I can’t tonight, at least not until I have written this blog entry. (We won’t talk about why it is so late today.)

Anyway, I flipped the book open to this page – The Fine Art of Forgiveness. The first thing that came to my mind was how important forgiveness is to any relationship. We have a relationship with Jesus Christ because God was willing, even anxious to forgive us, doing all the work even to make that forgiveness possible.

You’d think then, forgiveness would be easy for us, but it sure isn’t….since the fall anyway. Now, we want the offender to suffer before we forgive them…and then we hold that forgiveness like a cloud. The next little problem, even hint of a problem, and we blow the cloud away. Then we put that past offence on the scale along with the new real or imagined offences.

We missed the point. As Smith says, “The secret to tough forgiveness seems to be, first of all, acknowledging our own sins.” If we could somehow see a list of all of our offences, if perhaps they could flash across the ceiling or sky, I wonder if forgiving others would be such a difficult thing to do, if that scale would be so heavy. But, we suffer from selective forgetting, don’t we? Remembering more easily the good things we have done, the sacrifices we have made, much more quickly than the times we failed, the times we were the offender.

Then Smith says we should “allow(ing) some space for the offender to truly repent without being humiliated.” There’s a tough one. We want them to suffer! But as we indulge our own selfish appetite, we stab ourselves and our relationship in the back. We make it nearly impossible for forgiveness, repentance, and restoration to take place. Who could afford the price we demand for forgiveness?

Isn’t it sad how easily we believe the lies the evil one whispers in our ears about forgiveness, and how quickly we believe those lies?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18 A Snow Day

I didn't know today would be a snow day or I would have brought my Smith and his wisdom home with me, like I do on weekends. But I didn't, and I think it was a God thing.

I just love the word serendipity. Webster defines it this way: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also: an instance of this. In plain English, it is like finding something you wanted or needed and which you hadn't realized you needed, all just by accident or luck. I call it a work of the Holy Spirit.

I think having a snow day was serendipitous for me, as serendipitous as what I was just doing, grading a story one of my students wrote. The serendipitous part was her theme; she was writing about a character who forgot a major event in her life. Another character was pointing out how far back one would have to go in life to touch all of the people, places and events that had to occur just right to make this event real---like me writing and you reading this. God had to be in it.

All of that to get to my point: God is in snow days! I realize the students have only been back a couple of days, but I needed quiet, time to listen for the voice and leading of God. It always amazes me how easy it is to run on auto-pilot, to build a life and a schedule that sort of runs you – filled with good things. However, even good things may not be the best things, especially when they drown out the voice of God.

I believe today God wants me to take time to shut up, to just be still and listen. He wants me to allow him to bring his word, his voice to my mind. It is a good thing to read his word, to study it and write about it. But sometimes he wants us to be still and know he is God, and listen to what he has to say.

Even on this day off, I have a load of things to do, but maybe they are the wrong things. And maybe there is a different way to do them, and maybe there is something else God does want me to do, if I would just be quiet and listen, so I think I’m going to.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January 17 The Hypocrisy of Double Standards

Genesis 38: 24 Judah said, "Bring her out and have her burned to death."

It seems to me that the issue discussed today is integrity, and I see integrity as consistency between what is on the outside, what one says and does, with what is on the inside. Further, as I think about the issue Smith calls the hypocrisy of double standards, for me - it seems to boil down to personal integrity.

Do I live out what I say or who I purport to be? And, do I live out the same standards I expect others to live up to? I remember the adjustment I experienced as a novice missionary. For many years, missionaries occupied a place of honor in my mind, a pedastal, if you will, as somehow holier, closer to God, more righteous, than the average, regular Christian. And I guess part of me thought it was easier for them to be holy, righteous and close to God than for the rest of us.

Then, we arrived on the mission field. Within a few weeks, I was devastated to learn that missionaries were regular Christians, who just happen to minister in what was to me then "exotic" places. They struggled with jealousy, envy, truth, and covetousness, for instance. Sometimes they had victory over the temptation, and sometimes they didn't.

What I failed to notice was that I was holding these men and women to a higher standard than I allowed for myself. Furthermore, I also failed to notice that I was no longer a "regular" person, but also a missionary.

The hypocrite says, "Do what I say, not what I do." The person who lacks integrity says, "Do what I say you should do, and excuse me, if I don't do what I say."

God wants us to be consistent, inside and outside. If we say we believe, that we are a Christian or a child of God, then we ought to look and sound like one. No double standards - whether it is out there where everyone can see us, or inside our house, inside our head, where no one can see us - no one but God.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 16 When Marriage is Dangerous

Genesis 36:2 Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan.

The emphasis here is on marriage partners – the influence the one can have on the other, and the risks that occur when one partner is not a believer. Smith also points out the ripple effects over time when one marriage partner is not a believer.

All of this is true. And it is important to choose a marriage partner carefully, to choose someone who loves God and demonstrates that love by the path of life they choose. I have worked with college students for over 25 years, and I cannot count the number of men and women who married in what looked more like desperation than wisdom. They so feared being alone, that they compromised their values. The ending was not pretty.

As I reflected on what happened to Esau, I thought about how a young couple doesn’t get married, generally either in a vacuum or without spending time together. I speak of both of these issues because I think both are important.

First the vacuum thing: few people meet and date and get engaged without others knowing about it. The issue for us as believers is this: what do we say, as a church or as individual believers, to people we see involved in unequal (one a believer and one not, or one not living in accordance with their words) relationships? Do we lovingly confront them or share our concerns? Or do we so fear losing our relationship with them that we “let it go” and perhaps too long?

I know we cannot be responsible to dissuade young people from their ultimate choice, but we do need to enable them to make an informed choice.

Then, the spending time together thing: the more we allow or encourage young people to build close relationships with the unbeliever, especially of the opposite sex, the more likely they are to deepen those relationships and be influenced by them.

Then I must go back to the fear thing – people of any age fearing being alone and desperately seeking a mate. Somehow I feel that there is a big vacuum here as well. People believe that marriage at all costs is preferable to trusting God for company, for leading. As I reflect on some of my former students, I grieve because, despite being in Bible College, they still didn’t get it. God loves them as individuals ,and the plan he has for their lives is for their good and not evil. But they don’t believe it, personally.

I wonder again, if this is a by-product of the noise in our world. We have so much noise, so much to do and see, that we do not savor the presence of God. Instead we long for the cheap imitation – the presence of another human. Oh, I am not saying every woman who is married has settled for a cheap imitation of God, but I wonder how many have.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15 Choosing Your Battles

Genesis 34:31 "But they replied, "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?"

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about the topic Smith addresses here and this passsage illustrates, and let me quote Smith: To act on principle virtually always requires careful consideration of more than just the obvious central issue....The tricky bit is knowing what the right thing is...and the right way to go about it.

Mrs. X's child was treated unjustly and unkindly - I mean the child was really abused in a game.  At some point, the child balanced the books, letting the abuser have it at the next opportunity in the game.  Mrs. X justified the action saying it is just not right to allow someone to beat on you.

I have to tell you that the first time I heard that story, from the person involved who really believed the right thing was done, I have been troubled.  Then yesterday the subject came up again when this friend told me about an occasions when another believer, well actually a few believers, didn't seem to behave in a loving and Christlike way at an athletic contest.  The onlookers challenged the intelligence and wisdom of athletes, coaches and players in voices loud and clearly heard by all present.

I was troubled at the time, and now my friend brought it up again.  Perhaps the calls were faulty.  Perhaps the  ref, coach or athlete did behave inappropriately, but I think about the principle here - is the athletic contest the principle issue, being treated well by everyone in the gym the principle issue, or is the principle issue making certain that the testimony of Christ is not blurred or damaged?

And what do we do about it?  I admit, I am troubled, and moreso because God brought it up again this morning.  So what do I do about it?  What do we do as believers when challenged in this way?  I had it explained, rationalized to me yesterday, but I am still troubled.

No, we don't appreciate being ill-treated, but Christ taught us to turn the other cheek.  The offender notices that kind of behavior - that it is unexpected, that perhaps there is something else going on here besides winning a game. 

For me, it goes back to God gives us lots of opportunities to represent him before the lost; we don't always get to pick them...and sometimes these opportunities, when used well, cost us.  I wonder if our problem is we don't want to pay.  I guess you can tell I am still wrestling with all of this.

Friday, January 14, 2011

January 14 A God Who Watches

Genesis 31:49-50  It was also at Mizpah, because he said, "May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.  If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me."

Laban is speaking to Jacob, warning him that God will be a witness to all the Jacob does in regard to Laban's daughters.  It is always amazing to me how God works, how he brings things into your life that you think are incidental or accidental, like this passage today, but which are in truth providential.  I think that happened this morning.

I was ready to begin my study when an unexpected visitor stood in my doorway asking if he could run something by me....well, what are you going to say?  It turns out that my visitor was very upset about the testimony of our school and of the behavior of people at some of our athletic contests.  The visitor told me of how one of the refs questioned the conflict between the prayers before and after the games and the words shouted between those two prayers.  In his mind, hypocrisy was the larger issue - saying one thing and then being another.  We talked and I listened and shared, and after the visitor left, the conversation weighed heavily on me.  Like my visitor, I was not sure exactly what to do about it, who to go to about it.

Then I came to these words - this verse where Laban reminds Jacob that God will be watching.  I don't think this is a warning exclusively for Jacob.  God does see it all, and hear it all.  He knows what and who we say we are, then he sees the evidence of our behavior and words that might put that in question. 

There just is no place where God is not aware of us - he sees us in the grocery line, at the sale, in the privacy of our room or home, in the theatre, at work - when no one else is looking, or so we think.  His presenfce can be a great comfort, and I think he wants it to be so; we really are never alone nor forsaken. BUT, we can also grieve him when he sees us betray who we are as his children by what we do or say.

I think about those people at the game who got so carried away with winning that they forgot who they are.  They yell at the ref, at the players, at the coaches.  No one is willing to take one for God.  By that I mean, there is something about an athletic contest (and perhaps lots of other events) where we want to win, and that desire to win means we are unwilling to participate as Spirit-controlled believers.  We become winning-controlled participants.  A wrong call incenses us.  My visitor said we should look at unfair calls as an opportunity to show how a Christian receives disappointment.  How powerful is that - to turn the other cheek?

So today, that is on my mind.  If God is watching me all the time, am I a blessing or a disappointment to him?  Do I take challenging situations as an opportunity to glorify him or serve myself?  What does my behavior say to those around me?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 13 Working Too Hard at Love

Genesis 29:34  Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, becasue I have borne him three sons."

This is about one woman longing to make her husband love her - to earn his love.  He relates this to our desire to somehow work hard enough to earn God's love.

Are we that much different - trying to earn God's love and doubting his? I wonder if it is that "sin which dwells in our flesh," as Paul calls it in Romans 7.

God loves me - we sing, "Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so"...from the time we are little kids.  We memorize John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."

But somehow, it is a very hard concept to actually believe.  Many students have told me they know those words, but they find it difficult to believe that God loves them as individuals.  How could that be - when God himself tells us he loves us?

Is part of it because of how conditional our own love is?  We love those who love us, who make us feel loved or good, who do good things to and for us?  And when they fail to make us feel good or loved or happy, we question whether we love them, or they really loved us.....and too many marriages or relationships fail at this point.  We don't feel loved or appreciated all the time, so the other person must be broken. Certainly it cannot be ourselves and our expectations.

Is part of it because we get hooked on our own sin, knowing how hard it is for us to forgive our failings that we cannot get our minds wrapped around the idea that God would forgive us?  We don't really believe the truth Paul records here: "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;" Col. 2:13

So we get hung up on deserving God's love, and either figure we have to do a lot to deserve it - personal sacrifices, or believe that there is no way we can deserve it, so why try?

The reality is we have his love.  We don't deserve it and cannot earn it - like the infant child whom we just love....they can do nothing for us.  They require everything from us, and we just pour out our love to them.  That's a great picture of God and us, as an individual -  a babe completely dependent on him.

And all he wants is for us to love him back - not to deserve his love, but to respond to his love.  Response, that is what God desires, I think.  He longs that we see his great love for us, and we respond to it.  Again a line from an old hymn comes to mind: How can I do less than give him my best for all eternity....  He just wants me to look into his face with love....and my changed behavior will follow, not out of fear or obligation but simply because I love him back.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January 12 Enslaved by Family Gudges

Genesis 27: 41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him.

I've been thinking about this on and off for hours - the idea of grudges. Smith's emphasis is on parents showing favoritism and the grudges between siblings. However, other grudge possibilities came to me, the kind that adults, and Christian adults have and rationalize.

Even in adulthood, Christian adulthood, we can find occasion for temptation in this area- another believer gets a promotion we want, a nicer home, a husband, attention of any kind. Suddenly we find ourselves either thinking, I don't like that person, or that person certainly doesn't deserve that, and we avoid them. We may not be conscious of it, but in reality we are building a grudge that we hang on to.

And exactly what is a grudge? It sort of boils down very simply to hatred; it certainly is a long way from love, and that is what we are called to do to each other. I remember when I was sorely tempted in this area. This other person did some things that made me look very bad, but everyone else seemed to love this person. I found myself growing bitter, and finally confessed it to God, asking for help.

I believe his Spirit led me to think about life through this other person's eyes, instead of my own. What a lesson God taught me as I began to listen carefully to this person, paying attention to all the burdens this person carried. The temptation to bitterness, to grudge-holding evaporated, replaced by God-given love.

To Smith's message, I do believe many of us adults walk around with shackles on our legs, our hearts, as we rehearse perceived or real inequities from our childhood, hurtful words and injustices. What I think we fail to realize is that we are the ones who continue to hurt ourselves into adulthood. The person who offended us as a child is long gone, but every time we rehearse the words or the events of our childhood, we become the offender, piercing our own hearts. The grudge, the bitterness has become the knife we turn toward ourselves.

Instead, perhaps when those memories occur, we might use that as an occasion to thank God for his presence and deliverance through and from that time, for revealing himself to us. We might thank him for the truth that he, the God who breathed all of creation into existence, loves us as an individual person, that his love gives us value - he gave the life of his son to redeem us.

I said once that I believe the Lord's Prayer is for our good, not God's, because it is a rehearsal of the reality of the who God is, the one who loves us. In a similar way, we can turn this pain from our past into something good, a reminder of whose we are now and who is looking out for us now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January 11 Selling Ourselves Short

Genesis 25:34  So Esau despised his birthright.

God had gifted Esau with a place in the family that had certain benefits, and he gave it all up to satisfy an immediate appetite.  And the consequences of that choice roll on through the ages, continuing to take their toll.

It is an amazing and challenging thought to consider that what I do may affect others, even people I do not know.  Then I think about that then-young woman who decided to give her energies to Child Evangelism Fellowship.  Through her ministry I came to know the Lord.  God has since used my life to encourage others in their relationship with him and even lead some to a saving relationship with him. Their lives ripple down through their generations influenced and affected by someone they will never know.

Hmmm, isn't that the point Smith is making here with these words:  Hardly ever is the following generation untouched by the foolish actions of the preceding generation.   My illustration referred to the wise decisions people have made and their influence because both are true.  We can affect and influence people for good or for evil.  We do not live as islands, but always as part of a whole, touching others, near and far.

As I think of the title of this entry - Selling Ourselves Short - I think of the responsibility, the trust God has given each of us - a trust and talents that differ, but which are nonetheless significant.  This brings to mind the parable of the talents, and I think the two are related.  God has given us talents and interests and giftednesses to be shared.  Sometimes it may be more tempting to hide behind shyness, modesty, or fear, and they are just as dangerous as the temptation to satisfy an immediate appetite.  Esau wanted food.  I wonder what immediate gratifications might keep me from being useful to God, what might distract me or make me a bad influence instead of a blessing.

And what do I do about all that?  Smith offers these words: When every moment in life is seen in its proper, larger context, there is less of a chance that we will act rashly at any given moment.
I think he's right.  Every morning we must remind ourselves to whom we belong, first God, then our family in him.  We don't want to mess up his reputation.  We do want to be used to bless the rest of family - so personal assessment and recognition of the bigger picture is important.

Monday, January 10, 2011

January 10 Praying for Success

Genesis 24:12  Then he prayed, "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham."

There is so much here to think about.  My first thought is how do we define success.  Then, Abraham's servant was a man on a mission, but the mission was not to seek some blessing for himself.  Certainly success  in accomplishing his mission would be a blessing, but success here is the blessing for his master.

Then I think about praying for his master's good.  How often do we think about praying for the good, the success of others?  I have a group of people, family and friends and some colleagues, that I pray for regularly, but to pray that way - for the success of my master...not so much.  I am challenged this morning to pray specifically for the success of those for whom I work here on this earth.

This passage provokes me also to think about our responsibility to not just pray for success for God's plan and others, but also to be a part of that success.  What am I doing to help them glorify God, to achieve their goals and plans which will ultimately glorify God?  I work for believers; I am indeed blessed. 

But I think about my friends who do not; are they off the hook here?  Their masters do not have the goal of glorifying God.  Scripture does tell us to pray for all men, for Kings, and for all that are in authority, I Tim.2:1-3.  Then in Ephesians 6:5-8, servants are told to obey and serve as to the Lord and not men....I wonder if implicit here, is praying for the master.  So, even if we work for unbelievers, I think we are to pray for and be a part of their success.

Smith challenges his readers to search out what particular success they should pray for, a task that requires real thinking.  I fear I go through life on auto-pilot too often.  This challenge, like so many challenges, is to make time to be still, to think through what life and God has brought my way, to determine just how I can glorify God this day.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9 A God Who Provides

Genesis 22:14  So Abraham called that place The Lord will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided."

Wow, for a while as I read Smith's commentary here, I thought he was going to join the parade of people who believe God has promised to provide everything we need, that the good Christian will have all of his or her needs met.  Then at the end, he says this:  have we forgotten that often we ourselves are the 'rams' caught in the thicket-whom God has provided to meet the needs of those suffering in our midst?"

I agree with Smith that this text does have a focus on the importance of God as provider.  Certainly God is our provider, capable of providing anything we need.  He met our greatest need, for a Savior, for redemption from our sin debt, when he gave his son's life in place of ours.  God is the provider.  But just because he is the provider, we cannot blackmail him into providing everything we think we need or want.

My husband has this saying: ability does not equate with necessity.  Just because you can does not mean that you should do something.

So, just because God could do something, provide something, does not mean he should do either.  Sometimes he wants me to be feet and hands to someone's need.  Sometimes, I do believe, he wants me to show others I believe God is good even when he doesn't provide what I or anyone else might think I need.

Assuredly, he is the God who provides, but when he doesn't, he is no less the provider.  He is, instead, providing something we may not understand until eternity.  Faith calls us to trust him,  even in the face of unmet needs....else faith means nothing.

January 8 Rationalizing Sin

Genesis 20:11-12  Abraham replied, "I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.' Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife."

Let me quote a line or so from Smith's comments here: Before Abraham lied to others, he first had to deceive himself into believing that telling a half-truth was just as honest as telling the whole truth.

This line stopped me cold.  I had to sort out what was being said here.  Oh, I know they are simple, uncomplicated words, but strung together like that, I had to think them through.  Abraham had to justify what he was going to do to himself. He didn't tell those lies without forethought; he rationalized them, bending truth to suit his need.  He then came to believe this act of deception was worth doing because the bottom line was he didn't trust God to take care of him, though God had in the past.  Here Abraham comes to the conclusion that God needs his help - even if it causes him to violate his integrity.

Then Smith says this: it's often easier to rationalize our sin the more often we do it!"

One of the many thoughts that came to my mind here was that this is especially true with what we might consider little sins: I don't commit adlultery or fornication.  I don't worship idols; I'm not a thief or murderer, nor do I practice witchcraft.  But is there anything in my life or your life that haunts me or you as we talk about this - these little sins. 

Let me be transparent about an object lesson that I just lived. In my living room, a bowl of Christmas chocolates has been sitting on the coffee-table since before Christmas, untouched.  I had this idea that after Christmas I would chop them all up into cookies, until this afternoon. Now mind you, I know that neither do I need the chocolate because I am hungry, nor could I say it was good for me (it was not dark chocolate, not a little bit heart healthy). But, on my way through the living room to get a book to study, I picked four chocolates up - two for me and two for my husband for dessert for supper.  He didn't come right down, so I ate one.  Then another, then all four.  The first rationalization made all the others easier.

Smith's challenges us this way, "What persistent sin do I engage in and have rationalized so repeatedly that it now hardly seems to be sin at all?"

Have I lied to myself that eating chocolate for me is not sin often enough that I don't even see it coming until it is history?

As I reread this, it sounds rambling, but there is a point here: I must be careful not to rationalize or bend the truth the first time, and I won't even be tempted a second time. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

January 7 The Power of God

Genesis 18:13-14  Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

A couple things come to mind as I read this passage: "There is reason to believe that God has a sense of humor," is one.  I always think of his sense of humor in placing me in my role at BBC as Associate Dean of Students.  I'm a drop-out, one of those departing freshmen projected never to return or turn out well. 

However, God does have  a sense of humor and much grace: he allowed me to go back to school and ultimately brought me to this role, to a new way of fulfilling what I believed was my calling to minister to women in some way.

Then, the writer speaks to God's promises, and I fear we find fault with God when he does not a keep a promise in Scripture that he never made to us today.  I wonder sometimes if he took me to Africa to help me learn this lesson.  We served a body of believers in what was then the poorest country in the world.  Today it is called the most corrupt government in the world by some.  Anyway, these people loved God and risked their lives to serve him.  Still, thirteen of those pastors were brutally martyred because they loved God and refused to renounce him.  Thirteen women had then to parent their families with no government aid (such as might exist in this country), alone and having lost their role in the community, as a pastor's wife.

I think also of one of the Bible school students who lived nearby in Africa.  I heard his child crying and asked why.  The response: "Oh Madame, he is hungry." Their grain had run out, and the harvest was months away, not an uncommom problem in a country plagued by poverty and increasingly short rainy seasons - producing less grain. Good people who loved God  suffered as a part of their daily reality, and I have to tell you, I never heard them complain.  Instead, they always gave of their best when we went to a village to minister - even if it meant they would be hungry the next day or week.

So, what about that "promise" that we claim - God will provide all our needs? Can he do that? Certainly he can. I am just not sure he did promise that.  He did say he would never leave us nor forsake us, but I am just not sure he promised he would supply all of our needs - what we define as needs. 

We use Paul's words to the Philippians in Phil. 4: 19, "But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus," as if they were promises made to us. They weren't.  Paul was thanking the Phillippians for ministering to his need, and he is reassuring them that God would minister to their needs - and go back a few verses.  Could his definition of need be fruit to abound to their account?  I'm just asking here.

The amazing thing is that God sometimes trusts us with unmet "needs" as an opportunity to demonstrate that his love is sufficent, that his children do trust him and that what is temporal and temporary leads to something far better, beyond our imagination. Paul says that he "has all, abounds and is full," but remember, he is speaking from a prison cell and a possible sentence of death.  Some perspective, huh?

If God wants it to happen, it will happen.  Our problem is that we overwrite God's will with our own.  Certainly he can give us dreams, equip us to reach amazing goals, but we must be careful not to blackmail God.  By that I mean, misuse Scripture to say God is bad and failed me because he did not keep his promise.  The question is, Did he really make that promise to you?

All of that to say, I do not believe anything is too hard to God, and sometimes the hard thing he must endure is to watch his children suffer - because of their own choices and because he must use suffering in our lives to accomplish his purposes.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January 6 Commitment to Keeping Covenants

Genesis 17:7  I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

This covenant was made with Abraham and by extension with the people of Israel.  However, it brought to my mind some of the promises God made to believers in the New Testament.

Matthew 11:28-30  Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light - (KJV because that is the version I memorized this in.)

It is amazing to me how bent over we walk because we do not believe nor appropriate the truth here.  What God asks of us is not all that heavy because he is willing and able to do the hard lifting here.  All we have to do is believe and trust the truth here - the promise that in him we shall find rest.  Instead we wander around listening to all those who would sympathize with our miseries instead of being quiet enough to listen and allow him to give us rest.  How powerful are these words:  Learn of me and you shall find rest for your souls.  The more we know about our Saviour, the more we believe what we know, the more our perspective changes, and we realize we are not alone in this challenge.  And if God is in this yoke with us, then who is doing the hard part?

John 14: 26-27  But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghose whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  ( Again, KJV because of that early memory work)

First, I love the book of John, it is the first book in which I did significant study and memory work. 

Jesus gave these words to the disciples, but I believe they are ours for today.  If we put ourselves where there are things to learn about him ( in the Word and the company of those who love the Word), the Holy Spirit will give us understanding.  I don't believe he zaps these things into our memory - we must make ourselves learners, but he is the teacher - giving us understanding that makes it easier to learn and remember and apply the truths of the Word. 

I love the promise here that he will remind us of what we have learned - that he will bring it back to our minds when we need it.  I find such comfort and hope in this: when I am hurting or in need of encouragement, he will bring it back to my mind - that which he has helped me store of his Word.

And he gives me an unconditional peace, a future hope and home, a rest in his arms, something the world could never give us...His love is unconditional - everything from the world is conditional.

And as I review this, I am reminded again of how important it is to make time to be still, to listen for his voice as the Holy Spirit rehearses the truths the Spirit and I have stored up.  And also how important it is to continue in the Word, to be vigilant about reading and studying it, so that the Spirit has something to work with as he comforts and teaches me.

Too often, I hear professing believers make excuses for the way they busy God out of their lives, and then in the same conversation bemoan their mood and capacity for trial, as if it was God's fault.  He loves us; his desire for us is to live in joy and peace and rest, if we just follow his leading.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5 Following God's Call

Genesis 12:1  The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land that I will show you."

The discussion today is about the call of God - how do we know it and what really matters - our willingness to obey.  Smith says that God is unlikely to call us to a better paying job or upscale house, but I am not so sure about that.  I don't think God calls all of us to poverty.  I think his call looks like his enabling. In other words, he has fitted us to what he wants us to do and where he wants us to go.

I want to look at one particular line from Smith's work here: And how can we ever be certain it is God's bidding that prompts us rather than our own selfish desires? 

This verse immediately brought to my mind Psalm 37: 1-7, but I will quote only verses 3-5:  Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed.  Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; t rust also in him and he shall bring it to pass. (I use KJV  only because that is the translation from which I first memorized this passage.)

I kind of think it boils down to this:
1. Am I fully trusting in God, confident that he is good and that he knows what I need (opportunities and abilities) to glorify him?
2.  Am I doing good - that which God would consider righteous acts - motivated by a desire to glorify him, not myself?
3.  Am I delighting myself in him - anticipating with joy spending time with him, finding it delightful, pleasureable, fun even hanging out with him and serving him and being with like-minded people? 
4.  Am I fully committed to him, following wherever he leads, knowing that he will use who and how  he made me, my circumstances, my time with him, and believers in my life to show me the path to take?  I do not believe that God would lead me some place that he has not prepared me for.

All of that to say that God may sometimes require me to trust him, believe him for what I do not see easily, but I also believe what he asks of me will make sense in light of who he has made me.  For instance, if I have no language aptitude, it is unlikely that he would call me to Japan.

And I believe that God unfolds his plan a part at a time, because we probably would think he is making a big mistake if we could see the whole thing.  I can look back and see what God was doing when he took us to Africa, and more importantly for me, when he brought us back.  However, if I knew ahead of time, I'm not sure I could have understood what he was doing.

So, back to the beginning, God has called most of us in the western world to great wealth.  After all, most of us have many changes of clothing, a closet full of clothing, and we will go to a warm bed with a roof over our head, unlike over half of the world.  And God has trusted some believers with great wealth - note I say trusted.  They must consider how to use their wealth and position for God's glory and remember also that he gave it to them.  They are as lost and spiritually needy as the poor.  I do think it is scary personally to be wealthy - too easy to be self-secure and self-important.  Maybe that is why I have not been trusted with that kind of wealth.

So, I think as long as we are trusting God, doing good, delighting ourselves in him, reminaing fully committed to him, he will purify our desires.  And our desires may be one more way that God can show us his will, his leading.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 4 The Language of Pride

Genesis 11:4  Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a twoer that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.

Smith talks about two kinds of pride: a justified pride in doing a good job or even the pride a grandparent might feel in a newborn grandchild, and the insidious pride which broast and brags.  He goes on to say that human pride is at the very heart of all sin-elevating our will above his.

As I thought about this, I kind of agreed, only I would use different terminology.  The first kind of what he calls justified pride, I would use different words for.  I do not think it is wrong to acknowledge that God has given me certain abilities, or giftedness or even intelligence.  I do not call that pride.  I may exercise these abilities or talents, and even sharpen them, but the bottom line is that God made me that way.  God so moved in my genealogy that as my parents combined their DNA, certain things would be produced in me.  I would have a certain physical build, a certain appearance and health issues, even certain abilities that scientists believe are carried through our genes.  I had no choice in these matters; God did however, and I cannot take pride in them. Rather I must accept responsibility for them.

I should also not minimize or disregard or deny their place in my life.  It is not pride that I should have in relationship to these things, but simple acknowledgement that God did this.  God gave me a passion for writing, for dogs, for mountains, for water, for helping other people understand how much he loves them.  When God blesses any of those passions, he is due the praise.  I can be grateful that he has used me and blessed my efforts, but this is not place for pride.

I remember once, when I was a little girl, that I told my big sister I was proud of her when she sang in church.  Oh, did she scold me!  I had no business being proud of her.  She was only a vessel for God.  And I suppose in a way she was right.  But the problem with that is there is no place to acknowledge that God does good work, and sometimes in your life and mine.  I think of a friend of mine who crochets beautifully.  She has taught other young women how to do that, and she has blessed people with things she has crocheted.  (A side note - someone tried to teach me to crochet, and it was a sad thing.  I kept having to rip it out.  I had no passion, only clumsy fingers.)  So I appreciate her giftedness and how she has used it.  It is not pride for her to say that she does that well.  It is an acknowledgement of a gift from God and responsibility to glorify him through it.

So, I can say that I write....not well enough to make big money, but God keeps giving me opportunities and challenges to write.  Through this ability, I can glorify God and minister or encourage or edify the Body.  It isn't wrong to say I can write, to acknowledge that God made me that way.  The burden is whether I use it for my glory or  his.  Here in this blog is this place where we share; I long only to use this writing to bring glory to God.  He made me this way; he entrusted this ability and passion to me....just as he entrusted the ability to paint, or sew, or teach, or sing, or play the piano or evangelize or comfort to others.

Remember the parable of the talents, and the idea of burying one.  I think there are talented believers who are so fearful of the wrong kind of pride that they rob the Body of the blessing they could be.  They hide their talents from the Body, fearing pride that might come should someone recognize or praise them for it.  And the Body is robbed of that which God could use to help them build relationships with others with similar talents - to open the door to an opportunity to minister to them, to be a light to them.

Well, that is what is on my mind today.  I think about what a boring building most churches are when they could be beautiful like the temple, ornaments with the products of God's gifted people. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 3 A God with Feelings

Genesis 6:6 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
The question that Smith poses is this: When I repeatedly disappoint God, do I understand that I have genuinely and truly broken his heart?

The point of today's entry is, in a nutshell, that God feels, that he has emotions.  Remember, we are made in his image, the image of one who loves.  I know that, growing up, I heard a lot about the wrath and anger of God, that he hated sin and sinners.  However, I did not hear all that much about his love other than John 3:16 - He loved me enough to give his son to die in my place to pay for my sin.  And that seemed to be the end of any discussion about God's love.  The loudest voices around seemed to be emphasizing God's wrath and anger, not his love.

I have come to understand that I have emotions because God first had emotions; I can love because God loved first.  As a daughter, mother, a sister, a wife, a friend, I have come to some understanding of love.  Love means a willingness to sacrifice; it means a desire for the well-being of the loved one, and it also means anger at those who would harm the loved one.  Furthermore it means that the lover is grieved when ill comes into the life of the loved one, whether that ill is caused by someone hurting the loved one or the loved one's own choices.

This passage speaks about that, being grieved when his children have made wrong choices.  This is not the only passage though that speaks of God as being grieved; Ephesians 4:30 encourages us to not grieve the Holy Spirit.  That is a powerful thought, a huge responsibility, to know that my behavior can bring sadness to the heart of God.

Yesterday I said something about making God smile.  It is true that as we can grieve God, we can bring joy, smiles to his heart.  Years ago, I read the book IN HIS PRESENCE.  I need to cultivate an awareness that I am always in his presence and whatever I do matters to him and causes him to feel something in response because I do not want to grieve him, I want to make him smile in pleasure and satisfaction.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jan. 2Genesis 4:7 The problem of sin

"If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

Two thoughts come to mind as I read Smith's entry; I will quote his words, then comment on them.

1. Good is only good if there is an opposite reality of evil from which good can be distinguished. It strikes me that this might be a valuable tool when making any decision.  I must consider the opposite choices and their consequences.  I know this is a simple illustration, but if I eat that leftover Christmas candy, what will happen to me?  If I chop it up and mix it into cookie dough for college students, what will happen?  And even eating the candy one at a time, the consequences are still the same.  Like only glancing at a picture or watching a movie or television program or ....fill in the blanks.  Even a little of something can be very this year I need to cultivate the habit of always considering what the opposite reality of the tempting decision might be.

2.  Then these words struck me: How many times have we told ourselves, for example, "But I'm only human" or "Nobody's perfect."
It's a matter of identity.  Who am I, and why would I want to excuse or rationalize my behavior?  God calls me His child.  I'm not only human; I am a Christ-one, cleansed and redeemed and given purpose for glorify God.  He picked me out of a crowd - to so order my life that I would hear and understand and believe the gospel.  I cannot use the excuse that I'm only human because I am not only human.  And it is important that I live out the rest of who I am.

In the passage today, we are told that sin is hanging out close by in our lives longing to own us, but we must master it.  And we can - we are not mere slaves to sin any more.  However, I must live aware that there is an enemy.  I must pay attention to my surroundings, alert to the possibilities so that I do what brings a smile to God's face.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 1 - Chronological Bible Devotional

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Smith here talks about how we are made  in the image of God - intelligent, morally conscious beings, communicators, spiritual beings beyond mortal flesh....and what he calls the obvious: creators.

I have thought about that one a lot over the years, and I must admit, sometimes with a bit of envy as I watch people create amazing works of art in music, paint, wood, clay, and even with food - beautiful to the eye.

And for many years, though I knew that I loved to write, even felt compelled to write, I sort of settled, avoiding real challenges....yet longing for God to use the me He made - a writer.  Now I recognize that I do not have many years left, now as I head into the last quarter of my life, and I want those years to be meaningful, to glorify God, as a creator painting with words.

And that is the challenge here: How will I use that creative spark in me today, and will it be to the glory of God?

My first chapbook (small book) of poetry will be released before Easter - the title is The Empty Cross.  What next?  I am working on Walkabout - another chapbook, but with a much less overt spiritual emphasis.  I wonder if this is wasted energy.  Then I am reminded just now that I am a believer, child of God, exercising my giftedness, using the talents and interests and experiences God has allowed me.  And my goal is to do that with does it have to have an overt spiritual emphasis? Or does it have to be done with excellence?

Is there value in exercising the act of creation well, not necessarily only using overt "God, Bible" words or messages?  Because doesn't it all belong to Him?  Aand perhaps my personal challenge is to persist, to make time to create with words, to be diligent about taking time to pick up that pallet and use the words to say something meaningful.  And perhaps the challenge is to not give up, to put it out there and allow God to decide who will see them, how He will use them.

It is too easy to allow other easier things to do to fill up the time, to make excuses for why I or anyone might allow the less meaningful or even meaningless to occupy our time.

I do believe God made me a writer.  But I also know that this is a time in my life when I can give more energy to writing.  And I know there are seasons of life and a great variety of different giftednesses - is that even a word?  The point is perhaps to allow God to show us our giftedness, to acknowledge it ( that is not pride) and then to take or seek the opportunities before us to exercise it.