Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28 Contentment in God's House

Psalm 84:10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

The title is Contentment in God's House, but exactly what is meant by God's House is unclear. As I reflected on this idea, the House of God, a couple of passages in Scripture came to mind:

• John 14:20 At that day ye shall know that I [am] in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

• Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

From these Scripture portions I understand the House of God this way: it is not a physical structure of brick and mortar or wood and steel, no matter how many times I was told this as a child. Perhaps you as well can remember being told not to run in church or not to yell or not to do any number of things kids are wont to do in church, since it was the House of God....heard in nearly all capital letters with great gravity on the part of the speaker.

However, I am grateful that no church building can contain God, that He chooses instead to dwell in people, in ordinary people like you and me. John was the first book of Scripture that I ever studied, and it remains my favorite - partly because it was written by the disciple Christ loved and partly because it is filled with such beauty and hope and teaching.

So I love the words of John as he quotes Christ's words in chapter 14. Here, Jesus is saying that not only is He in the Father, but that we are in Him and He is in us. Imagine that, we are His dwelling place. In Romans, Paul says that the Spirit dwells in us. We are God's House, His Dwelling Place. Now back to the title of this entry - Contentment in God's House. Am I currently experiencing contentment, with what God is doing in my life, how He is using me, or do I live in the future or the past, longing for a different place to be?

Are we relishing the reality that not only can we serve God, choosing to follow where He leads and savor the company of other believers, but are we happy courts? And if not, then what do we have to do to clean up God's house, to make His courts a place of joy, peace and contentment?

When I covet anything, when I whine about my health or weight or age lines around my eyes, I am whining about the house of God. I am showing my lack of contentment in God's handiwork, and I just don't think that makes God all that happy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27 When Sin Comes Home to Roost

Psalm 40:12 For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me.

David is mourning his sin, one step in repentance and recovery. I do believe both must occur - we must truly repent of our sin, regarding it as a great grief to God and enter into His pain. However, we must not remain there. Remaining in any kind of grief is malignant; it keeps us from going on, from experiencing the rest of the life God has for us. It also prevents us from learning anything through the pain and from helping others, comforting others, with the comfort God means for us to know.

It is important that you understand I am not saying, "Get over it," to those grieving a great loss after a day or a week or a month. When we lose people or even a pet who has played an enormous part in our lives, we cannot just "get over it." Grief is a journey. And though the journey of repentance may have some similarities, there are some significant differences.

You cannot replace a loved one. You are left with memories, and you must find a way to go on without that loved one. Similarly, when you are dealing with sin and repentance, you cannot undo the sin - the offence existed. There are ramifications - an innocence lost, a trust broken, and you must find a way to go on. You cannot forever live in that moment of great grief.

I do believe we are too often in a hurry to get beyond our sin or to help others get beyond their sin. We call it a mistake and ask them if they have asked for forgiveness, or we ourselves ask for forgiveness. But we are too busy or too polite to mourn our sin or to encourage them to mourn their sin - to feel the offence we or they have committed.

I am not sure we can understand or appreciate forgiveness if we do not appreciate the offence, the grief our sin causes God, our Father, who loves us. However, as a loving Father, He does not want us to remain forever in that moment of remorse. He wants us to be motivated by our repentance, to bring glory to Him by getting out of that morass of self-pity - which is often where we go in our grief over sin.

He wants us to put it off, after we have experienced it, and live with joy and purpose. He longs for us to know the delight and peace that comes when we glorify Him, when we show Him that we get it, that we understand His great love for us, and that we want to love Him back.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 25/26 What God Lets Slip Or doesn't!

Psalm 121:7-8  The LORD will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

The writer of the meditation reminds us that "even full trusting God is no guarentee of complete safety," and I guess that is true if you are thinking of safety as we generally do. I get really frustrated (honesty here) when I hear people say that God will supply all of your needs.  That thought is relevant here because we think that physical or even emotional safety is a basic need.  And I do believe the issue is how we view needs.

I saw believers in Africa go hungry, for days.  Not because they were lazy, but because they had planted their grain, there was little left and they had to wait for the harvest.  Good  - by that I mean righteous as God defines it, people suffer and some die every day, horrible nightmarish deaths.  Couldn't we say that we need to be free of incapacitating pain? of hunger?  How is God meeting their every need? It makes me think of how we misuse or misquote Scripture, making it say what we want it to say, rather than what it does say and meant when it was written.

So God is watching us.  Well, we do believe He is omnipresent and omniscient, so yes, He is watching us.  But what about the harm part? The Hebrew word has the sense of evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity. But we believers experience these things on a regular basis, so how do we understand these words David penned centuries ago?

The Hebrew word translated here watch has the sense also of to keep, guard, observe, give heed, a) (Qal) 1) to keep, have charge of 2) to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life a) watch, watchman (participle) 3) to watch for, wait for 4) to watch, observe.

So God keeps guard over us, and First Corinthians 10:13 says that he filters everything that comes into our lives, "but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it]. "

In His role as guardian or watcher, He gives us what we need to get through it in a way that is good for us - that allows us to glorify Him and lay up rewards in heaven. And, I just thought of this - each trial we go through strengthens us for the next, if we allow it to.  If we rehearse God's faithfulness in the past, we can be encouraged for the future.  That same God will never leave nor forsake us.

So I guess I don't think God lets anything least not out of His power to redeem it - to make something useful of it.  The issue is whether we are willing to trust Him through it, to allow Him to reveal just how He is going to use our challenges or our pain or our temptations and on His timetable.

April 22 Shame by Association

Psalm 69:5-6 You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you. May those who hope in your not be disgraced because of me, O Lord Almighty; may those who s eek you not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel.

“Wherever we go, whatever we do, people are watching.” That ought to give us pause for thought. However, even more cause for reflection is the reality that God sees it all. Either we believe in the omniscience and omnipresence of God or we don’t. The reality is that we live as those He didn’t, at least that He is not able to see or care about what we do.

Just as one cough sprays bacteria and viruses into the air to infect the next unsuspecting passerby, so do our actions communicate ways to live, ideas to practice for the next unsuspected by us passerby. Just as the bacteria and viruses may cause others to become ill, so may our life actions cause others to sin.

I love watching my two youngest grandchildren at play...they are learning constantly, sometimes by trial and error, sometimes by watching a grown-up, or on-the-way-to being-grown-up. These little people look around them, when they encounter something new, to see how others handle it. They try out new ideas they have heard, or whether we like it or not, that we have taught them.

Tommy was two when I packed a little plastic sandwich bag with snacks, giving it to him "as snacks for the trip." Two months later, after a visit and when they were getting ready to leave, he came to me and asked for "the snacks for the trips." One time and he had learned something new!

What a reminder that we are constantly teaching others, and that we do not want to teach them anything that would dishonor God, whether it is the use of certain words, the way we use those words, what we teach them is acceptable to watch or listen to for entertainment, or even eat or wear.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 20-21 Confidence in the Lord/When Betrayal Hurts Most

Psalms 55:12-14 If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

Yesterday I sat with my counterpart in a group of students attempting to sort out the truth in a we said/they said situation. Was it possible that both accounts were accurate as perceptions, rather than accurate as reality? Was it possible that one group was honest in what they thought they saw but inaccurate as to what actually happened because of the distance they were from the other group?

My counterpart told the group that though in our role as deans we had been lied to before, we were in earnest, for their sake, to sort out what was true. We knew that our search for not only truth, but for what was best for all involved would/had in the past not enhance our popularity with the students. We also knew that we willingly suffered the possibility of being misunderstood and ultimately rejected was worth the possibility that God might use us and what we said for His glory and their good.

I must say that this ministry with college students does test your heart; you build into their lives, directly and indirectly. You pray for them and those who minister to them. You make many personal sacrifices in their behalf, and then you feel the betrayal and pain of the choices some make that you know will lead only to destruction of some sort. All that you thought you had taught them seems to be a waste, forgotten in their pursuit of false and temporary immediate satisfaction.

So yesterday, in more than one situation, I felt that pain - of betrayal. Today I read this passage and am reminded of the pain I cause my heavenly Father when I betray Him, when I seek a moment's pleasure at the cost of His smile of approval. I think of how I wrestled sleeplessly over the future of several students this week, and then I bow my head in shame over the pain and grief I cost my Father.

These words from today's meditations, "Yet, typically a major incident of betrayal is but the final act in an ongoing series of deceptions about the true nature of the relationship," remind me that my selfishness indulged started much earlier than the moment of self-pity. It started back when I took my eyes off from my Father, off from His guidance, when I forgot to include Him or recognize His presence every where I go.

Oh Father, forgive me my betrayal of you

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 18-19 Invasion of Privacy/A God Who Seems Distant

I Chronicles 28:9 And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.

Psalms 10:1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

It's always amazing to me how the brain works. This weekend is the anniversary of my youngest brother's birth and his death...born on Easter April 18, he died on April 16, two days before his fifth birthday. I was in seventh grade, a long time ago, yet every year, these days bring a renewed grief and mourning. Every year I think about how old he would be and wonder at the relationship we might have, wonder if his innocent childish faith would have matured him into a man of God.

So, these verses have been particularly relevant as once again the pain of that time in my life has washed over me. I watched my mother weep every day for two years. My younger sister and I watched our parents disappear like shadows in our lives, hearts broken, bowed under the fatigue of such unbearable loss...and I knew God then.

I couldn't figure out how God could be so powerful and be able to answer our prayers and know my baby brother had not done anything to deserve death, nor had we done anything to deserve this nightmarish pain(in my eyes), that He would not wake me up from this very bad dream. I remember pleading with God at the funeral to just wake Bobby up, make him sit up, since of course God could do that. But He didn't. And He seemed so distant and unhearing, since I knew He knew my every thought and desires.

Here we are: adults. I understand now that my brother is the one who made out well, leaving this world for a better one. I understand that God used my experience to enable me to minister to others. I know God never left me alone and that He filtered even this experience so that it was not more than He and I could handle.

And I believe that the fact that I am here, loving Him back is evidence of His presence in my life. I guess that has been a significant thought in my life over the last few weeks - seeing God in people's lives - watching them struggle with their sinful choices or their pain caused by other circumstances, knowing that apart from the Spirit's presence, they would be OK with their sin or walk away from God. After all, the world does not see those behaviors as we do, as grieving the heart of God.

So, today, I seek the face of God. I beg for wisdom. I long for His presence visible in my life - oh, not some big white blur, but to see Him at work in my life and the lives of those around me. I'm glad God can invade my privacy - that He knows my pain, and yes, I regret that I cause Him pain as He invades my privacy and sees my selfishness. But the bottom line, I believe my God, though He might seem sometimes distant, is always present and loving me, even when I cannot see Him.

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 14/15 A Father's Love

II Samuel 18:33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: "O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!"

What tragic and agonizing words, an earthly father grieves his son's death! But his grief even preceded his son's death as he mourned the path of his son's life, his rebellion and what it had cost and would cost, both to the son and the father.

Then I wonder at the grief we cause to our heavenly father! He loves us with a perfect love, the kind of love that caused him to redeem us at the cost of his own Son's death, his own death in reality because it is one God in three persons. The Father and the Son in my behalf endured agony...I say agony in search of a word for deep inexpressible pain.

He suffered it over and over - feeling it in anticipation of the cross, just as we feel pain in anticipation of a loss - they call it anticipatory grief. Then He suffers it daily as we make wrong choices - choices that God knows will cause us pain and will separate us from sweet fellowship with Him.

I wonder if we take for granted our forgiveness, well, God's forgiveness. I wonder if we take for granted the cross and what it cost. We sin, and we call it a mistake. We may even suffer the consequences of our own sinful words or deeds, but I wonder if we even think about the daily cost to God of our sin - the grief we cause Him to feel.

I remember, with deep regret, hurtful words uttered to my mother, knowing now the heart pain I caused her. I didn't know then the truth of her words. I thought the seventeen-year-old me might know better. And as a parent, I now appreciate the pain I caused her. And I begin to have a glimpse of the daily pain I cause my heavenly Father when I go off on my own.

David called out, "If only I had died instead of you." God through Jesus did die for me, and I ask Him today one more time, to forgive how cavalierly I have handled that amazing gift.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 13 Open to God's Discipline

II Samuel 16:11-12 Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.

Nobody, generally, is all that anxious to be rebuked, to have shortcomings pointed out. Conversely, we all want to be commended. David was willing to hear Shimei's words, to listen to them, and there is a difference. Though we may easily hear someone's rebuke or correction, whether we allow that it might be from God or not, it is not so easy to hear with the willingness to give attention to it.

At school here, there is regular assessment: of your classes, your teaching, your leadership, or your exercise of your responsibilities. Students are encouraged to give their opinion as are your superiors. Then comes the day the summary of the evaluation is laid in your hands. What do you do with it? Think that it is from college kids who know nothing about education or good teaching or test construction OR...consider that maybe God might be teaching you something through the kind words, or lack thereof in these evaluations.

I remember when we first got to Africa, most of the preaching was done in languages we did not know. My kids were just not sure about how valuable it was for them to sit through it all, but I in my great wisdom said this: You do understand the reference, or I will show it to you. You can read the passage and think about it, and allow God to help you find something of value there.

We also had this kind of conversation over chapel speakers or preachers from time to time - though they might not be the best speakers, or do the best exegesis or stick to the passage, if you are open to God's speaking to you, He will.

It all boils down to the difference between hearing and listening, reading and considering. Words can pass through your ears, or in front of your eyes, and no change is accomplished. Or you can listen and consider, think about what God might be communicating to you, and be moved into closer fellowship with Him.

A long time ago, someone stood behind me saying some awful things about me. I remember thinking I would not give them permission to influence how I thought, about them or myself. Today I would altar that a bit; I would listen to all the words, filter out what might have a kernel of truth and figure out what I should do in response, and disregard the rest.

Now, do I get it all the time? No....but I am making headway. How about you?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12 A God Who Rescues and Celebrating a Birthday

II Samuel 14:14 Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.

Our sin must separate us from God, forever banished from His presence, save for His love. God Himself pursued us, redeemed us, then pursued us so that we would hear and understand the gospel. In deed, He devised a way that we would no longer be estranged, but we would be drawn into the circle of the beloved.

I think about the word "estranged," meaning separated. There are people in our life circles with whom we are not estranged, but neither do we have a relationship. Perhaps you can think of a distant relative, a someone you know you are related to but with whom you have no dealings or even real feelings for. You are not estranged or separated from them because you never were really close with them.

In salvation, God has done more than just allowing us into the family. He loves us. We matter to Him. He has a purpose for our lives, and He has fitted us to that purpose. He longs for us to experience love and joy and peace and patience, among other things, and He has given us a way to live joyful, peaceful, love-filled lives...because we are more than just not-estranged. We are loved and pursued, like a bride.

As we drove away from being pronounced husband and wife, I was so happy I could not contain it. My beloved had pledged himself to me, and I to him. As amazing as all of that was that day, it was the pledge of two faulty people, loving each other with a human love, an imperfect love that would be experienced and given in fits and starts as we learned what love meant.

But God has pledged Himself to us, to love us with a perfect flawless love in the context of knowing exactly what we need, and being able to provide it. When a couple is married, when they are pronounced husband and wife, there is applause, a public celebration of this loving commitment. I think today about our celebrations as Christians, how few and faulty.

We celebrate the birth of a child, the birthday, the graduation and the wedding, perhaps the engagement. But we don't celebrate annually that second birth, the removal of banishment and estrangement. Perhaps we should, individually, as families, corporately as a body of believers.

I never thought of this as a mother, of celebrating the salvation or baptism of my children, or even grandchildren. Until this very morning. I wonder if we would have fewer young people or even older people wander from the faith if we celebrated their new birth annually, reminding them and ourselves of the miracle of the new life....just wondering.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 10-11 Grieving Over Sin

Psalm 51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

David committed what we would surely label a "Biggie," adultery and then murder - his actions directly were responsible for Uriah's death. But Jesus says in Matthew 5 that even thinking about a woman lustfully is the same thing as committing adultery. So are we any less guilty than David was. How may sinful thoughts have we entertained?

And then how much time have we spent mourning over our sin? I try to thank God for answering prayer with the same fervency and frequency with which I made the request. I can think of some requests this school year that I made to God and then how I tried to thank God every morning remembering His kindness and mercy.

But I would be dishonest if I told you I had spent an equal amount of time mourning my sin as I have committing it. And as I think of sin, I think of all the daily misses, that's what sin is, a missing of the mark. God calls us to holiness, and I fear I have dragged Him through a lot of unholiness without even thinking about it, whether it is by participating in an unloving conversation, watching a TV show or movie that is not edifying, or indulging in envy. The point is God has called us to holiness and in my selfishness, I have taking Him to some ugly places....and then taken His forgiveness for granted.

I think that is an issue for me today - taking God for granted. He is God, after all. He has loved me while I was yet in my sin...and continues to love me. He paid the price for all my sin, and I forget the enormity of it all. Perhaps His call to me today is not just to mourn over specific sin, but to be more intentional about remembering His presence...even in my head.

II Samuel 12:22-23 He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

David fasted and wept before God begging God for mercy. I wonder if inherent in David's pleading was that deep regret for the sin that led to this child's birth and the knowledge that he did not deserve what he was asking for, and that he could only beg for God's grace.

And when his request was not answered in exactly the way he wanted, David accepted God's will. He went on about life. The next verse tells us he comforted his wife, and he "lay with her." I think about the comfort God designed a married couple to experience in the act of love-making....and God blessed them with another son, this son conceived within the marriage. I wonder if this was somehow a sign of God's forgiveness to David.

The point is, the "man after God's own heart" grieved his sin and accepted God's response to his prayers. He accepted God's response. To me that is so powerful. When God doesn't give me, us, what we ask for, how easy is it to question God's goodness, his faithfulness, his kindness? He is God after all, yet we think we have the right or place to judge His actions. Perhaps that is the challenge of David's life; he was human. He did wander, got carried up in his own passions, but he returned with mourning to God's embrace.

Friday, April 8, 2011

April 6-7 Uncivil Civil Wars and Making Sense of Unfairness

II Samuel 2:26 Abner called out to Joab, "Must the sword devour forever? Don't you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your own men to stop pursuing their brothers?"

"When the battle is against brothers instead of error, the time to stop is now." I have thought a lot about these few words, and all that they imply. A battle against brothers - God calls us to love our brothers; how this must grieve Him when we battle or speak against our brothers. Truly our flesh is weak that we so often find ourselves identifying with a man or a group instead of identifying with God.

And the error thing, I wonder what kind of error matters most to God, what kind He thinks is sufficently important to make a big issue over. Would He make as big a deal as we do about mode of baptism or  communion or style of dress or even eschatology as we do? Would He be as concerned about labels like Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian as we are, or would He be more concerned with relationship - with Him and with each other? I keep hearing those two commandments ring in my mind: Love me and Love one another.

And how happy do we make Him by all the time we spend criticizing and talking against those who are in a "camp" that differs from our own? Time and energy that could be spent far more productively, and that would truly glorify Him.

I Chronicles 13:9-10 When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.

I confess that I really struggled with this one: Uzzah only meant well, after all. But, no action is isolated. Everything we do or say has ripple effects, and his touch was only a ripple effect of an earlier disobedience. God said the ark should be carried on the shoulders of the Levites. It was not being carried on the Levites, so it balanced precariously, and Uzzah paid the consequences.

We see a good person hurt and question God about how He could allow that, but that is not the issue. The issue is what led up to that hurt - illness, accident, infidelity, or lost job? The unfairness of this moment had its roots, not in God's unfaithfulness, but as a consequence of sin in this world. And we have no idea of how great those consequences are, how deeply they infiltrate all of life.

God's desire for us is to rejoice, to bear the fruit of an intimate relationship with the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance....a clear path to the life we want. So maybe the lesson here is not about the unfairness of God toward us, but of our unfairness toward God, blaming Him for allowing us to reap the consequences of our own (as humanity) choices.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 5-6 An Impatient Faith

I Chronicles 10:13-14 Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD.

The thought of the price of infidelity - Saul died because he was unfaithful - is powerful, but not something about which we think very often. If we understand this verse correctly, Saul's life would have been much longer, and happier, had he been faithful to God.

A couple of thoughts come to my mind here - one, do we even recognize all the times we are unfaithful to God? Yesterday I sat in on a discussion about evil, and it was apparent that we in that room did not even agree in what constitutes evil. One person brought up the biblical imperatives that we are to love God and love one another with the idea that if our action is not loving, then it must be evil. Another was concerned with what we might view for entertainment, and it reminded me of how little is available that we might watch with the physical Jesus Christ present.

Then, it occurred to me that whenever we make a decision to put something else ahead of God, choosing to give greater influence or power or pressure in our lives, we are being unfaithful to Him. For instance, perhaps choosing to wear something we know is questionable, choosing to give Him the last fruits of our day or life instead of the first or best time of our day, choosing to skip church and the fellowship there for an early start to a day of shopping or vacation maybe....

Two, do we even consider how different the quality of our lives might be were we more faithful to God? God wants us to experience love, joy, peace, patience..... And when we are unfaithful to Him and His Word, there is a cost. First our fellowship and community with Him are damaged, even put at risk. Then the very directives He gave us to ensure love, joy and peace are compromised. He gave us those commands because He knew their outcome would be for our good. When we lie, steal, envy, covet, look at or think about things that are not pure, there is a price, a change in our lives that is not good.

As far as impatient faith - we want immediate satisfaction, and when God asks us to wait, it is for our own good - not His. And when we bull our way into having our own will, the price may be death...death to fellowship, death to relationship, death to love and joy and peace, and perhaps a sooner than expected physical death.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4 The Difficult Virtue of Sharing

I Samuel 25:11 Should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where? (Nabal's words to Abigail)

We had not lived in Africa very long when it started, hungry people at my door, or some in need of medical attention. It was just a piece of baguette spread with peanut butter, a cup of very sweet hot tea or a band aid or an aspirin. Not much, one at a time, but replacing the band aid or aspirin or getting more bread or peanut butter was not all that easy. And my husband was charged with looking out for the whole family. It was in that sense of responsibility that he came to me, asking me to reconsider feeding those who came knocking at our door. He had visions of our being eaten out of house and home.

But I couldn't withhold food when I had it. Wasn't that part of what God had called us to do there. And if I wouldn't share a band aid or chap stick or aspirin or piece of bread from what was certainly my abundance compared to their poverty, then why should they listen to us when we wanted to share Christ?

So, when I explained it all to him, he went along. And God was faithful. We never went hungry or in need of medicine, and I found creative ways to minister to the blind man, the pregnant mommy, the sick child and anybody else who knocked on my door with a need.

And here we are in the States. I can't remember when someone came to my door with those needs, but these same people exist in this country. The command to love one another continues to resonate; the imperative of ministering to the fatherless and the widows rings out. The "how" is in question.

Certainly sometimes we can minister to a specific need we hear about, but what about those we may not know about personally? How easy is it to give to the Benevolence or Deacon's Funds? How easy is it to give meaningfully to the Rescue Mission or Salvation Army or a mission agency's emergency fund?

I remember a student telling me she had the gift of giving, but everyone who received from her knew she gave to them. She had the immediate satisfaction of their thanks. That's the way most of us are built. We do and give and share because it feels good when people voice their appreciation. But the gift of giving, the one that gives God the greater glory is the gift giving anonymously, so that only God is given the glory and thanks.

Friday, April 1, 2011

March 31/April1 Appearances Can Be Deceiving

I Samuel 16:7 ...The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

I Samuel 18:9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

In reference to I Samuel 16:7, this is in the context of God speaking to Samuel about his choice of the man who will be king. Jesse passes all of his sons before Samuel, and Samuel finally selects the youngest, a shepherd - a boy to anoint as the future king.

It made me think of how many times I have seen young people with great talent or an amazing testimony selected to be put up front, to be somehow honored for what they can do or their story - their outward appearance. Unfortunately, those who elevated these young people thought neither of the inward heart nor what was good for that young person. And the young person crashed and burned.

Too often, we are drawn to those beautiful or flashy individuals rather than taking time to scrape the surface and search out their heart.

Before I leave this topic, I must talk about the reality that God sees our heart, and the grief that could cause Him. I wonder how much of our outward performances are for the recognition of others. I wonder how much we are motivated by love for one another - that motivation that shows up in the heart where God can see it, and how much of our fine works end up as ashes...I Corinthians 13.

Then I think about the second verse quoted here...the one about jealousy. Our author here references the reality that jealousy rises out of our own insecurity, our heart, you might say. When our heart is right with God, sharing God's values, there is no place for jealousy or envy. We are filled with contentment and joy.

Jealousy is a sign that our perspective is skewed - we are valuing what others have over what God in His infinite love has entrusted to us. He knows what we need, what will bring us true joy and contentment. He knows also that when we think something else or someone else is required to make us happy, we do not understand how temporary that happiness is. Our selfishness, that "sin which dwells in our flesh" will quickly see one more thing or person we need to be truly happy, and the cycle spirals on.

Jealousy is a sign that all is not well in our heart, that appearances are deceiving.