A Real Justice League?

I am a “rules person”. I see rules as things to be followed, and when people don’t follow them, it irks me. If there was a real justice league, I’d be a prime member.

In Mark 3 Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees were waiting to see if He would break their rules and heal the man on the Sabbath, which He did. (If ever there was a justice league, the Pharisees were definitely in.) Just before Jesus performed this healing, though, having brought the man to Him He said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” They said nothing and this angered Jesus, and He was grieved at their hardness of heart.

Earlier in the Gospel of Mark when the religious leaders had questioned another of the breaking of their Sabbath rules (picking grain and eating it), Jesus told them that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” What I see here is God’s focus on care and love for those He has created. I don’t understand all of the rules that were imposed by God upon the Israelites in the Old Testament, but from this passage in Mark and so many other instances in the New Testament, I can trust that He made those rules because of His love. The same is true of the things God tells us in the New Testament. God’s “rules” are always made from a heart of love for the good of His people.

That’s where we humans screw it up – at least I know I’ve been guilty of it. Where is my focus? Is it on making sure the rules are followed, or is it to love people? Jesus had moments of justice, like the time he turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, but His justice flowed out of a desire for the good of those He had created; His justice flows from love.

Are you a justice person, like me? Or maybe you’re the other way around, just love without worries about rules. What we need is a heart like God’s, one motivated by love for the good of people. Father, You alone can give us a heart after Your own heart. I ask You for that.

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Lies That Blind

Jesus was crucified and buried, and the religious leaders wanted to make sure his disciples wouldn’t try to propagate a lie that Jesus had risen by stealing his body. So the tomb was sealed and the guards were set in place.

But the guards came running to the chief priests with the news of an earthquake, the tomb opened, the angel, the body of Jesus gone! Right in front of the religious leaders was the evidence that Jesus had risen, leading to the assumption (one would think) that He was who He said He was, and that they are dealing with God. But their response was to propagate a lie so as to keep Jesus dead in the minds of anyone who might hope otherwise. The very “leaders of God” would not let go of what they believed even with compelling evidence to the contrary. What were they thinking?! It seems that they liked their position of leadership and authority and refused to give it up – even to God. (Read about it here.)

When we get to a place of comfort or honor or status or whatever makes us feel good, it can be a very dangerous place. Our sinful condition is such that we think we have what will make us happy and refuse to let go of it even when what is the truth (that which will truly fulfill us) is right before us. Oh Lord, rescue me from myself! Open my eyes to see and my ears to hear. Let these words of Jesus bring my heart trembling before you:

“…the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them.’” Matt. 13:14-15 (NASB)

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The Human Being

Last summer my husband and I had the privilege of visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. While there we walked through a display of thin cross-sections of human cadavers encased in glass. What I found is that our human insides do not look anything like the pictures you find in your science book at school. The pictures in the book are all neat, and the various parts seem quite distinct and easy to identify. But in the real cross-sections I viewed, you could certainly identify parts that were pointed out to you, but it wasn’t all neat and clean like the pictures; it was squishy looking and everything was meshed together (no pretty colors even!).

My first realization was that the human body is nothing like the things man creates. The inside of a body appears more base, in a sense, than human creations and yet it is incredibly complex and thoroughly functional. And that was my second realization – that the creation of God is way beyond anything man can do. To think that all of the various functions of the human body, this conglomeration of mushy stuff, not only does amazing things (the how of which often eludes us) but even has the ability to address problems and deficiencies in its functioning makes me realize how big my God is and how very small I am.

And as if the awe of the “machine” of the body weren’t enough, there is more. Humans think, feel, and are much more than a well-oiled machine. The “differentness” of mankind from other living things becomes very apparent when someone dies. When we look at a body in a coffin, the absence of life makes a person not look like the one we knew, and the reality that humans are more than a body is right in front of us. I have been at the bedside of people who have died, and the minute the soul leaves that body you know; they don’t look like they are sleeping, instead they look like something different than they were a moment before.

In Psalm 139 we are told that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yes, indeed.

My thoughts immediately turn to the why of God’s actions. Why would He make such an incredible creation as us, making sure that we have what we need to live? And when we chose to become our own god and call the shots, ruining our relationship with Him, why did He send His son to redeem us? For some reason, we are very valuable to Him. I don’t know about you, but I want to know this God better. I see the work of His hands, I see the provisions He has made, I see His incredible sacrifice poured out on my behalf, and I long to know this God, my God.

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Is God Out to Get You?

Do you live with a constant gnawing that God is just waiting to take away anything good that He brings to you? Until recently, I didn’t realize that I was living under that fear. I knew in my head that when God takes something away or brings something hard into my life, that it is because He is loving me into life – but I was not able to live in the moment and enjoy today because of worry about what might be next. As much as I knew I could trust His plan, I was also afraid of it.

I imagine a little girl, surrounded by the blessings of her parents’ love but never able to enjoy those blessings because she is always expecting her parents to discipline her. Of course her parents will discipline her if she needs it, but that is not to concern her, she should just be enjoying their love.

If you have struggled as I have, join me in seeking to live in God’s love:

Father, let me be like Paul who said that he had learned how to be content with plenty and with lack; he was content no matter his circumstances. Father, You may give and You may take away. You may take me on a beautiful path or a very dark one. I don’t want my trust and contentment to rest on whether or not my circumstances are good or bad, easy or hard. And I don’t want to live my life in the constant fear that You may strike me at any moment. Oh Lord, let me live in the joy of today. Let me be content in the moment, no matter what that moment carries. You are my God, and You love me! Everything You do in my life is good – always! Let me just walk with You as Your child. Let me leave the cares of where we’re going and what comes along the way to You. I want to be a trusting child, Lord.

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No Bacon Today (A Tribute to My Dad)

Yesterday I stood and watched my dad’s coffin being lowered into the ground. The funeral and burial were as beautiful as they could be, but it was all hard, very hard. Dad had died last Saturday, but I was home and in the midst of packing up Jim’s step-mother’s house for a move, so the weight of loss didn’t settle on me until the morning of the funeral. I was at my nephew’s house (Dad lived with him and his family) making room in the refrigerator for food that a friend had brought over and I came across Dad’s Gatorade bottle – the one that he filled and refilled with his drinking water. When I emptied the water into the sink and discarded the bottle in the trash, suddenly the tears came. Dad was gone. The wave of emotions came and went throughout the day as the events of saying goodbye unfolded. As I told so many who came to honor my dad, I am not sad for him – his suffering was shorter than expected, and he suffers no more because he is in Paradise, and for that I am happy – but I am sad for me. I will miss him until I see him on the other side.

My dad was a country boy, born in the back hills of Tennessee. School attendance was sporadic for him as working the farm was much more of a priority for his family, so he had less than a 6th grade education. But my dad was no simple man; he was full of profound wisdom and love that touched the lives of everyone who knew him. And even without the education to make him smart, he was incredibly smart. He taught himself to play the guitar from an early age and could figure out how to fix just about anything. He could solve puzzles that baffled others – like the peg puzzle at Cracker Barrel at which he knew how to get that one-peg solution.

As children do, I was learning from my dad from the time he first held me in his arms. Many times his teaching was intentional – like when he showed me how to do simple maintenance on my first car, or how to put my ear to a watermelon to check for ripeness (one I still haven’t mastered!). But much of his teaching was unintentional; he was pouring himself into me by just being the man that he was. And he was teaching all who knew him right up until the night he closed his eyes here and opened them in Heaven, because he showed us how to face cancer and walk the path of unwavering faith in God in the midst of the suffering it brought.

Two weeks before he died I got to spend five precious days with him. We sat out on the back porch for hours, went out to eat with his friend, attended Sunday service at his church where I saw them pour out love on him as they prayed for him, and just got to be together. When I cooked our breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, he told me that I had mastered the art of cooking bacon. Dad cooked bacon like no one else – it was always perfect. And now he told me that I was cooking it just like him.

In days to come, I hope others will see in me that beautiful character that lived in my dad. His pastor and dear friend said of him at the funeral that if you didn’t like Roy, the problem was with you, not him. He was a man who was greatly loved by others because of the love he gave out so easily. That is how I want to be; like my dad.

Someday soon I’ll be cooking some bacon for my family, though not today because it’s just too hard. But when I do cook that bacon, may it not be the only thing that is like Dad, but may the love that goes with it be what flows through me as it did through him continuously.

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Don’t Go Without God

“Run in such a way that you may win.” Though the Bible has compared the Christian life to running a race, there are some stark differences between a human race and a spiritual one. One of those is that as a child of God you do not run alone. My husband is a cross country coach, so I have learned a few things about the rules of running in a competition. One of those rules is that the coach cannot run with the athlete – to do so would disqualify the athlete. But the Christian “race” is different because God not only runs with us, but He is in us. He won’t force our feet to follow His directions, but when we submit to His leading, we will definitely follow the right path – the one that leads to life.

Recently, I was at a starting line with God, and He pointed me in the direction He wanted me to go. I “took off running” to do what He had said, but it didn’t turn out so well. Now I realize that doing what God wants does not determine whether the end result will feel good, but I knew that this bad end result wasn’t right; I didn’t know why it wasn’t right, but it just didn’t feel like it was what God had in mind. Over the next few days I took my questions to God, and one day He showed me the answer… while I was running.

On that particular morning I had gone outside to run since it was a little warmer than it had been. It was a windy day. As the wind was pushing me forward or trying to hold me back, the Lord suddenly made it clear how I had missed what He had wanted in my recent attempt to follow Him. I had seemingly left Him at the starting line. Though in reality He was with me (since He never leaves His children), I wasn’t seeking His direction on the path. Without His leading, I chose the wrong path to the end. Father showed me that I need Him, not just at the beginning, but all the way through to the end. I am now remembering to talk with God and seek His direction as I go through each day, because I know I need Him — all the way through.

As a way of driving this lesson home to my heart, I finished that run differently than I usually do when it is windy. Rather than running harder when the wind was coming at me, I let the wind have its way and slow me down. I wanted to remember that His path, the right one, is found by letting Him be the one doing the directing.

 

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Child of God, You Will Never Emancipate!

The day of emancipation, when a child is no longer under the rule of his parents, is a long awaited day for many, or for others, a day that came too fast. But it comes, and a new journey begins for everyone.

There are many parallels between the parent-child relationship and the relationship of God’s children with God, but emancipation isn’t one of them. Just like parents do for their children, God fills us up with good things to make us strong and full of life, but we shall never be so full that we are ready to be free of Him.

In Matthew 17 there are two stories, back-to-back, that illustrate this need. The first story begins in verse 14 where Jesus arrives upon a situation in which some of His disciples had unsuccessfully attempted to heal a demon possessed boy. After Jesus heals him and they go on their way, the disciples inquire as to why they were unable to do it. Jesus says it was because of the smallness of their faith and a lack of prayer and fasting. I don’t think Jesus was telling them that they should have gone off for the day and fasted, but rather that they should have been in the habit of pulling aside to seek God in this way. It is apparent that there is a connection to God in this that is needed in certain situations. Though it doesn’t say so in the passage, it seems that the disciples were depending on what Jesus had already poured into them to address the situation (see Matthew 10:1). In this moment they were living as emancipated children, feeling no need to seek God but just to depend on past promises.

After this story, we find Peter confronted by the Pharisees in regard to a tax Jesus had not paid. Upon going to where Jesus is (being with Him), Peter is given the answers he needs to know about the tax. All he did was get into the presence of Jesus — in this case he didn’t have to press in further because Jesus just gave him the answers. Peter’s first action upon encountering the situation with the Pharisees was to go to Jesus; he didn’t try to take charge of the situation himself, but he sought out the One he knew always holds the answers.

As much as God gives His children, we never come to a place of not needing to be with Him. We are never emancipated children — never. Like Peter, we must seek out God. And acknowledging that we need Him even more than our food brings us into a communion with His presence such that when unexpected situations arise, we are abiding with Him and ready to address it.

You may have itched to emancipate from your parents, but if you are a child of God you come to understand that God is your very life and you know that you cannot emancipate from Him. And when you grow to learn how good He is, you never, ever want to go along without Him. He holds all the answers, and to be under His authority forever is freedom and peace and joy.

For those who do not choose to come under God’s authority and become His child, a day of emancipation will come. It is not something to look forward to because none of us was ever meant to be without Him and everything good is found in Him — to exist without Him is to have only what is left, that which is dark and evil. Come to Him today and celebrate living as a child forever under His care. (You can read more about that on my page, “Do you know God?”, on the sidebar.)

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Blind and Deaf. How Did I Get Here?

In Peter’s profession of who Christ is in Matthew 16:13ff, Jesus told Peter he was blessed. He didn’t say he was blessed because he chose to make a great statement, or that he was blessed because he was so smart or because of anything in himself.  Jesus said Peter was blessed because the Father had revealed a truth to him. Our blessing doesn’t come based on anything in us. If I am pressing in and moving forward in God, it is because He has given me the blessings to bring me there.

Unfortunately, like Peter, our tendency is to boast (either by words, actions, or simply in our thoughts). We think God did this because of us. We earn nothing, we deserve nothing. Any forward move I make is because He has blessed me.

But a blessing is also a crossroad. Failure to walk in the blessings time and time again will eventually result in poor eyesight and near deafness. In Matthew, Jesus explains to the disciples why He spoke to the people in parables:  “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. for whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore, I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand… for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:11-16, NASB).

Jesus didn’t say the people were completely blind and deaf, which means they still had a chance. Are you barely hearing God? Heed what you hear! “Whoever has, to him shall more be given.” The more you heed, the more you will be given, and the better you will see and hear. There is no better place to be than in the blessing of God.

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Music to My Ears, But Not Necessarily to My Head

Wherever you go you will likely hear a song playing somewhere. There’s background music in the restaurant, the booming beat of the car sitting next to you at the traffic light, melodies being sung in a church on Sunday, someone humming as they pass you on the sidewalk. Music is everywhere, people love it.

The words of a song aren’t necessarily truth, however. Songs present viewpoints — even Christian songs. I am not trying to cast a shadow on music because it is a wonderful gift in a chaotic world, but we must make sure we have a truth grid through which we process everything that comes to us, including music. The source of truth is the Bible.

Reading the Bible is required if we would know what it says, yet many believers are deficient here. It is often treated as an optional activity. But if you don’t know the truth, then how will you know if what you are hearing or seeing is right? You may not latch onto the words of a silly song as truth, but you may take that Christian song as truth and it may not be. You could end up going down a path that is not God’s way at all.

There is only one way to know the truth, and that is to learn it. Then when you hear a song or a sermon, or see an advertisement or read an article, you will have the right grid through which to know if it is truth or not. You’ve probably listened to some music today, but have you taken in some truth? Only by the measure of truth will you know whether the music in your ears is fit for your head.

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What are we here for anyway?

It seems I am hearing a lot of Christian songs, messages, and talk these days about how we ought to get busy doing something to change this world for the better. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world and we are to let our lights shine, that we are the salt of the earth and we are to go out and spread our salt in the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Yes, Jesus wants us to go out and do good things for the hurting people in this world, no doubt about that. But the question is why. What is God’s purpose for our going out and doing good?

What I am hearing proclaimed today is that by doing good, we can make this world a better place. Should that be our reason — to make the world a better place? Is that the reason God told us to do it? Based on the fact that the Bible says that the world will only get worse before Jesus returns, it would seem counterproductive on His part to tell us to try and make it better. 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 12 — “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power… In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (NIV). I venture to say that if our goal is to make the world better, we will be disappointed.

But we are told to go out and shine — what then is the reason? In Matthew 5 (that I referenced above), verse 16 gives us insight: “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (NIV). We reach out to others so that they will look to God and glorify Him. To glorify God is to acknowledge His rightful place as King over all. Bottom line is, we want people to come to our God and theirs and be saved. Our goal isn’t a better world, but to rescue people from this crumbling kingdom for the Kingdom to come.

As we go about shining, salting, and rescuing, we will be persecuted. And as we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we will find it (Matthew 16:24-25). That’s a promise we can live for.

 

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