Monday, January 31, 2011

Ain't no such thing as flyin' solo...

"With the help of the Lord..."
Genesis 4:1

I have read the Book of Genesis countless times in my life, but I never really noticed this verse before.   These are the words of Eve, after the birth of the very first baby.  Most of us have been intimately involved in the miracle of birth, whether your own child, or that of a friend or relative.  And no one would argue how amazing and wondrous it is.  For most women, there is a great deal of pride in the accomplishment, because -- let's be honest -- it's not easy.  They don't call it "labor" for nothing.  We sit around at baby showers or birthday parties, or even PTA meetings, bragging and comparing stories.

But if pressed to admit we didn't do it on our own, the ones we are going to credit with helping us are a devoted husband who stood by with ice chips and a cold washcloth, or the doctor who made a difficult birth happen, or the anesthesiologist who made it easier.   Most of us, if we're not busy taking all the credit for this precious gift ourselves, would say something like, "With the help of a human being, I have brought forth another human being...."

But while God is generally credited with the creation of a new life,  He is rarely credited with the bringing of that new life into the world.  Especially if the birth is routine.  We're concentrating on panting and counting and guessing the weight.

Eve had such a beautiful realization.  The whole thing was new to her.  No midwife; no advice on "what to expect".   Just her and God.  And maybe Adam.  Who knows?   But she recognized that she could not have done it without God.  And I realized that while I give Him credit for creating my children, I do not give Him credit for His role in helping me give birth to my children.  And I certainly don't give Him credit for the smaller things in my life.  I ask for His help in advance of something big or difficult, but I don't always thank Him afterward.    I'd like to get better about that.

And I'm going to start today.

Every morning, after I read my Scripture for the day, I choose one verse from my reading, and I write that at the top of my to-do list.  That way, as I refer to this guideline for my day, I'm reminded of that verse that touched my heart.  And what better thought to go with a to-do list than to be reminded that I'm not going to get any of it done without His help?

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  And I can do nothing without His help.

Come on in, the fire's fine!

"Four men!"
Daniel 3:25

What were they thinking??  What were they feeling??  This chapter of Daniel tells of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, being cast into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, and living to tell the tale; but it doesn't actually let us hear them telling the tale.  Eleven verses describing one of God's most impressive miracles, but we know more about how Nebuchadnezzar was feeling than we do Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.

What does peace feel like, when you are facing a tough decision?  Nebuchadnezzar, who apparently had serious self-esteem issues, had set up a 90 foot golden image of himself.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego knew the law.  They knew the consequences of disobeying the law.  But they didn't complain to the king, and they didn't murmur to each other about the unfairness of it all.  Without making a big deal, without picketing in front of Nebuchadnezzar's palace, or writing letters to the editor, they simply did not do what God had told them not to do.

When the brown-nosing Chaldeans tattled on them - and could we please just mock these fellows for a minute?  "O king, live forever! ... These men, O king, have not paid due regard to you!  They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up!"  You can practically hear the whining, can't you?  And it has exactly the effect they desired.   Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are called before the king, and he very generously gives them another chance.   "If you are ready, when you hear the music, if you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good!  But if you do not, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of the burning fiery furnace."

What does peace feel like when you don't know what the future holds?  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego said to the king, in verse 17 "... our God, Whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king."  Do you hear peace there?  How about verse 18, "But if not..."  In other words, if it's God's plan for us to die from this, and this is the last time we have a chance to talk to you, "let it be known, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."  Do you hear peace there?  Do you hear trust there?  "I don't know which way God's gonna handle this... but I'm okay with whichever He chooses.  Either He delivers us from the furnace, or He delivers us from earth to heaven.  I don't know what He's thinking, but I know what I'm thinking."

Their refusal, and possibly the peace they show, infuriates Nebuchadnezzar.  Peace can be very frustrating to witnesses; to those who don't understand it.  Nebuchadnezzar has them bound, in their coats, their trousers, their turbans and their other garments; and he has the furnace heated so hot that it kills the men who escort them up there.  What does that feel like?  What does peace feel like when there's no escape, and you're watching those around you weaken, or fall, from a trial you are facing?

Verse 23:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego fell down, bound, into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.  And make no mistake about this:  every time chapter 3 refers to it, that's what it's called - the burning fiery furnace.  But immediately, Nebuchadnezzar is astonished.  And verse 25 tells us what he saw -- verse 25 tells us what we look like when we are in the burning fiery furnace.

They were not bound.  They were not hurt.  And they were not alone.

Chapter 3 takes us through the rest of the story, from Nebuchadnezzar's point of view.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are called out of the midst of the fire.  Nebuchadnezzar and his weasely, spineless satraps, administrators, governors and counselors see that the fire had no power over them.  The hair of their heads was not singed, nor their garments affected, not even the smell of fire was on them.  And any reporter worth their weight in salt would have run to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego and asked them, "How do you feel?  What was it like??"  But God does not tell us.  I wonder if it's because it's too hard to describe.  Because people who don't know the peace of God read this book, too, and they just wouldn't get it.  Many of us have experienced that kind of peace during trials, and even we can't find words for it.  Philippians 4 says we can't even understand it.  St Thomas Aquinas said, "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith, no explanation is possible."

No, God doesn't tell us what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were thinking or feeling... perhaps because He knows we'll find out when we experience it for ourselves.  Because we will most likely never know the extremes we see in Daniel, we have all been in situations that threaten our sense of peace -- and we will again.  But in Isaiah, God says, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not hurt you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."

We might feel the heat, but we will not be bound; we will not be hurt; and we will not be alone.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Are you listening?

"He has risen, just as He said."
Matthew 28:6

The words "He has risen" are surely the most joyful and holy words in the Bible.  In these words lie the essence of our faith, our hope, and our joy.  This simple truth can both calm in times of trouble, and excite one in the realization of the power of our mighty God.

But I take additional joy in the words, "just as He said."  There is such power in that simple phrase!  Jesus Christ is the Word, from the beginning.   He is the Word that was with God, and the Word that was God.  That is what He said.  And it is, just as He said.

Everything He said, is just as He said.  All the prophecies He said, spoken through the prophets of the Old Testament, are just as He said.  All things that He says are to come, that He revealed in the Book of Revelation, will indeed be, just as He said.

My faith, my hope, my joy - my promise - rest in the Word.  In the written Word, in the risen Word.  Just as He said.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

You Can't Handle the Truth!

"wisdom... mountains... stars... sea...Orion... He alone..."
Job 9

My "Read-the-Bible-in-approximately-a-year-depending-on-how-strictly-you-adhere-to-the-schedule" Schedule called for me to read two chapters of Job today.  I've always had trouble reading Job.  I know the basics of the story, and the lesson, as most of us do.  And the chapters at the end, when God responds to Job's questions, are so rewarding; but a lot of the book is depressing.  Job's misery, his friends compounding his unhappiness with their condescending preaching, his wife being anything but a helpmate to him...  Some days I feel it drags me down, and encourages me to wallow in whatever might be my complaint du jour.

But today, for a different reason, I found one chapter was all I could handle.  Not because it was bringing me down, and not because I'm too busy to read two chapters of God's Word, but because after one chapter, I found I was overwhelmed with God.  In a good way.

I sometimes have an image of God that is like a sluice.  You know, the gate at the top of one of those channels that will funnel water where you want it?  When it's closed, no water comes down the channel, but as soon as you lift it even slightly, the water starts coming.  I think they used to use them in the process of gold mining, I don't know....  At any rate, I have an image of God like that.  That He is so amazing, so awesome, so powerful, so mighty, that we can only handle a small percentage of Him.  He opens the sluice only slightly.  But if we ever really understood His depth, the wonder that is God, we couldn't handle it.  So He only allows us what we can handle.  And today, I was on the edge.  I closed the book so I could just revel in what I was appreciating about Him.   Here's some of what I read:

"His wisdom is profound, His power is vast... He moves mountains without their knowing it... He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; He seals off the light of the stars.  He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.  He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted... He is not a man like me...."

The Book of Job is not about suffering and why God allows it.  It's not about the beautiful fact that He allows us to ask Him questions.   It's not even about challenging us to rise to Job's standard of faith and trust in difficult circumstances.  The Book of Job is a reminder that God is completion and perfection.  We tend to forget that, if we even understand it at all.   But we owe it to ourselves to try.  For the more we try to understand Him, the more He will reveal.   Give it a try.  See how much you can handle.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pop Quiz

"Test all things..."
1 Thessalonians 5:21

This is an instruction from the Lord, to us, and it reminds me of Acts 17:11, that wonderful reference to the Bereans.  The believers from Berea would listen to preaching, and then search the Scriptures for themselves, to see if what they had heard was true.  This verse from Thessalonians is similar:  "Test all things, and hold on to the good."  

But lately I have been thinking that maybe it's not just a directive to us.  Maybe it's how God feels about us, too.  Maybe He tests us, and holds on to the good.  Tests our strength, our endurance, our faith... As if He's saying, "I know you say you trust Me, but do you really??"

Of course, He's well aware of our strengths and weaknesses, but He wants us to know, too.  He shows us what's not good in us, so that we will cling to what is good.  And what's good in us is, of course, Him.

Submit to His testing of you.  And make it worth your while.  Learn the lesson He's teaching you; reject what part of you is not of Him, and hold on to the good.  Hold on to Him.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Buck Stops Here

Do you remember that quote from Harry Truman?  Well, it didn't originate with him, but as president, he certainly made it famous.  Its message is:  "I'm taking responsibility."  It's an admirable attitude at any time, but I particularly like it when it's applied to one of my favorite Bible heroes:  Joshua.

"... Joshua did it; he left nothing undone..."
Joshua 11:15

There's nothing better than when God expects something of someone, and they do it.  Relying on God for the necessary courage, or strength, or boldness, or whatever they need, they hear Him, and they obey.  I wish I could say I'm like that, but sometimes I can barely figure out what God wants me to do, much less fulfill it.  And if I do, then I'm wondering if it was done the way He wanted.  Or at the right time.

But Joshua had specific instructions.  And detailed...  Have you ever really paid attention when God is giving instructions to someone in the Bible?  For instance, the directions for building the temple.  Or, say,  the entire Book of Leviticus....  So to completely obey God without error or omission is remarkable.

But if you look at the entirety of this verse, you see it gets even more amazing.  For the instructions that Joshua had been given?  Came from Moses.   Verse 15 says:  "As the Lord commanded Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses."  Now it's one thing to hear God telling you what He expects of you.  It's another to get it second-hand.  It didn't work for Adam and Eve.  But there's such a good message here if you are in any way a "second-in-command" to anyone.  Say, a boss.  Or a parent.  Or a husband.   If we have been called by God to support or assist someone, then we are to do that whole-heartedly.  And a direction from our leader should be the same as a command directly from God.  Not that anyone in our lives is flawless, or incapable of being wrong.  But when they are carrying out their mission from God to the best of their ability, we owe it to them, and to Him, to help carry that burden as if it were our own.

Do what is required of you, to the best of your ability, and leave nothing undone.  Because as far as He's concerned, the buck stops with you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What do you need?

"... all your need..."
Philippians 4:19

One of the things I love about the Bible is that there is always something new to be discovered, even in a verse you've read many times.  When I study, I read until I come across a verse that all of a sudden strikes me in a new way, and then I see what new insight the Spirit has for me as I meditate on it.

Today I read the closing of Paul's letter to the Philippians.  Paul's closings are always so full of love and encouragement, and he tells his readers - the Philippians and us! - with certainty, "my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory, by Jesus Christ."  I paused at that verse, wondering if God had something for me there, and then I nearly moved on.  This verse seemed easy enough to understand, almost shallow, if you will.  It's a "greeting card" verse of encouragement:  "don't worry; God will take care of everything you need," especially on the heels of verses 6-7, "Be anxious for nothing... present your requests to God."

But as I hesitated, He gave me a peek at the depth of the words, and beckoned me in.  How very shallow of me to doubt the depth of Scripture...

What struck me was that it doesn't say "God shall supply all your needs," it says, "need."  God will supply all my need.  Now, it would be easy enough to dismiss this discrepancy as just two words that mean the same thing, like "flammable" and "inflammable," but I'm not interested in an easy dismissal.  Because when you come right down to it, we only have one true need:  salvation.  While God promised a land of milk and honey, our earthly comfort is not God's first concern.  After Adam and Eve invited sin in, by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, His punishment to them, after the curses, was really more of a rescue mission:  "Get 'em outta here!  And don't let them near the Tree of Life!"  Because eating of that tree would have doomed humanity to eternal life in a now-decaying world.  The chance that God gives us now is one of eternal life in Heaven.  Salvation.  Fulfilling your every desire here on earth means nothing at all if at the end of it, you face a lake of fire.

The verse goes on to make clear how, and to what extent, God will supply our need:  "according to His riches in glory."  I think perhaps the word "riches" so close to the words "God shall supply" leads many readers to think Paul is promising wealth here.  But Paul speaks of God's riches in glory.  And the phrase "according to" means "in conformity with" or "in keeping with."  God's supply of our need will be in keeping with the richness of His glory.  God doesn't save us from hell only to consign us to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but to a life that's in keeping with the richness of His glory.

And how?  The only way.  The Way.  By Christ Jesus.

The need?  Salvation.
What kind?  The kind of eternal life only a God so rich in glory can promise.
How?  By Christ Jesus.

A shallow verse in Scripture?  Think again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

On a Moving Sidewalk

"You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed."
Exodus 15:13

I love when airports have moving sidewalks.  I have a jaunty green and white carry-on bag that I bought on Kauai several years ago.  It has turtles all over it, and it is the perfect - and I mean the perfect - size.  Six side pockets and a large main compartment, so I can be perfectly organized (or obsessive-compulsive, whichever...) and know where everything is.  Plus, it evokes Kauai for me, so it makes me happy when I'm carrying it.

It's only drawback is: it has no wheels.  So by the time I arrive at the boarding area, after snaking through the Security line, unpacking my electronics, and de-shoeing; then  re-packing and re-shoeing, I'm getting pretty tired.  So I love to see a moving sidewalk along the way.  I get to heave my cheery "honu" (that's Hawaiian for "turtle") bag up on the handrail, and it moves along next to me while my shoulder gets a break.  And I make progress, while doing nothing.  I stand over to the right, while all those hurrying folks move past me on the left.  And I may not be going as fast as they are, but I'm not where I was a minute ago.

Is it disrespectful to say that God is like a moving sidewalk?  Because this is the image that is evoked in my mind when I read this verse.  God leading His people forth.  What kind of freedom from bondage would it be if He had led them out slavery in Egypt, only to have them all stand around thirty miles outside town?   He had a plan for them, and it involved growth and progress.  It's the same with us.  I am redeemed, but that is by no means the extent of His plan for me.  I can be standing still, or even moving backwards on the sidewalk, but I will still be moving toward His plans for me.  (Though it might take longer if I'm moving backwards!)  He promises, in His mercy, to lead forth His redeemed.   So grab your bag and place your trust in Him!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In the Shadow of the Son

"May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."
Ruth 2:12

It was Boaz who spoke these kind words to Ruth.  He had heard of her devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and he was kind and generous to Ruth, letting her glean from his fields, and making sure she was protected as she did so.  I wonder if he realized as he spoke of refuge under God's wings, that God was using him to fulfill this blessing.  I wonder if he realized that his marriage to Ruth would be the "rich reward" of which he spoke.

When Ruth had said to Naomi, "your God be my God," She took refuge with Naomi under the wings of the Lord.  In that time, in that place, there was little else for Naomi and Ruth to do.  As widows, they were left vulnerable, and at the mercy of others.  It is easy to see their reliance on the shelter of His wings.

But today, we are far more independent.  Women, and men too, often see no need to rely on God.  The idea of seeking refuge under the intangible wings of an invisible God carries a feeling of cowardice, or of fleeing responsibility.  But He wants us to need Him; or rather, to recognize our need, since it exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

And more than that, He rewards it.  Ruth was rewarded with better treatment while gleaning in Boaz' field, and then she was rewarded with marriage to Boaz.  Most of all, she was rewarded by the birth of a son, Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David.  That sacred lineage led to the Messiah.  Truly we are all rewarded for the refuge that Ruth took under the wings of our God.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Forced Sunrise

"His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from His hand where His power was hidden"
Habakkuk 3:4

I was forced to see the sunrise this morning.  I rarely see a sunrise unless I am forced.  Not so much a morning person. Maybe I should become a coffee drinker...  I am a big fan of sunsets, though.  No two are quite the same, and you never know what the dominant color will be.  And the view is sometimes entirely different from my front yard to my backyard.  I take a lot of pictures of a beautiful sunset, because I have the urge to capture it.  We only get one per day!

At any rate, I was up while it was still dark, to take my husband to the airport, and the drive home allowed me to appreciate the beauty of the sun coming up.  There were some clouds, too, which I love.  The sunlight plays games with them, and they add color and dimension to the painting.  So much more interesting than a cloudless sky, if you ask me!

And yet, if I had my way, I would have missed this sunrise.  I would have still been blissfully warm and cozy under the covers.  I choose to miss most sunrises, for that reason.  And it made me think about other aspects of my life that are forced.  Things I would not choose, but that God has chosen for me.  Only having two children was not my choice.  Wonderful Hubby and I wanted four, but it was not to be.  And now, I wouldn't have it any other way.  

We are going through a struggle that is not my choice, either. We are being forced to walk a path that God has chosen for us.  And, I must admit, we are both seeing beauty on this path.  It is strengthening our marriage, it is strengthening each of us, and it is strengthening our children.  And that's just what we can appreciate now, while we're in it.  I know that when this trial is past, we will look back, and have an even better perspective on what God was accomplishing.  

I may be a little sleepy today, but I'll be able to think about that sunrise.  I'm grateful for the reminder, once again, that while I may have plans in my heart, it is His purpose that prevails.  I pray I'll always remember to find the beauty in plans that weren't my idea.  And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow I'll choose the sunrise!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shut Me In!

"The Lord shut him in"
Genesis 7:16

This verse speaks of Noah and his family on the day the rain began to fall.  It sounds like a bad thing - like capture or imprisonment, but we know what was going on outside:  the destruction of every living thing on the earth, save those onboard the ark.  

These words are a comfort to me.  Anxiety, fear and myriad struggles are within my reach.  All I have to do is reach out my hand to them.  But I choose, instead, faith.  Protection and shelter and reassurance are in His Word.  He shuts me in, and protects me from what is going on outside.  

And I can see the rainbow from here!