Welcome to my blog!

Thank you for dropping by to spend time with me. I will try to post at least once a week. I value your comments and insights, so please - respectfully - share your opinion with us. Be blessed! Lynnda

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why was Jesus Baptized?

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was baptized? I have. Just last month, when we began studying the gospel of Mark, I realized – again - that I really didn't have a good answer to the question "Why was Jesus baptized?"

In class we reviewed the facts about His baptism:
1. His cousin John baptized Him in the Jordan River.
2. John was reluctant to baptize Him.
3. Jesus insisted, "To fulfill all righteousness."
4. As soon as He was baptized, He left the river.
5. The heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on Him.
6. A voice from heaven was heard saying, "This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well please."
7. His baptism appears to be the formal beginning of His ministry.

Knowing the facts didn't get me any closer to understanding the reason He was baptized. As is my custom when I fail to understand something in the Bible, I asked God for help in understanding what was going on. Nothing happened at that time, but several days later, while I was reading the ESV Study Bible, the Holy Spirit light went on in my head.

For this story to make sense, I need to tell you what I was learning as I read my way through Psalms and Proverbs with the ESV study notes. The Hebrew authors used a rich set of literary devices in writing the Bible. They used ones we would recognize like similes and metaphors and some we would not recognize like inclusio.

Let me give you a word picture of inclusio. Picture several Bible verses as paperback books placed on an open shelf. To keep them from falling over, a couple of "books" are laid on their side and placed at either end. The "books" holding all the other "books" on the shelf are the inclusio.

Hebrew writers really liked using this literary device. The Hebrew Old Testament contains an abundance of them. Many instances of its use are lost in translation, but some of them made it into the English translations. Let me give you two examples. Psalm 8 has nine verses. Verses 1 & 9 are the inclusio for the Psalm. They both say, "Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (NIV)

The whole book of Ecclesiastes is held together by an inclusio. Ecclesiastes 1:2 states, " Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." (NIV) Twelve chapters later, Ecclesiastes 12:8 proclaims, "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!" (NIV)

I'm sure that you can see where I'm going with this. If we look for bookends in Jesus ministry, we have the picture of His death, burial and resurrection at the beginning of His ministry and His actual death, burial, and resurrection at the end of His ministry.

That day, without preaching one word, Jesus proclaimed His dedication to fulfilling the purpose for which He had come to earth. He said in effect, "I know what You have planned for me, God, and I am willing to obey." By His actions that day, He proclaimed the same prayer He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, "May Your will be done." To which God responded, "This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well please."

When I saw this beautiful harmony in the testimony of Jesus, I was amazed. Even the most obvious events in His life have depths of meaning we cannot understand without divine illumination. May we have a hunger to see His beauty in every Word.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Loved Too Much to Leave

Last time I wrote about the horrible spiritual condition of condemnation. Based on what I see around me, it is an epidemic. The cure for this painful malady requires more extensive treatment than I have space for here, which is why I pointed you to the excellent resource that Elyse Fitzpatrick has written.

Today, I want to write about another condition that may exhibit somewhat similar symptoms, but has a completely different outcome. We call this condition CONVICTION. Conviction produces guilt when we become conscious of our sin. The only thing that conviction has in common with condemnation is this feeling of guilt. Unlike condemnation, conviction is not contagious, and Satan stays as far away from it as he can.

Before I write anything more about conviction, I want to talk about something that happened when you accepted Christ as the one who died in your place. In Romans chapter 5 verse 9, the Bible says, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" The word "justified" is bolded because that is the concept I want to emphasize.

While theologians have long discussions on the concept of being "justified," in English the definition is easy to learn and to remember. Think of "justified" as a coin. On one side we find the words, "Just as if I'd never sinned." Turn the coin over and the other side says, "Just as if I'd always obeyed." That's it. That's the definition. That's what happens to us when we are saved. God sees us "just as if I'd never sinned" and "just as if I'd always obeyed." God forgets our sins because the punishment for them was poured out on Jesus on the cross – all of them from your birth to your death.

Did this question just pop into your mind: "If God sees me "just as if I'd never sinned and always obeyed," then why do I feel guilty when I sin?" That's where conviction comes in.

As long as we are on earth, we will have sin in our lives. However, God loves us too much to leave us in our sinful habits. He wants – as much as possible on this sinful earth – for our experience to match His reality. His Spirit tells us when we sin, not because He is angry with us or because He wants to punish us. Just the opposite is true. He speaks to us about our sin so that He can relieve us from it and from its effect on our lives. When His light shows us the sin, that same light will show us the way out of it. Rather than condemn us to frustrating repetitions of the same sin, He gives us His power to overcome it.

That's what conviction will do when we trust in God and His love for us. Turning toward Him when we sin instead of turning away from Him and agreeing with Him that the issue causing our guilty feeling is sin, frees us to stop sinning. Remember that God is NOT waiting for us to mess up so that He can condemn us. He is on our side, by our side - living in us - shining the light of His mercy on our sinful ways that will cause us pain if we continue in them. He loves us too much to leave us where He finds us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crushed or Loved?

I want to ask you a question, today. Do you think that God is angry with you or disappointed in you? Do you avoid reading your Bible, praying or going to church because you feel guilty enough already? OK, so it was more than one question, but does this describe you?

If these symptoms do sound like you, then let me tell you the name of your condition: you are suffering from CONDEMNATION. Condemnation is contagious. People in your life can infect you with it when they judge the way you act as unacceptable. Satan, your enemy, uses condemnation as part of his germ warfare arsenal to fight against you. You can even infect yourself when you fail to meet your own expectations.

If you attempt to self-medicate to recover from this malady, the cure adds to the burden of the condition. The most common self-medication used for condemnation is "I'll do better tomorrow. I failed, today, but I can start over." This OTC medication may work for changing bad habits. For this spiritual disease, however, while it may appear to be effective, what it is really doing is changing the symptoms. If you "do better" the next day, you get relief from the weight of condemnation, but you break out in a rash of pride and self-righteousness. If you "fail" the next day, the weight of condemnation becomes the crushing burden of despair.

Only one cure exists for the condition of condemnation – John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Once you saw the reference to that Bible verse, did you just skim over the verse because you have already accepted Jesus' sacrifice in your place and acknowledged Him as your Savior? If you did, then join the crowd. Most of us know the significance of Jesus to our eternal salvation, but we end right there.

Let me introduce you to Elyse Fitzpatrick, who has made the trip past the point of Jesus being only the source of our salvation. She wrote Because He Loves Me to share what she learned on her own journey to cure the condemnation disease. Listen to what she says in her introduction:

"If I asked you, "Where did the ongoing incarnation of Jesus Christ intersect with your life yesterday?" would you have an answer? We all know the crucifixion is important for our initial salvation, but what did it mean to you this morning? Does Calvary inform and warm your heart when you're waiting in line at the grocery store or hearing bad news from the doctor? Does his sinless life comfort you when you realize that you've just sinned in that same way again? In other words, is he significantly relevant to you in your daily walk with him?"

Only when the love of God in Jesus Christ is significantly relevant in our daily walk are we immune to the condition of condemnation. Begin your journey to a cure with Elyse Fitzpatrick as your guide in Because He Loves Me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why Does God Test Me?

Last week, I posted the account of my friend Ve's trials. Scroll down a few inches if you want to read the full story. When she asked God why she was having such a hard time with her back, He gave her four reasons for her trials that can apply to all of us.
1. Trials and tests bring us back to God when we stray.
2. They prepare us for greater trials in the future by teaching us to trust Him.
3. They show others that trusting in Him and having His peace in our hearts does not depend on our circumstances.
4. God gives us trials and tests to prove His faithfulness to us.

God had not finished teaching me lessons on trials and testing, though. My blogger friend, Lynn Mosher, posted a piece on her blog Heading Home about building faith. She made the point that tests and trials cause our faith to grow.

Lynn said, "When a heart receives eternal salvation by accepting the sacrifice of Christ's blood, righteousness is imparted into each heart, along with the seedling of faith. In order for that seedling to blossom and grow, it needs watering and, well, er, fertilizer (emphasis added).

"What does the Bible say about the process through which faith grows?

"James said, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." (James 1:2-4 NLT)" (You can read Lynn's complete post here.)

From Lynn's blog, I see another reason for trials and tests.
5. Trials and tests cause our faith to grow, developing endurance as it does.

I had to think about the difference between trust – of which Ve spoke – and faith – Lynn's point. I think there is a clear distinction between the two. Trust is confidence based on experience. People learn to trust me when I keep my promises and meet their expectations. Faith, on the other hand, lacks proof and works from belief. From previous experience, I trust that elevators will take me safely to the floor I want, but each time I get on an elevator I use faith because I believe that this elevator will work safely this time.

My final lesson for the week, I learned from my Mother. In her daily devotions, she read Luke 13: 6-9 (NLT) which says, "Then Jesus told this story: "A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, 'I've waited three years, and there hasn't been a single fig! Cut it down. It's just taking up space in the garden.'

"The gardener answered, 'Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I'll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer (emphasis added). If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.'""

In another place, (John 15:16 NLT) Jesus said, "You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit…" Therefore, if your life is not producing any "lasting fruit," you might prepare yourself for some extra fertilizer – in the form of more trials and tests!

Mother's insight provided another reason why God may put trials and tests in my life.
6. They provide what is missing in our lives to make us fruitful.

God is the ultimate multitasker. He usually does more than one thing with the same set of circumstances. Look at your own set of trials and tests to see which purpose(s) God may be addressing. As you do, remember the promise He gave to encourage us not to give up (Isaiah 43: 1b -2 NIV): "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 set you ablaze."

God will give you strength for today.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not Another Trial!

My friend Ve is suffering, again. She has a weakness in her back so that when she turns just a little bit wrong or over extends herself she has terrible pain for several weeks.

I called her that day because I knew that she was having another bout with her back. She was crying so hard when she answered the phone that I could hardly understand her.

"Lynnda, if I could get off this bed, I would crawl into my closet and shut the door," she said between sobs.

This was more than back pain. Ve was just this side of hysterical.

She proceeded to tell me that someone from the company's home office in Chicago was coming to New Orleans to see her husband. Everybody in the company was cut to a four-day workweek several months prior to this. Now she was afraid that he would be laid off. It was one of her worse nightmares. The more she thought about it, the more panic took control.

Ve has spent her whole life battling the fear and panic that set in when she would think things like what if this or that happens, I need to have my eyes checked -am I losing my vision or has this mole become cancer? Her overactive imagination fed every fear she had until it became a monster in her life.

In years past, she would literally shut herself off from everyone - including her husband - and live paralyzed by her fears. This time was different. Panicked though she was, she reached out.

First, she reached out to her husband and asked him what he thought the visit meant. He told her he didn't know. Then she reached out to me. Together, we looked at the worst possible outcome. Suppose her husband lost his job; what was the worst thing that could happen?

QUESTION: "Would they still have each other, their home, their health, resources to keep food on the table and the bills paid?"
RESPONSE: "Yes, all of that was true."

QUESTION: "In the forty-one years they had been married, had her husband ever failed to take care of her and their family?"
RESPONSE: "No, he is a prince among husbands."

QUESTION: "What about God, had He failed her when the Katrina floods hit them or the following year when her Mother died unexpectedly?"
RESPONSE: "No, God had never failed her."

"So," I asked her, "what does your fear and panic say about how much you trust God and your husband to care for you?"

In the silence, I could sense her thinking about the answers to that question.

RESPONSE: "I think I need to hang up, find my husband, and apologize. Then I'll ask God to forgive me for not trusting Him."

Ve took action on her words. While a little apprehension about the unknown remained, the overwhelming fear and panic were gone, which was good because the worst happened. Her husband lost his job.

By the time Ve learned about it, she had already spent much time alone with God and the news didn't shake her. Her back was slowly getting better, but the marvelous miracle was the healing of her emotions.

A day or two later, she was in her quiet time with God when she asked Him why she had the painful times with her back. I will let Ve tell you in her own words what she learned.

"During prayer time with the Lord, I asked, after having been basically bedridden with a bad back for several weeks, "Lord, just tell me why you put me through this? Why over and over do you put me through this?" Just as fast as the words were out of my mouth the Lord replied, "I will give you four reasons why I keep placing you under these trials. The first is this. I do it to drive you to your knees because when everything is going along comfortably, inevitably, you stray from me and I have to bring you back to My side. The second is this: I give you these trials as a training ground to prepare you for the greater trials to come. The third is this: I do it so that in the trials in which you find yourself, you may be a witness to others by the attitude you carry in those trials. The fourth is this: I do it to create for Myself yet another opportunity to prove myself Faithful!" Awesome, huh? I just sat there a moment and let it sink in."

Ve's example, her courage to change and the insights she gained from her trials, may be just what you need. If not, I still challenge you to ask yourself the questions I asked Ve. Then ask God to teach you to trust Him more.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Food for Thought

One of my favorite activities is "God-at-work" watching. Some people like to go bird watching; I like to keep my eyes open for "God-at-work" signs.

Take last week, for instance. The Holy Spirit began setting me up for a "WOW! Did you see that?" experience.

Pam, one of my "adopted daughters" came to visit. When I asked her what God was teaching her, she was open enough to tell me that she was in a dry spell where reading the Bible did nothing for her. We went on to speak of other things and I promised to pray for her.

Fast forward to our Bible study group meeting, on Wednesday. Ms. Verla, (see this post Grand opportunity Take Two to get better acquainted with her) shared her frustration about reading the Bible one minute and not remembering what she read the next minute.

Any of us who have been Christians for very long know just how they feel. Sometimes we, like Pam, get nothing from what we read in the Bible. At other times, we, like Ms. Verla, remember nothing of what we just read. As the group discussed Ms. Verla's situation, shared their own similar experiences, and offered possible solutions that had been helpful to them, the Holy Spirit gave me an insight entirely new to me: even when our minds gets no benefit from reading the Bible, it nourishes our spirits.

Both Pam and Verla thought they were wasting their time when they read the Bible but saw no lasting benefit. If it were only our minds that needed the truth found in God's Word, then they would be correct. However, Psalm 143:4a says, "So my spirit grows faint within me." The food that nourishes our spirits is God's Word.

When I encouraged Ms. Verla to read her Bible - even if she remembered nothing – to nourish her spirit, Anna, our Bible study leader took up the thought with a great analogy. I want to personalize this analogy as I share it with you.

My daughter, Melana, was involved in an automobile accident several years ago. As a result, she was in a coma for 17 days. She was unable to eat or even be aware of her need to eat. With her mind out of the loop, the doctors fed her through a feeding tube. That kept her body strong enough to heal the trauma to her brain. Without the intervention of the doctors, she would probably have died from starvation before she could recover enough to eat on her own.

That is what happens to us when we go through a dry spell, spiritually. We can stop reading our Bibles, praying, and attending church simply because they feel like dry duties, of no benefit to us. That is the point where we must intervene on behalf of our spirits. We must keep our spirits strong while our minds are out of sync with God.

Like Pam and Ms. Verla, we can ask others to pray for us; we can ask others for suggestions for relief, but most of all we can carry on. We can feed our spirits until showers of blessings overcome the drought in our minds and we experience the touch of God in our lives that will certainly come again.

Now for the WOW moment, Pam called this morning to wish me happy birthday. I reminded her of our conversation from her last visit and told her about our time in Bible study, my insight and the analogy God gave Anna. I could almost see the light bulb go on over her head. A sense of wonder filled her voice as she thought about feeding her spirit even when her mind failed to cooperate. Two weeks, five people, and "God-at-work" closed the circle of need and understanding, bringing forth wisdom that we can all use in the future. Isn't God good?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In the Eye of the Storm

Living in New Orleans as I do, hurricane season is never far from my mind. I feel as if I am either preparing to start the six-month-long season or enduring it. The season begins in June and ends in November. For me, Thanksgiving has an added dimension of thankfulness when we make it through a storm season with no big hurricane.

My Mother and I – along with Chloe' – leave town when the big ones come around. We stay at home if the hurricane is only a class 1 storm. I have been through several hurricanes in my life and I want to attempt to describe it for you.

Preparation and prayer are the keys to safely surviving a hurricane. Adrenaline keeps my mind working at top speed: I make a list for all the outside chores and another one for inside work. We move all the potted plants indoors. The furniture on the veranda is moved inside or is turned to face the wind. Our neighbors board up our windows. Everything that is loose is put away so that it does not become a guided missile. Inside, we fill the bathtub with water; we collect bottled drinking water, canned prepared food, medicines, flashlights, and a hand-cranked radio.

We watch the weather channel on TV as long as we can get a signal. The storm seems to creep up the Gulf of Mexico, but one look outside shows us low clouds flying by at a tremendous speed. At ground level, we feel only a light breeze, but where the clouds are, a fierce wind blows. The sky darkens and the first drops of rain touch earth. Coming from the southeast, we see a curtain of rain so dense that we cannot see the house beyond it. The streetlights come on in front of the rain. The sky is very dark and threatening.

Soon, the rainsquall is gone. The sky is a lighter gray; the streetlights go off. This pattern repeats itself several times, each squall lasting longer, with higher winds and darker skies until the streetlights never turn off. The tension increases inside the house, too: the sound of the high winds and the rain pounding down, the sight of the tree limbs breaking off the trees and whipping through the air; water flooding the street, lights flickering off and then on again – or going off completely - ratchet up the stress level.

Suddenly, everything is quiet. The wind stops blowing. Instead of sheets of rain, single drops of water drip from the eaves of the house. A few rays of sunlight peek through a light film of high clouds. A bird or two flutters out of their hiding place. A weight feels as if it has lifted from my chest. My battered nervous system relaxes as we step out on the veranda to see if our neighbors have any damage.

This is the eye of the storm. Every hurricane has one. While violent weather is going on all around it in every direction, the eye is a place of peace and tranquility. The fiercer the storm, the smaller the eye, but the eye lasts as long as the power of the winds. If you were able to travel in the eye of the storm, keeping pace with the storm as it moves, you would never experience the harsh conditions that surround the eye.

I see a wonderful analogy in this. We are in a time of extreme storms in our nation, our culture, our world. Everywhere we turn, we see violence – physical, mental and spiritual. Unlike my experience with hurricanes, we can choose to live either in the fierce winds or in the calm of the storm's eye. In Isaiah 26:3 we read, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." In John 14:1 Jesus says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." (NIV) Living those Words, taking them into our hearts and our experience, will keep us in that place of calm and quiet even in the harshest storm.

So many times, the way to find peace is to press into the center of the trial instead of running away. When God covers us with his feathers and we find refuge under His wings, the winds and waves cannot reach us no matter how hard they try. The internal peace and stability we achieve in that place allows us to see the reality of the problems that face us while it gives us the courage to trust God and to fight to stay as close to Him as possible.

The next time a storm comes your way. Be prepared by praying and spending time studying the Bible when no storm is on the horizon. Run to God at the first sign of a small cloud on the horizon; then stay there. From that position, you will be able to stand against your enemies, keeping your peace and sense of well-being, no matter what class hurricane comes your way.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Learning How to Love

Have you ever heard of the term "divine appointment?" No, it is NOT the day God decides if you can go to heaven, but that was a good guess. Usually God connects you with a stranger or puts you in an unusual situation. Without your prior knowledge, He has plans for you to meet that person's needs or to change the situation by your actions. It is a little like having a small part in a movie. Your scene is shot and then you go about your business, making no other contribution to the story line. I wrote about a divine appointment I had with a Muslim taxi driver on the way to an airport in the last post.

I enjoy my divine appointments. Being able to bless someone else gives me a high that no alcohol or drug could match. I show up, get to be the hero, and just know they wonder if I am an angel as I leave. Promise not to tell anyone, but taking part in a divine appointment always leaves me feeling a little giddy. God has usually prepared me in advance – without me knowing it, of course, so most divine appointments are fun.

God has another way for me to make a difference in someone else's life that is much more difficult and demanding: loving a person the way Jesus loves me. Just to make this clear, the person God wants me to love is not especially lovable and has been in my life for some time. This person can be rude or tactless, push my buttons, or take advantage of me. When I talk to them, my frustration level often gets very high because the things I say or do offends them. Sometimes their image of me bewilders me. Am I as horrible as they describe? How can I love them when the ways they act cause me such pain?

Mary DeMuth wrote a novel, A Slow Burn, which tells the story of a woman - a mother - whose life was so broken that she sliced to ribbons everyone who loved her with her razor-sharp self-hatred. This is one of those books where the story is fiction, but it carries the truth. The plot has a divine appointment or two, but God reaches out to her, most often, through people who continue to love her even if it costs them everything.

Just like Hixon in Mary DeMuth's novel, loving someone with the same love that put Jesus on the cross can be very costly to us. We have a choice; we can love them in spite of our pain or we can bring relief to ourselves and leave them unloved.

As for the unlovable person God put in my life, I have more than a small part in that person's story; we are in this for the long haul. God is using this person to teach me how to love someone the same way He loves me. He lets me see how He feels when I act unloving toward Him. The process is painful, but I am stubborn. I guess I AM getting a little more like my Heavenly Father. After all, He refuses to give up on me, too!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Seemingly Impossible Task

Have you ever wondered why some Muslims react violently when rumors are circulated that the Qur'an has been desecrated? The riots in Pakistan, reported last month in Charisma NEWS Online, caused me to ask that question. (Muslim Pakistanis attacked Christian Pakistanis, killing at least seven people and burning many homes. See the article: http://www.charismamag.com/index.php/news/22823-christians-burned-to-death-in-islamist-attacks-in-pakistan.) As God often does with me, He set up the question a short time before He provided the answer.

Last Sunday, we began a series by John Piper called "Why We Believe the Bible." In the introduction, he compared what Christians teach about the Bible with what Muslims teach about the Qur'an. Mr. Piper made the statement that "It would be truer to say that the Qur'an is for Muslims what Christ is for Christians." (The implication being that most people would compare the Bible to the Qur'an, not compare Christ to the Qur'an.)

After a couple of hours of online research, I discovered that Mr. Piper's statement is valid. I found the following information in Wikipedia (as cited from the Encyclopaedia of Islam Online): "The word Qur'an means "recitation". When Muslims speak in the abstract about "the Qur'an", they usually mean the scripture as recited in Arabic rather than the printed work or any translation of it. To Muslims, the Qur'an is perfect only as revealed in the original Arabic; translations are necessarily deficient because of language differences, the fallibility of translators, and the impossibility of preserving the original's inspired style. Translations are therefore regarded only as commentaries on the Qur'an, or "interpretations of its meaning", not as the Qur'an itself."

In my research, I also found that some Muslims teach that the Qur'an is uncreated; God come to earth in spoken Arabic words, although controversy about this belief does exist in the Muslim world. When Muslims riot, destroy, burn and kill they are expressing their pious respect for the Qur'an.

In light of all of this, as Christians called to share the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection to people who hold these beliefs about the Qur'an, we face a seemingly impossible task. We are asking Muslims to lay down the beliefs that define them. In their eyes, the Christian life is a blasphemy against their god. The biblical description of heaven does not fit what they are taught about paradise. When they hear us talk about the gospel, it is an offense to their whole way of living. Christ's gospel calls them to reject the religion they love, to repent of rejecting God who died for them on the cross. It asks them to accept something foreign to them: that their own personal goodness cannot earn them eternal life. If they live in a predominately-Muslim world, accepting Christ's sacrifice in their place means dying to any involvement in the community and could easily lead to physical death.

Such a gospel is a threat to everything Muslims value in this life and the next. When we speak to Muslims about accepting Jesus as their Savior and Lord, prepare to be ridiculed or despised. If the Holy Spirit has not gone before us and done His work inside the person to whom we are witnessing, the words will probably be futile.

Twice in my life, I have witnessed to Muslims. The first time I talked about Jesus to a Muslim was in college. This Muslim classmate was busy trying to convert me to Islam at the same time, so I think my words had little, if any, affect on him. Only God knows the result of that experience. The second time I witnessed was to a cab driver on the way to an airport. He had seen the Passion of the Christ and had a hunger to know more. God brought him into His kingdom before I left the cab. We both left that experience rejoicing.

I learned something new about Muslim beliefs, today. It helps to understand where people outside of God find their values in life before we share the love of God with them. Whether we are witnessing to Muslims or to any other people lost in sin and unrepentant before God, we should stay alert for the leading of the Holy Spirit; He will give us an opportunity to share our faith. With Him going before us, that seemingly impossible task transforms into God's power at work advancing His kingdom. There is nothing impossible about that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Awesome Miracle

In order for you to understand the significance of the latest miracle that God has performed on my behalf, I need to tell you some personal history. Sit back and relax, some of this is (almost) ancient history…

In 1952, the summer I was five years old, a polio epidemic swept the United States. Almost every family had someone who contracted the disease. In my family, I was the only one who caught it.

Polio affects both the nerves and the muscles. Some cases are mild and a person never recognizes that they are a polio survivor. Not everyone was – a survivor, I mean. Some people died from the onset of polio and others died from complications after the acute phase was over. Those who survived were left with varying degrees of nerve damage and muscle atrophy.

My case was a serious one; I was completely paralyzed from the neck down. I could move my head from side to side, move my tongue, and swallow. Fortunately, my diaphragm still moved air in and out of my lungs. (Patients whose diaphragm was paralyzed lived in an iron lung, which acted as a mechanical diaphragm.)

During the acute phase of the disease, the doctors told my parents to be prepared for my death. My parents are people of great faith with large Christian families on both sides who know how to pray in faith and who believed that God could heal me. So, despite the doctors' fears, I survived that phase of the disease. That was my first polio miracle.

My second miracle came with hard work on my part and dedication on the parts of my physical therapist and my Mother. The doctors, pessimists that they can be, told my parents that it was highly likely that I would never be able to leave my bed. Their caution was well founded. The acute phase of polio left me with less than half the muscles to do the work of all the ones that had died. Nevertheless, after almost a year of therapy, I walked into the doctor's office without the benefit of braces or cane.

The third miracle took place after I was an adult and without me being aware of it until it was over. My parents had kept a secret from me for almost 15 years. It was the doctors, again. Before I was released from the hospital, they told my parents that I had lost too many muscles in my pelvic area to be able to carry a baby full term. I would never be able to have children. My Mother told me about this the morning after I delivered my first daughter.

About ten years later, I learned of post-polio syndrome for the first time. Before I heard about it, God's healing touch had affected me during a time of prayer on the 700 Club. I knew He had healed me with respect to the impact that polio had on me, but I didn't know why. Shortly after that, my sister told me about a report she had heard concerning post-polio syndrome. The Holy Spirit confirmed to me that I had been healed of that.

Post-polio syndrome, as well as the doctors can determine, occurs when the regenerated nerves and the over-used muscles reach a point where they can no longer function as well as previously. The onset of post-polio syndrome is so gradual that it takes the polio survivor by surprise. Usually, it starts twenty years or more after polio leaves.

Post-polio syndrome complicates the normal ageing process. Everyone's muscles weaken as they get older. Polio survivors can experience this in complicated ways. Less than ten years after God healed me of post-polio syndrome, I began to notice deterioration in some of my motor skills. This time, I knew what I was facing. Yet again, God healed me.

Fast forward to 2005, thirty years after the last time God had healed me. Post-polio syndrome hit me with a vengeance. For the first time in my life, I discovered that my diaphragm had been damaged by polio. I would quit breathing when in the deepest part of the sleep cycle. This time, God did not heal me. Instead, His miracle was one of technology, a VPAP breathing machine to assist my breathing at night and a power wheelchair to take the place of my legs.

All this brings me up Sunday, September 7, 2009. For several months, I had been getting less and less oxygen at night. Both my physical strength and my mental acuity were affected. Many of my family and friends were praying for me. Last Sunday morning, our church had a special prayer service before our regular worship time. My pastor prayed for me; my God healed me. Before the prayer was completed, I could breathe normally, filling my lungs completely with air. Also, over the period of about an hour, God washed out all the poisons that had accumulated in my brain from lack of oxygen.

No, all effects of post-polio syndrome are not gone. I still use all the mechanical aids to get through my days. But God has again extended my life for His purpose – that I might be able to fulfill the plan He has for me and bring glory to His Name.

All praise to our sovereign God!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Journey’s End

If you follow the news from around the nation, you may have read two news items that captured my attention. The first item was the story about a homeless millionaire. (Go here to learn about Richard Leroy Walters: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111091624.) The other story was about a man who kidnapped an eleven year old girl. (Go here to learn about Phillip Garrido: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112301498.)

At first glance, they do not seem to have much in common. But from my perspective, they are exactly alike; they were both hypocrites. According to the reports, Mr. Walters was a stand-offish man who slept outside, ate in a hospital, and used a library as his office. Mr. Garrido was a family man who was taking care of his elderly mother and willingly helped his neighbors when they needed it. Neither of these men showed who they really were to the people in their communities. Mr. Walters was making trades on the stock exchange and amassed $4,000,000. Mr. Garrido kept Jaycee Dugard hostage for 18 years and fathered her two children.

The examples of these two men are shocking in the extremes of their hypocrisy, but they are not alone. We have to look no further than our own reflection in the mirror to find the nearest hypocrite. The Bible says that none of us are without sin. That sin disconnects our inward selves and our outward lives. Unlike Mr. Walters though, most of us want our neighbors to have a higher opinion of us than we deserve.

Since Mr. Walters is dead – which is relevant to my blog, I would like to pretend that Mr. Walters was on the grand Queen Elizabeth on our trip from New York to London. Even though he had enough money to purchase a first-class ticket, he chose to make the trip in third-class. He depended on the kindness of the crew and the staff for company, since he made the trip alone. He had no invitation to dine with the captain; Mr. Walters was one of the passengers who believed that neither the Owner nor the Captain existed.

Finally, the journey ended, as all journeys do. When the Queen Elizabeth docked at port, all the passengers - first-class, second-class or third - were directed to one of two lines. Those with British passports were directed to the line on the right; non-citizens all went to the line on the left. The citizens were quickly processed through and allowed to return home. The non-citizens were processed more slowly. Those passengers with the proper papers were allowed into the country; the rest were refused entry and held.

If Mr. Walters had made the trip on the Queen Elizabeth, he most probably would have been allowed entry into England. After all, he would have appeared to be one of the harmless masses of third-class passengers. His hypocrisy would have made no difference to the authorities. Unfortunately, his own land-fall into eternity was not like that at all.

Using the analogy of the passenger ship, Mr. Walters disembarked at the terminal. All the passengers were in the same line, here. As Mr. Walters neared the front of the line he saw an official take the person's passport and he heard this question: "Did you accept the Captain's invitation?" Those who answered "Yes!" had their passports stamped "FORGIVEN" and they were allowed to proceed.

When Mr. Walters was standing before the official, he answered, "I never received an invitation from the captain." The official looked at Mr. Walters, "Would you have accepted it if you had?" At this place, no one is a hypocrite. Mr. Walters looked into his own heart. He saw that no matter how many invitations he might have received, he would have refused. "No." The official stamped his passport: "REJECTED."

Even though the scene itself is not real, it contains truth. When we stand before God at the end of our journey the only deciding factor for our eternal destination will be whether we are FORGIVEN or REJECTED.

God said in the Bible that He loved the world enough to give His Son to die for everyone's sins. He knew that only some people would accept Jesus' death in place of their own well-deserved punishment. The ones who accepted would be forgiven. Jesus died for all of us, however - even those whose hearts are unreachable for one reason or another. Some people reject Jesus when given an invitation. Some reject Him without an invitation. Our Sovereign God, who searches our hearts, knows the answer to that most important question.

Have you accepted His invitation? If not and if you want to know more, go here: http://www.allaboutgod.com/plan-of-salvation.htm.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cruise to Eternity, Part Three

"I will not become a Christian because God might make me become a foreign missionary."

You may have never heard those words – or said them, but do you fear what God might ask you to do? Many people do. Some folks are afraid that God will ask them to give up everything and do something unpleasant. This fear is one of the devil's most powerful tools. Why? Because, as in almost every lie he uses, this one has a grain of truth. God may require you to give up a comfortable life. He may even require you to die for Him. God is the One who controls everything; that is part of what sovereignty means, after all.

So how does this fit in with our cruise to eternity? We examined the passengers on the ship; they are diverse in their spiritual condition as well as in every other way. We looked at the owner and the captain; God as creator owns the universe and Jesus Christ is His appointed King of all creation.

However, the owner and the captain were not the only ones dedicated to getting the Queen Elizabeth from New York to London. The journey required both a crew and a staff. The crew operated and maintained the equipment that moved the ship across the ocean. The staff served both the passengers and the crew in everything from food preparation, education, cleaning service, entertainment, medical services, and more. They took the same trip as everyone else, but the crew and the staff had those additional responsibilities.

From where did the crew and staff come? The captain (or his representative) chose them. The company would have advertised a position for a person with a particular set of skills and abilities. A person would have responded, an interview would have been held, and a contract signed between the company and the successful candidate. This process would have been repeated until every position was filled. Two things were required in this process, the company had to find the candidate acceptable for the position and the candidate had to be willing to commit to fulfilling the duties required. How well those two requirements were met had a large part in determining how smoothly the trip went. If the crew and staff did their jobs well, guess who got the credit for it. The captain!

As you can probably already see, the spiritual reality is close to this analogy. Jesus chooses us to accept His sacrifice for forgiveness from our sins, just like a captain chooses those who will dine with him. Those people are chosen, but in our analogy, they remain passengers on the ship; they do not become crew or staff.

You have probably heard the saying "Bloom where you are planted." Those words are not found in the Bible, but the principle is appropriate for those who find themselves "passengers" on this trip. No extra choosing by God is needed for God to require us to love Him, to love each other and to obey His commands in the Bible. However, God does choose some people to serve Him in special ways. The Bible says that He gives gifts to the church of apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, and teachers. In my analogy, these people would be the crew. They operate the church "machinery" to the benefit of all of us. He also chooses staff – in the church, deacons, business mangers and accountants; outside the church, operators of soup kitchens, managers of great wealth, organizers of orphanages, and founders and employees of Christian organizations like Youth with a Mission, or Focus on the Family. These people serve everyone according to the skills and abilities that God has provided. Who gets the credit if they do a good job? Jesus!

Those jobs would not be too uncomfortable for some of us. We might be willing to do some of those things. But what if God asked us to die for Him? Yes, for some people that is a reality, not a possibility. In the Bible, Stephen and Paul were both killed because of their service to God. For more recent examples, read Safely Home, a novel about the persecuted church in China by Randy Alcorn or watch End of the Spear, a movie about five missionaries who died in Ecuador. Those of whom this has been required have been prepared by God to face it.

Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (NIV) Those of us who have accepted Christ as our Savior have good works to do now that God prepared in advance. He also gives us the skills, abilities and training to do the work AND puts the desire to do it in our hearts. So, just as with our freedom from sin, God does everything except commit to doing the work. After we commit, we must put all that we are into performing it. A productive, satisfying Christian life lived in obedience to God also takes all of Him and all of us.

God is in complete control all the time and we can trust Him.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cruise to Eternity, Part Two

Did Warren Wiersbe's comment from The Bible Exposition Commentary in my last post make you feel a little uncomfortable? He said, "So wise and powerful is our God that He can permit men and women to make personal choices and still accomplish His purposes in this world. When He isn't permitted to rule, He will overrule, but His will shall ultimately be done and His name glorified." If you are a control freak, as I was for most of my life, I know it made you uncomfortable. When we are uncomfortable, it usually helps to know what to expect.

Well, then, what can we expect from God? If we read Ephesians 1:3-6 again it says that we can expect Him to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus and to adopt us as His sons through Christ Jesus, because He chose us and predestined us. (The New International Version says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.")

The point is that He chose us first; we did not choose Him, which is a very good thing since we had no desire to come to Him until He put the desire in our hearts. OK, so who is the "us" that gets chosen?

That is a very good question. To get a better grasp of the "how and who" of being chosen by God works with our freedom to choose, think about our cruise on the grand Queen Elizabeth. The ship has a diverse load of passengers who are all traveling to the same destination regardless of their interest in doing so. The owner decided the location of the destination, the time to leave, and the route of the ship.

Fortunately for the passengers, the owner did even more. The owner hired the most trustworthy and the most professional captain to guide the ship to its destination. The captain is always responsible to the owner, but once the ship leaves the port, the captain has absolute authority and responsibility for everyone on the ship. He can perform weddings, throw someone in the brig, or interrupt a meal for an "abandon ship" drill. As long as the ship is at sea, all persons aboard must remain under the command and authority of the captain.

A custom on many ships was that a few passengers were invited to dine with the captain each evening. Notice that they were invited to dine with the captain. Most people considered this an honor, but I am sure that someone may have declined for one reason or another. In all likelihood, the reason given most often for declining the invitation was illness, even if that were not the true reason the guest chose not to attend. Perhaps the passenger did not have the proper clothes or was afraid of the captain or was too busy drinking in the bar or was too proud. The passenger was free to accept or decline the invitation.

The captain of our ship is Jesus. God has given Him absolute authority over everything He created. We may ignore Jesus' presence on the ship, or even deny that He is controlling it, but our opinion changes nothing. If He invites you to come to Him – and not everyone gets an invitation – you must still choose to accept the invitation. God puts in your heart the desire to abandon your rebellion and join Him. When Jesus died on the cross, He broke down the barriers between God's love and our rebellion by accepting the punishment we deserve. God does absolutely everything to call you to Himself except force you to accept.

My pastor has a saying I really like; he says, "Salvation is all of God and all of me." It is "all of God" because none of us can do one thing to save ourselves. God must do all the work so that salvation is possible and then invite us to participate, change our hearts to desire Him, and open our minds to understand His way. It is "all of me" because the one thing He will not do is take over my soul so that I must say "yes." I must surrender my will, my rebellion, and my insistence on having my own way; that part is totally up to me.

If you have received an invitation and answered "Yes," then you are adopted through Christ and have every spiritual blessing in Him.

If you received an invitation and responded with "No," then reconsider your answer. The invitation is still open.

If you have been "playing" church, but insist on having your own way, then do a reality check. Being a member of a church is not enough.

If you have never received an invitation, RUN - do not walk - to God and ask Him to open your blind eyes and to show you the way to salvation. In an unexplainable way, your desire to go to God is the invitation from God.

Here is one last question for today: How is your cruise going?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cruise to Eternity, Part 1

We Americans are an independent bunch. In becoming a nation, one of our first documents was The Declaration of Independence. The Fourth of July is called Independence Day. A "self-made man" is much admired. One of Frank Sinatra's most popular songs was "I Did It My Way." A common line in any play about hostile relationships is "I don't need you or anybody else!" Our culture is saturated with the idea of personal independence.

Our culture of independence is one reason why many American Christians are uncomfortable with the concept that God is sovereign. We tend to ignore parts of Bible passages such as Ephesians 1:3-6 when we read it. (The phrases we tend to ignore are italicized.) The New International Version says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."

God chose us and predestined us, according to His will and pleasure, even before the creation of the world! Definitely, many American Christians are uncomfortable with God deciding those issues without consulting us. We would rather focus on the God-given ability to choose that is also much in evidence in the Bible.

Here are two examples where the ability to choose is part of the action: Proverbs 1:28-29, "Then they will call me, but I won't answer; they will search for me, but won't find me. Because they hated knowledge, didn't choose to fear the Lord…" Psalm 25:12, "Who is the person who fears the Lord? He will show him the way he should choose." (Holman Christian Standard Bible®)

We are much more comfortable with the idea that we are free to choose; that we are independent with a will unbound by another's requirements. If we make wrong choices, we may find someone else to blame, but at least it was our choice to make. Check your thinking and see if you share this cultural bias.

So how do we understand the link between the ideas that God is sovereign and that humanity has free will? Both are absolutely true, but trying to connect them in our minds can be like trying to hold fire and ice in your hand at the same time – you may be more comfortable holding the ice than the fire, but neither one of them will be there for long!

The best way I have been able to understand the two ideas' relationship and my position between them is by the analogy of a passenger ship.

If you watch TV at all, you have probably seen the advertisements for luxury vacation cruises. Most vacation cruises pick up a load of passengers at one location, take them to visit other ports, and then return them to their port of origin.

From the time of sailing ships until the 1960's, passenger ships had a much different purpose. (Large commercial passenger airplanes began service to distant countries in the 1960's.) Until large airplanes came on the scene, travel between distant countries relied on passenger ships. Especially in the 20th century, these ships had first class service similar to the ones found on cruise ships today. They also had second and third class service that were in stark contrast to the luxury of first class staterooms. If you saw the movie Titanic then you might have some idea of the difference.

One of the most popular voyages for many decades was the transatlantic crossings between New York and London. The grand Queen Elizabeth ran continuous service between the two cities for many years.

So for our analogy, we have the Queen Elizabeth loaded with passengers for the trip to London. Rich or poor, young or old, first class or third, the passengers are all on the same ship. None of the passengers have any control over it. They must adjust their plans to the specified departure time. The route they travel over the sea is also out of their control. All details concerning the ship are controlled by the owner. The passengers control some of their circumstances on the ship and their attitudes about the trip. The choices they make in those two areas can go far in determining whether they have an easy voyage or a trip full of trouble.

You probably already see the analogy: the owner of the ship represents God. He owns the universe and determines what will happen. The passengers represent humanity, making the choices that are within our grasp according to our circumstances and our attitudes. Both God's will and humanity's choices are operational at the same time. (In case you are wondering how close this analogy is to reality, consider this: the earth, and the galaxy of which it is a part, is traveling at 1.35 million miles per hour! Did you ask to make this trip?)

All Christians – not just American Christians – do have a choice; we can ignore the sovereignty of God and lose many opportunities to praise Him or we can proclaim with Warren Wiersbe, (as he says in The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament) "So wise and powerful is our God that He can permit men and women to make personal choices and still accomplish His purposes in this world. When He isn't permitted to rule, He will overrule, but His will shall ultimately be done and His name glorified."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Puddle of Butter

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite stories was about an African boy named Little Black Sambo. The story begins with Little Black Sambo returning to his home from the market. What made this day special was that Little Black Sambo had bought new clothes. He was going home with a new shirt, a nice pair of pants, and a fabulous umbrella to keep the sun off his head.

Now to get home he had to travel a path through the jungle. On his way, he met a tiger who wanted to eat him, but Little Black Sambo, who was very smart and quite persuasive, talked the tiger into taking his shirt, instead. The tiger thought he was now the best dressed tiger in the jungle. Little Black Sambo met two other tigers along the way with the results that they also left him thinking they were the best dressed tigers in the jungle, one wearing his pants and the other carrying his umbrella with a curl of his tail. Poor Little Black Sambo was left with no new clothes at all.

Before he could get home, Little Black Sambo heard the three tigers arguing over which tiger was dressed the best. He quickly climbed a tree to get away from them. That was a good thing because the three tigers came out of the jungle at the foot of the tree, took off Little Black Sambo's clothes, and began chasing each other around the tree. They ran so hard and got so hot that they melted into a puddle of sweet yellow butter.

Little Black Sambo climbed down from the tree, dressed in his new clothes, scooped up the butter in a pot, and went merrily home.

At my age in that distant past, it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that the tigers should melt into a puddle of butter as they raced around the tree. I know many times I have felt hot and sticky enough to melt into my own puddle of butter!

Only in recent times have I come to understand what holds our bodies together so that we do not become such a puddle. Thanks to a molecular biologist and to an evangelist named Lou Giglio, I know the reason that we do not melt into our own puddle of butter; the cells of our body are held together by a molecule called laminin. This molecule has the shape of a cross. Yes, a cross like the one on which Jesus died. (If you have not seen anything about laminin, follow this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejj51hNIL3E&feature=related to see a video of Lou Giglio discussing it.)

I get excited about laminin because I love the symbolism of the natural world that gives me insight to the spiritual world. The structure of laminin and its purpose gives us several symbols.

The first symbol is one we made; the cross itself is a symbol. It represents all of Jesus' redemptive work that leads to salvation. When we see a cross, we automatically think of the Christian religion.

The second symbol is seen in the purpose of laminin and relates to creation. In the first chapter of the book of Colossians, it says that Jesus Christ created everything and that He holds all things together. So it is highly fitting that our cells are held together by a molecule shaped like a cross, symbolizing the truth that Jesus holds together each of us.

The third symbol is applied on the spiritual plane. The first chapter in Colossians also states that Jesus Christ is the head of His body, the church. The analogy of the church being the body of Christ appears many times in the New Testament and just as a cross-shaped molecule holds the cells of a physical body together; the work of Jesus Christ on the cross holds the members of His church – the cells of His body – together.

In the past twenty years, many people who thought it was their communion or denomination that was holding them together with other members have been shocked to discover that glue was not strong enough. When the organization of which they were a part decided to follow a path that was clearly not one established in the Bible, they left the organization. They discovered that they had more in common with others who were not part of their denomination or communion; the common denominator, the glue that truly holds us together, is always the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. In an organization claiming to be a part of Jesus' body, any glue based on humanity's rules or opinions will always fail to hold and leave a puddle of bitter rancid butter in the end.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

90 Years of God’s Faithfulness

My blog is late this week for a very good reason; we were out of town celebrating my Mother's 90th birthday.

My sister, Jeanita, and I love Mother and cherish our time here on earth with her, so we wanted to give her a really nice gift for her 90th birthday. The only thing she asked was to be with her family to celebrate it. So we decided to make it a very special occasion.

We are blessed that Mother is physically and mentally healthy, which makes traveling possible even at age 90. Since Mother's home for many years was the town where my sister still lives, we decided to give the party in DeKalb, Texas instead of New Orleans where she now lives.

Once we began planning, we had volunteers and ideas coming from everywhere. My daughter Julie found a memory tree and suggested that we give one to Mother for the family gift. You can see the tree holding miniature photo frames in the picture. My daughter Melana took care of the cake and the publicity. She also suggested that we make bookmarks for mementos to give our guests. Since my good friend Ve is awesome at making cards and bookmarks, she made them for us. She also came up with the theme for the party: Celebrating 90 Years of God's Faithfulness.

Jeanita and my brother-in-law, Larry, rented the hall and designed the layout and decorating scheme. Another friend and adopted sister, Judy, traveled with Mother and me. She also suggested some of the final decorations and helped with the clean-up. I designed ten posters, one for each decade of Mother's life (plus an extra one). Mother and I found photos from every decade to put on the posters. I also included newsworthy highlights for each decade to bring context to the pictures. Mother and Jeanita made almost 400 cookies.

At the party, friends and family members took videos and snapped photos. Several grandchildren kept the cake, cookies, and punch flowing. Four of Mother's great grandchildren also worked to make our guests feel welcome. Over 50 people celebrated with us.

Before Larry blessed the festivities with prayer, he read a tribute to Mother that another friend and our Bible study leader, Anna, had written. Anna captured Mother's life so beautifully that we wanted to start the celebration by sharing it with our guests. Her tribute is written here.

"Dearest Muriel,
Happy 90th birthday!!! What a blessing it has been to me to get to know you. I admire your steadfast devotion to our Lord and God and I admire that even though you have lived 90 years, you are still willing to be obedient to what God calls you to do and to continue to change under His loving hand. You have laid down your life over and over again and the result has been that you are such a wonderful example of a woman of God and you are still bearing fruit.

"This scripture has your name written next to it: Psalm 92:12–15: "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree and they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming 'The Lord is upright. He is my Rock and there is no wickedness in Him.'

"I love you, Muriel, and I appreciate your witness. Anna"

No matter how long I live, I desire to have that testimony, too. May God grant a green and fruit bearing old age to us all.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Once in a Thousand Years

Earlier this month, something unusual took place. In fact, it was a once every thousand year occurrence. At five minutes and six seconds after 4 a.m. on the 8th day of July, this year, the time and date was 04:05:06 07/08/09. This will occur again in 3009, assuming the culture that exists then writes time and date the same way most Americans write it now.

This information came to me through one of the e-mails that populate the Internet. Since I am an engineer, just seeing this set of numbers started me thinking about other combinations. It turns out that this is the last set in a sequence of five. The first one is 00:01:02 03/04/05. This set has the rule that every first digit of every pair is a zero. If the rule is changed to another one that allows the first digit to be a zero or a one, then five more sets can be added in a longer sequence. It begins with 00:01:02 03/04/05 and ends with 09:10:11 12/13/14. (Engineers like to play with numbers this way.)

One sequence caught my eye: 07:08:09 10/11/12. That is the birthday of one of my relatives. She will be 44 years old on that date. That probably is of no importance to you, but it did cause me to look more closely at this particular number combination. Since I know that coincidence and luck do not have any part in my life, I decided to see if the combination might have a spiritual significance.

(Note to anyone who has not accepted Christ's death as their release from slavery to sin: you may have coincidence and luck all over your life. The Bible tells me, however, that those who have accepted Christ as their savior have nothing in their lives that He has not given permission to be there.)

One of the things I have been studying is the Bible's use of symbols. Since God does multiple things simultaneously, factual events recorded in the Bible can also have prophetic meaning and contain symbolic meaning at the same time. The Israelites' Tabernacle described in Exodus is a great example of this.

Anyway, numbers in the Bible can be symbols for certain ideas. If we look at the numbers in 07:08:09 10/11/12 the ideas that correspond with the numbers can be the following:
7 – Completion or fullness
8 – New life or new beginning
9 – Fruit of the Holy Spirit
10 – The Law of Moses
11 – Unknown (If anyone can provide insight and scripture references to support the symbolism, please leave a comment.)
12 – Divine order

One way to interpret these numbers is that on the morning of October 11, 2012, some work of God will be completed and a new beginning involving both the New and Old Covenants will occur, somehow involving God's divine order.

My relative's age, 44, also plays a part in the symbolism. The number 4 represents the whole earth. When something is repeated – "4" – "4" – the certainty of it happening is emphasized.

I am NOT PREDICTING that the world is coming to an end.

All throughout the Bible, God shows us times when He starts and ends different works. So far all this exercise has done is heighten my awareness that God is at work in the world. I will pay special attention to the morning of October 11, 2012, if I am still around to appreciate it. Maybe you can join me…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shock and Awe

This week, I Googled some presenters to a writers' conference I want to attend. Afterwards, on impulse, I Googled my own name. I had not done that in two or three years, so I was surprised by the number of hits that came back. Most of the ones were from my engineering days; no surprise there.

However I did find more recent postings as well: my entry in The Writer's Edge, a comment on Rachelle Gardner's blog, product reviews for Amazon and Christian Book Distributers and, right in the middle of the second page, a Spanish text entry.

Now my Spanish language skills are limited to "Si" and "caliente." Thanks to the "translate this" tool on Bing, I was able to turn the text into English. The translation was not perfect, but it was clear enough for me to recognize the article.

That is when I went into shock. A New Year's Day letter that I had sent to a few family members and friends in 2004 had made its way to this Spanish language site. You can see the article at http://www.renuevodeplenitud.com/el-arco-iris.html.

The letter was posted in 2006, correctly attributed, with only a few changes. I can say that, after my shock wore off, I was delighted that those responsible for the web site thought the letter was interesting enough to post. I am still in awe that God arranged for me to have a tiny presence on the web that glorified Him before I even knew what blogging was all about. I have posted the letter (slightly edited) below so that you can read it in the original language.

Dear friends,

The last day of 2004…how can that be? It seems like yesterday that we began the year. God has blessed me in so many ways, this year. I want to share with you one of those ways. He gave me a gift of beauty so incredible that it’s difficult to put into words.

On a trip to Texarkana, Arkansas to see my daughter and her family, my Mother and I were driving through some thunderstorms. The direction we were driving and the angle of the sun gave us the most complete double rainbow set that I have ever seen. We were crossing over the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which rises in a high arc over the river, so we could see completely to the ends of both rainbows on the opposite bank.

As we left the bridge, it appeared as if we would drive right under the highest part of the arc of the closest rainbow. Instead, both rainbows appeared to jump away from us as we approached them. The road curved and we began driving towards the end of the rainbow nearest to us. I expected the rainbow to jump back again. It did not!

As we approached the end of the rainbow, the bands of colors began to change. The red, orange, green, violet and blue bands began to fade and thin until they were completely gone. However, the yellow band of color didn’t fade away. Instead, as we came closer to the end, the band of yellow became wider and the color deepened to a rich, beautiful gold.

The band of gold was now directly in front of us, the end anchored firmly in the traffic lane in which we were driving. The golden light was several feet wide at our closest approach. Then wonder of wonders, we drove right through it, the golden light flowing like a thin sheet of water - first over the hood of the car, then over the windshield!

I cannot explain how Mother and I felt at that moment except to say that it was a holy time. We were humbled by the graciousness of God to give us such a unique experience. We felt lifted right to the gates of heaven! It was difficult for me to keep both my hands on the steering wheel because what I wanted to do was to raise them in praise to God!

As I’ve thought over our experience, I think I can guess the origins of the legend about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I believe that it may have begun as someone else having had an experience similar to ours. I assume that they told others of this amazing occurrence. As the story spread, it would be easy to have “band of gold” changed to “pot of gold”.

A verse in the eighth chapter of the book of Romans tells us that God will “graciously give us all things.” It is out of His boundless storehouse of surprises that we are given the most unexpected gifts. This year, 2004, will always be “The Year of the Rainbow” for me. Happy New Year!

Q4U: Have you had either an unusual web site experience or a notable experience with a rainbow? If so, how did you react?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Grand Opportunity, Take Two

Three weeks ago, I wrote about an opportunity - literally - to stand up for God. It was, for most Christians attending the event, a missed opportunity. (Read this post: A Grand Opportunity.)

Every day we have not-so-grand opportunities to stand up for what we believe. Sometimes we wonder if the ways we honor God in the small things make any difference. Today I want to share a true story told to me by one of my dear friends.

Ms. Verla was married for 43 years. For 37 of those years she prayed for her unsaved husband. He was a difficult man to love and for whom to pray. He was mean and verbally abusive. He attempted to sabotage her every attempt to live a Christian life in their home.

He did have one upbeat habit, however, he liked to tell jokes. Unfortunately, the jokes he enjoyed telling were rude, vulgar, and obscene. To Ms. Verla, they were another cross to bear.

By the grace of God, Ms. Verla's husband got saved. To her delight, he begin attending church with her. One Sunday, a few weeks after her husband's salvation, they were a little later than usual leaving the auditorium. Since most people had already left the building, they had a few extra minutes to talk to the preacher who was waiting at the door. As Ms. Verla and her husband stopped to shake hands with him, Ms. Verla's husband decided to tell the preacher a joke. Ms. Verla was extremely embarrassed because the joke he told was vulgar and totally inappropriate.

The preacher listened to the joke, but he neither smiled nor laughed when Ms. Verla's husband finished telling it.

Her husband said, "What's the matter, Preacher, don't you think it's funny?"

To which the preacher replied, "I cannot listen to, participate in or laugh at that kind of joke."

"Why, because you're a preacher?"

"No, because I'm a Christian."

And so they left.

The next Sunday, Ms. Verla's husband decided to try again.

"So, Preacher, have you heard the joke about..."

The preacher held up his hand to stop him.

"Wait. Is this another joke like the one you told me last week?"


"Then I cannot listen to, participate in, or laugh at that kind of joke."

"Why? Because you're a preacher?"

"No, because I'm a Christian."

This time they left with the joke untold.

The next Sunday, Ms. Verla's husband could hardly wait for the sermon to end. As soon as he got to the preacher he said, "Preacher, I've got a joke for you."

"Is this a joke..."

"No, Preacher, it's not."

So Ms. Verla's husband told a joke he had memorized from The Reader's Digest. The preacher enjoyed it and they both laughed together.

According to Ms. Verla, her husband never told another vulgar joke to the preacher or to anyone else. That was one of the first indications she saw that God was changing his heart.

Do we take a stand the way the preacher did? How many of us refuse to listen to vulgar jokes or gossip or criticism of others? The small choices that we make are important. We can choose to take a stand for what is right in God's sight, telling others why we do it without being disrespectful or judgmental. It takes practice, but the rewards are worthwhile. We can turn an uncomfortable situation into a grand opportunity to bring light into darkness.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Heat Wave

I live in New Orleans where we had two hot topics last week. The Times-Picayune, our city newspaper, had both subjects on its front page on Thursday morning.

The main headline was Louisiana State University's scorching victory over its arch rival, the University of Texas, in the College World Series of baseball. This is LSU's sixth win since 1991 and the source of much enthusiastic celebration here, despite the heat wave.

And that, the heat wave, was the other hot topic last week. Sharing the front page with LSU's victory was the headline telling that New Orleans experienced the hottest day in recorded history. An official temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in Audubon Park. Our outside thermometer showed 106 degrees of truly oppressive heat.

This dangerous heat was the cause of a very uncomfortable experience for my Mother and I on Wednesday afternoon. No, we did not have heat stroke. When I renovated the house after hurricane Katrina, I had the whole house thoroughly insulated, so we were cool in spite of the outside temperature.

In the same renovation, I also brought the fire alarm system up to code so that every room has a smoke alarm. Also, in the hall, a unit was installed to monitor for carbon dioxide, as well as smoke. In the laundry room and in the attic, the units test for high temperatures. All of the units are tied into the same electrical circuit and all of them have battery back-up. When one unit senses a problem, all of them go off.

That is what happened Wednesday afternoon. Mother and I were peacefully resting and reading when a piercing wail filled the house - in stereo! - and the hall unit began shouting, "Fire! Fire!" every fifteen seconds. The sound level was enough to destroy the ability to hear and to drive us out of the house.

From a previous experience, we knew that turning off the circuit breaker would not stop the noise because they all had batteries. From that same experience, we knew that as soon as the unit that had been triggered was removed from the circuit, the wailing would stop. In that instance, our neighbor, Mark, had come to our rescue, since our ten-foot ceilings keep us from reaching them.

Fortunately, Mark was available again; so bringing his ear plugs, he came over and removed the seven units that are in the living space in the house. However, even after he removed the others, we could still hear the alarm in the attic. That unit was the one which had triggered. Based on the design specifications, this meant that the temperature in our attic was at least 135 degrees which is the trigger point for the alarm unit. Mark gamely went into that hot attic and removed the source of the problem, bringing peace and quiet back to our household.

The whole episode caused me to consider the way I look at my life. For me, this is a time of peace, joy, and contentment. That does not mean my life is perfect. In 2005 I lost my health and a career that I loved. My home city is subject to hurricanes six months of the year. However, an old hymn we sang when I was a child sums up the reasons my circumstances do not rob me of peace and joy.

"My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand."

Most of the headlines in our newspapers tell about negative circumstances. Unlike the headlines in last Thursday's paper, there is seldom anything on the front page to celebrate. In fact, the world's media usually sound alarms so loudly that they attempt to drive me off the foundation of my life, try to get me to stop trusting and to start worrying.

If they sound an alarm, it does not necessarily signify a dangerous condition. Just as I did when our fire alarm went off, I check the validity of the media's alarms with my actual condition. If the media is saying"Disaster! Disaster!" I read Psalms 91, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty... No disaster will come near your tent." If I hear shouts of "Trouble! Trouble!" God tells me in Psalm 91, "I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him and honor him."

I can turn off the TV, throw away the newspaper, change the radio station, click off the Internet; I can silence the alarms. I do not ignore the possibility or the reality of difficult circumstances, but I choose not to be forced off my foundation and lose my peace and joy to worry and fret. I choose instead to trust God and like the writer of Psalm 91 "Find refuge under His wings." Thus, just like last Wednesday when Mark removed that last alarm, the alarms no longer disturb me and peace and joy are restored.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

According to an article in the June 2009 issue of Christianity Today, N.T. Wright and John Piper recently published books on their views of the doctrine of justification. The article contains a table that summarizes some of their differences. I have not read the books, but I want to comment on both on the tone of the article and the summaries in the table.

From the content of the summaries, I can find biblical passages that would support each man’s positions. I do not find their positions to be an “either/or” situation. The tone of the article, however, implies that justification can be one thing or the other, but not both. Which reminds me of the story of blind men describing an elephant. Let me tell you my version of it.

In my story we have a very large – and very patient – elephant. The elephant’s name is Justification. Four small, blind men who have never seen an elephant are given the task of describing it. (These men represent all the saints, from Apostle Paul to John Piper and N.T. Wright, who have wrestled with understanding justification and have tried to describe it.)

One man is led to the front of the elephant. Another is guided half-way up a very tall step ladder that is positioned at the elephant’s shoulder. The third man is left standing near a hind leg. The fourth man is lifted to a platform behind the elephant.

The man standing in front of the elephant begins groping for the elephant. His hands are met by the elephant reaching out his trunk. He quickly catches the trunk with both hands and calls out, “The elephant is a thick muscular snake with warm, rough skin and a musky scent.”

The man on the step ladder feels an ear go by and grabs onto it in mid flap. “Oh, no,” he shouts, “an elephant is the largest, leatheriest leaf I’ve ever felt. It does have a musky smell, however.”

Meanwhile, the man near the back leg had been rubbing the leg and trying to reach around it with his arms. “Well, I can agree with you about the smell, but you are both wrong about everything else. An elephant is a very large, very stout tree trunk with bark as rough as sandpaper.”

The man at the elephant’s back end had been busy, too. He had caught hold of the elephant’s tail as it swished past him and examined it very thoroughly. He called to the others, “I think the smell is too strong to be called musk, but it is definitely a thick rope with a frayed end.”

Since we know how an elephant looks, we find this story amusing. Yet it is so easy for us to do the same thing among our denominations, or our communions, and in our theological discussions. We think that what we are observing is the only work that God is accomplishing by that effort, when God usually does multiple things simultaneously.

Wrestling with our understanding of justification and other aspects of our salvation is an important part of our spiritual growth. Discussing our thoughts in the public forum can lead to rigorous consideration of the differences and the similarities of other Christians’ positions. It can lead to all parties getting a fuller understanding of the issues.

The classic definition of justification (from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) is this: “On the basis of Christ's atoning work, God pronounces righteous those who believe in Him even though they are unquestionably sinful and guilty in themselves.” So while we are discussing our differences let us remember something that C.S. Lewis wrote in his introduction to Mere Christianity: “…(the core of Christianity is) divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all.”

Rather than expressing false doctrines, these authors are presenting different views of something we all share, if we have accepted Christ as our savior. We are all justified in Christ, even if we do not fully understand the total package. It is a good thing to remember we are brothers in Christ as we listen to each other.

So let us return to my version of the story…

The small, blind men were not only small and blind, but they were also very wise. After they told each other what they understood an elephant to be, each one explored further away from his starting point. At first, none of them discovered anything that would change his description of an elephant. Each man told the others that he held to his original opinion. As each man worked his way higher and higher, however, he fell silent. The more each one learned about the elephant, the less certain he became about the completeness of his original description. Eventually, the four men bumped into each other as they felt their way along the elephant’s broad back.

“What? Are you here, too!” they asked each other. Then they sat down on the elephant’s back, everyone agreeing that a complete and truly accurate description of an elephant was beyond their comprehension and greater than their imaginations.

As we all sit on the elephant called Justification, we struggle to understand the divine extravagance of it, all the while knowing that we, like the four blind men, may not have a complete picture of it. This brings me to a paraphrase of my favorite quote from Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. (My apology if this offends you, Mr. Pollan.)

When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery like justification gives way to an arrogance in which we think we can treat God’s magnificent gift of justification as our own private property.

When our public discourse lacks humility, when we make more of our “correctness” than the other person’s “correctness”, that arrogance becomes a different elephant entirely. It becomes the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about and everyone wishes would leave.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Grand Opportunity

Several years ago my Mother and I went to Washington D.C. on vacation. While we were there, a dear friend entertained us by taking us to see a performance of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, a renowned bagpipes and drum corps who performs worldwide.

When we arrived at the domed stadium, I was amazed at the number of people who attended the performance. The stadium was over half filled with several thousand people of all ages. It was obviously a family affair, for many children and senior adults were among the audience. Making up an astonishing proportion of the audience were United States service members in their uniforms, Army green, Air Force and Marine blues, and Navy white.

I remember how thrilling it was to see the Guards perform precision marching while playing wonderful music. However, the intervening years have faded my memories of the almost two hour performance. I do have, in spite of the passage of time, vivid memories of one section of it, however.

Near the middle of the Guards’ performance, they played a series of songs honoring United States military organizations. When the stirring strains of “The Army Goes Rolling Along” began to play, all across the audience, soldiers began to stand at attention. From young recruits to retirees, enlisted and officers, men and women, in uniform and out, a host of people stood at attention to honor the organization and to show their pride in being part of the United States Army. When the song ended, a mighty cheer went up as the soldiers sat down.

Next, the Guards played the sweeping notes of “The Wild Blue Yonder” and again, all across the audience, members of the United States Air Force began to stand at attention. From young recruits to retirees, enlisted and officers, men and women, in uniform and out, a swarm of people stood at attention to honor the organization and to show their pride in being part of the United States Air Force. When the song ended, a mighty cheer went up as they sat down.

By now, I was anticipating what the next song would be, and I was not disappointed. The Guards began to play the surging music of “Anchors Aweigh” and all across the audience, Navy personnel began to stand at attention. From young recruits to retirees, enlisted and officers, men and women, in uniform and out, a sea of people stood at attention to honor the organization and to show their pride in being part of the United States Navy. When the song ended, a mighty cheer went up as the members of the Navy sat down.

As I now expected, the Guards began playing the forceful phrases of “The Marines’ Hymn” and all across the audience, Marines began to stand at attention. From young recruits to retirees, enlisted and officers, men and women, in uniform and out, a throng of people stood at attention to honor the organization and to show their pride in being part of the United States Marine Corps. When the song ended, a mighty cheer went up as they sat down.

I was surprised by what came next. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards began playing another hymn. As the last song of that set, they started playing the familiar music of “Amazing Grace” and all across the audience, people began to stand at attention to honor the Lord. Both young and old, military and civilian, men and women, a throng of people stood at attention to show… STOP! Halt! Back up.

That is what I wished had happened. What really happened was this:

I was surprised by what came next. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards began playing another hymn. As the last song of that set, they started playing the familiar music of “Amazing Grace.” At first, no one stood to honor the Lord and to say that they had need of His amazing grace. Finally, three people stood, with their hands over their hearts, not in pride but in humility, showing that they had needed and found God’s grace. When the hymn ended, they quietly sat down and the set ended.

I remember the experience so vividly because I was sad that most of us who identified ourselves as Christians had let a grand opportunity slip past to acknowledge God’s grace. What grand opportunities to proclaim your allegiance to God have you taken or have you missed?