Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deep Thought

I came down with a cold Sunday evening, and it has gotten me to thinking: If you can have post-nasal drip, can you have pre-nasal drip?

Isaiah 43:2

I can't take credit for the following thoughts--I heard them in a sermon once, but can't remember who was preaching. Nevertheless, I was reminded of that message again as I read Isaiah 43:2 this morning:

"When you go through deep waters, I [the LORD] will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown."
Why did God include references to two bodies of water in this passage--deep waters and rivers? Because both are dangerous in their own way.

Every human being walks through long and difficult periods of life that seem hopeless and daunting. Extended illness of oneself or a loved one, financial difficulties, or the consequences of a bad choice may cause us to feel we're drowning in deep waters. Exhausted, we simply tread water to keep our heads above the surface - the water's edge is a mere mirage any more; we doubt we'll ever see land again. Yet with a personal pronoun, the God of heaven and earth, Maker of time and space, the Covenant-Keeper, says, "I will be with you." No maybes. No conditions.

But not all of life's difficulties are lengthy and prolonged. Sometimes, they come at us like a rushing river, bowling us over with no warning or time for preparation. A trust is suddenly broken, a loved one hurts and disappoints us, a catastrophe or natural disaster occurs and we are knocked off balance by the powerful stream that runs over us, leaving us gasping for a breath before we go under again, all the while struggling to get our feet underneath us. Yet this same God of heaven and earth, Maker of time and space, and Covenant-Keeper says, "you will not drown." No maybes. No conditions.

I don't know where you find yourself - in the deep waters or the rivers of difficulty, but moment by moment today trust in his character as you tread water or gasp for breath, remembering he said, "You are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you" (Is. 43:4).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Worship Bloopers

Darin recently printed some bulletin bloopers on his blog, and that got me to thinking about some of the funny things I've experienced in worship services. While it's generally a good idea to have a well-planned, orderly method to corporate worship, it can get a little boring, even predictable at times, and in that our hearts lose any opportunity for spontaneous joy. I think that's why God, in his sovereignty, allows goofy things to happen!

About 2 months ago, right at the beginning of the service, sitting near a window in the sanctuary, a red wasp whizzed by my head. From that point on, I knew I and others around me would be less interested in heart-to-heart time with God, and more concerned and distracted about the location of that wasp. So, I decided to quickly and quietly do something about it. When he landed on the window sill, I crept over to where he sat, removed my shoe and proceeded to quietly smush it - for a minimum of 3 minutes. Either my strength or the sole of the shoe wasn't enough to crush it. Instead, every time I thought, "OK, it's got to be dead by now," and lifted the shoe, the tenacious creature wriggled and squirmed still more. What was supposed to be an oblivious, covert solution to the problem drew the attention and giggles of that entire quarter of the sanctuary! But I'm happy to report that although I missed the entire choir special, the wasp will not threaten another soul!

Another favorite memory occurred when I was in high school. I was part of a traveling choral group, and while visiting FBC Andrews, TX, we were blessed to participate in their morning worship service. To get to Andrews, however, we'd ridden on a charter bus all night, netting about 3 hours' sleep for each of us. Now, I don't know if you've ever been around 20 sleep-deprived teenagers, but everything they see and hear necessitates a giggle. Unfortunately, the church was scheduled to observe the solemn and sacred Lord's Supper that day. You can see this isn't going to go well, can't you?

Seated in the choir loft, we maintained the greatest dignity and respect for the solemnity of the occasion, until a deacon with squeaky shoes came to deliver the bread to us. Each step he took on the linoleum floor echoed above the organist's playing and rang out through the sanctuary. We snickered a bit, but after the "you're-going-to-die-very-soon" look we received from our director, we got ourselves under control. Moments later, that same deacon returned to the choir loft with the juice, squeaking all the way. As he took his departing step back onto the carpeted platform, he whispered, "Next time, I'm going to wear house-shoes!" We lost it. We broke into flat-out uproarous laughter - in the middle of Communion! All eyes in the sanctuary were on us at that point, and the somberness of the moment was lost. We truly felt awful about our disruption, but since then, I've often envisioned a subdued and thoughtful deacon wearing fuzzy pink slippers into the choir loft!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Can Do That

I'm still mulling over John 6:22-33.

For centuries, people have asked the question, "What does God want us to do?" (vs. 28). Oddly enough, most of us ask pastors, parents, relatives, friends and Bible study teachers before turning to the One Who really knows the answer. At least these people recorded in John 6 went straight to the horse's mouth (so to speak). Jesus simply and profoundly answers them: "Believe in the one he has sent." So simple. So direct. So uncluttered with "to do" lists. Too elementary for most of us. We think God wants our hands and feet first. Doing stuff. Nope. It's our hearts and minds he desires, because he knows the rest of us will follow if he has that much (see Luke 6:45).

Yet, as typical humanity, we play the "tit for tat" game. "You must show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What will you do for us?" (vs. 30). As if giving us our very lives and breath for the moment isn't sufficient enough. We are a demanding creation, aren't we? Never satisfied with how we got what we got, we need a more impressive way of getting more. Then, we'll be confident in the character and provision of God.

And all the while, Jesus is simply saying, "Believe."

We all need this reminder from time-to-time, because people will occasionally say our efforts at obedient ministry have been insufficient according to their standards. I know I'm certainly not the only one who has felt the sting of not "measuring up" to religious rule-makers. Honestly, in those times, I'm tempted to look at God and say, "Fix this situation, and then I'm trust your character." But he has proven so faithful - he sacrificed himself - what further evidence do I really need? His grace is sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9) and his love unfailing (Ps. 59:10). I'm so imperfect, those others may be right in their assessment of me, but each of us can only obey to the best of our ability, and stand accountable to God alone.

I'm so thankful that the One Who is the Judge of all humanity, space and time has made our job so simple. He says to us, "Believe in the one [I] sent." Direct. Uncluttered. Elementary.

Believe? OK. I can do that.

Give Credit Where It's Due

I love reading a passage of Scripture that is familiar, only to find new jewels of truth as I meditate and contemplate the verses again.

John 6:22-33 has done that for me this morning.

I laughed out loud as I read and imagined the interchange between Jesus and the crowds in vs. 31-32. They say to him, "The Scriptures say, 'Moses gave [our ancestors] bread from heaven to eat.'"

Just imagine Jesus' face! Mentally, he's got to be saying to himself, "WHO DID?" But, instead he says aloud, "Moses didn't give them bread from heaven. My Father did." Now, let's just be honest for a moment: misquoting Scripture to its very author isn't the brightest idea I can come up with. Nevertheless, Jesus gently corrects faulty thinking in regard to Biblical truth. [Exodus 16:4 and Psalm 78:24 both clearly state that God provided that manna, not Moses' magic wand.]

Too often, we're quick to acknowledge humanity (yes, ourselves, too) as the source of blessing. It was somebody's quick thinking or our hard work that brought about the good thing. I think that's because we worship and serve an invisible God, and our minds struggle to attach tangible blessings with an intangible Lord. And sometimes when we do acknowledge God as the giver of "every good and perfect gift," it comes across as though we could have eventually gotten it on our own, but we just needed God's extra "push" to get us over the hump and into this place of blessing. (The "Lord is my helper.") How arrogant! How foolish! How sinful.

Giving appropriate and generous credit to where it is due requires a humility that stretches us beyond the comforts of our own pride. That's why expressive worship is so hard for some of us. Even in the privacy of our own homes, many of us can't laugh with God or sing to Jesus with spontaneity or sincerity, because we don't want to be humble enough to recognize how unworthy and unimpressive we really are. And get those same people in a corporate worship setting and watch the excuses fly! Certainly, we are valuable; we're made in his image. But Eve's first sin was believing she could be "like God." We fall for the same lie every time we elevate our involvement in our accomplishments and blessings.

Just as we're annoyed by braggarts, I imagine God gets a little weary of such behavior from us, too. Read Job 38-41 as though God is a prosecuting attorney; you'll get humbled real fast. But with Job, give credit where it's due and respond in submissive worship: "I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. . . . I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me. . . .and I repent" (Job 42:2,5).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Define "Democracy"

I've rarely been one to express comment on political opinion or legal issues, but as a student of history, I can't help but feel something about a statement I read today on Yahoo news from an Associated Press article regarding the California amendment against gay marriage.

Evan Wolfson, a gay-rights lawyer who heads a group called Freedom to Marry, was quoted in this article as saying: "There's something deeply wrong with putting the rights of a minority up to a majority vote. If this were being done to almost any other minority, people would see how un-American this is."

I'd like to ask Mr. Wolfson: "What is a democracy, if not the opportunity for a majority to express its opinions, whether or not the minority accepts or approves of those opinions?" By definition, a democracy is the rule of the majority of people (see Mirriam-Webster.com). Our founding Fathers weren't interested in the preferences of the few over the declaration of the many. Isn't that why they declared independence from Britain in the first place? So that laws could not be made that were not supported or approved by the majority of citizens?

I'm certain that Mr. Wolfson is differentiating "rights" vs. "preferences," as the basis of his argument, but I even question the idea that it is anyone's "right" to marry. It is a privilege, perhaps, but if it is a "right" then 12 year-olds should not be required to have parental approval, because it is their "right" as a human being. Rights are limited to those things that are inalienable for all humanity (e.g. life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) regardless of age, race, etc. I don't remember marriage listed among those in the Declaration of Independence. And, as a student of history, I prefer to stick to those things our founding Fathers included without assuming what they might have meant. And for those things that require further clarification (such as the inclusion of the Bill of Rights and other amendments to the Constitution), I'll stick with the plan they concocted of majority rule by which we acquired those amendments.

Ultimately, the best news is that God alone is still sovereign, regardless of the opinions of the majority or minority people groups. So, until Mr. Wolfson is able to de-throne the Almighty, I'll rest assured tonight. Hope you will, too.

I Didn't Know I Was Supposed to Follow You

Norris and Kathy have four sweet kids: 3 girls and a boy. The youngest, a 1st grader, Clayton, is quite the maverick. With three older sisters, I'm sure he gets plenty of "bossy-ness" to rebel against! One Sunday recently, however, it wasn't his sisters he circumvented, but his Dad.

Norris told us in Bible Study he'd gotten out of their van talking to Clayton, and as he walked the long way around the building to enter, he'd continued their conversation. Yet, when he turned around to hold the door for Clayton to enter, he found his son conspicuously absent.

Just short of panic, Norris retraced his steps, then combed the halls looking for his son. He found him happily involved in an activity in his 1st grade room. Approaching him, relieved, but a little annoyed, Norris asked him where he'd gone and why he hadn't entered the building behind him. Clayton innocently responded: "I didn't know I was supposed to follow you."

Norris had no reply. His son was safe and right where he needed to be, so admonishment wouldn't have served much purpose. He hadn't told Clayton to follow him, he'd just assumed he would. Shrugging his shoulders, Norris left the room.

When he shared this story with us, Norris rightly pointed out we DO know we're supposed to follow Jesus. He's commanded us to do so. Yet when we consider all the excuses we come up with for taking a "slightly" different direction, not to mention the blatant choices to disobey, we can't innocently turn to the Lord and say, "I didn't know I was supposed to follow You." He's made the expectation of obedience abundantly clear.

The truth is, Norris did take the long route around the building, and Clayton did make it to his classroom just fine taking a short-cut. But Clayton unwittingly missed the interaction with his dad; that's time they'll never get back. When we take "short-cuts" in the path the Lord wants us to follow we really might end up at the right destination, but we will have missed the fellowship with him along the route. Jesus may want to take us the long way around sometimes, just for the conversations it will bring. But when we take our own "short-cuts," we lose opportunity to spend time with him. Life is too short and our relationship with him too sacred to sacrifice his will on the altar of time and selfish preferences.

I want Jesus to say about me: "[She] greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. [She] passed on to the people the truth of the instructions received from me. [She] did not lie or cheat; [she] walked with me, living a good and righteous life, and turned many from lives of sin" Malachi 2:5-6.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Real People, Not Actors

Perhaps you, like I, have been amused at the latest round of Windows Vista ads on TV. As they interview individuals using their software for the first time, a tiny caption appears at the bottom of the screen: "Real people, not actors."

Now, clearly they are trying to convey these individuals are not paid to pretend they like something, but I can't help but laugh every time I see those words. (Are actors not really people? Lassie doesn't count.) Nevertheless, so much of our world is artificial, Microsoft finds it necessary to put disclaimers on their advertisement. And why not? With air-brushed models on magazine covers, plastic cakes in bakery windows, and disposable marriages in every other home, our culture (myself especially) is skeptical to believe or trust in truth and reality.

I've thought about this caption relative to Jesus, too. I wonder if he wanted to put a label on each person he healed: "Real miracle, not an illusion," or over the tomb: "Real death, not a swoon or faint." Most importantly, did he want to shout, "Real salvation in me, not according to what you can do."

Unfortunately, even parts of the church are artificial. People pretend to not struggle with areas of sin, believers act like their agenda for the well-being of the church is the only "God-approved" one, brothers or sisters in the faith snub or ignore one another while others get their feelings hurt each time the wind blows, and expectations for what you should be doing for God's kingdom or how you should be behaving at all times are based on human intellect, not Divine instruction.

Meanwhile, those outside the body of Christ see these behaviors and think, "I can't believe what I read about Jesus, these people are just living in a fantasy world of self-aggrandizement, not self-sacrifice." Artificial. Fake. Unreal.

And Jesus cries out again and again, "Beware of these [hypocrites]! For they like to parade around ... and love to receive respectful greetings .... And how they love the seats of honor .... Yet they ... pretend to be pious .... Because of this, they will be severely punished" (Luke 20:46-47).

In other words, Jesus wants to put a caption on us that reads: "Real person, not an actor." I wonder how many of us could honestly wear that label today?

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the Blog Again . . .

Just can't wait to get on the blog again . . .

We're happily getting settled into our new home. With all the packing, moving and unpacking, blogging has taken a back seat in priority. But, we actually put a picture on the wall Saturday night and we only have two more boxes in the kitchen looking for homes, so progress is definitely being made. Even Dodger is beginning to believe that we're not going anywhere else, and he can safely bark at the cows in the back pasture.

One of the things I love most about our new home (besides the jacuzzi bathtub and newly installed granite countertops in the kitchen), is the ability to stand on the back porch at night and marvel at the stars. When I was a kid in southeast Louisiana, we lived on property surrounded by undeveloped acreage. In that environment, we had adventures in the woods during the day and watched the sky become littered with stars at night. And here, as it was back then, we're surrounded by wonderful neighbors sharing a sense of community and offering a watchful eye for one another's well-being. I can't tell you how well I've slept over the last week.

Some years at Thanksgiving, I've honestly had to think really hard about what I'm most grateful for, because of the difficulties and unpleasant circumstances the year brought with it. I've got no questions this year - our new house has brought a joy and peace that is indescribable, and a reminder that every good and perfect gift is from my loving heavenly Father.