I’m Special – So Are You

In today’s reading for Lent I read the creation story and Adam and Eve’s failure to obey God’s commands.

Although I have read this story countless times I was struck today by the difference the story gives us of how God created man and woman in comparison to the rest of His creation.

The stars, moon, sun, plants, fish, birds and all the other animals we are told came about when God spoke.

“Then God said…..”      –      “and that is what happened.”

But when we come to the creation of man we find that God formed man from the dust of the ground.  To me this indicates He did more than just speak man into existence.  He took time to mold, to make a man.  Like a potter creating a clay pot or an artist painting a masterpiece, God took time to make man.

I know I’m taking liberty here with the scripture but in my imagination I can visualize God carefully beginning to design man, perhaps taking a moment to step back and look at what he was creating and making some adjustments.

My husband is a painter and I watch as he paints a scene, then steps back and often  makes some changes until it is exactly what he has seen in his own mind.

After creating Adam, again God did not just speak woman into existence.  He took a rib from Adam and fashioned a woman.

We are God’s masterpiece, His own special design.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Psalm 139:14

“Your hands made me and formed me.”  Psalm 119:73

We are not some accidental life form.  We were designed by God.  In His eyes, I am special – and so are you.

 

 

How Should Christians Resist Evil

I just finished reading (for the second time) the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the time of Hitler and World War II.  As the Nazis came to power and took control of the church, he faced a real dilemma.  He could not continue to stand with the church hierarchy who supported Hitler’s regime yet he found it hard to speak out against the church.  Along with several other pastors and theologians he founded what was called the Confessing Church.

A group called the German Christians (Deutsche Christen) created a pro-Nazi Reich Church.  They wanted the church to conform to Nazi ideology.   In opposition to this, many Christians formed the Confessing Church taking a clear stand against Hitler and his agenda.

However, in time Bonhoeffer became discouraged by the Confessing Church because although they opposed the Nazi regime they said nothing about the persecution of the Jewish people.

As the evil of Nazism became clearer Bonhoeffer faced a difficult decision.

Should he just look the other way as many German Christians were doing?

He had already spoken out against Hitler and his government.  Should he do more?

He knew many of those who were conspiring to kill Hitler and free Germany from the nightmare that was afflicting the nation.  Should he join them in their effort?

What does a Christian do when faced with such evil?

Bonhoeffer, after much soul-searching, joined the effort to get rid of the monster in charge of their country.  For that decision he paid with his life.

He was originally charged with conspiring to rescue Jews and using his foreign travels as a pastor to share the situation in Germany with other countries hoping for help in staging a coup.  His connection to the broader resistance movement was uncovered after a failed July 20, 1944 coup.

He was taken to the Gestapo prison in Berlin and later moved to the Flossenburg concentration camp where he was hanged April 9, 1945 just weeks before the Germans surrendered to Allied forces.

As I look at the divisions in our country – liberal vs conservative, Democrats vs Republicans, pro gun control vs anti-gun control and the list goes on and on, I wonder what a Christian should do.

Please understand I am NOT suggesting that anyone is like Hitler (don’t you go there) or that our country is like Germany in World War II.

But I do wonder how much Christians should get involved in the political debate.  I remember that famous quote which has been attributed to Edmund Burke (although there is debate on who really said it first):

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Do we remain silent when we see bad laws enacted and evil triumphing?

Yet I look at Jesus and his disciples.  They lived under a dictatorship that was evil.  Their fellow Jews were taxed heavily by their oppressor.  Even their worship was controlled in many ways by the Romans.  The Roman ruler, Pilate, kept the garments the High Priest needed to wear on the Day of Atonement.  Each year they had to wait for him to surrender them to the priests so they could perform that sacred sacrifice.

Not one time did Jesus or his followers address that issue.  They were focused on sharing the good news that Jesus had died and rose again for their eternal salvation.

The Apostle Paul even wrote that we should obey those in authority and that God had placed them there.

On the other hand we see throughout the Bible when people disobeyed the laws that were in conflict with God’s commandments.

  • Rahab hid the Jewish spies that came to her in Jericho.
  • Daniel continued to pray to God when the king ruled no prayers were to be said to anyone but him.
  • The three Hebrew children refused to bow down to the statute and were thrown into the fiery furnace
  • When told by the Jewish rulers not to speak about Jesus, the disciples said:

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.  For we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.

In my own time I think of Martin Luther King Jr who lead the non-violent civil rights protests that led to the end of Jim Crow rules that had been in place since the Civil War.

As I see and hear all the debates in our country today on so many issues:  the wall, gun control, abortion I cannot help but think of that over used phrase from a few years ago:

What would Jesus do?

Wish I had the answer but I also wish that Christians would really think.

  • What issues are worth fighting for because they are evil and against God’s Word?
  • What issues are worth fighting for because we personally believe in them?  Because we believe we have a “right” to certain things?
  • What is our basis for our beliefs – the Bible or the Constitution?
  • Are any “rights” worth fighting for to the point that they become our battle cry instead of the cry for people to know Jesus?
  • Are we Christians first ready to die for the cause of Christ – or Americans first ready to die for our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
  • Where in the Bible did Jesus said he came so that we could have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

I still struggle with these issues.  My prayer is that the church will take a stand against real evil, but also be willing to let their time and energy (and Facebook comments) promote the cause of Jesus Christ over their desire for their rights.  I have angered friends – and some have even unfriended me on Facebook – but I will continue to say we must not become so obsessed with our “rights” that we forget our mission is to love the world and share the message of Jesus Christ.

 

Faith vs Reason

Throughout my life I have read arguments for and against having faith in the Christian God – or any god for that matter.

Some say to question our belief is wrong.  To express any doubt will definitely displease God.

Others say to believe without positive proof of a god is simply showing a lack of intellect.

I have always found myself in the middle.

I do not believe God gave us a mind and then did not expect us to use it.  I do not believe that God cannot handle our questions, our doubts.

At the same time, to assume that anyone who believes in God without being able to “prove” His existence lacks knowledge is so unfair.

In this back and forth argument I read this week from the book “Deliver Us From Evil” by Ravi Zacharias and found this quote expresses so completely how I personally feel about faith vs reason.

One of the most startling things about life is that it does not start with reason and end with faith.  It starts in childhood with faith and is sustained either by reasoning through that faith or blindly leaving the reason for faith unaddressed.  The child’s mind has a very limited capacity to inform it of the reason for its trust.  But whether she nestles on her mother’s shoulder, nurses at her mother’s breast, or runs into her father’s arms, she does so because of an implicit trust that these shoulders will bear her, that her food will sustain her, and that these arms will hold her.  If over time that trust is tested, it will be the character of the parent that will prove that trust wise or foolish.  Faith is not benefit of reason.

That pretty much describes my faith journey.  Born into a home where I was taken to church every week and taught about God from my parents, I believed in the Christian God and committed my life to Him at a very young age.  No questions asked.  Simply the faith of a child running into her father’s arms.

As a young adult I experienced some difficult times.  At the same time as these problems arose I was also attending college at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.  In one of my classes the professor was advocating strongly that creation by God was not true.

I reached the point where I began to question if all I had believed all these years was really true.  Was God real?  Sitting on my front porch one night I looked up into the sky and said, “God if you are truly real, if what I have believed all these years are true, I need you to reveal yourself.  I need you to help me out of these difficulties.”

There was no lightning or thunder or a great voice of God.  But slowly over the next few weeks I began to see drastic changes in my circumstances that reason alone could not explain.

I also began to research my Bible, read books on archaeology, evolution and Christian apologists.  Slowly, but surely, my belief in God was increased by what I learned.  It was during the next couple of years as I studied, prayed and learned that my faith was made stronger by my questioning.

As the years have gone by and I have seen both good times and bad, I have also found myself running into my heavenly father’s arms and the character of God has proven my trust to be a wise one.

If you have doubts about God, do not deny them.  Do not be afraid to express them.  But do more than that.  Read, pray, research.

But also don’t be afraid to be that little child and run into His arms.

He said “You will seek me and find me when you seek for me with all your heart.”

I have found that true.

 

 

Does God Really Demand Obedience?

Most of us grew up seeing the Ten Commandments posted on walls of our schools, courthouses and churches.  Many have claimed these principles are the basis for our Judeo-Christian society.

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My husband and I started 2019 by reading through the Bible – starting with Genesis.  The story was interesting at first as we read about creation, the flood and the beginning of the Israelite nation with patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then we got to the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus.  Here, Moses was given detailed instructions on how the tabernacle should be built and how the priests should conduct offerings used in worship of God.  There are rules about what to eat and what not to eat, a lot of rules regarding sexual relations and how to deal with skin diseases.

To be honest, this is difficult and somewhat boring reading.  But one thing I noticed throughout that portion of Scripture that over and over it was said that Moses did “just what the Lord had commanded.”

Throughout the Old Testament we read the story of how the Israelites did like we still seem to do today – sometimes obeying God – sometimes not.  The Old Testament ends with the nation of Israel exiled because of their failure to obey God’s commands.

Then we enter the New Testament.  We see Jesus who came to pay the price of our disobedience.  We live in what we call the period of grace.  What a blessing to not have to live in fear of breaking a command of God, of knowing that we are saved not by what we do, but by faith and acceptance of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

grace

So, does that mean we are no longer required to obey?  The loving picture of Jesus in the New Testament is certainly much more appealing than the demands of obedience in the Old Testament.

But a closer look at the words of Jesus shows He also demanded obedience if we would claim to be following Him.

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

Jesus summed up the commandments when He told his questioners:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

This all sounds pretty simple.  Really not too demanding.  Much easier than living under the Law.

Right?

I don’t think so.  I think the requirements of Jesus are much more demanding – and something we cannot do without His help.

Think about it:

  • The Law said not to murder.
  • Jesus said if you are angry and curse someone you are in danger of hell.  He said to not bring any sacrifice to Him until you made it right with the one you were angry with.

 

  • The Law said not to commit adultery.
  • Jesus said a person must not look at another with lust in their heart.

 

  • The Law said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
  • Jesus said to love your enemy and to even pray for them.

 

  • The Law was concerned with our outward appearance.
  • Jesus is concerned with our heart.

 

My heart grieves today as it seems many Christians feel they no longer have to obey the words of Jesus when it comes to loving and praying for their enemies.

But I note that He said He would love us and make Himself plain to us (in other words have a relationship with Him) IF we obey His commandments.

Without love for others, I fear we will, like the Israelites, find ourselves without God’s protection.

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Lord God, thank you for loving us.  Help us to remember that as we experience your love and mercy we just give that love and mercy to others.  Even to those who disagree with us.  Even to those who hurt us.  Help us to love as you love and remember that you not only love us, but you love our enemies.

Is It Spring Yet?

cold

After a record-setting week of cold temps – it is great to be above freezing once again – even into the 40’s.

Last Sunday I came home from church and did not go out again until this past Saturday.  My husband took me to Applebee’s for lunch.

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I have been to Applebees many times to eat.  It is always good food and I enjoy it.  But somehow the food seemed to taste better than normal.  My drink was more refreshing.  As I sat and enjoyed just talking with my husband and savoring being out and about again, I realized it was somehow better because of the days spent cooped inside.

Life I think can be like that.  We go along just taking things for granted until we hit a rough spot.  While going through a difficult time is not easy or something we would willingly choose, maybe those difficult times help us appreciate the good times we have.

I know after my battle with cancer I cherish just being alive – seeing the sunset, the leaves turn colors in the fall, hearing the laughter of my grandchildren, or my husband say “I love you.”

After spending time as a missionary I appreciate running, clean hot water, refrigeration for my food and electricity 24/7.

After a couple of days of warm weather it appears we will return to winter temps.  But I have hope.  Spring is only 26 days away.

spring

And God’s Word has promised us:

“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night will never cease.”

If you are in a tough time right now, I want to encourge you to hang in there – spring will come.

If life is going great for you right now, don’t take it for granted.  Take time to just stop, look around and be thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer in the School? Yes – No

I hesitate wading into this controversial subject but I see so many posts on Facebook calling for us to put prayer back in the schools and arguing that many of our problems are because prayer has been removed from the classroom.

Wondering which side is right, I decided to go where I always go when I need spiritual guidance or answers – to the Bible.

Here is what I discovered the Bible teaches.

  • Prayer and religious education is the responsibility of the parents and grandparents.

We see it first with Abraham.  When God selected Abraham to be the patriarch of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, one reason He gave was this:

I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just

Later as the nation of Israel were given the Law they were told this:

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

In Psalm 78 Asaph instructs the people of Israel that they should:

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.

The New Testament confirmed this belief that the parents are the ones to teach their children about God.

In Ephesians Paul tells us:

ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Paul commended Timothy’s faith and noted that it was a result of his mother and grandmother’s faith.

To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

  • The other place the Bible indicates where prayer should be is in the church.

Isaiah stated that God’s house should be a house of prayer.

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.

Jesus confirmed this when he said:

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

The Book of Acts tells us that the church began when the disciples were gathered together in prayer.

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

Questions that come to my mind when I see this cry for prayer in the school.

  • What would happen if we had more prayer in our homes and in our churches?
  • How much time do those crying for prayer in the school actually spend praying for our schools, for our teachers, the students?

I’m not saying I’m against prayer in our schools.  But like it or not, we are a multi-cultural nation now.  So – if we put prayer back in schools, who will be leading the prayer?  To what god will they be praying?

And now to really get some readers upset, what about all these prayer breakfasts we have?  I have been to several but quit going a few years ago.  I went expecting that we would pray.  Instead, we had special singers, a special speaker, a meal – and yes we did have a couple of people say a short prayer.  The emphasis was more on breakfast than on prayer.

  • What if we called for a prayer breakfast where we spent a few minutes eating a simple breakfast and then actually prayed?

Join me in praying for our schools and our teachers:

Lord, Grant our teachers an abundance of Your wisdom. Prepare their hearts to welcome and love our loved ones, and may we make sure to show them love and respect in return. Give them grace as they help students who aren’t thriving, courage to say what needs to be said, tools and knowledge on how and when to speak love, and strength when they feel weak. When they feel unseen, remind them that no moment goes unnoticed. They are shaping the future in one million small – yet incredibly important – ways every day. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of learning they share with our children. Bless them, Lord, and may they see even just a glimpse of how their faithfulness will forever impact generations to come.

And our children:

Bless our children and keep them safe from physical harm. Protect them from abuse, abduction, child trafficking, and addiction. Guard their hearts from the devil’s schemes, and protect their minds from things that are not appropriate for their eyes to see and their ears to hear. Bless them with hearts of compassion for their fellow students and teachers.  May they be kind on the playground and quiet in the hallways. Protect our children from gossip and bullying. May they know and hear Your voice louder than all the others.  Godly friends are important, and we pray today that You bless our children with those friends. May their friendships be innocent and light, and may the be filled with kindness, understanding, and compassionate consideration for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

Made for Community

Reading the story of creation recently I was struck once again by the one thing that God said was not good.  Each day He created something and then said it was good.  Until the sixth day when he created man.  He stood back, looked at the highlight of all His creation and noted that there was something not good about it.

Man was all alone.  God said:

“It isn’t good for the man to live alone. I need to make a suitable partner for him.”

That verse has been used many times to teach that marriage is designed of God and that a person is somehow incomplete without a spouse.

While I agree God was clearly establishing the marriage relationship, I think it was about much more than that.

God was establishing our need for community – for others.  Not just a spouse but the many other relationships that would grow from this unit of man and woman.

  • children
  • aunts/uncles
  • cousins
  • neighbors

In other words, community.

We were designed to need others.

Sometimes living in community can hurt.  We have all had family, friends, co-workers who have hurt us.  After being hurt our natural tendency is to withdraw, to decide to not trust others again.  But when we do that we are living in opposition to the design God has for us.

One trait most Americans highly value is our independence.  Being self-sufficient often is preferred beyond other abilities.  We feel “I don’t need you” or even “I don’t need anybody.”

But is that really true?

God said it was not good that man should be alone.  Again, I think He was talking about more than a marriage.  If that is all it was, then what were His plans for those who do not marry.  Would it then be good that they were alone?

Jesus spoke about building the church.  Almost all of the New Testament is addressed either to a church group or a leader of a church.  It is not a book written for independent relationships.

The writer to Hebrews said:

“…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another….

Today as I met with my small group after morning worship I realized how thankful I am that Jesus established the church.  Moving to a new state where we had no friends, after less than four months I have many new friends.  Where did I meet them?  At church.

Since church is made up of imperfect people I have been hurt by the church.  I have had some terrible experiences with people from church.  But those bad times are far outweighed by the blessings and wonderful relationships the church has given me.

When we live isolated from others, both we and others are poorer.  We lose the benefits of the gifts their friendship could bring us – and we rob them of the benefits our gifts could bring to them.

When I think of this need for community I am reminded of one of my daughters who was afraid to love again after she had experienced a painful hurt.  My first husband had been killed in an accident and my daughters had been the ones to find his body.  It was a horrific experience for them.  When I decided to marry again my daughter told me she would never love the man I was marrying.

Concerned about that statement I asked her why.  She said she liked him, was glad I would be happy again.  She was not against the marriage.  But she was never going to love him because she was never going to allow her heart to be hurt again.  If she loved him, he might die and then where would she be?

I assured her she did not have to love him or anyone else.  If she shut him or others out of her heart she would probably never experience the terrible loss that death brings.  But in the process, she would also shut out all the joy that loving others brings.

Thankfully, she grew to love him and open her heart to love.

Looking back at my life and seeing how much I have moved from place to place I thank God for all the “community” I have experienced and I realize just how much heaven is going to be great when I am reunited with those I have been blessed to call my friends.

Thank God for all those who have filled my life with joy.

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