Monday, May 28, 2012

Chosen by God

If you ever doubt God’s love for you, read this passage. It’s so soul-satisfying, it seems redundant to comment on it. But I’m going to anyway.

When Wayne asked me to marry him, I was ecstatic and so in love. He loved me and had chosen me. For weeks I sang a Carpenters’ song that expressed how I felt. 

     I’m on the top of the world, lookin’ down on creation
     And the only explanation I can find
     Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around
     Your love’s put me at the top of the world.
          (by John Bettis and Kerry Chater)

The joy of being chosen by someone who loves you is incomparable. 

So let’s burst out in song and dance on the rooftop, because God has chosen us. We are His very own possession. 

Now let’s ask what He wants to do with His very own possession. He called us out of darkness into light and now that we can see we can show others His goodness. When I was a child I was taught that a prophet speaks to the people for God. A priest represents the people to God, or speaks to God for the people. Well, we’re a whole nation of royal priests. We’re not like the people who don’t obey God because we have received mercy.

But we minister before God on behalf of the people. That’s Christianese for loving my neighbor more than myself. It means being aware of the people around me and putting them first. I do that by praying for them, serving them and loving them.

Our purpose, as God’s chosen people, is to be witnesses to God’s goodness. We do that by being careful how we live. First we stay away from worldly desires. That means we live differently than our neighbors. We don’t embrace the things they love, because we belong to God, not to the world. In fact, the things of the world wage war against our souls – the very things that belongs to God. So we need to keep our focus on Him and what pleases Him.

Secondly, we need to live properly among our neighbors. I see two things here. How we live and where we live. Living properly is defined by the One who owns us, not by the ones around us. So we need to know what pleases Him and do that. But we need to do that living among our neighbors, even though we’re foreigners in this world. We can’t withdraw from the world’s citizens; we want them to see God’s goodness in the way we live. We may not see them praise God now, but in the end they will and our honorable behavior will contribute to that.

Imagine. God not only chose us, but He’s allowing us to bring honor to His name. Let’s sing and dance again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It’s About Jesus

 Recently I have found myself in disagreement with some friends about interpretation of scripture. This is something I have to be very careful about because I love being right. After a lifetime of reading the Bible, and sometimes actually studying it, I’m pretty vocal with my opinions. So this disagreement has given God an opportunity to remind me that I’m not the expert - He is. 

I’ve had to dig into the Word to see what it really says about the issues we’re disagreeing about. I’ve had to look up verses to read them in context and I’ve had to research what others have written. I’ve also been reminded that even orthodox teachings must be supported by a correct interpretation of scripture.

This has been good for me and I look forward to how God will continue to work out the disagreements with my friends. But these two verses are a reminder that while disagreements about doctrine must be resolved, we have to do it as the citizens of heaven my friends and I are. 

Above all, we must conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the good news about Christ. We must stand together with one purpose and one spirit. Our purpose is to fight together for the faith and to worship God forever.

Studying the Bible is important to our growth as Christians, and getting it right is necessary to protect the faith. In our discussions, I think my friends and I are fighting for the faith. But Paul says the faith is the Good News. We can’t get so bogged down in points of doctrine that we forget the core truth. 

The Good News is about Jesus. 

The faith is about Jesus.

Above all, we must remember that we were saved by Jesus; we are His children.

The only reason the scriptures and how we interpret them matter is because they are about Jesus.
My prayer is that the Spirit of God will help my friends and me to remember we share the Good News about Jesus.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Gently and Respectfully

I used to work in an office that had a diverse staff. I was one of the few Christians on staff. One year, when I was on vacation, a new coworker was hired. She was Muslim and had what she called a progressive viewpoint. While I was out, she began to hear stories about the born again Christian who sat at the desk next to hers. When we got to know each other, she told me that she had been very concerned about working with a bigot. Thanks to God, my life was a witness to His goodness, not to the negative stereotypes many people have of Christians. I wish I could say I was an instrument in her salvation, but although she hasn’t come to know the Lord, she has learned to respect the Christian faith.

In that relationship, it was gratifying to know that she didn’t speak against me because of the good life I lived for Christ. But that isn’t always the case. And many Christians have suffered deeply – even died - for the faith.

I have been mocked or ignored because I was living for Christ. I suppose that is suffering of a sort, but I’m afraid I’ve usually brought it on myself by the way I reacted to the non-Christians I worked with. Peter says to defend the faith gently and respectfully; not one of my strengths.

This passage is like a sandwich. In between two sections about suffering for the faith, it gives instructions about how to share the gospel. The center of this sandwich is compassion. I recently learned the roots of the word compassion. The prefix “com” means “with” and “passion” comes from the Latin “passus” which means to suffer. So to be compassionate means to suffer with someone.

I should be ready to give a reason for my Christian hope. But I should do it because the people I’m talking to need hope, not because I disagree with their viewpoint. As a follower of Christ I have opinions and beliefs that are counter to the world. But I have to speak about the hope I’ve found in Christ – not about the sin of others. When I do speak, I must do it gently and respectfully with a clear conscience. I need to know that I haven’t slandered, gossiped, attacked or threatened. I need to know I’ve represented Jesus.

My hope is that even though I am a sinner, I have been reconciled to God and can stand in His presence. My hope is that I am forgiven and walk in fellowship with Him. My response to the world’s wrong ideas should be that they too can be reconciled.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Study War No More

Close your eyes, pretend it’s snowing, and think about Christmas for a minute. (Okay, I know you don’t need snow for that – after all, I live in South Carolina.) Anyway, now think about shepherds on the hillside, listening in awe to the angels singing about peace on earth. It’s a wonderful message, but we all know they didn’t mean that moment was the end of war.

To borrow a cliché, war is ugly. Recently Wayne and I visited Fort Sumter in Charleston. We saw the big metal guns and the thick walls. We toured the museum where we were walked through the battles for control of the fort during the Civil War. We heard statistics about injuries and deaths. But the most powerful lesson was the American flag which had flown over the fort. It was spread out for us to see with frayed edges and numerous bullet holes. The day before, we had visited a plantation and walked down the slave street where we heard a story teller describe the oppressive life of slavery. I had no doubt the Civil war was necessary. But that doesn’t diminish the horror of it.

On a more hopeful note, this scripture promises that in the end, God will bring peace.

He’ll mediate between nations. There will be no more war.

Weapons will be turned into farm tools. People will enjoy their own vineyards and fig trees without fear. They’ll live everyday lives without conflict and they’ll be happy.

The mountain where He dwells will be higher than all the others; the most important place on earth. People from everywhere will stream there to worship Him and learn His ways and they will walk in His paths.

In the meantime, we can follow Him with that hope, even though the nations around us follow idols.

Monday, May 14, 2012

His Holy Name

I hear a lot about motivation at Weight Watchers meetings. Of course, the purpose of the meetings is to motivate and encourage us to stay with the program for the long haul. Right now I’m motivated by a new toy they call e-tools. I can go on-line to track what I eat, look up the points values of foods and even check out restaurants. My favorite is an app for my smart phone that lets me scan the barcode on food items to get their points value.

But the need for motivation isn’t limited to the way we eat. I dearly wish I could motivate my students to work harder. Last semester I had to fail three students who dropped the ball at the end. They didn’t show up to give their final speeches. I have some students who say I motivate them with my enthusiasm and understanding, but I haven’t figured out how to reach everyone. Another area where I see motivation at play is in the volunteer activities at church. I just chaired a committee of fantastic women who planned a mother/daughter banquet. They were so motivated to do it right, that they got things done with joy. I’ve never worked with a more dedicated group.

In truth, motivation makes the difference in how we do everything.

But this passage is about what motivates God. He didn’t act to bring His people home because they deserved it. On the contrary, they had brought shame to His name. His name is holy and His actions were motivated by His desire to protect it. He brought the Israelites back to their land because He knew that would show all the nations that He is the Lord.

Knowing this about God should change my motivations. God’s name is so holy that He protects it by doing good things for people who don’t deserve them. Israel’s actions shamed God’s name. So I can be like them and not worry about how I affect His reputation or I can be like God and do whatever it takes to reflect His holy name, even if it means treating others better than they deserve.

There are lots of things that motivate me, but none should take higher priority than protecting God’s holy name.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sunday School Stories

Sometimes I praise God for who He is. This Psalm tells me to praise Him for what He’s done. Usually, that means I start listing the blessings He’s poured out on me and my family. I remember the times He faithfully kept His promises. I can pray with Daniel:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.”  Daniel 9:4

It also means singing His praises:

“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation,
Oh my soul praise Him for He is thy health and salvation.
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near.
Praise Him in glad adoration.” (Joachim Neander)

But when I read the entire Psalm, it gives me a new perspective on remembering what God has done. I’ll explain in a minute, but why don’t you go ahead and read the whole Psalm now. I’ll wait.

Did it sound like a Sunday School lesson? Do you remember Joseph and his coat of many colors? How about Jacob and the ladder with angels walking up and down it? Can you still name all ten plagues? What about the time Moses hit the rock and water came pouring out? 

God’s miracles aren’t always personal. God’s miracles aren’t always about me. But they are, of course, still worthy of praise. When the Psalmist says to tell everyone about His wonderful deeds, I have a much bigger story to tell than just what I’ve experienced.

God looked at the fallen world in pity and chose a man to start His plan to save us from our destruction. Through Abraham He created a whole race and gave them their own land. He protected them from enemy kings and prepared a place in Egypt to save them from famine. He brought them out of slavery loaded with silver and gold. He gave them water in the wilderness and then gave them the crops of pagan nations. 

As members of the New Covenant, we know that all God’s actions in the Old Covenant were intended to prepare the way for Jesus. But I tend to read it as history, and often forget that God always acted with that purpose in mind. I forget that it’s all part of God’s plan of salvation.

This time, when I respond to the call to praise God, I’m going to praise Him for what He did for Israel. The old Sunday School stories are reminders to praise God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Ruth, Esther and Isaiah. They’re not just people in stories. They’re people who experienced God’s love and miracles. They’re all part of the plan of salvation.

They are evidence that He is indeed worthy of praise.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Worth Celebrating

Ten years ago, it looked like my son had no future. He lay in a hospital bed in a coma, having suffered a stroke. If he recovered there was the possibility of brain damage and he would face a battle against leukemia. Although that week was the worst of my life, in one way it was the best. I was closer to God than I had ever been or have been since. I learned what it truly means to pray without ceasing as I poured my heart out to Him. 

Like the Psalmist, my soul found rest in God alone. He was my fortress and I wasn’t shaken. Even though my heart was broken, I could honestly tell a friend, “It is well with my soul.”

I also clung to the promise in Romans 8:32 that God, who had given me His son, would also give me all things. I’m still in awe of the loving God who gave me His Son and then gave me back mine. On Mother’s Day, the doctors said there was no more hope. That afternoon, our church elders anointed him with oil and prayed for him. The next day, Neal woke up. He slowly recovered from the stroke and survived two bone marrow transplants. Today, he’s in complete remission, a college graduate, a writer and a loving husband. He’s a living reminder that God is powerful and God is loving.

Ten years is a milestone worth celebrating.
Ten years of hope. 
Ten years of mercy. 
Ten years of love and life and joy. 
Ten years of resting in God’s strength and unfailing love.

Celebrate with me.

Monday, May 7, 2012


The rapture didn’t happen on May 21 and I don’t think it’s going to happen when the Mayan calendar ends, either. But Jesus does want us to look forward to His return. And here are some instructions for how to wait.

Wait patiently like the farmer who waits for his harvest. The farmer knows it takes a certain amount of time and that he can’t change that. But he doesn’t just sit back and do nothing. He waters and weeds and feeds.

Don’t grumble about your brothers and sisters. If you need extra motivation to be nice, remember Jesus is coming soon.

Consider the prophets if you need an example of people who were patient while they suffered. If you’re really impatient, study Job. He sat on his ash heap and didn’t curse God. God was kind to him in the end. He knew God is full of tenderness and mercy.

If I need more encouragement to be patient in suffering, I just need to consider some people I know. Two people who have the gift of suffering are a great inspiration in this area. My son was in the hospital for a total of 12 months in two years. His attitude was, “just do what you have to do to make me better.” He knew God would heal him eventually. I have a friend who went through a long series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But her attitude is full of praise. What she’s gone through is awful, but she knows God will bring her to the end in His time. Now He's guiding her to use her suffering to encourage others.

The last instruction is, don’t take an oath. Just say a simple yes or no. It goes back to making plans without checking them with God. Don’t pin myself down because He may have something else in mind.

This passage is kind of a summary of the other lessons in James. Don’t criticize. Be loving. Don’t be prideful when I make plans.

Be patient. Jesus is coming back soon.

Friday, May 4, 2012

For Those Not Yet Born

I’m fortunate to have some relatives who have researched our genealogies. I also have copies of letters written by several of my ancestors. The record of their lives includes their faith and I’m blessed when I read it. I like knowing who my ancestors were and how they served the Lord. But I seldom think about future generations of my family. I’m grateful that my children know God and my grandchildren are being raised to know Him too. But this psalm is for my great-grandchildren and their children . . . 

God looked down from Heaven and saw a world full of prisoners condemned to die. He came to free them from their bondage and all the nations will praise Him. The Gospel summarized in two verses.

Thousands of years ago, the message of salvation was recorded for future generations. I was one of those not yet born. But the chain continues and there are many more to come.

As a writer, I can’t help reading this Psalm as not only a message of hope, but also as an admonition. 

Write a message for those not yet born. 

My writing is not just a pastime. It’s not just a passion. It’s not even just a service to God. My writing is a record for my great-grandchildren. 

Just as my ancestors recorded their salvation for me, I should write about my salvation. That doesn’t mean that everything I write has to include a salvation message. It doesn’t even have to have an explicit Christian message. But everything I write must rest on my salvation. God saw my bondage and sent Jesus to free me. I stand with all the generations and nations to praise Him for it. The joy of that freedom should shine through in everything I write.

I want to help those not yet born to praise the Lord.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Always Giving Thanks

I never jumped on the WWJD bandwagon. It’s a good quick reminder that I should try to please God in everything, but I think it’s too pat. If we think through its implications, we might not be so quick to proclaim it. Long before the acronym became popular, I read a book by Charles M. Sheldon called In His Steps. In it, a group of Christians decided to ask “What would Jesus do?” before doing anything. They agreed to live this way for a whole year. I actually don’t remember a lot of the book, but I thought the concept was crippling. If I remember right, the characters encountered unexpected and difficult situations. I was quite young when I read it and didn’t have the spiritual maturity to see the good in that.

But even now, I’m not sure the scriptures teach us to ask that question quite so literally. Philippians 2:5 tell us to have His attitude and then Paul goes on to describe His humility and self-sacrifice. Ephesians 5:1-2 agrees, telling us to imitate God in everything we do. If I have the same attitude that Jesus had, I will imitate Him in my actions. But that's copying what He did, not guessing what He would do.

So maybe a better question would be: What would Jesus have me do?

The Colossians passage makes it clear that everything I do reflects my attitude. As an imitator of God, I represent Him. My attitude should not only be loving and self-sacrificing, it should also be thankful.

So how do I apply this to my daily activities? What I do or say during my day depends on my calendar. When I have class, I lecture about communication, specifically communicating orally. When I’m at a Bible study, I talk about the lesson and the Bible. At Weight Watcher meetings, I talk about food and healthy eating. Other things I do, in no particular order, are: Sleep, eat, read, play games, write, watch TV, feed the cat, talk to my family, pray, clean my house, garden, grade speeches, run errands, bake cookies, attend Church, pay bills, exercise, cook dinner, babysit, prepare my Sunday School lesson.

And in all these things, I am representing Christ. 

I need to always be conscious of that. How? By giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus. A thankful heart underlies living for Him. Instead of focusing on what action I should take, I want to ask God to give me a thankful heart.

I need a bracelet that say AGTTGTJ. 

Always Giving Thanks to God Through Jesus.