Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spirit Life



 They came to Him looking for bread, and He said, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."

"What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" they asked.

Be at all the church services? Don't use drums in your worship? Wear polyester? Tithe? Be accountable? Don't touch yeast? Beat yourself with rods until you bleed? Don't cuss? Never dress your children up as princesses and superheroes? Pray six hours of every day? Read ten chapters from the Bible every day? Don't smoke tobacco products? Take a Nazirite vow of no grape products, no fig products, and no haircuts? No bacon from here until eternity?

"This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."

I'm the bread! I'm the Life! I'm the gift of God to you. I've come down from heaven to give life to the world... 

 Then He offended them all. 

"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him."

Pandemonium. That was too much. It is too much, isn't it? We recoil. His disciples complained and argued with each other, confused. 

"Does this offend you? ...It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life."

I believe Jesus wanted them to understand that communion with Him, being filled with Himself, is the only eternal life there is. He is the Life. How do you explain that to material-minded men? They wanted bread. They looked for signs. But what He spoke, they would not hear.

He didn't explain it to those who got offended and left. But to those who stayed, complaining as they were, He tells them "the flesh profits nothing. The Spirit gives life." All our solutions are flesh solutions. But He is Life. When we believe what He says, we are hearing Him in. We eat His flesh by believing Him. Because God is Spirit. Jesus came physically as a man to take our part. But He is eternal. He is Spirit. I think He was saying, "Here I am. You can have Me. I am given for you. You can have every part of Me. I am your provision. I am your bread. Live on Me."  

Ecclesiastes says that He set eternity in the hearts of men. We are created in His image. But sin has slain us. We walk around on this earth as the living dead. The death sentence of sin is on each one of us. Starving. Our spirits withered and terminal. No hope. But Jesus was sent to be our food. To be our drink. To join Himself in all His Life to our dead spirits. And all we have to do is believe.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

O My Soul

Candlelight hamburgers
Many times growing up, we would gather to the table for dinner -- all nine of us -- and we would sing our prayer to the Lord. My mom has a very loud singing voice. I hear it in my mind. I see my family, all my younger siblings, and my mom and my dad around the table singing. Sometimes others were gathered with us -- saints from far away who would stay with us, or friends who just couldn't stay away. Such sweet fellowship around the table: long hours of happy talk and stories of what the Lord had done for others. It had more effect on my faith than years of church services.

Bless the Lord!
O my soul!
And all that is within me!
Bless His holy name!
For He has done great things --
Hallelujah!
He has done great things --
Hallelujah!
He has done great things --
Bless His holy name!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do You Know Why?

"Mama, do you know why God made eggs and toast fo' us?" my three-year-old asked me.

"Why?"

"Betause He loves us!"


"Do you know why Jesus made sour cream fo' us?" he asked me in between licks of the sour cream spoon.

"Why?"

His eyes twinkling, and his face covered in it, he said, "Betause He loves us!"

Friday, October 22, 2010

And Faith Eats, Too.


I've been thinking a lot about Elijah lately. In obedience to the Lord, Elijah gave the king a message: "You're not getting any rain or dew these years unless I say so." (You can read this story for yourself in 1 Kings 17.)

Then the Lord tells him to flee -- sends him to a brook to drink the water and receive charity from birds. Relying on the charity of birds doesn't sound like a responsible plan. And then the brook dried up because there was no rain -- at his word.

When the brook dried up, the Lord told him to go to Sidon (Lebanon). "See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you."

A widow? That pretty much guaranteed poverty and want. But Elijah went and found her. She was gathering sticks. Her son must have been very young, or he would have been gathering the sticks. When he asks her for some bread, she answers with reference to the Lord, the Living God -- and explains that she is making the last meal for herself and her son. They plan to eat it and die. All she had was a handful of flour and a drizzle of oil.

Doesn't that excite you? God chose a woman on the edge of starvation to 'provide' for His prophet. In a way, though, He chose to provide for a woman on the edge of starvation through His prophet. Here's this woman with some knowledge of the Living God, and nothing in the bank, and one pathetic meal's worth of food, and God says she's appointed to provide. The prophet tells her to give him a little first, and that God said her bin of flour would not run out, and her oil would not run dry until the Lord sent rain. And she believed him.

I wonder what would have happened if she had said 'no'. She would have starved, I think -- and her son. But the prophet would have been provided for through some other widow.

I think every time she opened that jar and looked inside, it looked nearly empty. I think every time she went to cook it was an act of faith. And every time she ate, it was food from nothing. The Bible says, "The just shall live by faith." And: "we walk by faith and not by sight."

Sight says to go to the land where His name is known, find the richest, most powerful religious leader in that town, and make your appeal. It does not say to go find a Lebanese widow with NOTHING and ask her to be your hostess.

Sight takes water from cisterns -- planned in advance, filled by careful engineering, and guarded over seasons. And it toils to bring forth a harvest of grain, to grind it, to store it, to ration it, to hoard it.

Faith takes water from the Rock and bread from the desert. Faith reaches into the jar and pours out the 'last' drop of oil, and hands it to someone else. And Faith eats, too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disconnected

I've been baking a lot of bread in my bread machine lately. I was so excited to have another loaf baking tonight. I heard a not-quite-normal sound during the kneading cycle, but neglected to investigate. I opened the machine to take out my bread, and to my dismay found it baked but completely unmixed. I hadn't snapped it into place. The last of my yeast gone. All those ingredients lost. And no bread for tomorrow. The machine works. The pan is just fine. But the connection wasn't there.


"Abide in Me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sick All Along


Over eight years ago I was suffering from an infection whose seriousness I did not recognize. I thought I had a minor problem (misdiagnosed by myself), and watched it as it did not improve. There's a funny thing about watching something bad. When it turns a little worse, you can't tell. You think, Is that worse, or is it the same? And you keep thinking that maybe it's improving. Well, with my misdiagnosed minor problem, which was slightly uncomfortable at the beginning, I lived for several weeks. It began to be an obviously not small problem, but by then I was intimidated by the possible consequences of seeing a doctor. A doctor might tell me it was worse than what I had decided it was. I read in a book that if it was what I was afraid it was, the pain would be excruciating. So I waited longer. Until the pain did become excruciating. Then I called.

He couldn't see me until the next day. When he did see me, he looked worried. He put me on a heavy antibiotic, a narcotic pain killer, and told me to call him if it wasn't obviously improving in twelve hours. And he told me to treat it with heat. I went home and did just that. Part way through the prescribed treatment, I felt an end to my pain, and rejoiced that it was working. I thought the pain killers were making me crazy, so I stopped taking them. I didn't realize I was delirious. When the twelve hours were up, I called and spoke with a nurse, described my condition, and the strange coloration that was now part of it, and was given a hearty, "Sounds like you're getting better!" I never spoke to the doctor.

The next day, my problem exploded. Literally. On the phone with a doctor (but not mine), I was told to bandage it, and that it was an improvement. I didn't want to sit in an ER on a Saturday night with a newborn, so I was glad to not have it looked at. The bandages kept sticking to the wound, and pulling skin off whenever I changed them. My husband looked at it on Monday morning and insisted I call my doctor and have it looked at, because it wasn't right. Something was wrong. I wanted to go see our friends, and wasn't happy to listen to him.

The doctor, when he had finished ripping the bandages off, grew very pale. His eyes looked huge. He said in an obviously trying-to-keep-calm voice, "I'm going to call my friend Dr. A over at the hospital and have her take a look at you." I just wanted an ointment that would keep my bandages from sticking. I wanted to go to lunch. I was still delirious, and my thoughts weren't connecting coherently.

I said, "I just don't want this to be gangrene."

"Technically, that's what that is," he said. He sent me to the hospital with a hug. His eyes looked afraid.

At the hospital, the triage nurse and the ultrasound tech stood with their mouths hanging open, speechless. "How did this happen to you?" one of them finally asked.

I felt stupid. "I don't know. I thought..." I thought it was okay. I didn't know I needed help.

They called the specialist down, and she was fast. She looked at the problem, watched the ultrasound, and said, "We need to take you upstairs now." In a whirlwind, they were lifting me onto a gurney, explaining a surgical procedure I was adverse to, and shoving release forms in front of me to sign.

"I can walk. I'm fine. I want you to do it under local -- I don't want you to give me anything that'll hurt my baby. He's breastfeeding. He won't take a bottle."

The doctor was firm but kind. "We're not doing this under a local. And you can't walk."

In the prep room for surgery, a nurse lifted the blanket to tuck a warm one around me and saw I was still in street clothes. She yanked off my pants. Another lady from anesthesia talked cheerfully with me. She injected me with something. "What is that for?" I asked.

"To help you relax."

Oh. They wheeled me into the operating room, asked me to sit up, look straight up at the big light, and open my mouth as wide as I could. Under the influence of my 'relaxation', I did just what they asked, wondering all along, I wonder why they want me to do that?

When I woke up, I had a gaping wound. Cavern, really. And oh, the relief. It felt a hundred times better. My husband had to be trained to pack the wound, and he had to continue doing it for over three months. It was an ordeal.

Years later, I was pondering the words of Jesus to the Pharisees. He was eating with some tax collectors and other unsavory characters, and the Pharisees were bothered. "Why does He eat with such people?" they asked.

Jesus heard them and answered, "People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick."

Jesus, our Great Physician, is found among the sick. In the past, I always thought the tax collectors were the 'sick', and the Pharisees in the story were the 'well'. But thinking on His words, I remembered my condition when I had an infection that I didn't think was an infection, and when it deteriorated to gangrene, and the pain grew significantly less, and so I delayed seeing my doctor again. I was sick all along. But I didn't think I was sick. I didn't think my condition was serious enough to need a doctor. So I didn't call.

Those Pharisees were sick. In another place, Jesus said they were blind. They needed the doctor, too. But they wouldn't call.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In the Tombs

A cliff on the Sea of Galilee

My husband was reading to me and our children about a week ago from Luke 8:26-39.

It says in the story that when Jesus stepped out of the boat, a demon-possessed man met Him. "And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs." This man was so bad that he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demons into the wilderness. The passage in Mark 5 gives the additional information that always, night and day, he was in the mountains crying out and cutting himself with stones. And it says he saw Jesus from afar and ran and worshiped Him.

As I listened to this story which I have heard so many times, a question came to me: What do you think this man's biggest problem was? Was his biggest problem being naked? I mean, the inappropriateness of it! Look away, Christian. You don't want to be corrupted by his nakedness. In fact, maybe it would be best, Jesus, if you don't go to the Gadarenes. There's a man over there who hangs out completely naked. What will people think if You are seen with him? You're the Son of God. Consider how it will look.

Was his biggest problem that he was homeless? That he was obsessed with the dead? Was it that he was not hygienic? He was probably covered in infected bloody wounds. He needed everything. He lacked modesty -- even a basic sense of decency. He didn't have a job, because he was too busy cutting himself and screaming. He lacked friends. No one wants to remain with a person so socially retarded. But none of these things were his biggest problem. His biggest problem was not external. It wasn't the nudity, the homelessness, or the medical conditions.

He was full of demons.

And Jesus, our Hero, our Savior, came looking for him. Looking for the naked man. Looking for the homeless man. The one who stumbled over mountains screaming and gashing himself, and didn't go to synagogue. The one who couldn't be bound with the chains of society's guardians. That miserable man who was tormented by entities who hated him -- who wanted him bleeding and screaming out in pain and homeless and naked -- cold in the winter and blistered in the sun, bitten by every insect, driven to destroy himself. Maybe he did have a basic sense of decency. Maybe that was part of the torment. Maybe he was humiliated by his horrible condition. But he couldn't escape them.

I think it's interesting that seeing Jesus from afar, he ran to worship Him. I think the man was desperate. But it's strange that he begged Jesus not to torment him. Was it the demon begging, or the man? Was the man aware of his own horrific guilt? Or was the demon aware that God values His creation, and doesn't look kindly on those who torment them? If the man, especially strange. We do get twisted ideas from the enemy about what God's plans are for us. "Don't torment me!"

When the town came to see the economic damage caused by the demons (a far greater tragedy in their minds than this poor man's long suffering at their hands), it says they found him sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. They had tried many times to bind him with chains that would control his offensive behavior. But Jesus cleaned up the real problem. He set him free from the terror and slavery of his life. And there the man was, at peace, at rest, coherent, and clothed. Oh, I love Jesus. He is not one to put band aids on gangrene. He fixes us from the inside out. Demons first. Clothes later.

Jesus said to the man when he begged to stay with Him, "Go home to your friends and tell them what great things God has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you." God's compassion on him was not another chain. And in the freedom he was given, his one desire was to follow Jesus. To stay with Jesus. Can't say I blame him.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Good News?

A friend of mine recently shared a quote from Martin Luther: 

"It is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel." 

I keep thinking about it. 

'Gospel' means 'good news'. And isn't the gospel the best news you ever heard? God loves you! He loves you so much He sent His Son for you. He sent His Son to die so you could live. He paid the price. He opened heaven to you, although you were entirely steeped in sin -- and He is holy. He made a way to have fellowship with you, although your sins separated you from Him. He comes to dwell here in this fallen place, to inhabit our bodies, which were previously temples to sin. He promises help and hope and love and companionship and eternity to us. 

The law is not the way to heaven. The law is the way to hell. 

Because we can't keep it. We can't be holy. We can't be acceptable to Him. But His Son, who is accepted, was willing to trade places with us, and clothe us in Himself. We are accepted in the Beloved, in His Son, with Whom He is well pleased. Do you understand that? In Him, we are well pleasing to God. He is satisfied looking at us in His Son. And His Holy Spirit comes to make a home with us, in us, to bring us into our inheritance.  

And the enemy of our souls makes it a law. An abomination of striving miserable service. A 'you have to do this now because you're saved'. A driven list of musts and mustn'ts. 

Although the Scripture says if you walk by the Spirit you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, the enemy says we can't trust the Holy Spirit to lead us away from sin. We need some laws. And if we listen to him, he'll lead us right out of the Spirit's leading into a straightjacket of our own contriving which can neither keep us holy nor bring forth fruit.

Do you know that what God has for you is GOOD NEWS? He gives rest to our souls by means of His easy yoke. He wants to fellowship with you. He doesn't come with 12 steps to holiness. He comes with His Son and an offer to exchange your unrighteousness with His holiness. And by the same Spirit He makes us alive in, He wants to keep us alive. 



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Educating Faith

"It came to pass... that the brook dried up." (1Kings 17:7)


"The education of our faith is incomplete if we have not learned that there is a providence of loss, a ministry of failing and of fading things, a gift of emptiness. The material insecurities of life make for its spiritual establishment...

"Cherith was a difficult problem to Elijah until he got to Zarephath, and then it was all as clear as daylight... The woe and the waste and the tears of life belong to the interlude and not the finale.

"Had Elijah been led straight to Zarephath he would have missed something that helped to make him a wiser prophet and a better man. He lived by faith at Cherith. And whensoever in your life and mine some spring of earthly and outward resource has dried up, it has been that we might learn that our hope and help are in God who made heaven and earth."  (F.B. Meyer)

(From Streams in the Desert)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Horse Handling

I was not raised on a farm. I visited one yesterday. My friend wanted to show us her horse performing a figure eight pattern. I went along in utter ignorance. I was handed the guide rope for a pony and told to shake the rope if the pony invaded my space, and not to let her get too close to me. Getting the pony and the other two horses into their stalls in the barn was fairly uneventful. But the beautiful horse which was to demonstrate her abilities for us was 'feeling her oats', as my husband would say.

My friend led her out, and the horse kept wildly trying to do her own thing, breaking out into a short run here and there, and crowding her handler. I kept thinking about that passage in the Psalms which says (in my personal paraphrase), "Do not be like the horse or the mule which has to be controlled with bit and bridle. I would have you respond to my eye." Because the horse was so headstrong, my friend forced her to do boring stuff. Go left. Go right. Go left. Go right. Back up. Walk forward. Circle around. She said she could not have the horse do the figure eight until the horse calmed down and followed her lead. She watched the horse for 'softness' -- a responsiveness to what she asked of her. No rebellion in the holding of the head, no stopping when she said 'go'.

Even in the horse's 'bad' behavior, my friend would say, "She is so smart." As the horse responded without willfulness, my friend added other steps. Even as she exclaimed over the 'naughtiness' of this horse, she would express her love and admiration for this horse to us -- her expectation of future greatness. She wanted to show her off, but the horse wasn't cooperating yet. She would say, "I love this horse. She's so beautiful. When she's trained, she'll be amazing. I'll be able to put kids on her." You could hear the admiring affection in her voice, even as she forced the horse to do what it didn't want to do, and to not do what it did want to do.

It struck me that the horse's master had better things in mind for it than the things the horse was being made to submit to in that moment. She made the horse walk backwards to the barn, and the other experienced farmwoman who was walking with me made a comment about how calm she became. My friend said, "I've found that walking her backwards puts her in a better frame of mind." Do you ever find yourself being walked backward to put you in a better frame of mind? Go left. Go right. Go left. Go right. Circle around. She makes the horses do things they aren't comfortable with. Like be in confined spaces. They make better horses if they've conquered their fears, I guess.

As the farmwoman and I watched our friend work the horse, I asked her, "Do they ever get so good that they don't need the rope?" The farmwoman sparked up a little. "Yes. But I think it's very advanced. This one is too young for that. But they can be trained to respond to movement and signals. They're very visual."

When we went into the barn, my two friends were discussing the personalities of their horses, and what kind of training was good for which kind of horse. I didn't realize each one needed something different. There were charts on the wall laying out horse personalities, and what kind of training would bring each kind to obedience. I skimmed over the chart, and noticed among them a 'distrustful' trait. It said to be gentle with that horse.

My Father is gentle with me. He handles me with such care and skill. And ultimately, He's got a future far in advance of what I can see in mind. And His affection for me and value of me is far more than I have yet attained. He sees what I can be -- what I will be -- in His care.

One more thing: the farmwoman told me this was a horse born to breed. But it was born with some kind of deformity. Something to do with its legs not being straight. The original owner was going to kill it. It was a horse rescued from death, and cared for in love. And it was a horse whose legs were now fine. It was beautiful.
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