Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unlikely beauty

3:14 p.m. Today's project was to take a rejuvenating day from a busy start of the week. Steve and I went on a number of errands-- bank, post office, bookstore to spend my Valentines gift card, and then massive coupon shopping at Vons after a yummy lunch at their deli. For me, running errands is relaxing, and it's nice for the two of us to get out as a couple. There's a sweet freedom to unstructured activity. And I treasure the time we spend together!

Last night, our Heart to Home ministry, which meets at the same time as Steve's Men's Bible study, presented a jewelry making class that was very well attended. I opened the class with prayer and a brief devotional message, and then joined my Piecemaker friends across the hall for our weekly "stitch-n-gab." At the end of the class, the attendees had made lovely earrings, and were excited to make necklaces next week. How wonderful that we can join in a creative partnership with our Lord to craft objects of beauty!

Yesterday morning, I met Heidi and Pavel at the lovely location they have chosen for their 2011 wedding. We sat with the wedding coordinator and toured the spectacular grounds. I made copious notes in my binder--always the Binder Queen!--and Heidi put down their deposit. I am so glad they have plenty of time to plan, save up their money, and that we can take our time sorting through the vendors for the best prices and value. During the leisurely stroll Pavel led us on, I snapped the photo above of a creature not particularly known for its beauty, but in his lily pad setting, even a bullfrog becomes a looker! Again, a creative partnership with the Lord: He creates, and I merely document His handiwork. "The earth is the LORD's, and all its fulness," Psalm 24:1 says.
There is One, however, whom believers see as the most beautiful, marvelous Person who ever lived, and no one can compare to Him: that is our Lord Jesus Christ! His Name is a fragrant "ointment poured forth" to us (Song of Solomon 1:3); He calls Himself, in Revelation 22:16b, "the Bright and Morning Star;" countless portaits through the centuries portray Jesus with a strikingly handsome face. But when God sent His Son in "the likeness of sinful men," as Romans 8:3 puts it, He was actually quite unremarkable physically. Judas had to kiss Him on the cheek, we are told in Matthew 26:48, so those sent to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane would recognize Him!
However, it is the prophet Isaiah who gives us a most detailed description of Jesus as He performed the most loving act in all of history. Read Isaiah 53:2b, NKJV: "He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." The NLT words it, "There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him." Yet the love He showed, the anointed clarity with which He presented the principles of the Kingdom of God, and His miraculous mercy to the hurting and the lost, drew people by the thousands to Him as He walked this earth.
And I can testify that He has the same effect today, for Romans 2:4 says that it was the goodness of God that led me to repentance. Thank you, Lord Jesus!
Tomorrow: a portrait of the suffering Savior.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the day that I make them My jewels

4:32 p.m. Today's project is to dwell on the fact that God is so tender and loving toward those who love Him, because, as 2 Timothy 2:19 says, "The Lord knows those who are His."

In yesterday's post, we looked at scriptures concerning gold, silver, and precious jewels, and how the highest of human qualities, wisdom, is even more valuable to Him. Proverbs 31:10(NLT) says that "a virtuous and capable wife is more precious than rubies." Proverbs 3:14-15 says of wisdom, "Her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain tham fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all things you may desire cannot compare with her."

So if we would value what God values, pray for wisdom for both immediate choices and upcoming decisions. The seeker of wisdom is assured by James 1:5 that God "gives (wisdom) to all liberally and without reproach..."

Did you know that God considers us His jewels? Listen to this passage in Malachi 3:16-17 about God's Book of Remembrance:

Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name.Align Left
Doesn't it humble and amaze you that the Lord is listening in on our fellowship, our speaking of Him to one another, and loves it so much that He keeps a book of remembrance, a scrapbook, if you will?! Verse 17:
"They shall be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him." Then shall you again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve Him.
Yet, as we approach Good Friday, the day of Christ's death on the cross, we know that God did not spare His only begotten Son, but gave Him to die for us, for all mankind, to make it possible for sinners to come to Him for forgiveness of sin, freedom from fiery punishment, and full sonship to our Heavenly Father! (Galatians 4:7)
Christians do not belong to an exclusive club! Revelation 22:17b, the last invitation given to come to Christ for eternal life, says, (KJV) "Let him who thirsts come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. " Anyone at all, come to Christ, I implore you! Send me a comment and I will pray with you, any time!!
Only Christ can satisfy all that you are thirsting for in this life, and all you need for life everlasting!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Creative partnership

5:31 p.m. Today's project is to prepare a brief devotional for our second Heart to Home session, Lisa Martinez' "Class-y Jewelry." She will have a nice group of about seven, who will create beautiful necklaces and matching earrings in two consecutive meetings. The class begins tomorrow night.

I will be opening each weekly class with a brief devotional, because I believe that God has called me to lead this ministry by inspiration of the Word of God. Heart to Home is a part of our women's ministry, based on Titus 2:3-5, that the older women "be teachers of good things," admonishing the younger women to be women of God. Even though our weekly format will look different from the past large annual event, our mission is the same!

Praying and pondering about Lisa's class, I thought about jewels and jewelry in scripture. In Genesis 24:53, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a bride for Isaac, and when Rebekah appeared in exact response to his prayer, he sent her to her father with "jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold," denoting the wealth of his master and his son.

In Exodus 3:21-22, God told Moses: "I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver and articles of gold...thus shall you plunder the Egyptians." Later, skilled craftsmen fashioned the wealth of Egypt into articles for the taberbacle in the wilderness, which the people offered so willingly that there was much more than could be used! The gold and silver of a pagan nation at enmity with God, ended up as sacred objects for the worship of God!

Every element found on earth, from grains of sand to diamonds and rubies, was created by God, and He delights in sharing His creation with us to use for His glory! All skills and abilities come from Him as well--we have only to prayerfully study and learn what we have been gifted for. Let the Holy Spirit show you what He would have you do to bless others! God "has given us all things richly to enjoy," I Timothy 6:17 says, and the satisfaction we receive from participating with God in creating beautiful and useful things is one of life's deepest pleasures.

Jewels are written of as highly prized and comparable to the highest of human qualities in scripture. Proverbs 20:15 says, "There is gold and a multitude of rubies" (ironically, as if they were plentiful and common), "but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel." And Proverbs 24:3-4, the theme of our first Heart to Home event six years ago, says, "Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established. By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches."

Knowledge and wisdom, wisdom and knowledge! How frequently believers are admonished to gain and possess these bejeweled qualities. "Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom," Proverbs 4:7 says.

According to Psalm 11:10 what is wisdom? "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom."

Wisdom--the learning that draws righteous and right conclusions from experience is, according to scripture, the crown jewel of human character-- character founded in knowing who God is!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passion Week

8:17 p.m. Today's project is to consider the last week of Jesus' earthly life, beginning with cries of "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" and ending with cries of "Crucify Him!" spoken by the very same people. (Luke 19:38a, John 19:6) Yet Jesus, while accepting and acknowledging the rightful praise of the people, did not bask in it for long. He later wept, agonizing over Jerusalem, knowing that the city would be utterly destroyed. The reason? "because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:44) The Jews did not recognize their Messiah and as He well knew, would be complicit, along with the Gentile Romans, in His death within a week.

Fickle, foolish, fatally flawed human beings--just like us! Our generation has had the benefit of the written record of Jesus, from His virgin birth to His miraculous earthly ministry, to His glorious resurrection from the tomb, for over 2,000 years. This historical record is known as the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel means, "good news." Jesus came to earth to live among people, ultimately to die for our sins, taking our place on the cross, that we might live forever forgiven, and be fit to live in the presence of God for eternity.

The most important figure in history brought the most important news with Him--fickle, foolish and fatally flawed people like you and me can have our sins forgiven, be right with God, and saved from damnation in hell! Romans 10: 9 tells us, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." And that means anybody! Romans 10:13 then adds, "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."

Yet we see hesitation, fear, and outright refusal to come to Christ, repent of sins, and be forgiven, born again, in so many of our friends and family members! Despite the written record of the Bible, where Jesus' coming is prophesied from Genesis to Malachi in the Old Testament; the vivid depiction of our Savior's life and teaching in the gospels; and the witness and instruction so abundantly provided for us in the Acts of the Apostles and the letters from those apostles; and the terrifying last days' warnings of Revelation, we experience struggle and rejection as we continue to invite our loved ones to be saved.

Be encouraged, believer! Continue to pray for that opening or event that the Holy Spirit will use to open the eyes of the one you are crying out to God for! 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

God was certainly longsuffering to me! At age 28, living in sin, doing just fine, thank you very much, I had absolutely no intention of getting saved when I went forward at an altar call! But I am sure that my parents had been praying for me and believers I was barely aware of, were praying, too.

As we go toward Easter Sunday, the most heavily attended church service of the year, by believers and unbelievers alike (if for no other reason than tradition), think of the one who invited you to church or to a crusade, thank them, pray for them, and in obedience to Jesus, "go and do likewise."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Double, double, toil and trouble

3:45 p.m. Today's project was to take my grandson Xavier to Long Beach to see a community theater production of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Steve and I were invited by my daughter-in-law Marisela and our son Kriss. Since I wouldn't be comfortable leaving Adrian and Xavier alone while we're so far away, and Xavier loves to act in school plays, Steve will stay behind with Adrian. It's a nice outing for me, too. As an English literature major, I've read all of Shakespeare with great enjoyment, many more times than once!

The scene where three witches stir their cauldron and chant, "Double, double, toil and trouble," makes me think of a truth of scripture, Job 14:1: "Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."

We can all vouch for the myriad troubles that plague us: errant children, bodily aches and pains--not limited to arthritic middle-aged folk, because our Marisela is suffering from a bad toothache as I write this--financial worries, career demands, an uncertain economy, feelings of insecurity, fear, or loneliness. We are human, limited to relatively few years, not one of them characterized by 365 days of sunshine and peace!

In the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are murdering conspirators who face inevitable destruction--that's what you get for fooling around with witches and demonic forces! Plays and novels tend to wrap up with criminal usurpers punished and neat, morally satisfactory endings. The Bard's plot twists and ironies make him the greatest writer in the English language. Good triumphs over evil every time, framed in magnificent verse!

Our lives' plots don't always wrap up so neatly or within two and one-half hours, do they? I have prayed for the salvation of loved ones for years, sharing Christ continuously, with no evidence of interest on their part. A preschooler is murdered in gang crossfire through a window in his own home. A once-adorable grandson steals his grandpa's rifles, commits a series of crimes, and goes to prison. A most wonderful couple cannot have children, despite years of treatments. Alzheimers has instutionalized my brother-in-law, and robs my husband of mental ability daily. Why, Lord? Why aren't the godly and innocent rewarded and the wicked punished right now?

Our viewpoint is so limited, while God's viewpoint is infinite. " 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.' " (Isaiah 55:8-9) Sometimes I think, "Why do we even have free will? Wouldn't it be better if we couldn't act on our selfish desires? God could have had all men follow Him!"

God in his wisdom gave us the choice to follow Him. True to His promises, and to our delight, He guides, comforts and gives us abundant life through the Holy Spirit who indwells the born again believer. Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Both joy and justice can be experienced in this world, but not perfect joy and justice. And certainly peace on this earth is a condition to be hoped and prayed for! The only perfect peace we will experience without any tinge of sorrow or unfairness will be in the arms of Jesus, for eternity.

That is the assurance possessed by believers in Jesus Christ! Do you have that assurance?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Radical obedience, Part X

9:23 p.m. Today's project is to power past the fear of sharing Christ with unbelievers, through the power of the Holy Spirit!

In Part IX, I shared ideas on starting a witnessing conversation, whether with strangers or with loved ones and friends. With strangers, we earn the right to be heard with kindness and genuine interest in their concerns; with loved ones and friends, we earn the right to be heard with kindness and genuine interest in their concerns! The only difference is the amount of time an unsaved person has had "to see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven," as Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16.

Why do all of us experience fear in witnessing? Our message is true, and truly beautiful. Acceptance of Jesus as Savior means love, hope, acceptance and cleansing of a guilty conscience before God--blessings many people have never known. Our message is 100% good news!

Our witness is real and reflects God's character. In the case of loved ones, colleagues or friends, they have noticed a "different spirit" about us. They may have asked us how we remain cheerful in the daily grind, or don't hold grudges or backbite; they've noticed and commented on our honesty and discretion. It's obvious that the person likes and respects our ability to "agree to disagree agreeably" on issues that could cause enmity. We have been "up-front" about being a Christian. We've been a good witness, and more importantly, we have been praying for them! But we haven't actually shared the gospel in simple terms, offering them eternal life. Typically, our days are littered with missed--or avoided-- opportunities to open the conversation!

Then the moment arrives when the Holy Spirit has put all the ducks in a row: He has told you to share Christ with the person today; given you a desire to pray for them to be saved, forgiven and begin to "walk in newness of life" as Romans 6:4 describes it. And to take away any doubt, the Holy Spirit has arranged for you to talk to them alone, in the perfect time and place!! And though you may be fixated on your fear and what you are going to say, remember that the Spirit has been preparing them to have a listening ear and softened, receptive heart! They already want what you have--now offer it to them!

I can't tell you, of course, what topic of common ground you will open with, but you need to help them know that Jesus has made you the person you are today, much different from before you made a commitment to Christ. Share that you didn't know what would happen if you became born again, but you knew that every other path, program or plan had failed to straighten out your life (the "short version" of your testimony is important to have prepared in your mind ahead of time!) and that no matter what you tried, even if you'd achieved your goals and had success, something was missing. Actually, Some One was missing! It's often said that we are created with a God-shaped hole in our hearts, a hole only He can fill!

Whether the Spirit directs you to share the scripture Romans 10:13, "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved," or alternatively, to tell how you prayed to accept the Lord, asked forgiveness of your sins, and asked Jesus to save you, go for it! If they are receptive (as evidenced by thoughtful comments and questions) go ahead and ask them if they want to pray to accept the Lord!

No matter the outcome, you will have been obedient, shown your love for that person, and very possibly had a part in saving a soul from hell! Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise."

Remember the person who led you to the Lord, invited you to church, or went forward with you at an evangelistic crusade or altar call? Listen to the Holy Spirit as they did, and join them along with millions of other brothers and sisters in this "new community of faith, empowered by the Spirit to form a life of radical obedience." (Iain Duguid)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Radical obedience, Part IX

3:52 p.m. Today's project is to willingly live "under the microscope." Yesterday's post concerned people you have just met, whose only information is the inital impression we give them. The Lord was gracious yesterday evening to allow me to minister to a young woman who was crying her eyes out on my street corner--the site of the sudden death of her good friend Matt. He had ridden his motorcycle up the Canyon Crest hill when a driver pulled out from in front of my house, turned left, hit and killed him! It was two days later, and his friends had set up a makeshift shrine with candles and a large cross in his memory. Lots of messages had been written on the sidewalk as well.

In obedience to this divine appointment, I went to her, introduced myself and Steve who stood nearby. I listened to her tell about Matt, and shared about Christ making eternal life possible for her, and prayed comfort for her while holding her in my arms. I told her to come over any time to our home, and her friends and parents also--she and the deceased had gone to King High School with our kids. I really can't be sure how much she took in, being distraught as she was. But I trust the Holy Spirit to bring His words I was led to share to her remembrance, or even better, my love and offer of friendship. But it's His love I offer, for without Him, I can do nothing! We must remember that it is God who does the saving--we just have to be obedient to open our mouths and hearts to those in need of the Savior!

First impressions are critical to witnessing, but the far more difficult witness is living daily life with family, friends, fellow students or colleagues at work! Listen to how Jesus exhorts His followers, and the expectation He has for us from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:14-16:

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on the top of a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Not only are people watching a Christian's behavior, but Jesus purposely sends His people out to be watched publicly every day! We are not to just muddle along, trying not to bother anybody, but to shine for Jesus, attracting others like moths to porch lights. I see no exceptions to my assignment--not bad traffic, bad news, bad health, bad finances, or even the bad behavior of others. We are to be noticeably different in our actions, reactions and interactions, from the nonbelievers around us. Look at I Timothy 6:1, about those who serve in the workplace: "Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine not be blasphemed." And blaspheme they will! Ever notice how savagely any prominent Christian who falls is attacked by the press? (Ever notice how savagely any commonplace Christian who falls is attacked when he or she falls, also?) Titus 2:5 tells us women that we are to be "discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed." Who is blasphemed when we disgrace ourselves in front of the unsaved? God and his Word! How we need time in prayer and serious daily searching of scriptures to walk as He would have us walk!

A Christian needs to be pleasant and approachable, because we never know when a frightening or tragic issue will arise in a colleague, friend or family member's life, and we will be needed to counsel, comfort and console. Only Christians have a genuine word of hope, life-giving words, and the ability to see life in perspective to eternity. On more occasions than I can recount, heartbroken family members or friends, or even teachers down the hall, have sought me out for wisdom or a place to "vent," express their crushed spirits and feelings of defeat and failure--or having been abused by others. It's not me they see and are drawn to, it's Jesus in me. It is God who works in me "both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13) Sometimes the working of God in my life and our family's lives is compelling enough to draw others to come to church or to the Harvest Crusade. Some go forward to accept Christ, and others need more time. God knows their time to come to Him!

God spoke to Ezekiel of the change of heart the exiles would have when He returned them to Israel, in Chapter 11:19-20: "I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be My people and I will be their God."

Only God can perform a genuine heart transplant. But in obedience, we can lead our friends and loved ones to the Great Physician!

Part X: Personal obedience--powering past the fear.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Radical obedience, Part VIII

4:40 p.m. Today's project is to find ways to start the conversation that could lead to an unsaved friend, acquaintance, colleague, family member or even a total stranger to commit their life to Jesus Christ. Today I want to focus on speaking to someone you may have just met.

Before we acknowledge that every word, sentence, phrase or tone of voice is of eternal significance, remember the promise Jesus made to His disciples before His departure, John 14:26: "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you."

Notice that Jesus said the Holy Spirit will teach you all things--like the deepest needs of the person you are sharing with. But take note of the second part of the verse: the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all things Jesus said to them. The Holy Spirit can't "bring to remembrance" something you never heard or read, i.e., verses and concepts from the Bible! He certainly can bring new information to your mind any time, any place, and that could include scripture. What I am getting at is that you as a faithful witness for Christ need a storehouse of scripture at the ready for the appropriate spot in the conversation. If you are a new believer, you will have the basics; if you have walked with the Lord many years, you should have a real treasure trove of verses stored for the Holy Spirit to bring forward!

Starting the conversation is definitely the hardest part, I find, of witnessing, especially to strangers! After the Lord has led you to the right person to speak with (it's best if they are by themselves; but, if you both are parents watching your kids play, you can pray for an extended time of peace!) You might begin with a somewhat neutral comment on the location, event or activity you are both engaged in. "Love the sunny days we've been having!" "I think this line is moving, finally!" "I've always liked watching the planes come in while I wait for my flight." "That'a cool laptop!" "Have you read anything else by that author?" You get the picture. Offer help, a compliment, be friendly. Maintain an open, calm and pleasant expression that actually draws others to you. I don't mean smiling for no reason, but look like the person you are--a joyful believer in Christ!

If no actual conversation develops, continue to be positive in the silence. But don't give up! Pray! I've had strangers just start talking to me! That's what we call a "divine appointment." God is bringing you a person who needs what you have, who sees something they desperately want--true joy and peace. Enjoy your conversation, have fun, but don't forget your purpose, His purpose. You might gently steer the conversation with a remark like, "Have you noticed...?" about something currently happening. When they express a concern, or even fear, you then have an opening to say, "You know, I used to feel that way before I became a Christian." Now you can explain what happened to change your thinking, gave you hope and confidence instead of dread, or whatever the other person is expressing. Because you have listened to them with genuine concern, you have earned the right to be heard yourself. You may insert some of your testimony, because we all have one. Moving from death to life is no small event! Some of us were people no one ever thought would get saved and almost didn't bother witnessing to. We may have looked too "down-and-out," or even looked like we "had it all together!" But EVERYONE needs Jesus! They just don't know it, and that's why we share our faith.

Just don't forget to ask them, after they give a thoughtful, positive, or even at least a neutral response to your sharing, if they have any questions; then, if they would like to pray to accept Christ. Explain that Jesus came to give them life in heaven with Him forever, and a life of peace and hope today. Tell them that when they repent, they can be forgiven of every sin they've ever committed, in a clear and confident voice. After all, you are telling pure, unadulterated truth!! They may choose to accept Christ then and there, or, they may not. Acts 2:47 says, "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." God knows when the person will be ready. He is the one who will send unrelenting conviction by the Holy Spirit, and will draw them to Himself. But you have the joy of having been obedient!

Jesus said, in John 12:32, predicting His death on the cross, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." Jesus' death and resurrection has drawn multiplied millions of sinners to Him for salvation. Let's "lift" His name up, in witness, to all we come into contact with!

Part IX: Under the microscope--your daily testimony.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Radical obedience, Part VI

3:20 p.m. Today's project is to individually tailor our message about a loving God who gave His only begotten Son to die for us, purging all of our sins; a Son so powerful that He spoke the worlds into existence, and upholds them by the word of His power; and now sits on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrew 1:1-3).

Hebrews 1:1 reminds us that in past times God spoke to the forefathers of the Jews through prophets like Ezekiel, who brought messages to a "rebellious nation," (2:3) and "impudent and stubborn children" (2:4) most of the time. Mankind is still in rebellion against God, individually and corporately! But our loving Father has spoken in these days by His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He walked as one of us, a person, and He "knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust." (Psalm 103:14, one of my favorite verses).

Yet the Lord, the almighty God of all of the universe, gives us rebellious and impudent children free will! He offers a choice of following and worshiping Him, or following humans around and worshiping ourselves! As a parent, I gave my infants almost no choices, toddlers precious few, preschoolers a few more, and school age and teens a progressive schedule of decision making, subject to my approval and to be rescinded at any time they proved incapable of using good judgment. Hebrews 12:10 compares human parental discipline with God's: we do what we think best, according to the information we are given, but even the most conscientious parent has no way of knowing how each child is going to turn out! But God, who knows the end from the beginning, also knows who will accept Christ, love and serve Him, who won't even consider the claims of Christ, and who will walk away--and He STILL gives us a choice!

A tiny bit of God's knowledge that we, by praying diligently and seeking His scriptures can discover, is what will motivate the unsaved person He has spoken to us about, and how to conduct a conversation with them about eternal life. Psalm 44:21b says, "He knows the secrets of the heart." God delights in our obedience, our willingness to "put it all out there,'" reputation, belongings, sensitivity, safety, all that we are, for His glory and the advancement of the kingdom of God! Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us all things. (John 14:26)

Is your friend, family member, acquaintance or neighbor fearful? Care-free? Confident? Trusting in riches? About to lose everything? Abandoned by a spouse? Struggling with secret sin? Lift them up to God! He knows everything about every one of us, and His Holy Spirit will reveal to you just what you need to know, if He has found you faithful, trustworthy, gentle, and discreet. At times, I have been informed by the Spirit of the "real issue" that a counselee was not mentioning, and to my shock, the Holy Spirit led me to confront her. Life and godliness are no light matters here on this earth, even for our short lifespan--think of the impact people's choices will have on their eternity!

Life or death, heaven or hell--will you help your friend to make the right choice, and thus participate with God in His gracious work of saving souls?

Part VII next time: the conversation.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Radical obedience, Part V

3:15 p.m. Today's project is to offer ideas about a balanced message of salvation to offer to the unsaved surrounding us. What is the picture of God that we want to present? We who love Jesus so much, because He first loved us (I John 4:19) want to make sure to share His love, and as a friend mentioned recently, that's the easiest part of the gospel to present to lost sinners who may never have known love from anyone in this world!

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life," John 3:16 tells us, and all humanity until the end of time...but how does this square with the picture of the Lord God in the first few chapters of Ezekiel that we've reviewed, where nothing but judgment is spoken of?

A quick review of the nation of Israel's history with the Lord: He called Abraham in Genesis 15, and again in 17, telling him, Genesis 17:7-9, that He would establish an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants, with all the land of Canaan for their possession. "And I will be their God." From the books of Exodus through Joshua, God led His people to the promised land. Listen to the great love God has for the Jews, Deuteronomy 7:7-11:

The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people. But because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath under which He had sworn to your fathers, has the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh of Egypt.

Know therefore, that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;

And He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them: He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face.

Therefore you shall keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command you this day, to observe them.

The Lord's love for His people is absolute. The same cannot be said for the people's love for God. Down through the generations, whether ruled by judges, prophets, or kings, the Israelites slipped in and out of idolatry, defying the Lord to His face, until, by Ezekiel's time, their wicked, degraded idol worship surpassed that of the surrounding nations!

Ezekiel wrote during the captivity that God had warned of for generations. God is like a loving, devoted parent who watches as warning after warning goes unheeded until he finds himself absolutely obligated to discipline his child. Israel's choice to flagrantly disobey earned an entirely just judgment.

Yet, God returned His people to their land, by decree of Persian King CyrusWorship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as temple and synagogue worship, was restored.

God's ultimate act of love then took place, as Galatians 4:4 states:

When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

The good news about God that we have to share is valid, balanced, and convincing! Millions of us are living proof that Jesus saves!

Next: Prayerfully crafting a message for each individual.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Radical obedience Part IV

10:33 p.m. Today's project is to realize that as representatives of Christ, we must speak a message in His behalf: truthful, loving, and reflecting the awesome righteousness of God--in mercy, justice and judgment. II Corinthians 5:19-20 says, NLT, "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ's ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!' "

We have an earth-shattering, life-changing message to give, but do we feel the power of it enough to PLEAD with the unsaved? Would we risk the embarassment of a heartfelt appeal given with all of our strength and Holy Spirit-graced eloquence, delivered with longing for their souls?

In Ezekiel 3:17-21, the prophet is appointed "a watchman for Israel," and warned that if he fails to deliver the message, he will be held accountable for the deaths of the unrepentant! Do we accept accountability for those we could be sharing with, and are even given "divine apppointments" to share with, but refuse to do so? I have dropped the ball more than a few times in my 30 years as a believer, but the Holy Spirit and my conscience compel me to make another opportunity to speak to the person, to be obedient the next time. Should I worry as to whether it's God's will for me to seek a sharing oportunity? Not when God already told me to witness to them! My efforts or yours don't always result in an immediate conversion, and maybe our timing isn't always perfect, but are you ever doing wrong by doing right? We are commanded to evangelize!

Ezekiel is then directed by God to perform several "prophetic sign acts" to get the exiled idol-worshiping Jews' attention. He is told by the Lord to be tied with ropes and speechless until time to speak; to map out the siege of Jerusalem; bear the sins of Israel on his body while lying on his side for 390 days, then turn onto the other side for 40 days signifying Judah's sin, while eating extremely small portions of food; shave his head with a sword and divide the hair into lots to be destroyed in different ways, all to demonstrate the disease, famine, slaughter and scattering of the Jews. (Chapters 3,4 and 5)

Only after these graphic public illustrations does Ezekiel pronounce the message from God of utter destruction: Chapter 5:15b, NLT: "You will be a warning to all the nations around you. They will see what happens when the LORD punishes a nation in anger and rebukes it, says the LORD."

We have a message of dire warning to give as well--eternity in hell! But can we deliver a message showing God's love that far outweighs His righteous obligation to mete out just judgment? II Peter 3:9 says, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." That's why he sent His beloved Son Jesus to die in our place!

In Part V, we will craft a balanced message from balanced motives.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Radical obedience Part III

5:25 p.m. Today's project is to continue in Ezekiel Chapter Three in order to prepare the substance of our message to rebellious exiles. That is exactly what unsaved people are: exiled from God and without a claim to citizenship in heaven. Ephesians 2:12b describes the unredeemed as "...having no hope and without God in the world." Ephesians 2:19 describes the believer: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." The newly born again believer has leapt over a great chasm!Or more accurately, walked across on the outstretched arms of the crucified Christ!

The Holy Spirit convicts a believer of sin and God adds those that He wills to the church (Acts 2:47), so what part do we play in reaching the lost? God could prepare a Damascus Road experience (Acts Chapter Nine, where Jesus Himself appears to Saul of Tarsus) for every unsaved person if He chose to--our triune God is certinly omnipresent! Instead, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." (I Corinthians 1:21, NKJV). The NLT puts it this way: :"Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe." Our message of repentance and profession of faith is indeed a simple one in the eyes of the wordly wise!!

However, we know that there are components of an effective witness, and one must wait on the Lord for the opportunity to speak and the particular person to speak or preach to. We must pray and study the Bible, because the Gospel is presented throughout.

Ezekiel had a seven day waiting period before received his message, including a vsion of the beings, after the Spirit lifted him up. Note Ezekiel 3:14:

"The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I went in bitterness and turmoil, but the LORD's hold on me was strong."

Have you ever felt utterly compelled to share a word from the Lord with someone, but bitterness and turmoil were your primary emotions? Yet you were inexorably driven to complete your mission? That was Ezekiel as he came to the colony of Jewish exiles on the Kebar River. There, completely overwhelmed, he waited seven days for the message he was to speak.

I have experienced the compulsion that comes from "the Hound of Heaven," as Shakespeare called God, andhave been all set to speak to a person, and then told to wait. And the Christian practicing radical obedience knows that not to speak is as critical as speaking, if God is leading you. It's His work, and His timing!
We merely represent Him.
Next, Part IV: the content of our message.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Radical obedience Part II

4:39 p.m. Today's project was to continue studying the Book of Ezekiel and ponder what radical obedience might look like if practiced by a Christian in 2010.

My portion of scripture for this morning was chapter three in the New Living Translation (NLT). In verses 1-3, the prophet is given the message for the people of Israel on a scroll that "tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth." The pure, delicious joy of God's Word is described for us in Psalm 119:103: "How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" I pray that I might love and treasure God's word each day!

Ezekiel is warned that the hardhearted exiles will not listen, but God has made him as obstinate and hardhearted as they are! God says, v. 9, "I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock! So don't be afraid of them or fear their angry looks, even though they are rebels." Being hard-headed is rarely a compliment, as I well know from my own parents' resigned comments! But to be hardheaded in a righteous cause, a cause given to you by God Himself, even speaking in His behalf, is a sublime privilege; none higher!

Verse 10 is what became inprinted on my mind this morning, however:

Then he added, "Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself.
I was dumbfounded by this verse, as if I had never read it before! If I have not taken in, "eaten," or, in other words, completely consumed and grasped the word of God for myself, if it has not become a part of me, if I have not "treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12), what have I to give out? My own opinions, hints and tips for better living? Even the most exemplary person you can name cannot parade his or her ways, words or wisdom before God! Those are all just filthy rags! All that we have or are of any eternal worth has been given to us by God and God alone, through saving faith in Jesus Christ.

When we have been born again, transformed by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit , we can take in God's word with understanding. We are prepared to witness for Him!

Ezekiel 3:11 says, "Then go to your people in exile and say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says!' Do this whether they listen to you or not."

Unsaved people are a people in exile, in exile from the presence of the Living God. Their destiny, their chosen path, is the road to hell. Are we committed to practicing the "radical obedience" of Ezekiel?

I'll be considering the way that our gospel message is received from God and our preparation for delivering it next time!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Radical obedience in the 21st century Part I

2:56 p.m. Today's project came to me as I read Chapter Two of Ezekiel in the New Living Translation. Verses 1-3 describe Ezekiel's calling from the Lord as an exile with his people the Jews in Babylon. In Chapter One, he had seen the fantastic vision of the cherubic wheels and had fallen on his face on the ground "and I heard someone's voice speaking to me."

"Stand up, son of man," said the voice. "I want to speak with you." The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. "Son of Man," he said, "I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day."

Iain Duguid, the NLT editor of Ezekiel and author of the extensive notes that accompany the verses, wrote concerning verses 2-3, that Ezekiel stood in contrast to both the angelic beings he had seen, and to "a rebellious nation, true descendants of Jacob, whose defining characteristic was striving with God and man. (Gen. 32:28). As a son of Adam, Ezekiel represented a new community of faith, empowered by the Spirit to form a life of radical obedience."

Radical obedience... Ezekiel would be told to illustrate his prophecies with strange actions, such as eating food cooked over dung; lying motionless for 430 days; or not mourning his deceased wife publicly. That's radical obedience, risking it all for the sake of the Word of God. Risking it all--reputation, physical comfort, and safety, "for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle Paul, himself the victim of whippings, stoning, shipwreck and imprisonment, would later describe his call in Philippians 3:14.
What does radical obedience mean for today's Christian in a contemporary culture? With the heightened hostility to the preaching of the Gospel we now see in this country, where opening the Bible and teaching its truths can be labeled a hate crime, those pastors, evangelists and Bible teachers who expound the scriptures word for word are definitely facing persecution, sooner rather than later. But those of us called to speak, teach and write the "words of this [Christian] life" (Acts 5:20) are not about to back down, or quiet down!
In other words, sharing your faith with an unsaved neighbor could be seen as harassment. Or if you share with a co-worker, you could be accused of creating a "hostile work environment," something taken very seriously these days, because under no circumstances may you make another person feel uncomfortable! But what does the Holy Spirit do to cause a person to see their need to come to Christ, to make a life change of eternal proportions? He convicts the sinner and confronts him or her with their need to repent!
I remember being uncomfortable indeed when presented with the gospel--I was very much a sinner! But that discomfort was rapidly replaced by the most incredible peace when I made my decision for Christ on January 6, 1980, a peace that not only passes understanding (Philippians 4:7 ), but a peace that is with me today.
Incredible as it seems, "radical obedience" today may begin with a very radical act--believing God!
Tomorrow I want to explore what it means to be part of "a new community of faith."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


4:41 p.m. Today's project was to take care of pressing medical matters. Steve had a C-pap breathing machine class at 10:30 this morning, which we might have made on time if we hadn't gotten stuck behind two slow trucks on Chicago and then Spruce. Must be the Lord's discipline--I need to get going earlier! Actually, this usually prompt person hasn't been on time to anything since Daylight Savings Time started! Go figure. I have no idea why this is happening!

The class at Apria Healthcare was very professional, with the technician giving an overview of the machine's apparatus and then helping each person put the components together and try on the mask. Steve did very well in paying attention, watching how others made their adjustments, and letting me ask the questions. I also took notes and signed as his representative in all the appropriate places on the forms.

Steve's doctor had ordered a very high-tech machine for him, complete with a memory card that logs usage. It also automatically adjusts the pressure for altitude, so if we travel to our house in Wyoming at 7,000+ feet, no worries. AND THE MACHINE IS VIRTUALLY SILENT!! YES!!

From there, we went to Colton to Giant RV for a vent cover for the RV's bathroom fan. Still glorifying God and in a celebratory mood, we had a delicious lunch at Denny's, where I gave the waitress some Mary Kay samples, which she lovedl I had the tilapia lunch, with the most yummy "creamy ranchero" mashed potatoes on the side. (I am determined to make these at home. I talked the waitress into telling me what was in them, but she said I'd never be able to truly duplicate the dish. We will see about that!) Steve had his favorite, the huge barbeque burger with onion rings and Dr. Pepper.

We had to make a beeline for the Ralphs near us to pick up some items for the dinner I'm delivering tonight, and then it was a mad dash to my mammogram appointment at 2:15. (I did get there on time). My technician, after hearing of my cancer history, said disgustedly, "And now they're saying no mammograms under age 50, and then only every 4 years! And the vast majority of breast cancers appearing in women under 50!" Thinking that I might be treading on dangerous ground, I still took the chance and stated, "Well, we're 4 votes away from that happening to us right now!" I would have said, "Call your congressman," but praise the Lord he is already a No vote. What a world. Aren't you glad that Jesus said in John 16:33, "In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world"?
I love the teaching throughout scripture that no matter what the enemy of our souls, the devil, or human enemies here on earth--see Psalms 58 and 59 if you don't believe God's people have enemies--do to us, or more likely threaten to do to us, we have an mighty, overcoming God!! When we feel helpless or hopeless, He is with us. As He sees fit, He calls us to be there for one another, helping carry burdens, refreshing one another's spirits.
And that's what I'm on my way to do right now!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Faith -> works

2:53 p.m. Today's project was to start outlining my class presentation and putting together visuals for the class I'm teaching at church next Tuesday the 23rd called "The Family Garden."
As usual, I got distracted by the first active thing I could find to do, going to Parkview Nursery on Chicago Ave. here in Riverside to buy plants to put in the ground for summer crops. I guess that is what will give my class that ring of authenticity: up-to-the-minute experience! Steve and I watered the winter garden, and made two cantaloupe mounds, adding plenty of the sandy soil that they require to our well-composted soil. I also stirred some sand into the soil under the spinach plants that are growing ever so slowly, possibly not enough drainage? Or maybe spinach is just a slow plant!!
Then I got the phone call I've been waiting for: a widowed mother of three teenagers from church had a heart attack and needs ladies to take dinners over and possibly do some light cleaning. Our pastor's wife had tapped me a number of weeks ago for starting a helps ministry to help isolated women, and I then gathered seven women who were delighted to be asked. The visiting ministry is meant to meet a need for friendship, comfort and prayer as the Lord calls us to do. James 1:27 says, "pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble..." Time to get the meals set up!
It's hard not having any relatives within driving distance, but many find themselves in this situation, and the Body of Christ was designed to fill such needs. The only time I've personally had meals delivered has been after coming home from the hospital with a new baby. The women from the Bible study I was teaching in 1988 when I gave birth to Steven brought meals for 2 straight weeks until I thanked them and said no more was needed! Being a mother of five took a bit of getting used to, and a wide variety of nice, hot meals was a treat, even with my mother at home with me. (She handled discipline of the other four kids and kept things in order!) Our group did the same for all of our new moms. But think of a mom without her own mother or mother-in-law--that's hard going. Now imagine being bedridden with hapless teenage boys--time to call the church, and we are ready.
Not for one minute do I take leadership in any ministry for granted, because service to women in our church is a joy and privilege! I pray the Lord may find me faithful in teaching, writing, and exemplifying the Word of God. And may I be able to receive from others as well. Even if I have only one lady in my class, my prayerful determination is that not only will she be equipped to start her garden, but assured that the Lord is with her to guide her in all of her endeavors!
The first meal delivery will be needed tomorrow night, and I'll go ahead with that to give my helpers more time to adjust their schedules. My friends will be just as excited as I am this afternoon to carry out this critical command of the Lord!
Thank You, Lord, for coming to earth to die for our sins, becoming one of us, and then leaving Your Holy Spirit to lead us, comfort us and show us how to comfort and love one another!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Vanity, thy name is woman."

5:08 p.m. Today's project was to get my hair straightened by my trusty hairdresser Irene, who's super quick and knows my hair better than I do!
This was no ordinary procedure--this semi-annual ordeal takes 2 1/2 hours, so I packed a lunch. Irene works with a flat iron for as long as she can, as close to the roots as she can, but those roots get harder and harder to handle as the months go by. Not to mention that since the roots suddenly have 2 inches of length added to them, she has to put a semi-permanent rinse on the pure white hair suddenly exposed. (Next time I'll get a picture of that scary sight, something like a striped skunk on my head!) Yes, my hair, if left alone, would be completely white by now. As a believer, I have to be completely truthful, according to Psalm 51:6: "You desire truth in the inward parts." So that's my story and I'm sticking to it!
I've often thought of organizing my girlfriends to let our hair go white all at the same time--wouldn't that be a kick? No one would know us! Guess I'll wait until my younger pals hit 60 a few years after I do, and see what they think. Wonder if there'll be any takers?
My hairdresser suggested that I take a Bendryl to lessen the scalp reaction to the burning lye-- maybe in these modern times it's only a wee bit milder than that--so, having taken my doctor's advice last week about having it handy for bee stings, I popped a couple. You'll soon see why hindsight would have said, "just take 2 Advil."
The scorching cream went on very smoothly, no worse than I was prepared for, and I kept calm by praying my hair wouldn't all just fall out (which has been known to happen, ladies, though not to me yet), and reading, yes, another Amish novel. Just enough drama to keep it interesting, and it pointed to faith in God for strength, so it made for a nice soothing read! I actually thought, as my head sizzled with fire, that I do not want to go to hell!! And I'm so glad I am not. Nor does anyone have to--just call on the Name of Christ for salvation!! See Romans 10:13!
10 minutes crawled by. Finally, it was time to rinse it off, have a very mild shampoo and a miraculous product called Reginol applied to cool the fire. I had survived, but then a very odd feeling came over me: dizziness and almost nausea. What now? I mentally demanded, while keeping up my end of the conversation. I wouldn't want Irene to be worried so we talked about the two people we could think of who own giant built-in Wolf Sub-Zero refrigerators. There's some trivia for you! But then I was feeling almost faint, and mentioned it to Irene. She noticed I hadn't had my lunch, so she led me over to the lunchroom in the back and had me wait there for the color to finish "taking." Good suggestion...I mixed up and ate my fresh-picked salad with Ranch dressing and chicken breast pieces, with those neat crispy onion toppers, opened my half-sized Diet 7-Up, ending up with a few cocoa roast almonds mixed with glazed pecans and walnuts, and began to perk back up.
Guess you don't take Benadryl on an empty stomach! Finding myself at the blowdry/style stage, I noticed a very elderly lady walking over to the next chair, her perm solution having been rinsed off after a long wait. She wryly asked, "What's that sayng? 'Vanity, thy name is woman' ?" [This quote is attributed to William Shakespeare, but the correct quote from Hamlet is "Frailty, thy name is woman." I didn't write it, so don't shoot the messenger!] The upshot is, that we women can expect to go to tortuous and costly lengths to get our hair just right well into our eighties--that lady is almost 90 years old, her hairdresser later told us!
When the scriptures talk about vanity, a word most prominently used by Solomon in Ecclesiastes, it refers to worldly foolishness, trivial pursuits, material things and activities with only transitory value. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," he wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:2. And many of us do spend time on pursuits that give no lasting satisfaction and often disappoint us in the end, such as insisting on wearing the latest fashions, or following reality tv's overnight celebrities who invariably crash and burn. We just need to make sure that our lives, our own "real lives," as Colossians 3:3 puts it, "are hidden with Christ in God."
And grounded in what is truly worthwhile--the lifelong pursuit of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's under there?

3:14 p.m. Today's project was to clear out the last of the non-flowering flowers, AKA weeds, out of the garden in preparation for new arrivals, both seeds and seedlings, for the summer garden.

It had been a quirky late morning after church and grocery shopping. We had set up the Freedom Alert system base unit up in our bedroom last night. I put it on "Test Mode" to check the range this morning as we drove up to the house. The end of the driveway is out of range, but my daily hangout, the garden, is in. Cool! Not leaving well enough alone, I thought I would clip the tiny unit to my belt loop to keep it from swinging from my neck, and that worked okay until I decided to move the clip. Suddenly the red light flashed and it started dialing 911!! I quickly shut it off, but not quickly enough. Within the next few seconds, there was a call on my cell. I was embarassed to pick it up, but realized that if I didn't, the police would come over--and I'd probably get a lecture and a false alarm fine..."Hello," I answered. "Riverside Police Department. Is there a problem there, ma'am?" the dispatcher asked. For some reason, I felt compelled to gave her my full name, then told her my issue. I silently wondered if I sounded realistic enough, or was I a lying hostage? She muttered "okay," as I apologized profusely in utter humiliation for having caused trouble for the police department. As James 4:6 says, "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble." And boy, did I need grace right then! (You better believe the alert pendant is now back on my neck!)

Steve and I went out to the garden to root out the flowers and water all of the rows. It's amazing how just a few days of sun can dry out the soil. How like us believers, so in need of a daily drink of the Word, that daily time of cleansing by the Living Water of the Holy Spirit! Yesterday's portion isn't good enough, seeing all of the events that concern each of us, and the inner changes even adults experience daily! Our perspective on people and issues ebbs and flows depending on new facts that come to light on even small matters! I need daily wisdom and guidance from God's Word and time spent in prayer to reveal both His heart and mine!

As He often does, the Lord had a little "sweetener" for us as we finished our work . Underneath the tall flower stems were some weak, stretched-out plants that looked an awful lot like lettuce!Since these were mixed wildflowers I couldn't be sure, but on further inspection, the plants were not only the right shape and color, but spaced exactly a foot apart! What undoubtedly happened was that this lettuce type germinated so slowly that I just went ahead and broadcast my flower seed, figuring that if the lettuce came up at all, it would stand out from the flowers. But the flowers ran amuck, allowing precious little light to reach down to the lettuce plants.

Now the lettuce will get the light it needs to thrive!!

You and I can find ourselves so busy doing the next thing, rushing to cover up seeming deficiencies in our lives, that we don't wait for the in-depth work God wants to do in our character! We are planting fast-growing deeds and accomplishments while He is slowly and carefully constructing a life from the ground up, from that "dust" to which we will all return one day. "And the LORD God formed man out of the dust of the ground..." (Genesis 2:7a)

I'll be a lot better person if I allow God to do the planting, watering, germinating and growing that I need to be my best, fit for the Master's use!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

C'mon over!

4:48 p.m. Today's project was to welcome our youngest son Steven home from Fresno and enjoy his refreshing and funny stories from college, work, the Oasis high school ministry he helps lead, the Fresno Christian High track team he is coaching. Lest I forget, he and his friend are already in the process of setting up their gym for P.E. for mentally retarded adults and then private clients in the afternoon and evenings!

I keep asking, "Are you still going to school?" How can one person do so much, along with his bodybuilding workouts and shopping for special food and supplements? I can only think that it's the Lord giving him the strength and energy to carry on, with a big grin to boot! I was glad to hear that Steven had quit as a Bally's trainer to focus on his own gym; now he can attend the evening college Bible study at the People's Church.
No sense asking, "how is he doing all this?" when I know the answer--he comes by it honestly from his mom! Actually, "it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13). I remember friends asking me how I could teach one women's Bible study at church and one at home, while raising our children and making Steve's and my home a loving, godly one. We had devotions every night when the kids were growing up (called "Song Time.") On Friday nights we went to a home Bible study together; later on, I was a discussion leader at church and began writing a Bible study series for my women's home Bible study, now being prepared for publication 20 years later, A Woman's Walk in the Word. Later years, the '90's, saw me in local elected office while returning to my teaching career.
Not one effort I have participated in as a believer was of my own devising; the Lord called and directed me at every turn! He is the one who brought Steve and me together; made provision for my health, energy levels and motivation; called me to Bible teaching ministry as a newly minted believer; I couldn't have imagined that role! I was just obsessed with learning God's Word and studied with every spare block of time. "Her sins which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little," Jesus said in Luke 7:47, comparing the fervent worshiper Mary Magdalene with the cold Pharisee. I was a blatant sinner--therefore I woke up every day after being saved with fresh excitement that it was really true--I was saved, and could know God for myself!! There was no time to waste--I wanted to know God with every bit of my being, and today I feel the same way!!
The life of a Christian is the most exciting, adventurous, surprising life a person could ever lead, no matter what your circumstances!! As new believers, my son Sean and I lived on $2 a day---what difference did that make, as long as I could get to work and church several times a week?!! As marriage brought improved circumstances, there were still difficulties for this eventual family of seven. We made it through every trial of our faith, because God has been with us. And our reward in this life, has been to see our children accept Christ as their Savior. How we enjoy seeing them minister in His name!!
It's a joy to hear of Steven's spiritual exploits, his hunger to know the Word more extensively, and his street witnessing to unbelievers; his counseling of the high schoolers in Fresno; giving a devotional each day to his track team; all while enjoying the city God has led him to.
Mom just wishes he weren't so far away!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Antidotes to stress

2:33 p.m. Today's project is to serve a pot roast dinner for Steve, Heidi, Pavel and me. I haven't made a pot roast in years, and I have no good reason why not!!
We eat all kinds of meat, love vegetables and slow cooked meals, but I guess we get so busy eating chicken, fish, pork--bacon/sausage--that I just forgot about this delicious old standard. Several of us Piecemakers were discussing roasts on Tuesday night, because we had enjoyed the most tender, delicious roast beef we'd had in a long time at the Men's Bible study potluck down the hall.
Some of us do roasts in the oven, or simmer on top in a Dutch oven; others swear by the crockpot. So I thought I'd try the crockpot for this dish on Pat DesRossiers' and Christine O'Dell's recommendations. Before I put it together last night, I called Pat for some last minute tips. We woke up to the most luscious aroma!! Now I just need a timeframe from Heidi as to when it needs to be ready. And I guess I need to make gravy. Or is the gravy already made? I'll have to stir it a bit and see.
This was a day for taking care of errands and being responsible for the matters and property God has given us stewardship over. After all, we are only stewards of all we possess--everything belongs to God. I Corinthians 4:2 says, "It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful." We signed the form that allows for e-filing of our taxes at Patty and Jimmy's Tax Comp; and then headed to Home Depot to purchased replacement fluorescent light bulbs for our master bathrooom. We must have looked a bit silly carrying the burned out one into the store, especially when the SKU and other model numbers were written on the bulb and I could have jotted them down ahead of time!!
We had already had a difficult morning beset with confusion, with Steve having lost a piece of metal to be used as a tie-down for the batteries in the RV; and he left a bag of bolts he needed to refer to in our bedroom. He found the metal rod in the car where he left it; and thankfully I had written down the bolt sizes on a post-it. It's hard to believe that just a few months ago, Steve and I would discuss what he needed to work on a project, make a little note, and then he would just go and get his items with cash at one of a few local hardware stores.
My need to handle the financial transactions, one thing that we've instituted as his Alzheimer's confusion has advanced, is not that big of a deal. I have been in charge of the bills for at least ten years because of his struggle with even simple math skills, and the negative remarks and exaggerated accusations he would make because of his depression about non-existent, or very fixable, money problems. Hindsight tells me that the roots of his current condition were evident even then. Alzheimer's is just the final, tragic iteration...but I can boldly state, with all assurance, that despite Steve's illness, that God has always been "our refuge and help, an ever present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)
What is more of a test for me than dealing with money matters, is advising and helping on mechanical issues with which I have no familiarity whatsoever. It also is a tough realization that Steve's mechanical brilliance is just a faint glimmer now. I tend to use rationality and logic to figure things out, and definitely help Steve keep items and actions in order, but that's about it. This has generated a new thankfulness for dependency on the Lord: the Holy Spirit has been amazingly gracious to give me insights in our garage workshop that do not come from me!! With the emotional volatility of Alzheimer's victims, undoubtedly borne of frustration, a spouse's suggestions and "action plans" are not always well received. So a morning at Home Depot can only be handled by directly asking help from an employee, rather than promoting my own proposals.
It's the partnership we find ourselves in now: Steve works on formulating his ideas for a repair project; I keep us on task through constant prayer for direction. We did get a bungee cord for a temporary fix, and the right light bulbs, but it was clear that we needed our individual space after we got home. Steve worked on fabricating a new battery tie-down, deciding not to use what we'd bought at the employee's suggestion, so I put the package back into the bag with the receipt, and went out to the garden.
We'd enjoyed a few dry days this week, so it was definitely time to irrigate the rows and sprinkle- water the baby spinach plants. I had already determined to pull out the non-flowering wildflowers I'd planted a few months ago if they didn't bloom, so I got in some good upper body exercise, plus alleviated some stress, by yanking them out by the roots. After all, a plant that is not serving its God-designed purpose is just another weed!! I added a pretty big layer of plants to the compost bin, but probably got only half of them removed before I came in. Two entire rows --such hoped-for beauty! Well, the "flowers" will be contributors to the vegetable garden's nutrition at this point. I'm thinking of getting some tomato and pepper sets Saturday, as well as planting peas. My green onions, cilantro and carrots will stay in, along with the lettuce and broccoli, as long as these winter crops can last in next month's encroaching heat.
Back into the kitchen for more busyness, finally clipping and filing last Sunday's coupons. I made lunch and cut up the veggies I wanted for the pot roast, and worked on my Facebook Farm Town farm, always amusing. I just love to see how my FB friends are getting along, too! I mentioned to one gal who was tempted by some free dachshund puppies, that I am glad my daughter-in-law and son live in Long Beach, or there'd be a another new "baby" in the apartment aong with Penny, their new cocker spaniel!
After adding my cubed potaoes, onions and carrots from the garden to the crockpot, I went out to the garage, and voila! Steve announced that he got the battery affixed in its compartment and started the RV!! Given some time and prayer, he got his project finished. Now we can go about the rest of our afternoon and be relaxed when we serve dinner later. Will the meal go as planned? I don't know, but I'll do my best!
Let me just remember, Lord Jesus, what You said in Mark 10:27: "with God, all things are possible."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The vows we take

4:29 p.m. Today's project was to go to Disneyland with Steve, after running three errands in the west end of Riverside. Do you ever feel tired before you even get on the road? That was me, even though I was eager to go out and have fun on this beautiful sunny day.

Upon arrival at the parking structure, we were ushered up to the rooftop parking--a bad sign for sure! "It's going to be crowded," I groused, because that was the worst parking space we've gotten yet--and on a Thursday, no less!! And when I saw tons of school age kids, that was it! As a mother of five who ALWAYS made her kids go to school, and a retired teacher who has had to consistently organize make-up work, I'm pretty militant on the subject of school attendance!

My observations triggered a conversation with Heidi, Pavel about how children are not being raised with the values with which we raised ours--obedience, abiding by law and rules, seeing their place in the family as important and important in the larger society. "Coincidentally," Pastor Chuck Smith was mentioning these facts on "Pastor's Perspective" earlier today on KWVE Christian radio.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it," Proverbs 22:6 says. Even the best kids don't do all the obeying they should, because we are also told that "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." (v.15) But we parents are the ones who come before the Lord accepting the responsibility to raise and protect our children and follow God's ways--the Bible--in our homes. May the Lord speak to this generation of "me first" parents, some of whose 1.5 precious darlings have everything but structure and discipline in their lives; it's just too stressful to confront bad behavior! Heidi and Pavel commented that they are so glad both sets of parents never let them get away with anything--they did what they were told!!
I began featuring household scenarios yesterday, and wanted to show the Sioux Indian bride and groom who've graced our bedroom dresser for more than a decade. They are among my favorite dolls because of the authentic details and the love they represent. And although I have Cherokee Indian blood in my veins (from North Carolina), I appreciate the Plains Indians' heritage of courage and skills. Whenever I taught 5th grade American History, my bride and groom were carefully transported to my classroom to provide "realia," and other 5th grade classrooms would be invited over as well. (Then we would enjoy the buffalo hunt scene from "Dancing with Wolves!")
But even more important than the dolls is the book in front of them, Dr. James Dobson's Love for a Lifetime. As I flip open our copy, I see clipped-out articles on husbands and wives and cards. There are even loose Bible pages whose origin is puzzling--although these pages of Ephesians Chapters 4 and 5 on relationships in the Body of Christ certainly apply to marriage! From the wording, it seems to be the Amplified Bible. Ephesians 4:32: "Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you because you belong to Christ."
Dr. Dobson writes in this vein as well, on page 58:
What will you do when when unexpected tornadoes blow through your home, or when the doldrums leave your sails sagging and silent? Will you pack it in and go home to Mama? Will you pout and cry and seek ways to strike back? Or will your commitment hold you steady? These questions must be addressed now, before Satan has the oportunity to put his noose of discouragement around your neck. Set your jaw and clench your fists. Nothing short of death must ever be permitted to come between the two of you. Nothing!
That is the vow we take when we stand before our families and society--and for us, the church--to stay together for a lifetime! Ephesians 5:31 in the Amplified version says, " A man must leave his father and mother when he marries, so that he can be perfectly joined to his wife, and the two shall be one."
In other words, love for a life time!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


1:17 p.m. Today's project was to take Steve to the neurologist for the verdict on the sleep test last Tuesday night. It was all good news, including the C-Pap machine having been approved by Anthem Blue Cross before we ever got there!The Apria company will train us on its use, so I believe that makes for a good day!!

Nothing seriously troubling for our family--including the news that our nephew Jeremy was in a bike crash--has a speedy resolution, except Jeremy's injuries that are definitely healable. So I thought I'd show a few of the "scenarios" I have set up around my house over the last 22 years that put a smile on my face whenever I look at them.
The oldest grouping is my bunny collection from the late '80's, when country blue, calico and mauve were all the rage. Bunnies certainly made sense as a collection for a mother of five! There were so many bunnies in our house, made of all kinds of materials, from china and papier mache to cloth and wood, that I wrote in an article on hobbies solicited by the Press Enterprise, "I can ask my guests to find all the bunnies while I run around doing last-minute preparations for dinner!"
My next grouping is the porcelain doll tea party in the corner of my front window, made up of a blonde (Heidi), a brunette (Heather) and a redhead (me?). I love the miniature Lenox china tea set, and the porcelain horse that used to have a small teddy bear on its back until our dogs kept stealing it and cuddling it for a baby. Jada could actually find the teddy when I'd hide it in a cupboard! And Bailey managed to hide it from me more than once! Those labs are natural mothers, but it's not to be, sorry girls...
The very tiny Victorian ladies are a more recent addition, ordered from the Smithsonian catalog. The details are amazing, down to the lovely baby's basinette and changing table with all the trimmings. The little ladies are minding the baby, resting on a couch, and also greeting an afternoon visitor. I suppose this scenario reflects my many years of majoring in English literature (my B.A. degree) and my dream that came true, thanks to the missionaries at Calvary Chapel of Cardiff--visiting England at the end of our evangelism week in Wales. One day I'll go back, next time to see Stonehenge! I chuckle at my daughters' love for the Jane Austen novels Emma and Pride and Prejudice, which they had both read before the popular modern movies came out. I believe Heather has read all of the author's novels, according to her blog "Remains of the Day." Maybe that's why my girls are so ladylike!!
The most precious scenario in my home is "Jesus and the Little Children," inspired by Luke 18:15-17:
Then they also brought infants to him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him, and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly I say to you, anyone who does not recieve the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."
Not one of us can be assured of eternity in Heaven without coming to Christ in absolute faith and trust, as a child looks to his parents to pick him up at the sight of his little upstretched arms. If you have not already done so, stretch out your arms to Christ with the faith of a child--He will not turn you away!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Driven to pray

2:58 p.m. Today's project was to pick up the Bibles we had engraved for our grandsons, Adrian and Xavier, at Berean Christian store in the La Sierra area of Riverside. Their names look so beautiful--and were perfectly spelled, I checked--on their "gift size" New Living Translation scriptures.
After a fun and busy morning showcasing Heart to Home classes for the morning Bible Study, purchasing elegant frames for our son's wedding pictures and then attempting to download the three I plan to enlarge, I needed to get away after lunch for some solitary prayer time. I've found that for me, driving is the perfect time to mourn, shed a few tears, and implore the Lord in behalf of my family, other loved ones, friends, or even myself. The crosstown drive would be perfect, especially on such a fresh, breezy day.
Last night we received devastating news about someone who has become very dear to us. The fact that the Holy Spirit had showed me it was the case a number of months earlier did little to lesson the impact. Steve and I wept and prayed together after receiving the text message. "It's so unfair!" Steve cried, with utterly heavy grief. Imagine the compassion he has, while living out one of the worst experiences that anyone could bear, the slow death of his brain. Similarly, our friend's Macular Degeneration, while it may move at varying speeds in different individuals, has, barring Divine intervention, only one conclusion: blindness.
I am not sure when we'll be able to sit down all together, and definitely am not sure how or if I will be able to contain myself when we do. May the Lord allow Steve and me to "comfort them with the same comfort by which we ourselves are comforted by God." (I Corinthians 1:4).
Today as I drove west through Riverside, I was tempted to wonder, "Lord, doesn't our family have more than enough to bear, not only with Steve's condition, but the fear--I said it, fear!--of Alzheimer's striking our children and future grandchildren? and now this?" And the answer comes from II Corinthians 12:9, for all believers who do not blame, denounce or doubt God, but simply wonder how the days will unfold, and how we will act wisely and honorably when the anguish is at its most severe and the path forward becomes unclear: "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."
Trials test our faith and show the world the character Christ has placed within us by His Holy Spirit. Our upright, humble behavior, patience and trust in God bring Him glory, and the steadfast courage He lends us for our time of need is a witness that Jesus lives. HE LIVES! Jesus not only lives, He lives eternally at the right hand of God, interceding for us with the Father. (Romans 8:34).
One of our children is inspiring us right now, refusing to waiver, remaining steadfast in what our family knows to be true, choosing to stay in God's will rather than flee to safer ground.
No one knows the future, but there is no "safer" ground than in the center of God's will. None.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Is it still personal?

4:07 p.m. Today's project was to go to my doctor for two small but consistent complaints (allergy to bee stings and wheat) for prescriptions to help solve the negative consequences of exposure. I don't know what I was thinking, making an appointment for 10:15 on a Monday morning, but at least I took a book, White Christmas Pie, an Amish inspirational novel, along. [I've taken an interest in "old order" sects prevalent in parts of our country since our youngest son enrolled in a Mennonite school, Fresno Pacific U.]

When I walked in, the waiting area was pretty open, so far, so good. I paid my deductible, handed out some Mary Kay concealer samples to the office gals, and took my seat. My book was very low key and enjoyable, but as time went on, the room began to fill up with obviously hurting people, some sick, some with broken limbs. I became uncomfortable, guilty, I guess, as I told Nurse Holly later, for taking up Dr. Guzman's time with my little ailments!

There was good news/bad news as I got my vitals done. I've gained four pounds the last month or so, but, and this is amazing, my blood pressure was 125/78, like the athlete I have been in recent years, when I was in my good habits of walking, running, and going to the gym, and weighed much less! Thank you, Lord!! So Dr. Dana recommends reading about the peaceful, faith-filled, simple Amish lifestyle to keep that BP low.

Considering the concerns on my heart for Steve, our family and friends, and our financial issues, I must give God the glory for that healthy reading! Psalm 96:8 says, "Give to the LORD the glory due His Name," and God Himself says in Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD, that is My Name; and I will not give My glory to another."

I believe that staying close to the Lord in prayer, study of the Bible and confession of sin each morning aloud or in my journal, are the "health habits" that allow me to fly above the storms of my life. Issues don't disappear, or even necessarily get better over time, or may even worsen, like Steve's condition, but closeness to Christ provides the Holy Spirit's comfort and guidance to help believers cope.

One sin I confessed this morning was informing a friend of some actually positive news that was posted by the participants all over Facebook last night, which she would have heard eventually. Would that be considered a personal matter for those people alone to tell? Since it was already hugely public? It comes down to motive, and I'm not clear on what mine was. I certainly was not first with the news!! My recipient was surprised, but not personally affected by it in more than a minor way, an inconvenience. To be on the safe side, I did confess to the Lord that my motives were not what they should have been on this matter, public or not!!

It's always best to have a clear conscience, to get the Lord's take on anything that makes you uncomfortable--that's what the Bible calls conviction, having a tender conscience, wanting to please God, and waiting upon Him to make it right!

I'll see what He tells me to say or do, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's to leave the whole matter alone!!

Meanwhile, I'll be heading off to Women's Bible Study with a garden basket containing tools and produce; a jewelry display; and candied apples to demo our next three classes for Heart to Home. Could be a late night if I end up taking sign-ups after the study.

Time to check up on my layered Mexican casserole in the oven for Steve's dinner, so we can spend a nice early evening together after this hectic day!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

He knows

12:12 p.m. Today's project was to join Heidi and Pavel at Prospect Park in Redlands for a wedding expo. The Kimberly Crest Estate is the site the couple has chosen for their wedding next year. Tours of the estate and gardens would be offered, plus many vendors would be giving out samples and brochures to brides, grooms and their families in hopes of being selected for the big day.
Just as I was backing out of the driveway, I noticed that I had a voicemail on my cell, so I parked and listened: Heidi wasn't feeling well, so she and Pavel decided not to go today, and just wait for the next one. Plus, today's weather wasn't very amenable for a stroll around the gorgeous gardens. Steve was out walking the dogs, so I decided to go on over to the local supermarket and "pick up a few things." I'd been kind of down because of an untoward couple of text messages from one of the kids, and had been looking forward to the solitary 30 minute drive to pray and process my thoughts. And an afternoon doing "mother of the bride" things would have been sheer heaven! But we have plenty of time, so we'll attend the next wedding event.

I sat in my car for a while in the store's parking lot, sadly answering another dispiriting text, when I got a phone call. "Good, maybe we can talk like civilized people," I thought, but it was an unknown local number. Hmm. I answered, and it was my daughter Heather, who'd locked herself out of her car, with keys and cell locked inside. The number was Kragen Auto Parts down on Jurupa and Magnolia, where she'd gone to buy a headlamp. She requested that I call her husband Nick to go and bring the other key so she could get home. Happy to be of service in a pretty benign emergency, I called and then texted when Nick didn't pick up.

I felt good out of all proportion to the size of the deed I had done, but God was so kind to send me an opportunity for positive interaction with another of my kids at that exact time! I think about Jesus saying in Matthew 6:8, "Your Heavenly Father knows what things you have need of." Our needs are indeed physical, as the text refers to, but God knew my emotional need, and how best to fulfill it. As it says in Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit prays when we don't know how to pray! God's Word is so true, so real, and so timely! God solved my unspoken need before I had even formulated a prayer. Interesting that Pastor John had made that comment during his sermon this morning!

Nick must have had his phone on silent, because eventually I just took Heather home myself. We had a good chat and enjoyed each other's company for the drive. I followed her into the house, teasing Nick that I wanted to watch to see if he was going to "catch it!" We all laughed. They took off to Kragen's and I returned home to my husband, praising God for our lives and glad that the Lord added a much-needed "sweetener" to my afternoon.

I checked in on my Heidi, dozing under her covers, and placed a Cadbury caramel egg on her nightstand to enjoy when she feels better. Meanwhile, Steve is doing his half of our couples' study homework.

As we are to imitate Christ, to be "as He is in this world, " [I John 4:17] maybe we can add some "sweetener" to our loved ones' day today!