ERROR

 

“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:24

 

I am part of a team going to explore Navajoland in response to an invitation of the bishop there. We will look and listen and learn from the Navajos and see how we can partner with them to do God’s work. In preparation for this marvelous opportunity, our team has been reading extensively and researching the history and culture of Native Americans.
To my distress I have read that:
“The Navajo’s concept of religion is so total that it can be said that there is no such thing
as religion in Navajo culture because everything is religious. Everything a Navajo knows—his shelter, his fields, his livestock, the sky above him and the ground upon which he walks–is holy. The Navajos for the most part, have long resisted Christianity. They look upon it as a ‘part-time’ religion where a man’s god is available to him for only a few hours on Sunday and then has to be sought out in a special house where his spirit dwells.” (Locke:  The Book of the Navajo)

 

Even though this may be a broad generalization, it seems that the Navajo are not the only ones who hold this opinion. These “part-time” Christians could be called “nominal,” Christians in name only or, perhaps, they are believers who have not yet been discipled. Nevertheless, that those who call themselves Christians do such a poor job of representing the Son of God, the Light, the Truth, and the Way is heartbreaking.

 

As true followers of Jesus, we are to lift him up so that when people see us, they glorify God. Our actions are to reflect hearts of love and integrity and bless and bring the life of Christ to our world, especially those around us. We have centuries of misperception to undo, and it can only be done by abandonment to Jesus Christ, scrupulously following the crucified Lord, and abiding in his resurrected life.  All the while depending totally on him…

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a massive global turning to Jesus Christ through the witness of his children who are walking faithfully with him?

 

Father, forgive us for our selfish, flawed portrayal of our idea of Christianity. Convict us and work within us that those who do not yet know you might hunger and thirst for you because of the Jesus they see in us. Humbly, I pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

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GROWN CHILDREN

All your children will be taught by the LORD…Isaiah 54:13

 

Last night my brother and I were having dinner together. As often happens, we were talking about family—all our children are grown now—and how we never know until much later if our methods will yield the results we hoped. Both of us are still in the watching mode, but we did agree that our parents, particularly our father, had a firm impact on us.
Papa taught us to persevere and never give up; he urged us to excel (“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”); he taught us integrity by example; and he taught us to work hard, among other things. Our mom, on the other hand, focused on spiritual values and was the source of wisdom as we were trying our own spiritual wings. They took the responsibility of parenting seriously and left nothing to chance.
I suppose Jack and I will both be parents as long as we live. We shared prayer concerns and discussed matters that as parents of grown children, we are trusting our heavenly Father to direct and inform. Letting go and releasing our children to the Lord is an ongoing exercise as we see our children stumble and scrape spiritual knees. We wish healing were still only a matter of finding the Bactine and Disney Bandaids. But we don’t want to stave off the struggles that draw our children closer to the Lord and that shape their characters to be more like him.
While we were talking, Jack’s cell rang. His grown son, a father himself who lives in another state, was calling about a trivial matter but one that needed his dad’s input. (Looks like Jack succeeded on the communication issue. His son definitely knows Dad is there for him to share about the smallest concern. Just like his heavenly Father.)
As we sit back and watch, we observe our children embracing many of the principles that were taught and modeled while they were growing up and many they are now teaching their own children. We hold our collective breath as we see some of them treading treacherous waters, but we wait in faith knowing that they are even more precious to our heavenly Father than they are to us. We watch, remembering the promises given to us as parents: “ Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).” “All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace (Isa. 54:13).” “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge (Prov. 14:26).” “ Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you (Deut. 4:40)…”
When my son was five or six, he made a pronouncement: “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to be a Christian but not like you. I’m not going to read all those books (pointing to the devotional books I savored each morning).” Nowadays, he calls and asks if I read Daily Light or My Utmost. It’s working.

 

Father, more than anything, we want our children and their children and their children’s children to know you and to enjoy you—forever. Fulfill your promises to us as we wait and trust in you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

HANGING IN THERE

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms… Deuteronomy 33:27

 

We’ve just returned from our annual staff retreat where, after prayer times, we were given a variety of activities from which to choose. At our beautiful retreat center in the Texas Hill Country, the staff has erected “The Screamer” whose name was not at all attractive to me. But I decided to see what there was to scream about, not sure I wanted to participate.
We approached a flat pasture where two telephone poles were erected with cables stretched from side to side and another cable falling to the ground. The idea was to get into a harness, be lifted up to the top by one’s friends, and then release a cable that allows “the screamer” to swing back and forth between the poles while making a descent.
Typically, I do not like heights. Yes, as a teen I climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty and I’ve soared down tall mountains on skis, but I don’t like teetering on the edge of a symphony box and looking down at the seats far below. I do not like heights.
But there was something different about this challenge. Trusted specialists had erected the course; trusted friends would strap me into a harness; the trusted camp director would himself hook me onto the cable; and trusted friends would hoist me into the sky screaming, “You can do it. Go, Marthe.” And so, I did. When I got to the ceiling of the clear Hill Country sky, I looked below and saw my friends laughing and smiling. I released the cord and found myself soaring. I flew in circles, and I swung between the poles. Effortlessly, I glided through space until I found myself in the arms of those who were waiting below.
Camp materials state that this kind of experience helps campers build trusted relationships, develop confidence, and promote a sense of being rooted, among other things. For me, someone who doesn’t like peering into the Grand Canyon, I was given a concrete example of what trust is all about. In no way could I have helped myself while I was suspended in the sky, but my friends were ensuring my safety AND my enjoyment.
Trust is not just about having faith in our friends, but, ultimately, it’s about having faith in the One who never fails. When God calls us to a situation, he’s the One who fits us with the protective gear we need (Eph. 6:11-18); he’s the One who has created the environment into which we are thrust (John 1:3); he’s the One who holds the rope that keeps us from wandering into danger (Isa. 41:13); and he’s the One who watches, cheering us on, ready to encircle us with his loving arms (Deut. 33:27).
Would you like to take a ride on “The Screamer?” You’ll learn a lot about trust, about protection, and about everlasting arms ready to enfold you.

Father, thank you that in you there is ultimate confidence, protection, security, and everything we need for this life. Help us to let go of everything that limits us and put our trust in you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

FRUSTRATION

For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:10

 

Recently, I was with a mission team in Guatemala in the most beautiful setting of tropical flowers, mountains, lush foliage, and cool temperatures. The surroundings couldn’t have been more pleasant. In directing the team, however, I became frustrated with the tiniest of logistical matters, and my annoyance began to build. I continued throughout the evening through dinner and meeting time, but alone in my room, the self-recriminations began. “Why wasn’t I more patient? Knowing that God was in control, why hadn’t I just relaxed?” And on the criticism continued.
Suddenly, but quietly, it seemed that God assured me that he was still in charge, and my frustration only ensured that I was not. My weakness reinforced my extreme need for God at every moment of my day, especially when I thought I was in control. My flaws highlighted my dependence on God for his grace, his mercy, and his strength. With that sweet reminder, peace returned.
Back home, in hearing about our trip, a sweet friend, Bob, gave me a sonnet that spoke deeply to my spirit. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
The glorious revelations you’ve bestowed,
Ineffable displays of holy light,
Call forth my joyful praise in sheer delight,
A foretaste of my heavenly abode.
Then why this ceaseless thorn, this painful goad
Of Satan? Why not spare me pain, the blight
Of persecution, malice, danger’s fright?
From what strange stream of love have nettles flowed?
“Sufficient is my grace for you: indeed,
My power is perfected when you’re weak.
Will you for your own feeble prowess please,
When bankrupt weakness brings the strength you seek?”
Now insults, hardships, weakness are my song,
My joy: for when I’m weak, then am I strong.
(D. A. Carson. Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century)
Father, thank you for your regular reminders that you’re God and that we’re not. We live and move and have our being in you. AMEN.

FOLLOWING THE CALL

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8

John, a carpenter, was invited to go to Honduras with a mission team. He was so moved by what he saw and experienced that he gladly went again. And again. Finally, on his fourth mission, his wife Helen joined him. Both Helen and John found themselves strangely touched by the people and work they did in a place that soon didn’t seem so foreign.
When the middle-aged couple returned home, they began praying and seeking God’s direction. Two of their four children were married, and the other two were in school. And yet John and Helen felt called to leave everything and give their lives to minister in the mountains of Honduras.
I asked Helen if it was terribly hard for her as a mother to leave her children and home to serve in a country thousands of miles away. Her eyes misted, and she nodded. She said that at first, the two young ones were angry, but they were well situated in university. She and John knew they had to follow where God was leading them.
They began working in a medical clinic with logistics and administration, all the while saturating their days with prayer and trust. Through difficult times John said God continued to challenge him with, “Can you trust me?” They stayed the course, relying fully on God’s provision, grace, and guidance.
Today their children, all grown by now, visit and say, “We’re so proud of you.” They get it and now have their own walk with the Lord. The clinic has grown and has 16 staff members including doctors, medical specialists, and technologists. Thousands of mountain people are served every year, and many of those come to know Jesus.
Because two people decided to give away their lives to follow Jesus.

 

Father, open our ears so that we may hear your call, and give us courage to trust your leading. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

 

NEW BEGINNINGS

For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11,12

 

Driving around my neighborhood, I see people out in the yard with trays of annuals, pyramids of fresh soil, and garden tools strewn about. There are printed signs in other yards that declare a renovation project is about to begin. It looks like everybody is ready for a fresh beginning.
I don’t know where to start. Should I work on the front courtyard with its large decorative pots? Should I go to the back garden that needs a touch of color? Would I be better served by just giving everything a thorough cleaning? A new season of nature provides the opportunity for us to give everything a fresh look. And any day can be a new beginning in our spiritual lives.
I love Paul’s admonition to “forget those things which are behind and reach forth unto those things which are before” (Phil. 3:13). Our spiritual lives also have seasons—what about moving into a time of spiritual renewal, of letting go of the past (even the good things), to see what God has for us at this time? He has already said that “goodness and mercy will follow” us all the days of our lives. Essentially, our past failures are graced by him, so we can let them go. And in letting go, our arms are open to embrace this new thing that he wants to do in us.
Might God want to heal those wounds that we’re not quite ready to release? Do you remember the man at the pool of Bethesda who had been ill for thirty-eight years? He kept coming to the pool hoping he would be cured, and then Jesus asks him a curious question, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) Could it be that his illness became his point of identity just as our pain and suffering single us out? The man had to make a choice—give up the known for what faith had to offer. Jesus asks us the same question: “Do you want to be made well?” Do we want to become whole in him so that the attention (and glory) move from our pain to his plan?
In this new season, might God want us to forgive that grudge we’ve nurtured for decades? We all know the futility of unforgiveness, and yet we sometimes cling to wrongs from ancient history. (I remember Catherine Marshall’s writing that she had to forgive Henry VIII for his villainy.) Forgiveness is a good thing to practice in this new season.
Forgetting the past and pressing on to God’s promise for the future… Spring is a good time for new beginnings. We are new creations with the Holy Spirit constantly working in us to make us more like Jesus. Why not put away all those things “that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1) and joyously move into a new beginning?
It’s about time.

 

Father of all things, we ask that you help us to get rid of everything past that hinders us from moving into this new season with you. We don’t want the tiniest thing to hold us back. Strengthen us with all goodness to live in you and to do your will. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

GOD AND JESUS

 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I often hear people complain about the God of the Old Testament. “He’s harsh and unloving.” “He’s judgmental and is unjust.” “He’s distant.” They do not see the relationship between that God and the Son in the New Testament who calls him Father. Do you ever wonder at what some see as disconnect between the two depictions of God in the Old and New Testaments?
During this Lent time I came across a reflection that was so graphic, I had to share it. John’s Gospel begins with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So God and the Word are one. John goes on to say in the 14th verse of chapter 1 that the Word was Jesus. If we make an equation of this, we have: Word=God=Jesus. In our Trinitarian belief, we say that God is the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
When we carefully read and discern what John is saying to us, we see that Jesus was from the beginning; he was with God and was the agent of creation; and that when God spoke the Word, his utterance was Jesus. Jesus is the tangible, emperical essence of his Father God. Remember, that he said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:3). And, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him“ (John 14:7).
The Word that came out of God’s mouth was Jesus. In the Old Testament, while the Father had been distant from almost everyone but prophets and those to whom he chose to reveal himself, in the New Testament, he comes out into the open, and we see him through the person of Jesus. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ verbal picture of the true nature of the Father as seen in and through Jesus. When Jesus said, “I came to fulfill [the Law]” (Matthew 5:16, 17), as much as anything, he’s saying, “This is the true nature of my Father.”
If we really want to know the Father, we must come to know Jesus.

Father, there are many things in the Bible that are hard for us to understand. Teach us through the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love and know you. In Jesus, the Word. AMEN.