WHAT’S HE DOING?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  Isaiah 55:8

 

If you had been a reporter in Jesus’ day and were assigned to “cover” his ministry, what do you think you would write?  Apparently, Jesus had plenty of followers, everyday people who knew life unvarnished—people with financial stresses, illnesses and death, relational challenges.  They were people just like us.  Even the rich folks knew to call on Jesus when they needed help.  You could write about these responses to Jesus.

It seems that the people who had the most trouble with Jesus were those who were the professionals who were insulated by layers of religion and tradition—the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. They were distressed because he did things like eating while others fasted (Matt. 9:14), repeatedly broke the Sabbath (John 5, Matt. 12…), caused chaos in the Temple*, claimed to be God’s Son (John 6, 10, 14…), forgave sin (Matt. 9, Luke 7), and was generally a trial to them.  You’d get a whole different slant from this group.  So what would you write?

If we allow ourselves to get bogged down in the whys and hows and perceived inconsistencies in the Bible—according to the pros—we will miss the whole picture.  Yes, God is in the details, but in obsessing with the minutiae, we miss the majesty and the genius of what God is DOING.  In “breaking the Sabbath” he demonstrates his lordship OVER the Sabbath; in cleansing the Temple he underscores the holiness and purpose of God’s House; with proclaiming himself like his Father he reveals the character of a God few have ever known; in forgiving sin, he brings hope that our unrighteousness will be covered by his righteousness; and so on.

Rather than looking for inaccuracies or inconsistencies or being thrown off by perceived errors in the text—or even in our own lives when God doesn’t manifest himself as we expect—we can choose to focus on the big picture and look to see what God is DOING.  We can write a story that brings redemption rather than analysis, that sees a God at work loving and healing and saving his people.

 

* Even the writers of the Gospels don’t agree as to the timing of the cleansing of the Temple.

 

Sweet Father, thank you for your patience with us when we want to put you into our tiny box of understanding.  Push us to allow you to be God and remind us again that we are not.  Thank you again.  AMEN.

IF ONLY

 

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Genesis 2:9

 

Do you ever wonder what you would have done if you’d been Adam, enjoying the beautiful Garden, dominating animals and creation, having a soul-mate for a companion, and living with just one rule?  All of this in the context of daily fellowship with his God and Creator…

Just one rule.  Eat all the fruit from the trees that are pleasant to the sight and good for food, but don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Life was good in Eden; there was total freedom; and there was no sin.  It would be the only time in human history where we lived in a perfect environment.  With just one rule.

And then the snake appeared.  It deceived Eve, but Adam succumbed, apparently, with no resistance at all.  Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit, handed it to Adam, and he ate.  Immediately, they felt the need to hide – their bodies and themselves.  God appeared and asked one of the most acute questions of all time, “Where are you?”  God knew where they were; it was Adam and Eve who were lost.

You know the rest of the story:  the expulsion, the consequences, the lost fellowship.  IF ONLY Adam and Eve had been obedient, as if God were surprised at their rebellion.  But God had a plan all along (Gen. 3:15) to redeem mankind and all creation and to restore that which was lost in the Fall.

Fast forward to Revelation 22:1, 2:  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

At the beginning of time we saw sinless perfection in the Garden of Eden.  Along with the forbidden fruit was the Tree of Life that could have sustained Man forever.  IF ONLY Adam and Eve hadn’t forfeited that relationship with God through their sin…  But God had a plan that culminates in sinless perfection.  And in the eternal Garden, once again, the Tree of Life is offered.

Father, your omniscience is breathtaking.  Your forethought is staggering to the human mind.  Thank you for your redemptive power and your grace that reaches each of us wherever we are.  Thank you that, because of Jesus, we don’t have to live with IF ONLY.  AMEN.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

 

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  James 1:5

 

My grandmother was critically ill in the hospital.  Mother’s two brothers had entrusted her with decision-making for their mother, and they had all agreed that there would be no life-support systems used at the end.  Day after day Grandma clung to life with Mother faithfully attending her.

Then came the day the doctor approached Mother with a suggestion.  He deemed that a blood transfusion would make Grandma more comfortable, and he strongly advocated for the treatment.  Exactly the quandary our mother feared.  Her brothers had given her their trust, and now she had to make an awful choice:  Should she allow the transfusion that might prolong Grandma’s life while violating his brothers’ wishes or should she tell the doctor “no”?  Would the brothers consider a transfusion “life-support”?

In her simple, straightforward faith, Mother reasoned with the Lord.  I don’t know the right decision.  I don’t want to go against my brothers, and I don’t want Mother to suffer.  Father, I will go with the doctor’s suggestion and ask that you be sovereign and overrule it if it’s not for the best.  The medical staff proceeded with the transfusion, and my Grandma passed away shortly afterward.  And my mother was at peace.

Was this God’s wisdom?  Did God take a hard thing and resolve the dilemma?  I’m sure Mother played out all scenarios and felt herself to be in a no-win situation, but she followed the direction of her heart and ended in a place of peace that satisfied everyone.

When we ask for wisdom in a difficult situation, do we sometimes fail to hear God’s voice because we expect something complex and profound?  Think of Jesus’ resolutions throughout his ministry:  No food?  Use what you’ve got and feed thousands.  You touched me even though the doctors didn’t help for years?  Be healed.   No tax money?  Go fishing.  You’re blind?  Let me put mud in your eyes.  And so on…

God is able to give us exactly what we need for every circumstance.  We just have to learn to be simple and to expect him, to believe him to give us wisdom, and then to thank him for his gift.

 

Father, you are God, and we are not.  We need you every moment of every day.  Help us to be like little children and to trust you to guide us to make good decisions.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

PERSONAL OR PRIVATE?

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.  Psalm 71:16

 

Have you ever heard people talk about religion as being a private matter?  That it’s not something to be discussed openly?  In an era where sexual encounters, annual incomes, delicate health issues, and so many other topics are common fodder for public consumption, do you find it curious that people say religion is private?

Or are we confusing private with personal?  Repeatedly, throughout the Gospels, people approached Jesus with personal matters.  Consider the man who was born blind (John 9:1-12), or the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-16), or the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48), the paralytic man (Mark 2:1-12) or the multitudes who came with numerous personal needs.  They certainly weren’t deterred from making their personal needs matters of public notice.  They didn’t hide them under a cloak of privacy.

The man whose eyes were opened shared his personal story unashamedly with neighbors, Pharisees, and his family.  He shared the experience that had forever altered his life with anyone who asked.  Even though it cost his expulsion from the temple, he proclaimed God’s grace.  The ten lepers raced off, happy to be cured while one man even returned to say thanks.  In many instances, Jesus told those who were healed to tell their personal experiences to the priests.  (Perhaps they, too, needed reminders of God’s kindness.) And many other stories are recorded of Jesus’ deep compassion and ministry to each individual who approached him.

Could it be that we don’t recognize God’s intervention in our lives?  Or perhaps we haven’t had a personal experience with God?  Could it be that we are too concerned about political correctness to share God’s grace with those who might desperately be searching for someone to love and heal them?  Could privacy be a manifestation of pride when personal experience might be the very antidote for a hurting soul?

 

Father, move us out of our self-centered privacy so that we are ready and open to share our personal experience of you whenever you give us occasion.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

THE CHURCH AND SOME SAINTS

 

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…  Ephesians 2:19

My doctor is retiring.  I saw him this week for the last time professionally, and it was a bittersweet time for me.  Dr. B saved my life.

Many years ago when I was teaching and working on a graduate degree, I had to leave school one day because of intense back ache.  Back pain was nothing new to me; I was born with a mild case of spina bifida, which tended to affect many of my activities and complicate ordinary illnesses.

My mother gathered my two children and me to stay with her and my dad until this latest episode passed.  I took the pills that were my standby, but the pain increased.  After a few weeks, I was pretty much bedfast.  And then came tingling in my legs with visual and hearing impairment.

My doctor decided to hospitalize me for tests.  Batteries were run, and I tried to describe my symptoms to a noted neurologist.  Later, he called my mom to see if I was mentally stable.  When nothing of significance showed up, I was released—with intense back pain, tingling, visual and hearing impairment, and headaches.

We were praying in earnest for healing and diagnosis of the malady that for me was much more than mental instability.  All along Pastor Schwanenberg and Gloria had been visiting and praying with me.  One day they that said Dr. B, a church member, was interested in my case and wondered if my family would like him to give another opinion.  Without hesitation, we accepted his offer.

I was hospitalized again, and more tests were run.  Between tests church friends were visiting and cheering me on.  My friend, Linda, brought me a book and was with me when I received a call from my insurance agent.  I was waiting to see if coverage extended to the multiple tests and hospital stay.  I thanked my agent for calling, but somehow, without my saying a word, Linda left knowing my congenital malformation had exempted the company from covering conditions related to the back.

The next day or so, Dr. B came in with a smile.  He said they’d determined the problem; it was pernicious anemia, so called because before it was learned that vitamin B-12 injections could treat the anemia, most people who developed the disease died from it.  He began frequent injections of B-12 and within a day I was walking, and my symptoms were decreasing.

When I was released from hospital care, Papa came to pick me up.  He entered my hospital room with a smile and an envelope.  He always loved to joke, and he kept me in suspense about the contents.  Finally, Papa told me that when Linda had left the hospital, she went straight to Pastor Schwanenberg telling him about my insurance dilemma and wondering what the church could do.  By the time I was ready for release, my dad had in hand an envelope from my church with a check to pay all the hospital expenses.

Within a few days I was back at home and then back to work.  I called Dr. B’s office to see about paying his bill, which I suspected would be quite large.  Instead, the bookkeeper told me that the doctor had written it off in its entirety.  I’m not sure they make doctors like Dr. B anymore, but I am grateful that God brought this one and all those saints into my life.

 

Loving Father, thank you for the Church, your Body, and all the saints who bless us in so many ways.  Help me to love in deed just as I’ve been loved.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

CHEERLEADING

 

 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  John 13:34 NIV

 

Love is more than sentiment.  At its best, it’s an action verb.  Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages lists ways of showing love:  affirming, touching, giving, serving, and spending time with the beloved.  One can love without all the fuzzy emotions we sometimes equate with romantic love by simply doing those things that build up that other person and letting him or her know that he or she is special, is cared for, is thought about.

 

Cheerleading, forming your own one-person fan club, is a potent way of demonstrating love.  Think of all the ways we can build each other up (I Thess. 5:11) once we get out of ourselves.  And think of all the people who desperately need love.  We can praise, compliment, encourage, pray with and for, be available, do random acts of kindness, demonstrate thoughtfulness, and on and on.

 

But we have to move beyond our intense concern for ourselves.  I’ve discovered that the more I become aware and sensitive to the needs of others, the more obscure my own issues become.  The more I embrace others, the more joy and freedom I experience in my own life.  The more transparent I become in loving others, the more reciprocal the relationship becomes.  And healing can even take place when love flows.

 

Think of the transformations in which we might participate if we chose to forget about ourselves and become more interconnected to others.  Of all the unfortunate people imaginable, Job tops the list.  Having lost everything (but his critical wife) and being surrounded by unfeeling friends who only compounded his misery, we’re told that after Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes (Job 42:10) …  When Job moved beyond his own suffering to see the vacuum in his friends, he was able to pray, and God responded by working in Job’s life.

 

William Carey, the “father” of modern missions (18th Century) faithfully worked, carrying the Gospel to India and translating the Bible into many Indian dialects.  Many people know of Carey, but few know of his sister who was bedridden and unable to use her limbs for about 52 years.  Every day, Carey’s sister prayed for him and maintained a vibrant correspondence by writing with a pencil in her mouth.  Such was her love for her brother.

 

Who can we actively love today?  How can we sacrificially give our time to affirm someone?  How can we, through God’s love, leave our own cares and be cheerleaders for someone else?   The biggest cost is our own self-interest, but that begins to diminish as we get into the big world of GOD’S LOVE.  Find somebody to love.

 

Father, show me who needs my love and give me creative ideas for encouraging, affirming, building up, and healing.  I want to be your cheerleader.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

COOKIE’S CALL

[He] is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us… Ephesians 3:20-21 (NKJV)

Cookie is home to renew her visa. She has to return from Haiti every few months so that she can go back to work with orphans in their hillside sanctuary. Two years ago she responded to God’s call to go – just for a few months – and now she finds herself returning again and again.

Cookie is an English teacher committed to helping every one of her students learn to communicate in English. She knows that speaking English in Haiti is almost a sure guarantee of a decent job in the stressed economy. But that’s not why Cookie continues to return to Haiti after every break. This afternoon she elaborated on one of the many ways she sees God at work.

Some months ago a young mother came to the orphanage to confess that she had thrown her newborn into a garbage dump—about twelve hours earlier. Cookie and her fellow missioners had become inured to finding little ones who were discarded for one reason or another, but it was unusual for a mother to come with such news.

The small group of missioners hurried to a large trough, sixteen feet deep, where the baby had been tossed earlier in the day. One of the young men was able to climb into the pit, rummage around, and find the plastic bag that contained the baby. He hauled it up and put it on the ground as the others gathered round to pray. An inert little arm fell out of the bag, and as they prayed, they heard the sound of a massive intake of breath and then a cry. Miraculously, the baby girl was alive, unscratched, unmarked.

The missioners brought the little one back to their compound and cleaned her up, all the while thanking God for sparing her little life. One of the missionary couples was moved to adopt the baby and named her Faith, and she is now a thriving six-month-old toddler who is loved and coddled by all the missioners on campus.

And so, Cookie keeps going back to Haiti.

Father, thank you for reminding us of your great power as we call to you in faith believing. Thank you for Cookie and all those who reach out to touch lives in your name. Help us to faithfully “touch the one in front of us.” In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

THE GREATEST NAME

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)

Almost ten years ago my son and daughter-in-law walked into my house and said they had something to tell me. This wasn’t a casual visit, I could tell. I sat down on one of the sofas, and they sat across from me. They had come to tell me that my daughter had just been diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Without pausing to think, words popped out of my mouth: “God isn’t surprised.”

And with that announcement our family launched the support mechanism that springs into place in crisis. Some began researching for best doctors and hospitals, others made provisions for her two little girls, and we all put together a prayer campaign that spread around the world.

I sat with family members for the twelve-hour surgery that was part of Tish’s treatment regimen. With us was a sweet rabbi who read to me a Psalm that was used every day at his synagogue to pray for Tish. Each of us passed the time in terse conversation and responding to calls and emails for updates. And then I received a beautiful message from a clergyman in Rwanda: “This cancer may have a name, but we know the GREATEST NAME.” He had joined us in invoking that powerful name above all names, foretold by Isaiah, asking for healing.

That was ten years ago. This week I will accompany my daughter to M. D. Anderson for her regular check up and to celebrate the prayers that were answered by the One whose birthday we celebrate during this season. The greatest name, Emmanuel, God with us.

Father, all praise and glory be to you for your wonderful gift of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May this season of celebration be centered on Emmanuel who came to meet all our deepest needs. In his name. AMEN.