Lost Dog

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens-

A time  to be born and a time to die;

A time to plant and a time to uproot.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Our dog, Champ, struggled for quite awhile with arthritis, dementia  and accidents in the house so we knew it was time to let him go. After thirteen-and-a-half years of unconditional love we had him put down. Fortunately, I was spared the trip to the vet because of an out-of-town workshop but in all honesty I don’t think I could have gone anyway.  Champ’s sweet chocolate-brown face would have prompted me to wait “just one more week.”

In the same way there is a tendency to cling to our old, decrepit sin nature for “just one more week.” Instead of allowing it to lay down in submission to the death of Christ we entertain the thought that it’s really not that bad. Ironically, death is the very essence of life in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, follow Him, take up our cross and live in agreement with Him that our “old man” is dead.  So, like a seed, the only way to truly live is to die (John 12:24).

Also, if grief and love are experienced in relation to one another, the more I love my pet the harder it is to say goodbye.  In the same way, the more I love my flesh the more difficult it is to let it die.  The fact is that we ARE crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in us. (Galatians 2:20)  The rest of the verse says, “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Because of this I believe that God is grieved when we allow ourselves to be separated from Him by not divorcing ourselves from sin. Allowing our loving God to meet all our needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19) is THE WAY God has given us to live in complete freedom. Because we are set apart for Christ as His bride we are to be continually set apart from the flesh, living moment by moment in the reality of its death.

Thankfully, though I miss my dog, I don’t miss my flesh and wish I could live every minute in freedom from it.  For now it’s dead weight but in eternity you and I will be completely free from the presence of sin.  Thank God for His perfect timing and for giving you the courage to let go of what He says is dead and cling to His promise of abundant life in Christ.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:11

Manuracles

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

When I was eight or nine years old my mother, sister and I would clean horse stalls in order to use the manure for our garden.  At the time we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada on Nellis Air Force Base in a duplex on a cul-de-sac.  We had a back yard but mostly the land behind our house was a dry, cracked, dusty desert.  In spite of this my mom managed to create a garden oasis.  How did she do it?  With horse manure, ground up eggshells and banana peels, straw and worms.  The result was a miraculous bounty of corn, okra, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes amidst a parched landscape.

My children will tell you that I love analogies and use them every chance I get.  This one is just too good to pass up.   God turns waste into something beautiful!   A good friend of mine once said, “God takes the manure of our lives and uses it to make flowers.”  For me the waste was the broken pieces of my heart that were shattered little by little as a by product of growing up with an alcoholic father and emotionally broken mother.  For many years I wandered through life, scared of my own shadow while playing the victim well.  I was 28 with two kids and a broken marriage before God got my attention.  Then, He scooped up the waste my life produced and planted it in Christ.  In time He also miraculously resurrected my marriage, blessed our children with salvation at a young age and saved my dear husband.

These are what I call manuracles.  It’s not a real word but it reminds me of God’s redeeming work in my life and the lives of so many of my friends.  One of the sweetest things about being God’s child is that He continues to change us, making us more like Jesus, as long as we are this side of heaven. This has been my experience.  Anyone looking at my life today would probably not guess that my childhood was so dark.  That speaks to the fact that God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6). Praise be to God our Redeemer and the author and perfecter of our faith!  He not only shines through us but renews us day by day by lovingly scooping off the dross to fertilize yet another manuracle.

The Last Petal

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” 1 Peter 1:13

Rain and sun are both foe and friend to the flower; giving life yet having the power to destroy.  However, the flower does what it was made to do regardless of the elements.  It brings glory to God whether it lives or dies.  God gave me this poem today as I was contemplating why I feel so beaten up at times and why I still struggle with strongholds of lies after so many years of healing:

A flower blooms in season,

Not fearing scorching heat

Nor does it close to raindrops’ pelting force.

It opens for one reason,

God’s glory will it meet

To serve its purpose, thriving in The Source!

Like us, in good conditions a flower thrives, getting renewed and sustained by both the sun and the rain.  In harsh conditions, though, it may look withered yet stands firm until the last petal falls.  We too are to persevere! God not only calls us to bloom but to persevere in His power through all circumstances.  In other words we are to believe Him at all times.  Believing “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” (Romans 8:28-29). These verses are true, regardless of your past experience or current situation.

Therefore, no matter what, there is a “good” thing happening.  We are all being transformed into the likeness of Christ! So what do we focus on?  Certainly not our failures or irritations!  We are to set our hope on the grace that is coming!  (1 Peter 1:13)  We are to stand, “For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Isaiah 50:7)  We are living in order to die for His glory and are to reflect His image not our own.  For someone like me who has experienced dysfunction, rejection and abandonment it is a daily battle.  Every conversation needs to be filtered through God’s truth; “taken captive and made obedient to Christ.”  But, every time I allow God’s chisel to chip away at my selfish, broken heart of stone He becomes clearer than ever before! Oh LORD, if I have to be pelted in order to die so that I may live, let the rain pour down on me! You are my Hope and my Salvation!

Other Than

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus never started a quarrel? This strikes me as remarkable. This isn’t the only way Jesus is different from you and me. His values are so far removed from the world’s it’s a miracle that we notice him at all.  I was recently talking with a friend about how most protagonists in the bible are described as being good-looking. But, unlike them, Jesus was described as having “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Isaiah 53:2b.

How “other than” Jesus was and is!  He is so non-fleshy it’s shocking when recognized.  He didn’t just not sin, He loved when it was humanly impossible to do so.  He humbled himself in so many ways. He came as a baby in the flesh to a poor family and was not even considered handsome.  On top of that He was raised in Nazareth, a small town with little worth in the eyes of the ancient world.  In essence, Jesus personified humility to humanity.  Thankfully, this ability to die to oneself was given to us by Jesus when He deposited His Spirit in our hearts. The actual power to never quarrel was placed securely within His temple. Wow! This is not to say that Jesus never had conflict, rather, Jesus lived what Paul is teaching to Timothy.

My heart broke as I read Paul’s words because the memories of so many stupid arguments are fresh in my mind.  It was only about six weeks ago that I pummeled our oldest son with my point of view, degrading him in attitude if not in words for having a different opinion on something that seemed so clear to me.  Really? What is the point of that? Division and distrust were not things I strived to cultivate in the relationship with my son.  There are no parenting books that I’m aware of that recommend verbal jousting. In the end I realized it was not only destructive but just stupid.  Not the conversation or the conflict but the argument that led to a quarrel.  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful…”  This, my friend, does not come naturally to me.  There are some things that trigger a mighty destructive quarrel bullet, like when I feel demeaned or dismissed or am made to feel stupid.  Also, I can be kind, but to everyone?  This is truly impossible without Christ.

Therefore, when I feel hopeless about measuring up to the standards of 2 Timothy I recite John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Isn’t that true?  Apart from Christ we cannot live at peace with others, not even our loved ones.  Apart from Christ I cannot NOT get into stupid arguments.  Apart from Christ I cannot be kind to everyone.  Like a branch that is dependent on the vine for life I remember that He is “other than” the world and cling to Him for His glory.

 

Joab-ish

“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 1:6

Do you ever feel like taking things into your own hands?  Not only have I felt this way but I have also felt justified in doing so.  I call this “acting Joab-ish.”  If you’re not familiar with Joab you’ll at least remember that he was the commander of the army of Israel during David’s reign and the one who withdrew troops at David’s command so that Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba, would be killed.

Joab’s  autobiography would be called, ‘I did it My Way.’ He acted as if he had no regard for David’s authority or God’s will.  The accounts in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings portray Joab as a man controlled by self-righteousness and jealousy. He never considered whether or not the actions he took aligned with God’s Word or the King’s will.

The list of Joab’s most violent deeds include, but are not limited to:

  • The murder of Abner in secret as an act of revenge. (David cursed Joab when he found out.) 2 Samuel 3
  • Ensuring Uriah died in battle after King David sent orders to do so. 2 Samuel 11
  • Murdering Absalom, disobeying the direct order of King David. 2 Samuel 18
  • Murdering Amasa in order to regain his position as commander of the army. 2 Samuel 20

Surprisingly, the only time Joab obeyed is when it didn’t interfere with his own agenda.  He did not trust his king to judge rightly and lived by his own rules.  Ironically, there are times I find myself arguing Joab’s position.  After all, Absalom was usurping the throne.  Come on! Give the guy a break!

In the same way I argue my own position. “Really God? That’s not the way I would do it.” or better yet, “Okay, let me try this first and I’ll get back to you.”

Thankfully, God doesn’t give us a break when we run a marathon of willful rebellion, making a mess of our lives and relationships while tripping people along the way.  “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent..” Revelation 3:19.  The interesting thing about Joab is that he was never really disciplined until the end of David’s life. That’s when the judgment came and he was “terminated.”

“Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.” 1 Kings 2:5-6

Therefore, it’s a blessing to be disciplined when we are acting in our own strength.  It is a sure sign that we belong to God and are His precious child.  He is faithful to make us aware of disobedience by shining light into the dark, cluttered closet of self-will. Also, please remember, just because something looks like it aligns with God’s will doesn’t mean it is God’s will for you.  Be discerning and pray about everything.  There are many good things, even fulfilling things, that we can do but our motivation may be self-serving. For example, something you choose to do may be motivated by the sense of value and approval you receive rather than by His prompting by the Holy Spirit for His glory.  Therefore, rest in His plan for you even if it is resting! Trust in His perfect plan even if it means risk. Above all, love like you mean it by walking in obedience and surrender to Christ alone.

Fools for Christ

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:21

April is a month of favorites in New England. Spring melts away the tension of winter, the air is actually warm when the sun shines and the Easter celebration arrives. Still, April 1st has not been a favorite for me until now.  Traditionally, April Fool’s Day is celebrated by deceiving people into thinking or believing something that is not true in a lighthearted, fun way.  However, the foolishness of the gospel is the exact opposite.  The simplicity of God’s plan boggles the mind. It doesn’t make sense that we are offered a free gift without having to earn it.  Our first reaction is to ask, “What’s the catch?” But it is true.

When I came to know Christ eighteen years ago my eyes were opened by God to the truth and I believed not because I was convinced in my mind by a skillful argument but because God revealed Himself to me and I KNEW Him.  It was as real an experience as if I had met a person in the flesh.  He not only revealed Himself as my savior but LORD, convicting me to the core that I was a sinner living apart from a Holy God and I desperately needed someone to save me from God’s judgement.  It is hard to write it in those terms because it makes God sound mean but He is so loving.  He is the judge who determines good from evil and holiness from unrighteousness but he is also the Redeemer, sentencing justly and then paying the penalty Himself. It is foolishness to the world. But, isn’t it foolishness not to take the free gift and run? Isn’t it foolishness to run away from, instead of into, the arms of a loving God who takes away my sin and shame?

Also, like the inheritance of a rich father’s child, salvation is free to those who believe. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–” John 1:12    We don’t have to continue earning our salvation because we are His children.  It is finished and there is nothing we can do to change our heritage in Christ.  So, in Paul’s words, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great [resurrection] power for us who believe….” Ephesians 1:18-19a.

Therefore,  since we are Fools for Christ, let’s celebrate, decorating with the centerpiece of our Risen LORD, Who, by His resurrection power, brought us from death to abundant life.  No joke.

My Chains are Gone

“For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.” 1 Corinthians 7:22

Ponder the difference between a bondservant and a son.  A bondservant willingly stays with his master as a slave but does not automatically share in the inheritance.  A son not only shares in the inheritance but is free! “If the Son (Jesus) therefore shall make you free you shall be free indeed!” John 8:36.   It is a free will offering of oneself, a surrender to the Lord that allows God to adopt you as His child.   The chains of bondage are broken from your previous owner, sin.  Now, when we fall prey to sin there is immediate forgiveness and no condemnation and no power to control us except what we allow.  In turn, the master (God) is in charge of the bondservant’s well being, how much more his adopted child? This comes in the form of conviction, restoration, forgiveness, grace, mercy, joy, in short, abundant love.  Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest, “The passion of Christianity comes from deliberately signing away my own rights and becoming a bondservant of Jesus Christ. Until I do that, I will not begin to be a saint.”  

A dear friend of mine puts it this way, “The way up is down.” 

However, sanctification means that God will change you from the inside out, making the eternal truth of your adoption a reality this side of heaven.  In the Broadway play, My Fair Lady, Eliza is taken from the dirty London streets into the fine home of Professor Higgins who, over time, trains her to be a refined and elegant, english lady.  In order for the transformation to take place Eliza must surrender to the workings of Prof. Higgins, doing all that he asks of her.  This story eventually ends in Higgins loving Eliza but, unlike God, Higgins entered into the challenge out of self interest and pride.  God, however, enters into the process of sanctification motivated by perfect love for his child.  There is no deceit nor any reason to distrust Him.  It is for freedom sake that God has set you free. Therefore, may you be free to surrender to all that Christ set you free to be!

Overflowing with Hope

Imagine a clay pitcher in the desert being filled so full with water that it overflows, spilling onto the hot, cracked dirt. Now imagine that the dirt is a hurting person, parched, alone and in desperate need of hope, and you are the clay pitcher.  Yes, God promises not only to fill you but also, through you, to quench the thirst of those around you if you trust in Him.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of Hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him, so you may overflow with Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

  1. God is the God of Hope.
  2. He will fill us with joy and peace if and when we trust in Him.
  3. The result of trusting God and being filled with joy and peace is overflowing hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This reminds me of my less than stellar waitressing experience when I “overflowed” hot coffee onto a customer’s lap! It affected her alright but in a harmful, scalding kind of way.  Fortunately, she was very gracious and I did not choose waitressing as a career!  The point is whatever overflows from our lives, be it attitude or action, affects others.  May you be filled to overflowing today with the peace and joy that can only come from trusting the God of Hope so that someone else may be drenched by the deep, abiding love of Jesus.