Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One Defining Moment

September is a busy month for a teacher, and this September day was no exception. The moment I woke, thoughts of what I needed to accomplish filled my head. Aside from my normal teaching load at school, there were errands to run and people to call. Feeling the pressure of too much to do and too little time, I drove to school ticking off the many things I must accomplish before my head finally hit the pillow that night.

In the middle of a mid-morning math lesson, there was a knock on my classroom door. The principal and school nurse stood outside, beckoning me to join them. Setting my class to work on a set of problems, I ducked out of the room. My principal put hands like ice into mine. “We are under attack,” she informed me. “Both towers of the World Trade Center in New York City have been hit. All planes in the United States are being grounded. Parents are going to start arriving to take their children home. We are closing for the day, as soon as the children are picked up.”

Stunned, I tried to get my mind around what she was telling me. “Steve called from work and said to tell you he is fine, but they are closing down the government. He will make his way out of the city and get home eventually.” Now it was getting personal. Was my husband in danger in Washington, D.C.? It seemed like the whole world had suddenly gone under the shadow of a cloud. My teeth almost chattering, I shakily went back into my classroom, trying to decide what and how much I should tell my students. The world had changed in an instant. All of those tasks I was so worried about accomplishing that morning? I never gave them a second thought. Suddenly all that mattered was getting my kids and husband safely home and being together again.

We’ve all had those moments when everything changed. The minute we were pronounced husband and wife. Bringing a new life into the world. Hearing tragic news, like when Kennedy was assassinated. Learning of a fatal illness or a sudden death of a loved one. After those defining moments, the world has permanently morphed for us. We will never be the same.

Of all defining moments, the event with the most far-reaching affect was the instant that Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. With that first bite, the world was changed forever. The perfect creation God had so carefully orchestrated would never be the same, forever to groan under the burden of sin's curse. The crowning achievement of that creation, man and woman, who originally reflected His glory, were now running to hide their nakedness from Him. No longer would they meet with God in the evenings to walk the garden in fellowship. The relationship had changed forever.

In that one moment, hearing the crunch of that first bite, Satan was savoring victory. It was so easy. All he had to do was get the woman thinking about the fruit, questioning God’s motive for the restriction in the garden. By getting her to turn her eyes toward what God had commanded she could not have, he had started the wheels in motion. It was an amazing accomplishment. Everything God had created was ruined, tainted by the presence of sin. I’m sure he thought he had won. It was all over but the celebration.

But it was a temporary victory. That very evening, God gave Satan the bad news. He would place enmity between the woman’s offspring and Satan’s. And while Satan might be able to land a glancing blow on this One’s heel, that enmity would crush Satan’s head. Final victory would go to the Lord.

Another defining moment came thousands of years later when a solitary figure silhouetted against the sky bowed His head and gave up His spirit. His death on the cross had been planned before the foundations of the world. And in that final moment of sacrifice, He exchanged His life for ours. Death had lost its power. The captives would be set free. Hope for salvation suddenly became a possibility. All in one defining moment.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In God We Trust

In the days and months following the Black Tuesday stock market crash in 1929, despair over financial ruin prompted many suicides. One man left this note behind before ending his life: "My body should go to science, my soul to Andrew W. Mellon, and sympathy to my creditors." Eventually the despair over lost fortunes trickled down to the general population, when savings carefully accrued through lifetimes of frugal living evaporated as banks failed. For one very long decade, hope was difficult to come by.

When you base your security and hope on the wrong thing, the rug may very well get pulled out from under you.

God made His desire that His people trust only in Him very clear as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Knowing a human tendency to trust in one's own devices, He cautioned the nation's future leadership: "He shall not multiply horses for himself... He shall not multiply wives for himself... nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself" (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). In a quest for any of these, a king would ultimately be seeking security in the wrong places. A build up of horses would increase military might. God wanted the nation to trust in Him, not in their own ability to fight off an enemy. A king often married to solidify treaty agreements with other nations. But God did not want the nation's sense of security to come from promises made from the peoples surrounding them. And he did not want them to base their security on wealth, either. God wanted Israel's security to be based on Him alone.

How important is it to God that we as individuals base our confidence and security in Him? Pretty important. Near the end of his life, King David gave the order that all of Israel and Judah be counted in a census. Seems harmless enough, until we hear the census results that were given to David. 800,000 sword bearers resided in Israel, and 500,000 troops in Judah. David wasn't interested in counting people. He was counting troops. This was a sin of pride and self-sufficiency, of basing confidence in military might. Bad move.

God was quick to respond. He sent a plague upon the nation and 70,000 men died that day. It was hard to miss the message.

On an earlier occasion, when the Israelites stood poised at the gateway to the Promised Land, they shrank back in fear as spies sent in earlier to check out the land gave their report. The inhabitants of the land were huge. The cities were well-fortified. Anyone with half a brain would know their quest to take the land was hopeless. Two lone men, Joshua and Caleb, argued against the masses. "If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us... Do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us." But the people refused to trust God. Their punishment would fit the crime. God never allowed them to enter the Promised Land. They perished in the desert because of their sin.

Oh, yes, my friends, God is serious about our trusting Him. Jesus was, too. When asked to cast a demon out of a young boy, he took exception to the father's lack of confidence expressed in his request: "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!"

Everything came to a halt. "If?" Jesus said. "If you can? All things are possible to him who believes." It wasn't until the man expressed a desire to trust Him that Jesus healed his son.

On the front of each US coin, the familiar words are imprinted: In God We Trust. They are an ironic reminder that our security cannot be in money, power, or other people. Our hope must lie in the Lord alone.

In Christ, the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Discipline of Forgiving

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 5:31-32

When we were dating, my husband had the habit of sending me, along with his letters, four or five pink demerit slips he had earned while attending Bible college. At one point I asked him just how many he possessed, since he appeared to be drawing from a never-ending supply. He showed me the stack in the top drawer of his desk. It was impressive.

Now don’t get the wrong idea—they were all for relatively small misdemeanors, like leaving the lights on or the bed unmade. Over time, however, they accumulated into enough of a statement that he was called into the dean’s office and asked to give an account for his actions. Apparently small infractions, over a long period of time, can add up.

This principle is true in relationships as well. It is why Paul, in describing a godly kind of love, reminded the Corinthians: “Love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” In this simple description, Paul gives us powerful preventive medicine for all of our relationships: we must maintain an ongoing discipline of forgiveness.

The Old Man of the Mountain, a massive granite formation which once overlooked Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, stood for thousands of years, most likely created by glaciers that once moved over northern New Hampshire. It was the state symbol, and beloved enough to earn a place on the New Hampshire state quarter. Thousands of tourists stopped each year on their way up I-93 to take photographs of this famous landmark. Then one night in May 2003, during a heavy wind and rain storm, the Old Man formation collapsed into the valley below. What could fell such a huge monument, after it had stood for thousands of years? Tiny individual molecules of water.

When water freezes, it expands. The collapse of the Old Man was a result of small amounts of water seeping into the cracks year after year, freezing and expanding, making the fissures just a bit wider each time. Finally, the cracks became wide enough to weaken the entire structure, and the monument crumbled.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote of this principle within the context of marriage: “Marriages break up when ‘small’ things accumulate and resentments build. Love is the intention of unity. Resentment is the destroyer of unity.” Making frequent decisions to forgive is crucial to the health of a relationship.

Easier said than done, you are probably thinking. What if the offending party is not sorry and shows no sign of repentance from the behavior that hurt you in the first place?

You are not alone—Peter struggled with this idea as well. “How many times must I forgive?” he asked the Lord. He then generously offered, “Up to seven times?” Rabbinic standards required forgiving up to three offenses. Peter was willing to more than double the standard. Surely seven times, the number denoting completeness, would be enough.

Jesus took care of Peter’s faulty expectation with his answer. “Seventy times seven,” he replied.

How can we choose to forgive on a daily basis? By keeping our eyes trained on Christ. By choosing to forgive, we are expressing what he has freely done for us. We were forgiven when we did not deserve mercy. That’s the meaning of grace: undeserved favor.

To indulge in harboring grievances is most often an exercise in self-absorption. We struggle to forgive a wrong because we feel we deserved better than what was done to us. Christ deserved better. He deserved honor and glory because he was God. Yet he chose to lay aside his equality with God and humbled himself to obedience, to the point of death on a cross. Amy Carmichael observed: “If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; if I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Choosing to forgive is really a reflection of our understanding of how much we have been forgiven ourselves. It is a discipline which often must be performed outside of our emotional state. We are choosing to love because we know we are loved. And as we imitate our Savior in forgiveness, we understand a bit more of what it took for him to bear our sin.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fly the Flag

I love the 4th of July. I love the smell of meat on the grill, outdoor picnics, and fireworks. But what I love best of all is the plethora of American flags decorating lawns, houses, and storefronts. Seeing the red, white, and blue proudly displayed always makes me smile.

On the afternoon of 9/11, like most Americans, Steve and I sat at our kitchen table trying to take in the trauma the country had just experienced. Such senseless acts of terror, so many innocent lives lost. Steve could see the plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon as he left his place of work that morning when his agency shut down. We stood in solidarity with those who had been directly affected in the loss of a loved one. How could we express our sympathy, our support? I suddenly had an idea. "Let's hang our American flag," I said.

My husband nodded. "I already put it out."

Flying the flag makes a statement. It expresses loyalty to the country and to our fellow countrymen. It is a declaration of our commitment to freedom and democracy.

We as Christians have a banner to fly as well. Peter urged his readers to do just that for the unbelieving community around them. "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that ... as they observe your good deeds, [they will] glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 1:12) Our actions, as observed by the world around us, are our flag. With them we display what we believe.

So what was the excellent behavior Peter urged his readers to display? Not preaching at the unbelieving with eloquent and persuasive speech. Instead, Peter's goal for his readers was a bit more subtle. The banner he wished his readers to display was submission.

"Submit yourself for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority or to governors sent by him... servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable...wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives."

These were probably hard words to swallow. The original recipients of Peter's letter were not living in a democracy. They were living under a Roman emperor, a tyrant. It wouldn't be long before their king would make their lives miserable with his relentles persecution of Christians. Slaves were at the mercy of their masters, who could be abusive and unfair. Wives had few rights in first century society. They were the property of their husbands and at their mercy for much of their well-being.

Those in authority had tremendous power and often abused it. Submission was no guarantee of fair treatment or reciprocated kindness. Besides, Peter had just written they were heirs to the kingdom of God. Why should they submit?

Peter anticipated their doubts by reminding them of the example Christ had set before them. "While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." Christ suffered on our behalf. He chose to set aside his power and privilege and submit to those who sought to kill him. But his submission was done from a position of power. In the garden, as the Roman guard and Temple officers arrested Jesus, Peter swung a sword, ready to fight to the death to protect Jesus. Jesus turned to him and said, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" Make no mistake about it, Jesus was no victim. He willingly set aside his power and authority and purposefully laid down his life. In fact, he lived his entire life in perfect obedience to the Father. Submission marked the life of Christ.

What better flag to fly, then? If we are living to follow Jesus, we must follow him in the ways he lived. We must display his kingdom principles in our actions. Our banner, therefore, should be our servanthood, selflessness, and submission to "every human institution." It should be flown in response to our love for God and our commitment to what we believe. And as those who have yet to believe observe the flag we fly, they will see God in us.

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Monday, June 20, 2011

Before and After: The Coleman Estate

When we moved to Mystic Lane twelve years ago, it had Home Improvement written all over it. I thought it would be fun to let you see the changes that have taken place since we made this house our home.

We pulled out all of the old bushes, which were probably planted in 1970. They were most definitely past their prime. We replaced three yards of topsoil and put in all new shrubs. Then we had our friend Bud put a roof on the existing porch slab and put in a new front door.

Here is a view from the street. It's almost not the same house!!

We also added a screened in porch on the back of the house. (The beautiful evergreen on the right in the "before" picture got taken out when we lost the giant tree a few years back. You can see pictures of that fiasco here. It just clipped the roof of the porch, but killed three evergreens in the process. I still grieve their loss!)

Here are a couple of photos to show you what our porch is like on the inside. We love, love, love having that outdoor space.


Hope you liked seeing our makeover, 12 years and still going strong!! Thanks for clicking in!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Rock

Standing as a guardian over the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rock of Gibraltar is a world-famous landmark. Its white limestone cliffs stand in stark contrast to the blue sea and sky around it. The Greeks called it a "Pillar of Hercules." The Phoenicians believed it marked the end of the known world. Its very name invokes an image of strength and endurance. A person who exhibits these characteristics will often be called "The Rock of Gibraltar."

Isaiah used a rock as a metaphor to describe the enduring faithfulness of God. He had just finished warning the people of impending crisis. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah would experience God's judgment for turning away from him. Assyria would sweep across the land and bring fierce destruction. Isaiah knew if the people chose to focus on the circumstances all hope would be lost. So he directed their attention back onto the Lord. "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you. Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock." (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

While judgment was necessary, God had not forgotten his promises to the nation of Israel. Isaiah described the man who has put his confidence in the promises of God as at perfect peace. If you translate that Hebrew phrase literally, it reads "Peace, peace." In Hebrew, word repetition is used to emphasize something. Even the word itself, shalom, embodies the idea of completeness. Every part of who we are is in total harmony with the will of God when we have shalom. Now think of this completeness times two: shalom, shalom. And that is what the man has who trusts in the Lord.

Until recent years, my airline travel was fairly limited. So I interpreted any turbulence, strange noises, even water vapor coming off the wings as possible indicators of impending doom. That all changed for me on a flight home from North Carolina. I was seated across from a uniformed pilot, apparently on the way to his next assignment. It was a particularly bumpy ride, and a few times the coffee actually leaped out of my cup. Normally this would have put me into a panic. But this time I watched the pilot. As long as he calmly continued to sip his coffee and read his paper, I knew all was well. So I kept my eyes on him and ignored the circumstances around me.

There will always be things in our lives that drive us to our knees. God deliberately places them there so that we will not become independent and abandon our relationship with Him. When we need Him, we seek Him. And as the winds of challenge pummel us, we hide ourselves in the cleft of the rock. Its solid surface reassures us and shelters us from the fury of the storm. He is the Rock who will not be moved. And the man who trusts in Him has perfect peace.

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Into the Light

She had never seen him before in her life. She saw by his clothing he was a Jew. As she moved toward the well, he startled her by striking up a conversation, requesting she give him a drink with the jug she carried. "You are asking me, a Samaritan woman, to give you a drink?" she blurted out, astonished by his willingness to converse with her.

"If you knew who I was," he told her, "You would be asking me for living water. Everyone who drinks the water I'm offering will never be thirsty again."

"Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, and not have to travel all the way here to draw water anymore," she said.

"Go," he said. "Call your husband and come here." She quickly informed him his assumption about her marital status was mistaken. "It's true you have no husband at present," he agreed. "For you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband."

Her mouth dropped open at his startling revelation. How could he know so much about her? And why so abruptly bring up her sordid history when thus far he had seemed only intent on kindness?

We, too, might puzzle at Jesus' blunt and seemingly confrontational words. How could these be spoken by a loving savior? His conversation with the Samaritan Woman is only understandable when read in light of Jesus' intent. He was leading her to a place where forgiveness and healing were possible. He knew she could never accept an offer of salvation if she thought her shameful past was not known in the offering. Bringing it out into the open would allow an honest relationship with God that would truly quench her thirsty soul.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me," David prayed. Our sin can keep us from intimacy with God, even after we are saved. Taking a good, honest look at ourselves can be a revealing exercise. But the Bible does not instruct us to do so alone. We are to take the Lord with us on our internal journey.

Why is this so important? Richard Foster cites two reasons. First, if we do the examination on our own, there might be a temptation to justify our actions, to rationalize away the blame and guilt. Involving the Lord will bring an integrity to our perception, forcing our evaluation to be made in light of His perfect holiness. Second, with the Lord's presence we avoid the converse trap of falling into despair as we realize how short we have fallen. Instead, knowledge of his great love and mercy brings hope, and our appreciation of the depths of the grace of God only grows.

It is not a comfortable process. Reality can be painful to view and even more painful to confess. Yet like a physical infection, only when sin is brought into the open can healing begin. As Foster assures us, "Under the searchlight of the Great Physician we can expect good always."

After months of freezing temperatures here in Maryland, we were recently blessed with a few days of balmy breezes. Snow, around since mid-January, quickly disappeared as the temperatures soared into the sixties. But I noticed, as Sasha and I walked one early morning, that patches of snow and ice still remained where evergreen trees shaded the ground, preventing the sun from doing its magic. Winter's icy grip remained where the sun failed to reach.

When we allow sin to remain hidden in our hearts, we deny ourselves the healing touch of God in those cold, hard places. Confession is good for the soul. It is time to rid ourselves of our shameful secrets and bring them out into the light and warmth of the saving grace of God.

"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Proverbs 28: 13