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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Avoiding Hypocrisy

A friend of mine (who is not a believer) recently shared a conversation overheard between someone she knew to be a Christian and a senior citizen in their care. The Christian was shockingly abusive in her treatment of the elderly woman, interjecting her venomous accusations with vulgar language and hate. Outraged, my friend told me, “She’s such a hypocrite. She goes around thinking she’s holier than anyone else and at the same time treats someone so cruelly.” The body of Christ holds no interest for my friend in light of the hypocrisy she observes in its members.

It’s a sobering thought. But even my unbelieving friend would admit she herself does not live up to her own standards. We all fail to live out our standards. What is the difference between that and being a hypocrite? We need look no further than the pages of the New Testament to find the answer.

The most prominent and influential religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the Pharisees. It was a society which came into being during the Exile, when the majority of Jews lived on foreign soil, relocated by conquering armies. Knowing the exile was a judgment from God for disobedience, once back on their own turf, the Pharisees vigorously promoted adherence to both Mosaic and Oral Law. They were determined to keep Israel from making a repeat mistake.

Unfortunately, their strict observation of the Law quickly became a source of pride. Josephus, a Jewish historian of Jesus’ day, described the Pharisees as “a body of Jews who profess to be more religious than the rest.” Jesus identified the dichotomy of their standards. “Woe to you Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.” He also told a story about a Pharisee who prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The Pharisees failed to see the imperfection in themselves and so felt free to condemn others.

Jesus warned his disciples about the temptation to judge: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye, and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We are hopelessly inadequate to judge when we are as guilty as those we condemn.

There are two steps to becoming a hypocrite. First, refuse to take an honest look at how you have failed to keep a standard. Second, judge someone else on that standard more harshly than you do yourself.

How do we avoid hypocrisy? We need to keep a realistic view on our relationship with God. “By grace you have been saved, not of works… lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9) We all began our standing with God on the same playing field: dead in our trespasses and sins. Our relationship with God is based on Christ alone. After saving us in a selfless act of mercy, God continues to shower us with grace as we live out our salvation. Any good we do is done through His power. We exist through the merciful grace of God.

Knowing our own debt to grace should impact how we view others. They are in need of God’s mercy, just as we are. Rather than standing in condemnation, we should respond in empathy to their imperfection. We are all in the same boat.

Jesus told a parable about a servant who owed a huge debt to the king. The king demanded payment, and told the servant to sell himself and his family to repay the debt. The servant begged for mercy. The king, moved to compassion, acquiesced. The servant then turned around and revealed his ungrateful heart by throwing a peer into jail for a far smaller debt owed him. The other servants were outraged. How quickly he had forgotten the mercy he had so recently received!

How can we gratefully accept grace from God for our failures and weaknesses, yet turn around and condemn others for theirs? As recipients of mercy, our lives should be marked by compassion and a willingness to extend grace to those around us.

“Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Galatians 6:1-3

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Power to Succeed

He thought he had gotten away with it.

The battle had been nothing short of amazing. The walls of Jericho had simply crumbled as the army of Israel gave its shout. The soldiers swarmed into the city, destroying all but Rahab and her family as previously arranged. The orders were clear: take no prisoners, take no plunder. The city belonged to the Lord.

But Achan had disobeyed. The riches he came across as they swept through Jericho were too much of a temptation. He took a beautiful robe, gold, and silver and hid them within the folds of his clothing. No one will ever know, he thought as he stood with the others watching the rubble of Jericho go up in flames. His bounty would give his family a good start in the Promised Land. He brought his forbidden prize back to the camp and buried it beneath the family tent. No one saw. He went to bed that night alone in the knowledge he was now a rich man.

But in their next battle, Israel was soundly defeated. As God had promised to win their battles for them, Joshua knew something was terribly wrong. In answer to his pleas, God informed him there was sin in the camp. Joshua was led first to the tribe, then the family, and finally to Achan's household. Knowing he had been caught red-handed, Achan confessed. He, his family, and his livestock were sent into the wilderness. There Israel stoned the lot of them and burned their remains.

Why destroy the whole family? The sheep, the donkeys, the oxen? The truth of the matter is our sin affects far more than just ourselves. It reaches its slimy tentacles beyond us and wrecks havoc in the lives of those around us. We do no one any favors when we choose the destructive path of sin.

We usually don't start out intending to sin. So why do we succumb? Our old nature craves self-satisfaction. While we have been given a new potential, the old potential remains within us. The conflict between the two can be intense. "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," Paul wrote the Galatians. "These are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please."

Jesus put it this way: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Bottom line: we can't win against the temptation to sin alone.

That's the bad news. But there is good news. God has made great power available to us: the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at God's right hand in the heavenly places. It will give us everything we need to live a godly life, and will accomplish far more than we could ever ask or think. With His power, we can live lives victorious over sin.

So how do we tap into this amazing resource?

We can start by getting ourselves out of the way. We must stop making our walk with God all about our performance. We were inadequate to earn our salvation, and that inadequacy continues in our ability to live the Christian life. Tapping into the power of God is about recognizing we are not only saved by grace, but we live by grace as well. Jesus warned his disciples that abiding in him was their number one priority: not doing things for him, but resting in him and in his sufficiency.

"Who is adequate for these things?" asked Paul. The answer is none of us are. We need to get our eyes off of ourselves and on to the God who empowers us. "Apart from me, you can do nothing," Jesus warned. We cannot win over sin on our own. But we can do anything when we are infused with the power of God.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Wrath, Ever

Journalist and art historian Lewis Hind once wrote of a personal epiphany about his father. Mr. Hind was a stern parent who administered discipline with an iron hand. Lewis respected his father, but even more, he feared him. One Sunday morning that all changed. He was sitting in a church pew next to his father when the urge to sleep overtook him. Try as he might, young Lewis could not keep his eyes open. As he began to nod off, movement next to him startled him awake. His father raised him arm. Lewis flinched, sure his father meant to shake or strike him. Instead, Mr. Hind stretched his arm over the back of the pew and drew his young son close to his side, encouraging him to snuggle up and relax. For the first time Lewis understood that his father loved him.

Sometimes what we think we know as truth turns out to be dead wrong.

From early on, Jewish theology carried the idea that sickness was always a result of sin. Many centuries ago, a friend of Job demonstrated this with these words: "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger, they come to an end."

In Jesus' day, that idea persisted. Religious leaders questioned Jesus about one man's the state of blindness in John 9. "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Obviously, if you were blind, you were experiencing the wrath of God for some grievous sin. Or so they thought.

Jesus knew otherwise. He corrected their false belief by telling them it was neither. "It was so the works of God might be displayed in him," he said.

Mark tells the story in his gospel of a paralytic whose friends lowered him through a hole in the roof to see Jesus. Their faith in his ability to heal, as evidenced by their determined initiative, pleased Jesus. But when he addressed the paralyzed man, his first words are puzzling. He didn't say, as we think he might, "I will heal you." He said, "Your sins are forgiven."

Why did he say that? Certainly claiming authority to forgive sins was a statement to the religious leaders present in that house. Only God could forgive sins. With his proclamation, Jesus was claiming to be God. But what would "your sins are forgiven" have meant to Jesus' primary recipient, the paralytic?

For however long the man had been paralyzed, he had lived with the stares of others, silently accusing him of committing some terrible sin, evidenced by his physical condition. Worse, he knew the rejection and wrath of God himself. Or so he thought.

Jesus told him otherwise. He cleared away the man's guilt with one statement. Your sins are forgiven. God is not angry with you. He wants a relationship with you. Upon hearing those words and their implication, the burden of despair fell off the man's shoulders. He was spiritually healed.

Then, for good measure, Jesus did what no other could do. He commanded the paralytic to walk. And so he did. He picked up the mat on which he had so recently been carried and carried it home. With that physical healing, Jesus made his point. He was the Son of God. He had the authority to forgive sin. And he had just proved it.

Have you ever wondered if your difficult circumstances are God's punishment for your sin? That if you could be a better person, God wouldn't be angry with you? Don't buy into the lie. It's bad theology.

Jesus bore the wrath of God for our sin on the cross. He endured God's rejection, anger, and sin's consequences. If we believe in Christ, trusting him for our salvation, we will never be condemned for a single sin.

Jesus already paid the debt. God is not angry with you. True, sin makes him angry. But he placed his wrath for our sin on Jesus. As believers, we will never experience the wrath of God.

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:9

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Time to Lay Those Burdens Down

The longest river in the world, the Nile, flows 4,130 miles from its headwaters in Africa's mountainous lakes region to the Mediterranean. Sediments from as far away as Rwanda are carried northward by the force of the water as it plummets over falls and sweeps through channels in relentless movement toward the sea. Near the mouth, the river's banks suddenly widen, and the water spreads out, losing energy in the process. As the velocity slows, much of the sediment, after being carried thousands of miles through the desert, drops to the river bottom. Thousands of years of these deposits have resulted in the famous Nile Delta, an enormous landform easily seen from space.

Sometimes it takes slowing down before a burden can be deposited. David knew this fact well. He wrote: "He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul."

I didn't used to be much on slowing down. As I raced through each day, tyranny of the urgent ran my agenda. We were raising four children, and I was working full time, throwing my energy into making my fifth grade classroom a place of wonder and discovery. Even my service given to the church held the same frantic pace. The busyness eventually took its toll on me, and I began to experience physical problems related to stress. Yet slowing down didn't seem like a viable option.

Then I went to seminary. One of the classes I was required to take was on the spiritual disciplines. I was skeptical from the first time I walked in the door. We Biblical Studies majors didn't think much of those counseling classes. Too much about feelings, not enough about exegesis. I took it because I had to. But I wasn't going to like it.

True to expectations, the professor had us doing some outside-the-box things. I would inwardly roll my eyes as he sent us out to meditate or participate in some touchy-feely exercise. Oh, please. Stop wasting my time!! As the class dragged on, I began to count the sessions until it would be over. Then one morning, as the class neared its end, we were told to go find a quiet place in nature and sit there for one hour, just listening to what God had to say to us. An hour? Of listening? Seemed a bit ridiculous to me. I reluctantly collected a notebook to record all of these messages I would supposedly receive and headed out to find a tree.

"OK, here I am," I begrudgingly informed God. "Fire away." My mind was full of the papers I had to write, the books I had to read, the Greek I had to translate. I could use this hour so much more effectively. I could hardly sit still. My frame of mind was anything but conducive to listening.

But as the hour dragged on I tried to relax and appreciate the peace and quiet. I began to perceive the Lord's presence. Not that he hadn't been there all along, mind you. I was just too preoccupied to notice.

I started to bask in the love and grace he has lavished on me. My thoughts went to his greatness and power and faithfulness, his mercies that were new every morning. I began to thank him for loving me and for the blessings he has put into my undeserving life. Suddenly, my former agenda seemed very shallow. I prayed again, this time with an open heart and mind. "Lord, show me what you desire," I pleaded.

God began to invade my thoughts. He wanted my heart more than my efforts. I was carrying too many burdens. It was time to put them down. So I did. I gave him my worries about finishing my studies successfully. I gratefully handed over concerns about my fledgling adult children awkwardly spreading their wings. My fears and anxieties fell off my shoulders as he impressed on me his power and ability to handle it all. And when the hour was up, I walked away feeling freer than I had been for a very long time.

We Americans are busy people. In our drive for productivity, we pick up burdens we don't have time to lay back down. It's time to slow down. Find a quiet corner in your house. Sit down unencumbered by the routine distractions and open your heart to him. As we embark on a new decade, make it a priority to give God the time he deserves. Don't go to him with an agenda. Let him set the pace. And as he leads you beside quiet waters, you will be restored. It's well worth the time.