Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Name of God

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,
for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Deuteronomy 5:11



There is a new language now, a language I despise. It is the vernacular of technology, I suppose. I first heard about when email and instant messages began. You know what I’m talking about the, lol, btw, b/c, and the rest. I hate it but I do understand that my age and my word addiction contribute greatly to that intense dislike. There is one, however, that no matter how long I live or even if I could temper my love of words will ever be acceptable. I hate it, absolutely hate it and that is not going to change. That one is “omg.” Are you kidding me? It isn’t bad enough that so many people feel so little about tossing the Lord’s name around, now we’re going to lose the capital letter and abbreviate. Let’s make breaking the third commandment as user friendly as possible. I cannot even consider the little abbreviation that adds the famous letter! I’ll just stick to my outrage at “omg.”

Of course I have been told that it can, and does, mean oh my gosh. One day I had a somewhat serious conversation with my friend Charlene. We were talking about how substituting gosh for God isn’t really much of a solution. Char decided that she would borrow from our friend Susan, who says, “Oh my head.” Upon further reflection we realized that if we are living correctly that would also be God. Certainly we didn’t see it as the same as literally taking God’s name so lightly. I then mentioned how I love Shirley Temple and how she imitated her butler in one movie saying, in a stiff British accent, “oh my word.” Another pause. Yup, same thing.

The fact is, God is our head, He is the Word made flesh and obviously He is God. To say, oh my head, oh my word or even oh my gosh, isn’t horrible. It isn’t breaking any commandment. I suppose it is the emotion or meaning behind the expression that makes the difference. We can say “oh my gosh/head/word” in surprise or fear. We can say it when startled or when we aren’t sure what to say. Those words aren’t sacred and they don’t carry any weight of their own. The words “oh my God” on the other hand, should only be spoken with reverence, in prayer or as praise. Never, ever should that name be taken lightly.

I would like to think that all the “omg”s, spoken and typed, are “oh my gosh” but I’m not that na├»ve. Far too often I hear people use the whole phrase, or just the name of God to express disgust or dismay. It means nothing. There is no connection to some, between the word and the Being.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. (Proverbs 18:10) It is the name we turn to when we are in need or in pain. We run to the tower of the name of our God and we are promised refuge there. It is never, not ever to be minimized or disrespected.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saved Alone

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed
his people. Luke 1:68


The story of Horatio Spafford’s reason for writing the hymn, “It is Well” is amazing and eye-opening to me. I love to read that story and I love the hymn. Hearing it recently I thought of the words in the telegram that Mrs. Spafford sent to her husband after the accident which took the life of the couple’s four daughter’s. To inform her husband of their latest tragedy she sent two words, “Saved alone.” The thought of her having to send the telegram, as well as the thought of him receiving it, gives me chills. That the man was then able to turn that into an anthem of faith, hope and praise is beyond anything I can imagine. But today, it is the two words of the telegram that are speaking to me. “Saved alone.” Reading the story yet again, I was stopped at those words. Anna Spafford meant them literally. Her four precious daughters were dead and she was not. But, think about those words, saved alone and ask yourself, who isn’t?

I have been in church services where many people approach the altar for the prayer of salvation. Many think that prayer will change their lives. It can but only if the individual lets it. In those services there can be ten people or a hundred. The next day the church marquee may well read, “94 saved!” Really? I always wonder about those signs but that thought is a digression. The real thought I am trying to express is that whether one kneels with a group of people at a church service or a revival, or whether they kneel, or cower, or stand, or lie in their bed, each and every one of us is saved alone.

Salvation is not a group effort. When a person chooses Christ as his or her personal savior, it is exactly that, a personal choice. We are not saved en masse. Each of us is saved alone. Once we have recognized our need for a savior and further acknowledged that Jesus is the one and only choice, we enter into a relationship with him. That relationship should change all our other interactions. It should teach us to love and serve better than we ever have before. You may worship in a group. You may serve in a group, but at the end of the day, it’s just Jesus and you.

God does not speak to me, or guide me the same way he does my husband. We know that Horatio Spafford felt compelled to cling to God, to worship him. We do not know if Anna felt the same way. For Anna Spafford the words “Saved alone” are sad, devastatingly sad. For us, for you, for me, for any individual who seeks the saving grace of the Cross, saved alone, is the only way to be saved.

The Spaffords lost their daughters. The words “Saved alone” meant that their home, once filled with five children, the four daughters and a son who had already passed away, was now the shelter of just the two of them. For us, the words saved alone, means never being alone again. Accepting salvation, embracing the saving power of Jesus Christ means that he is our constant companion.

A quick word about the some huge number saved signs. I have nothing against altar calls. Sometimes it takes that invitation, that even though it is offered in a group setting, somehow feels personal. What I wonder is if 94 are “saved” on Sunday evening, how many are living in the grace of that salvation by Tuesday morning? Faith is not about big numbers. In fact it only takes two, Jesus and one other person, any person, willing to be saved alone.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Healthy, Wealthy and Blessed

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you,
and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have
compassion on whom I will have compassion. Exodus 33:19


It seems to me that several of the more popular televangelists are wealthy. Due, perhaps to their own abundance, they like to preach prosperity to the rest of us. God, according to them, wants us to have everything, fancy car, big house, lovely clothes, etc. He also wants us to be healthy and happy. Some of them go as far as to suggest, if not come right out and say, that if we aren’t healthy, wealthy and wise we don’t have enough faith.

Contrast that with a very large portion of the world where people have almost literally, nothing but their faith. What about them? Several years ago my husband went on a mission trip to build houses in Honduras. He came home with stories of abject financial poverty endured by people of immense faith.

Financially, I fall somewhere in the middle. My husband and I are not prosperous by American standards but compared to much of the rest of the world we are wealthy beyond measure. Sadly in matters of faith, I fear I fall in the middle as well. My faith is certainly not based on my bank account or whether or not life is going my way. I am grateful for a faith that has sustained me through financial crisis, loss of relationships, humiliation and the death of loved ones.

I believe that God wants me to enjoy plenty. The question is plenty of what? Looking at that question I see that it could have a sarcastic tone and I assure you that is not my intention. Not too long ago I heard a pastor say, “God wants us to be happy.” This was not a man on TV. This man was standing right in front of me, preaching at my son’s church. It took every effort in me, not to say, “No, he doesn’t.” Which is not to say that God wants us to be unhappy: happiness isn’t the issue. God wants us to be joyful.

Our joy should not come from fancy anything. It should not come from the false security of a large bank account or the backward pride of a small one. It should not come from the ability to boast of never having been sick a day in my life nor the boast of all the illnesses endured. The steadfast joy of the Lord comes from, THE LORD. It comes from the simple, although at times very hard to hang onto, knowledge that God is God which makes everything right. It doesn’t matter how things look or feel. God is in control and He is perfect.

God may want you and me to have things, tangible, fancy, don’t I look nice, things but then again He may not and the choice is His. Our choice is to love and praise Him or walk away.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Perfect Parent, Perfect Kid

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn
from it. Proverbs 22:6


One of my goals in life from as early as I can remember, was to be a mom. In fact I wanted to be a Kool-aid mom. You know, the one who always has all the kids at her house, her own and all of their friends. God was very good to me in blessing me with four children of my own and giving me that dream of having their friends around as well. It seemed to me that if you were an active part of your children’s lives you got the double portion benefit of enjoying them and raising secure, confident children who would make good, sound decisions. If you are laughing at me right now, I’m okay with that.

I have four grown children who are dearer than dear to me. I love them beyond measure. Some of them however have made choices that have made their lives so difficult. Some have been hurtful to themselves and other and each one, every one of them, lacks confidence in one area or another. This is not to say that they aren’t capable, functioning adults, some of whom are doing very well. This is to say that the road has been hard, full of potholes and rocks. In other words, it has been real life.

For years I judged my parenting and found all kinds of holes and deficiencies. As one after another stumbled and sometimes fell, I took responsibility, at least in my heart. What could I have done differently?

Today reading 1 Chronicles I saw David and Solomon through God’s eyes. David was not allowed to build the temple. God told David that based on some of David’s behaviors, Solomon was better suited to build the temple. Reading I flashed forward to Solomon in his later years. Sometimes so close to God, so wise (we do say the “wisdom of Solomon”) but sometimes just downright selfish. And there it was, comfort from my dear Father.

My children are far from perfect but in some ways they’ve done better than I ever have. They are human, just like me, just like David, just like Solomon, and just like you. God is father to us all. If my heart breaks seeing my babies (the youngest of whom is 25!) struggling with consequences how much more so do those actions break the heart of God?

The verse in 1 Chronicles says to be “careful to observe the decrees and laws.” In other words to be obedient. I am often disobedient and/or disrespectful to my Father just as my children have been to me. If we will not obey and stay close to a perfect parent how can I expect more when I am flawed and far, far from perfect? There are things I would do differently, of course, but a lot of it I would do exactly the same way. The one thing I know I did well was to introduce them to, acquaint them with and point them in the direction of, their perfect Father. Just like me, just like David and Solomon, they have to choose to obey Him or not.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Body to Body

When Elisha reached the house there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. 2 Kings 3:32-37

In liturgical churches during the season of Lent, many sermons are given about the abundant love of Christ and the sacrifice he gave on the Cross. There is a lot of focus on the fact that one perfect life was exchanged for so many imperfect lives. Jesus gave his all for us.

This story of Elisha and the son of the Shunammite woman, comes before Jesus in the Old Testament. To me it is more evidence that God never changes. Elisha does not have to give his life for the boy but he does take a huge risk. Moreover, the cost to Elisha is not detailed here.

Elisha put his body over that of a dead boy. Read the words carefully, “mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.” Okay, the boy died of something. Elisha has no idea what nor does he seem to care. The “mouth to mouth” could read, “healthy ordinary germ filled mouth to sick, life taking germ filled mouth.” The same holds true for the hands certainly and maybe even the eyes. Elisha is taking a huge risk. He lays his healthy body down on top of a dead one. Forget our modern thoughts on that and think about the reaction of those times, to all things unclean, dead bodies being rather high on that list. With no thought to the social stigma Elisha does what he deems necessary and then returns the boy to his mother. What happens to Elisha at that point?

We can suppose that there are happy tears shed by both boy and mama but what of Elisha? My guess is that Elisha is done for a bit. He has called on every bit of God power in him to save that life. God’s power surged through Elisha to the boy and when all was said and done I bet Elisha felt his frail humanity and powerlessness.

I have been privileged to pray with people who are very ill, terminally ill even and with people who are world weary and frightened. I have prayed with people whose requests seem simple or who are rejoicing. In all cases I can feel the nearness of the Lord but when I pray with the ones who are suffering there is a difference. While in prayer with them I feel strange. It is as if something has taken me over, put me on autopilot. I guess that is because I have stepped out of the way, as much as possible, to let God speak through me. After the prayer is finished and the receiver goes along with his/her day I feel an emptiness, a weakness if you will. It is the recognition of the power that was there for the moment but is now not so evident. The power of the Holy Spirit is available to all of us who call on Him. However He certainly turns up the heat at times.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creations

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him:
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

When writing fiction I have to create characters. They become quite real to me, which is sometimes hard for the people around me to understand. A few years ago while out to dinner with my husband I saw a young man who looked a lot like one of my characters. I told my husband, “He looks a lot like Nick.” My husband laughed and asked me how I knew what Nick looked like. If not me, who would? Nick exists because I created him. The other day I mentioned that the little girl in the book I’m working on now sounds like a little girl I know from school. My husband again commented. “Oh great, now you’re hearing their voices?” Admittedly that does sound a little odd but again, of course I hear them. I plan every minute of their lives. Still it is so great when someone reads my book and tells me something they’ve seen in a character that I didn’t really think about.

Talking about this with various people, I began to think about God’s creation, in other words, us, His people. God has a plan for us and He knows exactly what it is. He knows us better than we know ourselves. There are many days when I am not a fan of free will. Those are usually the days when I have managed to do something I know is a disappointment to my Father. Then I wish that he would script my every word and orchestrate my every move. That way I couldn’t screw up. Unfortunately I do have free will. While God knows me inside out, he does not put the words in my mouth. He doesn’t put my foot in there either. God knows me better than I know myself, better than any human being knows me. Nothing I do can surprise Him.

Which brings us back to Nick. Nick and all my other characters can surprise me. Just when I think I know where I/they are going with a story something changes. I know them better than anyone else does but not in the same way that God knows us. Outside factors in my own life can influence a story. Nothing outside of God influences His thoughts or His decisions.

He created us with a plan and a purpose which nothing can change or take away. In this life we live with lots of variables, question marks and insecurities but one thing is absolutely certain, God is for us. We are His own and no one can separate us from Him.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Decision Makers

Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord. Exodus 28:30

Do you know what the Urim and Thummim are? I didn’t until I looked it up the first time I read this verse. The what? These aren’t words that suggest any meaning I’ve ever known. So, I checked them out. Immediately I wanted a set of my own. Now years later reading this same passage in Exodus I don’t feel any different. I want a set of my own!

In case you haven’t had the opportunity to check out these ultra-important items I’ll tell you about them. The Urim and Thummim (say that five times fast!) were devices used by a priest, in this case Aaron, to determine God’s will. The best information is that they were much like lots or stones cast to discern God’s yes or no answer. Where can you buy those? Where’s the infomercial on those little darlings? Come on! I would pay three payments of whatever the cost and not expect a second set or even free shipping.

In all seriousness this is where I get a little impatient with our friends the Israelites. We pray and we listen for the guidance of the Spirit of God. Sometimes that is loud and clear. Other times it as clear as mud. We seek advice from our prayer partners. If they don’t all see it the same way, I’m inclined to go with the opinion that matches mine. It might be better to consider the opposing opinion but that’s usually the harder road. Oh for a Urim and Thummim or even just one of them!

One of the hardest things for me is to be sure that I have heard God’s directive correctly. I know what the Commandments say and I can consult Scripture but again, like the advice of my prayer partners I can pick and choose with God’s Word too. I’ve had those times, when like it or not, I knew because I knew because I knew exactly what God wanted from me. Even when I hate what I have to do, I love doing it because I know it is from Him. Unfortunately, it isn’t always so clear.

Right now I am grappling with two very difficult decisions. I am seeking God and Godly counsel. I am reading His Word, praying and trying to hear Him. But how much easier it would be to look to the old Urim and Thummim? Of course the nasty free will issue is always involved and like the Israelites before me I could still be disobedient. I just think it would be great to have a tool like that.

We don’t. What we have is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the personal responsibility to be so close to Him that we cannot falter. I guess God’s still working on me in that area. I suppose He will be working on me in that listening/understanding/obeying area until He welcomes me home. I guess it’s better this way. I would rather seek God’s face, through His Word, through His people, through His Spirit than through a priest and a couple of gadgets. Still there are some days……