Monday, November 29, 2010

Prostitute

Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, the will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. Exodus 34:15
The words prostitute and prostitution are extremely unpleasant. I don’t know how you respond but a very specific picture forms in my mind. No matter many times I see real pictures of what we technically term a prostitute, no matter how high dollar that person may look, the picture in my mind is much more of the seedy variety. That applies on both sides. I am still stunned when the celebrity or politician is caught with their pants down, figuratively speaking. What possesses a person of some semblance of intelligence to take that path? Over the years I have been offered several fairly good explanations of what drives men and women to that behavior but I frankly still don’t get it. And I still see it as less than savory. The picture in my mind, on both sides, is that of a dirty, unkempt, sleazy person. Limited? I know but I guess somewhere along the way that image took hold and it remains. I do not see prostitutes or those who frequent them as anything other than sordid and no amount of propaganda is going to change that image. Okay, so “prostitute themselves to their gods?”

That phrase speaks of idolatry to me. There is only one God so anything else put in the position meant solely for Him is an idol, right? If that is true then my picture of prostitution is quite helpful. If I can see the things I put before God as the broken down, beyond suggestively, well into come and get it clad street walking, fast talking mess, then to give my time to it makes me the dirty trench coat wearing, greasy haired, slicker than dirty oil disaster that goes looking for such a mess. I do not want to be cast in the role of one who seeks out a prostitute. I do not want to put something so deplorable in front of my God. Never once in my life have I seen the things in which I choose to invest my time as prostitution. I have seen them as less than valuable, or even a considerable waste of time, but never as something so filthy and disgusting.

Reading this verse today another idea of prostitution came to mind. Not too long ago I remember watching as a prominent politician had to confess to the world that yes, he was involved with a “call girl.” Whatever buddy! A prostitute by any other name is still not your wife. She wasn’t his wife. She was an extremely expensive substitute. I wondered what drove that man to spend so much time and money on something that would never be his. To me it’s a bit like owning a beautiful home but living in an apartment, all the while paying for both of them and not truly caring for either. Shouldn’t his wife have come first?

We are told in Exodus 34:14 that God is a jealous god. He does not want us to have idols or to put anything in the place created in us for Him. The word prostitute comes from the Latin word prostituere, which broken down is pro- in front and tuere- to stand. So now we know why that words is used in reference to false gods. God wants nothing to stand in front of Him. He is number one, the Alpha and Omega. John 15:5b says, “apart from me you can do nothing.” After years of enjoying the privilege of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit I would paraphrase that to say, “apart from Him I am nothing.” Why would I want to have anything to do with prostitutes of any kind? We are exhorted to have no gods before our God. What stands in front of God for you? Move it! Do everything you can to get that obstacle out of your way. There is no substitute for the One True God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Some Things Never Change

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. Bit to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must want these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name. Acts 4:16-17

Does this sentiment seem at all familiar to you? Peter and John have just appeared before the Sanhedrin. The result is that now all the big guys are in complete uproar. Here are these two uneducated, ordinary guys claiming that they have indeed given the lame guy his legs back. Worse, they are claiming to have done it in the name and power of Jesus Christ. You know the elders, Sadducees and the rest of the crew were thinking, “Oh please! Are we ever going to stop hearing about this Jesus?” Pretty sure that they won’t, they decide to stop Peter and John. They tell them, “That’s it, no more talking about Jesus.” Fine, except Peter and John aren’t quite so easily deterred. Politely they say, “Sorry but we can’t help ourselves. We’re going to talk about Jesus.”

Reading this account of nearly 2000 years ago, I saw some similarity to our own times. How often have you recounted a miracle in your life just to have some one explain it away? There is a medical reason, a paperwork reason, a misunderstanding of the original circumstance, something, anything other than what it really is, a miracle.

The name of Jesus is not terribly welcome in our world these days. We aren’t supposed to invoke it in a public school setting. It isn’t politically correct to approach someone whose behavior is abhorrent based on the teachings of Jesus. He isn’t invited into many, if any, secular settings but conversely I hear his name slandered in those same settings, all the time.

As Christians we are supposed to stand still, be quiet and not oppose those whose lifestyles bring total dishonor to the precious name of Jesus. We are supposed to stand silent in the face of a culture that demands respect for every other belief system while blatantly blasting ours. We face a Sanhedrin of our own every time we raise the name of Jesus in a secular venue. We are told as plainly as Peter and John, “Don’t talk about him here and by all means keep your miracles to yourself.”

For all the freedoms we posses in this fine country the one we cherish most is being severely challenged. Pray that we all have the courage of Peter and John to stand up for the name we say we love. Pray that no one will able to silence those of us who do believe in one nation under God and who do put our trust in Him.

My Savior never pretends that he doesn’t know me. He fights for me and he’s proud to know me. How can I do any less for him?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Translator

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Acts 8:30-31


The other day a dear friend of mine gave me some recipe books. Not unusual, women do that right? Sure. Except for the books are in Spanish, a language that is completely foreign to me. The pictures are lovely and I’m sure I would like some of the foods and baked goods if I could read the recipe. Let me say here that Bella did not give me the books to frustrate me. There are decorating ideas that literally just need the pictures. They have words but the words aren’t necessary. This was a lovely gesture from a dear, sweet friend. She would, I am sure, translate every word if I asked her for help.

Looking at the books, thinking about them, made me think of how some people see the Bible. There are people who see God’s Word the same way I see those books. There may be some curiosity or even interest but there is no understanding. Some people are well able to read but still don’t comprehend but others who encounter God’s Word may see what I see when I look at the recipes. In other words they see something that should make sense but really doesn’t. Where literacy is the issue the answer is simple, read it to them or teach them to read. What do we do when spiritual blindness or a hard heart are the problems?

I believe that we do as St. Francis suggested, “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Suppose I decide to attempt to make a dish from my Spanish recipe books. I can rely on my extremely limited knowledge of Spanish and guess, or I can ask Bella for help. I can ask her because she speaks the language but also because she is a dear, lovely friend. She is a person I trust, who is immensely approachable. I ask her opinion and advice on a lot of topics. I would not have any hesitation to ask her for help.
As Christians it is our duty, our purpose, to be that approachable. We need to be open and inviting where our faith is concerned. Our attitudes need to encourage those who may look at the Bible and see a foreign language, to ask us anything. If we have the ability to read the Word and learn from it, we also have the responsibility to share it with those who are not yet able to see.
I am grateful to Bella for the books but even more grateful for the deeper lesson I learned from receiving them. It is a gentle reminder to me that not everyone has spiritual sight and for those who are seeking it, I may just need to be the translator.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bless this Acorn

All you have made will praise you O Lord,
your saints will extol you. Psalm 145:10


Many people are awed by nature.
Everything about the natural world is fascinating to them. I am not one of those people. There are sights and sounds in nature that take my breath away but I’m not a bird watcher or a hiker. I do not seek opportunities to commune with the land. Not being a nature purist I can enjoy those books, movies and cartoons that lend human qualities to animals. Yesterday our pastor showed us a picture of a squirrel in a position that looked as if its paws were raised to heaven. The cute little thing even had its eyes closed. Adorable! Yes, it is a rat with a tail but irresistible in that pose. The caption was a Scripture verse but it could have read, “Bless this acorn and berry I am about to eat.”

That image grabbed my heart and stayed with me all day. I know that little squirrel cannot speak. I know that the pose is not what I want to think it is and that it may, in fact, be something sinister. “Watch the common yard squirrel as he prepares to attack his predator.” That may be more the case but I prefer to see as our pastor and whoever took the picture intended for us to see it. The squirrel is praising God. Why not? The squirrel was created by God. What really impressed me was the simplicity of the whole thing.

We see pictures of military men and women heads bowed, hands folded, deep in prayer. We see photos of groups of people holding hands, heads bowed deep in prayer. We see video of audiences at Christian concerts or listening to a speaker, hands raised, eyes closed, faces turned up, the direction we think of as heaven. We see those images and we can imagine what some of those prayers could be. But a squirrel? What does a squirrel pray? How does a squirrel pray? Honestly I highly doubt that they do. And yet, they are created beings. The psalm says “all you have made.” We read psalms and other Bible passages that say that everything should praise God. If that squirrel is praising God I guarantee you its praise is purer than mine. That tiny animal does not have to put aside its anger at a family member or a co-worker. It does not have to ask forgiveness for not appreciating its job. That squirrel brings no agenda to the table of praise. If it can bring praise, it brings pure and simple praise.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6

Monday, November 15, 2010

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, May have the power ,
together with all the saints to grasp how wide
and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:17b-18


This morning when I picked up my Bible, it was open to a Scripture that I have been using to remind myself of God’s amazing power. I need a miracle and those verses assure me that God can and will answer my prayer. While I was reading and praying the enemy kept poking me, trying to get me to worry about something unrelated to my prayer. It was very distracting so I stopped reading and prayed that each and every time the poke came that my merciful Father would remind me that through Him I have the power to make that enemy shut up. The image from Psalm 91:13 came to my mind, the one about trampling the serpent. After thanking God for showing me a way out of that danger, I went back to the Word. The very next passage spoke of the disciples fears. The commentary for that passage explained that the disciples didn’t quite get who Jesus was or the extent of his ability to protect them. Did you follow that?

First I was reassured that my faith is based on absolutes and that God will take care of my huge prayer request. Understand this isn’t something that is possible for me on my own. I absolutely need a miracle. Then when the enemy attempted to distract me, there was another Scripture to remind me that God is all-powerful, not just in one aspect of life but everywhere. Nothing is too big or too small for Him.
Sometimes it is so hard to hang on in faith. The night gets darker, the road gets longer, the days get lonelier and it seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is light and not just any light but The Light, as in the light of the world.

Just yesterday I experienced a mixed bag of a day. Early on I was blessed by someone I dearly love. A bit later I was crushed by someone I dearly love. (different someones ). Still later I was able to do a nice thing for my husband and bless his day. The bookends of blessings around the heartbreak in the middle are more evidence for me that God loves me more than I can ever imagine and I promise you I’m nobody special. I certainly don’t deserve His blessings.

You know what that means? It means that God wants to bless you too. It means that His love is exactly as it is described in Ephesians. It means, as it says in Romans 8:31, that if God is for us no one can be against us. God’s love surrounds us, all day, every day. We just have to be smart enough to recognize it and accept it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Herod’s Puzzle

…Herod feared John and protected him,
knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.
When Herod heard John he was greatly puzzled;
yet he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:20


Herod liked to listen to John. Okay, so how is it that John ends up beheaded at Herod’s command, only seven verses later? For the same reason many of us make lousy choices. Herod let the call of the world, the beauty of a woman and the lust in his heart, rule over the sweet, subtle invitation from God. He liked listening to John. The Bible says he was “puzzled.” That made me think of my own reading of many parts of the Bible, I read the verse, reread the verse, read the commentary, reread the verse and still I’m scratching my head in total confusion. I keep reading because I like it, even the parts I don’t get. In this I have a distinct advantage over Herod. I know that what I am reading is the true word of God. I know that each word is included in that sacred tome for a reason. Herod knew only that he was interested in the words and thoughts of a man, most people described as crazy.
There was something in the message of that man that spoke to Herod. Herod saw righteousness in a man who, to the eye, looked like a lunatic. John ate bugs, he wore animal skin, (and don’t picture mink stoles, picture dirty dogs) and his hair was a version of the worst form of dreadlocks after a rough night. John was not pretty and neither were his words. This was the guy who was telling them all to repent because the Messiah was coming.
Reading about John I’ve always thought his words were probably tinged with frustration. “Come on people! Quit with the parties and orgies, the Messiah is coming!” It reminds me of my own frustration with my adult children who believe they can live as if they’ve never heard the Word. On a much lesser scale it reminds me of my children at younger ages minutes before company was expected. “Get the toys out of the den and dining room! Nana will be here any minute.” As my son Joseph would say the focus was on the wrong part of the story.
For Herod, his focus was drawn away from the right part of the story. He liked to listen to John. He may have eventually heard John but the nagging tones of his wife, the wife of whom John disapproved, was louder than John’s message. One may read this and think, aw Herod! You missed the boat. I’ve never removed anyone’s head but I’ve missed the boat more than I care to remember. How many times have my harsh words or lack of compassion removed a bit of someone’s heart? How many times has God been calling to me and listening, though puzzling, was lovely, until something else called louder? What could be more intriguing than God’s voice? The sad answer is, things that are very far removed from God. Things like gossip, the need to be heard, a desire to get even, are on the list, but so are things that can be good. Often we can find ourselves distracted by commitments to family, friends or work. None of those things are bad but they do have to take a backseat to our God time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Playing God

Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
John 8:32
I watched a TV show tonight where one poor tortured soul committed heinous, horrible crimes because he believed that his own life was over. He erroneously believed that he had nothing to live for. He believed it because a person who had once been everything to him kept a very important piece of information from him. The information withheld from him was truly life changing but because he didn’t have it he was empty and lost enough to torture and kill several other people. The story was fiction but it gave me great pause.
How often do we choose not to tell someone something for their own good? How often do we withhold information out of spite? When we do things like that we play God, which is extremely dangerous. That decision has a direct effect on how the other person behaves. When the truth comes out the consequences can be dire or, as in the TV show the consequences could be avoided by telling the truth.
When I choose what another person should or should not know I choose to play God. The problem there is that all I see is the tiny area around me. I do not see what forest fire can be set by withholding information.
My daughter has two children. Let’s say she tells me that she has hired a babysitter and I know that person is an alcoholic who can get quite mean. I say nothing because my daughter has already told me that I don’t trust her judgment and think she is a bad parent. In order to keep her good opinion I say nothing. She keeps the sitter who then puts my grandchildren in her vehicle while she is drunk and causes an accident that severely injures our babies or God forbid worse. How does my daughter feel when I tell her I knew all along about the sitter? How do I feel watching my angels suffer because I wanted their mother’s good opinion?
In the TV show the information withheld would have made the man’s life bearable but since it was withheld, he believed he had nothing to live for and chose to take the lives of many other people. Dramatic? Perhaps but possible.
Each word in the Bible is there for a reason. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes it does cause another person to turn away from us or resent us. Still the words from John are our best directive, know the truth, tell the truth and be free.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For-GIVE-ness

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14
There are a couple of reasons that we may be reluctant to forgive an offense. The first is that many people believe that forgiveness indicates acceptance. It does not. We may forgive an offender but we’re not condoning the offense. Our forgiveness does not suggest that we now think whatever the other person did is all right.

The second reason is about reconciliation. When a sin is large enough to cause a rift in a relationship we may be disinclined to forgive because we fear that means reestablishing the torn relationship. That isn’t always the case.

Some sins may cause a temporary rift. Perhaps the people involved need some time apart to recognize the sin that exists between them. Maybe they just need a cooling off period and when the apology is offered and accepted they then move toward a new relationship.

Other times the sin is just too grave and the hurt too deep for a relationship of any kind to exist. In those cases it is still important to forgive and if possible make the other person aware that you have in fact forgiven them. Forgiveness frees us to move on. No one harboring resentment is going to move very far in life. Resentment and bitterness can hold us hostage as surely as sin that is not confessed.

Even when a relationship can be saved it most likely won’t be the same. Very few things, once broken can be repaired “as good as new”. Somewhere the glue shows. It is the same with relationships. If the hurt goes deep enough it leaves a mark behind. Sometimes we are blessed to move on and grow stronger in spite of the rift. Other times we need to forgive and let go.

Trust God to show you what can and can not be salvaged but no matter what, forgive. It isn’t worth the price we pay if we don’t. Remember forgiveness can never be earned it can only be given. For-GIVE-ness.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Value of Crisis

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to proper you and not to harm you,
Plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11


Years ago I gave birth to my first son, Paul. He was beautiful. A large baby, he had a round face and chubby little fingers from the moment he was born. He looked pink, healthy and perfect. He wasn’t. Day five of his life saw him back in the hospital, hooked up to an IV, not very pink, and according to the doctors, not at all healthy. Day four brought seizures into Paul’s life and that meant hospitalization to determine the cause. The cause, which we found out a week later, was an error in judgment on the part of the delivering physician. Too much pressure on Paul’s tiny, delicate skull caused blood vessels to break and bleed into his brain. As the blood in the brain was reabsorbed the brain seized. “We’re so sorry but your baby has brain damage.” The message was basically, oops, that’s not good but go home, put him on this medicine and get over it. In other words, my perfect, wonderful first born child’s life started in crisis. At the time I felt awful, then I called in every faithful person I knew to pray and to bless that baby. Once I knew he would live, I thought no matter who he is or what he can or cannot do, this is my baby and I will raise him and love him, the end!

Today Paul is approaching his thirtieth birthday. He is tall, thin, handsome, and brilliant. I was told he wouldn’t speak well. He spoke in full sentences at not quite two. I was told he would have fine motor issues. There was a phase at around eighteen months when he seemed unable to take three steps without tripping, but that was hurry not brain damage. He could take toys apart and occasionally put them back together by three. There is no brain damage.
I tell you this because this morning I read about how boring the miraculous stories of the Bible would be if we removed the crisis section. True! If I said, my son was born perfect but we faced a bit of a challenge and now he’s great. You would say, ho-hum, who cares? The truth is much more dramatic and compelling. I went through, he may not live, oh, okay he’ll live but with questionable quality of life to there’s significant brain damage, we’ll see. And here comes my favorite words, BUT GOD, had other plans. The miracle is that Paul is whole and well, of course, but it is so much more than that.

Paul is twenty-nine. He learned to walk and talk. He went to kindergarten. He graduated from high school and college. He dated, learned to drive, married a lovely girl and has a wonderful life. Every time he’s hit a milestone, large or small I have praised God. Paul’s life is a miracle.

Paul has three siblings. All three were born without incident. They’ve faced some illnesses but nothing out of the ordinary. They have given me sleepless nights because of choices they have made but we’ve weathered those storms.

None of us enjoys the crisis. I cried every day that Paul was in that hospital. Five days that felt like fifty. I prayed and hoped at each test after that until I could see that my son was fine, miraculously without damage, even though the test still said the damage exists. But, that crisis showed me the value of Paul’s life and beyond that the value of Joseph, Jeffrey and Laura’s lives as well.

Not one of my children has cured a disease, gone to the moon, or invented a life changing tool. They are wonderful, flawed, ordinary human beings and I marvel at each one of them because, through crisis, I know what could have been.

The crisis part stinks. It hurts. It’s scary and no one likes it. In the moment we wish it could be any other way but in retrospect we are pleased for the glimpse of God’s power. I will never enjoy a crisis but I can look at Paul and know that somewhere in that pain there is a gem. It may take awhile to see it, too long sometimes, but it is there.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Go Team!

It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30

There are certain moments in life that are not unique to anyone. They are banner moments that become the topic or catalyst in books, movies and plays. There are weddings, births, deaths, and the one that is often supposed to be hilarious, but may fall short depending on one’s own experience, the choosing of teams.

Just this morning I was reading a book in which a now middle-aged man recalled the pride of getting his football letter jacket. He talked about how he wore that banner to his athletic prowess every day, regardless of the temperature. He then noted how that paled in comparison to being part of God’s team. That gave me pause.

I was one of those skinny, not at all athletic kids. There wasn’t much in the line of physical education that was on my list of accepted activities. I was a booky kid not a runner, not a ball player, and not at all competitive. Isn’t the fun in playing the game? Oh no, grasshopper, the fun is in winning, not just winning either but in totally humiliating the other group, even if they are your dear friends. Suffice to say, I didn’t get it. The rules of the games evaded me and frankly I didn’t care. Do you think I was one of the first ones chosen for a team? Not hardly! The grace of God was present in my life even then. I wasn’t embarrassed to be called if not last, then pretty darn close to last. I had no illusions of athletic grandeur. There is no letter jacket in my closet or whatever the female equivalent was in the 70’s. There is however a book with my name in it and that is of the utmost importance to me.

Each one of us has the opportunity to be saved by grace. We all have an equal shot at the true prize. There is no physical or intellectual requirement either. What I have in lieu of a letter jacket is a few pins for speech and debate. It doesn’t matter. I can debate all day long. I can present to you in fine dramatic form, any monologue you chose. Those things will not swing open the gates of heaven any faster than a winning touchdown. There is no requirement to receive the precious gift of salvation except acceptance. All we have to do is to ask and we are on God’s team.

Remember those teams in school? The “everybody gets to play” teams? Those were meant for kids like me who might otherwise not be chosen. Oh gee thanks! Didn’t anybody get that not everybody wants to play?

Sadly, not everybody wants to be on God’s team either. The good news for those of us who do is that we already are. The gates of heaven will not swing open based on our abilities or talents, but the arms of Jesus are wide open simply because of his love.

No letter jacket, no trophy, no pin, no shirt, no shoes, (pardon the awful grammar) no nothing, can get us into relationship with Jesus. Only love, his love for us and ours in return. We are all chosen for the best team ever, if we want to play.

Monday, November 1, 2010

God's Kid

And he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

A devotional message that I read this morning used the analogy of walking with a small child to define our walk with Jesus. The point was that it is not just for the child’s protection that we stay near or hold hands but also for our joy in the nearness of the child. My first thought was of my grandchildren. Just last night I sat with five of them reading stories. They love books, just like their Grammy. It was a lovely and precious time for me as well as for them. I understood the analogy of the message quite well. Then the lights came on inside my foggy brain. God sees us the way I see my babies!

Think about that for a minute. What is your profession? Teacher? Lawyer? Chef? Musician? Doctor? Mom? Dad? Or maybe even, pause for the moment of reverence, pastor? Guess what? God sees us all like small children. Follow the analogy, we are to a toddler as God is to us. Now think with the mind of a young child. For one thing we are physically bigger. Then there is the whole misconception that all children hold that adults can do whatever they want. We set their rules but to them no one tells us what to do. Yes, it is laughable but they believe it.

Now, think about God. Although I have no idea what God physically looks like I perceive Him as big, really, really big, huge even. And who do you think could possibly tell God what to do? Granted we all try to tell Him what to do, how to do it, when to do it but that’s pretty laughable too.

The best part of the analogy suggests that the relationship between the adult and the child offers protection for the child. I know I feel very protective of my grands. Just watching their parents make typical parenting boo-boos makes me want to step in and help. I want to convey to those parents that this precious time lasts about thirty seconds. The job feels enormous because it is but at some point most children become adults with the accompanying mistakes and foibles.

At first I was a little taken back at the idea of God seeing me as helpless and small, the way I see my grands. Then I realized that I could not possibly love those babies more than I do. I want the best for them. I want to wrap them in cotton and protect them from everything, even more so than I did with their parents because I am not responsible to raise them. I don’t have to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It isn’t my job to see that they become responsible. All I have to do is offer unconditional Grammy love.

God gives us every opportunity to grow and mature but He calls us to faith like a child because to Him we will always be small, needy, children. Considering that the meaning behind that is that His huge strong hands are always available to rescue me, I like that!