Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Today's passage:  James 2
     If I told you I was a Doctor, but did not practice in a hospital or clinic, would you believe me?  If I did not have a certificate that showed you I had completed my medical training, residency and internship, would you be convinced?  Only I would know for sure whether I was telling you the truth or not, maybe some friends from college could tell you as well, but you would have to look them up to get their stories.     
     This passage in James is probably one of the most misinterpreted passages of Scripture.  People who believe their salvation is based on works, love it.  They feel it proves that you have to do good things to enter Heaven.  But James is not saying that at all.  He tells us that faith without works is dead, not non-existent.  I can tell you I am a Christian, but unless you see something in my life that seems Christ-like, you may not believe me.  Unless I am doing the things a Christian should do, you might not be convinced.  I don't have a certificate to hang on my wall that tells people the day I got saved.  I used to have one for the day I was baptized (I may still have it somewhere) but the baptism didn't save me, it is another thing I did to show my salvation.  Only God and I know for sure whether I have accepted His Son, Jesus Christ, for my salvation.  I may have some friends that were present at the time you could ask, but you would still not have a guarantee. 
     If I don't behave as a Christian should, it will be pretty hard to persuade people to believe I am what I say I am.  If I do behave as a Christian should, then I might be able to convince them.  I may really be a doctor.  I may have obtained a medical degree.  I may have aced Anatomy and Organic Chemistry and all the classes a doctor would have needed to take.  If I am not practicing medicine somewhere, that does not make me any less a doctor (although I would probably be pretty rusty should I start practicing again).  It just makes people less convinced that I am one.  If I opened a clinic, treated people, prescribed medicines, then you might say, "Oh, she's a doctor,"  even if I didn't have a medical degree hanging on my wall.  You might even believe that someone who didn't have a degree was a doctor if they started doing those things. Hmmmm.  Does that mean there are fake Christians?  Unfortunately, just as there are fake doctors, there are people who are not the real thing spiritually either.  And we have no way of knowing, because salvation takes place in the heart.  We can only see what people do. 
     So if I say I am a Christian, and I am not practicing, I probably could not convince anyone to become a Christian too. If I see someone who is doing all the things a Christian should, I would possibly assume he is a Christian (but I cannot really know for sure).  If I see someone who behaves in despicable ways, I would probably assume he is not a Christian.  Maybe he just isn't practicing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Little Things

Today's passage:  James 1
     "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
     I'm barely into this book and I am already convicted.  In fact, I'm feeling like I have been in a boxing match after reading just this first chapter.  The verses above were the upper cut.  Then in verse 20 he talks about wrath not producing righteousness in our lives.  I feel a punch to my gut, because I need to work on my anger.  In the last few verses, he knocks me out with the verse that my religion is empty if I am not careful with what I say.  I am down for the count.  I'm going to prop myself up for a few minutes to talk about verses 2 and 3 above.
     I have heard these verses probably for as long as I've been a Christian.  I sometimes think, I can handle any "big" thing God throws at me.  I am glad He hasn't thrown any "big" things at me.  My health is fine.  So is my family's as far as I'm aware.  We still have a house, despite the rough economy.  Thankfully, my husband hasn't lost his job (I'm thinking unless he does something really outrageous, we will always need policemen).  I really have no complaints.  Then why do I so often find myself complaining?  Maybe the reason God hasn't thrown any "big" things at me, is because I can't seem to handle the small things around me.  I become overwhelmed far too easily with the kids, with the housework, with the bills, with other responsibilities.  Why would God put something bigger in my life to be a terrible testimony?  On the other hand, do I keep my attitude, because I don't want God to give me something "bigger"?  I'm afraid of trials, I admit it.  I venture most people are.  I don't really want to be like Job.  I love that verse that talks about Job being upright and eschewing evil.  Sure.  That's great.  Then come the trials.  Okay, maybe not liking it so much.  If that's what it takes to be the person God is looking for, I'm not sure I want to be that guy.  Do I complain, to help God look elsewhere?  If I really want to be used for God (and I am terrified right now, as I am writing this) I need to be willing to go through the trials for Him.  I need to be willing to count even the little things as joyful.  Because whether I like it or not, He is trying to prepare me for some "big" things.  He wants me to get a handle on the small things, so He can work patience in my life.  (Just a sidenote, I find it interesting that patience is referred to as she, because I find that women tend to have more patience than men.  Sorry guys!)  I don't know what is in my future.  I know that I need to be prepared for anything, little or big, that God puts in my life.  I know I have so much to work on.  I know that I will probably need some people reminding me of this post if God decides I'm ready.  So readers, I count on you to bring this passage back to mind, if the "big" thing comes.
     I think I will remove myself from the boxing arena now.  I have some wounds to bandage.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 8
     "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave:  the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
         The Oriental Art Institute at University of Chicago campus has a large variety of Middle Eastern seals dating back to the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires. I've seen rectangular and cylindrical seals with squiggly characters from those languages on ceramic pieces.  Sometimes, a king had his particular seal engraved into a ring.  He would use this to sign correspondence, treaties, or decrees.  He would make the impression in melted wax or soft clay that would then harden.  Everyone would know that he had approved what had been written.  Solomon asks the Shulamite to allow him to be the seal on her heart and arm.  The heart I could understand, that is where emotions are stirred.  But why the arm?  That doesn't sound too romantic.  Perhaps because when we really love someone, it involves action.  When I say I love my husband, I show him by what I do.  My arm is probably one of the most active parts of me. 
     God wants to be the seal not only on my heart but on my arm as well.  He wants to be a part of all my daily activities.  I can tell Him I love Him, but if I am not doing anything for Him, I don't really show my love.  If I say I love Him, but never turn the pages of my Bible, it is not very convincing.  If I say I love Him but never pass out a tract, it is vain.  If I say I love Him but never fold my hands and arms in prayer, I am telling Him a lie.  Love is action.
     God put His seal upon me, because He approved me as His correspondence for the world to see.  He put His name on me.  Everyone should know that I belong to Him.  People should be able to see that I belong to the King.  Not any king, the King of kings.  I am His law, I am His love letter, I am His treaty.  I show the world that God made peace with us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Am I a letter the world wants to read?  Do I represent my King well?  I have His seal of approval on my heart and on my arm.  May I actively be doing things to show my love for Him.  May I make Him proud that He has put His seal on me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 7
     I'm having a puzzling time with some of the descriptions given to the bride.  Goblet navel, nose like a tower, fishpool eyes.  I can't figure out the comparisons and they don't make her sound all that beautiful.  The groom obviously intends them as compliments, but she sounds a bit like a carnival sideshow attraction. 
     At the end of the passage, the Shulamite is homesick.  She yearns to go back to her home near Lebanon.  She knows this place.  It is a part of her.  She feels comfortable here.  She is familiar with the sights, the sounds, the smells.  She knows every fruit tree, every vine and she has eaten fruit from each one.  She knows the townspeople in the nearby villages.  She calls out the name of each family.  Visiting home always evokes powerful emotions. 
     For me, home is where my family is.  Being a military kid, I've always struggled with the question "So, where are you from?"  I wasn't really from anywhere.  I could tell you the places I had lived.  None of those really qualified as home.  Missouri is probably the closest to being home because that is where my family settled, it is where my grandparents lived, it is where I finished high school and attended college.  When I think about home, I think about seeing my family, I think about visiting with friends, I think about the country life, so different from the city.  I have a sense of belonging.  I can identify with the Shulamite.  Going home is special. 
       The Shulamite woman felt out of place in Solomon's palace.  She wanted to see her brothers back home.  She wanted to shoo away the servants and do her own work.  She wanted to know if her vineyard had survived without her labors.  She wanted to feel comfortable again.  I will never really know Home until I get to Heaven. I will be welcomed into the arms of Him who died for me.  I will sprint down the streets of gold to find friends and loved ones who are already Home.  I will be with the One who knows me better than anyone here on earth.  I will be at ease.  I will be able to answer the question, "So, where are you from?"  Without hesitation, I will say, "Heaven."
     "What a day that will be!  When my Jesus I shall see, What a day, glorious day, that will be!"

Friday, May 27, 2011


Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 6
     I've been raised in a day of the confident, outspoken woman.  Today's man seems to be attracted to this.  I hear that he wants a woman who speaks her mind (until he is married to her, and suddenly it is not so attractive.)  Men today say they want a woman who is assertive, who knows she is beautiful.  Really?  I'm so glad my husband doesn't think this way.  He dated plenty of those self-assured model types, and he said they were way too into themselves to ever be into him. I am not trying to stereotype beautiful women, I'm just saying that many times excessive outer beauty leaves the inner beauty with something lacking.  Since beauty is a quality that we as women want to acquire (if we don't already have it), it is good to be reminded that men see more than just what is on the outside.   Perhaps the most attractive quality about the Shulamite woman is her humility.  She doesn't seem to be aware of her beauty .  She isn't impressed with herself.   She is amazed at the attentions her royal husband and his court shower upon her.
     "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib."  Many of the older movies feature these chariots when portraying Middle Eastern royalty.  The passenger sits in a curtained, cushioned box with open sides.  Poles run alongside it to be carried by menservants.  She says her soul is like this.  It has been lifted up.  She is overwhelmed by her adoring husband.  She looks down, and people surround her.  People who will do her bidding.  She is overcome.  She feels undeserving for she asks, "What will ye see in the Shulamite?"  What do you see in me, she wonders.
     Yes, Lord, what do You see in me?  Why do I deserve Your attention, Your favor?   How You have prospered me, blessed me, loved me.  I am nothing special.  I am what You have made me, and prayerfully, I will be much more.  You honor me with Your affection, and I can't say I have always reciprocated.  You treat me like royalty by allowing me into Your presence.  I can come to Your throne freely, as a queen to her king.  You have never stopped me.  You have never turned me away.  Have I been as humble as I should?  Have I been as appreciative?  Let me be a self-assured woman not because of who I am or what I have done, but because of what You have done for me.  Let me be outspoken for You.  Let whatever beauty I possess be a result of living holy and wholly for You.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 5
     I learned a song several years ago via teenagers at youth camp.  The chorus goes like this, "Knock, knock, knock, I heard Jesus knocking, tug, tug, tug, tugging on my heartstrings, thump, thump, thump, my heart started thumping, when I heard Him knocking."  The song verses describe Jesus wanting to come live in my heart (King that He is), but He will not enter until I let Him in.  The last line says, "I was smart, I asked Him in my heart, when I heard Him knocking."
     The Shulamite woman once again has a disturbing dream.  This time Solomon is at her door, but he struggles to enter.   She opens it but he has left.  She calls for him, but he does not return the call.  The guards arrive.  They treat her as a trespasser.  They take away her veil.  She pleads with the women of the city to tell her where her king has gone.  They mock her.  "What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women?  what is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?", the women ask.  So she describes him.  She tells why he is her beloved.  And an unusual description it is too (a face like the Lebanon cedars, a torso like ivory dipped in sapphires, legs like marble pillars).
     This dream can never happen in the life of the believer. Like the song, "I was smart, I asked Him in my heart".  When I open my heart's door, He will not vanish.  He will not play Hide-and-Seek.  He will not send henchmen to carry me out of His palace and tell me I do not belong.  I will not have to implore the townspeople to tell me where my Lord is.  He will step inside, and reside within me.  The unbeliever might struggle with the doorknob, Christ will not break it down.  He will knock persistently.  He will knock loudly.  He will knock urgently.  After a while, if the door still has not opened, He will quietly go away. 
    Let me imagine for a bit, that the townswomen are the unsaved.  They ask me what is so special about my Lord.  Why am I looking for Him?  What does He offer more than any other lord?  What description would I give?   How would I answer?  They are skeptical.  They are unbelieving.  What can I say to convince them?  I would not be able to tell them,  unless I know Him well.  I would not be able to persuade them unless I knew His Words.  We are surrounded every day with people who have Christ knocking on their hearts' doors.  At some point, they do not notice He is no longer knocking.  They seek after anything that can fill the place in their heart Christ is supposed to fill.  When they encounter Christians, maybe they hear a little tap-tap again.  Maybe talking to us, the knocking resumes.   Can I convince them about my Savior?  Am I living a life that is different, that is devoted to my beloved?  May I have the passion for my Lord to convince people to open the doors of their hearts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Secret Garden

Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 4
     I have only been to the Chicago Botanical Gardens one time.  I fell in love with the place.  If I could have afforded it, I would have been married there.  My most favorite section is the English Garden (surprise, surprise).  Fragrant roses and cottage florals, English ivy creeping up stone walls, ornate urns spilling tendrils from its contents.  I want to go back.  I want to build a cozy little home right in the midst.
     Solomon was the richest man in the world at that time and probably at any time.  He spent 13 years building his palace, and it was luxurious.  He spent 7 years building God's temple and it was grand.  I would have thrilled to see his gardens.  Can you even imagine?  He probably had every species of tree, bush and flower.  He would have had the best gardeners.  The walks through the gardens would have been highly impressive.  Fountains, bird sanctuaries, orchards, trellises, butterfly gardens.  It would have surpassed any botanical garden today. He would have had only the best.  I imagine they were extensive as well.  If he spent 13 years on his house, the grounds would have to match the lushness of his dwelling.
An Apple Tree in Blossom--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
The Standard Publishing Company, 1925

     In the last few verses, he compares his new bride with a private garden.  She is a pomegranate orchard, a spice grove.  He compares her to spikenard, saffron, cinnamon, aloe.  He mentions calamus, frankincense, and myrrh.  Many of these were used in oils and perfumes.  He believes her to be the choicest garden when he probably already has all these in his own garden already.  Yet, in her, he finds them special.  She is unique.  She is his choice.  How God loves us like that!  What does God not have?   He created this world.  He built every mountain.  He owns every hill.  Like Solomon, he planted each garden.  He knows exactly what he planted in every plot.  Yet, he sees me, and I am unique.  I am unlike any other garden.  My spices, my fruit are appealing to Him. 
     I want to always be pleasing to my Lord.  I want to keep my garden attractive to Him.  He should always have access to my life.  Nothing should be off limits.  Any fruit, any spice  should be available to Him.  He lives in me already, He has built a home in my midst.  Does He always want to stay?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Restless Nights

Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 3
       Early in my marriage, my husband worked nights and I worked days.  Many nights, I would stay up and wait for him to come home.  Eventually, I could not keep that schedule anymore because I needed to be rested for work.  Sometimes he would have a late arrest that would keep him an hour or two past his regular shift.  If he knew I was in bed already, he usually didn't call me.  If it came early enough in the night, he would try to let me know that he would be later than usual.  On occasion (the nights he didn't call) I would wake up and find that he was not home yet.  That always made me anxious, because I wanted to be sure he was okay.  What if it hadn't been a late arrest?  What if he had a car accident?  What if someone accosted him in the alley?  What if he had been hurt at work and nobody had sent word to me yet?  All kinds of fearful things crossed my mind until he arrived.  Once he walked through the door, I was at ease.  I was at peace again.
     In the beginning of this passage, the bride is having a fitful dream.  It is causing her great distress.  She can't find her groom and she is starting to panic.  She goes out into the streets asking the guards where he might be and when she finds him, she is relieved.  She can go back to sleep.  The groom orders that nobody is to disturb her.  He wants her to rest. 
A young couple embraces as if having a reunion in this vintage drawing.
The Reunion--Taken from Old Christmas
By Randolph Caldecott, 1892
Courtesy of www.reusableart.com

     My life can be like that.  I become fearful in situations, I let things scare me, disturb me, upset me.  I pace with worry and try to figure out how I will solve my dilemma.  Why?  When I take them to my Lord, He will deal with them.  He will comfort me and soothe me and put me back to sleep.  He will take the things that give me fear and headaches and stress and He will hold onto them for me.  He will listen to my concerns.  He will quiet my fears.  He will not allow them to bother me again.  I don't have to go looking for Him, He is always there.  I need never worry that something would happen to Him.  He is in control of it all and I can sleep soundly knowing He can handle it.

To, Not Past

Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 2
     "The voice of my beloved!  behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills."  Movies and commercials have often spoofed two young people in love in a flowery meadow running towards each other with wide open arms, and romantic music playing as they finally embrace.  They are smiling and happy and can see nothing in the world but each other.  The spoofs often have them running past each other or something else awkward when they do meet.
     I was picturing Christ as the beloved, leaping and skipping.  He is the man in the movie running toward me with his arms open wide.  Do I run to meet Him?  Do I see him alone?  Or am I distracted by something beyond Him?  Maybe the checklist of things I have to do today?  Perhaps the book I want to finish reading?  How about the bills I need to pay?  I have so many things in my life that take my focus off God.  So many things that cause me to run right past Him.  He comes to meet me, and I am not there.  He wants that special time with me each morning, and I have found something else to do.  That is not the picture of true love.  That is not the picture of devotion.  How well do I love my Lord?  How well do I listen to His voice? 
     The Shulamite woman knew Solomon's voice so well, that when she heard it, even before she saw him she knew it was him.    I know my husband's voice.  I know it so well, that I could be in a crowded room, and I could pick it out.  I know his tone, his accent, his speech patterns.  We have spent a lot of time together, that is how I know him.  It is the same thing with Christ.  The more time I spend with Him, the more I will know Him.  The more time I spend with Him, the more my love for Him will grow.  He will call, and I will answer.  He will run, and I will run to meet Him.  If my love is real, I will not see any of the distractions in the background, I will see only Him.  Cue the romantic music.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Today's passage:  Song of Solomon 1
     In my study Bible, this book is prefaced with the story of Solomon and the woman he is writing about (often called the Shulamite woman) in these verses.  Apparently, Solomon had a vineyard near Lebanon that he rented out.  A group of brothers and one sister lived there.  The brothers made the girl work out in the fields day after day.  Solomon dressed as a shepherd and visited the vineyard.  He was taken with the girl's beauty and started to woo her.  She did not know this was her king.  Eventually they marry and she is taken to the lavish palace.  She was not used to such grandeur, and although she enjoyed the affection that was heaped upon her, she was used to simple pleasures.  She found herself longing to see her home in the vineyard once again.  Solomon granted her that wish and she was even able to persuade him to give a part of the vineyard to the brothers still residing there.
     This first chapter is the wonders of new love, the exciting start of a relationship.  In verse 5, she is embarrassed by how dark and weathered her skin has become from working out in the vineyards all day.  I remember how much time I took to get ready on a date with my husband.  I would change 5 or 6 times because I wanted to wear the perfect outfit, I would spend an ample amount of time on my hair because I wanted it to look right.  I wanted to impress him.  I wanted him to be pleased with my appearance.  If I had a pimple appear right before a date, I was horrified.  It was embarrassing.  I did everything I could to cover it up.  I'm imagining that the Shulamite woman tried to do the same.  She probably rushed about trying to find some way of covering her skin.  In the end, all she can do is apologize and hope he will accept her for what she is.  Such a picture of Christ's love for us.
A young man appears to be attempting to steal a kiss from a pretty young girl.
Kiss Stealer--Taken from Victorian Songs-Lyrics of the Affection and  Nature
By Edmund H. Garrett, 1895
Courtesy of www.reusableart.com
     So many people think they can change who they are before they accept Christ, before they think Christ will accept them.  Not so.  I can not change myself without His help, and He accepts me the way I am.  After time with Solomon, the woman's skin will begin to lighten, because she will be spending more time in the palace, out of the sun.  I'm sure that Solomon could afford the most expensive lotions that she would be able to apply to make her skin soft again.  When I spend time with my Lord, where He lives, He will change me.  He will make me more acceptable to Him.  But I have to realize that He accepted me to begin with.  He loved me despite my flaws.  So did my husband.  Yet, how much time do I take now to be pleasing to him?  How much time do I spend trying to look my best when he gets home from work?  Not as much as I used to.  Has our relationship gone stale?  Probably a little bit, as most marriages do when children come along.  I haven't made it a priority and I should.  My relationship with Christ can go stale too, if I neglect my Bible, if I neglect going to His house.  It doesn't take a lot to breathe new life into the relationship, it just takes making it a priority.  I have no reason to apologize for how I start out.  Have I progressed?  Have I transformed?  Have I developed into a woman that will please my husband and my Lord?  If I remember the excitement of new love, I will.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Edit, Backspace, Delete

Today's passage:  James 3
     While I am deciding which book to study next, I will share a thought that occurred to me (as I was ironing clothes).  I was thinking how often I censor myself.  Not in the way TV networks need to do when someone curses and the show logo appears across their mouth, but when I'm about to say too much.  How many times on a social networking site I visit often have I started to post a comment and then decided maybe it was better left unsaid.  I am able to review what I've said before I post it.  Sometimes I erase the comment before I hit enter.  If I said everything I thought, I would probably have few friends left. Wouldn't it be nice if I could do that in real life?  How convenient it would be to have a playback in my head of how something sounds so I could erase it if I need to.
     "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?  let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom."  If I would always think before I speak or post, I would be perceived as wise.  Many times, I don't think before I speak.  Those words are forever out there.  I can't take them back, I can't backspace and delete.  Am I considerate before I leave a comment?  Not just in cyberspace, but face to face?  Do I guard my words?  They are so powerful!  The book of James talks about the tongue being like a fire.  Uncontrolled, it does irreparable damage.  James says the tongue is like the horse's bit and the ship's rudder.  It needs taming and steering.  Am I the captain of my tongue?  Do I steer it in the right direction?  Do I consider before I speak, or do I just assume that because it is truth, it needs to be said?  I've done that too many times before, and have regretted it.  I am nobody's Holy Spirit.  Just because my intentions are right, does not mean I should always say what I believe.  People can not hear my intentions, only my words.That is not saying that there isn't a time for truth. Sometimes I haven't said enough.  Sometimes I should have intervened.  It can be a very fine line.
Sailing the Mediterranean by Ship
Sailing the Mediterranean by Ship--Taken from Treasures of the Bible (The Early Church)
By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
     I've been thinking about this because I often feel lonely.  I talk to people, but I don't feel as if I have many close friends.  I am close with my church family, but not in an I-can-reveal-my-heart to you way.  Have I alienated people with my words?  Do I seem self-righteous?  Perhaps one of the reasons I started this blog is because it allows me to be transparent in a way I don't feel I can be in real life.  I am somewhat reserved.  I like to be proper (maybe too much).  Do people feel I'm aloof?  I hope not.  Sometimes I have heard the comment that I am not genuine.  Am I fake?  I don't mean to be. I can see why people may think that way.  I try to be careful in everything I say and do because I don't want to bring any shame to my Savior in word or deed.  I try to be careful with my words because I don't want to give offense when it is not warranted.  I'm not talking about waffling or wavering in my opinions.  I'm certain in what I believe, and given the opportunity to proclaim my Savior, I will take it.  But there are plenty of matters that my opinion does not need to be revealed unless asked, and even then, carefully.  I am probably only unguarded with my husband and children, and I probably need to be the most guarded with them.  My words affect them so deeply.  Why do I feel like since they are my family I can say whatever I feel to them?  Why do I not apply the same principles to them that I do other people?  Wouldn't it be nice if I could delete every hurtful thing I've said to them?  Wouldn't it be marvelous if I could backspace before I made that critical comment? If I am the captain of my tongue, there would never be need for it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Survey Says

Today's passage:  None
     I'm finally finished with the book of Isaiah.  Any ideas on what book I should venture into next?  If you have any suggestions, please leave comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Just Furniture

Today's passage:  Isaiah 66
     "Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool:  Where is the house that ye build unto me?  and where is the place of my rest?  For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD:  but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word."
     I'm wondering if the environmentalists have read these verses.  I believe I should certainly be a good steward of all that God has given me.  I believe clean water is important, I should pick up litter, I should turn off the lights when I go out of a room (that's common sense and saves me money).  But to do this and more on the premise that the earth will not be able to survive if I don't, is illogical thinking.  The earth is furniture.  It is the ottoman sitting in a living room.  I can move it around and prop my feet upon it when necessary, but I will go on another day if I didn't have it at all.  God can scrap this world with one word (just as He created it with one word) and I would endure, because He created it as a tool for me.  And what a nice tool it is!
The building of Solomon's temple--Taken from Religion in the Home (Part 4)
By Charlotte M. Yonge, Illustrated by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
George W. Bertron, 1913
     I'm a tool too.  I'm not an effective one if I don't meet the three qualifications in these verses. God says he will look to one who is poor.  How poor do I need to be?  I was really scratching my head on this one.  If Heaven is the throne, and earth is the footstool, I would imagine that even Solomon and his wealth would seem like a miser compared to God.  I'm not sure that God is purely speaking of material gain.  For if that is the case, in men's eyes I may not be poor, but in God's eyes, I would be a pauper.  Can I leave all that I have behind, and put God first?  I may not have to, but would I be willing?  Maybe God means if I'm willing to be poor for His sake, if I were to give it all up if He asked me to. 
     My understanding of having a contrite spirit is to have an attitude of repentance.  When my husband and I have had a disagreement and I am right (which, of course, I always am--not really) am I willing to ask for forgiveness even though I don't feel I have done anything wrong?  When I have spoken harshly to one of my children when they certainly deserve it, do I tell them I am sorry?  When God has convicted me for my pride for at least as many years as the Cubs have not made it to a World Series, do I admit He's right (which, of course, He always is--no, really).  Do I keep those short accounts with God so that I have a clean slate with Him? 
     The third quality God mentions is trembling at His Word.  When I first read this, I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, God, I do that."  Hmmmm.  Do I?  Can't tremble when I don't read it.  Sure, I read it just about every day.  But then there are months where I don't at all, to my shame.  I always have a good excuse.  After all, I have young children, they get up at all hours.  Just this morning, my late sleeper was the earliest one to rise, just 15 minutes into my devotions this morning.  So maybe I should read it in the evenings.  Well, after the kids go to bed, I just want to relax, and watch some TV.  I'm pretty sure nothing on the television is going to cause me to tremble at His Word.  What am I making most important?  I go to church and listen to His Word.  But how many times during a sermon have I thought to myself," I really hope my husband is listening to this, because He needs this message."  Don't I need it too?  Was there something I missed because I was too busy thinking about how it could benefit someone else?  I may be hoping someone else was trembling, but it certainly wasn't me.
     After examining myself, I'm not certain I'm a very good tool.  With some work, I can possibly be useful.  Maybe if I give everything up, maybe if I tell God I'm sorry more, maybe if I stop making excuses when I didn't read His Word that day.  Maybe, just maybe, He can do something with me after all.  If not, I'm not much more beneficial than the ottoman in the living room.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How Does My Garden Grow?

Today's passage: Isaiah 65
     I have been doing a lot of gardening lately.  I have been working a little in the yard each year, but not as extensively as this year.  I'm pretty happy with what I've accomplished.  Our yard has always been prone to weeds and in years past, I work on weeding a plot, move to another section to weed, and then another section.  By the time I return to the first section, it is as bad as before I weeded it.  That's frustrating!  In years past, I give up halfway through the process.  Sometimes I have been able to get some tomatoes in the ground, and some herbs and that is about it.  This year I am determined to make some flower beds.  I've established one, and am working on the second.  I have dreams of all the flowers I want my garden to have, but it is hard work.      
     As I've been working outside, I've been thinking a lot about spiritual applications.  I imagine those pesky weeds as sin.  They completely crowd out anything good that could grow.  They feast on all the nutrients the soil could be giving flowers, they slurp up any rain or water my bushes could use, they are monstrously ugly.  When I am digging up these menaces, they have an intricate root network.  This network is barely noticeable until I start digging really deep.  It reminds me how the little sins in my life do matter, because they eventually join up and produce the ugliest things in my life.  Once they are there, it is very difficult to be rid of them.  I really have to dig to unloose them from my life.
     "And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.  They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat:  for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands."  Verses 21 and 22 cause me to think about my garden.  I am working hard out there and although other people may enjoy it, it is mine, I want the fruit from it.  When my beefsteak tomatoes grow in, I don't mind sharing some with friends and neighbors, but I want a majority of them, I did the work.  When my lilies bloom, I want to cut them and put them on my table because I watered them, I weeded around them, I tended to them.  How God wants us for Himself!
Girl Watering Flowers in the Garden, Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Two
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
Standard Publishing Company, 1925
      In this passage of Isaiah, God expresses his disappointment with Israel for the adoration they have spent on other idols.  God did not grow His flowers to put in another garden.  He grew them for Himself, for His enjoyment, for His pleasure.  He caused the sun to shine on them, He pulled out the weeds, He caused the rain to fall so they could grow.  He did the work, He should get the glory.  How true that is in my life!  God sometimes has to work me over to pull out that weed network that is growing deep underneath.  He has to turn the soil so that he can uproot them.  Others may not be able to see the little sins in my life, but He does, and He wants to destroy them before they have a chance to surface and ruin His beautiful garden.  Once He has conquered pulling the weeds, He cultivates me by His Word, His Holy Spirit, and prayer. I can blossom in God's garden, if I allow Him to do the work I need in my life.  Pulling weeds is not any fun, but the end result is beauty I can enjoy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Today's passage:  Isaiah 64
     Chicago is not called the Windy City because of it's strong winds, although, we have some pretty windy days.  In a survey a few years back, Chicago actually ranked 10 among the windiest cities.  When we do have them, the gale that pulls off Lake Michigan can be pretty powerful.  I've had my share of days trying to walk into the wind and feeling like I will never get to my destination.  The wind can be so forceful that I have to plant myself before I take another step or I will be pushed back three.
     A very powerful wind can not only push a person back, but topple him over or even carry him away.  "...and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee:  for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities." The wind has swept me away and as hard as I try, I can never reach the Lord, because the wind is too great.  This verse tells me that my sins are like a windstorm.  My sins are so grievous that no matter what I try to do, they will keep me from the Lord.  I will never be able to reach Him on my own.  It will take One who told the wind, "Peace be still".
Jesus calms the sea saying  Peace, be still--Taken from The Children's Friend (Part 2)
By Mrs. Adelaide Bee Evans
Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1911, 1928
     Verse 7 tells me that I would never be willing to call upon the Lord myself.  I would never take it upon myself to seek Him out.  Compare this verse to I Corinthians 2:9-10 and I discover that it is God that brought me to Him.  His Spirit worked in my life and heart and then I was able to come to Him.  He revealed Himself to me.  Then I had to be willing to accept what I had heard.  I had to humble myself and admit that He is Lord.  This challenges me to be a better witness.  If a person is never presented with God's Word in any fashion, how is His Holy Spirit supposed to work in that person's life so that he can know God?  A person will not seek out the Lord unless the Spirit prompts him.  Our sin is so great and burdensome it will sweep us away.  If a person has not been presented with God's Word or a Godly person, he will never recognize who God is.  What am I saying?  If my friends never darken a churchhouse, if they never hear or see a TV or radio broadcast about Christ, if they never are presented with a gospel tract or a Godly witness in their lives, how will the Spirit ever work in their lives?  How can the Spirit bring them to God, if they never have the Spirit anywhere near them?  
     I have often wondered at people who never seem to account for God in anything that they do.  They wake up from a hangover, go to work, hang out at the bar or club, stay out late only to wake up from another hangover.  They have no issues with sharing their virtue with every stranger, cursing at the kids they produced because of this sin, or letting those same kids be involved in adult activities at a tender age.  They laugh and mock anything that has to do with religion.  They lie, cheat on their spouses (if they have one), gamble at casinos while their babies are left with an older sibling or at the casino daycare.  These things absolutely boggle my mind and I think to myself, "Do you never, ever think about God?"  And then I wonder, has anyone ever told them?  Has anyone presented them with a tract?  Has anyone invited them to church?  Has anyone read their Bible on their work break so they can see that there is an alternative to the life they are living?  Has anyone turned the conversation to spiritual things when they both had their kids in the swings at the park? I haven't done some of these things.  If I really want to see people changed, it is not going to happen with a lifestyle Christianity.  It is going to take the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  My lifestyle may prompt questions, and that is when I need to plunge in and present the Gospel.  My lifestyle alone will not save them, because they can not see that they are lost, they can not comprehend that they are being pushed away with every step by the powerful wind of their sins.  Can I help bring them to the One who told the winds to cease?  Help me do that today, Lord.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Glimpses of a Different Jesus

Today's passage:  Isaiah 63
     Remember that episode of "I Love Lucy" when Lucy is traveling abroad and helps stomp the grapes?  She makes it look so fun, that I just want to hop in and join her.  It seems like fun work.  Yet, it is work all the same.   If I am not mistaken, many vineyards still stomp their grapes.  Is this the best way?  Is it passed down tradition?  I don't know, I've never been to a winery.  From movies I've seen, it makes for a time of celebration.  Plucking the grapes, placing them in the winevat, and harvesting the juice.  It is a time to reflect on the care given to the vines while the grapes grew.  They sing, they laugh, they work.
     In this passage, the mood does not seem to be the same.  Christ is the one who has been stomping the grapes, and it is not comical as it was in the "I Love Lucy" episode.  It is not a great party of people that has gathered to watch Him.  He says He has trodden them down alone.  His garments are drenched in the juice from the grapes.  There was no singing, there was no laughter.  This is a picture of an angry Christ.  It is righteous anger.  It is anger towards those who rejected Him, not only as individuals, but as nations.  It is the picture of a Father protecting his children, a big brother battling the bullies who tormented His younger brother.  This is not the Christ I usually picture.  He is stomping the grapes with fury. 
Grapes--Taken from The Children's Friend (Part 2)
By Adelaide Bee Evans
Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1911, 1928
     Thinking about my Savior, I usually picture the gentle Christ.  The Jesus who invited the children into His lap.  The Jesus who accepted the ointment poured out from an alabaster box.  The Jesus who wept at Lazarus' tomb.  I avoid thinking about the Christ who overturned the money changers in the Temple, who called the Pharisees vipers and whited sepulchers, who told Peter to "Get thee hence, Satan".  That was not a gentle Jesus.  That was a Christ of judgement.
     This image of a Christ covered in the juice from the grapes is a bit disconcerting for me, I'll admit.  I don't like to change the peaceful picture of Jesus I have in my mind.  I know that people will deserve the judgement to come.  Does it need to be so harsh?  That is what my heart says.  Then I think about someone who might harm my children.  I would show no mercy.  I would struggle to be forgiving. I would wish for the cruelest punishment to befall those people and would gladly take it upon myself to carry it out.  When I think of it this way, the picture is not as disturbing.  Jesus will tread on all those who persecuted His children, on all those who blatantly rejected the cross.  He made the greatest sacrifice, and people, nations even,  threw it back at Him and said, "I don't want that."  Wow!  What gall!  What utter ingratitude! Is it so hard to see why Jesus comes in judgement? If they were my children, just like in the Lucy episode, I would want to join right in.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Long Live King Jesus!

Today's passage:  Isaiah 62/Ezekiel 21:24-27
     Isaiah's message about Israel's future seemed outrageous.  After Babylon had devastated their city, the years ahead of them looked bleak and grim.  Watchmen on the walls?  What walls?  The walls had been destroyed by Nebudchadnezzar's army.  Withholding corn and wine from their enemies?  What corn and wine?  With what could they plant?  Any farming implements had been looted by the soldiers.  It seemed incredible that Israel would ever rise again.
Ezekiel Prophesying--Source unknown
Courtesy of lavistachurchofchrist.org
     "Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God."   Israel will one day be God's crown and diadem.  I find it peculiar that both of these headpieces are in God's Hand, not on His Head.  Why would God hold a crown in His Hand? A passage in Ezekiel 21 tells about one of the last kings in Israel (King Zedekiah) and how the crown and diadem will be stripped from him and will only be given "...until he come whose right it is..."  King Jesus will have a crown and diadem awaiting Him when He comes back to rule.  There will be no king for Israel until that time, and there will be no king of Israel after that time.  God is holding onto Israel's crown until Christ comes again to wear it.  Not that Christ needs a crown or a diadem.  He is King without them.  I think they are for us to see.  How often does God give us a picture or symbol to help us understand?  The crown symbolizes absolute authority.  It is a picture of ownership.  Satan had owned the earth up to this point.  When Christ comes back with the crown on His head, it will signal to Satan that his line of succession has ceased and a new dynasty will take control.  King Jesus will drive out the enemy and establish new borders.  He will police the law-breakers and establish peace.  He will sit on His rightful throne and reign with justice.  God holds the crown and diadem in His Hand to place on the Son's Head.  Israel will be that crown and diadem.  She will rise again.  She will be used to accomplish the Father's purpose, to show the world the magnificence of His Son.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blind in Nazareth

Today's passage:  Isaiah 61/Luke 4:18-21
     Jesus quotes the first two verses of Isaiah 61 when He teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth.  It was early in His ministry, shortly after His temptation in the wilderness.  The account of reading the actual verses is only recorded in Luke.  There are some slight differences in wording when Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah and the book of Isaiah in my Old Testament.  I am not questioning the validity, because they are all God's Words, I just find it curious that there is a whole phrase that I don't see in Isaiah 61:1 and what Jesus read in Luke 4:18.  The phrase is "....and recovering sight to the blind..."  The rest of the verse is almost word for word.  If Jesus added it, it is His right, because they are His words, and He can add what He wants to.  Did He add it in for this particular occasion, because he was talking to a hometown audience?  Was He trying to emphasize that the Nazarenes were blind?
Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah--Taken from The Children's Friend (Part 2)
By Mrs. Adelaide Bee Evans
Review and Herald Publishing Company, 1911, 1928
     After He reads these verses, He sits down and declares that today the Scripture has been filled.  He was the Anointed One who would cause all these things to happen.   If I had been sitting in the synagogue that day, I probably would have regarded Jesus with the same skepticism that the Nazarenes had.  This was a man I would have watched grow up.  I would have gone to the carpentry shop and asked Him to build me a table or to repair a chair.  I would have heard Mary boast about what a fine man her Jesus was.  I would have followed Him into the synagogue each Sabbath.  I would have seen Him board up His shop, kiss His mother goodbye, and walk out of town without a single belonging.  I would have scratched my head at the strange accounts I had been hearing in nearby towns.  Accounts of miraculous healing, water turning into wine, sermons preached in the wilderness.  I would have thought, "Why not here?  If He was going to become a preacher and a miracle worker, why not here?"  When He did return, I would have listened cautiously, not with my heart but with my head, trying to analyze why He would come back now.  I would wonder why He stopped reading in the middle of verse 2.  Why didn't He finish the verse about the day of vengeance and comforting those who mourn?  After all, the Messiah would overthrow the Roman tyrants to whom I paid taxes.  He would exact revenge on those who had persecuted us. Why didn't He read about that part, if He was the Anointed One? I would grind my teeth at His suggestion that He was a great prophet, putting Himself in a category with Elijah and Elisha.  I would have helped drive Him out of the synagogue, I would have been first in line to throw Him off the high cliff.  Then I would have been amazed when He was able to push past us without being harmed.  I would have been further amazed when I heard a few days later, a demon was cast out in Capernaum. I would have taken offense that He never returned to our town, that He only sent His followers to preach.  When would my eyes be opened?  When I heard that Mary and her other children would travel to Jerusalem to witness her son being crucified?  When I heard that the tomb for Joseph's son was empty?  When a group of His followers insisted that He went up into Heaven before their very eyes?  How long would my heart be hardened?  When would I believe?  When would I recover my sight?  Only when I recognized that the Messiah was not who I thought He should be and when I acknowledged He was who God meant Him to be.  Not a political pawn, but a suffering Savior.  Then I would realize why He stopped reading in the middle of the verse.  I would remember that He said He would return, and then He would exercise judgement, then He would soothe the grieving.  I would have been blind, but my sight would be restored.  I would finally see that He was the Anointed One.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Thought that Counts

Today's passage:  Isaiah 60
     I like to buy the perfect gift.  At Christmas time, weddings, or birthdays, I want to buy something I know the person will want or use.  Maybe this is why I will usually buy off a registry, because I know for certain it is what the person wanted.  It is a challenge when the person has everything already.  I really struggle about what to give.
      In this passage, all the nations are finally recognizing Israel's God.  They bring their gold and silver.  They bring their camels and sheep.  They bring the ships of Tarshish (the finest ships of the time) and the famed Lebanon cedars.  Even the kings come. All of this is brought before the Lord.  They offer it all to Him.  I wonder why?  Its not like God needs anything.  Not only does He have it all, He made it all. Talk about trying to get the perfect present.  Nothing I offer to God is impressive.  All my material gain means nothing to Him. 
     The saying goes, "Its the thought that counts."  I agree.  I have never begrudged anyone a gift I have been given, even if it was something I already had, something I didn't need or something I would never use.  I never asked how much a person spent on a gift.  That was never important.  I was always touched when someone thought of me.  I can never spend enough on God.  I can never give Him something He doesn't already have.  The stuff I have matters little to Him.  He would rather have me.  He has my soul.  I gave that over when I accepted Christ.  If its the thought that counts, how do I think? Do I grumble about giving up another Saturday morning for bus visitation (its His time anyway)?  Do I struggle to get up an hour earlier to have my Bible time?  Do I hang on to my tithe a few days longer because I will not have any grocery money this week?  This is the nitty gritty of giving God what counts.  It comes to surrendering my will.  I say I have done that, but aren't there areas I still struggle with it?  He can take it at any time, but wouldn't it mean more to Him if I gave it to Him?  Wouldn't that be the perfect gift?
     Forgive me, Lord for the areas I still need to surrender to you.  I think I have, and then You show me that I have not.  Help me to do that today.  Help me to give You what is Yours anyway.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pleading My Case

Today's passage: Isaiah 59
       "For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us:  for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them;..."    "And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off:  for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter."
     I have a very clear picture of my unsaved self approaching a courthouse.  Justice is standing at the courthouse steps, nodding at me and wishing me luck, with a sad look on his face.  Truth is waving me down, rushing across the busy street to catch up to me, and is nearly plowed down by a vehicle.  I enter the courthouse.  God sits in the judge's seat.  There is already someone sitting behind the witness stand.  It is Pride. He tells the Judge about how I think I can do things better than others, how I think I'm always right.  I want to cry out that it is not true, but the Judge will not allow me to speak, and my lawyer hasn't appeared.  Pride is dismissed from the bench and Anger is asked to give his account.  He tells the Judge about how I've yelled at people, how I've cursed under my breath, how I've wanted to take vengeance on someone who mistreated me.  The evidence is mounting up against me.  Why hasn't my lawyer arrived yet?  I know I didn't hire one, but doesn't the state have an obligation to provide a defense for me?  Now Anger is stepping down and Sloth is ordered to tell what he has witnessed.  Objection!  Objection!  Sustained.  Where is my lawyer?  I need a lawyer.
     I dash out into the vestibule and ask the clerk to call my attorney.  He points at a bench across the hallway.  Christ is sitting there.  Apparently, he has been appointed to my case.  I ask Him why He has not made a defense for me.  He says I never called on Him.  I tell Him I didn't know I had to.  His eyes are filled with tears.  He tells me that many people do not realize that He can not argue their case until they have called Him first.  I want to know how I was supposed to know this.  He shows me a Book.  He pulls out a picture of a friend who told me about a Great Lawyer she had asked to testify for her once.  He shows me a building I had once been to, that told me about His services.  I drop my head.  He was right.  I had known.  I had been told.  Was it too late?  I tell Him I am guilty of everything I have been accused.  I tell Him that I have given money to the poor, that I have been kind to the unpopular girl in my class, that I have gotten straight A's throughout school.  He tells me that will not cover my crimes.  Do I trust Him?  He shows me His hands.  Then He lifts His robe a bit and shows me His feet.  I remember now.  The cross.  He had taken my place for my crimes, my sins.  Only that would suffice.  I start to cry.  I'm sorry, I tell Him.  "Please forgive me," I plead.  I'm so sorry that all the witnesses against me were the reason He had these marks.  I tell Him I know now that only He can save me from the judgement to come.  Will he take the case?  He will.
     Christ swings open the wood-paneled doors.  I follow.  Self-pity is on the stand rattling away about all the times I have felt sorry for myself.  The Judge sees Christ approach the bench.  Christ whispers something to the Judge.  God raises his gavel and yells "Case dismissed!"  I fall to my knees.  I hug my Advocate and thank Him.  I thank the Judge for allowing my Lawyer to save me.  I run out of the courthouse as Justice heads up the steps.  Truth brushes off the dirt from the street and heads into the courthouse as well.  I want to tell everyone that Jesus will take their case too.
     If I had appeared in Heaven before God's courtroom and I had not accepted Christ, I would not have another opportunity as I did in my story.  I want to be clear about this, because I don't want anyone to think they will have another chance after this life.    "...behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)"  II Corinthians 6:2  Accept Him today!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hole in the Wall

Today's passage:  Isaiah 58
     My son loves a show on Nickelodeon called "Hole in the Wall".  It is a children's competition show.  The object is for the team of kids to position themselves in a way that matches the cutouts in a foam wall approaching them.  If they fashion themselves right, they will make it through the hole and win points.  It is harder than it looks and highly entertaining.
     "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places:  thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."  When I read that last part, I think of titles bestowed by royals.  A person who has particularly gained the attention of the king kneels before him and is dubbed, "The Keeper of the Jewels" or "Master of Horse". Israel had a solid beginning.  Along the way, she had allowed influences into her life that began to tear down her walls.  She forgot who had laid her foundation.  She started building with weak materials.  The walls began to crumble.  With time, walls cracked, holes appeared, foundations shifted.  A solid beginning can only go so far, if a person chooses not to build correctly on it. Just like the kid's game show, the holes can be so big, whole people can get through.  In Israel's case, it had been the wrong people.
Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem--Taken from Treasure of the Bible (Captivity and Return)
By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D.
International Publishing Company, 1894
     I am thankful that I was raised in a solid family.  When I say solid, I mean a mother and father who loved each other and kept our family together through good and bad.  I have a close relationship with all my brothers and sisters, a circumstance I have learned since, that is unusual.  We were raised in church and given good examples at home.  We were taught kindness and respect.  We always had clothes to wear (hand-me-downs count), full tummies, and a place to live.  I had a very good foundation.  It has been a foundation that has helped my kids.  I realize not every one has been as fortunate as I have been. A person or nation who has not had a great beginning does not automatically collapse.  With God's help, he can lay a new foundation.  He can patch walls.  He can repair breaches.  When he does, wrong people will not be able to get through the holes.  Wrong influences will not have an opportunity to bring down the next generation.   He will garner the titles "Repairer of the Breach" and "Restorer of Paths to Dwell in" and most importantly, he will have a beautiful structure that will stand strong and not crumble.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Smooth Stones

Today's passage:  Isaiah 57
      Israel had reached a particularly low point.  She barely recognized the God who had made her a nation.  If anyone still worshipped Jehovah God, he was ridiculed.  If a righteous person died, she was not noticed. Israel was now no different from the surrounding nations because of her idolatry.  She went to great effort to worship these idols too.  God says in verse 6:  "Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot:  even to them hast thou poured a drink-offering, thou hast offered a meat-offering, Should I receive comfort in these?"  Stream stones become smooth after they have been there a while.  A rock might start out ragged and dirty but after time at the bottom of a body of water, it will emerge without edges and clean.  God was telling Israel, they were in for a long haul of judgement because of their sin.  They would be spending a lot of time at the bottom of the stream.
     Smooth stones are great skipping rocks, but after they have finished skipping, they sink again to the bottom. Most people will not wade through the water to retrieve them. A smooth stone makes a great paperweight.  It can be painted with messages or vivid colors, but then its job is to sit around.  Sometimes they look pretty in the garden.  But they dull in comparison to the flowers blooming around them.  It seems that there is no use for a smooth stone.  It has no impact.  Israel had no impact on the nations around her.  She had not been that light.  So it seems that her punishment at the bottom of the stream would render her useless in the future.  Was that God's plan?  To toss her into the stream never to be heard from again?  No.  God had made a promise to Israel. At this point the Messiah had not come to earth yet, so this cannot be the end.
As Abram Journeyed He Built Altars to God--Taken from Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Four
By Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland
Standard Publishing Company, 1927
     Smooth stones can be useful.  Several times in the Old Testament, stone altars were built for the Lord.  I'm only guessing now, but wouldn't smooth stones make for better building?  David collected five smooth stones and used one to topple Goliath.  The stone that kept Jesus in the tomb must have been smooth for it had been rolled away.  Jagged stones do not roll very easily.  Smooth stones can serve a very great purpose if God is using them.  God wanted to put Israel in a place where she could be used.  He was not done with her yet.  He still had a great purpose for her.  He needed to smooth away the edges and wash away the grit.  I don't want to allow myself to ever get as far gone as Israel.  She had to go very far from God to have this judgement pronounced on her.  I don't know how much time she had to spend in the bottom of the stream to become useful for God again.  Smooth stones have their purpose, but I'd just as soon stay out of the water.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Outcast but Not Cast Out

Today's passage:  Isaiah 56
     "The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him."  Oddly enough,  verse 8 causes me to think about the classic childhood fairy tale, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves".  This beautiful, talented, princess deftly manages these strange forest-dwelling personalities.  They find her enchanting.  She finds them endearing when many of them definitely are not.  I would find them irritating.  Cute in the story, but they would get on my nerves.  I think in our day and age, these little misfits would be considered outcasts. 
Dwarves and Snow White--Taken from Sprookjes Tweede verzameling
By Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm Wilhelm
Public Domain
     When I think of an outcast, I don't think of third-world orphans, I don't think of the untouchable caste in Hindi culture, I think of those people on the fringe of society.  I think of those who are socially awkward, have mental issues, or maybe are perpetually homeless.  Living in the inner city puts me in the path of these types of people every day, even in my church.  I wonder how enchanting I am to them?  How often do I find them endearing?  I know I should not be looking to Snow White on how to deal with people, but God would want me to love and care for eccentrics, wouldn't He?  Do I make an effort to see these people as God sees them?  Do I nod politely, smile, and quickly duck out of the way, and then feel like I have done my Christian duty? Do I allow their idiosyncracies to get on my nerves and have as few dealings with them as possible? In this verse God gathered them to Him.  He created them, and He finds the beauty in their oddities.
     Sometimes, I'm just a snob.  I set my own criteria on who seems to be socially acceptable and who is not. I'm not talking about being rude.  I try to always be polite.  But is it genuine?  Would I invite certain people into my home?  Would I sit and listen to them when they just need a listening ear, not because if I don't, it would look bad, but because I really care?  I would be an outcast in Isaiah's time because I am a Gentile, not born into the Jewish nation.  Yet God would have gathered me to Him, as He does today.  I would have been an outcast, but because of God's love and care, I am one of His children.  I was adopted into His family, as is every one who puts trust in Jesus as Savior.  I need to view every person I might label as an outcast the way God views them.  It's the way God views me. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Greater Love

Today's passage:  Isaiah 55/John 15:13
  When I read verses 7-9 about God showing mercy and forgiveness to the wicked, about how His thoughts are not like our thoughts, that they are higher than ours, I think of recent international events.  A week ago last night, public enemy number one was brought to justice by our skilled men and women in military special forces.  He hid in plain sight for a number of years in a country we thought was our ally.  This man spit in the face of God.  His mission in life was to annihilate Christians, or the infidel, as he called us.  He declared jihad on our country because we stood for Christian principles.  And yet, if this coward had accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, he would have been forgiven.  He would have a home in heaven.  In my thinking, that seems ludicrous.  It is clear that my thoughts are not God's thoughts. 
Ancient Babylon - View of Ancient Babylon

     As my husband and I discussed the chain of events that brought this terrorist to his demise, something occurred to me.  Details are still sketchy, but it sounds as if this man's wife was offered up as his shield.  He shoved his wife forward to take his place.  That really started me thinking.  In many of the cultic mass suicides that have taken place (Waco, Guyana, Heaven's Gate) the leader always asked the people to give up their lives.  In radical Islam, the followers are asked to give their lives for the cause, and when they do, they will find great reward in the next life.  We know one of the greatest differences between Christianity and the other world religions is that our Savior is living.  But the other difference is that our Savior voluntarily gave up His life.  In many other beliefs, the leader says, "You die for me."  Christ said, "No, I'll die for you."
   It seems unlikely that the ringleader of this radical terrorist group would have ever accepted Christ as His Savior.  Of course, the early Christians thought the same thing of Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul the Apostle.  A big difference between bin Laden and Paul, is that at least Paul was trusting in the Judeo roots of Christianity.  He studied the Scriptures that pointed to Christ as Messiah.  Islam is founded on another book completely.  It contradicts the Bible at many points.  I do not rejoice in the fact that the mastermind behind one of the greatest tragedies ever to occur on American soil is in hell.  I do rejoice that he will no longer be able to perpetrate crimes against us, although many others will follow in his footsteps.  I do not rejoice that this man is facing eternal judgement instead of eternal peace, but I do rejoice that he will bow the knee and will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of lords.  Ultimately, he asked others to give their lives for his cause.  He was reluctant to do so himself.  Early Christians gave their lives for the Gospel to be spread, not because they were asked to, but because Christ set the example by giving His life first.
     "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die:  yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  Romans 5:7-8
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