Monday, March 20, 2017

Our words

Last time, I wrote about how we underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today, I am going to address how we underestimate the power of our words.

Words are powerful.

Unfortunately, we rarely begin to grasp the power of words until we come face-to-face with regret over careless words spoken.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us:  
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
     but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (ESV)

The NLT rendering of the same verse is completely forthright:
Too much talk leads to sin.
     Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

In Matthew 12, Jesus warned us that our words reflect the condition of our hearts:
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV)

This is serious business.  Our words are not simply sounds, carried on the wind.  Our words have meaning and power.  Our words get into people’s heads and touch their souls.

We must be careful what we say.  We must guard our lips and our tongues, for we will answer for what has passed out of our mouths.

Jesus taught, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person . . . do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11, 17-18 ESV)

Therein lies the key:  What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.  Our words reflect our hearts.

Angry words reflect frustrated hearts.

Grumbling words reflect ungrateful hearts.

Gossipy words reflect insecure hearts.

Judgmental words reflect prideful hearts.

Demanding words reflect greedy hearts.

Bossy words reflect tyrannical hearts.

Whiny words reflect dissatisfied hearts

Accusing words reflect frightened hearts.

Defensive words reflect selfish hearts.

Filthy words reflect lustful hearts.

Manipulative words reflect controlling hearts.

Deceitful words reflect wicked hearts.

Simply put, ugly words come out of ugly hearts.  If your words are unbecoming, your heart needs the Lord to clean it up.

For more on this, read James 3.  This passage points out how the tongue is a mighty little organ, steering a person’s life the way a tiny rudder steers a ship, wreaking havoc as a tiny spark of flame can set off an entire forest fire.

Oh, the regrets these truths stir up in me.  How many times have I uttered spiritually damaging words without thinking, simply because I was frightened, insecure and desperate to control some outcome that was outside of my control?  What a wretched person I am.  How much harm have I done, often stupidly having no idea of the power or significance of my words?

And yet, there are two points of hope.  One is that there is always forgiveness.  The Lord forgives all who will confess their sins to Him and ask for help.  He forgives and He cleanses.  The damage is done, and it will not be undone, just as a murderer can be forgiven for killing someone, but the forgiveness does not bring the victim back to life.  Still, we can be forgiven, and with forgiveness comes freedom and hope.  God brings beauty from ashes.  He restores the years the locusts have eaten.  He works all things for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.  The landscapes of our lives are forever altered by our sins, but God can still make meadows blossom across them, even in the aftermath of shameful failure.  God is good, powerful, bountiful, and infinite in His creative genius.

The other point of hope is this: the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, replacing sinful words with His words of life.  Just as sinful words have sobering power to destroy, Spirit-filled words have awesome power to build up.  We can wield our words for good as we go forward.

Since the words we speak reflect our hearts, we need the Holy Spirit to heal our hearts.  Only then will His good words flow from us.  He will cleanse and heal our hearts if we let Him!  He promises that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  When we abide in Him and cherish the presence of His Spirit within us, these beautiful characteristics will well up in our souls and spill out of our mouths in good words. 

This is true for all believers, but sometimes it takes awhile for us to recognize it.  When progress is frustratingly slow, it helps to know what we are aiming for.  We are aiming for the powerful, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  Luke 11:13 promises that God will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask.

When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, it’s like inviting a designer-construction team into your house.  He isn’t going to simply move a few pictures around on the walls and buy a couple new pillows.  He’s going to knock entire walls down, tear out floorboards, maybe even replace the foundation.  It’s going to be messy and uncomfortable.  It will probably get worse before it gets better.  And—what is possibly the hardest part for some of us—it must follow His design plan rather than our own.  But at some point, the renovation will be appreciable—probably not completely finished (this side of heaven), but appreciable.

We start by pursuing the Holy Spirit’s presence.  We seek Him daily through scripture and prayer.  We dig deeply into God’s word, expecting to find Him, expecting to hear from Him.  We pray as we read, asking for clarification, understanding and help.  “Help me, Jesus,” is a good prayer.  “Help me Jesus, for I trust you because you are faithful and good,” is an even better one.

As God permeates our hearts with His word and His truth, His Spirit and His love, we change.  Our desires change.  Our attitudes change.  Our behavior changes.  Our words change.  This does not happen all at once.  It can be a slow process.  Thus, we should also pray that He will open our eyes so we can see what He is doing in our lives, even though He works quietly and virtually invisibly.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 (ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience,
bearing with one another and,
if one has a complaint against another,
forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, 
so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in one body. 
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:12-16 (ESV)

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:6 (ESV)

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)

As our words become His words, we begin to brandish the power to heal the world.

May the Holy Spirit in us bless those around us through the word of God.  May we speak blessings and benedictions.  May our words be gentle, kind and humble.  May our admonitions be gracious and effective, and may our encouragements far outnumber our corrections.  May our love be palpable and magnetic, drawing people to Christ.  May God in us reveal the beauty of truth and the glory of forgiveness.   May we prepare our words with care, and serve them for the comfort, joy, hope and edification of those around us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (ESV)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit of God dwells in believers.  I suspect that we don't even begin to grasp a tip of the iceberg of the significance of this.

Think about it: God Himself lives in our bodies.  Our bodies are His temple.  His power is somehow contained in our physical beings (though not limited by them).  This is mind-boggling.

I've been studying the Gospel of John.  I knew that the Bible says we can ask God for anything in His name, and He will give it to us.  We don't major on that particular promise, because it seems misleading.  It seems risky to talk about it, because people get the idea that we can demand things from God--healing from cancer, a good job, success in a college course--and expect that He will come through, like a genie in a bottle, if only we say, "in Jesus' name," at the end of our prayer.  I knew that the Bible says we can ask of God and He will respond, giving us what we ask for, but I didn't realize how many times it says this.

John is the one who says it most, John who was essentially Jesus' best friend on earth.  John says this in his gospel 5-6 times between chapters 14-16 (John 14:13, 14 / John 15:7, 16 / John 16:23, 24), and then he says it again in 1 John 5:14-15.  Matthew and Luke allude to it, but John repeatedly proclaims that we should be asking the Father for things in Jesus' name, expecting to receive what we ask.

John also teaches us a great deal about the Holy Spirit.  I think this is the key.  When we are indwelt by the Spirit, abiding in the Spirit and walking in step with the Spirit, we will ask for things according to the Spirit, and God will grant us what we ask.  This is the power of God in us.

Yet, somehow, we miss out.  We don't grasp what is available to us.  Christ in you, the hope of glory, Colossians 1:27 tells us.  Christ lives in us, says Romans 8:9-10.

We take the Trinity apart too much.  We have this idea that God the Father is a stern fellow up in heaven, frowning at sin and handing down the impossible Law.  We think Jesus is the gracious Son of God who came to save us from His Father's Law by dying in our place--which is correct on a lot of levels, except in that it makes God the Father look like an ungracious villain, which is not accurate at all.  Jesus said over and over and over again that He and the Father are one.

I think of the pain I feel--literal, physical pain--when something is going wrong for or with one of my children.  Even when my children live hundreds of miles away from me, a crisis in one of their lives gives me heart palpitations, inability to eat, headaches and nausea.  When they go through something fearful, I sit at home and have panic attacks.  When they are sick, I can't eat.  If they make harmful choices for their lives, I feel like I'm going to die.  Yet, I and my children are not "one."  We are separate people, separate entities.  Jesus and God the Father are one.  When Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" you better believe the separation was just as excruciating for the Father as it was for the Son.

We have one God.  One.  Not three.  Jesus was God in flesh, fully God and fully man.  His purpose, His motivation, His heart and His words were all exactly the purpose, motivation, heart and words of the Father, because He and the Father are one.

So, when Jesus said, "I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you . . ." He literally meant that He, He Himself, God, would come to us, in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Here is the third member of the Trinity, whom we sometimes imagine as a trusty sidekick in our back pocket, there to blurt out a word of encouragement to cheer us up when we find ourselves floundering.  Oh, dear friends, He is so much more than that.  He is God.  God.  One with the Father and the Son.  God Himself has come to reside in us, pouring His very essence into our spirits.

Holy God could not dwell in us when we were unredeemed and unrighteous.  Holy God could not dwell with us while we were the devil's children, and the devil had claimed us when Adam and Eve first turned away from the Lord.  Because we were in this desperate predicament, our most gracious God clothed Himself in flesh and appeared in the world as a mortal man.  He did this so He could die an atoning death to satisfy His own justice, because He is perfectly righteous and must punish sin.  When Jesus died to atone for our sin, the forgiveness that God had always promised suddenly became palpable--no longer an idea and a promise, symbolically acted out through animal sacrifices on the temple altar, but a fulfilled reality.

By some incomprehensible mystery, our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is credited to us, if only we will accept the gift.  This amazing reality is what makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in this age.  The death of Jesus Christ purifies us so the Holy Spirit of Christ can dwell in us.  The temple curtain that separated the presence of God from sinful man has been torn in two from top to bottom, releasing the Spirit of God into the world.  God Himself died for us, so God Himself can live in us.  One God.  Different manifestations, but one God.

Christ in you, the hope of Glory.

When we abide in Christ, and His Spirit lives in us, guiding us and teaching us, we really can ask God for anything, and know that He hears our prayers and will give us what we ask for.  This fellowship with the Holy Spirit is a down payment, a guarantee, a foretaste of the face-to-face communion we will experience with God in the New Heavens and the New Earth, when He unveils them.

The Holy Spirit illuminates us so that we can see and understand God's truth.  He fills our hearts with God's love, and transforms our hearts to desire and seek the things of God.  He grants each individual believer a spiritual gift to use within the church, in miraculous synergy with other believers' gifts, for when we all come together in humility and grace, serving as we have been equipped, the glory of God shines through the church.

In this way, the Holy Spirit transforms us both individually and corporately for the glory of Christ, who is seated in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms.  "Now He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else--not only in this world but also in the world to come.  God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church.  And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself" (Ephesians 1:21-23 NLT).  Notice that the Bible says this is Christ's position now.  Now, He is on the throne.  Now, He is the victor over sin and death.  He has already accomplished, fully, His triumphant death and resurrection.  But wait, there's more: "For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6 NLT).  We are united with Jesus through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.  He is seated in authority at God's right hand, and we--by a mystery of the Holy Spirit--are seated with Him.  Now.  Are seated.  Not will be seated.  We are seated with Christ, united with Him through the Holy Spirit.

This is the Church Age, the age of the Holy Spirit of God unleashed in the world through the lives of the members of the church who are united with Christ because of the incredible wealth of the grace and kindness of God.  We live here as aliens and strangers, our souls already immortalized and our eyes fixed on our eternal heritage.  We live here now to be witnesses of the power of God to save humanity, to bear testimony to the world of the hope extended to all mankind for redemption, healing and restoration.  "Behold," God says, "I am making all things new."  We groan in our broken mortal bodies, but we know that we will be made new.  In this age, believers who die, die with the hope of glory.  Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord and continue to reign with Him until His glorious appearing.  At just the right time, in a twinkling, with a triumphal trumpet blast, He will restore all things and present those of us who believe with our new, changed bodies: the dead raised to theirs, and the living transformed into theirs.  Death will be swallowed up once and for all by victorious life.

I believe that the Millennium is the age of the Holy Spirit, the Church Age.  I believe that we are in it now--reigning with Christ, in fact--and that Jesus' victory is real, accomplished and powerful.  I believe that now is the time for hearts to turn to the Lord.  Now is the time of His patient forbearance as He delays His return, granting time for repentance because He does not wish to destroy people.  He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.  Thus, He sends His Spirit into the church, and He sends His church into the world.

Dear Lord Jesus, grant us your Spirit in power and strength, confidence and might.  Work in us and through us.  Help us to love one another, to forgive one another, to encourage one another, to help one another.  Form our hearts according to your will and lead us to bring your Kingdom, in your power and your glory, forever.  Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

How can women minister?

The other day, I heard a woman on the radio, Christian radio, being interviewed about women's ministries.  She was from Moody Bible Institute, so I figured she'd be pretty conservative.

However, she kept saying that the church needed to step up and allow women more and better opportunities to serve in their giftings, which may even include teaching.  She remarked that the church seems stuck in old traditions of not allowing women to serve.

Obviously we shouldn't allow mere tradition to rule us.  However, in terms of women's ministries, it's not only traditions.  There are scriptures that address the issue.

1 Timothy 2:12 says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.  She must be silent."  I was in a Bible study once when this verse uncomfortably surfaced.  The Bible study leader said, "Hmmm. Yes, well, that's one of the most unclear scriptures in the Bible."  I don't think I argued with him (he was a man and I am a woman), but my thought was, "It isn't the least bit unclear.  It is perfectly clear."  The only thing that isn't clear about that passage is how, in today's American culture, you can possibly apply such a scripture without coming off as a bigot and fiend.

People insist, "But it's cultural."  However, if you look at the context of the quote, it goes on to reference Adam and Eve, and original sin (1 Timothy 2:13-15).  This would seem to transcend culture.  I'm just saying.

Continuing on, people challenge, "So then if you want to implement all this stuff, are you going to make women wear head coverings?"  Of course, here they are talking about 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.  It seems to me that the issue of head coverings actually does qualify as cultural, as far as those sorts of things go, since hats are vanishing from American culture, unless you are in a blizzard or at a baseball game.  Our outer costumes are not as important as the condition of our hearts.  Earlier in the same chapter, 1 Corinthians 11:3 gives some heart-challenging, culture-transcending principles that I think we cannot so easily sidestep.  1 Corinthians 11:3 says, "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God."  In other words, God is the head of Christ, who is the head of man, who is the head of woman.  This seems to have nothing to do with one culture or another, and everything to do with the authority structure that God has implemented since the beginning.

But then the people say, "Well what about Galatians 3:28, where it says that in Christ there is neither male nor female?"  The actual verse says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  The point is not that men and women, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, are all one and the same and indistinguishable.  The point is that no matter who we are, regardless of race, gender or economic class, we are all equally loved by God and have equal access to salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It's about access to salvation, not access to the pulpit.  In other words, salvation isn't only for rabbis.  1 Corinthians 12:13 underscores the exact same idea (albeit leaving out the "male or female") when it says, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink."  In context, this verse underscores that regardless of our gifts or function, we are all different, complimentary members of one body, the body of Christ.

Finally, of course, there is the argument, "But Deborah got to be a leader and a judge!"  However, if you are truly familiar with the book of Judges, and with that story (Judges 4), you realize that this was a time of national deterioration for Israel, when the leadership of the nation was in chaos.  A woman had stepped up to do the job, but--again if you are familiar with the book of Judges--this can hardly be held up as an example or an ideal.  Furthermore, when fearful Barak refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him, she told him he would be shamed for his cowardice by having the honor of the victory go to a woman (Judges 4:9).  Clearly, the more desirable arrangement would have been for men to step up and be men.  Invoking the example of Deborah to endorse leadership rights for women in the church, this is on the level of invoking Habakkuk 1:5 to assure people that God always has benevolent plans for their near-term future.

Elizabeth Eliott used to say that she didn't write the Book, she was just pointing out what it said.  She even admitted to not always liking everything it said.  I'm with her, and at the end of the day, I think it is always a very bad idea to ignore what the Bible says.  That's all I'm saying.

Seriously, I don't like where it says that a woman should learn in quietness and full submission, that she must be silent (from 1 Timothy 2:11-12).  I especially don't like the part in 1 Corinthians where it says that women should remain silent in the churches, that they are not allowed to speak, and if they want to ask about something, they should wait and ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).  I don't like this, and I've never seen it practiced.  However, knowing that it's there, I sometimes wonder if we're embarking upon a treacherous route when we totally dismiss it.  Not liking a part of the Bible is no excuse for disregarding it.  If we're going to throw this out, what else are we going to throw out?  Shall we pitch everything that conflicts with our current cultural sensibilities?  Indeed, some churches do.  But isn't that what we call "friendship with the world"?   James 4:4 warns us that friendship with the world puts us at enmity with God.  Serious business.

I'm not saying I have the answers.  No.  I have no answers.  Myself, I've always just drawn the line at women teaching or having authority over men.  That's my comfort level.  I don't feel comfortable teaching or having authority over men, or being in a place where other women do.  However, I speak up in church.  I participate in Sunday school and small group discussions.  So I'm inconsistent.  I clearly disobey the parts of the Bible that say women should be silent in church.  I have simply selected my own personal comfort level and drawn the line there.  This probably isn't okay.

On yet another hand, I've been in situations where women are disrespected and marginalized in church settings.  I believe this is also contrary to principles in scripture.  The Bible speaks of wise women being consulted on certain matters (2 Samuel 14:2, 2 Samuel 20:16-22).  The Bible tells the praiseworthy stories of Rahab, Ruth, Abigail and Esther.  God honored Mary by bringing Messiah to earth through her very body.  Jesus was very kind to and accepting of women; He even defended some.  Think of all the gospel stories where Jesus reached out to women, too many to list.  Jesus did not demean women.  Although I believe that male leadership should be protected, nurtured and encouraged in the church, I also know that power corrupts, and males can be prone to lording it over women and oppressing them, just as females can be prone to usurping male authority.  It's such a mess.

What to do?  What are we supposed to do?

I have no answers.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wishing for good stories

I'm in the mood for a story.  I wish I had a happy story to tell.

Today I ate an apple on the sunporch.  Outside the windows, maple blossoms glistened brilliant red against the blue sky under the afternoon sun.  Today a stiff wind roared, chilling the neighborhood, but in the sunporch all was quiet, and almost warm.  Schubert saw me and joined me, hopping up on the other old-fashioned, flea-market chair, a bit surprised at this bastion of sunshine opening to him after it had been closed off all winter.  The apple was mediocre, but it was an apple, prettier than tasty, and then gone.

Some purple crocuses are on the cusp of blooming.  Tomorrow, if it doesn't snow, I think they'll open up their simple faces.

Last night I heard owls outside my bedroom wall.  They hover in the edges of our neighborhood fairly often, and I hope they are keeping the mouse population down.  The low vibrating thrum of their hooting thrills me, such a gentle, sleepy, exotic sound.

Owls, crocuses, apples on sunporches, these are the pieces of my life, sounds and pictures and flavors, all underlined by the yeasty smell of Schubert who is overtaken by fungal infestations and supposed to be bathed twice a week, but usually only gets bathed every 8-10 days.  Currently he is sleeping, curled smack atop a pillow on the futon, and Shawn would have my head for this, because that yeasty smell will be imbedded in the pillow if a guest needs to use it, regardless of how fresh and clean the pillow linens might be.

Normally I keep these pillows up on top of the back of the futon, and there are a couple of "dog" pillows for Schubert, laid out along the seat, dark purple like my impending crocuses.  However, the other night a violent thunderstorm awakened us, and Schubert was traumatized, so I brought him here, into my little study, and pulled the futon down into a bed.  We huddled together while the lightening flashed and the thunder rumbled and the wind crashed in the trees outside.  I did this more for my sake than for his, and in the end we both survived without even descending to the basement.

I don't have a happy story, but I have a sad one.  This morning, after feeding, medicating and walking Schubert, I brought my coffee upstairs to sip in bed.  I set it on a stack of books on my nightstand.  I have two stacks of books on my nightstand, and additional books, notebooks and pens piled on the stair step that came with our elevated bed.  This stair step is not safe to step on, because of all the stuff on it, which has a tendency to slip around.  Thus, I must vault myself over this step and onto the bed, rather than climbing up as would be intended.  Today as I vaulted, the back of my foot caught my full coffee mug as it tottered atop the lower stack of books on my nightstand.  The result was a very sad splash of coffee across many books, including vintage copies of The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from my childhood.  It also soaked The Problem of Pain, also by C.S. Lewis.

I sopped it all up with hand towels from my bathroom, carefully wiping off all the books and fanning their pages out to dry.  Then I started a load of towels in the washer; this was on my list of chores for the day anyway.  Eventually I got back to bed with my coffee, which is admittedly quite the oxymoron.

This afternoon, while there was still sunlight, I spent some time reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I wanted to hold it and love it a little, and assure myself that it was dry enough to stack back into a pile.  The volume is crumbling at the seams, the back binding almost non-existent, the pages falling out.  But, oh my, what a writer.  I am more in awe every time I go back to read C.S. Lewis.  His details, his craftsmanship, his technique, his finesse with characterization and voicing, the way he shows you what is happening instead of telling you, the way he designs a plot that works out from so many angles, the way he ends every chapter with a cliffhanger.  I am a simple woman and I love children's literature.  C.S. Lewis and my gluten-free chocolate cake recipe: there's enough pleasure and delight for a lifetime.

When I was a child, these books delighted me, but now that I am an old woman, they astound me.  The symbolism moves me to tears, but so does the familiarity: old friends acting and re-enacting my favorite stories.  To read a chronicle of Narnia is to long to write a book of my own, but also to quail in the consciousness of how good these books are, and how mine could never attain the same excellence or eloquence.   At least I can soak in his artistry.

Do you know?  When I was a young girl, at the Anoka Public Library, picking out a book to read, I automatically looked for books written by men, because they were better than books written by women.  Also, books written by the British are better than books written by Americans.  (These are obviously generalizations, but as generalizations they are quite sound.)  Books by British men are the best.  I am not sure whether I prefer American male writers or British female ones (John Grisham is better than any of the Bronte sisters, while Frances Hodgson Burnett surpasses Nathaniel Hawthorne).  At any rate, books by American women are dead last.  What am I?  An American woman.  Here again is perhaps a clue to why I do not get that novel out.  I'm already pretty sure I wouldn't want to read my own work, given my demographic.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spiritual warfare montage

This isn’t, obviously, really a montage; just a collection of Bible verses that tell a story, with a prayer tucked in amongst them.  If you know of a better term for this than “montage,” I’d be happy to learn what it is . . . please leave a comment.

(Scriptures are from the NIV)

Psalm 24:8
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Isaiah 54:17
“. . . no weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.
(No weapon can prevail because it is God who created the blacksmith who forges weapons, and it is God who has created the destroyer to work havoc [Isaiah 54:16] — God created them, and God controls them, and they cannot stand against God’s own beloved children.)

Romans 8:31-32
What then shall we say in response to this? [God’s sovereign power to work for good, and His predestined plan for our salvation.] If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

James 4:2-3
You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Matthew 6:32-34
For the pagans run after all these things [food, clothes, material provisions], and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 7:7-11
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!

Luke 11:13
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

John 14:13-14
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 15:7
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

John 15:16
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16:23-24
In that day you will no longer ask me anything.  I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.  Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of Him.

Dear Lord Jesus, 

Thank you for your word, your truth, and your mighty salvation that comes from your unfailing love.  Thank you that you never fail.  Thank you that your purposes will be accomplished perfectly—your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Thank you that you are faithful and good.  Thank you that you always keep your promises.

Please help us to abide in you.  Please help us to study your word and learn your promises so we can ask in your name and receive the good things you have for us.  Please form our hearts to seek you and find you and love you and rejoice in you.

Lord Jesus, your word says that you are the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  This is amazing and wonderful.  You have paid in full the entire mortgage for all the sins of the world.  It is finished.  The victory is won.

Lord Jesus, please pour your great salvation over the men of earth.  Please grant repentance unto salvation.  Please demonstrate your glorious mercy through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, that men may bend their hearts to you and find forgiveness, grace and freedom from the bondage of the enemy’s lies.

Please Lord Jesus, save people everywhere who yet stand in need of your salvation, and especially the ones we know and love.  Draw.  Rescue.  Cleanse.  Heal.  Restore.  Comfort.  Prune.  Use us for your glory.  Thank you, Jesus, for who you are and what you are able to accomplish.  Thank you for how your past triumphs assure us that your kingdom will indeed come in righteousness for all eternity.

Lord, we are lost without you, but you came to seek and save the lost.  Apart from you, we can do nothing, but you will never leave us nor forsake us.  Thank you, Jesus.

Amen.  Amen.  I have brought it to you, and I leave it with you.  Amen.

Psalm 33:13-15
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;
from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth—
He who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

Psalm 33:22
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 28:7
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Three helps, when you're working on forgiving

Back to forgiveness, again.

Sometimes I think that when Jesus told Peter that he should forgive seventy-seven times--or seventy times seven times--the point was not so much that people would continue to sin against us, and need to be forgiven many times (although they surely would).  Rather, I think the point may have been that as many times as a wrong reoccurs to us, as many times as we remember and feel a twinge of pain, we need to forgive.  Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

Forgiveness is hard.  I've written about this many times already.  It's hard to forgive when somebody doesn't apologize.  It's hard when somebody apologizes, but continues to repeat the offense.  It's hard when somebody makes excuses, or transfers the blame back to us.  It's hard when the offense was something we feel that we would never do--we know better--and it seems that the offender has absolutely no defense for acting so inappropriately.  Forgiveness is hard.

Forgiveness is also necessary.  We all need grace.  God tells us in His Word that we are to forgive, because He has forgiven us.  In God's eyes, sin is is sin.  Even what we might consider a very small sin is enough to separate us from fellowship with the Lord.  When Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, He died for the little lie, the selfish attitude, and the stapler stolen from the office desk just as surely as He died for the drug runner, the sex trafficker and the serial murderer.  We all struggle with the temptation to consider that our own sins are less offensive, less serious, and that other people's sins are much worse, especially the ones that hurt us.  However, Jesus doesn't see it this way.  To Jesus, a prideful Pharisee is just as guilty as a cheating tax collector, perhaps even moreso if he refuses to acknowledge his faults.  Every sin is fatal if it is not forgiven.  Jesus actually said, "If you will not forgive others their sins, my Heavenly Father will not forgive you your sins" (Matthew 6:15).  This is awfully serious business.  We often talk about how we need to forgive for our own good, which is completely true.  We will be miserable as long as we cling to our grudges.  But beyond that, beyond the truth that forgiving is a release that is good for us, we need to forgive because God commands us to, and there are dire consequences if we refuse.  Forgiveness is necessary.

Because forgiveness is both necessary and very difficult, I've come up with three helps, things you can think about and work through if you need to forgive and are having a difficult time with it.

1.  Learn this truth:  Hurt people hurt people.

When people have been hurt, they often hurt others; it's like dominoes.  People who are bullied turn into bullies.  People who are abused turn into abusers.  People who are neglected do not learn how to show compassion.  A person who is having a very difficult day might turn and lash out at someone else, perhaps even a completely innocent party.  We can never predict which straw will break the proverbial camel's back.  All we know for sure is this: when stress mounts up, at a certain point it breaks a person.  (As a corollary, one should try to be a person who alleviates stress, as much as rightfully possible, rather than yet another in the chain of people heaping stress onto someone.  If you add to someone's stress, even in a very small way, there is always the chance that it will be your action that becomes the last straw.)

Healthy people do not go around hurting others.  Damaged people are the ones who hurt others.  You may not see their internal damage.  You may be hurt by someone who seems to be much more fortunate than you: stronger, richer, more popular, more beautiful.  Think about it, though.  People we call "spoiled" are those who have always been catered to, always given their way, always allowed to have what they want.  But what do we call them?  "Spoiled."  Something spoiled is ruined, damaged.  What would have been good has gone bad.  Some people have been hurt by their upbringing.  They were never  taught to be sensitive to others, never taught to sacrifice for someone else's good, never taught to be humble, or to listen, or to apologize and make things right.  Indulgence itself is a type of hurt because of the bad results it produces.  People who have been indulged as children grow up ill-equipped to navigate life, handle disappointments and interact with others.  In this way, even seemingly fortunate people can become very insecure, and thus meaner than ever, as they have negative experiences in adult life because of their lacking skills.

Pain and insecurity make people unable to see past themselves to attend to the needs of others, breeding selfishness, which manifests in hurtful behavior.  Whenever someone hurts you, remember that he or she is merely failing to compensate for his or her own past hurts.  This should help you become more compassionate and more forgiving, as you seek to demonstrate Christlike love.

2.  Learn people's backstories, when you can.

Learning about someone's backstory can also help you in the forgiveness process.  When you understand more about where behavior comes from, you can have compassion on the person who offended you.  Sometimes you might find yourself needing to forgive other, additional people as you learn backstories, because, as we mentioned, hurtful behavior is a domino effect, and there was always another domino behind the one who hurt the person who hurt the person who hurt the person who hurt you.  Ultimately, the original domino was Satan, who introduced sin into the garden of Eden.  He is the origin of all the hurts in the world.  In the end, God is going to deal with Satan and get rid of him forever.  In the meantime, the rest of us must have compassion for each other, and forgive each other as we struggle together under the cumulative effects of sin.

Here's a trick:  if you aren't going to be able to learn someone's backstory, for whatever reason, make up an imaginary backstory for that person.  Imagine what kinds of past life circumstances and events might have induced you to fall into such a behavior pattern yourself, and then attribute those circumstances to the person who was hurtful toward you.  Be generous.  Don't say, "I would never do that, no matter what!"  You would not do it based on the knowledge and experiences that you have had, but what if you lacked a lot of the knowledge you have, and had totally different experiences?  Also, think about what kinds of things could have been different in your offender's past, that might have averted the problem.  Grieve for the offender that things were not that way.  (This exercise might also open your eyes to be more thankful for your own situation.)   Be gracious and cut slack in the same way you wish people would cut slack for you in your own failings which, while they may be completely different, certainly do exist.  Because all have sinned.  Yet, in Christ there is always hope.

3.  See people in terms of what they can become with God's grace, rather than defining them by a collection of their past mistakes.

People change.  God works miraculous transformations in people's lives.  Choose not to characterize a person by something he/she did that you didn't like, defining him/her as a "bad" person forever after that.  Instead, pray for the person to change.  Believe that God is able to change him/her.  Have faith.  Expect to see our good and glorious God do good and glorious things.  Accept and affirm change when you see it.  This will help you forgive.

The Bible says that we are to forgive others in the same way that God forgives us, in Christ Jesus.

When we speak of forgiving as God forgives us in Jesus Christ, the big take-away is that forgiveness is costly and painful.  God forgave us in Jesus when Jesus was crucified and shed His blood to pay the price for our sins.   Don't expect forgiveness to be painless.  Forgiveness is a form of suffering that we choose to share with our Savior.

A corollary take-away is that God knows everything about us, understands our weaknesses and has compassion on us (Psalm 103 -- He remembers that we are dust).   Just as His perfect wisdom is part of His grace, the more we understand about a situation, the better we will be able to extend grace.

Another corollary take-away is that God knows what we will be like in our redeemed, perfected state, and He is willing to work with us and help us until we attain perfection, which won't be until eternity (1 John 3:2).  We are called to trust God, to work with Him on our sanctification (becoming more Christlike), and to grow in the grace we receive from Him, extending it to other fallen beings in the world around us.  Believe that God is working in others, just as He is working in you.

If you still struggle to forgive, spend some time meditating on how much you have been forgiven.  When we grasp what great things the Lord has done for us, it frees us to love as we have been loved, totally undeserving.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oh no. Medical bills again.

So.  Shawn went for a physical.  You know, that basic physical, the one you're supposed to have every year, that is "covered" under your insurance plan, even though you have a high deductible.

And . . . he got lab bills for about $700.  Yep.  Insurance denied two of the three basic labs that go with the physical.  Because they are denied, not only do we have to pay for them, but the costs don't even get applied to our deductible.  Of course, these are the jacked-up rack rates for the services, the inflated rates that are billed because the provider knows that the insurance company always "adjusts" to what they call "allowable" expenses.  The problem, for us, is that our insurance adjusts nothing if it denies coverage and washes its hands of the whole situation.

The doctor, in the office, told Shawn that she thought this would be covered.  Of course, she didn't say that it would be covered for sure.  A doctor would never place herself at that risk of liability.  But she said she thought the labs would be covered.

We, as consumers, have no way of knowing.  If we knew ahead of time what labs the doctor was going to ask to run, maybe we could call the insurance before we went to have them done, but that's not generally how it works.  Anyway, even if you do call the insurance to try to check on what they cover, they are very dodgy about what they will tell you.  I know this from experience.  My frustration with insurance representatives is superlative.

The insurance company just slides along under the rider that says, "coverage is subject to change without notice."  So there's that.  That's what you get when President Obama invites the insurance industry to write the policy on how insurance works, after everybody is required by law to purchase it.  It's unfair, and it shouldn't be legal, but it is legal, because the insurance industry got the privilege of designing the law.

And yes, the doctors are overcharging, because if they don't, the insurance companies will drive them into bankruptcy.

Once upon a time, health insurance got involved in health care and started messing everything up.  The insurance companies started telling doctors what they could and couldn't do, and how much they could charge.  A doctor would provide a service that cost him $10 to provide.  He would charge, say, $17, so that he could make enough money to pay the rent on his office, compensate his receptionist and his nurse, earn his own salary to support his family, buy malpractice insurance, and make payments on his medical school loans.  Insurance got involved and said, "No!  We will only reimburse you $8.50 for this service!"  Well, obviously, the doctor couldn't remain solvent in that scenario, so the next time he performed the same service, he looked over his numbers and figured, "Insurance reduced my rates by 50%, so in order to remain viable, I will need to charge $34."  And he did.

This back-and-forth parry in rates and reimbursement went on for years, inflating medical costs ridiculously, until many people simply could not afford to get medical care, but the insurance executives continued to profit off the system while doctors struggled to provide healthcare to people who were desperate enough to brave the billing process, and often the doctors simply didn't get paid (which induced them to raise their rates even more, because the money has to come from somewhere, and if half the people are going to default, the people who actually pay their bills must become the financial backbone of the system).

The system was broken beyond repair.  Health care costs were skyrocketing.  Many people had no way of paying their bills.  People began to get angry that it was so difficult and expensive to receive health care.

What would you think the answer to such a problem would be?

Doesn't it seem obvious that insurance is a totally unnecessary layer that inflates costs while enriching savvy business executives while providing no real service to anyone?  Doesn't it seem obvious that health insurance needs to be phased out, and some other (ideally non-profit) system invented to help communities help each other out with medical costs?

Apparently not.  Apparently all the smart people in President Obama's cabinet thought it would be best to pass a law requiring all American citizens to purchase health insurance, or else be fined by the government.  This must be unconstitutional.  How can the US government possibly say that its citizens have to buy a particular product?  The government can tax its citizens, but how on earth can it mandate a particular purchase?  And slap a fine on anyone who fails to comply?  Seriously?

But, unconstitutional or not, they decided to write The Affordable Care Act (which brings to life all of the horror of Orwellian doublespeak).  Not only that.  They invited the insurance companies themselves to send in representatives to write the policy.

And then, after it was passed into law and turned out to be terrible, they feigned surprise that big business had not written a very nice policy.  Also, they did nothing to try to fix it.

This is why the democrats lost the last election.  It is not because we have a country full of mean-spirited people who want to wipe out Mexicans and Muslims and homosexuals.  Most Americans are much more live-and-let-live than you could even imagine.

It's because average people are fed up with being forced by law to pay $1200 per month for health insurance that still has a $6000 deductible, and then going to the doctor for a basic physical--which was supposed to be the one thing that was covered--and coming home with a bill for $700 that will not even be applied to that $6000 deductible.

This is why Hillary lost the election.

In case you were wondering.

(And I did not vote for Trump.  But I certainly did not vote for Hillary.  And when I heard that Trump was working to repeal Obamacare, I actually felt a glimmer of hope.  That hope has not yet come to fruition.)