Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Annual Bridges Christmas Update!

Dear Family and Friends,

Time for the Bridges’ Family Christmas update! The past year saw God make some big changes in the Bridges’ household. As we mentioned last year, God called us to step out in faith and quickly led us to a new church home at Wakefield Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. We have enjoyed getting to know the loving and supportive family of Christ there over the past year. Randy was called as their new part-time Minister of Music in June. It was not easy to leave our friends at Watkins Chapel, but it has been a blessing to keep up with many of them and hear about what God is doing in their lives.

Obviously the change in ministry has had the greatest impact on Randy. He has enjoyed the opportunity to focus on Music Ministry and his teaching at NRCA. The music ministry at Wakefield continues to grow, and Randy is seeing God work in great ways. At NRCA, the school’s recent expansion allowed Randy to teach all seventh graders for the first time. He has a great group of students this year. God is also providing many ministry opportunities in the lives of his students and their families. Randy is trying to read all he can, including a great book by David Platt, called “Radical”. He highly recommends it. Another highlight for Randy this year was taking Daniel to the beach for some discussions on biblical manhood. It was a great trip and an opportunity to spend time together.

Felicia continues to manage Human Resources for the Turnpike Authority, but is really most excited about the progress in her writing over the past year. In January, her friend Daphne suggested they attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference at Ridgecrest, NC, in May. After much prayer about the resources and time away from work, Felicia committed to the trip in faith. God provided a full scholarship from the Cecil B. Murphey Foundation, and Felicia almost missed receiving it because she thought the email notification was junkmail! The conference was an incredible opportunity to meet and study under published authors, discuss current projects with agents and publishers, and learn just how much she did NOT know about writing. She forged some wonderful friendships and has spent the last five months trying to apply all the wonderful things she learned to her manuscript. One of the most helpful aspects of the conference has been her connection with a critique group which has allowed her to get regular weekly feedback on each chapter as she continues to re-write, re-write, and re-write. She is currently praying about whether God might provide a way for her to go back to BRMCWC in 2011, hopefully with a completely re-written manuscript ready to pitch to those editors!

Felicia and Jerry B. Jenkins, one of her favorite authors and keynote speaker for the conference.
Megan has had a few changes over the past year as well. She did a great job at NCSU her freshman year, earning all A’s and B’s while acting in three productions. She even won a “Hammy” award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Milky White in “Into the Woods”, in which she stole the show, or at least the first Act! She also decided to change majors to International Studies – Europe which she believes will line up better with the call she feels to missions. Her current plan is to fulfill the study abroad requirement for her major by spending six weeks in Prague, Czech Republic this summer. She spent most of last summer looking for a job and finally landed one working at Red Robin. She even got to exercise her theatrical skills being the bird, but learned that was not quite as fun as it might appear. She was happy to get back to her on-campus job this fall managing the information booth each day at lunchtime. She also had the opportunity to get some backstage experience this semester serving as Assistant Stage Manager and then as Costumer.

Megan in her award-winning role as Milky White

Kelsey says her schoolwork has eaten her life. Taking two Advanced Placement courses and three Honors level courses is definitely keeping her busy, especially during Marching Band season. Serving as Squad Leader again, Kelsey and the Marching Knights had a great season, winning numerous awards at the three competitions they attended. As a Junior, this year is filled with college visits, SATs and discussions about possible majors. She is interested in Medical School and even thinking about going to UNC-Chapel Hill for undergrad, much to the horror of the entire family! Kelsey started working at Chick-Fil-A last summer and loves it. They’ve been very understanding about her band schedule and, of course, she gets Sundays off. She and Spencer continue to spend time together, mostly with friends in the band, and will celebrate three years together in January.

Kelsey and her boyfriend, Spencer Holding

Daniel is enjoying sixth grade and feeling like a big man on campus in Middle School. He played Knights League basketball last winter and is thinking about joining the track team this spring. He’s ready for his exam week to come even though he only has to take one because he had almost all A’s this year. He’s found an interest in reading and writing books. He has been reading the Percy Jackson series and is about to start reading the last book. Daniel continues to play trombone in the school band and has joined the youth praise team on drums. He is very excited about being in the church youth ministry. With Daniel turning twelve this year, Randy took him to the beach for some male bonding and life lessons in preparation for his teen years. They had a great time, and Daniel probably learned more than he wanted to know about living as a Godly man!

Matt is in third grade this year and making straight A’s, and makes it look really easy. He has discovered a love for writing and has completed his first play, “A Valentine’s Carol – A Lesson about Kindness.” He tells us it is based on Matthew 5:44. He is singing in the Children’s Choir at church and also played Knights League last winter with Randy as his coach. He just found out he’ll be in the “garage band” in the third grade musical this year at school. Matt’s love for action movies continues, and he is always making up his own movies as well. We’re sure he will be a famous writer one day. But one of Matt’s most important qualities is a heart that shows love to everyone. He is always ready with a hug or a kind word that melts your heart.

Well, that is all the news we have from the Bridges’ home. You can follow us throughout the year on Facebook, Twitter, and our blogs (psalms204.blogspot.com and rbridges2.blogspot.com). We hope that you and your family have a wonderful time celebrating the birth of our Savior and that the New Year draws you ever closer to Him!

Merry Christmas !!!

Randy, Felicia, Megan, Kelsey, Daniel, & Matt Bridges

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Krispy Kreme Cheeseburgers and Deep-Fried Oreos

It's that time of year again. The air is crisp and cool, the skies are clear and blue, and it's time for the State Fair! Each year vendors creatively invent some new combination of food so tasty and yet so incredibly UN-healthy, it should be illegal. This year's concoction - The Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger. Imagine a Hardee's humongous burger - served on a Krispy Kreme donut instead of a bun. Estimated calories = more than the daily recommended amount for a teenage jock for a week!

Do you ever wonder why we do this? We know what is best for us, what is healthy and good for our bodies - and yet we make a conscious choice not only to avoid those things, but to indulge in things that we know are bad for us. We even seek after new and creative ways to hurt ourselves - new recreational drugs, new sports with even more risk, new financial schemes likely to ruin us.

I read recently the tragic story of two students at NC State University who were found dead on the fire escape outside their apartment. According to news reports, they died from taking a type of plant food that is the latest 'craze' among young people looking to get high. Last year, it was a young man who hung himself playing a 'game' designed to make him light-headed by cutting off his oxygen. Almost weekly there are stories of young people dying in car accidents caused by trying to get too close to the edge - drinking and driving, racing their friends, speeding on winding country roads.

In First Corinthians 6, Paul tells us, "Everything is permissible for me - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me - but I will not be mastered by anything." We have amazing freedom in Christ; we are not bound by the law. Our salvation is not about keeping the law, fortunately, because we human beings have demonstrated quite well that we are not capable of keeping God's standards of holiness. No, our salvation is based in trusting Christ's sacrifice on our behalf and that alone.

Still, we must not let our freedom lead to self-destruction. God has given us a brain and the intellect to identify likely consequences for behavior and we should exercise that ability, recognize the road-signs and turn back before it's too late. Before we've ruined our health, crashed our car, or destroyed our credit. Recent studies indicate that this ability to predict the consequences of our actions and make rational decisions in order to avoid those consequences may not develop in our brains until age twenty-five. I would argue that in some of us it may be much later!

I'm not saying you can't enjoy a Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger at the fair or try bungee-jumping. Just think about the end result of a life spent seeking the next greatest thrill. Think about the consequences and what you'll have to show for it. And choose what is beneficial. Do not allow yourself to be mastered by the quest for one more thrill.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Break out the Windex and Magnify the Lord!

If you've ever been on a trip to a scenic spot with children, you know that they will beg and plead to have a few coins to drop into the panoramic telescope that allows them to see the view close up. They love to press their faces against the hot metal and peer into the distance, usually reaching a hand around as if they will now be able to touch the mountain that is miles away. The viewer magnifies the distant scene making it appear as close as their fingertips.

We often use the expression, "magnify the Lord." We may hear it in church or read it in Scripture, but have you ever stopped to consider the meaning?

According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, magnify means the following:
  • 1 a : extol, laud b : to cause to be held in greater esteem or respect
  • 2 a : to increase in significance : intensify b : exaggerate
  • 3 : to enlarge in fact or in appearance
  • intransitive verb: to have the power of causing objects to appear larger than they are
The first definition, to extol or laud, is certainly our intent in the phrase, "magnify the Lord," but can we 'increase in significance" or "enlarge in fact or in appearance" when it comes to the Lord? Clearly there is nothing we can contribute that will increase who God is, nothing we can add to His divinity, power, or authority.

However, we can use these definitions to think about our worship and our lives in a new way. Consider how telescopes magnify our view of the stars. The stars are much bigger than the telescope, or even our planet - some are much larger than our sun! However, we can use a tiny telescope to see the immense star more clearly.

If we apply this definition to our efforts to magnify the Lord, we can be the tool through which others may see God more clearly. Through which they might sense His nearness and learn about His attributes.

Lenses like those in a telescope only work properly when they are clean. I've tried in vain to teach this concept to my nine-year-old who wears glasses. Inevitably, the lenses are covered with grimy fingerprints through which he struggles to see. No matter how many times I show him how to carefully clean the glasses so that he can see more clearly, they always seem to get dirty again.

We can't 'magnify the Lord' to those around us unless our lives are clean. I'm not talking perfection - because none of us are there! But just as Matthew needs to regularly examine his glasses for smudges and then take the necessary steps to clean them, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to take a good look at our lives, show us the smudges and then get to work on cleaning them up! Let's face it, if our lives tell a story that is contrary to our words, then no one is going to be able to see Jesus for all the grime.

When we moved into our current home, we had a sliding glass door for the first time. Our little dog, Zero, had never seen one before. The first several times I let him out for a walk, he came running back and slammed into the glass. I have to admit, we all enjoyed a good laugh and the little guy eventually learned his lesson. He still hesitates a moment and gives me an accusing glance before stepping through the open door.

It's a curious feature of glass - the cleaner it is, the harder it is to see the glass itself.

If we want to magnify the Lord, we need for the attention to be on Him and not on us. We should be transparent - simply a glass through which others can see Jesus. Being transparent means that life is not about me. It's not about my wants, my opinion or my plans. It is all about Jesus. When we make our lives all about Jesus, and allow others to see that in our lives, we bring Jesus within arms reach of them.

And like a little child on the mountaintop, they will want to reach out and take hold of the beauty before them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dancing with the...King?

I'll admit it. I'm hooked on all these dancing shows on TV these days. I love watching people dance well. Perhaps it's because I'm not a dancer, but I sit in awe at the moves that they are able to make their body perform and their ability to keep in perfect step with one another and in synch with the music.

It brings to mind our relationship with Christ. There are moments when we seem to be in perfect step with Him, and then there are times when we spin away from Him and have to make our way back across the stage to His waiting arms. Times when we are so close to Him and times when we turn our back on Him. Times when we try to lead and end up getting our toes stepped on.

As in dancing, only one partner can lead (and have you noticed that it is always the man? I won't even go there today). If we try to take the lead in this dance, it's going to result in three big X's and a loud buzzer - metaphorically speaking. Excellent dancers, the ones that win it all, are ones able to follow their partner's lead. The lead partner doesn't have to do anything that is visible to the audience to guide the other; the slightest touch guides their partner effortlessly around the floor. There is an invisible, but powerfully evident, connection that remains even when they are on opposite sides of the stage. That's how our relationship with Christ should be - it should be evident at all times who is guiding us, even when others cannot see His gentle hand.

Following the lead in dancing requires trust. I caught a few scenes from Dirty Dancing the other night and as they are practicing lifts, Johnny says to Baby, "Now, you'll hurt me if you don't trust me, all right?" They practice and practice, but she just can't get it - until the final scene of the movie. The essence of following Christ is trust. Do we trust Him when He says, "All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose?" Do we trust Him when He says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you"? Do we trust Him when it feels like we are all alone and our life seems to be falling apart?

If we want to dance with the King, we have to follow His lead and allow Him to guide us through life. We have to be willing to run to Him with reckless abandon and throw ourselves into His arms with complete trust, knowing that He will be there to catch us and lift us up.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lesson # 4 from BRMCWC - PCD

Have you ever gone on a mission trip or retreat and had an incredible mountaintop experience only to crash and burn as soon as you arrive at home? There are lots of reasons why this happens - maybe it is exhaustion from the adrenaline-fueled experience or perhaps it is the mountain of work and laundry that greets you at home. Maybe it is the transition from something new and different and exciting to our normal routine. Maybe it is a spiritual attack because the enemy recognizes the threat that one on-fire, sold out, serious-about-their-walk-with-the-Lord Christian poses to his plans.

Whatever the cause, I was warned at BRMCWC and experienced it firsthand when I returned - Post Conference Depression (PCD). Maybe it's not quite as severe as PTSD, but it can definitely leave you sitting on the sofa with a remote in one hand and a bag of chocolate in the other instead of sitting at your desk typing away on the next great American novel!

Here are a few ideas I've heard and tried for getting over, around and through PCD (and they might just help with other acronyms ending with 'D').
  • Spend time with God! This may sound like a no-brainer - I mean if you're on a mission trip or a retreat, you're obviously spending time with God, right? Not necessarily. I'm talking about your own quiet time alone with the Lord in prayer and in His Word. Don't let 'Christian activities' take the place of time alone with God, both while you are away and especially when you get home and face off with that mountain of laundry.
  • Exercise! Even if you really don't want to, and believe me, you won't; keep up your exercise routine in some form while on the trip and when you return. I'm convinced that the sudden deprivation of endorphins caused by taking a break from my exercise routine fueled my case of the blues.
  • Eat healthy! It's easy on trips like these to think of it as a time to indulge in all the yummy desserts that are offered, but coming home 5 pounds heavier will definitely leave you feeling bad about everything from your writing to the way your blue jeans fit.
  • Press on! If you're a writer, make yourself sit down and write for a certain period each day, or a certain number of words each day, even if you don't really feel like it. What you write may not be good, it may stink, but you are maintaining the self-discipline of spending that time doing what you are called to do. If you paint, make yourself sit down and spend some time painting. If you garden, spend some time weeding and planting. The point is, don't let yourself get away with taking a long break because you're so busy. It makes it much harder to get started again and you'll feel miserable.

Whether you are going on vacation or to camp or on a mission trip, these tips will help you fight the post-mountaintop-experience blues when you get home. And they just might help you bring the mountaintop home with you!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lesson #3 from BRMCWC: To be a Christian Writer, you have to keep the CHRISTIAN in front of the writer

So maybe this seems obvious. If you want to be a Christian writer, you have to be a Christian first. But it goes beyond that - if you want to successfully write with a Christ-centered focus, you have to keep Christ as your focus.

I heard this over and over at BRMCWC - from Jerry B. Jenkins' keynote speech to the notes on my critique - the advice from all was to always be sure that your personal relationship with Christ comes before your writing. Your personal relationship with Christ comes before trying to get published. Your personal relationship with Christ comes before everything.

As so often happens, this advice has been put to the test immediately in my life.

Returning from the conference, I've been engulfed in an avalanche of work crises, family needs, and writing goals that have buried my good intentions to keep my priorities in order. So it's high time that I put this little nugget into practice!

Some specific applications for me personally - it's funny how when I start the day with my exercise program (Jillian's 30 Day Shred - day 14), by the time I've had my shower I have to leave for work. But if I start with my quiet time and THEN exercise...it's still time to leave for work by the time I've had my shower. Where does that time I spend with God go when I exercise first? Somehow it seems to evaporate. So from now on - God first, exercise second.

And in the evening, a lesson from Jerry B. Jenkins - time with family first, writing second. Mr. Jenkins relates in "Writing for the Soul" that by committing before his children were born that he would write only after the kids were in bed, he was actually far more productive during those few hours each evening. He writes that once he devoted his entire day to writing, he actually found that he wrote less.

Isn't God's economy amazing? 26"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

If we put God first, then whatever the outcome, we can trust that it is exactly what He has planned for us. With our writing, or with our life, God must be pre-eminent. Our relationship with Christ must come first. Some make the distinction between a Christian writer and a writer who is a Christian - but in reality there is no such thing as a writer who is a Christian. Nor is there any such thing as a lawyer who is a Christian. Or a doctor who is a Christian. With Jesus, it is an all or nothing proposition. If He isn't first - if he isn't Lord of all of our life - then He isn't our Lord at all.

Friday, May 28, 2010

BRMCWC Lesson #2: Everyone Has an Opinion

After realizing that I didn't know nearly as much as I had thought I knew; I quickly learned that there are as many different thoughts on how to write as there are writers! Don't get me wrong - there are some 'rules' that are fairly universal - like 'Show, don't tell'. But I also found that many of the very successful writers that I met at BRMCWC have very different ideas about the process.

Generally, writers appear to fall into one of two camps: the 'outliners' and the 'ad-libbers' (to borrow a phrase from Don Brown). But even within these groups, I found diversity. Many of the outliners write at length using a variety of techniques to get to know their characters. Some journal. Some interview their characters at length. Some write lengthy biographies of their characters that will never be part of their final work - but will be integral in determining their characters' responses in a given situation.

Similarly, 'ad-libbers', also known as 'writing by the seat of your pants',  generally layout some plan as far as the plot. While they may not sketch out a skeleton and fill in each 'bone' before writing, they invariably have in mind a particular inciting event and a climax.

The bottom line - as a writer, we need to recognize which general camp we fall into, but we also need to realize that even if we are a 'seat of the pants' writer - we still must have a general idea of our plot. If we are an outliner - at some point, we have to move beyond the outline and structure and flesh out the story! Getting feedback and critiques on our work can be invaluable, but as the author we have to decide which feedback to apply and which to discard. We should be teachable, but should also be firm in our convictions. Allow our craft to be polished, but don't lose our unique voice.

"5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." James 1:5-8

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lessons I Learned at BRMCWC

#1. I don’t know nearly as much about writing as I thought I did.

I learned this lesson faster than the time it takes to run out of breath walking from Rhododendron to Mountain Laurel! From attributions to plot to structure – I learned more than I even knew there was to know. And most of all, I learned that even after all that I took in, I have so much more left to learn.

It occurs to me now that this is a little like our walk with Christ. Before we can be saved, we have to first realize that we do not have all the answers. You have to know you’re lost before you can be ‘found’. Of course, when we first come to Christ, we can sometimes have such a passion and zeal that our words and actions hinder the cause of Christ. Similarly, at our first writer's conference, we can be tempted to think so highly of the masterpiece that we have created that we are perfectly obnoxious to everyone we meet (Oh, Lord, I hope that wasn’t me!)

As we mature and learn, we begin to see a glimmer of how long the road that lies before us is. We get a clearer picture of the immense amount of hard work that will be required of us. We glimpse the painful suffering that it may entail.

And we are faced with a choice.

We can ‘keep on swimming’ as Dory admonished in Finding Nemo. One of my favorite lines of all time and one that I use often.

Or we can give up and walk away. It’s too hard. I can’t do it.

But for me, writing has quickly become more than what I do. It is who I am. Going to BRMCWC was like returning to the mother ship – I am one of them! With apologies to Sally Field, "They understand me, they really understand me!"  Just as once you have accepted Christ, there is a certain rapport that you feel almost immediately with fellow believers. So also is there a kinship amongst writers. We are different than other people.  We are weird.  And that is very good.

As a Christ-follower, you have no option but to continue to live for Him, no matter how challenging it is. So I, having accepted what God has fashioned me to be, have no choice but to press on.

13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Monday, May 10, 2010

Divine Appointments

I had an appointment this afternoon.  Well, actually, I had two.  One I was fully aware of and one came as a bit of a surprise.

The appointment I knew about was to have my hair done - have to have a fresh coat of color and a new cut for the conference (JUST 6 DAYS LEFT!)  The appointment was set for shortly after work, so I had to run and get a quick bite to eat in between.  Ordinarily, I would probably have run through the drive-thru and eaten in the van - something I do far too often when time is short.

For whatever reason (leading of the Lord, perhaps?) I decided to go to Five Guys - yes, still a greasy burger and fries, but that's not the point!  As I sat down, I noticed a young black man at the table in front of me wearing a Five Guys uniform with a Bible and a spiral notebook opened before him on the table.  He noticed that I prayed over my food before eating and struck up a conversation about the Lord and how He had worked in both of our lives.  It turns out that he is a student at Wake Tech who hopes at some point to go to Seminary and become a missionary.  When I finished, we agreed to keep each other in prayer. 

I never cease to be amazed at how precious it is to meet a brother or sister in Christ - though we are strangers, we share an almost immediate bond.  Our relationship with the Father makes us truly family no matter how different our backgrounds may be.

As I headed to my hair appointment, I was struck by how God had used a stranger to encourage me (and hopefully, for me to encourage him as well) and how often I may be missing such opportunities by zipping through the drive-thru and eating alone in my car.  Yet another good reason to abandon the drive-thru...just to make sure I don't miss any divine appointments.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Parents Did Everything Wrong

That may sound harsh, but if you believe the media today, that is what one would think.  You see, when I was born in 1966, my parents were supposed to be tuning in, dropping out, and getting in touch with the universe. 

Instead, they chose to raise a family, meet their responsibilities and serve their country. 

While other men my dad's age were protesting the war in Vietnam, my father was risking his life to serve his country. 

While other women my mom's age were 'bringing home the bacon' and burning their bras, my mom was at home raising three children to be responsible adults.

While other people their age were living lives of self-indulgence and 'whatever feels right', they were paying their bills, taking their children to church, and teaching them that hard work has a certain intangible value that cannot be measured.  That we help others most by encouraging them to not give up - not by giving them whatever they want.  That love sometimes mean saying, 'No.' 

Thank you Mom (and Dad) for doing everything wrong!  I'm so glad you did!

Friday, May 7, 2010


"1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. "  Hebrews 12:1-3

So...God has been teaching me about perseverance.  Well, that's a little mild.  God has been smacking me on the head and showing me just how little perseverance I have!  And how my failure to follow through and complete things is starting to show up in my children.  Ouch.....that hurts.

But it's a good hurt.  It's the kind of hurt that you feel when you exercise and push yourself further than you thought you could, and even though it hurts, you know that because of that pain, you are growing stronger.  It's the kind of hurt that we must experience if we are growing in our walk with Christ - or in any area of our life for that matter! 

If we want to grow and mature, we have to face the pain of seeing our shortcomings for what they really are.  We have to be willing to take a long look in the mirror, recognize the flaws, prioritize the work to be done and then get started.  Of course, we can't change ourselves - any improvements we make are the result of God working in us through the Holy Spirit and us just keeping our 'self' out of the way.  That's where I find I've really struggled.  I'm OK with recognizing areas that need work.  I'm full of great ideas for improving myself, my family, and my house.  I'm enthusiastic about getting started!  I'm excited about the results...until I take my eyes off Jesus and put them on me.  Then I'm tired.  I'm too busy.  I have too many things that take priority. I just don't have enough time.

Of course, this ties in perfectly to what He has been showing me about His sovereignty.  Because the end result is not dependent on my effort - He has already prepared good works in advance for me to do (Eph 2:10).  He has already marked off the course for me.  I just need to stay in the race.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Twelve Days and Counting!

In just twelve days I am embarking on an adventure with one of my best friends to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, NC!  This is where the rubber meets the road...where we will get a glimpse of what God may have in mind as He is calling us to write, write, WRITE!

I was reminded in my Sunday evening Bible Study of just how thoroughly and completely God is sovereign.  I mean, we know that, right?  We know that 'God is in control', that 'His eye is on the sparrow', and 'He's got the whole world in His hands' but how often I live like 'I've got the power', and I'll do things 'my way!'

Our Bible Study was on Romans 8:29-34 - a full-course meal in terms of digesting spiritual truth.  As we considered several other verses that related God's choice of Abram (for no apparent reason), God's choice of Jacob (for no apparent reason), God's choice of David (for no apparent reason)...well, you begin to get the point!  God chooses us for certain purposes not because we have some special talent or gift, not because we are super-spiritual or holier-than-thou; but simply because He is God and He gets to choose.  Once chosen, He gives us all we need to accomplish His plan.

When my children were pre-schoolers, there were times when I made plans for them that were beyond their understanding.  No matter how I tried to explain the wonders of DisneyWorld to my 3-year-old, she simply couldn't understand what was in store for her.  As I recall, she threw a wild-eyed fit at one point because she did not want to get in the car seat.  I had made the reservations, bought the tickets and all I needed was a cooperative child.  God has a plan for each of our lives too - a purpose that He has worked out perfectly.  We do have an option though - we can cooperate with the plan or be drug along kicking and screaming! 

For a number of years, I have resisted what God clearly showed me was His purpose because I didn't believe that I had the talent or knowledge or right kind of degree or experience or whatever needed to do it.  But God has reminded me that it is not about what I have - it's about being obedient to do what He tells me to do with what He provides.  The results are up to God!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Please Don't Read This Post!

No, really.  You should definitely NOT read this blog.

If you do, just know that I warned you....I'm about to go on a full-blown rant.

You see, I've had it.  I'm sick and tired of people who say that they are Christians and then fail to bear any resemblance whatsoever to Christ.  I'm not talking about 'we all make mistakes' and 'nobody's perfect'; that I understand.  I'm far, FAR from perfect.  I fail to live up to God's will for my life everyday and must confess and set my sights once again upon the Father's will.

But I'm talking about the very opposite of the 'fruit of the Spirit.'  You've probably heard of the fruit of the Spirit - from Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  Notice that the verse begins with "But"; that is because the preceding verses (which are much less-oft quoted) describe the converse.  The fruit of the sinful nature, so to speak.  "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like." 

So why am I so fed up?  Because a bunch of my facebook friends, ones who have frequently posted scripture and posted various statements about being a Christian, and have joined every facebook group that claims to represent Christ, have recently chosen to openly and publicly post statements that are filled with just this sort of rotten fruit!  Brothers and sisters, if you belong to Christ, don't you know that you are known by the fruit that you bear?  We all fail to live up to God's standard - but if we can proudly boast to all our friends the nature and details of our failures - without ever suggesting that we've stumbled; can we truly say the Holy Spirit lives in us? 

If you are not a believer then please know that I am not ranting at you!  I am frustrated with my brothers and sisters in Christ - or at least those who have claimed to be such - who are dragging His name through the mud by posting as their status that they are enjoying a sexual relationship outside of marriage; or that they spent the night in sin, saying casually that 'oh well, I'll repent tomorrow', or those who express their hatred for those who disagree with them politically.   I'll add to that those who boast of following their horoscope and those whose constant presence on facebook approaches idolatry!

But maybe I'm taking this all too seriously.  That's what Grace is for, right? 

"I warn you, as I did before, that those who like like this will not inherit the kindgdom of God." Galatians 5:21b.

"Do not be deceived.  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  the one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."  Galations 5:7-8.

Lord, forgive me for the many times that I have failed to live up to the gift that you've given through your Holy Spirit.  Help me to not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit but to live a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.  Forgive me for taking my eyes off of you to dare to sit in judgment on anyone.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Forgiveness and Peace

Have you ever held a grudge?  You know, held it in your arms and nurtured it, fed it, watched it grow over the years?  People might suggest along the way that you let it go - but no, you kept it like an overgrown pet.  And then one day you realized that it had taken over your life.  Every choice you make, every thing you do and say - it's all about the Grudge!

How do you forgive when you've been hurt?  I don't mean how do you say the words - I mean how do you FORGIVE someone from the heart.  How do you move on without the hurtful words or deeds replaying in your mind on a daily basis, generating tension and frustration all over again?

One of the most vital lessons that I have learned about forgiveness is that it is similar to sanctification in that it is both a 'one time' event and an 'ongoing process.' 

What I mean is this - when we are saved, we are sanctified by the work that Christ did on the cross.  Although we are declared holy, because God sees not our sin, but Christ's sacrifice, we are not perfect; we continue in a process of sanctification throughout our lives as Christians. 

Similarly, when we forgive someone, we have the initial moment when we say that we have forgiven - and then we have an ongoing process of demonstrating that forgiveness on a daily basis.  Whenever circumstances or the enemy tries to bring the offense before us again, to stir in us resentment and frustration, "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Cor. 10:5)  Given that Christ gave His life to forgive us - we can be confident that making our thoughts obedient to Christ means forgiving others.  Each time the hurt comes to mind and we are tempted to dwell on it, to recall the pain, to remember the hurt, to think about how unjustly we were treated - we must make a conscious choice to forgive again.

If we don't, over time, the hurt grows into bitterness.  Bitterness marries trials in our life and brings forth a Grudge.  It starts as such a small thing - but it feeds on every disappointment and grows with amazing speed! 

Don't let your little pet Grudge grow into a monster that rules, and eventually destroys, your life.  Starve it to death.  Deny it the anger and frustration on which it thrives.  Feed it forgiveness and love every day and it will waste away to nothing - and in its void will be peace.

Lord, there are so many people in my life right now who are dealing with hurt.  Although the offenses against them differ, each is in pain.  Some of the wounds are fresh and raw while others have never properly healed and continue to cause them suffering years later.  Help them sense your Holy Spirit giving them the strength to let go of the pain and to forgive today.  And tomorrow. And the next day.  And every day until one day they realize that, though a scar may remain, the wound has healed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Freedom and Responsibility

I was thinking recently about my trip to Prague several years ago with my eldest daughter. While we were there, they were preparing for an election. We were surprised to learn that their Senate had a number of Communists and there was also a Communist campaigning for election to the Senate by distributing fruit bars with his picture and campaign promises (in Czech) on the wrapper as we made our way through the subway stations. It was surprising to us because we were under the mistaken impression that, having been freed from Communism, the people would certainly want nothing to do with the system that had oppressed them for so many years. But what we discovered was that some of the people in this former "Iron Curtain" nation blamed freedom for the influx of prostitution, pornography, and organized crime.

Although we speak lovingly of freedom, we sometimes demonstrate a preference for tyranny, because freedom necessitates responsibility for our actions. We prefer to ignore the truth - freedom to commit an act does not cause us to commit the act.  Freedom is the stage upon which our character is revealed and displayed for all to see.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are sometimes frustrated that the law fails to prohibit acts that we consider to be immoral or sinful in God's sight.  But this freedom allows us to demonstrate visibly and powerfully the difference that Christ makes in our lives. We too often are more preoccupied with changing the law or letting everyone know how we feel about the law, than with helping victims, living according to the moral code we proclaim, and especially showing the love by which Christ said His true followers would be known.

One of the greatest differences between the United States and some of the Muslim nations that oppose us so violently is the freedom that our citizens enjoy. These nations teach that the strict moral code that is forced upon them will allow them to be righteous in the sight of Allah. It's a lie - because righteousness is not revealed by what you do when constrained by the law. Instead, it is demonstrated by your actions when you are free to act according to your character. Righteousness cannot be impressed upon us by law, but must come from within - and it can only come from within when the Holy Spirit dwells within us and leads us.  "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory."  Ephesians 1:13-14

Sneak Attack

His brown leathery skin cracked as he waddled down the aisle of the theatre, carefully selecting the young girl who would be the perfect unwitting accomplice. Webbed wings extended slowly as he approached her from behind and then silently wrapped them around her slight form, distorting her view.

Lynn sat comfortably reclined in the seat next to her friend, Teresa, enjoying the sci-fi flick about an alien invasion. His intrusion had been perfectly timed; she never knew what hit her. He smiled a grotesque smile that distorted the cracked brown skin even more as he contemplated his victory. He let out a low chuckle that sounded more like a cackle but built into a full-throated roar of delight. The girls heard nothing.


“So, what did you think?” Teresa asked skeptically as they emerged from the theatre.

“It was very convincing,” Lynn paused. “I guess I just never really considered it before, but I thought it was very believable.”

“Hm. I was always taught that God did all these miracles, but I never really thought about how he did them, or whether they really were miracles, or where God came from,” her friend responded thoughtfully.

“Yeah, I mean, logically it makes a whole lot of sense.” Lynn continued, oblivious to the fact that her mind was not utilizing logic at all. In fact, her mind was processing information not according to her own logical thoughts, but based on his influence. Delightful! “Think of all the so-called miracles described in the Bible that we can actually do now! We can heal people of all sorts of diseases, even bring someone back to life when they have died. Maybe not four days later, but it’s just a matter of time before we’re able to do that, too!

Her warming enthusiasm encouraged him to push a little further. “Just think, if aliens did come here to earth three thousand years ago, wouldn’t they seem like god to the people who lived then? The people wouldn’t understand that they were just creatures who evolved like we did, they would think they had magical powers.” The more she talked, the more convinced she was of the truth behind the movie’s premise. He smiled smugly. It was the very premise that he had suggested to a young screen writer not so long ago.

Teresa’s skepticism was fading as her friend’s enthusiasm squashed her doubts.

The teens strolled through the parking lot oblivious to the creature perched on Lynn’s shoulders; his wings cloaked her head and shoulders. He clung to her scalp with the claws of his right hand while the long, bony index finger of his left hand swirled slowly as if stirring a cocktail inside her head.

The girls reached Lynn’s car and said their good-byes.

“I’ll see you in church tomorrow, right?” asked Teresa, crossing the lot.

“Maybe - it’s kind of late. I may sleep in. Good night!” called her friend as climbed into her car and waved.

Yes, it had been a very good night.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Part 2 - Obed-Edom

OK, so we saw that Uzzah bore the consequences of David's failure to seek the Lord in regard to the details of bringing the ark up to Jerusalem.  If you weren't sure about that, check out 1 Chronicles 13:1-4: 

1 David conferred with each of his officers, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 He then said to the whole assembly of Israel, "If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the LORD our God, let us send word far and wide to the rest of our brothers throughout the territories of Israel, and also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their towns and pasturelands, to come and join us. 3 Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of [a] it [b] during the reign of Saul." 4 The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people.

"It seemed right to all the people" - Oh my!  May God forgive us when we are doing what 'seems right to all the people' - sound familiar??

But moving on, after Uzzah's demise, David is afraid to bring the ark up to Jerusalem.  "Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 14 The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the LORD blessed his household and everything he had."  (1 Chronicles 13:13-14)

Obed-Edom was a Gittite - a resident of Gath - but apparently NOT a native.  We learn (in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 25) that Obed-Edom was a descendent of Korah - a  Levite who was given responsibility as a gatekeeper for the temple.  And it is reiterated that "God had blessed him."

As Christians, God has given us greater treasure than the Israelites ever experienced.  We have the Holy Spirit - the very presence of God himself - living within us.  God is available to us through prayer every moment of our day!  We have the Word of God - in fact, most of us have several copies in various translations so that we can more easily grasp the meaning behind each word.  And yet how often do we read it?  Do we really study what we find there?  Do we share it with others?  Do we approach prayer with a reverence that demonstrates that we are speaking to a Holy God?  Or do we treat God casually. 

The ark of the covenant resided with Abinadab for over 20 years - do you suppose that his family became comfortable having it there?  Did they toss a blanket over it and use it as a coffee table?  They say that "Familiarity breeds contempt" - may we never become so 'familiar' with God that we treat Him or His Word with contempt.

Right Idea, Wrong Methodology!

Have you ever felt that the Lord was leading you to do something, but when you tried to do it, everything went wrong?  I just learned a little something about this very thing from Uzzah and Obed-Edom.  What, you don't remember these two biblical names?  Let me share their stories - I'll break this up into two blogs to keep it short (I can hear you laughing!)  First the story of Uzzah:

(2 Samuel 6:1-5)  1 David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. 2 He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah [f] to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, [g] the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, [h] and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs [i] and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.

Sounds great, right?  David is bringing the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem.  They were celebrating and praising God 'with all their might'.  But then something unexpected happens:

(2 Samuel 6:6-8)  6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.

Now, this is one of those passages of scripture that has always puzzled me.  It seems a little...well...harsh, doesn't it?  Should Uzzah have just let the ark fall off the cart and land in the mud?  Why did God strike him dead right then and there?  What did he do that was so wrong?  As usual, I'm asking all the wrong questions!
Let's back this cart up a moment and look at this a little more closely - starting with God's instructions regarding the ark.  In Exodus 25:10-15, we learn that the ark was cast with rings along the base through which poles were inserted to be carried on the shoulders of the Levite priests.  The poles were not to be removed.  So clearly, moving the ark on a cart was in direct conflict with God's expressed instructions for how to transport this treasure that represented God's presence among His people. 
The ark had been transported by cart previously - by the Philistines!  They had captured the ark and had it in their possession for seven months, during which time God struck them with plagues.  So to rid themselves of God's wrath, they placed the ark on a new cart led by two cows which had never been yoked and were separated from their calves.  They let the cows go and they miraculously led the cart straight back to Israel.  Through this the Philistines understood that it had been God's judgment on them that caused the plague.  The Philistines had not received God's instructions regarding the transport of the ark - so their efforts to do the 'right thing' were honored by God and they were healed.
But there is more to this story - and those dreaded genealogies come into play once again!
Who was Abinadab?  Well there are two Abinadab's that appear in scripture - one was a son of Saul, who was killed in the same battle where Saul, Jonathan and several of Saul's other sons were killed.  The context of 1 Chronicles 6 certainly suggests that Abinadab was still alive at this time, so it seems likely this is the other Abinadab, who was David's older brother.   David, and therefore Abinadab and his two sons, were of the tribe of Judah - not Levi!  So not only was David transporting the ark in an inappropriate manner - but he was allowing someone other than the Levites to do so.  And it cost his nephews life!
At first glance, we might be tempted to think, "How unfair!"  It wasn't Uzzah's fault that David wasn't following directions!  When we fail to follow God's plan, there are consequences - and sometimes others feel the pain of our disobedience.  
David believed that the Lord wanted him to bring the ark to Jerusalem - but instead of seeking God in the details of how to do that, he took a shortcut.  He did what seemed to be the right thing to him.  It wasn't that he didn't care about what God thought - after all, they were praising God 'with all their might'!  He summoned thirty thousand 'chosen men' to accompany the ark! 
How often do I have a leading from the Lord and say, in effect, "Great, now I'll take it from here!"  Then I'm angry when my methods result in failure.  Perez Uzzah - it means God broke out against Uzzah - that is not the place I want to be!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top 10 Rules for International Mission Trips

My daughters are preparing for their first international mission trip sans parents; so in their honor, I'm compiling a list of the lessons I recall from my first international mission trip with Megan several years ago!  And since I don't think I have ten tips to share - jump in - add a comment with your favorite tips and lessons from the mission field!  (In no particular order)
10.   Make the most of it!!  I recall standing amid a group of teenagers who were complaining that their feet hurt, their biological clock thought it was 3 a.m. and they wanted to spend the evening sleeping in their hotel room and stating quite emphatically, "I'm almost 40 years old; I've never been to Prague before and will likely never get to come back; and I am NOT spending my free time in a hotel room - now who's with me?"  This is the opportunity of a lifetime - don't sleep through it or miss a minute of it!
9.  Wear comfortable shoes!!  (See "their feet hurt" above)  Missions work is generally NOT about being a fashion model and 99% of the world does NOT hop in a car in their driveway and arrive at their destination to walk 100 feet from the parking lot to the door!  No matter where you go, there will likely be more walking than you have ever done unless you're in training for a marathon.  Comfy shoes - with SOCKS - don't forget!
8.  If you have food allergies - perhaps international missions aren't for you!  One of our teens was allergic to pork and chicken...and well, anything that wasn't a McDonald's Big Mac.  No, I'm not joking.  We walked several miles seeking the elusive golden arches only to discover another unique thing about Europe - they have rotating signs at the street corners such that if the golden arches don't happen to be pointing in your direction as you walk by - you will miss the turn!  And when Europeans tell you it is "just down the road a bit" - they mean you will walk until you have blisters on your blisters and then will see it glowing dimly in the distance!
7.  If someone DOES have food allergies - don't make them eat it anyway!  After having to spend an afternoon in the hotel room with said allergic-person while they yakked up their lunch; walking 3 miles to the McDonald's didn't seem so bad.  And apparently if something is cooked with chicken broth, picking out the pieces of chicken really isn't quite enough...
6.  Bring snacks!  Apparently, people in other cultures frequently have their biggest meal at lunchtime - which is actually better for you anyway.  But after watching several 6 foot tall, 200+ pound guys scarf down half a dozen sausage-link-size bratwurst and say, "That was great...where's the main course?!"; seems to me having a back-up plan to fill them up would have been a good idea!
5.  Females - keep a couple of guys in your group as you travel.  Cultural norms are different in other countries and females without a male escort can find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation.  I was particularly thankful to have several men in our group when we encountered an inebriated native named George who apparently found me irresistible.
4.  "Be fluid - not flexible" - this was the advice given to us by our hosts upon our arrival in Prague - and it was excellent advice.  Flexibility implies remaining fixed upon a spot while bending to the various forces at work upon you - but being fluid pictures moving and changing to meet the obstacles and opportunities that God presents!  If you are on mission - you are there for God's purposes and not your own.  Be willing to do whatever He leads in that moment, whether prayer-walking a quiet street or playing frisbee in a city park!  (See note above about traveling in mixed groups!)
3. Your past will find you in the most unlikely places.  As we met another mission team (from Scottsdale, Arizona, no less), I ran into someone that I went to high school with 20 years ago!  Although she was gracious, I have no doubt that she was shocked to see me, of all people, on a mission trip.  Remember, the mistakes you make when you're young, may be forgiven by God and forgotten by you - but there will always be someone out there who remembers them!
2.  Be prepared to give a reason for the hope at all times.  Disappointed that the plans 'we' had made to give our testimony had not materialized, we soothed ourselves by shopping for souvenirs for friends and family - only to be presented with an opportunity to witness to a young man working behind the counter of a Swarovski Crystal shop!  It was the only time on the trip that we were able to openly share Christ with someone.
1.  What's your favorite tip?  Add it to the comments below!

Monday, March 22, 2010

More from 1 Chronicles...

I'm in chapter 11 of 1 Chronicles today and finding more nuggets of gold amongst the genealogies and history lessons!  While many of the facts of David's ascent to the throne are familiar from having recently read 1 and 2 Samuel, I found the stories of David's "Mighty Fighting Men" very interesting.  You see, while King Saul was pursuing David and David was hiding in caves and on the run for his life, he was surrounded by a band of heroes.  Fighting men of apparent reknown, these men were apparently somewhat notorious in their heroic exploits.  Verses 16-19 tell about one particular adventure when they stole into the enemy camp to retrieve water from their adversaries' well in order to bring it back for David to drink because he had said he longed for water from that well!  Sounds a little brazen, doesn't it?

Various members of the group are identified as fighting off 300 men, killing a lion in a pit, killing an Egyptian seven-and-a-half feet tall with his own spear, and verse 19 concludes "such were the exploits of the three mighty men."  The Bible states that in addition to the three mighty men, there were thirty chiefs among this group - essentially the inner circle of David's rapidly growing army.  We might liken this group to our Green Berets or Navy Seals.  They were a band of brothers who fought together, lived together and protected one another.  They depended on each other for their very lives.

Interestingly, and I suspect seldom noticed or studied, the chronicler also provides a list of these mighty men, David's inner circle of friends.  The men to whom he owed his very life.  And near the end of the list a familiar name appears:  Uriah the Hittite.

Back in 2 Samuel, chapter 11, we learn that "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the entire Israelite Army."  Instead of joining his men on the battlefield,  David stayed home to enjoy the safety and luxury of his palace.  We are told that "he got up from his bed one evening and walked around the roof of his palace."  Why do you suppose he couldn't sleep?  Perhaps the guilt of abandoning his place with his men was nagging at him.  While pacing on the roof, he saw a woman bathing.  The following verses tell us, "The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her."  Notice that he found out who she was first - he knew before he ever sent messengers to bring her to him that she was the wife of one of his trusted comrades-in-arms!

You probably know the rest of the story.  Bathsheba becomes pregnant, so David summons Uriah and tries to provide the opportunity for Uriah to be thought the father.  But Uriah is so honorable, that he refuses to spend a night in the comfort of his home, in the arms of his wife, while his brothers remain encamped on the battlefield.  So David devises a plan to ensure that Uriah is killed in battle - he is sent to the frontlines and the rest of the army retreats and leaves him unprotected.  And eventually the son born of David's unfaithfulness dies.

Imagine all the sorrow that arose from that one small decision to remain in his palace.  How often do we find ourselves in sin because we allow ourselves to be somewhere we simply had no business being?  How many tragedies begin with a single, seemingly innocent, poor choice?  Once we have sinned, what additional sins will we heap on in an effort to conceal our guilt instead of confessing and turning away from sin?

It would be so easy to condemn David.  What a wretched man!  How could he do something so horrible?  How could he betray one so close to him?  But I am encouraged that despite all his failures, God's Word tells us he was a man after God's own heart.  Despite all our failures, God stands ready, willing, and able to hear our confession and empower us to repent through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ding! Time is up!

Sometimes we just don't understand God's sense of timing.  We see the death of a child and think, "How could God let them die so young?  They had so much of life left to experience!"  Or a friend moves away and we think, "It's not fair!  I wanted them here with me longer!"  A prayer is not answered immediately and we wonder, "Why is it taking so long?"

Although it may be beyond our comprehension, God's timing is perfect!  A brief examination of scripture points out how detailed his planning and timing is:
Genesis 15 - God tells Abram that he will have a son - even many descendants.  He even gives him a timeline for his descendants regarding their future enslavement in Egypt - and this no less than 14 years before the prophesied son is born!  In Genesis 18, after Abraham and Sarah have impatiently tried to impose their own solution, God reaffirms that He will give them a son - in just one more year!
Esther 4:14 "...And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"  God ordained that Esther would be queen at this exact time so that she might be used of God to save the Israelites from annihilation.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven."
Jesus stated in John 2:4 "My time has not yet come."  There was an appointed time for His ministry to begin - and an appointed time for Him to say, "It is finished."  In the same Gospel, fifteen chapters later, Jesus prayed, "Father, the time has come" shortly before being betrayed and crucified.  Any number of times during his ministry, the Pharisees and Scribes had surrounded him and sought to stone him or arrest him, and he simply walked past them - his time had not yet come.  If God so carefully planned the timing of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion - do we think He has given no thought to the timing of events in our lives? 

There are so many more scriptures that speak of God's timing - but I don't want to get caught up in listing scriptures and fail to make the point:  God's timing is perfect!  God's protection is perfect!  His people do not pass away 'too soon'!  They pass from this life when they have completed every bit of the assignment that He had for them.  They enter His rest, welcomed by a multitude of angels and beam in joy as God declares, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"  Is that because they were perfect?  Of course not.  It is because God is perfect; and his Holy Spirit is able to perfectly enable us to accomplish His purpose for our lives.

In "Jesus the One and Only" last week, Beth Moore talked about the timing of God in relation to the two witnesses described in Revelation.  She pointed out how they were able to easily repel any attack until the three and a half years they were given elapsed.  When the time was over, they were overcome and killed.  Because their job was done; their time was up!  She makes a radical statement that is worth repeating, "Death cannot come to the obedient children of God until they have finished their testimony."  Be sure to note the phrase 'the OBEDIENT children of God' - we must not look to test God.  But if we are serving Him in obedience, we also must not live in fear!  Look at the life of Paul!  Beaten, shipwrecked (3 times!), stoned, imprisoned...but until his time had come and he had 'finished the race', he was invincible!  The enemy can create trouble for us, that's for sure; but Satan cannot thwart the plans of God.  I would suggest that this does not only apply to thwarting God's plans through our 'premature' death, but also to anything that would end the testimony of an obedient servant of God before God's appointed time. 

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8-9, "But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me."  His time there was not complete.  Though there was opposition; God had not yet released him to move on to Corinth.  We experienced a similar situation in reverse - although we had no clear plan in mind for where God was calling us to go, we had peace that our time in that place was through!  It wasn't due to opposition, trials, or anything else - except that God had said that our time was up!  Of course, we might not have had a plan in mind, but God most certainly did.  And we learned about it on a 'need to know' basis - when we needed to know, He revealed it to us!  Initially, it was a little unsettling to be in ministry on an 'interim' basis.  But I've come to realize that it really is no different.  We are where God has us for as long as He has us there until the work He has planned for us to accomplish is completed - our job is to serve in obedience to the Holy Spirit for whatever time that is!

One final point on God's perfect timing: Before Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection, He told the disciples, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority."  In Matthew 24:36, He told them, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  There is a time coming when Jesus will return to earth and although we do not know the time, it was carefully planned by God from the foundations of the earth and it is certain.  When it does, it will be as if a timer has rung:  Ding!  Your time is up!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why are all those long, tedious genealogies in the Bible?

OK, come on, you know you've said it!  No one who has read seemingly endless 'begats' hasn't wondered why the omnipotent, sovereign Lord would have chosen to include such detailed information that appears to be totally irrelevant to our lives today in His inspired Word.

My friends, never doubt that God has a purpose in every word in the Word!

In my quiet time, I've been reading through the Archaelogical Study Bible that Randy gave me for Christmas over a year ago - I'm in 1 Chronicles, which tells you two things - first, I haven't been consistently reading since I got it and second, this Bible isn't a 'read it through in a year' sort of thing.  With extensive footnotes and wonderful photos and articles on various archaelogical finds that uphold the truth of scripture, this Bible provides incredible insights into the culture in which the Bible was written.

To give a little more background (and I promise I AM getting to the point), last fall I was in a Bible study on the book of Ruth with some dear friends and we spent some time really delving into the character of Boaz, as well as Ruth and Naomi.  But we missed a little gem that I found this morning in 1 Chronicles 2:10-12, "Ram was the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab, the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah.  Nahshon was the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed and Obed the father of Jesse."  Boaz' grandfather was Nahshon, 'the leader of the people of Judah.'  If you're familiar with the story of Ruth, Boaz rescued her from the destitute life of a widow despite the fact that she was a foreigner from the land of Moab, a historical enemy of Israel.  Boaz' father, Salmon was married to Rahab - the same Rahab who assisted the Israelite spies in Joshua 2.  Although the Bible doesn't give us the names of the two spies, I have to imagine that Salmon was one of them and that he rescued Rahab, who was also a foreigner.  A native of Jericho, Rahab is commonly referred to as a prostitute, although she might have been an innkeeper.  The history of Boaz' father and grandfather is IMPORTANT!  It gives us wonderful human insight into the character of the real man named Boaz.  He was not just a wealthy landowner, he was part of the social elite.  A 'prince' of his tribe, essentially.  And yet he 'humbled himself' to serve as 'kinsman-redeemer' for Ruth.  Isn't that a beautiful picture of Christ?

But wait - the best part is yet to come!  It is delivered in another one of those long lists of genealogies that we so often skim over in our reading.  Found in Matthew 1: 5-16, we see that Rahab, Boaz and Ruth appear again in the genealogy of Joseph.   Again we see a member of this family line marrying a woman who the common wisdom of the day would have rejected.  In fact, they appear again in the genealogy found in Luke 3.  Many scholars believe that this genealogy is that of Mary since it appears to diverge at the point of David's son (one being through his son Solomon and one through his son Nathan, also by Bathsheba according to 1 Chron. 3:5). 

So the next time you're tempted to 'just skip the genealogies' - DON'T!  Take a moment to pray and ask God to show you something new even in these seemingly mundane verses!  You just might be amazed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hard Lessons on the Love of Christ

I'm currently involved in a small group study of Beth Moore's "Jesus the One and Only".  Today I'm working hard to catch up before our meeting tomorrow (sh!  don't tell them!  :-))  but I had to stop after 'Day 2' and share some thoughts that God just won't let me breeze on by.  Beth uses Luke 9:51-56 to highlight the disciples' (and consequently, OUR) judgmental attitudes and desires to bring destruction on those who are different.  She ties in verses from Ezekiel 33:10-11, Jonah 4:1-3, 10-11, Lamentations 3:22, and Matthew 7:1-2 - I'll let you play Bible Drill with those, but the bottom line is simply this - there is nothing more tragic than the death of those who do not know Christ.  And no matter what they have done or how horrible they have been, God does not take pleasure in their death because it means that they have not and will not have the eternal life that Christ died to give them.

The Bible is full of stories of those who came bearing what they considered 'good news' involving the death of an enemy - but it is never good news!  God "is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)  As Christians, we are admonished by Christ himself to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)

This week we learned of a senseless attack on innocent Christians in Pakistan who work through World Vision to help children orphaned and injured in the earthquake that occurred there in 2005.  I confess, my first thoughts were certainly not for those who committed this inexcusable act of violence.  I thought of the children whose needs may not be met now, of the families who have lost a loved one too soon, and of the hindrance such violence is to the spread of the gospel.  But God has reminded me through this lesson today, that the greatest tragedy is not a Christian dying too young - but an unbeliever dying at any age by any means.  Our lives on earth are nothing more than a vapor - but eternity awaits us.

Have you ever wondered what would inspire someone to strap a bomb to themselves and take their own life as they attempt to take the lives of others?  There is only one 'god' which seeks the death of those who disagree with him - and it is NOT the God of the Bible.  It is NOT the God who said, "Father, forgive them," of those who had tortured and nailed him to the cross even as he drew his last breath. 

Those who perpetrate such violence - even in the name of the God of the Bible - are sadly misled by the father of lies.  Still, God does not seek their destruction, but their reconciliation to Him through His Son.

Lord, fill my heart with compassion not only for the victims of these attacks, but for the perpetrators who do not know You.  Help your people to show love and compassion that is so overwhelming to unbelievers that they cannot resist you.