Archive | March 2014

Frenemies

There was a teen television movie that came out in 2012 called “Frenemies”.  Frenemies are friends that go from friends to enemies and back again.  Repeatedly.  This is a common occurrence in the teenage years.  I’ve never watched the film, but I find the title interesting.  I wonder how many of us are God’s frenemies?

It’s easy to see the enemies of God in the world today.  There are those who blatantly refuse Him, curse Him, and fight against His followers.  That’s not us, of course!  But who does the Bible say are His enemies?

“…Do you not know that being the world’s friend is being God’s enemy?…”   James 4:4

Wow.  An enemy is one who is antagonistic or hostile toward another.  A friend is a favored companion.  So now, what does it mean to be a friend to the world?  In this passage, the “world” is earth and its order. Another way to put it is the natural order of things without God.  As humans we have a lot of natural tendencies such as reasoning, questioning, self-reliance, etc.  God created us with all these inclinations, but without having surrendered them to Him, we follow the way of the world.  We become the world’s friend by choosing it’s ways rather than God’s ways.

 

That scripture in James starts out with “You are like unfaithful wives – having illicit love affairs with the world and breaking your marriage vow to God”

Ouch.  When we love the ways and things of this world more than Him, we become His enemy.  When the things of this world get more of our time and attention than He does, we become His enemy.  When our own ways take precedence over His ways and His leading in our lives, we become His enemy.

We are to trust in Him more than our own natural inclinations.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

Israel Houghton has a wonderful praise song “I Am A Friend of God”.  I love singing this song, but today I am asking myself if I have truly been His friend?  I want to be, but I must confess, based on the definition of “frenemies”, that sounds more like me.  Loving God but then pursuing my own way.  Letting the busy-ness of this life and all there is to do take more of my time and attention than what I give to Him.  I want to live this life full of faith in Him, rejecting all that draws me away from making Him my first love each and every moment of each and every day.

Let’s stop being God’s frenemies and commit to be His true friends – His favored companions!!

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The verdict: Not Guilty

Jury duty is an interesting experience.  I have only been summoned twice, and this week I was selected.  There were approximately one hundred fifty people in the initial room where we gathered prior to being divided into smaller groups and taken to a specific courtroom.  Out of the group of twenty-four individuals of which I was a part, six were selected to hear a misdemeanor criminal case and render a verdict:  Guilty or Not Guilty.

Prior to the selection of the six, the judge took great care to give us basic rules of law and procedures of court.  It was very informative and raised my curiosity as to what to expect should I be chosen, especially as she directed us to forget everything we’d seen in the television dramas.  Once she had given us the preliminary education we would need, we were then asked questions by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney in order for them to each determine who could best serve.

As soon as the jury had been selected, the trial began.  Witnesses who were friends of the defendant were called to give testimony as to his behavior.  It was obvious they did not want to do anything to disparage their friend, and their answers were vague and unsure as they tried to recall the night of the incident which was almost a year ago. Next, a police officer was called.  His demeanor was much more confident, and he answered the prosecutor’s questions with ease.   The defense attorney began his questioning, which at first seemed repetitious.  When at one point the officer contradicted himself, the attorney was like a bulldog!  He hammered away with questions, over and over, in an effort to discredit the officer’s testimony.  He did a good job.

Next, the prosecution called another officer who was the patrol partner of the first.  His version of what happened was completely different from the first officer’s.  A break was called and we jurors were shown to the jury room.  Just a few minutes later we were ushered back into the courtroom and the judge explained that due to the conflicting testimonies, the state wished to dismiss the case.  She ordered us to go back into the jury room and find the defendant “Not Guilty”.  She handed the bailiff a piece of paper, told us we were to write the words “Not Guilty” on the form and return when it was done.  The purpose of the written verdict was to allow this charge against him to be expunged from his record.  It would be as if it never happened.

Not what I expected.  There was no need to examine any evidence.  No need to discuss the testimonies to determine the facts of the case.  No deliberations on our part whatsoever.  The young man accused was freed from the charge that had been held against him.  Was he guilty?  I don’t know.  Maybe, maybe not.  It doesn’t matter because the judge made the decision and it was final.  Over.  He will never suffer punishment for the events of that evening, even if he was guilty.  And do you know that young man didn’t hesitate to receive the verdict?  He didn’t argue or hang his head.  He took it.

We have an accuser and he is a bulldog when it comes to bringing up our sins again and again, trying to condemn us. How many times has the enemy brought back to your mind your failures, faults, and sins?  And how many times have you hung your head in shame or defeat because you felt guilty?  Because you were guilty.  We make mistakes. Sometimes we make really big mistakes.

“My little children, I write you these things so that you may not violate God’s law and sin.  But if anyone should sin, we have an Advocate – One Who will intercede for us – with the Father, it is Jesus…”  1 John 2:1

Jesus sits at the side of the Father in heaven and when Satan accuses us, Jesus is our Defense.  And He’s done a perfect job!

“Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost – completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity – those who come to God through Him, since He is always living to make petition to God and intercede with Him and intervene for them.”  Hebrews 7:25

He took the punishment we deserve and set us free to live as if we had never sinned!!

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation (no adjudging guilty of wrong) for those who are in Christ Jesus…”  Romans 8:1 

He has removed our offenses from our record.  In God’s eyes, it is as if they never happened.

We need to decide to believe.  Really believe what Jesus did for us.  The Judge has already heard all He needs to hear, seen all He needs to see to make a decision.  Through the obedience of His Son, God has declared us NOT GUILTY!!

“And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ:  for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”  Revelation 12:10

“So if the Son liberates you – makes you free, then you are really and unquestionably free.”  John 8:36

Don’t argue.  Don’t hang your head.  Just take it!!

 

 

 

 

Leftovers

You would have to be someone very close to me to be offered leftovers at my house.  Not because I only serve them to those who are special, but because I normally prepare a new meal for a visitor.  I want my guests to feel important when they visit, and may even inquire about their preferences in order to ensure their enjoyment.  I will use the best ingredients, and extra care in the presentation, serving the meal on the best dishes.  I save leftovers for the family and they are most often served on paper plates indicating the meals insignificance.  I have given them no reason to have the expectation of a special meal every day.  Lately, they are just surprised and grateful when I cook at all.

When cooking for the family, I actually plan for leftovers.  With everyone old enough to feed themselves (thank you, Jesus), it’s wonderful to send them to the fridge for something already prepared when the announcement is made: “I’m hungry!”.  Living on a budget calls for creative ways to make the most of every food choice with as little waste as possible, and with a husband and older children to feed, quantities must be sufficient if I expect them to feast on a particular dish for more than one day.  With proper planning, the leftovers from one meal can be used to create an enticing new dish on another day.

However, I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of leftovers myself.  Some foods are acceptable the second time around, while others will produce some interesting growths and odors as they are ignored, having been pushed to the back. Often, perfectly acceptable leftovers are available for consumption but are rebuffed in preference for the delectable meal the delivery guy will bring straight to my door.  Leftovers are second best.

Yesterday I read the account of Jesus feeding the multitude.  We are all probably familiar with the story – a small boy with a basket of fish and bread offered his meal to Jesus.  Jesus took the lunch, thanked the Father for it and asked Him to multiply it.  Miraculously, as the disciples began to distribute bread and fish to all who were there, the supply was endless.

After all had eaten until they were full, He gave the disciples this instruction:

“…Gather up now the fragments, the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing may be lost and wasted.”  John 6:12

The bread and fish had been broken, some of it consumed, and only fragments remained – leftovers.  What did He do with the leftovers?  The Bible says nothing more than they gathered them up and all together they filled twelve baskets.  But what caught my attention was that Jesus wanted nothing to be lost or wasted.  He didn’t let the people just leave it on the ground and His purpose of collecting it wasn’t motivated by just keeping the area neat and clean.  He knew He would use every piece. And He didn’t take the leftovers and reform them into the whole loaves and fish He started with. Each broken piece that remained was a miracle in itself.

When we’ve been broken and portions of our lives have been consumed by loss or failure, we very often see ourselves as leftovers. With only fragments of ourselves remaining, we believe we are no longer special or deserving of the best efforts from God or anyone else.  Many times we retreat into the background, no longer seeing ourselves as the first choice for God to use. We may even think our lives stink.  We see others around us whose lives are intact and believe they can be used for far more important purposes than we can.  We see ourselves as second best.  Still saved, but not worth as much as we had been before we fell into broken pieces.

Jesus gathers the broken pieces.  He sees value in every fragment but makes no effort to try to put them back together the same as before they were broken apart.  He has a better way.  He comforts us and reassures us that none of the pieces of our lives will be wasted.  He can use them all.  They are each miracles in His hands.  He lovingly gathers each piece knowing that He can make of our lives significantly more than before we were broken.

Have you been broken?  Is your life a collection of fragments that don’t seem to fit together anymore?  Come to Jesus.  He does amazing things with leftovers!!

Tight-rope walking

Several years ago I took my granddaughter to the circus.  It was the 100th year of Barnum and Bailey and we had front row seats.  It had been many, many years since I had been to a circus and it was her first time.  We marveled at the man on stilts, had her picture taken with one of the performance artists, and enjoyed hot dogs, popcorn, sodas and cotton candy til we simply could not eat anymore.

I must admit I watched my granddaughter as much, if not more, than the show.  I thoroughly enjoyed her delight at seeing an elephant with a paintbrush in his trunk create a colorful work of art.  I watched her eyes focus intently as the tigers jumped through hoops and stood on command.  I joined in her laughter at the silliness of the clowns.  I put on the funny hat and red nose to match hers, as every good grandmother would do.

We watched the acrobats soar high in the air and saw beautiful young women twists themselves into pretzels.  The ringmaster announced each performance in a booming voice, but none so dramatically as the tight-rope walkers.  I directed my granddaughter to look up to the rafters and began to explain to her what was about to take place.  The first performer stepped out on the rope, holding her pole for balance.  I looked at my granddaughter and said…

“Would you want to do that?”

She responded softly and I thought I knew what she said, but in order to clarify I asked…

“You would be scared to do that?”

She replies..

“Uhhhhh….(in the tone of DUHHHHH!)…Granny, I’m FOUR!!”

Good point.  Silly question.

I suspect there aren’t very many of us that have tight-rope walking on our bucket list for the same reason.  It’s scary.  One missed step could be disastrous.  Even with a safety net below, the idea of falling from that height would be enough to make us catch our breath so sharply it would hurt.

Being a perfectionist in nature, I’ve felt the pressure of this Christian walk as if it were a tight-rope experience.  Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and spacious and broad is the way that leads away to destruction and many are those who are entering through it.  But the gate is narrow and the way is straightened and compressed that leads away to life, and few are those who find it.”   Matthew 7:13-14

This was a bothersome scripture to me for a long time.   It sounded like missed steps would be disastrous.  Even knowing that God promised to never leave me, the fall would still be painful.  At the heart of my fear was the thought that I might wander too far off this narrow way, or fall so far that I would be unable to find my way again.

Life has dealt me some hard blows, most of which were initiated by my own choices.  Without understanding Who my God really was, those difficulties only added to the pressure of this narrow walk I’m supposed to be on.  When I fell, I would work so very hard to make everything right and serve in every possible way in order to be acceptable to Him again.  How much work does it take to please Him??  Some of the falls were from great heights…is it possible to fall too far??

God gives us the choice:  the way of destruction or the way of life.  Jesus is the narrow gate, our entrance into God’s presence now and for all eternity in heaven.  The narrow way is becoming His disciple, conforming our lives on earth after His.  It takes discipline and practice to stay on the narrow way, but God has given us plenty of room for our steps AND is busy helping us!!

“You (God) have given plenty of room for my steps under me, that my feet would not slip.”  Psalm 18:36

“The steps of a good man are directed and established by the Lord when He delights in his way and He busies Himself with his every step.”  Psalm 37:23

Thankfully, I learned that this narrow way is not a tight-rope experience.  This life is not a performance of our works in order to please Him.  God is good and faithful and has made a way for us to live abundant lives, full of rich experiences in Him – the “way of life”.  Knowing He is with me every step of the way allows me to relax and enjoy this life He’s leading me through.

Scared?  Not anymore.       🙂

Dead or alive

Evening television viewing was a family affair when I was growing up.  Daddy controlled the program selection, and children served in multiple roles.  First, we were the remotes should the channel need to be changed.  There was no dawdling allowed, and we were as quick as pushing a button on a hand-held device, often racing to see who would get to turn the knob.  Secondly, if reception was poor, a child was selected to be stationed outside at the antennae trying desperately to hear him yelling from the nearest window the instructions on which direction to turn the pole.  (This was a skill I never mastered fully, often managing to aggravate my father even more by either turning it the wrong direction or too far in the right direction.  I was always hopeful I would not be selected for this role.)  And thirdly, we would stand to the side of the large television cabinet in order to give it a good “whack” at his command if it still wouldn’t work properly.

Once all selections and corrections had been made, it was time to watch.  Most evenings it was a movie rather than a drama or sitcom.   I don’t remember ever watching a movie with my father that wasn’t a western.  We watched funny westerns, classic westerns, cheesy westerns.  It didn’t matter.  I don’t even remember it ever occurring to me that there were other options until I reached my teenage years.  It still didn’t matter to me though, as I enjoyed both the westerns and his company.  I learned to enjoy this time silently, however, as we were not allowed to talk or play during the movie, only during the commercial breaks.  Daddy wanted to fully enjoy the movie experience without missing any portion of the dialogue or action. And after a full day of work, it was a good way to relax.  (Some people don’t find a room full of active,  noisy children relaxing…I am my father’s child…)

Western movies were easy to follow.  There was a good guy in a white hat, and one or more bad guys in black hats. The good guys were always after the bad guys, whose pictures were plastered all over the country on signs that said “Wanted:  Dead or Alive”. Very dramatic.  The good guys always tried to bring them in alive, but on occasion had to resort to killing them.  The death of the bad guy in those movies was very different compared to what we see in the movies today.  Then, the death was all about how he acted as he died, not massive amounts of blood and gore.  And once the bad guy was imprisoned or dead, everyone was safe.

In today’s movies, it’s often hard to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.  The anti-hero is often the star of the movie.  An anti-hero is defined as one who lacks the traditional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, nobility, fortitude, and moral goodness.  Hmmm….I like the old movies better.

As we consider our spiritual lives, what’s the status – dead or alive?  Are our prayers full of hope and confident expectation, or are they stale and repetitive?  When we read the Bible, does it energize us and make us effective, or is it just a part of our routine that has no real impact on our everyday lives?

“For the word that God speaks is alive and full of power – making it active, operative, energizing, and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and the (immortal) spirit, and of joints and marrow (of the deepest parts of our nature), exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

We’ve all had times where we’ve struggled to stay engaged in this life as a Christian.  For many years, I read the Bible as a book of all the rules, with stories about other’s lives as examples of how to be a “good guy” or a “bad guy”.  Sometimes when I read, it was interesting and informative and encouraging.  But other times when I read, it was also frustrating and defeating and condemning. Those days often lessened my desire to read and study more.

Can the world tell if we are one of the good guys or the bad guys?  Are we trying to live out our Christian lives as the anti-heroes – holding on to our old ways and attitudes, unwilling to allow Him to change us, and still thinking that we can win others for Him?

His word is alive.  It is powerful.  It has the power to change us!  He has made us alive in Christ! (John 14)  If we aren’t finding this walk with Him full and exciting, maybe we need to adjust the antennae and tune in better!  The good guy has already won!! He’s already defeated the bad guy – the devil – and put sin to death!  We are both saved and safe.  Sin has no power over us any longer when we begin to take His word as a living thing – putting our faith in God who is more than able to do in us all that He said He would do!!!

“…to Him Who, by the action of His power that is at work within us, is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think – infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams…”  Ephesians 3:20

In this real life movie, the Good Guy has already saved the day.  When we yield to Him, He is able to work His power in us and for us, making this earth experience all that it was designed to be.  And the end of this life is not the end of the movie.  It’s the beginning of more than we can ever imagine!!

A yellow ivy

Several years ago when our company moved from one building to a new location, I decided to add some plant life to the decor of my new space.  My husband knows everything about plants, so I asked him to take me shopping.  As I would see a plant I liked, I asked the details of whether or not it would survive indoors with little sunlight, how often it would need to be watered, how fast to expect it to grow, etc.  He patiently educated me as we browsed the many options, and kindly moved the  pots and plants to their new home.

Of the two items I purchased, one was a palm tree (I’ve already forgotten what kind).  It was rather large, and once placed in the corner behind my desk had to be trimmed so the branches didn’t get caught in my hair.  I endured the ridicule of my superior who called my tree Seymour….best I remember, it had something to do with a large tree that ate people….  I, however, enjoyed my selection.  For a while.

It was a living thing that required maintenance.  One more thing to do.  Occasionally I would take notice of it and its desperate cry for attention – droopy limbs, brown tips on the fronds, or leaves, or whatever you call the green part of a palm tree.  I would then take the time to water and trim, and hope that it wasn’t too late for this tree to survive.  Until one day I decided it was just too much trouble and out it went.

The other plant I selected was an ivy.  Again, I fail to remember the actual name.  It was just a common ivy.  This has always been my favorite type of plant for one simple reason:  low maintenance.  It will tolerate the dark corners or flourish in the direct sunlight.  The vines will grow long to hang over the pot, or can be affixed to grow upward on a post.   This kind of ivy will survive weeks of neglect and then display varying shades of yellow leaves as a signal of its approaching demise.   This was my clue it was time for action. With one drink of water it would virtually resurrect over the next few days, becoming well enough to once again be neglected.  When you visited my office you either saw a beautiful, lush ivy or a sad, neglected one.  With one glance it was easy to tell how important it was to me.

If either of these plants had been my primary source of life, my attitude towards them would have been considerably different. They would have been the center of my focus, receiving a great deal of attention and the utmost care.  I would never neglect their maintenance due to lesser things receiving my time and attention, that would be foolish.

If we’re not careful, we just want a low maintenance relationship with Jesus.  We want to claim Him as our Savior, put Him in the corner or on a shelf, and give Him a little attention every now and then.  We get busy with other things in life, investing our time an energy elsewhere.   When trouble comes we hurriedly grab our Bibles and form our desperate pleas to be offered up in prayer, hoping there’s still enough life in this relationship for us to survive whatever has come our way.  He is faithful to help us and for a while He has become central again.  We then get comfortable once more with the fact that He never leaves us or forsakes us, and are often easily drawn away with the lesser things of this life.

If a relationship is high maintenance, it can be exhausting.  If a relationship is low maintenance, it is easy to take one another for granted.  Strong, healthy relationships do require maintenance – they take consistent effort to continually learn more about each other.  Jesus knows more about us than we know about ourselves.  But there is so much we need to learn about Him!  We can’t do this with just a casual, every-now-and-then encounter with Him.  He is our Source of life!!  We are to be His representatives to the world and it’s easy for them to see whether He is important to us or not.

“…no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in – being vitally united to – the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.  I am the Vine; you are the branches.  Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much abundant fruit.  However, apart from Me – cut off from vital union with Me – you can do nothing.”  John 15:4-5

I’m going to buy an ivy this week.  It will be my constant reminder that I don’t want to neglect my Source.

 

Pick me!

In elementary school through junior high, when it was time to play any kind of team sport or activity, one child was selected to be the leader/captain of the team and then given the privilege of choosing the players they wanted on their teams.  The selection process was determined by   #1  if you were their friend, and   #2  if you could play the game well.  The adult overseeing the process never intervened (in my experience) to make sure that the teams were composed of equally skilled players. The children who were known to be good players were most often chosen to be the leaders of the teams, and the other talented ones were confident they would be chosen in the first few rounds of selection.  Those who were neither friends of the leaders nor good players waited, ever hopeful they would be chosen quickly so as not to be the last one standing.  The last person was placed on the team with the last pick, not because the leader wanted them but because someone had to take them.

If the leader of the team loved the game and wanted to win, they would often choose the good players before their friends.  The goal was to win.  This leader almost always completely ignored the expectant faces of those who desperately wanted to be chosen, but would not bring much skill to the team.  If by some chance the unskilled player was the leader, they always filled their teams with the other children they liked.  It didn’t matter whether or not they played well, and they often put together a team with no possible chance of winning the game.

I was sometimes chosen first, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes last.  I was rarely the leader.  It was wonderful when I was chosen first, acceptable when chosen somewhere in the middle, and excruciating when chosen last.   I knew if I was chosen last that  #1  they didn’t like me, or  #2  they didn’t think I could play well. Either way, it was tough to take.

For most of my life I viewed my place on God’s “team” as the one He had to take.  Not because I was the only one left, but because He’s God and He has to love everyone.  I never felt He was particularly pleased with me and saw my skills at this game of life severely lacking.

It was at a very desperate time in my life when I made the decision to just believe God.  Whatever He said.  When He said He loved me, He meant it.  When He said He had chosen me, He meant it.  When He said He would be the closest, most loyal friend I could ever have, He meant it.

“O brethren beloved by God, we recognize and know that He has selected – chosen – you…”  1 Thessalonians 1:4

“Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own chosen ones, who are purified and holy and well-beloved by God Himself…”  Colossians 3:12

God is not looking to build His kingdom with those who are the best players.  He’s not worried about our lack of skills; He actually builds a better team when those that want to play recognize they have a lot to learn.  And unlike the disengaged PE teachers I had, He is a constant coach and guide. He calls us to Him to be recognized as His own.  He knows exactly how the game is to be played and will not let us fail.

You have been chosen.  Just say yes.