Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Salt and Light

I am just about finished with "Lord, Only You Can Change Me" by Kay Arthur. In Chapter Nine, she talks about what it means to be salt and light and challenges the reader to examine their own life and their impact on the lives of others. After exploring the Sermon on the Mount, she writes about our role as salt and light:

Salt and light, that's what we're supposed to be. And if we are not...what then?

Jesus said: "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:13-14).

Salt and light -- two metaphors -- following a series of "blesseds." Their purpose is highly significant...

Later in the chapter, she offers the example of Lot's life.

From 2 Peter 2 we see that Lot believed God and was apparently considered righteous by God, for God could not destroy Sodom until Lot left the city.

He was righteous...but it seems he had lost his salt.

Lot lived in Sodom but refused to partake in the city's evil deeds. Yet what kind of an impact did he have upon Sodom? Why was he living there? How had he obtained a position of respectability? Apparently by compromising and keeping his mouth shut! His life did not have a righteous impact upon those with whom he lived! His term "brother" appears to denote a tolerance and acceptance of these evil men.

Genesis 19:9 seems to imply that until this time Lot had neither opposed his neighbors nor called them to accountability for their actions. Lot's words to his sons-in-law apparently carried very little weight. When he tried to warn them of the approaching judgment, they thought it was a joke!

In Ephesians 5:11 the Lord tells us through Paul, "And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them." Not only had Lot failed to be "salty salt," he had also hidden God's light of truth under a basket. Although he did not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, he apparently did not expose them! How can you sit at the gate and be a popular man when you expose the sins of those with whom you live? The two cannot possibly go together.

Lot was saved, but he had no witness among those with whom he lived, no effect upon his society, and very little influence with his own family. He had lost his salt. His life did not create a thirst for God among his neighbors.

Why is there so much corruption around us, Beloved? Is it because we have failed to be the salt of the earth? Statistics show that multiple millions of American Christians have not even registered to vote! Is that being salty salt?

...Do you, as Ephesians 5 says, expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness? Do you stand firm against all the attacks of the enemy, Satan, or are you ignorant of his methods and devices?

...How I pray that God will speak to you in a very clear way so that your life will not be worthless, cast out, and trodden under foot of men in mockery.

George Truett once said, "You are either being corrupted by the world or you are salting it." There is no middle ground.

As I read these words, I could not help but reflect on this past year and the exposure of wrong that I have witnessed in certain situations. I know God's hand has been at work in and through the lives of individuals who have refused to embrace apathy, tolerance and injustice. Although they have not increased their popularity with all people by taking such a bold stand, I believe they have been used by God.

It is not enough to withdraw from the world and refrain from partaking in the unfruitful deeds of darkness. Darkness must be exposed. We must be a light in the darkness. But before we can truly do that with any effectiveness, we must have light shined on the darkness of our own hearts. And we have to ask God to show us what He sees when He looks at our hearts. It's not the most comfortable experience when God answers this prayer. I can tell you that from experience. But it is the only way to be changed.

The more I grow toward God and allow His light to shine on me, the more I despair of my condition. The truth is, I am never what I want to be for God. I fall short every day. Growing and maturing in Christ exposes to us our fallen condition and brings us to our knees in repentance, it does not make us feel good about ourselves. I loved something I read recently. It was this quote from Mike Ratliff (my emphasis added):

God is good my brethren. The marvels of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven who are holy. He or she proves they are forgiven by their transformed life by God’s grace. When God grants repentance it always brings the believer to confess, “I have sinned!” When a believer does this and means it then we know that God is at work in that heart. The cleansed life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness. Never forget my brethren that conscious holiness leads to self-righteousness. We must focus on walking in repentance. God will grow us in holiness.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How 'bout them Titans!?

Football season has dramatically changed for me since 2003. Before I met John, I had been to one professional football game. I think it was the Titans vs. the Steelers. It might have been the Titans and the Packers. That shows you what a big deal it was to me, since I can't even remember.

John loves football. He has had season tickets since the Titans' first season in Nashville. He was there for the Music City Miracle. And he went to Atlanta for the Superbowl game that year. On our first date, he asked me if I liked the Titans and if I would like to go to some games with him. I said yes, of course. And I've been going ever since. This is my sixth season in the stands.

Win or lose, it's always a pleasant Sunday afternoon. We often get there early and tailgate with friends. But we rarely see the end of the game. John likes to beat the traffic, so we listen to the end of the game on the car radio. But today we stayed.

Today's game was exciting. I can't believe we are 4-0. It's the first time in the history of the franchise. But this ends a string of home games and we now go on the road. The next home game is Monday night, October 27. This means that although we roasted in the sun today, we will be bundled up for the rest of the season.

Going to Titans games was a part of the beginning of my life with John. Every year when football season arrives, I think about how many seasons we've now been going to games together. When we were a new couple, I remember looking forward to the time when we had a few years behind us and a shared history together. At 44, you don't want to wish your life away by any means. But I wanted shared experiences and shared memories; a history that was not his and not mine, but ours. As we were sitting at the game today, I thought about how this is that time I was looking forward to.

I love Titans games and I feel very fortunate to have great seats and great friends to go with. We have a lot of fun at LP Field. But what really makes Sunday afternoon (or Monday night) football games special is being there with John. So many times, even after five years together, I sit at those games feeling in awe that I am there with him and that God has blessed me with such a wonderful husband and marriage.

Life is so sweet and so precious. I don't take one day or even one minute of it for granted.

I love being with my husband. Whether we're at a Titan game or the grocery store, there just isn't anyplace I would rather be than hanging out with John.

Having said all that, I must confess that I wasn't spending every minute of today's game thinking mushy thoughts. It was such a good game! And I was cheering like the loyal fan I've become. I'm really excited about this season.

Now, if I could just get as excited about UK basketball as I am about the Titans! ; )

(ALL of the Howertons are UK basketball fans. And I'm still giving it the old college try.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fall Mums

I took a couple of pictures this afternoon of our mums. We planted them last year and they have been growing as green shrubs ever since their first small blooms. They have burst into vibrant color over the last couple of weeks. There is a little planter area above the pond waterfall and these were just tiny shrubs when we planted them. I had no idea they would be this huge one year later.
I have said this before, but if you would have told me less than ten years ago that I would ever be growing thirty-plus pots of flowers and herbs on my back porch, I would have gotten quite a chuckle out of the thought. Last weekend I was making bruschetta for Danny and Rebecca with some of my fresh basil. I've been making it so often, the leaves on my basil plants had not had time to grow very large before I was picking them off again. So I said, "I'm going to have to plant more basil next year." To which Danny replied, "Oh, the things I never thought I would hear my mother say."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Another Wednesday in Franklin...

I spent today in Franklin. I hung out with Joshua and Andrew while Rebecca taught math. Then we went to Pie in the Sky for lunch. I told Rebecca today's lunch would probably be mentioned on my blog. Ha!

We had a pizza that rivals Mellow Mushroom and (for you native Californians) even Petrillo's. We ordered a thin crust pizza with sausage, mushrooms, onions, peppers and fresh basil. It was actually a "Happy Family" with basil substituted for the pepperoni. I can't begin to tell you how good this pizza was. I called John and told him we have to go there some time when we are in Cool Springs. He loves thin crust pizza and he loves sausage. This wasn't just any Italian sausage, though. This place thinly slices their sausage and it's not at all greasy. I was impressed. The onions and peppers were a little overpowering (because there were a lot of them), even for me. But I had one slice that was mostly sausage, basil and mushroom and I thought it was the best. I would probably just leave the onions and peppers off next time because the flavors of the sausage, mushroom and basil were a perfect combination. I will be craving Pie in the Sky now.

After lunch I gave Joshua a haircut. I do a decent job cutting the boys' hair but I'm always shooting for perfection and I do try their patience greatly. Even the candy bribes stop working before I feel satisfied that their haircut is finished. It reminds me of when John and I were first married and I cut his hair once. He says it was his first two week haircut. I kept noticing a spot here and there that I needed to fix. He was so patient with me, but finally he said he wouldn't be letting me cut his hair anymore. He told me it wasn't because I didn't do a good job. It was because I had stopped looking him in the eye when he was talking to me. He said all I did was look at the sides of his head (comparing the left to the right for evenness). And in the middle of a conversation I would say, "Let me just fix this one spot while we're talking."

After the kids went down for their naps, Rebecca got out her notebook and began to grade papers. She opened to two pages of math problems and said, "How would you like to look at this every day?" I said, "I am so thankful I never have to look at math equations like that again!"

When Danny got home, he let me read one of the short stories he's been working on. This one was really personal. In fact, I don't think he would have written it if I hadn't said it would be okay with me to use a couple of personal conversations I had shared with him, including specific statements that were made to me. The stories are fiction, but the characters are based on real people and real events. Some characters represent one specific person and others are composites.

Reading this particular story was emotionally gripping for me. One of the characters in the story is a composite of myself and Danny. Another character is a composite of both of my parents. The story was very good. And it was so multi-layered. Of course, since I lived the events the fictional story is taken from, I saw all the layers. I also saw the many layers that could be added if he chose to explore the characters in more depth. But of the stories he has allowed me to read so far, this was definitely my personal favorite. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

Some of the stories have been hard for me to read. Even though they are fiction, I recognize the real people behind them. Some parts make me laugh. Other parts make me sad. But after reading each story, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for God's mercy in my life. I'm a miracle.

So often I stop and think about my life today and all that God has done for me and I am filled with awe. I don't know why I have been so blessed. That's something I will never understand. But I am so thankful for God's deliverance and mercy.

I know this is kind of a rambling post. I didn't read today, so I don't have any book comments. And I don't have anything profound to share. But I will tell you this: I go to bed every night with a very thankful heart.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Romans 8:28

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (NKJV)

Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible. I've mentioned it before on my blog. It has carried me through many difficult places and reminded me that even when I do not understand what I'm going through or why a trial has come, I have the assurance that God intends it for my good. I believe what this verse says with all my heart. And God has proven the truth of this promise over and over again in my life, through a variety of different challenges and circumstances. But I have found that with each new challenge, this verse takes on new depth. It becomes easier to believe the truth of this assurance because of the many times God has been faithful. It's a scripture we can lean on in any situation. I know because I have leaned and God has used it to keep me standing.

This was part of my John Stott Bible Study (daily email subscription) today. And I just had to share it:

We do not always understand what God is doing, let alone welcome it. Nor are we told that he is at work for our comfort. But we know that in all things he is working towards our supreme good. And one of the reasons we know this is that we are given many examples of it in Scripture. For instance, this was Joseph’s conviction about his brothers’ cruelty in selling him into Egypt: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good...the saving of many lives’ (Gen.50:20). Similarly Jeremiah wrote in God’s name a letter to the Jews in Babylonian exile after the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem: ‘”I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”’ (Jer.29:11). The same concurrence of human evil and divine plan has its most conspicuous display in the cross, which Peter attributed both to the wickedness of men and to ‘God’s set purpose and foreknowledge’. (Acts 2:23; cf. 4:27f.).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hermie the Wormie

YouTube - Joshua and Hermie

I don't think Danny ever posted this on his blog. So I'm going to post it on mine. This was during our trip to Destin in August. When Joshua told this story (from beginning to end) at the pool, he gathered a crowd of listeners. He became more and more animated as his audience grew. But in the condo, for just us, he did the abbreviated version and then requested a movie.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday Cheese

I spend Wednesdays in Franklin with Rebecca and the boys. Rebecca teaches a math class in the morning while I play with Joshua and Andrew. Then we all have lunch together. And I get to spend some time with Rebecca while the boys take their naps. I love Wednesdays.

I haven't written a grandma post in a while, so I thought I would share these pictures and tell you a bit about my unique grandsons. They are quite the individuals and only seem alike in their ability to assert themselves.

Andrew is almost 19 months old. All you have to do is hold up the camera and he says "cheese."Joshua (34 months), on the other hand, looks annoyed every time Grandma Shari goes for the camera.
Andrew cheerfully poses with his cookie...And Joshua is telling me in these two pictures, "I don't want you to take my picture, Grandma Shari." Since I'm taking his picture anyway, he has to assert himself a bit more in this one...
Joshua went from calling me nothing to calling me Grandma Shari. Although it did sound more like Mama Shari at first. But that was very brief. Joshua never did baby talk. He seemed like a little man from an early age. Andrew has been our cuddly, baby-talking, real life cabbage patch doll. He hears Joshua call me Grandma Shari and he tries to say Shari. But it doesn't sound like Shari. When he sees me, he says, "Sissy." (Or sometimes Shishy.) It is so cute. Now that I have a cute nickname, I really don't want him to graduate to saying it right. I like it the way he says it.

We thought Andrew was going to be so mellow and laid back. He was for a long time. But not anymore. I think he will eventually dominate physically. Joshua loves books and he memorizes them. I was lying on his bed and reading to him this week before his nap. I was getting sleepy reading without my glasses. Not to mention, the words were a little blurry without my glasses. You figure a kid who can't read won't know if you occasionally say the wrong word. Ha! I was reading a story to him about a fox that is preparing to eat a little pig and the pig manipulates the fox into feeding him, giving him a bath and a massage (can't remember what else). But at one point I read that the little pig was the fattest pig in the country. And Joshua quickly corrected me, "No, no, no, Grandma Shari! In the COUNTY!" I just cracked up.
When I arrive on Wednesdays, Joshua tells Rebecca she can leave. "You leave now, Mommy. I'm
going to stay here with Grandma Shari." And then when she leaves, he shows me where she keeps the cookies and the movies he wants to watch. He's got life all figured out. And they both have Grandma Shari wrapped around their little fingers (as long as they ask nicely). Grandma Shari doesn't do anything when she is ordered to do it. And they will both learn that about me, just as my nephews and nieces did. I'm very thankful for the time I get to spend with Joshua and Andrew. I'm also very thankful for my relationship with their mommy and thankful that she wants me around! I know not all mothers-in-law are so fortunate.
By the way, I just found out that I am going to be an aunt to another nephew this time. Chris and Cheryl's "Number Five" is a little boy. : ) According to the ultrasound, he is due on February 20. Aunt-Grandma Shari will be making lots of trips to White House AND Franklin this winter! Somebody is going to have to give Nikki some therapy when she is no longer the baby of the family. I should probably start re-reading my early childhood development books because Cheryl is going to have her hands full.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mercy and Peace

I have been reading again today from Kay Arthur's book, "Lord, Only You Can Change Me" (a devotional study from the beatitudes). Sometimes when I read, I feel inspired to share long passages and the thoughts they have provoked. Other times a few specific quotes stand out to me and they need no commentary. These words meant a lot to me today and I thought I would share them. They are from the chapter on mercy.

Be merciful toward the character of others. We all have different personalities, different temperament types. Therefore, you need to be merciful and respond to others in the light of their personality needs.

Some people need assurance. Give them assurance.
Some people are insecure. Affirm them.
Some people are weak. Support them.
Some people are timid. Encourage them.
Some people are reserved. Spur them on to love and good works.
(See 1 Thesselonians 5:14-15; Hebrews 10:24)

And then I also read this in the chapter on peacemakers. It was timely for me today as well.

The Greek word for peace signifies a harmonious relationship. This is important because it shows that peace is not merely the absence of war; peace is harmony. It's not a "cold war." It's not "an uneasy truce." It's not two frowning parties sitting back to back with their arms folded in stony silence. No, peace signifies a willingness to turn toward each other and embrace one another -- in spite of differences of opinion.

That is harmony. And, oh, how we need harmony! How we need peace! You and I weren't born for conflict. It takes a terrible toll on mind and body.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Political and Spiritual Rambings Du Jour

There has been much discussion this week of Sarah Palin's interview with Charles Gibson. I read several blogs and an occasional message board. And on one certain message board, Sarah Palin was described as looking like a moose in headlights when asked if she agreed with the "Bush Doctrine." I posted these comments in response to that person's post. So, if you read that message board, you can skip this because you've already read these particular ramblings.

I was watching more news coverage of the interview last night and heard something else that was interesting to me. Carl Rove was being interviewed and he pointed out that there have been four distinct versions of "The Bush Doctrine" over the years -- all given that label by the media. It was entirely appropriate for Sarah Palin to ask what, more specifically, Gibson was speaking to. Rove said that it seemed like Gibson was asking the question with reference to Version Four of the "Bush Doctrine" and Palin was answering based on Version Two of the "Bush Doctrine." (Or vice versa, I don't remember.) But with respect to all four, there is actually no formal or written Bush Doctrine. It is simply a media label.

On both sides, the parties are looking for absolutely anything they can make a big deal out of. Including, I think, the lipstick on a pig comment. I didn't remember ever hearing that phrase. So the first time I heard Obama's words replayed on TV, I thought about Palin's speech (lipstick/hockey mom) and my thought was, "I can't BELIEVE he said that! That's disgusting!"

The reason I responded that way was because Palin's speech and the words lipstick/bulldog/hockey mom were fresh in my mind -- so my mind made the instantaneous connection. However, after I saw that it was a more commonly used phrase and even McCain had used it, I realized it was poor timing on Obama's part. But I no longer believed that he had intended to call Palin a pig. In fact, he explained on Letterman that if he had intended the comment the way some have received it, he would have been calling Palin the lipstick (not the pig).

I'm not going to vote for Obama. But I am objective enough to see that this was an opportunity for the Republicans to make a big deal out of something and that's what they did. I think even they know he wasn't calling Palin a pig. My point is, they ALL do this during a campaign. The Democrats do the same thing and then their supporters just fall right in line with it the same way. Surely we all realize that, regardless of whom we want to win.

Palin did not look like a moose in headlights in that interview. I'm sure she was nervous and tense. But she was poised and professional -- far from a moose in headlights. I can't imagine being under that kind of pressure not to make a single mistake and having the eyes of millions scrutinizing every expression and every word for the purpose of trying to find something (anything) to focus negative attention on.

But that's what she signed on for and, so far, it seems to me that she's up for the task. I'm sure by the time they are sworn in (if they are), she will be even more prepared than she is today.

I would love to see her be the first woman vice-president. Because, of all the women in politics I've seen thus far, I feel that she represents me the best. And isn't that what government is about? Isn't that why we have elections? Because we all want someone in leadership who understands and represents US?

Barack Obama does not represent me. I've been listening lately to a lot of his references to the Bible (mocking the scriptures publicly) and the way he defines our nation. Over 70% (I think the statistic is 77%) of our population considers themselves Christian. But Obama claims we are NOT a Christian nation. We are a Budhist nation and a Hindu nation and a Muslim nation and even a nation of non-belief. If you took his words literally, you would believe that all of those faiths (or lack thereof) are equally represnted statistically within our borders. But that is not true. It may be HIS truth, but it's not THE truth.

No, he does not represent my views at all. That doesn't make him a bad man necessarily. And I don't buy into every email I read. He just isn't my choice. You can be for the person who best represents your views without trying to make a caricature of the other choice.

Whomever wins the election will be the indicator of whether I'm in the majority or the minority. But, more importantly, I believe God will select the man who will accomplish His purposes in the earth. So if Obama IS elected, I will be able to accept that just fine since I rest in the sovereignty of God in all these matters.

The media has also tried to alarm voters by playing a portion of Sarah Palin expressing herself in a church setting. Gibson questioned her about a comment she made with regard to God's will and the war. But the media had played her comments out of context. When the comments were aired in their entirety, it was very clear that she was saying we should pray that we would be in God's will in these matters. She wasn't claiming the war was God's will. She was expressing her desire to be doing God's will and emphasizing the importance of our prayers to that end. Big difference.

However, whether a candidate desires/prays to be led by God or not, God is still in control. Even if those words are never spoken by a candidate or political leader, there is still a divine plan just the same, and God's purposes will be accomplished in the earth. It doesn't matter who believes it or who doesn't.

In the finality of things, EVERY knee will bow and EVERY eye will behold Him. And when you know that, you can have peace in any situation.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A link to another blog:

What passes as wisdom?

For any of my readers who do not regularly check Danny's blog, I wanted to share a link to this post as food for thought.

And here's a great quote to go with it...

"The more you behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the more you will see of your own vileness. The more you grow in holiness, the more aware you will be of your inward corruptions and the imperfection of your duties. More and more, you will feel your need of the gospel of grace and you will realize, even after many years of faithful Christian service, that you are a sinner who has no hope apart from Christ. Never forget that in yourself you are unworthy, and guilty and condemned; only in Jesus are you accepted." —Abraham Booth (1734-1806)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blessed are...

I have not had a lot of reading time lately and it shows in my blog. This morning, I did manage to sit down and continue reading from "Lord, only you can change me" by Kay Arthur. This book is a devotional study on growing in character from the Beatitudes.

As I was reading about meekness and hungering and thirsting after righteousness, I thought once again about how we can evaluate the messages that are continually being thrust upon us by "spiritual" authors. We can evaluate a message by how well it lines up with the Sermon on the Mount. Did Jesus say, "Blessed are those who find their purpose in life?" or "Blessed are those who are tolerant of all religions and faiths?" Did He ever say, "Blessed are those who have faith in themselves?" I could go on and on here. And I guess you know that about me by now.

The answer is no, Jesus didn't say what a lot of author s are saying these days. He didn't teach high self-esteem or a life of personal self-fulfillment. Instead, he talked about being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness (or gentleness), hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, having a pure heart, being a peacemaker and being persecuted for righteousness. All of these are directed toward living a life for God and not for self. They are all about the attitude and focus of our hearts.

Why focus on our sin if we are forgiven? The answer is found in the Sermon on the Mount (as well as in other places). We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not a righteousness of our own. That is the righteousness of the Pharisees. We are to seek the righteousness of God, which means that we love what He loves and hate what He hates. How can we mourn our sin if we don't think about it or we dismiss it? If thinking about our sinfulness gets us down, that is a good thing according to Jesus. In Matthew 5, Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

To quote Kay Arthur:

Self-righteousness means living by your version of what you think is required of man. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus deals pointedly with this kind of righteousness. He does it repeatedly in chapter 5 when He says, "You have heard...but I say to you..." They had heard from the scribes and Pharisees about a certain code of righteousness to which they must adhere. Jesus pulled the rug out from under those false standards! And then he laid the shining truth at their very feet.

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was a self-righteousness.

God's righteousness went far beyond self-righteousness.

Arthur goes on to explain:

In our area of the country, some people have evaluated women on the length of their skirts. Men were evaluated on the length of their hair. Issues such as movie-going or card-playing or frequency of church attendance found their way onto the "righteousness scorecard."

These dos and don'ts, of course, change with the passing of years. Which is precisely the point! They are external, changing standards which compose an artificial, man-centered standard of righteousness. But what's the real issue? It's what's happening in men's and women's hearts!

What's going on in the hearts of those who set up these various legalistic codes and lists of dos and don'ts? Do they judge and criticize others? Do they cut them down or murder them with their tongues? What kinds of thoughts are harbored in the mind, in the heart? If the heart does not match the outward performance, then it is a case of self-righteousness. It is a righteousness lived by the letter of the Law rather than a righteousness based on faith. And those sorts of hollow, external evaluations made God's Son very angry!

...God's righteousness begins with a dissatisfaction, a yearning. When sin's presence within is finally realized, an inner longing is kindled and begins to burn with a slow, steady flame. A longing to be righteous! With every glimpse of God's shining holiness and purity comes an accompanying awareness of self (just as the prophet experienced in Isaiah 6)...Finally the realization comes: "God, You alone are righteous." A hunger and thirst for righteousness, His righteousness, awakens and grows.

I have always struggled a bit with the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: 21-23.
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

In reading that passage, I have wondered whether I could be one of those and not know it. Kay Arthur quotes this passage in connection with meekness and poverty of spirit. She explained it this way:

As we have already noted, the starting point of meekness is poverty of spirit. Before we can ever come to salvation, we must demonstrate the meekness that bows to God's authority and lordship over our lives. Jesus makes this plain as He comes to the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:13-23. Those who call Him "Lord" but do not live as His subjects will not enter the kingdom of heaven. To call Him "Lord," and yet fail to do His will, clearly shows that we have never been truly born again.

My pastor often says that if Jesus is not Lord over your whole life, He is not Lord at all. I think this is what Kay Arthur is saying. If we profess Christianity, but we do not submit ourselves to the authority of God and His Word, we are Christians in words alone and we have not come to saving faith. Our heart has not yet yielded to Him. Our hearts are still far from Him.

We just finished a sermon series on prophecy at church. And in this weekend's sermon, Allen talked a lot about overcoming and the promises given to overcomers in the book of Revelation. I have not wanted to read Revelation in the last five years because of all the years I was taught to equate overcoming with literal perfection. I heard so much prophetic teaching from the book of Revelation in connection with perfection that I have feared hearing those tapes playing in my head if I read that book. I know I was taught wrong on this subject. But getting free from that indoctrination has been a long, hard struggle for me. And I don't want to hear those old teachings. So I just haven't read Revelation. For this reason, I soaked up every word of this sermon series like a sponge. And I find myself really wanting to read Revelation again.

Danny and I were talking about this the other day and, with tears in his eyes, he told me that the book of Revelation has become his favorite book of the Bible. We know how the story ends. He said, "It's sometimes hard to live it daily, but it's so exciting to know the battle has been won." (I hope I'm quoting you accurately, Danny.)

In Allen's sermon this weekend, he talked about overcoming in correlation with perseverance and endurance; never abandoning our faith or giving up because of our circumstances. I have not faced every test that will come in my lifetime, nor have I been tested in exactly the same way every other Christian has been tested. And I am nowhere near being perfect. But I realized as I listened to this definition of overcoming that, up to this point in my life, I have overcome my circumstances and trials through the blood of Jesus Christ. I don't think I have done that within myself, but through the grace God has freely given to me. My faith in Christ is stronger than ever before and no adversity or suffering I've had to endure, up to this point, has even tempted me to abandon my faith or give up the fight. I long to please God in the smallest areas of my life.

I am so thankful I am growing in my understanding of what it means to overcome. I am so thankful for the hope that I now have. And I want my response to be obedience. Allen talked this weekend about the battle that is being fought in our minds. I want to bring every thought into submission to Christ. I have been handicapped for years by wrong teaching and a hopeless, defeated faith. But God has mercifully delivered me. I want to live every day in the freedom and in the victory that He has won for me through His perfect life and sacrifice.

I don't want to just believe. Even the demons believe and know who Jesus is. I want Jesus to be the Lord of my life, of all my choices, of all my circumstances; when He grants the desires of my heart and when He doesn't. I want to be like Him. I want to honor Him. I want to demonstrate my love for Him in every area of my life. And I want to have a transformed heart. It is the condition of our heart that separates us from the scribes and Pharisees.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

WHY WOMEN SHOULD VOTE

I received the following message in a forwarded email today. It's hard to believe that 90 years ago I would not have even been granted the privilege of casting a vote and within a century later a woman could become our first vice-president. Not a woman within the liberal party, but a conservative Christian woman with values much like my own. God works in mysterious ways. If the Republican ticket wins the White House, a conservative Christian woman will be the one to make history. I can't imagine neglecting to cast my vote for history to be made in this way (as opposed to what I have sadly anticipated).

The following email message talks about our duty to vote based on the sacrifices of others. I agree with that. But there is also another, more important, reason to vote. We may not be finding ourselves thrown into a den of lions for our faith at this time and in this country (thank goodness), but as my pastor frequently reminds us, "This is our time in the arena."

I believe that whomever wins this election is the man God selects for His purposes. The best person does not always win and sometimes God even works through evil men (I'm not calling Obama evil...just making a point). However God's purposes will be accomplished and wherever we are in his timeline only God knows. And I rest in His sovereignty and control. But I don't view that as a reason to do nothing. Whether my one vote really matters in the overall scheme of an election or our country's direction, I will cast my vote because I have the God-given privilege of doing so and because I would hope that every Christian voice would be heard.

Having said that, I realize there is not a Jesus-party. There are views embraced by each party that could be defined as morally upstanding and we all know there is also corruption in both parties. I'm not trying to tell anyone how to vote. But I do think as representatives of the Kingdom of God, we should feel a conviction to be led by God in whom we vote into office. And I believe our voices should be on record. The result and repercussions of this election may bring changes to our country and to our lives in the years to come that we cannot fully anticipate or appreciate today.

Here is the email about the sacrifices of women who came before us. I especially loved the quote from a psychiatrist toward the end.

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This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/prisoners.pdf

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because- -why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said. 'What would those women think of the way I use , or don't use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'

HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse.

Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men:
'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party - remember to vote.

History is being made.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Boldness and Meekness

We are in the middle of a sermon series on prophecy at church. This past weekend, our pastor spoke about the spirit of antichrist that already exists in our world. He spoke about apostacy in the church and the current movement toward diminishing the role of Christ and the Cross in order to accept all faiths and find common ground (tolerance). He read a quote from, I believe, a contemporary religious leader. This person basically stated that the person of Jesus is divisive and if He could be eliminated, all religions could co-exist in harmony and be unified. (I am paraphrasing from memory.)

I have many times tried to point out to others close to me the danger of embracing every viewpoint that is put out by a Christian or "spiritual" author without first determining whether or not the message departs from Scripture. I have suggested these questions: Does the theme or message line up with the Gospel? Or does it promote a different gospel? Does an author's message point us to the Cross? Does it mention the problem of our sin? OR does it point us toward self-reliance, self-esteem, and our own better life and personal fulfillment? This is important because messages are sent to us often in subtle, not overt, ways. And our adversary has an agenda.

The first step toward eliminating the work of Christ on the Cross is to downplay it and make something else the focal point. Often, the new focal point is ourselves. When we elevate man, we lower God and His Son. Jesus did not come just to live a good life and be an example to us of how to live similarly. He also did not come to bring personal fulfillment and happiness. There are many benefits that come to us through faith. But Jesus came into the world to die on the Cross in our place because of our sin. Our sin separates us from God. And through His sacrifice alone we have acceptance with the Father. We do not stand before God on our own merit and we never will. Our only hope is Jesus.

John 14:6
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

These are the words of Jesus. So if you consider yourself a Christian, yet find yourself embracing something other than His message, you are being deceived. You can't be in Christ and reject or dismiss His claims. And you can't harmonize your faith with superstition and other religions that deny Christ as the Son of God. He can't be simply a good man, a good example or a prophet. Because if He isn't who He said He was, He's a liar. He made some very bold claims. No one has ever been so bold and yet so meek.

We would not normally think of a bold person as a meek person. At first glance, they would seem opposite characteristics. But they are not. Bear with me. I have several thoughts swirling in my head and they do connect (at least in my own head). I'm going to try to bring them together in this post. Hopefully I can make it coherent.

To continue with my story, I came home from church Saturday night and opened my email. Freshly moved by my pastor's sermon, I opened a forwarded message (well-intended by the sender) with the words of the Dalai Lama for 2008 and instructions to send it quietly on its way to others of all faiths. This email, as do so many others, blatantly promoted superstition. I make it a practice never to forward any email that promises good things will happen if I do what it says and/or suggests something bad may happen if I don't. Surprisingly, this message of superstition often accompanies even Christian-themed emails (which may suggest a blessing rather than luck). Superstition prompts the recipient to send it on. But it is the equivalent of a chain letter.

Normally, I just ignore these kinds of emails and quietly do not forward them. But Saturday night, freshly inspired by a moving sermon, I felt compelled to send the response of my heart to just the people on the email who knew me. I explained why I do not forward these kinds of emails and that they promote superstition. I also gently reminded the readers of the words of Jesus and cautioned them, in love, that Christianity cannot be combined with other religions and faiths that reject the claims of Jesus. The words and life instructions may sound good and harmless. But the underlying message undermines faith in Christ. And I don't want to be gently desensitized to that.

I don't want to drift along with the flow of culture. I don't want to embrace feel good messages that do not acknowledge my Savior as the source of life. The time is coming when we will have to stand up for our faith possibly in threatening circumstances. Maybe I need to practice doing this with people I love before I can ever be ready to stand up against those who may one day truly persecute me for my faith in Christ. These were the thoughts and convictions I was wrestling with as I contemplated my response to the words of the Dalai Lama.

I also knew that those who read my response, even though they love me, would probably think I was being a bit radical. I did not want to offend, but I didn't care at all if they thought I was a religious fanatic. In all reality, I'm sure they already do think that. My convictions are strong. And I saw this as an opportunity to share the Gospel and hopefully provoke deeper spiritual thought. So many people hit forward without even thinking about the message being sent. I often ask myself whether my response or lack of response (when one is called for) is loving others or loving myself. If I don't tell someone I love the truth they need to hear (especially about Jesus), do I really love them? Or am I loving (protecting) myself from not being loved (or approved of)?

I had to take this opportunity to say to a few people close to me that the Dalai Lama is not the answer. Karma is not the answer. Jesus is the only answer. Faith in Him alone, not superstition or luck or Karma, is the key to life, truth and eternity. Do not be deceived or lulled into the false notion that there are many paths to God. Again, Christianity cannot be combined with other faiths. Our faith is either in Christ alone or not in Christ at all.

Concluding my thoughts, I said two things about myself. I would rather be thought of as a Jesus nut than in wise agreement with the Dalai Lama. And then I quoted Flannery O'Connor's words: "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd."

I don't want to be odd for the sake of being weird. But I don't mind at all being thought of as odd in my overt devotion to Jesus Christ. My pastor often says some people have a fear of going too far (in their faith), but he doesn't. He says he wants to find the edge and take a running leap. Me too.

Nevertheless, after I'd sent my response, I started to doubt myself. Was I too bold? Should I have just ignored it? Would someone feel hurt toward me? I am prone to boldness first and self-doubt second. But my heart longs to do God's will in all things. I don't want to be bold OR meek, as if they are mutually exclusive. I want to be both at the same time. As I continued to doubt whether or not God had led me to say these things, I waited for a response. The next day I got a response from one person saying, "You're right. Thanks for caring about me enough to give me a kick in the butt." I was so thankful. And I thought about my previous post. My role is to do what God asks of me and trust Him for the outcome. I believe with all my heart that God places us in the lives of others for His purposes. I take that role seriously. But in the end, only God will bring forth the fruit. I can only plant seeds and walk what I talk.

Yesterday I was reading about meekness in "Lord, Only You Can Change Me" by Kay Arthur. Jesus was bold and meek at the same time when He told Pilate that he had no power except what had been given him from above. Kay Arthur describes it this way:

Meekness implies submission to God. Not a passive submission that shrugs its shoulders and says, "Oh well, I can't do anything about it anyway," but an active submission, a choosing to accept God's ways without murmuring or disputing. Meekness is neither weakness nor complacency.

John MacArthur has described meekness as "anger under control." But what kind of anger? Because meekness is never self-centered, the anger is not about that which happens to me but rather a righteous anger at what is wrongly done to others.

Further in the chapter (Meekness: Is it Weakness or Strength?) Arthur writes about Joseph and his brothers.

To put it in a single phrase, meekness is humble submission to the will of the Father.

Do you remember how Joseph loved and accepted his brothers -- the very brothers who had plotted his death, then sold him into slavery? Meekness caused Joseph to look beyond the cruel actions of his brothers to the sovereignty of God. And he was ready to accept all of God's dealings with him without bitterness. Do you remember what he said to his brothers when they were trembling with justifiable fear? Joseph was in a place of supreme power. Their lives were literally in his hands! Yet what did he tell them?

Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:19-20).

Now that's power under control! Those are the words of a powerful man and yet a man who was meek before the Lord.

Meekness is walking under the control of the Holy Spirit, "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Ephesians 5:20)...Meekness is not weakness but incredible power under the control and guidance of God Himself.

Where does meekness come from? It's actually part of our inheritance as children of God. As we shall see later, it is a fruit of God's indwelling Holy Spirit. It is birthed in poverty of spirit when we see that in ourselves -- we are nothing, we have nothing, and we can do nothing to please God.

This is one of those times when I have felt for several days like God is connecting thoughts in my mind. I don't know if I have successfully connected the thoughts in this post. But, to me personally, I believe God is emphasizing the connection between meekness and boldness in witnessing to others about the sovereignty of God. We have to first be yielded to God's purposes before we can boldly proclaim His love to others with any effectiveness. And we must have a meek and gentle spirit to accompany our bold stand for the faith. If we truly love others, we will be angry at injustice and wrong. But our love will conquer our anger and our anger will not result in sin. It will result in God bringing fruit from the seeds He allows us to plant in the lives of others.