Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Improved Look at Blessings--the Best Kind

I remember a number of years ago, belonging to a home fellowship group. We were discussing how God provides for us, and one woman said how it was true...we have our homes, our cars; our kids have their educations. She reminded me in her satisfaction a little of (excuse me here) Winnie the Pooh smacking his lips after he'd had some honey. I couldn't help but point out that the provision God gives is just as true for the believer in a little hut in Africa. She got a confused look on her face, but her husband nodded and said, yes, that was right, the believer in the little hut is provided for by our God as well; he has just as much reason to rejoice in Him.
I think it was just yesterday I blogged, counting my blessings, trying to bring myself out of a funk of sorts. This morning I realized it probably sounds more like bragging if anyone lacks some of them, and for that I am sorry. And to tell the truth, it didn't really help that much in the long run. I have to admit, it was a fairly shallow list and I had an "epiphany" moment today regarding what was wrong with it. Do I find lasting joy in my house, car, food...? That's ridiculous! I realize it's not wrong to focus on how God has blessed me, but most of the things that came up as blessings, while they are blessings, aren't the ones that assure me joy in Christ.
What do I have in common with the believer in a little hut in Africa? These are the things that should assure me of eternal joy, infinite joy!
1. I have the assurance of my salvation! Not all believers believe this, and I think that's tragic. If I walked away from the faith, I would not have had a real understanding of all that God has done for me. His love restrains me from such an awful error.
2. I have a heavenly Father! Not having an earthly father makes this all the more precious. Not only that, He's perfect, and always ready to hear me and help me. And He has infinite love, incomprehensible, unconditional and unearned love for His children. He promises also to provide for His own, and this covers the material, spiritual, emotional...all aspects of life.
3. I have the indwelling Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit has been given to those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He illuminates the truth; He gives wisdom and discernment; He helps us to know God's will for us. He helps us in prayer when we don't know how to pray, what to pray for. He comes alongside us and helps us in more ways than we probably know.
4. I have an incredible, enormous family of believers! My own family of origin isn't close, and God has more or less supplanted that one with the family of Christ, every one of them accountable to God; they should be able and inclined to show love and forgiveness and acceptance, and I in return should as well. This makes relationships workable and pleasant almost all the time. There are members of this family most anywhere I should go; most of them, I've never met yet, though I will someday in heaven. They are my family through all eternity!
5. I have hope of heaven! This is more a certainty than a vague notion that something might or might not happen. His Word assures me, and His Holy Spirit assures me. Heaven is to be greatly desired because it's, well, heavenly--pleasant and perfect; Jesus and all His own will be there; and when you consider that eternal torment in hell is the only other option, it's all the better.
6. I have been renewed! I am a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come! Praise God for that. I realized this week how it wasn't that long ago that I used to find delight not in eternal hopes but in winning conflicts and arguments, in things that trip up and bring down others. Now, instead, those things trouble me, perhaps more than they should, but at least I'm not embracing them any more, and I'm glad for that. It isn't something I've done, but something God has slowly shifted into a better perspective.
7. I have everything pertaining to life and godliness! If I'm not living according to that, it's my own fault. It's an amazing concept, but the Bible promises it to be true.
8. I have more promises in Christ than I can list here! Books that try to list the promises we have in Christ are a dime a dozen...they're everywhere, and all of them, though they have a good premise, are insufficient in that the Bible context can make them much more meaningful and understandable and our application of them more accurate. But these books do show one thing, and that's how there are a great many promises.

So there you have my improved list. This list of blessings, like the Bible promise books, is incomplete to say the least! (Still, how much more could a person want?) But it has a more accurate, more useful focus regarding where my eternal hope and joy are and how they help me. I think this list should help me more not be so funky. Ha. I hope it helps you too!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How to tell if You Have a Red Robin Server Living at Your House

I thought it might be helpful to present a few ways to identify whether or not you have a Red Robin server living at your house. We have concluded that we do. Here's how you can tell:

1. The laundry smells like hamburger grease and is fraught with long black apron strings and an occasional glimpse of a Red Robin logo.
2. The server has no desire to go anywhere noisy after work, but needs a couple of hours to mellow out before she goes to bed.
3. The entry way is covered with greasy shoe prints.
4. The server talks in her sleep, "You want another order of fries?" or "Can I bring you a refill of freckled lemonade?" or singing, "I don't know, but I've been told, someone here is gettin' old..."
5. You get panicked phone calls, asking whether the server is there, because they need her stat to fill in for someone.
6. When she gets off work and goes to the grocery store on the way home, she greets other customers with an over-enthusiastic "Hi, I'll be your server, my name is..." and trails off when she realizes the truth of where she is.
7. When the family sits down at the table, the server forgets to sit down, stands hovering nearby, and tries to dip into pockets of her short black apron, though she's not wearing one.
8. You find occasional Red Robin coasters on the kitchen counter.
9. There's a lack of pens and note pads in the house.
10. There's no demand for hamburgers, french fries, or onion rings at dinner; the farther from ground beef, the better.
11. When someone sings the actual "Happy Birthday" song at home, rather than the Red Robin variations, a confused look comes over the server's face.

If you see these symptoms around your house, consider the possibility that you indeed have a Red Robin server in your midst. Don't worry about it, there are benefits: Their pay is good; they learn to multitask; and they know how to serve others, and how to celebrate. And they have the Red Robin menu memorized.

"Count Your Blessings!"

This article isn't my last say on the subject. To read a better perspective, read my updated version, two blog entries up from here, which doesn't focus so much on the earthly things that God has graciously provided. I'm not so proud of this list, but I think if you read it and then read the other, it might help some in seeing the difference regarding one's focus. I amaze myself in how fast I can forget the real truth and even think I'm being meaningful in the process. It happens too often!
I'm not sure if there's one thing to attribute it to, whether it's a post-Christmas letdown, where the anticipation of a short-term delight is past; or the darkness of the days, and the messy remnants from snow and ice; or a disagreeable encounter I had a while back that still disheartens and confuses me; or something in the way of low energy and perhaps a need to get out and get fresh air...I think it may be all of the above. But I'm in a funk. I hate being there, it's so disheartening and disabling that the unpleasantness in itself is a great incentive to change from there. The weird thing about that feeling is the passing occasional urge to hunker down further into it. I hate it!
So I was looking at other people's blogs for ideas, something new to think about. I know, I have too much time on my hands and if I were only busier...well, I tried just adding busy-ness to my day by making a list and starting on it. Then I ponder as I work...I do have too much time to think when I can think and work at the same time!
Looking at blogs helped. After a few that just made me sad that I don't feel like reading some of their Christian books that seem so helpful, I finally found one that reminded me of something very simple that I already know: Count your blessings. Yes, that is what I will do. It sounds insanely cliche, something parents tell complaining kids that isn't likely to garner much response. Still, it works wonders. I've done it before when my feelings were challenging me, and after a half an hour, all I could do was rejoice!
Here goes:
1. I am loved by the Creator, the Maker of Heaven and Earth...the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. He has redeemed my life from the pit, that big, long-lasting, mucky one that had been home for 29 years. He helps me on a daily basis, and better than any of that, He promises that I will be with Him forever in heaven someday.
2. I live in a family who loves the Lord. We all agree that church is the highlight of our week. We know that what the Bible teaches is the key to all good knowledge and love and peace. (Even with these good realizations, I acknowledge also that we don't live our lives as fully taking advantage of the goodness of these things as we should...yet at least the connection is there in our heads, and room for improvement provides a goal for anyone who will pursue it. Though I read the Bible regularly, my lack of knowledge, understanding and application of so much of it...well, there's room for improvement.)
3. I live in a family who I love and who loves me. How good is that! How many people can say that?
4. We live in a peaceful land. We've never heard a bomb go off, and never seen a real gun pointed at a person--in person, at least.
5. We have the freedom to worship as we see is right. We don't have to sneak to church and back, or fear death in the process.
6. Gary has a job. This is good.
7. We have a home. We have some friendly neighbors.
8. We have a church we love. Our pastor preaches truth, prays for us, reads and studies the Bible, and interacts with his flock. He is a shepherding pastor. He corrects me when I need it (I need it too often--I was telling him recently that I suspect I am a "high maintenance" member of our congregation.). We love the people there. I even love the funky little building where the word "collapse" is too frequently spoken. I even love the little town where it is located that has been called the meth capital of the world. Yes, we love our church.
9. We have a number of good friends, both fairly long-term and rather new, a variety of them, from various churches and other places, who are sources of encouragement, balance, interest and above all, love.
10. I have been an at-home mom since Katie was 2. I quit about a month after I came to Christ. I wasn't earning much after the cost of working, and the money I can save by being at home probably outweighs those earnings.
11. I have had the privilege of homeschooling both of our children--Katie from 1st through 12th grade; Tim so far, and he's in 5th. It provides that they get a Christian perspective in the things they learn; they are spared the secular perspective presented as truth; and their relationships with God and family have been greatly enhanced.
12. Katie goes to a Christian college in California in spite of our finances more than because of them. She has gained a number of good and wonderful friends, some of whom I've met, and she has the God-given good sense and trustworthiness that eases my mind in having her so far away.
13. We are able to get about in two vehicles. This is good in various ways.
14. I have various ways to communicate with friends and family: prayer (only to God), in person (my favorite earthly one and someday heavenly one), phone, cell phone, mail, e-mail, blogging, and now facebook. Our directories are always well-worn.
15. We all are healthy. Okay, some would differ with that, that we could lose some weight and be more physically fit, but we aren't dead yet, and we don't have medical insurance (the lack of which, I suspect, makes us healthier than if we were always pondering whether we had reason to go to the doctor). We have pretty good vision, hearing, and rarely need medicine...hardly had any colds or flus for two years. And additionally, if we did need medical care, there are boodles of hospitals and clinics in close range.
16. We have sufficient food for ourselves and to share. I like that share part. It's the best, bringing food to church, to friends, and having friends come and eat with us. I think of "Now He who provides seed for the sower and bread for food..." and rely on that verse to promise me that the supply will continue.
17. We can put on blankets and warmer clothes, or turn up the heat if we're cold. We can take a cold shower or shed clothes (to an extent) if we're too warm. Not everywhere can people say both of those things. Our region does not tend to be either extremely hot or extremely cold for an extended length of time.
18. We have books, newspapers, internet, television (a mixed blessing), video rental--even a public library close by--from which we can choose various forms of information and entertainment.
19. We have a huge choice of ridiculously big grocery stores within a short drive, each with their strengths, most with their realm of predictable bargains, all causing competition among themselves, a good blessing. And at these stores, there is an unthinkable variety of food from every area of the world, so I can easily "bring my food from afar," yet from close-by.
20. In fact, our little Marysville is so sufficient (aside from our church being elsewhere) that I hardly ever need to leave town other than Sunday to supply our family with its needs.
21. We have a garden, where I can choose to grow flowers and vegetables as I have the energy and inclination. Sometimes this is a mixed blessing, in that it's more work than I can do.
22. We get lots of rain here, which means lots of fresh-tasting drinking water from the tap, lots of vegetation greening up every view, and clean fact it's been so rainy this last year or two that moss abounds here as if it were a rain forest. Rain, I remind myself frequently, tends to be a description of God's blessing in the Bible. Boy, are we blessed!
23. When the sun does shine, we don't take it for granted. We may need to buy new sunglasses because it's been so long since we wore them that we've lost them, but it's great to get it back again.
24. There are sidewalks on our street; we have a driveway; and we have a garage. I've lived in neighborhoods without some of these elements, and I appreciate them.
25. We have bicycles, which we use on a wonderful trail nearby; there are various scenic areas around here, for that matter; we live in a wonderful part of the world, near ocean and mountains and rivers and lakes.
Okay, for the moment I'm feeling much better. That will do for now. But do you see what it is to count your blessings? I bet you have some that overlap with mine. If you're feeling in need of a boost, let me say what your mom used to tell you: "Count your blessings!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Anticipation is the Word for it!

I am really excited. Filled with anticipation, to tell the truth! It isn't anything to do with Christmas being five days away. It isn't anything to do with anything that has been in my life for, say, about 37 years. It is to do with my life about 38 years ago, when I was 10. I was in fifth grade at Raleigh Park Grade School, and my teacher was Mrs. Wedeking.
Well, tonight, I can't be sure what thinking got me on the topic, but I started thinking about my years, from third grade through sixth, at that school. My third-grade teacher totally missed it in regard to relationship with me. Every time she talked to me about anything other than school work, she would ask me what my father did for a living, and I was embarrassed to say that I didn't know. And that was the full extent of her discussion with me about anything. My fourth-grade teacher had a habit of losing homework that her students handed in, and rather than own up to it, she would list their names on the board and claim that they hadn't handed in the work. She was fired that year.
In fifth grade I had a teacher who took an interest in her students like I didn't remember having before. She was funny and friendly. She was single at the beginning of the year, and when she got engaged, she asked the whole class to her wedding--there was an invitation on each of our desks! I remember being so excited to go to her wedding, but I wasn't allowed to go to the reception, because my father was sick with heart problems at the time, and I had to go home instead. I am ashamed of how selfishly I pouted that day; it's one of the few memories I have in regard to how I interacted with my father specifically, and one of my big regrets. Not much later, he died. I remember taking the Monday off after he died, and going back into class after that. Mrs. Wedeking had rearranged the desks in a huge circle, and when I walked into the room, the class fell silent. Everyone looked at me, and it was the longest short walk I ever took. One girl didn't know what had happened and whispered a question to me, and I whispered the answer to her. It was a very awkward day all around, and that whole event marked the beginning of a huge awareness of emptiness in my life.

But I was also aware that Mrs. Wedeking was doing all she could for me. She started a 4-H cooking group after school, and only a few girls joined it. I enjoyed the diversion. I don't remember a great deal about that year, but I do remember her kindness and that she interacted with me as if I were a friend, in addition to being a student. I have often thought back and pondered just what made her so special, and I think a lot of it was just her general kindness and the feeling that she was a friend. She's one of three teachers who made such an impression of kindness in my whole education.
The next year, in sixth grade, I had a teacher who I can best describe as a battle-axe. I can't think of a more accurate way to describe her, no other word comes to mind. I don't mean to be unkind. It's the one impression she made upon me. She was mean and hard and she picked on various kids.
Then through junior high and high school I had mean teachers, indifferent teachers, and nice teachers. Only two of them stand out as remarkable in my mind, and because of their ages, I think it would be surprising if they were still alive.
So today, I was pondering my various teachers in grade school, and since Mrs. Wedeking was such a favorite, I suddenly realized I could google her name, and I think I found her. Her picture would reinforce that thought. So I have e-mailed, and I am so looking forward to her response! I hope that she will respond and is indeed the teacher from that year. The other neat thing that I discovered is that she is now (if this is the same person) an instructor at a Christian college, so I would assume, naturally, that she is a Christian. That would further explain the impact she made upon me that year; perhaps she prayed for that little lost girl who'd felt like she'd been shot in the stomach when her dad died. Perhaps her impact that was so intangible was prayer. I'm so looking forward to her response! And that is why I am filled with anticipation at this moment.

If Jesus were Born to be a TV Evangelist

This morning I have had the song "Mary's Boy Child" going through my head. I pondered the part of "They had no place to bear their Child, not a single room was in sight." Suddenly I imagined what it would be like if Jesus had come to be a tv evangelist. Well, He wouldn't have come in the "time of Christ." He would have come in these days, when He could ride in a big long stretch limousine. His parents, if the rooms were unavailable at the inn, might have offered more thousands of dollars for the room, or left with their entourage to another inn...maybe even a fancier one than the first they'd tried. Maybe they would have passed a barn on the way, and plugged their posh little noses.
They would have hired only the best physicians to assist with the delivery of the baby. They wouldn't have stayed in a hospital. That would be for common folk. The baby would be placed in silk diapers and laid in a solid gold crib with a mobile of diamonds and other gems hanging from above.
They would have eaten only the choicest of fare, worn the most ornate clothing and jewelry, complained about the unsuitable discomfort of the room, and everyone around would have known when they arrived and when they left, and been relieved at their departure.
But Jesus didn't come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. He didn't require that He be born in posh or even comfortable surroundings, or that the air be perfumed with anything better than the smell of cows and horses and chickens. He didn't have a doctor there (though I bet He had the angels, and I think that would likely just be better, actually)...He didn't have a limo, and I don't know that they had a donkey like all the pictures indicate. He was probably put in some rather old and worn clothing to wrap Him up against the cold of night. He didn't have a soft pillow-top innerspring mattress. He had hay. Maybe there were even some fleas and other little critters. He didn't have a flag waving, and an entourage. He had His mother and her husband.
I'm glad that rather than a creche scene, we don't put out a stretch hummer, or a Sheraton hotel. I'm thankful for Jesus' example of humility from the point of His very birth. I'm thankful for the Father, who Jesus represents to us, that He doesn't think like a tv evangelist.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Does Feasting on God's Word Really Make an Impact?

We read one Psalm per day, Tim and I; we started a few months ago, I think. Well, it's our first time through Psalms together, and not Tim's favorite part of our Bible reading. So we discussed how Scripture is something like eating meals, that the next day you might not remember what you had, but your body knows whether or not you had it. If you went a week without meals, your body would be starving for it. When we read the Scriptures, the impact they make in our spirits might or might not be noticeable to us right away, but eventually it would be evident in our lives.
So I asked Tim to remind me which Psalm we were reading, and he said, "Psalm 98." And that's where I started reading to him, "O sing to the LORD a new song," I read. And Tim interrupted me, looking confused, "No, we already..." and then he stopped with a questioning look. I saw what confused him right away. "No, Tim, Psalm 96 starts out almost the same, 'Sing to the LORD a new song.'" His face cleared up, and he saw the significance of what had just happened. The Psalms had made an impact already, without him realizing it. We had read Psalm 96 two days previously, and he still readily remembered the first line. The first line of our reading yesterday brought it to the forefront immediately even though he isn't too fond of the Psalms. Is God not faithful? Is His Scripture not powerful!
Isaiah 55:10-11 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Little Look at Ultimate Authority

Today our Pastor Ken spoke about how Jesus' authority is illustrated in the Gospel of Mark. We had discussed His authority in our study on Thursday night as well, and one thing in that discussion became very clear to me: While humanity in general uses authority to exalt self by pressing others down, Jesus in every case uses His authority to lift humanity up. He speaks with authority, clarifying and uplifting our understanding of His Word. He uses His authority to evict demons and diseases. He uses His authority to quell the raging storms and bring peace to our troubled souls. Preaching from Mark Chapter 1, Pastor emphasized how different Jesus' authority is from that of everyday man. And between what Pastor taught, what we discussed on Thursday, and what I've been observing in my reading, I found a number of aspects of difference between Jesus' authority and that of man.
One of the first things people found striking about Jesus was how He spoke, taught, preached with authority. I see a strong human parallel in my own experience of listening to pastors preach. I have heard a pastor who never preached his own sermons but always used another man's material, and I saw the many ways in which his preaching contrasts with one who has studied the Scriptures himself and written his own sermon. Their preaching is as different as night and day; it only took about 5 minutes to see the difference. When a pastor preached someone else's material, he didn't know it well, because he didn't put it together. He couldn't readily editorialize because it wasn't his. He consistently stood at the podium, read the sermon; he rarely dared move away for fear of becoming hopelessly lost; he mispronounced authors' names whose writings were quoted and vocabulary and Greek words that he didn't know well. But when the pastor who writes his own sermon presents it, he walks around the room, relating without the notes in front of him, making eye contact with the grandmas in the front row, adding things in on the spur of the moment, and not mangling the words within it. He speaks his sermon with as much authority as any pastor might do, because he wrote it. He knows the nuances of what he is saying because he'd researched it, prayed about it, written it himself with the Holy Spirit's help. Any books he quotes, he knows well enough to pronounce the author's name.
So it is, infinitely more so, with Jesus' presentation of the Scripture, with His ultimate authority in speaking and teaching and preaching. He knows the Old Testament and hasn't gotten tangled up in other men's writings, in the traditions, rules, burdens and manipulations that men had added to it. Jesus knows the will of His Father; because of this and His authorship, He knows the intent of every part of the Word. He knows where man's understanding falls short, where he has been blinded by hardness of heart. Jesus has the inside track, so to speak, in His presentation of God's Word--He knows the Father, He knows the Scriptures, and He knows what is in the heart of a man. The Pharisees, the scribes, and the Sadducees were more concerned with man's obedience to the traditions of men and the letter of the law than the spirit of the law and how it reflected God's will for humanity.
Pastor pointed out that any mere man's authority is derived, that is, it is not ultimate, not infinite, but handed down in measure by God the Father. But Jesus has ultimate authority over man and over spirits, because He is an exact representation of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). Jesus' authority is not diminished; it is infinite and perfect. Man's authority is finite and corrupted because man is finite and because he is sinful; Jesus' authority is uncorrupted and pure.
Jesus' method of using His authority was as the suffering Servant (Isa 53), serving God the Father in lovingkindness for the humanity that He knew would reject and kill Him. He came not to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45) and to give His life a ransom for many. He consistently did the will of His Father even to sacrificial death (Phil 2:8). How different this is from the authority that the typical human authority uses! Man tends to use his authority to have others serve his needs, to make him look good, to help him please those in authority over him, to increase his own opportunities in the world. Not only that, but Jesus uses His authority over sin and death (Rom 8:2) such that He has power not only to have resurrected Himself, but to resurrect those who trust in Him to eternal life with Him in heaven.(Rom 8:11)
Jesus' motive, His purpose, in using His authority was pure love, a desire to do His Father's will. He has a perfect relationship with His perfect Father, which enabled Him to make what was no doubt a more horrific sacrifice than we can fathom. We will never on this earth fully comprehend just how great a loving sacrifice He gave in coming down from heaven to earth to suffer for us, doing God's will perfectly throughout.
Jesus' realm of authority is infinite and eternal. He will reign throughout eternity. His reign is over all of creation, even the stars in heaven; over all the universe; He created it! (Gen 1:1) He sustains it (Heb 1:3). It was created through Him and for Him (Col 1:16). The very highest mere human authority, limited by time and space and God's will, is miniscule in comparison to the authority of Jesus Christ.
Jesus' exercise of His authority is with infinite power and love, righteousness, sincerity and truth. Nothing is beyond His ability: Creating the heavens and the earth from nothing; making water into wine; chasing out demons and fevers and leprosy; calming seas; stopping the sun; knowing man's innermost thoughts; feeding thousands of people abundantly with insufficient food. Beyond that, He has the authority to redeem us out of our sin, having taken the punishment upon Himself in our stead. That, I would expect, is the one most amazing and benevolent use of His authority, for which we should remain most aware and thankful. Man's exercise of authority, besides being limited in scope, has the capacity to be self-serving, deceitful, pretentious, and hypocritical, and doesn't have the capacity for anything miraculous or redemptive apart from God's help.
And so what do we do, realizing that huge disparity? We know that Jesus has ultimate authority and doesn't abuse us with it. How does He use it on our behalf? Jesus loves us such that He came from heaven to earth and willingly gave His own life to lift us out of our misery and ignorance and sin. How can we respond to such authority? We should have no reason to withhold submission to such authority; we should embrace it! Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11)'s such a small response for so great a loving kindness!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Well, Mom...

This afternoon a huge nasty big black fly has been flying around energetically, never landing so I can cream him out of existence...I have to wait until he tires himself out. And he's so chubby it will either work against him, or supply the fuel he needs to outlast me.
So I was showing Tim as the big black dot whipped its way through the kitchen. I said, "It's weird. If you get houseflies this time of year, they generally are small, and slow. But not this one, it's big and energetic. And it isn't like we've been going in and out, opening doors to let flies in. I don't know where he came from."
Tim gave me a look with a twinkle in his eye, and said, "Well, Mom, when two flies love each other a lot..." Thankfully he didn't go on.

Aaagh. For more hatred and marital discord between flies...