A question.

How much of what I do has eternal value? And what do I think the part that doesn’t is going to be useful for?

Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The monkey bridge game

I got to go to the fair with my husband last Saturday.   One of the games we saw was a monkey bridge (suspended ladder). If you could climb it, without using your knees, in I think it was 3 seconds, you won a prize.

I don’t think I even finished looking at the obstacle and rules in 3 seconds, much less could I climb it in that amount of time! Besides, I’d want to win a prize just for going up it without using my knees, even if it took me half an hour!

We think up some pretty crazy games for people to try to lose at.

Aren’t you glad that we have a Father in Heaven who doesn’t think up crazy games for us to lose?

God never plays games with us. When we sinned, a righteous sacrifice was needed to pay for our sin—not as an unnecessary rule or surprise twist, but because that’s really what our sin costs. God is just, and He knows exactly what justice requires: a price we can never pay.

If there was ever any doubt that God is simply tampering with us, there can be no longer since the death of His own Son. God gave His child to pay for our wickedness, something He would have never done if there was any other way to pay for sin.

When I have challenges in this life, it’s comforting to me to know there is not some Divine game-playing going on, but rather that whatever happens to me that is bad is a consequence of sin, not of a cruel god. And as a believer, I have the promise from God that He is working even the bad things in my life for my good (see Romans 8:28).

There are no monkey bridges with 3-second rules in God’s Kingdom. Rather, we have a loving Father who is dynamically participating in our world and protecting us from the effects of sin, even at the price of His Son.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29: 11, NLT)

Fragrance

One year a friend of ours came back from Egypt with a bottle of pure, undiluted perfume. I’ve never seen perfume so strong before. Unlike what I’m used to in the states, this perfume was so fragrant that it had a strong aroma without even opening it. Even kept in a closet, with the lid on it and never having been used, the fragrance filled the closet.

Fragrance can be so powerful, it’s almost as if you use all of your five senses to experience it. However, usually we keep fragrances at a tidy and polite low: just perceptible, faint upon the air, enough to touch the sense of smell and no more.

This isn’t what happened the day Mary anointed Jesus.

Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. (John 12:3, NLT)

The Bible tells us this perfume was a year’s wages (see verse 5). What Mary spilled out was not like an aromatic candle, puff of perfume, or mild air freshener. This would have been an explosion of fragrance, startling everyone at the dinner table. I think not one bite of food could further be taken without tasting only the perfume. The house became transformed into a palace of fragrance. No one could leave or enter without encountering the magnificence of the perfume.

All of this tells the story of what our devotion to Christ should be like. We should be so full of love for Him that no one can even step into our house without being overwhelmed by the fragrance of our love. No one should be able to eat with us and walk away without realizing our fervor for the King of Kings.

But there’s something to this story I have always overlooked, until today.

As she anointed Christ’s feet for the death He would experience, Mary’s hair became saturated in perfume.

Can you imagine Mary meeting any of her friends afterwards? Can you imagine her going to the marketplace? Everyone would have stopped to turn and look at her.

I can imagine them saying,

“Mary, what happened to you?  What is that fragrance about you?”

As Mary anointed Christ, and wiped His perfumed feet with her hair, she herself became a witness of fragrance. She set not only Christ apart for His burial, but she also set herself apart as His follower.

What an example for us to follow. Let us have Mary’s heart. Let us be so in worship of Christ that we exude His fragrance. As we worship Him, may our devotion be so costly and so extraordinarily unheard of that we draw the hearts of everyone around us to think of Him.

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Musing from Middle-Earth

Suppose that you live in Middle Earth and you’re an elf. But you’re not just any elf: you’re an elf with a secret. You know a secret that none of the orcs know:

You know that they can, all of them, be changed back into elves.

So you walk right up to a cannibalistic, cruel, disgusting orc and you say,

“You can be an elf again.”

What do you supposed the response would be?

Well, you could certainly be attacked. Most orcs wouldn’t want to change. And most of them would think you were out of your mind to be coming over to their war camp with such strange news.

But . . not all of them would feel this way. There would be a few who would actually question you to find out what you meant.

Suppose one asked you, “How do you know?”

And suppose you said, “Because I used to be an orc.”

.         .         .         .         .         .

This is what happens when saved sinners share the Gospel.

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The thermostat & marriage

In premarital counseling, there is one question they never ask that they should ask right away:

Are you hot-natured or cold-natured?

Cold-natured people should marry cold-natured people. And hot-natured people should marry hot-natured people. And there’d be a whole lot less of a need for marriage counseling. :)

As you might have guessed, Ben and I speak different temperature languages. He’s hot-natured. I’m cold-natured.

In the winter time, I like to crank the heat up to 80. In the summer time, I set the thermostat at 80. 80 is a good temperature for me. And it really is true, I would turn my mother’s gas fireplace on in July when we’re over at her house IF anybody would let me. :)

One of the ways I knew Ben was really serious about me was when we were on our way back home from a trip to New York in November. His dad was driving the car and the temperature was pretty cool. By the time we got to Ben’s car—some four hours later–I was miserably chilly. On top of this, we stepped out into the freezing Pennsylvanian air of late November and I was ready for a sauna.

Ben, clearly delusionally in love with me, cranked up the heat in his car to an outrageous high. He hates to see me shivering. So the car was like the Gobi Desert in the middle of a winter wonderland. The heat stampeded over any cold left in the car. I sat half-asleep from blissful heat stroke while he somehow drove us back to his parent’s house where I was staying. Fortunately he didn’t conk out from heat. But he was mighty glad to get out of the car by the time we arrived.

By now you might have figured out: Ben and I knew before we were married that we were from different climates. And we still got married. Love is funny that way.

God said through Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4,

Love is patient and kind.

I don’t think this verse is only about the big things in life. I think it’s about the little things, too, like what temperature the thermostat is set at.

Love is patient and kind in our house when Ben sleeps without the fan at night.

Love is patient and kind in our house if I turn the air down just for him.

I think some of the deepest bonding in marriage is done when one person gives up a little for another.

(Even if it means feeling a few degrees too warm or too cold.)

More of Him, more of me

I know the usual expression is “more of Him, less of me” . . but this blog is going to be about “more of Him, more of me.”

More and Less directions.  Opposite traffic sign.

What do I mean by that?

Just this: the more of Him there is, the more of the actual me, the good me, the new me there is.

When we are saved in Christ, we become new creations (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Bible talks about our work as believers being comparable to gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).  The more we follow God’s will, the more we build on our lives with desirable, lasting qualities that are like gold, silver, and jewels.  So the more we know God, the more beautiful our lives become.

When we say, “more of Him, less of me”, what I think we usually mean is “more of Him, less of my sin nature”.  This is true, too.  The more we know Christ, the less we will build with worthless materials that will be burned up in the fire of judgment.  But knowing Christ–following after Him–doesn’t mean I become less and less of a “person”.  Rather, I become more and more who I was intended to be.

Following Christ doesn’t mean giving up my identity.  Rather, it means finding my true identity in Him.  In giving up my dead old “life” for Him, I receive His alive, new Life (see Mark 8:35).

I love the analogy of building in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.  I had Legos as a kid, and I think of building something with Legos.  The more I submit my life to be restructured into building blocks for His Kingdom, the more of the eternal I become.  The more I do things my own way and hold onto my old ways of sinning, the less of the eternal I am.

It’s incredible the contrast in what people build with Legos.  A building can be as tiny as two blocks placed together, or as massive as the imagination allows.  In the same way, we can build for God’s Kingdom as much as our spirit yields to His.  What we find when we obey Him is that we become more and more of who we were meant to be . . not less and less.

In the book The Velveteen Rabbit, in probably the most famous passage, the Skin Horse describes what it is like to become real.  The Velveteen Rabbit thinks the process sounds terrible: his fur will be worn off, his whiskers will fall out, his stuffing will become limp–things such as this.  But what he discovers is that, only when he becomes real (when he is truly loved by the boy who owns him) does he experience the outlandish joy of becoming a real rabbit.

We don’t have to be afraid of losing our value as we open our arms to God’s love in our lives and as we yield to His will for us.  Rather, we are discovering our value in Him!!!  And we are building on an everlasting, unimaginably wonderful Kingdom.  In the process, we ourselves become real–new creations full of eternal Life.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Jesus, quoted in John 10:10b, NASB)

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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From elf to orc to elf

“Do you know how the Orcs first came into being? They were Elves once, taken by the dark powers. Tortured and mutilated . . a ruined and terrible form of life.” –Saruman, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by New Line Cinema. [1]

If you want to know the first half of your story, J.R.R. Tolkien had it about right.

Elves. Beautiful, immortal, flawless.

We were like that once.

If that were where the story ended, the Happily Ever After would follow straight after the Once Upon a Time. But . . it isn’t. Between the two lies the biggest catastrophe of human history.

We were taken in by the dark power. Satan, to be exact. Oh yes, he tricked Eve, sabotaged Adam . . and within the halls of time became the worst memory of all:

The fall.

But what happened next is something so unexpected, not even the great J.R.R. Tolkien could capture it in his stories.

The orc . . had the chance to once again . . become elf.

It’s as though time unwinds. The torture, the mutilation, the ruined and terrible life . . all play backwards, like a movie on rewind. And suddenly, we’re back at the beginning, beautifully, stunningly standing in the Garden of Eden once more.

This is what it means to be redeemed.

To go from elf to orc . . to elf.

This is the story of everyone who has ever believed the sacrifice of Christ has the power to change you back into who you were created to be.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
 (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

__________________________________

[1] Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

The wait

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes I’m really jealous when I hear people say they’ve already been married five or ten years, and they’re my age. I feel like I’ll never “catch up”.

I know that if God blesses Ben and I with fifty years of marriage, it will be extraordinary (Ben will be 87 and me 80). I wish I could go back, undo time, and marry Ben when I was 18, just to have more time with him.

But then . . there’s the sweetness of the wait.

Oh, I don’t mean the wait itself is sweet. The wait is anything but sweet. The wait feels very bitter at the time. But the wait leads to something almost indefinably sweet: the time together.

Mathematically, it’s true: Ben and I won’t have as many years together as if we’d been married when I was 18 and he was 25. But philosophically, Ben and I maybe stand a much better chance of realizing just how good this marriage is than others who were married well before us.

Today I remember: Wow, this is good. This hand I’m holding? Wasn’t holding it when I was 25 or 26 or 27. This man who’s willing to dance around our living room with me? Didn’t have him when I was prom age. This kiss he gives? That Cinderella moment wasn’t mine until last year.

The wait feels bitter . . but the ending is so sweet.

It’s so much like that in our walk with God.

Right now, I can’t pick up the phone and call God. I can pray to Him (and I do!) but I don’t audibly hear His voice. A lot of times, I’m unsure of what decision to make. I don’t have the gift of walking with God in the cool of the day, as Adam did.

Waiting to meet God face to face can feel bitter. Maybe you’re filled with questions, or even doubts. Maybe you just long to get to know God better than you do. Maybe you want to be free of sin so you can worship Him exactly how He deserves.

For the believer, the promise is here:

One day . . one day.

One day the bitterness will become very sweet. And the waiting will be as nothing in eternity . . except . . it will do something like my waiting for Ben did: give us an awe for the gift when it comes.

When it’s time.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. (1 John 3:2,NLT)

First Love

In the episode Wedding Bells for Aunt Bea, Aunt Bea is convinced she should marry Fred Goss, the dry cleaner, because she thinks she’s hampering Andy from pursuing marriage for himself. The trouble is, she can hardly stand to be around him. She fools everyone around her until Opie, recently educated on love from Andy, asks her if she has that deep-down-inside love feeling for Mr. Goss.

It’s the one time she can’t pretend. She sits still as a statue, tears welling in her eyes.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks about a church that has lost it’s “first love” (from the NASB). Revelation 2:4 (NIV) says,

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”

When we become believers, we love Christ with the sort of love Andy’s talking about: the deep-down-inside love. But over time, something often happens to that love. We let the love become battered by things that happen to us. Time erodes our love and, before we even know it, we find it wasn’t what it was.

Sometimes I think genuine believers sit like Aunt Bea, still as a statue, tears welling in their eyes, as they try to love God as they once did. Maybe they feel wounded by Him. Maybe they are struggling to trust Him. Maybe they wonder if He’s really love. Maybe they’re frightened that, in the end, they’ll be disappointed by Him.

The words that describe the church in Revelation remind me of how Aunt Bea tried to act towards Mr. Goss: “hard work” . . “perseverance” . . “persevered” . . “endured hardships” and “not grown weary”.

All of these things are gifts from God, but only when they are given through love. Jesus says to the church in Revelation,

“Consider how far you have fallen!” (v. 5a)

Here there’s a big difference between Aunt Bea and us. Aunt Bea never loved Fred Goss, and had good reason not to. But we are captivated by the love of our Savior when we first meet Him. At least, I hope we are. How sad if a believer has never truly grasped how much (s)he is loved by God!

As our faith is tested, we can so easily hold onto our tenacity and let go of our affection. After all, in a dangerous or difficult situation, it seems far more important to cling to courage than to cling to romance. And yet this is the very thing that the church in Revelation represented by Ephesus needs!

During practical times, we tend to look at romance as non-essential. Yet it is the “deep down kind of love” we have for Jesus that makes every good quality of our character matter. This issue of non-love is so severe that Jesus warns,

If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (v. 5c)

How do we get back that first “deep down kind of love”? This verse tells us. We “repent”.

We find favor with God when we go before Him and plead for Him to forgive us for treating Him like Mr. Goss instead of as the Redeemer of even the most fragile heart and the Savior of even the weakest soul, the Ransom for even the tightest bound captive and the Healer of even the most shattered leper.

Why not right now, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and thank God for loving you so much . . and cry out to receive a deep down love for Him?

Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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Untangled

My parents bought me a game called Ready, Set, Spaghetti (by Milton Bradley) when I was a kid. The game concept was simple—winning was another story.

Each player had a long piece of yarn “spaghetti” attached to the board. At the end of the yarn was a plastic fork. The goal was to wind up all your yarn first.

On the board were pegs that had “pizza topping” stickers on them, like mushroom and meatball and green pepper. At the beginning of the game, we wrapped up the other players’ yarn around as many pegs as possible.

When you rolled the die, it told you which kind of peg you could pull out (mushroom, meatball, green pepper, etc.). You could uproot one of that kind of peg to help free your spaghetti string.

Each time your string got a little more free, you’d wind it up on your fork. The goal was to have no more pegs standing in the way of your string, so you could roll it all the way up.

In Scripture it says,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

Like the string in the game is caught on obstacles that block it from going anywhere, our minds are tangled on thoughts that prevent us from worshiping God the way He deserves. We’re not free to serve Him as we could be, because we’re caught on ways and habits of thinking that impede our full devotion to Him.

In the game I had as a child, the pegs released the string from its confinement. In our minds, God’s promises release our thoughts from their traps.

We find God’s promises throughout His entire Word.  Every time we hold onto a promise, we let go of a destructive thought that holds us back from worshiping Him.

In Ready, Set, Spaghetti, you couldn’t put in new pegs during the game to block players. But in our lives, Satan is constantly sticking more false ideas and hazy confusions in our mind to prevent us from experiencing the love of God. That’s why it’s so important that we cling to His Word.

We can trust who He says He is and who He says we are in Him—even when we have doubts and uncertainties that try to hold us back.

One day, all the pegs will be swept out of the board. We’ll be totally free, and our minds will be delighted beyond imagination as we experience Him without our usual hold-ups. Even now, we can get ready for that day by uprooting—patiently, faithfully, and one-by-one—every idea in our head that prevents us from the full worship—and breathtaking delight—of our awesome God.

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