Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Being Fruitful

 "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." John 15:4

Carol pulled her knees up while she laid on her side. If only the nausea would go away. And the weakness. The disabling weakness. 

The grandfather clock ticked in the living room, a metronome to her life these last few weeks. Ticking a pace of music too slow for comfort.

Abide in me.

The words reverberated in her mind. She'd spent a lifetime trying to be everything everyone wanted her to be. Well, perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration. But, nonetheless somewhat true. Since childhood, she'd had a picture of herself, of who she was supposed to be. A super missionary or super church member or something super. She'd tried. Days sitting beside others in the hospital. Taking food to those in need. Giving of her own money...well, her husband's money, to anyone who needed it. Trying to teach others. Trying to be a witness. Trying to....trying to be the perfect servant in the eyes of her friends and church family.

Abide in me.

Swallowing against the nausea she pushed herself up and reached to the Bible on her bedside table. Lord, for all the good I've done, where are You? I mean, I know You're there. But do I really, truly know You? 

She pulled the Bible on her lap and turned to John 15. Lord, sometimes faith ain't so easy. I can talk the talk, and even walk the so-called walk by the terms of others. But I know, I feel, it just isn't good enough.

She ran her finger down the page and started reading. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."

"I believe that I am saved. I believe that I am in You. Yet, those years of pain. Those years when I felt everyone hated me, and I hated myself, and I had convinced myself You hated me...those were wasted years, Lord. I have no time to change that now."

Sighing, Carol looked at her daily reading plan, and turned the pages to Ruth. She took several breaths and swallowed the saliva forming in her mouth. She just needed to spend some time reading. Just some time to abide. Her mind wandered over the story of Ruth, a story so many have loved because of its romance. Somehow, all these yearly readings, she'd never quite seen it that way. Yes, she understood why others thought it a romance, but...well, it seemed like Boaz just did what he did out of duty. 

But then, the words took shape. Boaz had noticed Ruth. There were other maidens beside Ruth, but Boaz had taken notice. Carol picked at the words, mapped out the romance, and pressed her hand against her stomach, then leaned back. It was there. Not the sappy, overtly physical brain-candy of dime-store romance novel type of love-story, but definitely love perhaps truer to that of God for Israel, or Christ for the church. 

Ruth wasn't some great war hero, like Jael. Or some wise woman noted for solving problems, or even the Proverbs 31 super woman. She wasn't a Debra or a queen. Ruth was ordinary. And Ruth became the great grandmother of a king.  

Ruth was a humble, widowed daughter-in-law choosing to care for her beloved mother-in-law and make God her god. She was obedient and a risk taker, and really must have had some faith to have been so forward with Boaz. 

Carol closed her Bible and laid back down, holding her stomach. She'd raised three children. Beautiful children. God-fearing children. That seems all she had to account for her life. Perhaps it wasn't all the doin's of a church member that God saw as fruitful. Perhaps it was simply abiding in the One she loved and letting that relationship pass on to her children. Perhaps the fruit God chose her to bear was simply living a life surrendered to God before others so that they might see God's faithfulness. Perhaps, like Ruth, it wasn't the goodness perceived by man, but what God blessed her with that bore fruit for God. Ruth, after all, became a mother in the line of Jesus.

Could it be that the importance is not on the bearing of the fruit, but on the relationship...on making God your god? The loving Savior, desiring us...desiring a perfect and pure relationship with us. And the result of that relationship is fruit. After all, Ruth obeying Naomi and making herself known to Boaz as a potential wife eventually resulted in the Messiah, the Savior Who came to save the world. Couldn't get anymore fruitful than that. 

Carol closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. Perhaps to strive for fruit without the relationship is to cheapen yourself and the love of Christ. "Lord, You've provided for my every need. There is no reason for me to not fully abide in You, to not make my relationship with You, the focal point of my life."

The nausea eased away as drowsiness took over. Lord, please let Your Words abide in me. Forgive me for my pride that so easily slips in under the cover of 'godliness' and help me to abide in You, to live in the truth of Your love for and delight in me.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." 

Ephesians 1:3-6

Monday, April 12, 2021

Thorns in Your Sides

 “Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you....That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way oof the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.” Judges 2:3,22

Jessica slipped her arms into her sweater sleeves as she slid off the examination table. Dr. Meins typed on her computer while Jessica drew in a deep breath. She’d been a year without touching one drop of alcohol, yet whenever she smelled a beer or wine, her forehead would begin to bead with sweat. But, the good thing was her liver was healing...almost completely healed.

“I’ll refill your prescription. You’re doing well.” Dr Meins turned and looked Jessica in the eyes. “But you are going to have to make some decisions. Alcoholism is a condition that never goes away. You’ve heard it said, once an alcoholic always an alcoholic. You’ve been strong this year, but what if something happens...some trouble that sends you to the bottle?”

Jessica dropped her gaze to the floor and tightened her jaw. She didn’t want to think about failing. Couldn’t even consider it or she’d loose her daughter. 

Dr. Meins touched her shoulder. “Jessica. I know your loyal. Your friends are...” Dr, Meins lips twisted in an obvious attempt to find the right words. “They are from your past and will not understand...might never understand what is important to you now. They’ve been understanding, but until they accept Christ, until they love Him as you do, they will never understand your new life.”

“I am finding it hard...” Jessica sighed. Church, well it seemed like no one trusted her there. Dr. Meins was kind and always welcoming, but she wasn’t a friend. And while Jessica didn’t enjoy the things she did before with her old friends...they were still her friends. Still important to her. 

“Listen, I’m having a barbecue at my house this Friday.  Why don’t you come? There will be other single and military moms there...Like Marla. Do you remember her?”

Jessica nodded. Marla was quiet, but nice. “Thanks Doc.” She slipped her feet into her shoes. She did need to change friends.

“And once, you have made new friends, you’ll find it easier to not be influenced by your old friends.”

“I’m not now.”

Doc held her hands up and nodded. “I know. I know. You’ve been incredible. But when things get rough,” she leaned forward. “And they will get rough when your husband returns from his tour in the Middle East, you’ll need friends who can encourage you in your faith and in your decision not to drink. Your old friends can’t do that.” Doc pulled out a card and handed it to her. “This is my personal phone number and my address. Come Friday. We’ll be glad to have you.”

Jessica smiled softly. “I’ll let you know.”

Dr. Meins opened the door and they both went through. Jessica turned to her. “Thanks again...and yes, I will come. Can I bring my daughter?”

“Of course.” Dr. Meins smiled. “We’ll be glad to have her.”

When we get saved, our past isn’t wiped out. We still must move through the quagmire of consequences our sins left behind. 

The Israelites did not do what God required of them in clearing the land and following only Him. Instead, they followed the gods of the people that were round about them. So, God used their mistake of not ridding the land of the other peoples and their gods as both a way to keep them humble and a way to test their desire to follow Him.

Three things I’ve learned to help survive and even overcome the sins of the past are:

  1. Pray in great earnest to know God, to have Him reveal Himself to you in a very deep and personal way—be deliberate and persistent and diligent in praying this moment by moment. This battle to not succumb to past temptations must be fought on your knees with a tremendous desire to know God and have a lasting, and deepening relationship with His Holy Spirit.
  2. Read God’s Word like it’s a love letter to you. Discover Who He is and how very much He loves you through rereading and absorbing every word, every detail, every story in the Bible. Understand that when He tells how His soul grieved for the misery of Israel after He tells them (with great sorrow, obviously very deeply hurt) that He would no longer deliver them...the pain much like that of the person married to an adulterous spouse might feel. (Judges 10:10-16) By the way, He does deliver Israel after they completely turn back to Him. Or read Song of Solomon as a picture of God’s love and desire for you. Read with the imagery before your eyes of Jesus’ Passion in John 14-21. Psalm 139 and Ephesians 1 are also wonderful passages to discover how very much you mean to God.
  3. Remove the stumbling blocks from your life. It might be people. It might be situations. It might be what you watch or listen to or a hobby that opens you up to things that cause you to fall. Then fill that time and energy with new activities and people and situations that are positive, that draw you closer to God or at the very least keep you from moving away from Him. This is what sanctifying yourself means—separating yourself from those things that keep you from knowing and loving and pleasing and serving God.

I think some might accuse me of being a runner, or of disloyalty. And, I think at times I have been that. But I know that God has blessed me abundantly, has drawn me closer to Him. I love Him more and more each day, and yet each day I see how easily I fall away. Just about the time I think, “I’ve got this” I discover I don’t. 

But knowing that God loves me enough to continue to humble me, to continue to exercise my faith muscles and my commitment to Him muscles, and to challenge my current perspective on things, makes me realize that He truly is a great, all knowing, all powerful God. In fact, it enables me to look at temptation with the knowledge that even if I stumble, even if I fail, all is not lost, but better yet not to give in and make the road I travel even more difficult. 

God’s not waiting for me to fall so He can punish me. He left the thorns in my side so that I will know to lean on Him. When other people and their gods and temptations press in on me, He wants me to know I don’t have to give in to them. He wants me to know He loves me too much to let me become prideful and self-righteous because I think I can handle life without Him or better than the next person. That gives me both peace and courage. 

“...there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness....” II Corinthians 12:7-9

Friday, April 9, 2021

Be Ye Therefore Very Courageous

"Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left;...But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day." Joshua 23:6,8

Ken laid the letter from the medical board down on his desk. He closed his eyes and drew in a breath not deep enough to cover the sorrow he felt. So, the day had finally come. As an ob-gyn doctor, he was dedicated to ensuring each unborn babe came into the world to breathe the life God created him or her to breathe. But this...this mandate to order mothers to kill a child before it was born for simply being less than what man thought was perfect. This he couldn't do.

He pushed away from his desk and paced the length of his office. "Lord, what am I to do? I will lose my practice. But how can I have any part of this, this murderous mandate?"

A knock came on his door, and Nurse Carol poked her nose around it. "Mrs. King is in Room 1. Her husband didn't join her today."

Ken nodded. "I'll be there in just a moment." Mrs. King was a new patient. Only her second visit. As a woman over 35, the chances of her child having some anomalies were increased. He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. He would have to give her the option of prenatal screenings for fetal defects. 

He lowered himself to his knees. "Lord, I don't know how long I can do this. How long will I be able to stand against the wave of pressures to abort babies that do not meet man's standards or are counted as inconveniences for the mother? I need Your strength, Your courage." He stayed on his knees for a minute, breathing deeply while he listened for the Lord, felt His presence. "To Your Glory, my Lord and Savior, and in Your Holy Name, I go. Amen."

He pushed off from the floor and stretched to his full height. As Dr. Atwood, he would tell Mrs. King about the optional screening, but as a child of God, he would inform her that if she chose to have the screening, he could not be her doctor. Feeling God's presence and peace, he walked from his office to Room 1. "Good morning, Mrs. King. How are you today?"


When the LORD gave Israel rest from all their enemies, and with Joshua old and ready to die, he reminded the Israelites of all that God had done for them and to their enemies. God had been good to them. He'd blessed them. He gave them the land and the bounty of the land. He gave them peace. But as human nature goes, Joshua knew they would one day be faced with temptations they'd find difficult to resist.

So, it is today. We, as Americans, are blessed beyond measure. We are as rich as kings, even our poor have more than many in the world. But we have forgotten Who blessed us. 

I have had amazing experiences with the Lord. He has made clear to me His presence. I have experienced the great sweetness of His love. I know it is cliché to say, but there are no words to express the tangible presence of the Lord and His great love for me that I had experienced through the fall and winter, right up to the diagnosis of cancer. Those days leading to, and for the weeks immediately after the official diagnosis, were days spent resting in the arms of God. But also, days when I found it hard to pray common prayers (like prayers for the health and wellbeing of others, for the prosperity of church and family, for solutions to others' problems, and so forth). 

As a nation, we experienced spiritual warfare, one that should have been fought on our knees and by taking a stand. But as I visited people, I found that many were on different sides of the same coin. The coin, being their faith in God and in His ability to act. The sides being how the politics of the country should be handled, and in particular, how the COVID business should have been handled. Even as people quoted different 'experts' to support their view, rarely did I hear anyone quote from Scripture how to handle the problems that arose. And in truth, I couldn't tell you exact Scriptures that would meet your specific needs. 

But this I do know, we've blindly walked away from God. Even the staunchest Christian can't truthfully claim they have not been influenced by the world. And the road back to Him is filled with boulders, and mines, and deep crevices. I think that is why we often just sit down and decide not to make the trek back. But there are decisions that need to be made, or we'll be swept up with the fervor of the world and moved further away from truth, God's truth. 

The story above of Dr. Ken Atwood is very similar to the story of my doctor (in Canada 24 years ago) when I was pregnant with my first child. When he made the same statement to me that Dr. Atwood did to Mrs. King, I knew he was a Christian, and discovered he also attended our church (it was a very large church). I know that God led me to him, because I wouldn't have had the wisdom to navigate that journey. He even gave us a book on raising children God's way. I'm very grateful for that doctor. He was an answer to prayer.

When we choose to keep and do all that is written in God's Word, when we cleave to God, when we love Him, truly and fully love Him, we can turn around and face the minefield of mistakes we've made. He'll help us navigate through them. And if they are not our mistakes, but that of others that affect us, He'll be with us along that path as well. But are we willing to trust Him? Can we fall to our knees in desperation to find His way through it? Are we willing to stop listening to the world, to the noises of the experts, the talk show hosts, the coffee group's take on the day's problems, and simply listen to Him?

I believe, when we do, we'll find peace and direction, like Dr. Atwood.

"Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:14-15

And the Chase Is On

  Years ago, I set my iPad on the treadmill, started up a movie   and pressed 2 for a warmup. I had just begun to punch the button to speed ...