Monday, January 6, 2014

MYSTERIES


We’re in middle of a Polar Vortex—exceptionally cold weather caused by frigid North Pole air sliding down into North America because of a weak jet stream (which normally brings more temperate air across the nation from west to east.)

It’s been snowing for the past couple days and is very cold today.  The high is only supposed to get up to –11 degrees Fahrenheit.  It could set a record for the lowest high temperature in this area.  And, of course, nighttime and wind chill temperatures are even lower.

Officials are requesting that people stay home if they don’t absolutely have to go out.  Schools are closed, and our evening church service was canceled last night. 

The snow is deep and my husband got stuck yesterday turning into our driveway.  Several neighbors were out shoveling snow and helped dig him out.  He then spent nearly an hour cleaning off the driveway so he could get the car into the garage.

I don’t really enjoy this kind of ‘cold.’ It’s very penetrating.  And, for the past several days, we’ve not seen the sun.  When I pulled back the curtains yesterday and stood looking out the window, I could feel the cold penetrating through the glass. 

But today, in spite of the frigid temperature, the sun is shining.  It’s still low in the sky because it’s only a couple weeks past the winter solstice, but that has the advantage of allowing the sun’s rays to come in my window at a more direct angle.

I marvel at the warmth I feel from the rays of the sun, even though it passes through 93,000,000 miles of ‘cold’ to get here!  How can that be? 

I know that the sun’s light travels via light waves, and that the warmth comes from radiation, but it’s still a mystery to me.

As I stood there basking in the warmth of the sun in my living room, I felt a joy and a sense of awe.  There are so many ‘mysteries’ in life—so many little joys to ponder.

Those moments reminded me of other mysteries—ones that science can’t explain—such as the mystery of God’s love.  Just like the sun’s warmth coming through the cold to reach me, so God’s love travels through a cold and broken world and penetrates my soul.  I feel its warmth bringing me joy, even in times of difficulties.  I don’t know how it gets here, but I know it’s real—just as real as the warmth of the sun.

Another such mystery was recorded in the Bible when Jesus told Nicodemus (a Jewish leader) about the need to be born again in order the see the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus, thinking of physical birth, questioned Jesus as to how this could be. 

Jesus went on to explain that the rebirth he was talking about was a spiritual rebirth.  He described it like this: “the wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Hmmm—this is indeed a great mystery, one that no one can scientifically explain.  Yet, those who experience it know the reality of the inner peace it brings.

I’m so grateful that I don’t need to fully understand what makes these mysteries work in order to receive their benefits—the warmth of the sun on a bitterly cold day, the joy of God’s love even when I’m facing hard things in life, the inner peace that spiritual rebirth brings—all mysteries of our creator God.

The Apostle Paul sums up the great mysteries of God this way:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33)

I continually stand in awe of God—this God of mysteries.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

NEW BEGINNINGS


HAPPY NEW YEAR!  

Today is the first day of the rest of my life—a new beginning. 

The idea of new beginnings permeates our culture.  We have expressions like, “Tomorrow’s a new day” when things aren’t going well, or “I’ve turned over a new leaf” when speaking of a new direction in our lives.

There are new beginnings that mark off time, such as the beginning of a new year, a new day, or a new season.

There are new beginnings that mark off events, such as our birth into this world—the beginning of our existence—and all the beginnings that come as a part of growing up. We talk about ‘new chapters’ in our lives—when we graduate from school, a new job, marriage, birth of children, or moving to a new location.

There are new beginnings in our thoughts—things we learn that significantly affect our beliefs and attitudes.

Most new beginnings have a forward-looking aspect to them—an opportunity—an anticipation of what is to come—the hope of something better. 

Sometimes a new beginning brings fear or dread or sorrow—the loss of a job, an accident, a natural disaster, a difficult illness, or the death of a loved one.

Sometimes new beginnings ‘fizzle.’  They don’t turn out the way we had hoped or expected.  We’re disappointed and seek for something else.  The new becomes old and we move on—just as the old year ends and a new year begins, and the sun sets on a finished day and rises on a new day.  No new beginning is permanent.

In some respects, we’re all seeking for a new beginning that brings lasting satisfaction, but through the hard knocks of life we often despair of ever finding it.  We hunger for a new beginning we can’t really identify. 

The good news is that there is a new beginning that does exist and it is far greater than anything we ever anticipated or expected.  Many people, however, miss it—they are looking for it in the wrong place, may be misinformed so they reject it, or simply choose not to believe it.

Don’t miss out.  This year could be a new beginning in a personal relationship with the God of the universe—the God of the Bible—a new beginning that doesn’t end.  And each of us can wake up each morning with the thought, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life—not just life on this earth, but life for the rest of eternity in the presence of the Living God.”  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

OBSERVING THE ANTS


When my son was a child, we got him a small ant farm for Christmas one year.  If some of you aren’t familiar with an ant farm, it’s two plates of glass sealed together with approximately ¾” space between them.  That space is filled up with soil and live ants are put in.  The ants go to work making a new home for themselves, and because the space is so narrow, many of their tunnels are right next to the glass so you can watch the ants at work. There’s a screened opening at the top where food and water can be added. 

This ant farm provided hours of fascinating observation and learning the ways of the ants.  As we sat and watched them, we’d play the game of ‘pretend,’ and make up stories about the ants.

 I invite you to join me in a game of ‘pretend.’

Let’s pretend that you have the power to create a colony of ants.  Not only are you able to create them and bring them to life, but also to give them all the characteristics of ants as we know them. 

You make the ants and they belong to you.  You get to make up all the rules for how they live.  You provide soft soil with lots of nutrients for their home. You love them and they seem very happy.  But, for their own protection, you have set up some expectations.  You create boundaries around the anthill beyond which the ants are not to go.  Specifically, they are not to leave the area and feed from the nearby garbage heap because an anteater often prowls around there looking for ants, and who knows what might happen!   

All is going well until one day the anteater is out exploring and wants to eat some ants.  He sees your ant colony and heads straight for it.  However, knowing the dangers that can afflict your colony of ants, you have built a special protection around the anthill.

The anteater discovers that he is not able to get any of the ants as long as they stay in the protected environment you have created for them.  He knows that the only way he can get to your ants is to coax them out of that protected area, so he deceives them into thinking the garbage heap is better food than what you have provided for them. Much to your sorrow and dismay, your beloved ants fall for it. 

Once the ants start eating from the garbage heap, there is no turning back.  Their desire for the garbage causes them to forget all about staying in the protected area. In fact, they seem to scurry away and try to hide from you when they see you coming.

As time goes on, the ants multiply and start making anthills all over the area around the garbage heap, and the happy anteater is continually raiding their colonies.  The ants’ lives are continually disrupted by the anteater, and as a result the various colonies begin to compete for the garbage and fights break out among them. They lose their ability to work together for the good of the colony because each one is looking out for itself.

This causes you great sadness, however you have a plan.  Because you love them so much you decide to come and save them from this terrible plight.  You will enter into their world by becoming one of them to teach them how to live and to free them from the consequences of their rebellion.  

You are born as an ant in a dysfunctional colony next to the garbage heap. It’s a great mystery as to how you are able to do this, but because you have the power to create, you have the power to become one of them. Your purpose for coming is to restore them and teach them to live according to your original plan.

But not all the ants will listen and change their ways. The anteater tries his best to thwart your plans, and finally he thinks he’s getting the upper hand.  He has a number of ants under his control that actually gang up on you and kill you.

But because you are the creator, you get to tell the story. You, the ant, come back to life.  This really freaks out the anteater who realizes he is doomed.  Those ants who have been restored live in peace, looking forward to the day when the anteater and the rebellious ants are completely gone.

You have now become the ants’ hero and every year they celebrate your birthday.
 .................................
And so ends our game of ‘pretend.’ 
……………………..

But there is a story on which this allegory is based that is not ‘pretend.’  It is the reason we celebrate Christmas—the birth of Jesus, God becoming flesh like His creation, to save us from the consequences of our rebellion against Him. 

In doing this, He removes our guilt and replaces it with lasting peace, giving us assurance that we will spend eternity with Him, living in new physical bodies on a new physical earth the way God originally intended—without sin.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…”

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  John 1:1, 1:14a, 3:16. 





Thursday, October 31, 2013

PLEASE REMOVE MASK BEFORE ENTERING


Today is October 31, better known in some parts of the world as Halloween.

According to The World Book Encyclopedia, the probable source of Halloween was an ancient Celtic practice of celebrating the dead on the evening before November 1, the start of their new year.  This pagan custom was continued even after the Celts became Christians. 

Eventually, in the 800’s A.D. the church established All Saints’ Day on November 1, and the people made this old pagan custom a part of this Holy Day celebration.  The Mass said on this day was called Allhallowmas.  The evening before All Saints’ Day became known as All Hallow e’en, or Halloween.”

People celebrate this festival by dressing up in costumes and wearing masks.  Children go from door to door asking for treats, and their friends and neighbors try to guess who they are.  It’s great fun if they are disguised so well that even their good friends can’t recognize them—until they gleefully pull off their masks to reveal their identity.

As we all know, masks are used in other situations as well—to hide our identity or to make us appear as someone other than who we really are.  For example, robbers wear masks to hide their identity; actors (think “ancient Greek”) wear masks to change their identity to the character they are portraying.

As I thought about our use of masks, I began to picture different kinds.  Some just cover the area around the eyes. Some cover the whole face.  Some are held over the face on a stick.  Some cover the whole head with face and hair that make you look like someone else (usually a famous person). 

But as I pictured these masks, my mind turned to a different kind of mask—an invisible mask.

It made me wonder, how many people in this world wear invisible masks.  They masquerade as someone they aren’t.  They’re afraid to let others know who they really are, and in so doing, they give a false outward show—a pretense.  

Someone mentioned recently that there should be a sign above our church doors saying:  PLEASE REMOVE MASK BEFORE ENTERING. 

Perhaps more of us wear invisible masks than we care to admit.  Or, perhaps we all wear invisible masks of one sort or another.

Do I wear an invisible mask?

Is God asking me to remove my mask before entering His presence?

Is He asking me to take my mask off, not only in His presence, but in the presence of others?

HOW DO I GET THIS MASK OFF; IT SEEMS STUCK!

“If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  I John 1:8-9

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Matthew 5:8

Sunday, May 26, 2013

CHEWING THE CUD


There’s an old saying, “you can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.”  I grew up on the farm and have always been intrigued by a strange habit of cows.

Cows chew their cud. 

“What’s cud?”

That’s a good question. 

A cow is a special animal called a ruminant—it has four compartments in its stomach.  When it swallows its food, it goes down into the first and then second “stomach” where it is mixed and softened.  The stomach muscles then cause the food to come back up into the cow’s mouth.  This food, the second time around, is called “cud.” 

The cow then slowly chews this cud and swallows it again where it is further digested, moving on into the third and fourth compartments of the stomach.

This second chewing is necessary to break down the food and make it usable to the cow’s body.  This process of re-chewing the food is called “chewing the cud.”

This may sound a little repulsive to us as humans, but the cows actually seem to enjoy it.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see those cows on the farm, resting in the shade of the occasional tree, chewing their cud.  It’s a peaceful sight.

As a figure of speech, “chewing the cud” has come to have meaning for us humans, too.

When we take time to ponder or meditate on something, we call it “chewing the cud.”  We’re analyzing a thought in order to understand it, or to derive a deeper meaning from it, or to gain insights from it.

I’m continually reminded of how this is a picture of what we do when we mediate on Scripture.  

When the cow chews, it is actively involved in the chewing process of further preparing the cud for digestion.  It’s not just holding the cud in its mouth thinking, “Oh, I really like the taste of this sweet cud” and then swallowing it again.  Instead, it chews and chews and chews until the cud is further prepared to give out its nutrients.

Likewise, when we read Scripture, just reading it through doesn’t produce the “nutrients” necessary to bring us into conformity to its teaching.  We need to think about it; analyze it—look for applications of it’s meaning in our lives. 

When we meditate in this way, we’re “chewing the cud.”

The “nutrients” of Scripture are so rich and plentiful, but many people miss out on the depth of their truth because they fail to "chew the cud.”  They bypass this step of the digestion process because it takes time, or they just aren’t interested, or perhaps they don’t know how.

Because this last reason (that people don’t know how) is so prevalent, here’s a suggestion:

Take a verse or passage you would like to meditate on and write it out on a 3x5 card.  Keep it handy throughout the day and try to commit it to memory. 

As you do this, something amazing happens:  you begin to concentrate on the words, trying to remember them, finding that after a little time has elapsed, you don’t remember the exact words, (or perhaps the order of the words) so you check back to your card.  Then your mind starts analyzing the words to create ways of remembering them—a deeper meaning that relates to your own life. 

Before you realize it, you’re “chewing the cud.”

Of course, you could sit down under a shade tree and go through the process all at one time like a cow, but I’ve found that I rarely have time to do that!

Happy “chewing” on Scripture, and enjoy your “cud.”


Sunday, April 28, 2013

PLAGUE FORMULA


Several years ago, I became aware of a “Plague Formula” recipe.  From what I understand, something similar to this potent formula may have been used during the Middle Ages in Europe to strengthen one’s immune system and help resist dying from The Bubonic Plague.

This particular formula, developed by Dr. Richard Schulze, is as follows:

1 large white onion
2 large bulb garlic
            1 large ginger root as long as your hand
6-8 inch horseradish root
2 large handfuls habenero peppers or hottest available
1-2 large containers of raw apple cider vinegar       

1. Put all vegetables in blender.   
2. Cover vegetables with vinegar.  Blend 1-2 minutes until mashed. 
3. Pour mash into glass jars ¾ full. Cover to top of jar with vinegar.  Apply lid. 
4. Leave on counter and shake 3 times a day for 2 weeks or longer. 
5. Strain though cheese cloth and store in dark glass bottles in a cool place.
6. Dosage: 1 T. in a glass of water or juice, several times a day.

As you probably know, the Plague was caused by bacteria which spread to humans by bites from the fleas of infected rats.  My husband said that with all those ingredients just the smell of it is enough to keep anything away! 

However, it isn’t the smell that creates its effectiveness.  It actually works within the body to boost the immune system. 

According to Dr. Schulze, fresh garlic and onions have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-parasitic properties.  The other ingredients also have properties that contribute to its effectiveness.  But it has to be ingested into the body for it to work.  It “comes alongside” the body’s own bacteria-fighting capabilities to overcome the ill effects of the bacteria.  (Dr. Schulze's Plague Formula)

My friend, Andrea, recently shared with me an insight she had while reading about a plague in the Bible: a plague of a different nature—the plague of sin.  She expressed it this way, “Sin has a plague-like, and death-producing, effect.” 

I pondered that thought.

How true this is! When we are constantly exposed to situations in life that are contrary to what God teaches in the Bible, we begin to lose our sensitivity to them.  The continual exposure to the lifestyle of those who don’t honor God begins to dilute our sense of right and wrong.  We can, without awareness of it, be drawn into embracing a lifestyle that is dishonoring to God.  Such is the condition—not only of our own society, but of the world.

The infectious ‘bacteria’ of self-gratification, self-exaltation, and power has replaced the healthy lifestyle of submission and service to God.  We’ve been infected by the worldview of our society.  Self has replaced God.  We’ve become captivated by this allure of ‘self-actualization’ and have been drawn into its web. 

And so, by virtue of constant exposure, we’ve caught the disease.  We’ve become victims of the plague.  We need a Plague Formula!

            One heart full of desire to know God intimately and accurately
            One soul yielded to the cleansing power of Jesus Christ
One mind full of willingness to follow God’s instructions and commands
Two eyes searching for wisdom as for hidden treasure
Two ears full of attentiveness to that wisdom
One soul willing to yield to the beauty of serving the Living God

Instructions:
1. Carefully incorporate these ingredients into your life so as to walk in integrity
    by the power of God.
2. Practice the above ingredients daily. 
3. Mix them gently with constant prayer.
4. Resist, through the power of this formula, the pull of the world to exalt and
    gratify the desires of Self.

Complete application of this formula will strengthen the spiritual immune system and enable the user to escape the threat of spiritual death brought on by the Plague of Self.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

FORECASTS


When I heard the weather forecast a couple days ago, I decided it was time to set out my rain gauge.  With a forecast of up to 4” of rain, I was curious to see the exact amount we would receive, knowing that with thunderstorms the rainfall over an extended area can vary significantly. 

It was early in the morning and the sky was overcast, but the rain had not yet started.  “This is good,” I thought.  I haven’t missed anything. 

It wasn’t long before the rain began—intermittent through the early part of the day, but by late afternoon and throughout the night, wave after wave of heavy thunderstorms moved through the area.  I didn’t sleep well, often being awakened by lightening and thunder—and the sound of pounding rain. 

But, I was up early, curious to see just how much rain we had received.  As I stepped out into the backyard, the grassy lawn squished under my feet.  I hurried toward my rain gauge, hoping I wouldn’t get caught by another downpour.  

As I looked at the gauge, I couldn’t see the waterline.  Much to my surprise, the gauge was almost overflowing—5 inches of rain.  I quickly dumped it out, reset it, and ran back into the house just as a bolt of lightening lit the sky. 

The rain continued.  I got my binoculars out to check the water level in my neighbors’ backyards across the street.  The creek behind their houses was completely out of its banks and nearly up to their foundations.  Roads were closed from flooding, and many people had water in their basements. 

Finally the rain subsided late morning.  I checked the rain gage again—a little over an inch, for a total of over 6 inches of rain. 

The forecasters do their best to let us know what to expect, but they can never be certain.  They have no control over the final outcome.

No control.  Think about that for a moment.  Weather forecasters base their predictions on observation, computer programs, and their interpretative judgment, but they can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.

However, there is someone who does have control.  The One who created all has control over all.

When a storm arose on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus “rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm.” (Luke 8:24)  And because he is God in human flesh—the creator of everything—he has the power to control his creation.  When we realize he has this power, we can believe what he says is true. 

Like the weatherman, Jesus is also a forecaster.  He has forecast the future.  However, his forecast isn’t based on observation, or computer programs, or his interpretative judgment.  It’s based on the fact that he, as God, is in control of the circumstances in his forecast.

While he was on earth, he ‘forecast’ to his disciples many things about what to expect in the future, and then challenged them to open their eyes: “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’  Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?”  (Matthew 16:2-3)

One specific “forecast” he gave them had to do with the beginning of the end times: “And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”  (Matthew 24:6-8)  Hmmm…it sounds like our world today.

Forecasts.  We want them.  We want to know what is going to happen in the future.  We depend on the weatherman to tell us what the weather will be, even though we know it may not be totally accurate.  

However, as to the future of our lives—and of the world—fortunately, there is an accurate and reliable source we can turn to:  God’s revelation to us in the Bible.  It doesn’t tell us everything we want to know, but it does tell us everything we need to know. 

We can fully rely on its forecast to prepare for our eternal future.