Sunday, June 25, 2017

Suicide Not Required


Now, I have to warn you, my English professor said, when you discover that there is no ultimate Authority--no Author who supposedly 'gives meaning' to your existence--you may, at first, find yourself fighting a deep depression.

She went on,

Some students in their early years of university have even been tempted to end their lives when the false worldview they've been brought up to embrace has been deconstructed.

She explained that she needed to give us this disclaimer so we wouldn't be caught off guard.  She didn't want any suicides in her class.
She was full of encouragement:

Realize that you will move on, and your more rational self will adjust to the new reality--your own personal reality.  You will survive and thrive with the realization that no one has the right to define reality for you.  What you decide is true for you is all there is of Truth.

Let's put aside, for now, all the obvious questions this statement should have raised in the minds of the young adults sitting in the class around me.  Questions like:

If it's 'my truth' why are you telling me what it should be?  Why are you speaking with authority to me, telling me there is no such thing as Authority?

And the most obvious question, Why should I even listen to you?

The question in my mind, as I listened to her lecture, was an ancient one, recorded in Psalm 11:3:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I often find myself wondering these days how the world can go on as it does, even in our modern, highly advanced Western culture with all it's technological trappings and "advanced" ideas. Everything our earthly worldview--our perception of reality--should be based upon has crumbled beneath our feet.  The foundation has been slowly eroded away by the subtle innuendos of secular humanism that tell us that everything is accidental, and therefore without lasting meaning or purpose.

In that Literary Criticism class, my university professor taught us that the old idea of a God who created everything and therefore has a right to define Truth for all of His creation is simply a social construct, foisted upon us by our overbearing patriarchal ancestors in an attempt to control us for their own evil, misogynistic purposes. Because there is no ultimate Author, no human author--no creator of anything--has authority.  He does not matter.  You have the right to extract your own personal meaning from all of art and literature.

We had some further discussions, this professor and I.  She eventually acknowledged that if her theory is correct, then even language has no meaning.  Language is a communicator of rational thought, and all rational thought is based on the necessary assumption that there is an absolute Truth. You cannot make an absolutely true statement that there is no such thing as absolute truth.  But in the end my professor showed no interest in being persuaded to give up her nihilism.  My heart ached for her.

But was she right?  Is there no foundation for anything?  Is life meaningless?

This morning I am encouraged to read in Isaiah 33, verses 5 and 6, that

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.  He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

We have a sure foundation, even in these times of ours.

The verse goes on to say, The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

May we all discover that key and so enjoy the rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

Suicide is not necessary!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

On Peace and Pleasure


You will make known to me the path of life.
In Your presence is fullness of joy.
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.  
Psalm 16:11 (NAS)

Last Sunday I came home from a week-long trip to Florida and the Bahamas.  I thank God for the good things He has created for our pleasure:

white, sandy beaches, seagulls flying, dolphins playing in the waves, good food on the cruise ship, interesting people to meet. 

So many good gifts He delights to give us. 
And so sweet that He delights in our enjoyment!

He loves to watch us enjoying things. 
He begs us to throw ourselves onto His mercy and goodness,
to abandon ourselves to joy! 
He is so good. 

But the best blessings on this trip, besides the reality of His loving presence with me as I enjoyed the sand and sea, were my two girls.  I had so much fun being with them.  I am so proud of them--the way they think and act and speak.

It wasn't all pure delight. There were some eye-rolling moments. We don't always share the same idea of what constitutes pleasure.  Adri would not let me feed the seagulls so I could get their picture flying over us.  And I nixed her suggestion that we get matching tattoos to commemorate our trip. But we love each other, and it was pure fun for me to be with both my girls. 

I loved watching them enjoy the sand and sea and food and new friends, and in that way I was enjoying what God loves to watch.  He delights in our abandonment to healthy pleasures. 

I HATE how Satan has distorted those pleasures.  We gave him permission to do that.  Our great fruit-tasting experiment destroyed our ability to enjoy.  It bound us, instead, to fear and pain and despair.  But I praise God for solving that problem through Jesus' death and resurrection! 

I LOVE being able to connect with my Creator, through Jesus, and so to have those Eden-pleasures restored to me, even in this dark, sin-cursed world. 

On the plane ride home Adri became faint and needed some care.  The cabin crew were sweet and helpful, and the emergency room nurse and his fiance--Good Samaritan passengers on the flight--were as well.  But it was eye opening to watch them minister to her.  The young woman engaged to the nurse shared the anti-anxiety medication she carries with her on airplanes.  And when I told the flight attendant that prayer was my anti-anxiety medication he said,  "That works for some people," but he carries medication for himself too.

I remember my struggle with anxiety as a young woman,
being overwhelmed with a panic I could not control,
finding it impossible to resist being afraid of invisible evils that seemed to surround me. 

But over the years God has led me so deeply into relationship with Him that I no longer need medication. 
He has shown me that there is nothing to fear. 
He has proven, over and over, that my trust in His loving care of me is justified. 
He has anchored my joy in eternity.

The struggle against fear is more intense in today's world. The threats are now global, and our amazing technology makes sticking our heads in the sand impossible. 

But the cure for that fear is the same. 
Just as real and powerful as ever. 

I pray that those sweet people we met on the plane will find the deep peace that comes from knowing God--the peace that rests deeper, and lasts longer, than the peace medication provides.

He is so good!
I love being able to rest in that reality. 
I love being able to enjoy the good gifts He surrounds me with here on earth,
I love anticipating the pleasures that will be in His right hand, forevermore!

Thank You, Lord, for making known to us the path of life.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

APPOINTMENTS WITH GOD


I discovered a slightly different translation of Amos 3:3 a few weeks ago and it has revolutionized my thinking about my times with the Lord.

The NAS (New American Standard) translation says: 
"Do two [people] walk together unless they have made an appointment?"

Wow.  I'd never thought of my quiet times with God as being meetings, or appointments.
 
Previously decided upon.
Pre-arranged.
What a concept!

Since my discovery of that translation of the verse, I've made a deliberate decision to see those times we spend together as appointments, and my perception of them has changed in ways that have blessed me.

1.  It's given my quiet time focus.  Appointments are deliberate.  They're arranged for an agreed upon time, in a specific location, with at least some idea of an agenda.  There is a reason for the meeting.  And in the meeting people interact deliberately.  They don't just sit together playing on their iPhones.  They don't take each other's presence for granted.

2.  It's also made me a little embarrassed.  I have taken His presence for granted in the past.  Though I don't bring my phone (well, not usually), my mind and heart are not always fully present.  Sometimes I'm not even thinking about the fact that GOD IS THERE.

I know.  How could I?  It's horrifying when you think about it.  I mean. . .the God OF THE UNIVERSE is IN THE ROOM!

Seeing these times as deliberate meetings has made me sit up a little straighter and even scoot the pillows away from the spot beside me on the couch so there's room for Him to sit.  (I'm embarrassed about that too, but there you have it.  It's because I'm beginning to really believe that HE IS THERE.)

3.  It's improved my manners. In the past I've often just shown up in His presence whenever I felt like it.  I've plopped down on the couch, expecting He will be there waiting for me. 

And, of course, He is.  Since God does not live in a time zone, He doesn't have a schedule to keep.  And because He's not limited by space, when I come into the room for a meeting He's already there.

Waiting patiently.
Without hurry, since He has no watch to look at.
Without judgment.  He knows I'm scatterbrained and rude and impetuous. 
He loves me anyway.

He waits while I jump up in the middle of our conversation to pour myself a cup of coffee, or to answer my phone.  (Yes, it's not so far away I can't hear it ring.)  Or because I've remembered something I need to add to my "To Do" list.

And when I'm finished talking (Oh, the shame!), I sometimes get up and leave without even saying good-bye.  Or I might glance over my shoulder as I rush out the door and say, "Are you coming?"

Lately when I do that I've noticed He's not moving.
Sometimes He beckons to me.

"Come back, my precious daughter.
The meeting's not over.
I have something else to say.
Will you sit down and listen for a minute?"

That minute is always enlightening.

4.  So I'm learning to listen.  Not always.  It's a hard habit to break, that jumping and running when I'm through talking.  But we're working on it, and this new perception I have of our times together is helping. It's making my walk with the Lord more deliberate, and I'm being blessed by that.

I checked on Bible Hub and found that translators differ in their interpretation of Amos 3:3.  As is often the case with verses of Scripture, each translation reveals a different, and equally stunning truth.  God's Word is like a multi-faceted jewel.  Click here to discover how many different slants God puts on His Truth in Amos 3:3.


And have a deliberately God-blessed day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Moment Outside Space and Time


"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world."  
Ephesians 1:14

When Dennis had his stroke, in the first ten minutes before the ambulance came, I had the strangest experience.  It seemed as if time were suspended, as if Dennis and I were alone together in the universe, with no awareness of any other place outside that spot on the bedroom floor where he had fallen, no awareness that anything existed outside our own present experience.  

I had no thoughts of the past or the future.  I was not yet grieving or even afraid.  I was suspended in shock, and obviously anxious, but not for what might be coming, only for what was happening right then.  My mind and heart were rooted in that present moment, in that present place.  

I believe in those few moments Dennis and I were existing, together, not in time, but in eternity.  We were existing in the state in which we had been chosen by God, before "time" and "space" were created--before "the foundation of the world."

The amazing Truth is that our identity, our calling, our reason for being is rooted in eternity.  That's when God chose us, when He determined that we would be born, that we would die, at a particular time, and in a specific place in history. 

In the same way, our destiny is rooted in eternity.  Jesus said, 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."  (John 14:1-3)

Jesus' statement is full of references to both place and time, but He is referring to a "place" and "time" that will be outside the realm of both.  He has prepared a place in eternity for us.  In that "place" we will exist in an eternal "moment" that will be full of a kind of bliss we can't even imagine down here.  

He's promised us that. In that "place" and at that "time,"  

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

In those few moments as I sat beside Dennis on the floor, holding him, waiting through what seemed like an eternity before the ambulance came, it was as if the veil were removed.  

All the barriers were down--all the barriers that we construct over a lifetime to protect us from the harshness of the broken world we are all born into--the barriers that separate us from each other--the barriers that separate us from our Creator and from heaven.

They were all gone.  

In that moment, Dennis and I existed, together, in the "place" and at the "time" when we had been chosen by God.  It was a moment of eternity, and, though it was an unbelievably anxious time, there was a sense of awe about it.  

Dennis stayed in that moment.  
I will be there one day as well.  

Joy will come to stay in that morning moment.  

A great hope!




Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On A Dark, Winter's Night

So, I'm going to break this writer's block stage I've been going through for over a year now--this dark winter's night of the soul.  I'll do it by posting, with determined consternation, my devotional thoughts--here, where God and everybody can see them.  At least I'll try this.  We'll see if it breaks the dam.

Today I've been reading Romans 8 in The Message.  This passage speaks to a problem I often have with boredom and listlessness, both precursors to despondency and depression, helplessness and stagnation.  (ie: writer's block)  The solution to this problem is both obvious and easy.  Why do I keep forgetting?

Romans 8 says,

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.  Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them--living and breathing God!

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.  And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.  Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about.  But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells--even though you still experience all the limitations of sin--you yourself experience life on God's terms.

The emphasis in the above is mine.  It's all about "where you put your eyes."  

Stagnant: Looking inward.  

Fresh and alive: Looking outward and upward.  

Looking at Jesus.  
Seeing Him in the beautiful world around me. 
Seeing Him in the beautiful people around me.
Seeing Him in his Word.  

That's all it takes to break the despondency cycle.  
Deep breath.  Refreshed.
Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Peace
















Peace is the sense that everything is as it should be.

It's the deep conviction that a wise plan is unfolding,
            step by step, moment by moment,
                        in time and in tune with the heartbeat
                                       of the Creator.

It's found in the eye of the storm,
            where stillness enfolds us in loving arms
                        even as we watch the world spin wildly 
                                       out of control around us. 

It's the peace Jesus had when he stood in Pilate's courtyard;
            the peace the martyrs had facing lions in the coliseum;
                        the peace today's believers have facing the swords
                                       of crazed assassins. 

It's a peace available to all of us who acknowledge our helplessness,
            who collapse under the weight of our own sinfulness
                        and choose to embrace God's offer
                                       of forgiveness.
                                   
It's the peace that comes with an unshakable faith in the reality that,
            because of God's loving provision of salvation through Jesus,
                        eternal joy will come for us 
                                      "in the morning."

Don't worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7  (J.B. Phillips translation)



Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Bible: The Most Misunderstood Book on the Planet


Well, yes.  That's a hard title to defend. 

I have no evidence that the Bible is the most misunderstood book on the planet.  Many other books, particularly religious ones like the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, are probably misunderstood as well. 

Religious books are prone to be misunderstood for two reasons. 

First, they are complex.  Like jigsaw puzzles, you can put together pieces of them in small sections, but the sections don't make sense until the whole puzzle is completed.  

But the second reason religious books are misunderstood is, I believe, more common.  These books are usually misunderstood because most people don't bother to read them.  And that's surprising to me, especially when you consider that at least one of those books is so amazing.

The Bible is amazing! 

It's been the world's best selling book every year since the invention of the printing press, and for good reason.  This book has had a bigger impact on cultures all over the world than any other one book.  That's a statement that's easy to defend.

If the Bible is the world's best seller, you'd think it would also be the best-read book on the planet.  And it just might be.  As of 2014, the whole Bible has been translated into 531 languages, with parts of it translated into 2883 languages.

But because the Bible has had such a pervasive cultural influence, especially on the development of our Western worldview, the actual words of the book have become lost in the milieu, and most people in the developed world who subconsciously embrace that worldview are biblically illiterate. 

I think it would be easy to defend the statement that after 20 centuries, the average citizen of any nation whose development has been significantly impacted by the Bible now has only a vague idea of what the book actually says.

What the average citizen "knows" about the Bible is now founded on second-hand opinions and rumors built up over the years since the time when first-hand knowledge of the Bible was considered an essential part of a responsible citizen's education.

I think this is a shame.  I love the Bible.  I love the actual, authentically translated words of it.  I love the amazing stories in it, both historical and mythical. 

I've just come, this morning, from an exhilarating read in I Kings, part of the chronicles of the history of the nation of Israel, and I've been struck by how applicable the theology of that history is to our current political situation.

The stories make no statements about the particulars of the presidential race in the United States.  They do not offer any solutions to our political problems today.  (I believe those solutions are found in other sections of the jigsaw puzzle!)  But this historical account of things that happened in the politics of Israel 2500 years ago sheds light on government in general. 

It's not a pretty picture.  The politics of Israel as recorded in the Bible seems to illustrate the apparent universal inability of human beings to rule themselves successfully.  But if you're tired of all the rhetoric about American politics--if you'd like to step back from it all and get a bigger picture of the whole situation from the perspective of human history as a whole, I highly recommend a careful study of the past as recorded in the book of I Kings. 

I read chapters 17 through 20 this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it.