Nuggets: Cut Off Your Hand

In the span of 24 hours, three women I love deeply told me of their partner’s unfaithfulness. And it all began in their right hands.

That stupid phone.

That little gadget puts more power beneath our thumbs than between our ears. And more danger at our finger tips than in any previous generation.

All three women discovered that their husbands (one is a boyfriend) are having ongoing conversations with other women. Simple texts morphed quickly into rendezvous, emotional attachments and physical relationships.

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

I’ve always thought Matthew 5:30 seemed a little odd. At least Jesus was using hyperbole, right? I still don’t think Jesus intends for us to literally chop off our hands, but it’s more obvious to me now how segmented we pretend sin is.

It’s almost as if when sin starts (and stays for a while) in just our hands, and not yet in our hearts or the rest of our bodies, we excuse it: “It’s just a text right?”

It’s as if we think when sin is so simple, so easy it must not be as bad, right?

Jesus doesn’t think so. My loved ones know it isn’t so. Sin hurts, destroys, kills. And it can start in the palm of your hand.

 

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It is Well With My Soul, A Hymn to Live By

It is Well With My Soul

Do you know the song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart … ”? Kind of makes you feel like smiling, right?

We often sing because we’re happy. Psalm 100:1 tells us, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” Singing is one of the primary ways we worship God. When we’re happy we just feel like singing!

But have you ever not felt like singing? When we’re sad, hurt or angry, it can be really hard to “make a joyful noise”. There’s a story in the Bible about Paul and his friend Silas in prison. That’s obviously not a very happy place, and I doubt they felt like singing. All the same, Acts 16 says they began to sing out loud in their jail cells. Guess what? God did a miracle, broke their chains, set them free and even gave them an opportunity to tell the jailer about Jesus!

Horatio Spafford was the author of a well-known hymn. His life is an example of finding hope and peace in Jesus even when everything is going wrong—he even found the courage to sing.

Mr. Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago in the late 1800’s. He and his wife had four children. But their only son died of scarlet fever at the age of four. The very next year, a terrible fire in Chicago destroyed many of Mr. Spafford’s investments. Then, only two years later, the Spafford family planned a holiday to England where they hoped to hear one of Mr. Spafford’s friends preach. A business issue arose last minute, so Mr. Spafford sent his wife and three daughters ahead, planning to join them later.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel. Two-hundred and twenty-six people died, including all three of the Spafford’s daughters. Only Horatio’s wife, Anna, was saved. As soon as she could, she sent a message to her husband that simply said, “Saved alone.”

Horatio Spafford left for England to join his wife. As his own ship passed over the area where his daughters had lost their lives, his heart must have ached. I wonder if he thought of Paul and Silas in prison. I wonder if he struggled to find words to pray. With great sadness, he pulled out a pen and wrote the words to a hymn we still sing today, “It is Well With My Soul”.

Sometimes, it’s really hard to believe that God is good. Sometimes we simply don’t feel like praising God. How do you think Horatio Spafford or Paul and Silas found the courage to sing praises even when they were suffering?

Psalm 117:1-2 says, “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (emphasis added)

These men could sing because they understood that even when we hurt and things don’t make sense, God is trustworthy and He will always love us. Because of that, He is worthy of praise.

The next time you’re sad, and singing is the last thing you want to do, try singing Mr. Spafford’s hymn. It will remind you that no matter what, when you trust in Jesus, it is well with your soul.

Check out this article by my friend, Billie Jo, about praying for others in the midst of pain and when it feels like God isn’t listening.

When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

Growing Wonderfully

acorn-nature-1432983-mGrowing up in rural Oklahoma, the ground was always slathered with acorns like thick butter on toasted, summer soil. Not so appetizing, most of them were infested with tiny, gray worms, but nonetheless, they provided hours of entertainment. My sisters and I collected them, drew faces on them, smashed them and, yes, even tasted one or two. However, we enjoyed the final, mature state of the acorns even more.

The monstrous oaks that ringed our acreage served many purposes. They were for climbing, hanging our homemade bird feeders, swinging in our hammock and resting under. They were home-base for tense games of freeze tag or hide-n-seek.

When I was young, it didn’t much amaze me, or really even occur to me that each mighty oak had once been a tiny acorn. It wasn’t until high school biology that I marveled at the seed’s transformation.

Easter just passed this year. In the weeks before it, I found myself pouring over 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter that encapsulates the entire Gospel message in 58 verses. Easter obviously calls to mind Christ’s body—his death and the resurrection of His physical body. But what tugged at my mind most, was Paul’s consideration of what we will look like after death. And like many other other Biblical analogies, he uses nature—specifically seeds—to do so.

1 Corinthians 15:35-44
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Wondering about your body after death? Paul asks. Think of a seed.

My mind tripped back to those acorns. Mature oak trees bear little resemblance to their seed, the unassuming acorn. When an acorn falls into the ground, it is covered by dirt, baked by the sun and showered with hundreds of seasonal storms. Finally, when the Creator deems the right moment, a sapling cracks earth’s crust and reaches gangly arms toward the sunlight. The acorn takes on its final form, the body for which it was created, the shape for which it was always intended.

In the same way, Paul says, our earthly bodies will die. Most of us will experience much the same thing as an acorn—burial, the seasonal elements. And, like the mature oak tree, our Creator will give to us our final form—the full, glorious, splendid body that was always intended for us. This is the form, the spiritual body in which we will live forever in the presence of the One whose image we bear.

Can you see it? We will not lose ourselves or our essence any more than an oak tree forsakes its origin in the acorn. The tree is what an acorn was always intended to be; it really had no purpose (save entertaining children) than to one day become an oak! So too, you and I will become more fully ourselves, more complete, more useful and purpose-filled than we have ever been before.

The death of these earthly bodies is not so much a loss, as a metamorphosis. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a limitless Creator who intends all good things for us. He cannot wait to see the full blossom of your wonderful maturity, the donning of your spiritual body. Then, we will never know fatigue, but sing incessant praises to The One who made us wonderfully.

This was first published on the Wonderfully Made Blog. I encourage you to visit their site and be encouraged!

Cause of Christ

I am contemplating causes.

Those things which clamor for commitment,

Constrain us to sacrifice for their worthiness.

 

Cancer has drafted the voices of millions.

Nearly everyone has a someone who has tasted of its dregs

And come up, if fortunate enough, forever changed by the bitterness of the disease.

It is broadcast from billboards and bumpers and tattooed on bodies.

It is touted from television and telethons.

It has been walked-for and Made-a-Wish for.

And millions declare this cause their anthem.

 

Cancer is a cause because it alters all that’s as it should be.

And we hate it for that.

Cancer is not greeting the sunrise with a steady stomach and

firm constitution.

Cancer is not combing swishy ponytails,

Not relishing long walks,

Not having a voice or controlling the bladder.

Cancer is not having conviction of tomorrow,

Not nursing a newborn.

Cancer is not caressing the smooth flesh of a lover’s breast.

Cancer is not life as it should be.

 

Causes are taken up for holiness of all that’s as it should be.

Causes are the human call for restoration of right.

Causes ought to be Christ.

 

How can I call Christ a cause?

How can He be all that should be, if He isn’t all that is?

How can I take up a cause for the establishment of

something that is not yet,

And how can I be sure that Christ, the consummation of that which is not seen

Is really as it should be?

 

Christ contains all that we do know as it should be

And scatters it through a kaleidoscope.

He takes all that really is, refracting and reflecting ordinary

Through the lens of Himself and like cancer

Creates what is not.

But unlike cancer, Christ creates

All that is bigger, radiant and full of glory.

 

In our world, Christ is a cause because

He makes martyrs who do not slay themselves.

He is the Book which has not settled in grooves

On dusty shelves.

After centuries, Jesus is not irrelevant

As is normal for all names attached to dust-men.

His years were pocked with things not as they should be,

Things which are not now –

Blind men seeing, dead men walking, un-hands reaching.

He is things not as are in the confines of human intellect –

Fishermen teaching, murderers weeping then preaching.

He is redwoods from seeds no larger than a cherry,

Wings from a sticky chrysalis.

He is hearts that beat insatiably through decades and disasters.

 

Christian!

Where is your voice for the Cause?

Where is your anthem for Christ?

 

For His cause, His utterly other worldly cause

Consumes death,

Unlike all things as they seem – confined by years.

Christian, your Cause consumes all others.

Your Cause constrains you to declare it

Not only on bumpers and billboards, or bodies

Not only on television, telethons

Walks and wishes,

 

But in action and deed,

In expression and smile.

In small hand and sweaty backs,

In silence and solidarity.

In doing all things unlike as they are,

But all things, as they should be

As the Christ, whose Cause you carry.

 

(This poem is in no way intended to minimize the valiant efforts of all who have taken up a cure for cancer as their personal cause. It is only meant to draw attention to the fact that as a whole, we make a greater deal about something that steals lives than about the One God who promises eternal life.)

A Prayer for Syria

lovesyria_330

Abba,

We come to you in acknowledgment of, and deeply happy for your sovereignty. How frightening this world would be, our individual lives, if we were not fully persuaded of your mercy, everlasting loving kindness and unsurpassed power.

Oh Lord, we highly honor you; we praise your name. You have done miraculous things. You have been completely reliable in carrying out your plans from long ago.

Even from the threshold of your throne room, Father, I plead for those who do not yet know of your goodness, who are not familiar with your face. For those who are reading this, whose hearts are whispering prayers to an unknown god, I ask you to reveal yourself. Open their eyes to the complexity of your character, so that they can find rest and quietness for their souls, even as our world swirls with chaos.

You have turned cities into ruins, fortified cities into piles of rubble, and foreigners’ palaces into cities that will never be rebuilt That is why strong people will honor you, and cities ruled by the world’s tyrants fear you. 

Lord, I pray your word over those in Syria and throughout the world, who hope to wake each morning and who tuck their children in at night, praying at least for painless death. I ask you to comfort them because we know that there is no god besides you, there is no leader or world power that can stand against you.

You silence the song of tyrants, like heat that is reduced by the shadow of a cloud. 

Father, we confess that death scares us. Death looms low over our soldiers and over even the defenseless women and children of Syria. But death is no match for you.

You will swallow up death forever. The Almighty Lord will wipe away tears from every face, and he will remove the disgrace of His people from the whole earth. 

We will say loudly, with confidence and trust, “This is our God; we have waited for Him, and now He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him. Let us rejoice and be glad because He will save us.”

Lord for centuries, nations have desired peace and found it elusive. We have built armies and written treaties. We have stashed weapons and called for truces. We have held peace talks and lied to the faces of our friends. Lord, we confess that we cannot manufacture peace. But…

You will establish peace for us, since you have done everything for us. O Lord, our God,  we have allowed other idols to rule over us, but today we acknowledge You Alone. 

We pray in the sovereign name of The Prince of Peace, Jesus, Amen

Insights from a Demon

In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, I almost hesitate to write this post. But maybe it’s more appropriate than ever to question, “What is evil?”

They [humans] of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda. Uncle Screwtape from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

What causes us to revile death is the foreboding of the unknown. Let us rejoice that in Christ, even death is no mystery!

“For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Cor. 15:56-57

Another quick thought from Uncle Screwtape addresses something I hope dig into deeper later this year. This is the presence of beauty, the distinct fragrance of God’s love for us and His goodness toward all mankind, even in the most secular.

Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry-the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon-are always blowing our whole structure away. They will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to the earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not. Real worldliness is a work of time-assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience.

“Let us set our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him…” Heb. 12:2

God has dripped Heaven into our atmosphere. Even on the ugliest of our days, the sun still stretches its fingers over the horizon. Even in the face of our enemy, is the astounding creativity of our Perfect Creator. Yes, Heaven is not far from us. But, let us not be willing to stay here forever either. The greatest JOY will be seeing Jesus face to face.

(Screwtape is the demon in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters. The book is a collection of Screwtape’s advisory letters to his nephew, a young tempter.)

Broken, The Healer and Me

She had a hole in her heart and an ugly gash on her leg. I watched her writhe in pain for a few minutes, too stunned by what she had done to herself to respond. But she laughed, at least she tried to. I was revolted. It was her own fault she was in this mess. If she’d only followed the rules, she wouldn’t have gotten hurt.

Broken’s maniacal humor came out in coughing gasps, she was nearing death.

“I’m fine!” She screamed at me. “I’m fine, I’m happy and I don’t need you to tell me what’s wrong with me.”

But then her heart whimpered, barely discernible above the boisterous, the callous facade.

“I’m Broken,” Heart sobbed. “So broken and tired and I’m dying here. Can’t you see? Do something, please.”

I did see. Crusty blood had formed around the wound in chest. It was bleeding less than her leg, less obvious as she glared at me. But that leg. It was disgusting. I could barely lift my eyes to see it. Her thigh festered and oozed, flies were attracted. It made me sick.

“Please, please help me. I’m dying,” Heart continued to plead, her voice weakening with every effort. “Can you take me to the Healer?”

“I can’t focus to help you with that ugly leg wound in the way,” I replied. “You’ll have to fix that first, then perhaps I can carry you to the Healer. You know, if you’d just followed the rules you wouldn’t be here.” I tore a page from my manual of rules. “Let me help you cover that first, clean you up a bit, then perhaps the Healer will see you. As it is, you’ll make Him sick.”

Broken screamed again, “I don’t want your rules!”

“But they’re good for you,” I tried to argue. “Besides, this way you’ll be presentable to the Healer.”

“Step back.” A voice so calm, so forceful, so real, it shook the ground. Light blazed around us, so tangible that the manual in my hands began to smolder.

“Your rules will do no good here. Broken will die while you fuss over a bleeding peripheral wound. Why have you not brought her to me by now?”

“But Healer, Lord,” I tried to explain. “I was going to bring her! I just wanted to help her clean up a bit first.”

“Child,” the Healer spoke to me though His back was turned as He knelt over Broken. “If I am sufficient to heal her heart, save her life, don’t you think I can handle her leg as well?”

 

Recently, the issues of morality and Biblical standards were brought to the forefront in my tiny little picture frame of the world. I believe that I have a Biblical worldview, and I stand firmly behind the inherency of the Word of God. That said, this short parable was my own wondering in prayer and listening to God about when and how to use my worldview and Godly principles to introduce people to the Savior.
Perhaps there are bigger, more deadly wounds that only Jesus can heal. And I can rest assured, that when He has healed their heart, He will heal all the rest of them as well.

Strength in solitude

We all know the Bible verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” And most of us are honest enough to admit that stillness doesn’t describe our daily lives. And most of us will also willingly admit that we crave a little more peace in our lives, in our homes, in our jobs, in our world. And lastly, we’ll admit that we’re kind of afraid of stillness and peace. Won’t that be lonely?

I’m not here to chide you, or to offer a solution. But I want you to think about something with me.

Remember David and Goliath? The tiny, boy shepherd challenged a seasoned warrior. With a mere sling, he hurled a stone which sank deep and deadly into the giant’s forehead.

Where did David get that courage? Where did David find the inner peace with potential death and failure? What made David so sure that he heard God right?

I mean seriously, if I thought God told me to charge into battle against a giant twice my height, who had already intimidated my country’s entire army, I might think I was crazy.

But David was a shepherd. His life, to that date, had been spent in solitude. On quiet hillsides, with only curly headed lambs to talk to, David lead a simple, introverted life.

I wonder, is that where David got his strength?

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

David’s courage didn’t come from memories of valiant battles or brilliant strategy. His gumption didn’t come from the witness of others, telling him, “You can do it!” David’s determination came from personal memories of God’s faithfulness and a settled relationship with a good, gracious God.

I believe David soaked up God’s company while he sat, perhaps a little lonely on those Judaean hills. It was also the sweet psalmist of Israel who said, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Sink your teeth into those quite, lonely moments. They will furnish you with peace and confidence.

Here is a wonderful exhortation to experience peace: Haven Journal