Measuring up

img_0026Several weeks ago my daughter, Mary, found her not-quite-three-year-old daughter, Emma, peering intently into a mirror. Curious as to the cause of her staring, Mary asked what she was looking at. Stoically, Emma replied she had no eyebrows. It was one of those moments when Mary most likely had to fight to control any laughter that threatened to erupt. After all, Emma was quite serious. Her light-blond brows are barely discernible and that, she realized, set her apart from the rest of her darker-browed family members.

img_0478Little more than a week had passed since Mary’s recounting of the eyebrow incident, when Emma approached me, tape measure in hand, and asked if I would measure her. I obliged, measuring around her tummy, a place or two on her legs, and both little arms. I knew her request was inspired by wanting to be like Mommy, her very favorite person. You see, Mary uses that same pink tape measure to periodically assess her progress since starting a strengthening and conditioning program last fall.

The occurrence of these two incidents in such proximity to one another impressed upon me, yet again, that much of what our children (and grandchildren) learn from us is caught rather than taught. And, ever-observant, they easily detect discrepancies between what we say and what we do. Consistency between verbal and behavioral lessons is crucial. But, when such consistency is lacking, our deeds supersede our admonitions as the old adage, “actions speak louder than words”, attests.

Most of us truly want to be good examples, to live lives of integrity. Yet, in spite of our best intentions, we frequently struggle to do what we know is right, what we yearn to do. The Apostle Paul described this tension between giving into the flesh and obeying the Spirit in his letter to the Romans (Romans 7:15) and to the Galatians. (Galatians 5:17) In fact, he described himself as the chief of sinners not withstanding all he did and sacrificed for the early church. Instead, he focused on the great grace that had been shown him by the only perfect One. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Oh that we would do likewise. Instead we too often compare ourselves to our fellow sinners, thinking, “I’m not that bad.” (Luke 18:9-14) But the thoughts and behavior of our fellow sinners are not our standard. Jesus’ perfect righteousness and sinless life are. We are to be holy as He is Holy. (Leviticus 11:45; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:14-16) Furthermore, Jesus made it clear that keeping the Law begins in our hearts and encompasses more than our actions:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

The longer we walk with Jesus and the closer we get to Him, the more easily we recognize our flaws and failings. There are times when a thought pops into my mind, uncensored, appalling. I’m shocked and saddened at the darkness that still dwells in me. Yet I know my dismay is evidence my heart of stone was replaced with a heart of flesh that desires to obey God. (Ezekiel 36:26-27) It also reminds me that the One who began a good work in me is faithfully transforming me into the image of his Son and will finish what He started. (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18)

I long to be a good role model for my children and grandchildren, someone worthy of emulation. But, even more, I want to point them to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2); the Servant Leader who set us an example in all things (John 13:14-15); the One who died that we might be clothed in His perfect righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21) He alone is our flawless standard.

O Lord, please help us to remember that all we have and are is a gift from you, leaving no room for boasting or comparing. (Romans 12:3; 2 Corinthians 10:17-18; Ephesians 2:8-9) And may we grow to resemble our elder Brother more and more, by the power of your Spirit at work within us.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Royalty – epilogue

We try to deny it, but we all know it’s true – our technology spies on us, keeps track of our whereabouts and catalogs our interests. Why else would I suddenly start receiving ads in my newsfeed for the exact products I’d been shopping online for moments before? Or, the example that unnerves me the most, get unsolicited information regarding how long it would take to get to my daughter’s house on the day of the week and around the time I usually head her way?

So, it shouldn’t have surprised me when headlines pertaining to an alleged feud between Kate and Meghan (Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Sussex respectively) kept popping up whenever I used Google this past month. After all, I’ve searched for royal updates a time or two or several in the past. However, I was immersed in holiday-related activities and didn’t take time to read the articles associated with the recent headlines. Nonetheless, they fueled a growing sense of angst, as each reminded me that “Royalty” (see Archives, September 2018) was scheduled to appear on our denomination’s enCourage website this month. Would the purported bickering between the royal sisters-in-law negate the premises of my post?

IMG_6265Now that I’ve finally resurfaced, I’ve skimmed some of the articles and reviewed “Royalty” in light of them. Fortunately, the analogy in my previous post remains pertinent. In fact, coverage of the duchesses’ squabbles amplified one of my key points: people are always watching, evaluating, commenting. Sadly, some prefer drama over harmony. Some may even be looking for a reason to criticize or reject.

Such was the case with Jesus. The religious leaders were constantly trying to catch Him in compromising situations or bait Him into contradicting Himself, all to no avail.[1] Likewise, there are those who would like to see His followers fail. They’re ever-vigilant for unbecoming behavior or attitudes so they can discount our perfect Savior along with us, His not-so-perfect followers. It’s important to be concerned about our personal reputations, but even more so to walk worthy of our calling and thereby honor the reputation of the One whose Name we bear. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Interestingly, the supposed feud was brought to an end by Queen Elizabeth who’d reportedly “had enough” of the arguing and its attendant negative press. We’ll never know how much the media embellished the situation to make it appear more dire. And so it is with disagreements between ordinary folk – only those directly involved (and God) know all the details and, even then, they may well perceive the situation differently. After all, each of us is a unique bundle of opinions, strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, we’ll continue to struggle with sin until we’re called Home. (Romans 7:15-20) But God has given His children clear instructions on how to relate to each other:

  • (Jesus said), “A new command I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
  • So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
  • Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)
  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)
  • Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:9-18)

Misunderstandings and disagreements are an inevitable part of life. Nonetheless, when conflicts arise, we are to deal with them in a way that honors God. We are called to act and think differently, to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ so that the family resemblance is unmistakable. (Romans 8:29; Romans 12:2)

Lord, please help us to live and love in such a way that those watching will take note (Acts 4:13) and inquire about the difference. May we always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us, gently and with respect, remembering that it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be Your will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:15-17)

 

[1] See, for example, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 14:1-6 (healing on the Sabbath); Matthew 9:2-7 (forgiving sins); Matthew 12:1-8 (Lord of the Sabbath); Matthew 26:59-60 (false witnesses)

Thanks, Mom!

Her children rise up and call her blessed.
Proverbs 31:28a

Ok, you probably think I’ve gotten my holidays mixed up. No, I know it’s not Mother’s Day. But it is the season of Thanksgiving and today is my dear mom’s 87th birthday. Thus, I want to thank God for the blessing of a godly mother as well as celebrate this very special woman by documenting some of the nuggets of wisdom she’s shared with me for as long as I can remember.

People will let you down, but God never will. Mom and I have been through numerous trials together in the nearly-60 years since she gave birth to me. Lies, disappointments, job loss, broken relationships, deaths. Through it all, Mom has taught me to depend on the One who says He’ll never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6); who faithfully keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23) and speaks only truth. (Hebrews 6:18) We will have troubles in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world. We can find peace in Him. (John 16:33)

When faced with a list of tasks, do whatever’s bothering you the most first and get it behind you. When I feel overwhelmed, which is more often than I like to admit, Mom encourages me with this time-tested advice bestowed upon her by one of her grade-school teachers. Though it may not have been inspired by scripture originally, there’s certainly a Biblical tie-in. Usually when my to-do list becomes over-loaded, it’s filled with chores associated with temporal concerns. Cooking, cleaning, weeding, mulching, paying bills and the like are necessary. But Jesus makes it clear we’re to seek eternal things first, trusting Him to provide all we need (Matthew 6:25-33) and spending time at His feet to learn of Him. (Luke 10:38-42)

We can’t change anyone else, much as we’d like to sometimes. We can only give an account of ourselves. My reply when Mom tells me this? “You’re right. I have a hard enough time keeping myself in line!” Once again, there’s Biblical truth in Mom’s statement. As part of His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against judging others, especially since we have sin in our own lives to deal with. (Matthew 7:1-5) Praise God for giving us His Spirit, which is at work in us to bring about the transformation we’re incapable of accomplishing on our own. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18) Furthermore, we’re called to pray for others, but only He can soften hardened hearts. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

We can’t give up. We’ve got to hold on to our faith and keep going. Throughout her life, Mom’s faced challenges that may have led some to quit or become bitter. In the last decade alone, she:

  • shattered the bones in her right shoulder, an injury that required surgery to install a plate and multiple screws and left her with limited range of motion in that arm.
  • suffered a heart attack that led to the discovery of three severely-blocked arteries resulting in emergency open-heart surgery.
  • fractured a vertebra in her back and had a procedure known as kyphoplasty to repair it.

Mom endures daily pain due to the ravages of arthritis that have led to enlarged joints in her fingers and cartilage deterioration in her now-bone-on-bone right knee. Yet she rarely mentions her constant aches. Instead, she clings to God’s mercies which are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24) and encourages those in her inner circle to do the same. Though she’s never declared a favorite verse, I expect Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, would be a front-runner.

That’s a Gulf song. Granted, this statement isn’t advice, but I include it because it alludes to my heritage of faith. Mom grew up in the tiny town of Gulf, NC, where she attended a small Presbyterian church established in the 1800’s. When the strains of a familiar hymn from her childhood begin to play at our current church, Mom’s face brightens and one of us will usually lean toward the other and whisper, “That’s a Gulf song.” I don’t know how many generations my heritage of faith encompasses, but I know there are at least two behind me and two in front. I pray that legacy of faith will be passed continually from generation to generation until Christ returns. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

IMG_4723Though petite in stature, Mom’s my biggest cheerleader and most dependable defender. We all need someone who’s unconditionally, unreservedly in our corner. I’m so thankful Mom’s in mine. She’s my rock because she consistently points me to the Rock and reminds me His everlasting arms are securely holding all who belong to Him in an eternal embrace. (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a) O LORD, please help me to do the same for my precious children and grandchildren. Thank You for the priceless blessing of a godly mother!

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Becoming fluent

The church I attend recently began a small-group discipleship ministry for our women. As part of getting to know each other better, the leader of my group asked us to share a little-known fact about ourselves. I decided to tell the group about living in Argentina in the early-1970’s. The usual questions regarding life in a foreign country followed, accompanied by my well-practiced answers. Being so far away from family and friends at a time when communication was limited to snail mail was decidedly difficult, but the opportunity to experience a different culture and learn a second language was priceless.

Our 2-year stay abroad resulted from my dad accepting a temporary transfer to work for the Argentine subsidiary of his U.S. employer. Thus, part of the pre-move preparations involved my parents’ 2-week, company-paid attendance at a local Berlitz total-immersion language school. It was a stressful, morning-to-night grind, no English allowed.

Unlike my beleaguered parents, I began my language studies once we landed in Argentina. I was enrolled in an American school where I had classes in English in the morning and classes in Spanish in the afternoon. That, plus daily interaction with native speakers in our community, provided an excellent learning environment. Nonetheless, my parents hired a tutor to help me with the intricacies of sentence structure and verb tenses.

IMG_6898Just as I benefitted greatly from learning Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, Christians thrive best when we’re part of God’s visible church. Scripture is clear that each of us has an important, God-ordained place in His body (1Corinthians 12:12-30) and that we should not neglect meeting together. (Hebrews 10:24-25) Furthermore, God’s family is composed of members of varying ages, abilities and spiritual maturities, just like biological families. We are called to do life together in compassionate covenant communities, where we rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and come alongside each other to teach, support and encourage according to the gifts we’ve been given. (Romans 12:3-21)

In addition, we have a responsibility to tell the younger generations of the mighty deeds of the Lord and to instruct them in His ways. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Psalm 145:10-13) Likewise, the Apostle Paul’s directions to Titus are clear regarding the role older women are to play in tutoring the younger women, teaching them the finer points of Biblical womanhood through both word and action. (Titus 2:3-5)

I don’t remember how long it took, but one day, to my amazement, I realized I could speak and respond in Spanish without a conscious translation step. The second language had become second-nature.

And so it is with our spiritual transformation. Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on our behalf, we’re no longer slaves to sin. Instead, we’ve become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6) Through the Spirit’s power at work within us, we’re able to discern what is right and true, something we could never do when we were dead in our trespasses. Furthermore, as our sanctification progresses, Christ’s light shines ever-brighter in us and we produce spiritual fruit. (Matthew 5:14-15; Galatians 5:22-23) More and more, our renewed nature becomes second-nature as we seek to please God and abide in Him. (John 15:5)

Nonetheless, aspects of our old selves will persist until God calls us Home, as Paul so eloquently describes in his letter to the Romans. (Romans 7:15-20) And so we press on to become fluent in God’s ways, by studying His Word, praying and joining with fellow believers to worship Him and stir one another to love and good works.

Even now, over four decades later and without daily use, I’m apt to spontaneously sprinkle Spanish sentences into conversations with my grandchildren. They’ve become used to these linguistic detours and know an immediate translation-repetition-translation mini-lesson is sure to follow. Yes, I can speak Spanish, though far from flawlessly – I still can’t roll my Rs and I mix up verb tenses – but I enjoy the language and sharing it with my grandchildren.

How much more I savor sharing our Savior with them. I’m far from perfect when it comes to fluency in my Christian walk as well. But I pray I’ll always be faithful to spontaneously sprinkle His ways and words into our conversations as I point them to the only perfect One who loves them even more than I do and encourage them to take their places in His family. May His nature become increasingly second-nature for us all.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

Exfoliation

Throughout most of the years I worked for a large corporation, I held the role of colorist. As such, I developed, named and presented new carpet color options to our customers. After all the time spent honing my skills at work, I was thrilled when given the chance to choose all the interior and exterior colors as our home was being built in Georgia.

My late husband’s specialty was horticulture, a no-less creative endeavor. Little did I know how challenging I’d made his plant selection assignment when I picked a terra cotta color scheme for the bricks and shutters, especially when it came to picking the must-have southern plant on our list – a crape myrtle.

Nonetheless, being a skilled horticulturalist, Ray made an excellent choice. Unlike other cultivars whose pink or purple flowers would have offended my color sensibilities as they clashed with our cinnamon-colored exterior, the creamy-white blossoms of the now-stately Natchez create a harmoniously-floriferous cascade each summer. But the brilliance of Ray’s choice is most apparent in the fall. For it is then that the annual process of exfoliation occurs.

IMG_6558As summer wanes, cracks begin to appear in the bark along the mighty trunk, signaling the coming changes. Soon, the cracks turn into fissures as the old skin lifts away from the tree, before finally letting go completely, falling to the ground in long, jagged shards. To the uninitiated observer, this series of events may be unsettling. How could such a shedding of bark possibly be good for the plant? Yet that very act allows the trunk to increase its girth and grow stronger. Best of all, it reveals the most magnificent cinnamon-colored covering. Ray saw the potential in the sapling he planted so long ago. He knew what it could become.

There are several concepts that I consider to be spiritual touchstones. One such idea is that of putting off and putting on. In His analogy of an unclean spirit leaving a man only to return to its neat but empty former abode, Jesus made it clear it’s not enough to make a show of getting rid of sinful thoughts and behavior. (Matthew 12:43-45) Instead, our repentance must be true, the kind that produces fruit in keeping with our profession of faith, as we put on right-thinking and conduct pleasing to God.

The Apostle Paul affirms this teaching in his letter to the Romans, where he encourages his readers not to conform to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. (Romans 12:2) And in his letter to the Ephesians, he goes even further. After admonishing them to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24), Paul goes on to provide specific examples of behavior to put off as well as corresponding replacements:

  • Put away falsehood and speak truth. (vs. 25)
  • Let the thief no longer steal, but perform honest labor. (vs. 28)
  • Do not use unwholesome language, but that which benefits and builds up those who listen. (vs.29)
  • Put away all bitterness, wrath, anger and every form of malice. Be kind to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. (vs. 31-32)

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, God already sees His righteousness when He looks at us (2 Corinthians 5:21), but there is much refining left to be done. We are not yet holy as He is Holy, nor will our makeover be complete until He returns. Nonetheless, the Spirit is at work in us, transforming us with the same mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead. (Ephesians 1:18-20)

At times our refinement is painful, as bits of our old nature are stripped away. Our Savior suffered much. (Isaiah 53:3-6) How better to know Him than to endure loss, sorrow, and persecution as He did? (Romans 8:17) Such challenges may cause outside observers or even believers themselves to question God’s methods, but we can trust the One who made us to have a good and perfect plan and to work all things together for good. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28)

Yes, just as Ray knew what the crape myrtle could become, given sufficient time and proper care, God knows who He created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10) Furthermore, He’s promised to complete the work He’s begun in us (Ephesians 1:6) and to never leave or forsake us at any point in the process. (Deuteronomy 31:8) The Helper will be with us to remind us of His promises, to empower us to do His will and to persevere to the end. (John 14:16-17, 26) On that glorious day, our transformation will be complete and all vestiges of our former selves will be gone. We will gather around the throne, our new selves robed in white, to forever praise our Redeemer King. (Revelation 7:9-17)

You have not

I enjoy volunteering at a small botanical garden near my home. Occasionally, volunteers are treated to horticulture-related field trips in appreciation for our service. Most of these excursions occur on Mondays since the garden is closed that day. Unfortunately, this timing coincides with Grammie Mondays – what my grandchildren have come to call one of the two days a week I stay with them while my daughter, Mary, goes into her employer’s office to work.

Mary’s been extra-busy the past few weeks, covering her usual assignments, getting three little ones back to school. and picking up some of a co-worker’s responsibilities while she’s on maternity leave. Thus, when I received an e-mail invitation to a behind-the-scenes, Monday tour of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, I didn’t even ask Mary if she could spare me for a few hours. Instead, I showed up for Grammie duty as usual, not begrudgingly, but still somewhat disappointed not to be with my fellow volunteers, oohing and aahing over floral displays and beautifully-landscaped vistas.

When I arrived, Mary told me she was planning to work from home so she could take 2-year-old Emma to an afternoon doctor’s appointment. Wow! I should have asked!! Not that having an extra adult around isn’t always helpful, but I could have gone to ABG and returned to pick 4-year-old Lyla up from pre-school and still been back to Mary’s in plenty of time to stay with Lyla and 7-year-old Joshua while Mary took Emma to get her immunizations.

But I didn’t ask. I assumed. And because I didn’t want to bother Mary or add to her stress, I made the decision unilaterally. However, by not asking, I also didn’t give her a chance to answer, to say yes, to bless me by giving me the opportunity to do something special.

As those of you who’ve read my posts for any length of time know, I’m a ponderer. And so I’ve been mulling over this turn of events, wondering how many other things I’ve missed out on simply because I didn’t ask. Help from willing friends? I don’t want to impose. Encouraging conversation with a spiritual sister over a meal? I bet she’s busy with her family responsibilities. If I spent a little time, this list could no doubt be extensive.

IMG_1539Yet the most sobering examples are times when I haven’t asked God. Years ago, I realized I was praying to God about BIG things, but I didn’t want to bother Him with matters I thought were too trivial. After all, He’s a BIG God, Sovereign over everything. He spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1:1-25), makes the sun rise and set (Jeremiah 31:35), and sustains all of creation. (Matthew 6:25-34)

Thankfully, the infinite, Almighty God has shown me He is also our loving Heavenly Father, who delights in giving good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:9-11) In fact, He made it possible for us to have a relationship with Him by giving us the most costly gift imaginable, His precious Son. (John 3:16) Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34) so we may approach the throne of grace confidently, to receive mercy and find grace in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

One verse in particular underscored my reflections this week and inspired the title of this post: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2b) Lest you think James was espousing what’s come to be known as the “prosperity gospel” or “name it and claim it”, he goes on to say, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3) God isn’t Santa Claus or a benevolent Grandfather. When we ask, we are to ask in accordance with His will, not our own and accept His response. (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:39, 42, 44)[1]

The beauty of our promised sanctification is that we are being conformed more and more to the likeness of Jesus. (Romans 8:29) As our minds are renewed we are increasingly able to discern God’s will, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Had I asked, Mary may have said no. Sometimes God says no. Nevertheless, He bids us to bring our petitions to Him in faith. (John 15:7; Philippians 4:6; 1 John 5:14) May we not be found lacking because we fail to do so.

O Lord, we stand amazed that You who set the moon and stars in their places would deign to notice us. (Psalm 8:3-4)) Yet You’ve adopted us into your family and call us beloved children. (Romans 8:16-17; 1 John 3:1) May we continuously raise our prayers to You, (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) knowing that You didn’t spare your precious Son and will, along with Him, graciously give us all we need for our Homeward journey. (Romans 8:32)

[1] Jesus taught this principle in both His words and His actions.

Never say never

Unlike many of my posts, this week’s isn’t inspired by a garden epiphany or family events, past or present. No, this one is born of a desire to share some long-held reflections on the lives of two prominent men in Scripture. One’s actions remind me that no matter how long we’ve walked with the Lord, we’re still capable of committing unthinkable sins. The reclamation of the other affirms that God’s elect, even those who appear to be hopelessly lost, are never beyond His reach. The former shout a warning; the latter shines a beacon of hope.

King David
The shepherd-boy who slayed Goliath grew up to become God’s chosen king. Yet, after years of experiencing God’s favor and protection and blessing, he sinned by blatantly breaking several of the Ten Commandments. David didn’t begin by devising a murderous scheme. As is often the case when we go astray, his downfall resulted from a series of bad choices and poor decisions. Each one escalated the situation and led him further and further down the path of disobedience. (James 1:13-15)

IMG_64112 Samuel 11 recounts the whole sordid scenario. David’s first mistake? He didn’t lead his troops into battle against the Ammonites. (v. 1) He chose to stay home instead, which meant he was available to take an afternoon stroll on his rooftop. As he gazed about, he spied a beautiful woman, mid-bath. Instead of respectfully averting his eyes, he inquired as to who she was. Even when informed that she was a married woman, he had her brought to the palace so he could lay with her. (vs. 2-4) When this dalliance led to Bathsheba becoming pregnant, King David concocted a scheme to bring her husband back from the front lines so he could spend time with his wife. But Uriah was an honorable man and refused the conjugal visit while his fellow soldiers and the ark remained camped in an open field. Instead, he slept at the door of the king’s house. The next day, David encouraged him to go to Bathsheba, even making him drunk. Still Uriah refused. (vs. 5-13)

With his plan to avert suspicion about Bathsheba’s pregnancy thwarted, King David became more desperate and his devices more diabolical. He instructed his commander, Joab, to abandon Uriah on the battlefield so that the enemy forces could easily take his life. His wretched orders were carried out and Uriah perished. (vs. 14-25) David took the widowed Bathsheba to be his wife and she bore him a son. (vs. 26) But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. (v. 27, emphasis mine)

God doesn’t let his children’s wanderings go on forever. Like a loving Father, He disciplines those who belong to Him. (Hebrews 12:5-11) And so He sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with a story that at first incensed him and then brought him to his knees in repentance. (2 Samuel 12:1-9)[1] God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from our sins. (1 John 1:9) Nonetheless, we must often deal with the consequences of our behavior and for David, the consequences were dire indeed. (2 Samuel 12:10-14)

Saul
Saul’s transformation is every bit as astounding as David’s disgrace. Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul was one of the most zealous pursuers and persecutors of the early believers. He was there, giving assent, when Stephen was stoned. (Acts 7:58) And when the great persecution of the church took place, he entered house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3) Still breathing out murderous threats, he obtained letters from the high priest empowering him to search the synagogues of Damascus for others belonging to the Way that he might bring them, bound, to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

But on the way, Saul encountered the living Christ. He was blinded by His radiant presence and convicted by His question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”

And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6)

Saul’s reputation for harassing believers was widely known so it’s understandable why Ananias was reluctant to follow God’s instructions to go to Saul that he might lay hands on him and restore his sight. (Acts 9:10-14) Nevertheless, God assured Ananias he had nothing to fear from the man He’d chosen to carry His name to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15) His sight restored, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Saul began boldly proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God, confounding his listeners who knew him before his conversion. (Acts 9:17-22)

The man with a stellar Hebrew pedigree, (Philippians 3:4-6) who hated those of the Way and the Savior they worshiped became Paul, the apostle. He counted his upbringing and all he’d previously depended on to gain favor with God as loss in light of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ as Savior. (Philippians 3:4-11) And, just as Jesus told Ananias he would, Paul suffered much for his Lord. (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

Two men. Two lives touched by God and empowered by the Spirit. Two stories recorded for our edification. (1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16) Ultimately, both are about God’s amazing grace. None of us is saved or lost based on our deeds. Our salvation is a gift from our loving Father, leaving no room for boasting. (Ephesians 2:8)

Let us never become complacent or proud, thinking we’re beyond the reach of temptation, but avail ourselves of the means of escape God provides. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13) Neither let us grow weary in praying for our unbelieving friends or family members, remembering that none of the Good Shepherd’s sheep will be lost. (John 10:27-30)

[1] See also Psalm 51, David’s powerful prayer of repentance.

The new dress, take 3

Who would have thought you could get so much spiritual mileage out of a gift card? Yet here I am with one final, albeit shorter, meditation based on my daughter-funded dress- shopping experience.

As recounted in the first installment of this trilogy, I had a specific image in mind – cut and fabric – when I set off for the mall in search of a new frock for the Rose Garden Gala. After perusing the selection at several retail establishments and finding nothing resembling the hoped-for design, I reluctantly accepted I’d have to compromise. I tried on multiple dresses, comparing each to my imagined ideal. I eventually selected one for the Gala and was quite content wearing it to the event, even though it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned buying.

I’m thankful no compromise is necessary when it comes to my image in Christ. As discussed in “take 2”, when God looks at me, He sees the righteousness of his perfect Son even though I continue to struggle with sin and temptation and will until I’m called Home.[1] Through the work of the Spirit, I’m being transformed,[2] conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ.[3]

And so it is for all who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We have the assurance that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of his return[4] when we gather around the throne. There, clothed in our spotless garments, we will praise and worship him forever.[5]

In closing, I offer one of my favorite passages from The Valley of Vision:

“I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;

I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.”[6]

[1] See Romans 7:14-24 for Paul’s description of wrestling with sin.

[2] Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18

[3] Romans 8:29

[4] Philippians 1:6

[5] Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 7:9-19; Revelation 22:14

[6] Bennett, Arthur,The Valley of Vision, A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Edinburgh, 1975, The Banner of Truth Trust.