Wednesday, October 15, 2014

See the sign

Recently, I substituted for one of my fellow adjuncts at the college where I work. She had arranged for a speaker in her Introduction to Christianity course, and he was explaining to the very young adults about the work he supervises at the Gospel Light Mission with the homeless. The topic of panhandling came up, and he gave an account of his interaction with the beggars in his city. He then said, "You must rely on God to speak to you when you see someone panhandling. I don't know their situation; they may really need the money. Let God lead you."

I interjected my own experience with panhandling and begging in Tulsa. Almost every time I drive my daughter to school, there is someone holding a sign as we exit the highway: "Anything helps. God bless." I have talked with a few of these people (many are regulars, moving around the city in milder weather), and my acquaintance with them has led me to think this is not how I want to invest my dollars.

I also relayed to the students an experience I once had at a gas station. While I was filling my car, there was a woman at the pump behind me. She had two small children in car seats; she was getting gas just like me. I had the strongest impression from God that I should give her $20. I did. She was moved to tears and thanked me; I simply said, "God bless you," and went on with my day.

As I was finishing my story, a student on the back row loudly whispered, "She's the substitute," obviously in response to the query, who is this woman and why is she talking to us? But even if my story meant nothing to the class, it crystallized a message in my own heart.

The speaker had admonished us to let God lead. And yet I often make decisions based on whatever people ask of me. I have come dangerously close to the end of myself in all I have to do this semester. I cannot ever remember being so busy. And I still find it hard to say no.

While telling about my experience with panhandling, I realized: God is capable of asking me to give away my money (and likewise, my time and energy). People will always be holding up signs, but God directs me when there are no signs present. The cardboard sign is the individual's request; it is not God's voice.

This week, when someone has asked something of me, I have pictured them as standing on the corner of Sheridan and the expressway exit, holding a cardboard sign. It helps me differentiate between the noise of a needy world, and my Father's voice. I trust Him to use me, in ways that He knows best. I need to be careful not to spread myself so thin, acting on my own energy and my own best thinking, that I can neither hear Him nor act when He speaks.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where are your accusers

It always intrigues me when God asks a question. It can't be because he needs information, as if there is something unknown to him lurking inside of me. In part, questions force us to participate in the conversation, to look for the answer and give our best guess to the Master. Something in us doesn't respond as well to a droning lecture.

Questions invite.

In John 8:1-11, there is a story of a woman caught in adultery. (Complete sidenote: because this is a rare disputed passage in the Biblical cannon, I researched the topic a bit. If you are interested in puzzling out why scholars debate its inclusion in Scripture, this article was helpful to me.) She is brought before Jesus with the expectation that he will condemn her, command her to be stoned as the Law requires.

After all, she was caught in the very act of adultery. All by herself. Uh huh, really.

Another article I read today talks about how carefully Jesus upheld the Law. He wasn't backed into a corner by the crowd; he stood up for what was right and judged fairly.

So this story may be a lovely tribute to the Law, but readers for centuries have loved it because it speaks of grace. Jesus didn't condemn her, and he surely knew she was guilty. He surely had the right to judge her; her heart was open to him. And yet, after such a public, humiliating spectacle, he says, "Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." Until Judgment Day, when we stand bared before a righteous God, we have the opportunity to repent, to turn toward him.

But Jesus also asks her a question. My translation says, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" (v.10, NIV) The King James says, "Where are your accusers?"

The answer is "No one is here to condemn me." She is standing before Jesus, and all of the stone throwers have slipped away.

But what humiliating experience, to be caught in sin and dragged to a public trial. The experience wouldn't leave you easily. You would still see the people who accused you as you went to market, took your clothes to be washed, drew water from the well. And you would know that they are still accusing you in their heads (at least).

So when Jesus, at this pivotal moment, asks her a question, she is forced to answer: "No one accuses me." And the Righteous Judge, standing before her, sends her away with the command to live better. In that moment, Jesus plants his words in her head, the reminder, the truth she must cling to, as she goes on in her life.

Who is accusing you? How does the punishment/judgment/grace thing work in the life that we live?

Who is accusing you?
No one.
Neither do I. Go on, and live repentant.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What do you want

One of my favorite questions in the Bible was posed by Jesus to a blind beggar. The story is told in Luke 18:33-43. Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. As he is approaching Jericho, a man calls out to him: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" This man has no name; he is identified as "a blind beggar."

I wonder what my tag would be? Without a name, if I appeared in a story with Jesus, would I be "the harried housewife?" "A distracted mother?" When this man sat on the side of the road, anyone who saw him knew his flaws: he was blind; he was begging. He had needs that were glaring.

When he began calling out, the people around him rebuked him, told him to hush, but he shouted even more. I feel like that beggar this morning: Lord, I am in need. I need you. See me, Lord!

And Jesus says to the man, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Really, Jesus? The man is BLIND. Duh. What do you think he wants?? Why did Jesus ask this?

When I am desperate, when I am begging in a crowd for answers to the cry of my heart, I imagine Jesus looking at me and asking, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Would you have an answer? Do you know the one thing that you want from the Master, if he were standing before you and asked?

"I just want my life to be good." Very vague.
"I don't want to worry anymore." Very broad.
"I want to run away." Genuine, but is the cry of my heart really just a bed and breakfast somewhere?

The man answered, "Lord, I want to see." And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you."

The man wanted to see, but he could already see his own need when he began calling out to the Lord. Jesus seemed to love people's clarity and boldness.

I personally do not look as messy as a blind beggar. I work to hold things together, so I am not so obviously needy. It would be a shame if all my efforts to not fall apart kept me hushed, kept me away from the side of the road.

I don't want to miss his question: "What do you want me to do for you?"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where are you

The story of the Fall had to be an oral tradition before it was written down in our Scripture. Every word is so meaty; there is something amazing just in the telling of it. After Adam & Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they sewed leaves together to cover themselves, and then hid when they heard God approach. Genesis 3:9 says, "But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

When my kids enter the house, they will call out, "Mom, where are you?" This is not God, slamming the door as he walks into the garden, trying to locate his man. God knows where Adam is. And God knows what Adam has done.

I think I would have entered the garden with something more like, "Adam Lewis Marcus Godson, you get here this very minute." My child would be terrified to disobey me, and rightly so. I mean, if I were God.

But God, the all-knowing, asks, "Where are you?"

A question implies a relationship. The LORD wants Adam to speak with him; he asks a question. Adam's response becomes the basis of what God then says. God speaks in context of Adam's own thinking.

If you find yourself hiding from God, ask yourself, "Where am I?" Are you anxious about something, and you fear how God would deal with it? Are you sinning and not really wanting to give it up?

If God rang your doorbell, would you answer, or hide? Would you roll your eyes because you have to stop what you're doing and see what he wants? Would you make excuses for how your house looks, or your hair, or your kids?

Where are you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The most important things

The most important things you will ever do are completely unseen. This thought is not startling or new; it has just been impressed on me more and more as I grow older. I think judgement day will turn the world inside out. After all, it is the Lord who said, "The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Right now, we see appearances: success, accomplishments, possessions, looks, money.
But at judgement day, we'll see hearts: sincerity, love, pride, jealousy, envy, strife. And I don't think there will be any kind of direct correlation.

God must shake his head sometimes at our mixed-up perception. SMH, he says.

I've studied a lot of psychology. Some people say you have to think right before you can act right; some people say you have to just do the right thing and your thinking will change. Both are true. Both can be found in Scripture. But God is the only one that really sees the effort I put into my heart.

Loving my family well. Working to forgive. Praying when it is hard. Calming my temper.

I think this occurred to me after July 4 weekend. We had company. The food was great; my house is big; everyone was chatting and laughing. And one person there was envious.

Please: God does not care about my house. God does not care about my hostessing. God cares about my heart.

If we admire the right things in other people ("she is kind," "he has integrity," "she is faithful"), then we will be inspired to imitate those qualities. If we admire the appearances of others, we will focus on the small stuff.

The stuff that will be burned up.

The stuff that man considers important, but God says is just stuff.

SMH. But if I'm not careful, I will judge and dismiss this person. This one will rankle my pride. And then God will look at my own heart and shake his head.

Better to pull it out now and do the work that no one will see. The most important work. The kind that will last.

Lord, give us eyes to see.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Worship and provision

The worship music was very meaningful to me in church today, one of those times when you pray and sort of lose yourself in the moment. At one point, I was moved to kick off my shoes--the feeling that Moses had when he came across the burning bush, and a voice told him, "Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground."

I didn't however. What if I got my feet dirty? We worship in a gym; the floor can't be all that clean.

And the next image in my mind is Jesus, wrapping a towel around His waist to wash the dirty feet of His disciples.

When we are touched by the holiness of our Father, we become aware of our own dirtiness. Often, it's just the ordinary, everyday kind of dirt, that seems to stick to us no matter how hard we try. But the Savior, knowing our nature, stoops down to serve us, to make us clean.

God provides for me. He was thinking of me before I was born, before today, before I knew how much I need Him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reading in Summer (2014)

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you have been seeing my posts as I read this summer. I wanted to collect my thoughts in my blog as well. It has been a surprisingly good summer for books! I have aimed for no spoilers, so my reviews aren't really complete. Just snippets, in case you're looking for something to pick up.

Book 1: The Life of Pi by Yann Manzel. I have not seen the movie, although I remember wanting to, and that impulse moved me to pick up the book. I'm glad I did. The narrator's love of "all religions" was very off-putting to me, and I almost stopped reading it after the confrontation with his parents and the three "holy men." However, his writing about wild animals was compelling to me, since we were adopted by a semi-tame crow in my childhood. Gradually, the psychology of his struggle took over my interest, and I was so glad I read to the end. Old themes that interested me in school popped up again: the unreliable narrator, post-modernism and the telling of story, etc. A good read for varied reasons.

Book 2: When Captain Flint was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek. I like books that leave you feeling as if you've lived another life, and this was one of those. Another young boy as narrator, another "coming of age" story, although not quite as uplifting as Life of Pi (I know-if you've read Pi, you shudder. I say this because Pi was so hopeful, and Flint has more of a "things be gloomy" feel). The title is explained early in the story, and sets a fascinating motif. I didn't really like the ending, but I would still recommend it. I have now grown up in a small fishing village and punched my way through a few friendships.

Book 3: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. One of the best books I've ever read; this one will always stay with me. The main character has an illness no one can identify. If you or someone you love has ever struggled with doctors and diagnoses, this is a powerful portrayal of this aspect of real life. Good writing, good storytelling, takes you beyond the day-to-day; it gives words (with all their power) to our experiences. In sharing the words, we share our lives with the author, with other readers; we feel more connected. The book moves beyond the illness and becomes about the marriage, the family relationships. "Hope and denial, the front and rear guard of the chronically ill"...this phrase alone will always be part of my vocabulary.

Book 4: Crazyheart by Thomas Cobb. Again, I haven't seen the movie. But having read the book, I have now lived as a country music star who is past his prime but still on the stage. And I haven't contracted any std's, like the main character probably has. I enjoyed the pathos and hope in his narrative, his brilliance and the sadness of his choices. He is the kind of person I would strike up a conversation with at IHOP and then keep in my collection of people.

Book 5: The Good Sister by Diana Diamond. This was the first book I read this summer that wasn't amazing. Her writing is good enough for me to read the whole book, which is not a small compliment. But the book was almost entirely plot driven over character. The topic of sociopaths interests me. I wanted to know who killed who, which is the main reason to keep turning the pages. A good pool-side read.

Book 6: Sycamore Row by John Grisham. Grisham, pardon the cliche, is a master storyteller, and one of my all-time favorite authors. I love his portrayal of the South, his exploration of racism, the inside look at the tedium and thrill of lawyering. This book was balanced between character-development and plot; his writing is so clean and beautiful. I love Grisham's worldview. If I were giving spoilers, I would expand on his worldview, which played into the two times the book made me cry. It is a sequel to his first novel, A Time to Kill, and I highly recommend it.

I am resisting the urge to simply go get another Grisham novel. I love reading them; I love telling his stories to my husband, reading select passages that made me laugh. I have a few non-fiction stacked near my reading chair; we'll see if I am able to finish them, or if the lack of story pushes me away.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Proverbs 31 woman

Some people turn to the last chapter in Proverbs looking for encouragement, a model they should follow. But I think a lot of women dislike this chapter. They feel intimidated, pressured. Our reaction is probably a bleed-over from the culture's pressure on us through photographs and discussions of "what women should be doing"--staying home, going to work, sleeping with baby, never sleeping with baby, being super sexy, being super modest, being thin, being okay with our bodies, working out...okay, you get the idea. Women are relational, and we pick up a lot of messages from our yelling culture.

So Proverbs 31 becomes just another picture of the "perfect woman." When I first started thinking about this blog entry, I considered this chapter from memory, not going back to read it. This is the Bible; shouldn't we be interested in what God has to say about womanhood?

Maybe Proverbs 31 is what God wants for us, not a list that He wants from us. My children are blossoming into adults, and my husband and I want things for them: a spouse who treasures them, financial peace, good health, a safe place to live, an education, a good work ethic. What if we read this chapter as God's heart for His daughters?

So I went back to read the chapter. It's always enlightening to me, when I am thinking about the Bible, to actually go and read the Bible. I hope that before speaking authoritatively on Scripture, my teachers are actually studying the Word itself. I hope.

The portion of Proverbs 31 that describes a noble wife doesn't begin until verse 10. I started with verse 2 (because in my Bible, it's written like poetry, and I figured I could skip the introduction): "Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!" And that's where I stopped.

Son of my womb? I am accustomed to thinking of Proverbs as a collection of Solomon's wisdom. And he wrote to his sons. All through the book, it says, "My son, my son, my son." But here is the phrase "son of my womb"--whoa! Solomon, pretty sure, did not have a womb.

So the intro verse that I skipped over, Proverbs 31:1, says, "The sayings of King Lemuel [which people often take as a pseudonym for Solomon]--an inspired utterance his mother taught him."

I know that the Bible is God's Word, and when I read it, I come seeking truth from an authority. These words are given to us by God.

That said, He used human writers, and Proverbs 31 came to us through a woman. In fact, it came from Bathsheba. You can read her story in 2 Samuel 11: the beautiful, bathing woman that King David summoned to himself and impregnated. The woman married to Uriah (a Hittite), one of David's valiant warriors (1 Chronicles 11:41), whom David ordered killed at the battle lines to cover for his sin. The child borne of that affair died, as God's judgement against David. Another child was given to David and Bathsheba, however: Solomon, the heir to David's throne and the builder of the temple.

Yeah, Bathsheba. We don't hear her voice in that story, but here, in Proverbs 31, Solomon tells us that he is going to give us an inspired utterance that he was taught by his mother.

Imagine that you, a very beautiful Jew, married a Hittite. Either her family was not all that strict in following the one true God, or she was stepping out a little. Uriah possibly joined David when he was fleeing from Saul, some of the "riff raff" that gathered around him: "All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander" (1 Samuel 22:2). If Uriah was with David in these early days, Bathsheba could have been abducted by a raiding party: "Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old...When David and his men reached Zilag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive" (1 Samuel 30:2-3). When David's kingdom was finally established, all of his men would be elevated with him. She deserved a bath, a little relaxation. Right?

I like to listen to women who have scars, who have experienced something in this world and chosen to follow God anyway. If Bathsheba were a harlot in her heart, I don't know if God would have placed her as Solomon's mother--although he likes to use reformed harlots. We really don't know much about her. But to me, she seems like a woman who struggled, who messed up, and who just maybe found her footing in a marriage to a man after God's own heart. A marriage that should never have happened, but one that lasted decades.

Bathsheba taught her son about what kind of woman she wanted him to marry. We know that eventually, Solomon's wives led him astray, and the kingdom was ripped apart because of it. Bathsheba knew that kings could really mess up in this area. She knew.

She told him to find someone who worked really hard. Maybe, when she was bathing on the roof, she should have been attending to her household. I don't know. But the wife of noble character that she describes doesn't seem like a roof-bather--she is working all the time. Maybe Bathsheba had learned something. "She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness" (v.27). Even if life had been hard, and she really "deserved" to take it easy.

We put verse 30 in flowing calligraphy on plaques to hang in our homes: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." This isn't a pedantic harangue: Bathsheba had tried out charm, possessed great beauty. And she came to value the fear of the LORD. Her desire for her son to have a good wife came from experience.

Perhaps she overheard Nathan, when he accused David of his secret sin. Perhaps it was just reported to her: the story of a man with great wealth, who took the only lamb of his neighbor, a precious, cared for pet, to slaughter for a guest (2 Samuel 12).

She was the lamb. And her baby died.

The woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

The next time you read Proverbs 31, read it as advice from a sister who has been through much suffering, suffering as a result of her own sin. And when she tells you to mind your home, know that this is indeed God's heart for you, which He wrapped in a beautiful woman's wisdom. Wisdom that came from trials.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Talking back to a billboard

There is a billboard on my way to school that blasts: "Be the man you used to be."

Because, as we all know, we are each defined by and reduced to our sexuality.

I am probably not the only person to cringe at the huge advertising focus to aid our aging population so they can enjoy a never-changing active sexuality. But manhood is not just in your pants.

The man that you are is your character, that compilation of choices in attitude, words, and behavior that has made you a blessing to those around you--or a pain. The man that you are doesn't deteriorate with your physical body, unless you have invested everything you are in a house of temporal flesh.

So, please: Be the man that you want to be. And let him be strong and kind and wise. That's my favorite kind.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Three types of people

reposted from April 2, 2013

My world used to have two types of people: those who followed Jesus, and those who didn't. This is the most important division for me, because what a person decides about Christ determines their relationship with God (either with Him or separated from Him). I believe the Bible is one big story of redemption, of God reaching out to us. Jesus is our gift; we can accept Him or reject Him.

I've been involved in church since I became a Christ-follower in my teens. I've seen a lot of sin in the church. I've seen plenty of hypocrisy and hurtfulness. Two of the churches we were members of broke apart due to fighting among believers. And still, a church community has remained central in my life. In fact, my husband and I were part of a new church that sprang up in the Tulsa area about ten years ago, and it was one of the greatest blessings in my life. I have learned from church people, been encouraged and supported by church people, and served the needs of others alongside church people.

This past year, however, something has happened to my worldview. My husband and I have had one theological difference our entire married life. I was saved in a Southern Baptist church, and we were certain that once you were saved, you were always saved. What about those people who walked the walk and talked the talk and then fell into utter sin? Well, either they need to repent, but God's still got them in His hand, or they were never saved in the first place. My husband maintained that a person could lose their salvation, but it wasn't a casual "in and out" with God based on our behavior. My husband believed that if a person lost their salvation, they could never be saved again. Salvation happens once; if it's gone, it's gone.

We of course referenced Scripture in our discussions, and I was pretty sure I was right: two kinds of people, the saved and the not saved. When a person comes to Christ, he is a new creation. The old passes away, and all things are new (2 Corinthians 5:17). I didn't see how, if you were a new creature, you could ever go back.

Hebrews 10:26-27 says, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." In verse 29, it refers to this group of people as having "treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them." It speaks of them having a disdain for their salvation. The writer tells us, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded" (v.35).

The call to persevere once you have received Christ is found all over the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says, "I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." I always thought, "Poor Paul! He had no need to worry! How could he be disqualified?"

I really don't know if someone can "lose their salvation." I have a feeling I'm asking questions that my Father will not answer clearly until I stand before Him. But I have definitely created a third group of people in my worldview.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul says, "No wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve" (v.14-15). Peter warns the believers, "Since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position" (2 Peter 3:17).

There are people who are serving Satan, and they dwell in the church. My blog entry Leaders who deceive addresses this, and I don't know why I feel compelled to say it again: these people exist. I don't know their standing before God, and it is not my job to sift through everyone I know and assign them a category. However, I need to be alert, because these people, who are in the church, are working against Christ.

The other day, my youngest asked me about a girl at her school. "She's very religious, but when I am around her, I feel bad. What does that mean?" I told her that she could be having one of two reactions: either she feels convicted about her own walk, which comes from the Holy Spirit and is good, or this girl is something false, and she should stay away from her. My daughter needs to examine her own walk, and if the Spirit does not reveal a problem, the problem might lie with this girl, and she should avoid her. As I'm talking, it becomes abundantly clear that this is the situation I am facing with several fellow church people. Something about them disturbs me deeply; I should not submit myself to their teaching.

John says, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring [sound] teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work" (2 John 10-11). We are to welcome fellow believers, love them, help meet their needs, encourage each other with true teaching and singing, be gentle, forgive each other, work for restoration of relationships, consider others before ourselves, bless our teachers. But we are also to be perceptive, and avoid false people in the church. I don't know if these people were once saved but have lost their salvation or were never saved and just pursuing wicked schemes with a Christian coating, but the Scripture warns me over and over, they are there. They are among us. Pay attention, church, because the newer converts to Christianity and those who struggle more in their faith can be very wounded by the wolves.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

False teachers and the end times

originally posted March 3, 2013 as "Leaders who deceive"

I've been a Christian for decades, and so I have done my share of timelines and studying Revelation. I've listened to arguments over whether the church will be raptured before the Tribulation, mid-Trib, or post-Trib. Sometimes, it all gets jumbled in my head: the Tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, the rapture, Jesus returning. I am not an engaged scholar on these matters.

There are a few things I'm sure of. The "end times" exist. Just as destruction came in the days of Noah, so judgment will come on the earth. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all said that there is a suddenness to the end, a surprising element for those who think that things will always keep on they way they are now (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, 16:15). Christians should not be surprised that this age has an end. When Jesus taught His disciples about the Holy Spirit, He explained that the Spirit would teach us about things we need to understand about sin, righteousness, and judgement. The world in general does not understand nor like to think about judgement. Christians do, because it gives meaning to how we live.

Aside from Revelation, there are several passages that speak about the end: Matthew 24 (parallel in Mark 13, Luke 21), 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2, 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 3, and Jude. In many of these passages, the author is writing about false teachers, as if a discussion of false teachers, who have been in the church from early days, automatically makes one think about the end. In 1 John 2:18, John says, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." The end and false teachers go hand in hand.

So here's a question: what does a false teacher look like? These passages give many specific examples, but step back with me for a moment. Jesus said that at judgement many people would approach the throne and say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" (Matthew 7:22). These people, whom the Lord told to leave Him, that He never knew them, had successful ministries. If you claim to have driven out demons and performed miracles, it is likely you have really seen something like this happen in your ministry. It seems likely that these ministries might look valid and good to an observer.

Jesus said, "False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time" (Matthew 24:24-25). When we see huge earthquakes on the news, don't we think perhaps it is the end times? However, when you hear of miraculous things happening in a ministry, do you consider that this may also be a problem? The church in Revelation is persecuted; the false prophet performs great signs and is exalted and popular. Many popular church people want to say that the church looks mighty and great--well, the antichrist comes from the church, yes, you hear a warning bell?

"Watch out that no one deceives you," Jesus says in Matthew 24:4. We, possibly even those of us who really know Jesus, are in danger of deception. We're in danger of persecution and, worse yet, mistaking something for Jesus when it is not.

In Mark 13, Jesus says, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah! or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it." I have always had a hard time imagining people claiming to be Jesus, and anyone telling me I should go check it out. And yet in my day, I have seen revivals erupt where Jesus' power is supposedly at work, that cause people to buy plane tickets and go there, to encounter Jesus.

I feel convicted to build on solid rock. I need Jesus to stir my heart and engage my mind. I am in danger of being deceived by religious things that I might love, things that might compel me because they are powerful and look like God.

In the end times, we will not be able to avoid persecution. We will not be able to avoid war and natural disasters. Relationships will be strained and painful. The world may fall apart, and I may suffer, but this one thing I know: we have been warned about deception. If Jesus told me to be on my guard, then He does not intend for me to be trapped.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The unbeautiful losers claim the winning ticket

The other day I was leaving Panera after meeting with a friend, and I caught my reflection in a mirror. Our pastor had been preaching on Saul and David, how mankind emphasized outward looks, but the Lord looks at the heart. I thought, "I am not very pretty," but my friend and I had just been encouraging each other in the Lord, in the midst of unpleasant circumstances, and I knew that when the Lord looked at my heart, He saw beauty there. Not because of anything inherent in me, but because of His Spirit in my life. He does indeed make all things beautiful--even me.
(photo by Jesse Millan)

In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story about a man who threw a wedding banquet for his son. All of his invited guests--the pretty people, the ones you thought would accept an invitation to the Oscars--made excuses. The master said, fine (he was pretty angry), and sent his servants out to gather in the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. The beautiful people have their own agendas, their own source of confidence. It is the point where you know you have nothing that you realize you do indeed need God.

I saw a Facebook page the other day called "Hookers for Jesus." This page was an invitation along the lines of Jesus' story: come as you are. Don't wait to clean up and make yourself beautiful; you need Him now. The banquet is ready, and your seat is waiting.

I was once helping a pastor with a group game at a church event. We were playing a trivia game and awarding prizes, and for some reason, we needed to select a second group apart from the obvious winner. I said, "Choose the table with the lowest score," and the pastor rebuked me with the comment, "No, Angie. We don't reward losers at this church."

Too bad. God loves losers. It's often the losers who bother to listen to Him. I should make a Facebook page called "Losers for Jesus."

We do not need to revel in our sinfulness, but don't paint it over and pretend it's not there. Jesus died for us because we are weak and we fail. Our weaknesses qualify us for His table. Bon appetit.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How an introvert entertains

If you just love having people over, if it is as easy for you as falling off a log, then skip this blog entry.

My husband and I are both content being quiet. I have more need for socializing than he does, but most days saying hi to the checker at Walmart would satisfy my need for people. However, our entire married lives, we have socialized and even entertained in our home. For introverts, it is important to start with why.

If you would rather be curled up with a good book or cuddle in front of a movie, why bother cleaning the house for company that you won't enjoy?
Our motivation for entertaining is simple: people matter. The real meaning in life will boil down to relationships. Proverbs 14:4 says, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests." Your house will stay clean and your lives will be comfortable with minimal relationships, but it will lack purpose and fruit.

And so our children's friends are welcome in our home. And we go out of our comfort zone in order to invite friends to share a meal. Here are my tips for entertaining as an introvert.

1) Stretch. When someone says, "Let's get together" or your child says, "Can so-and-so sleep over?", say yes. If your ladies' group or church group needs someone to host a party, say yes. If your goal is to have people in your home, and you're introverted, it's not going to feel instinctive. You have to train yourself to open the door and smile.

2) Go small. Introverts use trappings to make us comfortable: the most fantastic meal, incredible decorations, the best party game, the most people. Leave that game behind, because now you know why you are gathering with people: because people are important. Worry less about cleaning and menus and prepare yourself to engage. If you are tired and empty when the company arrives, you won't make connections--which is the entire reason you are doing this.

3) Stop. Just because you've hosted your small group for two years doesn't mean you have to keep doing it. Just because the sleepover is always at your house doesn't mean it has to be this time. Just because you host a cookie decorating party with your neighbors every December doesn't mean you have to do it this year. Do not be a slave to schedule. God is in charge of your life, not you, and He can make a beautiful connection with work you've already done, or bring back a tradition that you don't have the time for at the moment. Life is always changing; let it change, and look for God's yes, not your own.

1 Peter 4:8-10 says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." This passage teaches us that as we are hospitable, we should also be amply forgiving, and we should serve God with the gifts and grace He gives, not out of comparison or compulsion, but with His joy.

May God bless your home as you put the oxen of grace and hospitality to work, looking for His harvest in your life and the lives of those around you.