Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Context

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 2 Peter 1:20

As a writer, and former English teacher, context is important. I was always taught to be sure I consider "the words around" a statement, and the actions of the speaker, to ensure I grasp the correct meaning.

"I'm sorry" can mean the exact opposite of those words' dictionary definitions if said in a certain tone, or in a certain situation.

 Of course, one of the most dangerous places to do this is in God's Word. One verse pulled from just about any book of the Bible (but perhaps especially Ecclesiastes!!) can easily be used to profess something God was not in any way saying or advocating.

But it doesn't stop folks from doing it. And it can do some serious damage to a new believer, a seeker, and/or the cause of Christ.
But guess what? I'm gonna do it anyway. (don't run away screaming, please - gimme a minute or so, okay?)
My post today was to be about selfishness (mostly mine), but when I was searching on Bible Gateway for a verse, one jumped out at me and I HAD to grab it and write about it. Because it's a profound truth. Because it's the reminder I needed to deal with my selfishness. Because it helped me get my focus back where it needed to be.

You see, my selfishness was caused by my focus. It had been a long, busy week. I felt like a headless chicken. And there was somewhere else I wished I could have been - which wasn't helping. I just wanted everything to go smoothly, and easily, and wonderfully.

I was looking around at my circumstances and whining that they weren't ideal for me. And it was making me grumpy.

All I really needed to do was stop by Bible Gateway, do a search, and come up with Matthew 17:8. And there was my answer.
When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
That's what I need to do. Look up. Nothing up there but Jesus, right? Keep my eyes off my circumstances and focus on Him, and the selfishness will be gone. :)

Now that MAY be true - (and, in fact, it likely is) but you do NOT build a philosophy or worldview from ten words pulled from the middle of some chapter. What if the verse that popped up had been Numbers 25:17? Or Exodus 21:23-25? Or 1 Timothy 5:23? (yeah- go look 'em up)

So, be careful where you get your lessons - watch context, and, most importantly, the Spirit's guiding of you. His Word is powerful - just be sure you're paying attention.

So, who looked up Matthew 17:8 and checked the context? Did any of you know where it was from without looking it up? Do you sometimes find yourself taking verses out of context?

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Max Versus the Goats

 

Funny how life’s distractions can lead to fearful, frustrating behaviors. Take my Basset Hound, Max, for example. He has a big problem. To say he is timid is stating it mildly. If you walk too close to him, he yelps as if you’ll step on him. Though we’ve pampered him since we received him as a six-month-old pup, the trauma of his young years has molded the dog he is.

He shares a large pasture with our calf and the goats: one billy, six nannies, and a kid. Within the pasture, we’ve fixed Max his own space, a nice chain link enclosure. Inside sits his dog house, food dish, and even a fan for the hottest southern weather.

We purposely made the opening to his enclosure small to discourage the goats from entering. They have access to the large barn, and have no need to bother Max. Yet they do.

Daily, a couple of the goats finagle their way into his space, getting in his dog house, or even standing on top of it. They’re a nuisance. But unless Max is eating, however, he won’t bark or even growl. He doesn’t use the teeth God gave him to defend his territory. Rather, he sits there, staring at the invaders who won’t leave him alone.

Can you see an analogy here?

God promised in His Word that He loves us and will always be by our side. He encourages us through His Word and His church and has given us everything we need to stand strong in Him and defend our territory. Yet we have a persistent enemy, much like the goats, who want to move into that territory and create havoc.

Like Max, if it’s real important to us, we’ll ask for prayer and stand strong against the enemy of our soul. We use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, while taking up the shield of faith.

“…above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” Ephesians 10:16-17 NKJV

There are many reasons we don’t call on God for help, and then use what He has given us. We allow distractions like guilt, fear, and disappointment to enter our territory without a word. Like Max, we look around in misery, wishing everything would leave us alone.

I mentioned this analogy to my friend, Kathy. She reminded me Max had been timid since day one. His nature had been developed as a pup. I agreed. However, dogs and people are different.

As a child of God, we haven’t been given a spirit of fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7 NKJV
 
God has equipped us for battle and encourages us in His Word to use the full armor of God, both the offensive and defensive weapons. It’s up to us to pray and wield the Sword when necessary, not cower in our enclosure.

I learned a valuable lesson from Max, one I intend to take to hear. What about you?



Prayer focus: Father God, help me to use the weapons you have given me, especially the resource of prayer. Help me to move when You move and speak Your Word when the enemy comes against me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Restless Spirit

If you know me at all, you know that I suffer from almost nightly insomnia. My sleeplessness has various causes: a genetic predisposition (thanks, Mom…), inability to turn off my brain, chronic worry, a warm pillow, my husband’s snoring, any sound coming from anywhere within a mile of my bed.

Not my legs. Image from stock.xchng.com
And my insomnia is exacerbated by a distressing condition called Restless Legs Syndrome. It sounds almost comical, and in fact, it’s fairly ridiculous. When I have a flare-up of RLS, as soon as I get into bed, my legs, without my consent, decide that they need to take a nice long walk. If I try to keep them still so as not to disturb my husband, they feel a sort of existential angst that manifests itself as an irresistible need to move them. The harder I try to not move, the weirder my legs feel: it’s an indescribable, creepy writhing—not of the muscles, but of the very essence of legness.

Once I get out of bed and walk—maybe to the kitchen for that last piece of cake—my legs feel just fine. No writhing, no angst—but now I’m awake, and full.

On really bad nights, even my arms get into the act, and I have to get up and pace, swinging my arms like some demented gorilla. Eating cake. A demented, cake-eating gorilla, who is wide awake at 2:00 in the morning.

Happily, I don’t have an episode of RLS every night—only several times a year. A few different medical interventions have helped, and if RLS was my only sleep-related problem, I’d be a happy gal most nights. Refer back to my first paragraph if you’ve already forgotten all of the other things that keep me awake.

My spirit, too, frequently suffers from an unwanted restlessness. Some of those same worries that keep me from sleeping at night can also steal my spirit’s peace, making me writhe with discontent, impatience, care.

The Psalmist felt the same restless struggling, and he wrote about how God had quieted him in one of the lesser-known Psalms, the 131st. It reads:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Seven years ago, I used this Psalm to inspire one of my few attempts at writing free verse. There’s a lot that I’d like to change about this poem, and this blog won't let me format it correctly, but I’m going to just let it be—one less thing to disquiet my spirit. My hope is in the Lord, both now and forevermore.
  
A Poet Rests in the 131st Psalm

But…

But I am a leaf slightly quivering…


But I have been a ripple that tickles silver sands…


But I have stilled the thump of my heart with the syllables of Your holy name…


But I have stilled and quieted my soul…


Like…


Like a breath, a whispered breeze…


Like a weaned kitten who purrs with
throaty and contented rumbles…


Like a weaned child no more blind and panicked rooting, no more grasps from dimpled fingers…


Like a weaned child with its mother…


Like…


Like a whisper, a sweetly spoken caress…


Like a weaned child ready to stand, to stretch, to step, I grasp your hand, and trust…


Is…


Is my hushed, hushed, soothed and rested self…


Is my soul when You quiet me when You cover me, when You surround me…


Is my soul within my soul without, my soul yesterday and tomorrow, my soul there and here…


Is my soul within me when You lead me to the place where all is still—is still—is still…


Like a weaned child is my soul within me...


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

A New Person

The Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.  1 Samuel 10:6

The Holy Spirit is a part of the Trinity, and has existed in eternity past, and will continue to exist into eternity future. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always have been, are, and always will be. That's one of the bases of our faith.

But the third Person of the Trinity functioned differently on either side of the Cross. Yet, He is the same Spirit.

Before Christ's death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon specific people for specific tasks. It wasn't a permanent thing. Baalam received God's Spirit to  prophecy (Numbers 24), Gideon to lead men into battle (Judges 6), Samson to tear apart a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14), Saul to prophecy twice (1 Samuel 10 and 19), and Bezalel to perform artistic work for the tabernacle (Exodus 31). And these are just a few examples.

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Now that Christ has been resurrected and has returned to the Father, His Spirit lives forever in the hearts of each of God's children. We don't receive His Spirit to simply perform a task. It is there to comfort, lead, and guide us through all our circumstances--not just a specific project the Lord has chosen to give us.

But some things never change. When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you cannot remain the same. Even Saul, who would later greatly disappoint the Lord and His people, was "changed into a different person" when the Spirit came upon him. And so it happened to every person, on either side of the cross, who received/s God's Spirit.

And the biggest blessing of the New Testament is that, with the Spirit in us permanently, our change is also permanent. We are His children, and always will be.

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Enjoy It While You Can

Some things fall into the category of “Enjoy It While You Can.”  Take, for example, this view from our back deck.


That’s Lake Macatawa, on the eastern edge of Lake Michigan. We didn’t know we had this view when we bought our simple, 1970s ranch house last summer. But when we took down a few trees, and our neighbor did the same, the result was this unexpected view of the water.

Ah, to sit, sip, and sigh, enjoying God’s pallet of blues and greens, the shift of the sun as it cuts through the dappled shade, the delight in catching a view of a kayak or fishing boat floating by.

There’s something about being by the water--even 500 feet and looking through the neighbor’s yard to see the water--that satisfies my spirit and strengthens my heart’s beat. I’m surprised at how it affects me. It’s like when someone gives you a gift that’s something you’d never dream of for yourself, and it’s so perfect for you, it’s like they know you better than you know yourself. Yep, that’d be Jesus, the perfect giver of all gifts.

Sigh. Thank you, Lord.

But I know this gift won’t last forever. I can already hear the boys with their big trucks coming down the street. You see, while we took down trees that were too close to our house, and, I’ll admit, to eliminate a few thousand acorns in our yard, our neighbors’ tree removal involved a different plan—plans for a bigger house. Right on the lake.

Right smack in the middle of our view.

How could they?

(Honestly, who could blame them? You and I might do the same thing, given the resources.)

So, this view, this gift, is truly awesome. And I love it. LOVE IT. But it’s also short-lived. At best, I’ll have a few more weeks before the construction site completely blocks out the water. I’ll be sad when it’s gone, and I’m trying not to dwell on the inevitable. Everything has a time and a season, right?

Well, not everything. I’m reminded that some things never go away. Things like:
  • “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8 
  • “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” I Chronicles 16:34 
  • “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” Lamentations 3: 22-23 
  • “Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever.” Psalm 111:3 
  • “The faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” Psalm 117:2 
  • Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations.” Psalm 135:13 
  • “His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.” Daniel 4:3 
 Longer yet is the list of God’s gifts that never expire, never wear out, never break. These are the gifts that I can—I will—enjoy every day. And they’re so much better than a peek-a-boo view of a lake. 
 
Grateful for His Love, 
 
LuAnn Kern

Friday, July 4, 2014

What's Your Heart's Desire?

Even at my relatively young age, I've known many people who have undergone cataract removal surgery. What still amazes me is those who went into surgery needing corrective lenses, and came out with “perfect” 20/20 vision.

The first to tell me of this miracle was my big brother. When he came to visit 20 or so years ago without the glasses he, like all seven of us siblings, had worn since he was a kid, I asked him if he had gotten contacts. Nope. Turns out he’d had cataracts removed, and the surgery had also corrected his vision.


Image from DesktopNexus.com
When I heard my brother’s story, I was stunned. The next time I heard about cataract surgery correcting bad vision, I considered that person lucky. With each successive testimony of the miracle of restored vision I heard, I grew more amazed.

And to this day, every one of my glasses-wearing acquaintances who have had cataracts removed say they no longer need glasses.

This month, when yet another friend came to church after her cataract surgery wearing a brighter smile than usual in place of her ever-present glasses, I shocked myself by thinking, I can’t wait until I get cataracts.

I had a millisecond-long meeting with myself that went something like this:

I can’t wait until I get cataracts.

  - Seriously? Did you hear what you just said?

Yes….. Wow….. That’s kinda scary.

  - I’ll say. You’re crazy. Cataracts can cause blindness. Surgery can be dangerous, and there can be complications.

Yep, you’re right. But I can’t help it. It’s true. I don’t like it, but I can’t wait to get cataracts.

  - Sigh. Whatever.

It was one of those billions of fleeting thoughts that flit in and out of my mind all day, and I forgot completely about it.

Until Tuesday of that week.

On Tuesday, I went to my 42nd annual eye exam and was relieved to hear that my vision hadn't changed since last year -- still 30/400. However, I almost burst out laughing at what the Doctor told me next.

“You have the beginnings of a cataract in your left eye.”

Touche, God.

It’s possible that God heard my heart and granted my desire. I have no doubt it’s possible. (I’m thinking of Saul/Paul here, when he was blinded. His vision was restored when “scales fell from his eyes.”)

But I doubt it. I’m on the downhill slide toward the century mark; it’s a fact of life that things like arthritis and cataracts can happen as your body ages.


I think it’s more probable that God knew I’d get cataracts in my 50’s, and He knew I’d fear for my eyes. Of my five physical senses, sight is the one I miss the most. It’s possible that, early on, He began dangling the carrot of 20/20 vision, planting the seed of desire for His will in my heart. Then, at the perfect moment—in His perfect timing, the seed bloomed.

And, because of God’s unfathomable love and mercy, I was able to greet the distressing news of a serious eye condition with laughter instead of fear. Oh, how He loves us!

“Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:4



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Airtight

What exactly was she doing? As she stirred the boiling macaroni, she kept scooping black things out of the water and flipping them into the sink. We were new in town and had been invited to the pastor’s house after the Sunday morning service. Was this what we were having for lunch? Even though I felt it was rude, I finally asked, “What are you doing?”

I didn’t care much for the answer.
 
“Here in the south weevils get into everything. So when you cook, you have to skim the bugs off the top before you eat. You’ll get used to it.”

No. I wouldn’t.

The little bugs were in my flour, cereal and pasta. That’s when I discovered Tupperware; plastic containers used to store food and keep it airtight. The bugs couldn’t get in.

Why did the preacher’s wife just accept the weevils and keep on skimming?

But isn’t life like that? We accept the bugs in our life and just keep adjusting for them. And like the preacher’s wife, we get used to them. Many times there is a simple solution. But it takes initiative and time to change and it’s easier just to live with the bugs.

Some bugs are poison and can kill you. Yet druggies keep on shooting up as their life slips away. Sometimes the bugs aren’t visible to others and suicide occurs. If only life had an airtight container to keep those bugs out.

Good news. It does.

Tupperware has nothing on the airtight promises of God.



“Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 (MSG)



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