And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 18, 2009 God Doesn't Owe Us A Thing

Let’s assume that you’re convinced in your mind and heart that God exists. You’ve looked at the data, examined the theories under your mental microscope, and you just can’t get away from it—there is a God, a Creator, an Intelligent Designer, if you will, behind life as we know it. You are now, therefore, stuck.

It’s so painfully simple. If we truly believe that God exists, we must also accept the fact that he can do whatever he wants—he doesn’t need our approval. He doesn’t ask for permission before messing with our stuff. He doesn’t…when you get right down to it…owe us anything. Not a single thing. He’s God. For that reason alone he deserves our obedience. Our worship. Our time. Our bank accounts. Our children. Our thoughts.

He’s GOD. Let that just sink in for a minute.

Simple, I said. Not easy. Give me complex-yet-easy any day. What we have, however, in the whole God-faith arena is simple-but-difficult. We live within a culture where every invention and product is designed to make life less stressful, more self-satisfying. At the same time, our God calls us to follow him in the opposite direction. Counterculture, lay down our lives, suffer, forgive our offenders, praise him when the shit hits the fan. We may complain—we DO complain, and quite loudly at times—but that doesn’t mean we’re any less stuck.

But oh! How anguished, our complaints. How pious, our horror as evil flourishes. When someone we love doesn’t get healed, how we fume. When misunderstood or persecuted, how we pout! Shaking impotent fists at heaven as jobs disappear and marriages disintegrate, we question God’s integrity and fairness. Those are dangerous thoughts, friends, a MRSA infection within the Body of Christ. Take a swab to those words and watch what grows in the Petri dish, a foul stench which at the molecular level mimics Lucifer’s own cry…”I would be god.”

If I were God, no pedophile would molest a child, no war would rage. If I were God, there would be no Aids, no cancer, no homeless. Every baby would be wanted, every worker find a job. If I were God, my son would not be dead.

But I am not God. You are not God. God does exist (it was C. S. Lewis who said it was more important that heaven exists than that any of us reach it)—and he can, absolutely, do whatever he wants. If we’re convinced that God actually has “the whole world in his hands,” we either relinquish the right to explanations and reasons, to receive anything in return… or we meander back and forth between his camp and the world’s, depending on the perceived climate of current circumstances.

We’d have preferred a Calgon Christ to “take me away” from trials and tribulations, God as the ultimate stress-reliever—ignoring biblical passages that warn he’s come to bring a sword. We order bubbles of protection and comfort, and get miffed when he ignores the memo. We’ve grown comfortable with a sliver of God each Sunday. We were raised on Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild when the reality is a God who is unwavering in his holiness, relentless in his pursuit of us, often inconceivably, unbelievably unfazed by what we want at that particular moment. He never sends out questionnaires to ascertain humankind’s deepest desires. He doesn’t wait for a focus group to voice its opinions. He has no respect for the boundaries we place around people or nations or hearts, nor for the boxes in which we keep trying to put him. He’s God! No matter what happens. Gotta’ love him (we’re commanded) but if you’ve never faced a situation in which you also hate him…wait for it. It’ll come.

We want, so desperately, for it to be about us, but it isn’t. It never will be. Yes, God promises to bless, love, protect, etc. But we cling to his promises like magic formulas, not realizing that earthly eyes aren’t sharp enough for the fine print, the unspoken addendum to every one of them from Genesis to Revelation that says, in effect, “unless I choose otherwise.” We pray “Thy will be done” and then whine when it is.

It’s time we look both heaven and hell squarely in the eye and say, “Give it your best shot—I’m still God’s. Though he slay me, yet will I serve him.” If we don’t praise him and follow him at our point of desperation, then… when the sun comes out and the birds are singing, …our praises may fall on divinely deaf ears.

May 4, 2009 Spiritual Warfare

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NKJV)

The phrase “spiritual warfare” is no newcomer to the Christian vocabulary. The reality of a spiritual world we cannot see with human eyes was written of in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and ever since, from Tertullian to Frank Peretti. Angels, including the fallen angels we call demons, exist and have existed since before Creation—they haven’t simply disappeared because modern theology became uncomfortable with them.
Two forces—vastly unequal in power—are engaged in warfare to which we are usually oblivious. It is good vs. evil, yes, but our adversary, the devil, is a created being, unlike God. His cohorts represent a mighty army, but one that is pitifully outnumbered—only a third of the angels fell from heaven with Satan, leaving two-thirds on the side of holiness and righteousness.
In addition, New Testament teachings tell us how to use prayer and fasting to combat the enemy in our own lives and in the lives of others. We have authority in the name of Jesus. We have the “full armor of God” Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6.
Stronger army, better weapons, a foe defeated at Calvary—so why do we continue to have so many problems? We act like fresh recruits, instead of seasoned warriors, when we war according to the flesh—using what we do and say and can see and hear—instead of engaging our Spirit-renewed minds.
You’ll notice that in Ephesians 6, Paul doesn’t mention anything to cover our backs. One of the reasons is that we should be on the offensive against the enemy, not constantly reacting to his threats and attacks.
According to the above passage, our MO (mode of operation) is three-fold: pull down strongholds (spiritually), cast down arguments (sometimes verbally, sometimes by the testimony of our lives), and bring every thought into captivity. There is nothing passive about any of those areas, but it is the last battlefield I personally find the most challenging.
We’ve heard “the battle is in the mind” so many times it’s loses its potency, but the very real spiritual battle we are in every day takes place first and foremost inside of us. The enemy whispers sweetly and incessantly, planting seeds of lust, jealousy, anger, doubt, fear, anxiety, hatred. When we dwell on such thoughts, the seeds grow quickly.
Instead, let us take every thought from the enemy captive, rendering it powerless against us. Let us answer with scripture, even as Jesus did in the wilderness (see Mark 4). And let us always remember how much Satan and his sniveling companions tremble at the very name of Jesus and despise to hear him praised and worshipped.
The next time he comes against you in your thoughts (as he did with me one day recently while driving, an incredible onslaught of impurity that was so obvious I knew it wasn’t just my own weaknesses) or sends demons of mechanical failure (as he did with me at work this week when the copier refused to work) try crying out to Jesus—audibly—and speaking words of worship and adoration into the atmosphere.
Two-thirds of the angels in all of creation are handling the big, unseen agenda, but we need to do our part at the grunt level. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NRSV).
As my mother would say, “Hallelujah three times, and amen twice.”

April 20, 2009 Don't Shoot the Messenger

Matthew 4:17, 23-25 New Revised Standard Version
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." …Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
You may have heard the term “don’t shoot the messenger,” which has its roots in ancient times. Without mail, Internet, or phones, runners were used to convey messages back and forth between power centers. These swift bearers of news were prohibited from reading the sealed messages they carried—if their job was, in fact, to deliver bad news, it was entirely possible that they would be slain at the other end!
Some people just don’t respond to ill tidings very well.
Jesus, on the other hand, preached only good news: the kingdom of heaven has come near. God loves you. You are forgiven. Be healed! Yet even then, ruling powers killed him because his message didn’t fall in line with what they wanted people to believe.
Fortunately for us, when The Messenger was taken, he left behind a small army of others to take the good news into the world. We have the awesome privilege to be part of that army if we so choose. Aren’t you glad we have good news to share, instead of gloom and doom?
My boss, Bill Goodnight, pastor of Lillington Presbyterian Church, was in a near-tragic car accident just a month ago. That was bad news! Very bad news. But as information of the awesome power of God at work in his body was given to me—initially, on a daily basis—I had the privilege of sending out email updates to an ever-increasing list of folks who wanted to know how to pray for Bill and his family.
Several people took the time to call or email me back, thanking me for the updates. Think about that for a minute: I had nothing to do with the information given. It was not my medical care that was responsible for Bill’s dramatic improvement. Decisions regarding his health were completely out of my hands. I was far removed from every detail concerning him…but I got to spread the good news, and it was a joy. .I was so grateful to have good news to share!
How difficult it must be to have to tell a loved one that someone has died, that there was an ambush in Iraq, that the cancer was just too widespread, that the operation was a success but the patient never woke up. The people who must share these things may well be, as I have been, completely removed from the actual situation, simply conduits of information. But having good news to share, rather than bad, makes all the difference in the world.
We who follow Jesus choose to take on the task of being conduits of information about him. We should always be ready to answer those who question our hope and beliefs (1 Peter 3:15). We are to speak the word of God with both boldness and humility. And of course to speak it, we must know it, study it, let it sink down into our minds and hearts so that we know that we know that we know…
Since Jesus was hated for his message, there may be times when we are hated too. Unlike Jesus, we will invariably misrepresent the truth at times, or fail to communicate it clearly. It’s important to remember that we’re just messengers—whether the truth is received or not isn’t our responsibility. We learn about the kingdom of heaven, we share it the best we are able, then we leave the results to the King.

April 6, 2009 The Narrow Path

As young Christians, new in our walks with God, full of enthusiasm and devotion, we may look at the verse in Matthew that talks of the “narrow way” we’re on (7:14) and envision a picturesque path winding through verdant meadows. The path is narrow, but the view on either side is pleasant. “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world” (from the Gospel according to Robert Browning).
And then it changes.
Years pass. We mature by microscopic increments, unable to gauge discernible progress, yet accepting in faith that it is actually taking place. Just as subtly the path change. Leg muscles ache from the incline. When did those rocks get there?
In places, the path winds around a mountainside, where loose pebbles threaten to cause our feet to slip. No mossy bank if we fall, either—that’s a precipice over the side! Staying on the path seems not so much a faith-maintaining plan, as a life-saving mission.
And it just keeps changing.
Looking back at the early years of our marriage—so much of our relationship with the Lord can be compared to the earthly relationship of husband and wife (see Ephesians 5)—and it made me think of the narrow path I’d followed there.
Marrying at 18, I wanted to be the perfect wife. Not a great wife. Not a good wife.…perfection was the goal, and I was na├»ve enough to see it as an attainable one. By the time I was 26, I had four children and wanted to be the perfect mother too!
Oh, how my husband and children would laugh to read those words today.
Because there is a very fine line between striving for personal excellence and demanding excellence from everyone around us…between achieving godly goals and acquiring ungodly pride. I was responsible for too many stubbed toes, dragging loved ones along, occasionally watching a friend fall off the precipice while I determinedly kept my eyes on the summit.
And I realized, as I thought, that that narrow road mentioned previously has become more like that “fine line” in other ways as well. Choices that used to be simple, painted in stark whites and blacks (“That is a sin, so I must avoid it.”) are increasingly more intricate in shades of grays—go to that meeting or watch television with my husband, who’s been working so hard? A credible case can often be made for either side. Which is why we must learn to hear the Spirit’s voice and obey it, regardless of what our minds tell us (see Isaiah 30:21).
At times, walking with God (or at least trying to walk with him—it’s soooo easy to take our eyes off him, just for a split-second, and then spend days…weeks…months! catching up)—takes us around and around a mountain until we actually learn our lesson and get to move on…but instead of a better path with a nicer view, we find ourselves facing an even greater challenge.
I don’t know about you, but there are days when I’d like to trade in this tightrope I’m inching along on for something a little wider—say, the Autobahn. In a Mercedes convertible. Going 100 miles an hour. And then I remember where I’m headed.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, New International Version).
The road to Life is narrow—so narrow we’ll surely fall unless we lean against God, who said he would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It’s dangerous—so dangerous we’ll never survive unless we let him carry us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). It’s difficult, requiring our muscles to work harder, grow stronger.
There is a series of gory movies called “Final Destination” (1-4) in which teens get killed under strange circumstances. Their “final destination” is a gruesome death. For Christians, our “final destination”—the end of the path—is literally the opposite. We’re on our way to real, eternal, never-ending life and the perfection that is only attainable when we see Jesus face to face (1 John 3:2).
It isn’t about how fast we run it, or how spiritual we look, or whether our particular path seems uneventful compared to the ones we’ve heard others talking about. It’s about knowing who we’ll see at journey’s end.

March 23, 2009 Bible Sound Bytes

We’re used to sound bytes: Just do it. Have it your way. It takes a village to raise a child. Sound bytes don’t always sum up important truths very well, but God saw fit to include a few in the Bible.

Because love is the fulfillment of the Law, God might have just told Moses to tell the children of Israel “Love one another”—which would have taken 4 seconds instead of 40 days. Jesus did tell his disciples that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves…a statement that covers a lot of ground. It’s the ultimate “take-away” statement. If we get that, and get it into our hearts so that we begin to live it out on a daily basis, we’ve gotten it all.

There are a few other all-encompassing passages:
Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
What is good? What does God require? He tells us, plain and simple. Act with justice. Show mercy. Walk in humility.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Why are you on the earth? What is your purpose, your duty? An entire industry has been created surrounding the 40 Days of Purpose teaching, and here it is in a scriptural nutshell: fear God and obey him.

Mark Twain is credited with saying, “It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” People argue about the finer points of theology, eschatology, philosophy, the jots and tittles of every word, get their academic knickers in a twist over obscure passages and possible interpretations. But most of the Bible is quite clear. Painfully clear, I would say. And we have no excuse for not putting it into practice. Reasons…there are always reasons…but no excuse.

We might prefer a more specific Bible with a complete index to look up the appropriate response to, say, a co-worker who asks for our views on the rapture or the best particular procedure for disciplining a five-year-old who clogs the toilet with Star Wars figures. Why do I feel this way today? How can I make that person forgive me? We want quick fixes, but life as a follower of Jesus is a process, not a single point in time.

Ever wonder why children enjoy cartoons so much? Cartoons show and tell the story without getting bogged down in details. In a way, the Bible does the same thing, in a way. We aren’t told every detail about life, but we’re given the story of what God wants. Be loving. Be just. Be humble.
Just do it.

February 23, 2009 Giving

Have you ever heard the expression “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good”? I’ve used it myself—not about myself, however. Strangely, I’m not aware of anyone thinking that I was so focused on spiritual matters, so wrapped up in worship, that I was losing my effectiveness in the here and now, getting-down-to-nuts-and-bolts, nitty gritty level of existence. I need to work on that!
Of course with God, there is always a balance. Proverbs tells us that the weights and measures are His (Proverbs 16:11)…in other words, sometimes His balance looks, to the natural eye, out of balance, but that’s okay. We should not judge others, or even ourselves, when God is at work. He may indeed want an emphasis on one particular aspect of our life with Him that seems, to those observing, overdone, out of balance, “no earthly good”.
My husband David, for example, became a Christian about three years before we met. He’d been raised in the church, had “gone forward,” even been baptized, but there had never been a heart commitment or life change. When he experienced this in his twenties, there was such a thirst for God that he took a year off from work, immersing himself in Bible study and prayer. Family and friends may have been tempted to shake their heads at a young man in his most productive years, “losing” so much income, but that year provided an unshakeable foundation on which the Lord could build a dwelling place for His Spirit.
Currently, our church is involved in a teaching series on giving, stewardship, and the reality of our spiritual and (in comparison to the rest of the world) material riches. To someone just popping in for a random Sunday, there may be the temptation to say, “Oh, this is just the same-old same-old cry for money that all churches seem to have. Forget it!”
The reality is, our basic attitude toward money—is it ours to do with as we please or are we stewards, blessed by God and expected to behave responsibly with His riches?—is fundamental to our relationship with God. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God wants our hearts to be right with Him—such an enormous price was paid for them—and it is apparently impossible for that to happen without a biblical view of money management.
In our formative years as Christians, we were privileged to be part of a church that emphasized generosity and giving. “You can’t out-give God” was heard frequently, lived out around us, proved time and time again in our own lives. The amount of money we were able to put into Kingdom service while raising four children on one income—the feast-or-famine income from construction in south Florida—without health insurance, even, was not possible when you wrote it out on paper, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
It takes a step of faith, especially if the concept of giving sacrificially is new, to trust God with “our” finances, but life with Him is simply one step of faith after another, isn’t it? Based on personal experience and more importantly, the word of God, I guarantee that you can life a better life on 90% of your income than on 100%. And by the way, that standard 10% tithe will only be the beginning. If you commit yourself to giving as God leads you to give, you will be blown away by what He does in you and through you.
Someone may even accuse you of being “too heavenly minded,” but they will be wrong. When we are obedient to God, our effectiveness on earth always increases too.

February 9, 2009 Trials,Tribulations & MRSA

The year we lived in India, three-year-old Adam burned his arm on a hot iron--nothing too serious at the start. Then a boil appeared near the burn, which I attributed to the poor air and water quality. The six of us slept on mats on the floor, Adam by my side. Soon I developed a boil as well. Mine would clear, Adam would get another. His would clear, and then mine would erupt, and so on for months. Eventually everyone in the family had had at least one boil, mine for some reason being the largest, most numerous, and causing the most problems.

In terms of severity, I had come off relatively easy by comparison to Job (I never scraped myself with a broken shard of pottery—tempting, but no). In number, however, we were too close for comfort. Literally from my head to my feet, small painful boils—a noxious staph infection—popped up with alarming regularity. A round of antibiotics seemed to take care of them until we returned to the United States. Months later, perhaps a year even, a boil appeared on one of the most painful areas possible—my hand. A nurse urged me to get treatment, warning that with little room for the infection to spread, I could otherwise lose the hand altogether. Yuck!
When one round of medicine didn’t knock the latest outbreak out of my system, a dermatologist put me on long-term antibiotics. Three months of that and nary a boil showed up since.

Until last week. High enough on a leg that sitting became very. Very. Uncomfortable. My nurse practitioner said she’d treat it like MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph. No big deal—except that my infant brother died from a staph infection forty-nine years ago. Except that my job calls for me to sit for several hours a day. Except that David was counting on me to help him with renovations when I came home in the afternoons. Except that I felt awful, given to chills and fits of tears. I took a day off and tried to remain horizontal, holding hot compresses to my leg, generally feeling sorry for myself, and watching more television than I’ve ever done in my life.

I also revisited the poetry of Asaph (Psalms 73-83) in my state of woe. What an encourager he must have been. Over and over he questions the state of the world, the seeming success of the ungodly, the desperation of his own people, yet inevitably there comes a line something like “But you, oh God…” followed by accounts of his glory and might and faithfulness.

Trials come and go. Western Christianity has been spoiled and lulled into complacency by the idea that we alone are immune to the tribulation others endure today around the globe. We’ve bought into a kind of “Calgon Christianity”—Jesus, take me away! Take me away from ugliness, pain, ….discipline.

According to Hebrews 12:11, all discipline seems painful at the time but “later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, NRSV; emphasis mine).Apparently we can fail to receive the intended benefit if we fail to receive the training. Not a good idea.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the painful red place on my leg, I definitely want to get it the first time around the ole’ discipline mountain. Do I want every trace of sin out of my life as badly as I want to be rid of all traces of this infection? Does it serve as a reminder to prevent becoming so physically drained that my body is unable to fight germs? Or perhaps, like Asaph, I need to remember that despite the things we must endure in this life (and a boil certainly isn’t the worst thing any of us has faced) “But you, oh God…”

He is still God. Still on the throne. Still awesome in power and holiness. Still in control. Still my King and Lord.

January 26, 2009 Ordinary Time

Ever hear the term “ordinary time”? We are, actually approaching the 4th week in just that category. What does it mean, and what does it matter?

THE VOICE is the Internet web site of CRI/Voice Institute, “a global and ecumenical ministry dedicated to providing biblical and theological resources for growing Christians.” According to their article by Dennis Bratcher, “ordinary time” on the church calendar is used to classify the parts of the year that don’t revolve around Christmas and Easter. Because of the magnitude of these two seasons’ holiness, when Jesus Christ was born and when he was crucified and resurrected, everything else is “ordinary.”

Actually, Bratcher points out that “rather than meaning ‘common’ or ‘mundane,’ this term comes from the word ‘ordinal,’ which simply means counted time. Thus, if a Sunday isn’t, say, the Second Sunday in Advent or the Third Sunday after Pentecost, it is simply denoted in “ordinary time.”

To use the word in a different way, however, we are living in anything BUT an “ordinary” time. We could look at many signs of this in the political realm—who would have thought, even a decade ago, that America would elect a black president?—but one significant event on God’s timeline in modern history occurred before many of us was born.

“Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?” wrote the prophet Isaiah (66:8) 800 years before Christ. The natural response would be that no, of course a nation wouldn’t be born so quickly…but that is just what transpired on May 14, 1948 when the nation of Israel was formed. It is a fascinating study of perseverance and miraculous intervention, should you want to look further into it.

Focus on Israel tends to ebb and flow within the Church, but I encourage you to read what the Word says about Israel and the Jewish people. Isaiah and Romans are good places to start so that you can knowledgeably answer those who say ridiculous things like “Jews are no longer the chosen people” or even quote scripture to promote anti-Semitism.

Yes, the crowd of Jews cried for Jesus’ crucifixion, and yes, they said “Let his blood be on our heads and heads of our children!”(See Matthew 27:25) But in a few hours, Jesus said, from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Luke 23:24) Which statement do you think the Father paid more attention to?

The world hates Jews because it’s the closest thing they can do to hating Jesus—a Jew, the King of the Jews, the Jewish Messiah. One day…perhaps not so far off in these anything-but-ordinary-times…the world will boldly announce its hatred of followers of Jesus as well.

In the meantime, it’s important to realize that God will never forsake us, just as he will never forsake Israel. Whatever else we may understand or question about politics, we need to understand that Jerusalem is still at the center of what God is accomplishing in this world. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as Psalm 122 instructs, and pray that America continues to stand with Israel in the days to come.

January 12, 2009 Confession Time

It had been a busy end of the year, followed by a busy beginning in 2009. Out of town, alone in a hotel room waiting for an airport shuttle to whisk me back to reality, I had taken part in an exciting, encouraging week competing with a group of actors, singers, and models, hosted by a Christian company. Everything about the competition had “excellence for the kingdom of God” stamped all over it, an aspect of the Christian walk that is dear to my heart.
There were, no doubt about it, eventual mega-stars at the competition I attended. I fully expect to see some of the faces and voices with which I became familiar over that week grace the covers of Vogue, appear on TV commercials, show up in movies or on the radio. In one workshop, a speaker cautioned us about living as if we were famous NOW. “You don’t want to one day have to answer for a compromising photo on MySpace or a questionable video on YouTube.” And of course, it was emphacized that regardless of future fame and celebrity status, the God we serve sees it all anyway.
This was all fresh in my mind as I preparing for an upcoming Bible study on revival and I found myself immersed into yet another aspect of Christian growth—repentance. Recognition of sin for what it really is leads to a repulsion of it, a healthy response to something that hurts God’s heart and seeks to hurt us and others as well. True repentance also carries a desire to make restitution for our sins, to “right the wrong.” Those steps having been taken, we can be sure of spiritual revival in our lives.
As I sat, I felt the Holy Spirit tug at my heart about one particular article I wrote—not recently, but since becoming a Christian, and definitely since I knew better. You might think it would be easy to ignore, since I used a pseudonym (note to self: if you don’t want your name connected with it, it’s probably not such a good idea!) but the Holy Spirit is impossible to ignore. Words are powerful—tools either for good, or for evil. I had written well from a technical viewpoint, had sold an article to a major secular magazine…but I had, to quote the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “chosen poorly.”
What God gives is sacred, whether a talent for writing, singing, acting, sports, business, etc. One definition of “profane” is “to use something sacred for common use.” I am ashamed to say that by this definition, and by the standards of common decency, the article in question was extremely profane.
I used what God gave me to write something I had no business writing, for a magazine I could never, in good conscience, recommend. Whether the byline was “Ellen Gillette” or not, I wrote it. I had confessed it as sin to the Lord, had even shared it with a trusted sister who listened to that and other confessions (a scriptural practice…see James 5:16) but repentance is just part of the process. Ouch.
How could I make restitution for readers I have no way of contacting? With no way of knowing who had actually read the article, I reviewed the short list of folks I’d told (and yes, even at the time, even though I was pretty excited I’d sold to a big magazine, the type of magazine prevented my shouting it from the housetops). I decided to contact each of them and let them know that I realized writing the article was wrong, asking forgiveness for influencing them negatively and being a poor witness for Christ.
Which I ask you as well, dear reader. I’m sorry for staining the body of Christ, for dirtying her bridal gown as she waits for the coming of her Bridegroom.
What an awesome privilege it is to be able to communicate God’s love and wisdom in even this small way, every few weeks on the Internet. Great damage has been done to tender consciences through graphic written material in various forms, and the fact that I am guilty of this very thing…well, it breaks my heart.
God’s forgiveness is complete, and I look forward to a depth of revival yet unknown, but words are fairly permanent. The potential for damage continues, as does my regret. Please pray with me that somehow, God will use even my sinful actions for his glory, for he is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Ellen Gillette, author of Baaad Sheep- When God’s People Let You Down, yet again faces the fact that she is…much too often…in that category herself. Contact her at ellenofgillette1@aol.com.

December 2008 The Gift of God

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:7-10

With Christmas approaching, gifts and gift-giving are on the brain, but I’ve been thinking of it from a little different perspective.

A friend was heading out on a challenging mission and asked Janet to pray for her as she walked out the door. Without giving it a lot of thought, but feeling the urging of the Holy Spirit, Janet called, “Would you like me to go with you?”

“No, no, that’s okay,” the friend said, and was gone. As the door closed behind her and Janet returned to the task at hand, a phrase popped into her head. “If you knew the gift of God…” Her friend was entering an emotionally-charged situation for which she had no first-hand experience; Janet, on the other hand, had faced it. The Lord had taken her through that particular valley and given her both grace and insight into a very difficult experience.

She had no human desire to be plunged into that arena again—there was nothing of herself that had offered to accompany her friend. That simple “Would you like me to go with you” was a gift from God, but her friend failed to recognize it as such.

How often do we also miss the gifts of God around us? There are the obvious, every day miracles we usually take for granted—life, breath, shelter, food, love—as well as those offered through others like Janet—gifts of experience, gifts of time shared, gifts of prayer, gifts of concern.

Jesus told the woman at the well that if she knew the gift of God and who it was who spoke to her, she would ask for, and receive, living water. The New International Version uses the phrase only eight times in the entire Bible, four of which deal with our relationship with God. In John and below, it refers to eternal life:

“The gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin… (it brought) justification (Romans 5:16).”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).”
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).”

The gift of God also refers to the abilities God gives believers to minister to the Church, our outreach to others: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Timothy 1:6).”

The last way the phrase is used could be called inreach—a general happiness that God reaches in and brings to our lives every day:

“That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil; that is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13).”
“To accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 5:19).”

It is this last usage that we find the most difficult to receive, because it is often wrapped so oddly, shaped so strangely. The everyday gifts of God do not sparkle with heaven’s promise of golden gates or jeweled crowns. They also do not require much on our part, the way the spiritual gifts do which he bestows on us.

What they do require is that we have eyes to see them, that we recognize the gift of God when it says hello at the other end of a telephone conversation, when it offers assistance we hadn’t wanted to admit we needed, when it opens the door for us when our arms are full, when it smiles at us across the room from a stranger’s face.

If you knew the gift of God…

Father, help us to recognize your awesome gifts around us in all their many forms. Let us truly be content with our lives and find joy in our work. We rejoice in the promise of eternal life with you—may it begin not on the day of death, but today, as we walk in the fullness of your Holy Spirit each moment. Amen.

November 3, 2008 Wanting to be God

Several years ago I was loading folding chairs into the trunk of the car after enjoying a Christmas parade in downtown Fort Pierce, Florida. A family happened to be getting into the car parked next to mine at the same time and I overheard the mother and daughter—perhaps nine or ten years old—talking back and forth with some degree of intensity until they reached the bottom line to the conversation:

“No arguing, we need to hurry so that we get to your church play on time,” the mom said.

“But I don’t want to be an angel!” the little girl fussed. “I want to be God!”

I couldn’t resist joining in at that point as I slammed my trunk lid. “Don’t we all, honey. Don’t we all.”

Yesterday, November 2, the topic of the morning’s message in the “Hostage” series was Addiction. A large list of possible addictions was given along with scriptural insight intended to help us avail ourselves of the freedom for which Christ died. My husband David shared his personal testimony of a miraculous, instantaneous deliverance from drugs and alcohol when he was in his early twenties.

What struck me as I listened to the message was that not only are addictions substitutes in our lives for roles only God should fill (whether we are addicted to things like drugs, smoking, or pornography, or to more “socially acceptable” addictions such as spending, working hard, needing constant validation from others, etc.), but also, it boils down to who is going to be God in the first place.

You’ve probably heard the saying “Jesus is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all” or seen the little diagram in the “Four Spiritual Laws” pamphlets depicting Self on the throne. With our own selves in power, our own desires and plans, we make unwise choices that can eventually turn into addictions.

Think about it—no one wakes up one morning and says, “I think I’ll become addicted to online pornography today.” No one just happens to get addicted to drugs, alcohol, or smoking. No one accumulates $5000 in credit card debt overnight (well, maybe a few people do!). The point is, sin gains a foothold when we do even one thing outside of God’s will. Sin becomes a stronghold as we continue to walk in sin, becoming ensnared and enslaved. What was once “just” sinful behavior becomes a sinful lifestyle, determining our very destiny.

I heard a woman give a simple illustration about sin—think about a white building. Sparkling new paint. Satan doesn’t smear it with black paint—that would be too obvious. Instead, he spritzes a dash of spray paint here and there. Every day. Until one day, the whole building is a dull gray. No one can point to the moment they recognized it was no longer white, but eventually, it was transformed.

Another man used the analogy of a brand new truck. He was talking about keeping a marriage in tiptop shape, but I think it applies to our lives in general. When you bring home a new truck, you’re oh, so careful about pulling in to the garage, where you park, picking up trash each time you get out. Then you come out to the parking lot one day after work, and there’s a little scratch—you didn’t do it, but it’s still there. Instead of polishing it out—it’s so small!—you’re not quite as careful about dinging it up yourself. You stop picking up; litter accumulates in the floorboard and seat. What was once pristine is now common in appearance, even shabby.

The best way to stop an addiction from gaining control is to never begin the addictive behavior in the first place. If you never look at pornography, you will never become addicted to it. If you never smoke a cigarette…if you never spend more than you can afford…if you look to God for affirmation rather than to people…

All easier said than done, of course. Each of us struggles with our own areas of weakness that may or may not qualify for the textbook definition of addiction, but which nevertheless lead us to yank Jesus off the throne of our hearts from time to time. Like the little girl leaving for the Christmas program, we all want to be God.

It’s just that we are so devastatingly bad at it.

October 20, 2008 Praying the Word

There’s a scene in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” in which Harry brings his friend, a writer, to meet Sally—who has brought her friend to meet Harry. Sally’s friend quotes something she read in an article. “Get out!” Harry’s friend exclaims (and I’m paraphrasing here). “I wrote that! I’ve never ever had someone quote me before.”

“And I’ve never quoted anyone in a conversation!” she says. This is Hollywood, so the audience knows right away that they will bond, be soul mates, and live happily ever after.

It’s true, though, that writers love to hear the words they’ve written, in much the same way that an architect would enjoy overhearing someone comment on the beautiful lines of a building she designed, or a composer would be blessed by hearing someone humming his own song as they passed on a street.

We call the Bible “God’s Word” and although he used human hands to put pen to paper, I believe that God enjoys—as the true author—hearing his words spoken back to him. Not only is he blessed when we read his word as it appears on the page, however, but also as we use those words in prayer and praise to him.

Many of the Psalms are written directly to God, and make it very easy for us to pray them back, such as Psalm 4:1: Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” That’s exactly the cry of our hearts at times, isn’t it? “Are you listening to me, Lord? Answer me when I call! I need help!”

Ephesians is a great book filled with passages that can easily and affectively be turned into prayer of worship. Where I have changed a word to make it personal, I’ve put the change in parentheses. From chapter 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of (my) Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed (me) in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ(You) chose (me) in (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in (your) sight. In love (you) predestined (me) to be adopted as (your daughter) through Jesus Christ, in accordance with (your) pleasure and will— to the praise of (your) glorious grace, which (you have) freely given (me) in the One he loves. In (you, I) have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that (you lavish on me) with all wisdom and understanding. (I ask that you make known to me) the mystery of (your) will according to (your) good pleasure, which (you) purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

“(Thank you that I have been chosen) having been predestined according (your plan, as you work) out everything in conformity with the purpose of (your) will, in order that (I)… might be for the praise of (your) glory.”

Is there someone on our hearts in needs of the Lord’s touch? We can pray the word for them too: (Ephesians 1:17 and following) “I (ask you), the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, (to give- and here, insert the person’s name) the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (she would know you) better. I pray also that the eyes of (her) heart may be enlightened in order that (she) may know the hope to which (you have) called (her), the riches of (your) glorious inheritance in the saints, and (your) incomparably great power for (all of us) who believe. “

Sometimes we have such deep longings for prayer, but the words escape us. We lack the vocabulary, or our minds are so heavy with distress or distraction that we can hardly think. It is a comfort to know that the word of God is there, filled with promised and exhortations, yes, but also with the very prayers we can pray in time of need.

October 6, 2008 Sowing & Reaping

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)

A friend of mine told me that when she and her sister were children they made fun of another girl in their neighborhood who was mentally challenged and also overweight. Apparently they were merciless in their treatment of her, so much so that my friend felt guilty, in later years, as she came to know Christ and understand his words. Her understanding of the verse above was especially hard-hitting: “My sister gave birth to a child with Down’s syndrome, and I have always struggled with my weight.” She did not view these two situations as coincidences.

In the movie “Secondhand Lions” two gentlemen farmers and their nephew plant a garden after preparing the soil. A traveling salesman has sold colorful packets bearing the names and pictures of a wide assortment of vegetables, but in a few weeks, when the plants are growing high, it is obvious that only the packets which said “corn” were accurate—the entire garden is nothing but corn. As they sowed, so would they reap.

Even children are aware that when you plant a bean seed, you harvest beans. Broccoli seeds produce broccoli plants. Lettuce seeds, lettuce. Marigold seeds, marigolds. Whatever you sow you will, if you’ve taken care with your preparations, reap. It is a natural principle, one with profound spiritual applications.

The principle of sowing and reaping is often voiced during stewardship drives to encourage increased giving to churches or other ministries, but its truth goes far beyond finances. If we sow seeds of discord within church walls, how can we expect unity? If we plant seeds of distrust in our relationships, why are we surprised if (1) someone does not trust us or (2) others behave in an untrustworthy manner? The list of examples could go on and on.
On the other hand, when we continually and consistently sow love into a person’s life, we can be certain that we will not reap anything- in the long term- that is negative or hurtful. We can’t control the responses of other people, of course—it could take years of showing love to some people to allow sufficient time for the Lord to soften their stony hearts. But it’s worth a try isn’t?

The sooner we start planting those seeds of love, the sooner the harvest will come.

A friend of mine once commented on the importance of small steps by saying that one row of beans will produce a lot more beans than no row at all: one loving gesture, one word of encouragement, one attempt to sow something positive into the life of another human being…

Zechariah 4:10 speaks of not despising the day of small things. What seems small to us, even as small as a seed, may well produce a great harvest.

September 22, 2008 When the Dog Bites

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)

Many years ago, my husband was pouring concrete with his father and needed the screed board—a two-by-four used as a leveling device-- he’d left at another job. There was some chitchat about the homeowner’s bad dog between the men, but a key phrase--Do not go inside the gate if no one’s home-- didn’t make it into my consciousness.

As our three oldest children and I headed off in the van to fetch the board (our two-year-old was “helping” Daddy and Grandpa) eight-year-old Caleb noticed a small white card. In an attempt to memorize scripture, I had ordered memory cards from the Navigators and happened to be working on the verse shown above. Caleb “tested” me to see if I knew it; it was a nice moment of sharing truth with the kids. If only I’d known what we were about to encounter…

Pulling up to the residence, I noted the security fence and “Beware of Dog” sign. No cars, but no dog either. A chain from a porch post appeared to lead inside the house—I assumed the dog was there, perhaps taking a nap. My experience with dogs up to that point was that if you stay calm and speak softly, they’re all pretty manageable. My experience up to that point was, shall we say, inadequate preparation?

Caleb and I went inside the gate, which I latched behind me out of sheer habit. Just as we passed the house, an enormous dog bounded out of nowhere—an enormous trained guard dog that’d paid attention during the “Scaring Away Harmless People and Small Children” class. I tried the calm voice routine to no avail and barking gave way to nipping, the dog jumping at me multiple times. Caleb, bless his heart, stood his ground. “Let’s get out of here!” I shouted.

I headed for the gate while Caleb attempted to climb over the fence. Closing the gate so the dog couldn’t escape, I saw he was still jackknifed over the fence--the dog had bitten the hem of his jeans just as he was about to make it. I pulled him over; we rushed to the van, and assessed the damage. One of my hands was bleeding, an upper arm. More disconcerting was the fact that blood began to seep through my shirt.

Nothing seemed serious until Caleb said quietly, “My leg feels funny.” Lifting the material up, I gasped. His jeans weren’t torn, but his leg was--a huge three-sided flap of skin perhaps a half-inch thick hung loose.

Within minutes, the girls were watching television in the emergency room waiting area while nurses and doctors attended to Caleb and me. We were put in beds separated by a curtain, but Caleb was moved beside me when it became evident he was scared—he’d watched just enough medical dramas to be wary of the heart monitor. If the line went flat, he’d die. If he went to sleep, he might not wake up.

Lying there in the aftermath of a terrorizing morning, I knew I needed to calm my son’s fears, but how? Through the haze of more immediate, frightening memories, I pulled up our initial drive. “Do you remember the memory verse you looked at?” I asked Caleb. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed…though the guard dog bites…God’s unfailing love is never shaken.” He relaxed a little, and we continued to talk until the doctor arrived.

Caleb’s leg is scarred—the skin was too damaged for stitches to “take”—but because of God’s love expressed through his word, his heart is not. Instead of growing up fearful of dogs and any sudden danger, he is currently a sergeant with a police department, even a member of the SWAT team. And he still relies on the fact that when everything around him is chaos and terror, God’s love prevails.
Ellen Gillette is a freelance writer in Lillington, North Carolina and owns two very large dogs.

September 8, 2008 Inner Beauty

The women’s Bible study at Crossroads did an excellent study of the book of Proverbs several months ago. Led by Carol Starling, it tackled real-life issues while providing insight and background into the book itself, whose very purpose is for learning, instruction, understanding, shrewdness. There are also 31 chapters, making it a great fit for personal devotions—one chapter per day, each month.

Some passages in Proverbs are more familiar to us, the kind that make it onto calendars and coffee mugs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5); “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (17:22); and a personal favorite for husbands out there, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth” (5:18, all NIV).

One of the ones that isn’t likely to show up on a Jesus pencil, however, is one loaded with depth and conviction for women, especially, found in Proverbs 11:22: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”

It’s all well and good to say that physical beauty doesn’t matter—God has no standard for outward appearance (see 1 Samuel 16:7) so we shouldn’t either. But in reality, every culture has its own vastly differing concepts of what makes a person attractive. From a very young age, females in America are particularly targeted to look and dress a certain way in order to be “beautiful.”

The underlying message is that beauty = power and, if we’re honest, we’d have to agree, to a point. Our highly visual society constantly renders judgments about the validity of what a person says based primarily on the package those words come in. If we want to be taken seriously, common sense would dictate that we check the mirror before we go to a job interview, or stand before a planning board.

But beauty, as they say, is only “skin deep.” “Pretty is as pretty does.” The reason those old sayings endured long enough to become old sayings is because they are rooted in the truth of the word of God! Our concept of outward appearance must be joined with the wisdom to handle it appropriately, to use discernment with those around us, to beware of letting our outward appearance control our lives.

The writer of Proverbs paints a vivid picture. In order to put a gold ring in a pig’s snout, a person would have to touch the pig—to touch something God called “unclean.” In the same way, beauty without discretion leads to unclean thoughts, unclean behavior, unclean mannerisms. Inappropriate actions and choices.

By contrasting feminine beauty with a pig, he tells us that beauty, no matter how enchanting or glamorous, is actually out of place on a woman without wisdom, just as a gold ring would be out of place on a pig. Gold has always been regarded as precious—what a waste to use gold to adorn an animal that habitually lays in its own excrement and mud. Beauty is a somewhat rare commodity as well—and it is wasted on the foolish and indiscreet.

In the New Testament, Jesus said not to throw pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6); someone has said that the pig can’t appreciate the gift, is only annoyed by the gesture, and turns on the giver to take it out on him! When a person is gifted with physical beauty and yet fails to couple that with godly wisdom, they have failed to appreciate their Creator, who chose to make them that way for his own purposes and plans.

Peter said it another way in 1 Peter 3:3—“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.”

The Greek translated as adornment is kosmos, from which we get cosmos, meaning the world or universe. In other words, don’t let outward appearance become your entire world, your main focus. Society will continually draw you in that direction with its seducing siren song of unrealistic standards and lust for power, what is valuable in the kingdom of God is the condition of your heart. A heart that is open to God, pliable in his hands, tender toward others—that is a thing of beauty that will last.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV)

August 24, 2008 Adam & the Number 22

August 22, 2000 was the worst day of my life out of the worst several days beginning in the early hours of Sunday, August 19. That was when we got the phone call no parent is ever prepared for—our youngest son Adam, age 16, had been in a car accident. The vehicle had gone out of control, rolling several times. Adam had been ejected through the rear window, sustaining serious head injuries. I have told the story so many times that I can see it, as if I were standing by the highway, powerful to prevent it, a muted scream forming deep in my throat.

Adam never regained consciousness, and it is our belief that the Lord took him at the time of the accident, but it was two days later that the doctors pronounced him, after vario us and repeated tests to make certain, dead. August 22 always looms large in my mind as The Day. The anniversary of my son’s death, as hurtful as date as his birthday, May 22, was joyful.

A while back, a movie came out called “The Number 23” in which a man was haunted by 23s. I could relate—not long after Adam’s death, I began seeing the number 22 everywhere. His birthdate, his death date. The numerals of his birth year, 1984, add up to…22. It seemed as though every time I glanced at a clock to check the time, it was 22 minutes after the hour. It happened too often to be a coincidence Why would God keep reminding me, as if I needed a reminder…didn’t I already think about losing Adam every hour of every day?

For years, years, this continued, as I and our family learned to live in an Adam-less world. He had filled our lives with so much love and laughter, the void seemed hug e, unfillable. Yes, God gave us grace sufficient for the day, but often it was just sufficient, with not a smidgeon to spare. A glance at the clock…another “22”, and I could easily tip over the edge into fresh, raw grief.

Oddly, the 22nd of each month could surprise me. I would be going along fairly functional, BAM! experience a meltdown for no apparent reason—and then notice the date.

The strangest occurrence was several years after Adam’s death when the phone system went out at the dental office I managed,. A technician soon had things repaired, but when the time and date flashed back on my phone, the image that appeared was…you guessed it…August 22. Even though it was neither August, nor on the 22nd. A co-worker and I exchanged looks of amazement and I ran from the room, bursting into tears in the restroom. “Why are you doing this?!” I demanded of God. But just as with my questions about Adam’ s death, there was silence in heaven.

About two years ago, I was sitting at the dining room table reading my Bible one day and I happened to look up at the clock. Of course, it was 22 minutes after the hour. This time, however, I looked down at the pages before me and saw numbers there too. I looked up Psalm 22 and found words of comfort in the midst of despair. Romans 8:22 pointed to hope. And on and on, as I flipped through the pages finding verse after verse. As I did, something happened inside. I began to see all those 22s as assurances of Adam’s love, as reminders that we will be reunited one day in heaven. The pain of loss and separation are still very real, but that one aspect…the number 22…has undergone a transformation.

Last year I was hired as the administrative assistant for a local Presbyterian church. A part-time job would be a financial blessing, I knew, but I wondered, as I suppose many of us do when beginning a new phase of life, if I was really where I shoul d be. We always long for confirmation in such times.

I had had a brief tour of the building during my initial interview, but it was not until I was hired and actually sitting at my new desk that I glanced up and noticed a number on my door. 22.

Thank you, Lord. I love you too, Adam. See you soon.

August 11, 2008 Following vs. Believing

What we think about is important. Paul encouraged us to set our minds on the Spirit, rather than the flesh (see Romans 8). Jesus frequently asked the disciples, “What do you think…?” Clearly we are to use our brains to focus attention on the things of God, but there is a difference in thinking and believing.

If I think there is a rattlesnake coiled beneath my chair, I may or may not do anything about it. If I believe the snake is there, however, if I hear the rattle and know that I know that I know There. Is. A. Snake. Under. My. Chair… well, let’s just say that definitive action will occur.

Within Christian teaching, we often hear an emphasis on belief. Do you believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do you believe God’s word? Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe in creationism vs. evolution? Do you believe the rapture will come pre-, mid-, or post-tribulation? Do you believe the gifts of the Spirit are still valid for today? Do you believe?

Most people attending church, and even a large proportion of the general population, would answer in the affirmative. A Fox poll a few years ago revealed that a full 92% of Americans said they believed in God (the Barna group, when describing God as “the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today,” came up with 69%). But only about a quarter of the population attends church, and in view of the conditions we see all around us, apparently belief doesn’t entirely cut it.

I recently came across a message (in a catalogue, of all places) that quotes a Salvadorean Jesuit, Jon Sobrino: “Do you believe in Christ? It isn’t hard to answer that…But when someone asks, ‘Are you following Jesus’—this can get to be expensive. This question has to do with my lifestyle, my attitudes, my values, my surrender.”

“If I’m following Jesus,” Sobrino writes, “why am I such a good insurance risk?...why, when I have done my giving, have I so much left over for myself? If I’m following Jesus, why do my closets bulge when so many are unclothed? If I’m following Jesus, why do I have so many friends among the affluent and so few among the poor?...Why do I have so much privacy in a world that is starved for love…why am I tempted to overeat in a world in which so many beg for bread? If I’m following Jesus, why am I getting on so well in a world that marked Him out for death?”

Although the ideas of believing in Jesus and following Jesus are theoretically inseparable, Sobrino thinks we separate them constantly through our behavior, and that when we do, we should err on the side of following: “For one can believe without following, but one cannot follow without believing.”

Verrrrry interesting. What did Jesus say to people, as he walked on this earth? He talked about belief, yes, but he asked them, time after time, to “Follow me.” The question to us…to me…then, is simple. As a believer, am I also a follower? Are my actions indicative of genuine belief, or is what I consider “belief” merely mental assent?

“Even the demons believe, and shudder” (James 2:19 NRSV).

July 28, 2008

There are some things you should probably just give up if you haven’t done them in awhile. A friend of mine who’d smoked for thirty years got such a bad cold he couldn’t enjoy a cigarette. When he realized he hadn’t smoked in two weeks, he decided just to quit, hasn’t smoked since, and is the better for it.

Some days I think running may be one of those things! I started running again recently after almost a decade and I’m wondering how long it will take to get past the sheer hatred. I hate the heat, hate the way I have to stop and walk so I don’t collapse by the side of the road, hate the habit of large birds circle patiently overhead hoping this will be the day I actually do.

Running is waaaay different if you’ve gotten out of the habit, allowed yourself to get out of shape even just a tad. And did I mention our road is sand? And uphill a good bit of the time?
Fortunately, my husband refuses to listen to me whine. “That’s great!” David cheers from his prone position on the couch when I stagger through the door. “You did it in record time!” He’s talking about one of those black vinyl long-play records you get as collector’s items, no doubt, but I appreciate the encouragement. Everyone does better with a cheering section, even in our spiritual journey—that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12) serves a purpose!

Isaiah 40:31 tells us that “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint (KJV).” As a teenager, we sang the verse as a chorus at church with a refrain added: “Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.”

Long ago in my gym days, I enjoyed weight training, but “wait training” is just as important. Training is what we’re on this earth for, incidentally, otherwise God would call us home to heaven as soon as we got saved. Eternity promises to be so awesome, we’re not going to want to waste one moment of it learning lessons we should have learned here.

A family member recently returned from deployment overseas, where a lot of what he did was….wait. I’d like to say we’ve been waiting patiently on certain members of the financial community so that we can sell some property, but it’s been a struggle. At the moment, I’m waiting on various people to receive wisdom/discover a light bulb over their heads/come to their senses /whatever-it-takes so that they come in line with what I want! We wait for a new job, the right guy to ask us to the prom, test results, stimulus checks from the IRS, for the red light to turn already.

And God is, I’m sure, waiting for us to get over ourselves and trust him. Completely. Since he’s God and all, and clearly we are not.

Waiting on God, as Isaiah discovered, isn’t vacant, endless minutes of boring existence, but a living, active, phase of obedience. It’s a time to rest in him, to be built up and prepared inwardly. Through waiting on him, we receive strength so that when he does call us to action, we are equipped and able to run the race that is set before us without getting too tired, to keep walking our Christian walk without fainting away in the heat of adversity and conflict.

The birds don’t circle above us quite as much, either.

Ellen Gillette is a freelance writer and author of Baaad Sheep- When God’s People Let You Down (CarePoint, 2007). Write to her at ellenofgillette1@aol.com. If she’s not too tired from running, she’d enjoy writing back.

July 14, 2008

Just another young girl running around the streets of her Catholic neighborhood, Catherine presented herself to her leaders and priests and requested that she be made a nun. It wasn’t an unusual for a dedicated Catholic girl, even at her tender age, although it must have raised a few eyebrows when she asked to also be a recluse, shut out from the life she had known, cut off from family and friends. Had she had a difficult life she wanted to escape? A life of wealth and ease that pricked her conscience? We know little of her background.

Perhaps her interviewers were struck by her passion to separate herself from all things worldly in order to devote her life to prayer. Accepted to a particular institution, she would have contact with none but those within the walls of the convent.

Locked away with the Lord, however, something happened that neither the priests, the nuns, nor Catherine expected or foresaw. Praying and speaking to her God, apparently he spoke back.
Without benefit of a Bible to consult or study, Catherine began to question doctrinal points she’d previously been taught. Why should confession be only made to a priest? Wouldn’t another believer be capable of listening to her heart and offering counsel and encouragement? Wasn’t infant baptism largely ineffective, since the infant could not possibly know what he or she believed at the time? And surely, when she took communion bread into her mouth, it was still bread, not the actual body of Christ. It tasted like ordinary bread, smelled like ordinary bread, chewed and swallowed like ordinary bread—perhaps it symbolized his broken body. Perhaps the simple obedience of remembering his death through communion was a worthy goal, without there being something mystical and magic about it.

Had Catherine kept her new-found beliefs to herself, she might have died of old age at the convent. As it was, she shared with the other nuns and someone—as so often happens—must have squealed. Can’t you just hear it? “You’ll never guess what Catherine just said!”

Today, she might be hauled before a review committee, put on kitchen duty, kicked out of the convent. Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t 2008, but 1417. France was part of the Holy Roman Empire, and the HRE did not take kindly to independent thinkers, cute little girl or not.

In 1417, the Catholic Church’s method for nipping controversy in the bud was as drastic as they come. Catherine Saube, just another passionate young believer, was burned at the stake. Not only did she give her life for her beliefs, she had taught so well that the entire convent was assessed as “infected.” The sisters all….all…burned together. Maybe even the “squealer.”

Something to think about, the next time we’re tempted to complain about this doctrine or that rule, or boast of our “convictions.” It has been said that a conviction isn’t just something you believe—it’s something you’ll suffer for, whether by going to prison or facing death. That might narrow the list considerably.

Something else to consider? Catherine Saube’s revelations predated Martin Luther’s by many years. Is it possible that this story of “just” a young girl in France reached his ears? We may never know the full impact of choices, words, and actions during this life, but I have no doubt at all that Catherine Saube and her sisters are among that rest under the altar of God:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; [10] they cried out with a loud voice, "Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" [11] They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.
Revelation 6:9-11 (New Revised Standard Version)
P.S. Read about Catherine and a multitude of the faithful who gave their lives for the Lord in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

June 30, 2008

The Bible is filled with stories of larger-than-life heroes and heroines, many well-known, others not so. Sometimes I get caught up in the verses I’m reading, wondering what it must have really been like at the time. There are relatively few details given and some of the women, especially, have gotten a bad rap down through the ages. We need to remember that these were real women, not just characters in a book. We do them a disservice when we refuse to allow them to become flesh and blood as we study.
Eve has long been pegged the source of the world’s woes, but there are also others who, I believe, remain largely misunderstood. Job’s wife, for one—her husband said she was foolish to suggest he “Curse God and die” in the midst of incredible trials and suffering, but I hear a woman who loves so deeply she can hardly bear to watch her husband’s pain. Foolish, yes, in light of God’s plans and purposes, but also, from a human standpoint, perfectly understandable.
Of all the women I’ve heard dealt with harshly, however, whether in print or from the pulpit, I think Michal, David’s first wife, deserves the prize. When she is spoken of, it is almost always with disdain. What audacity, to cop an attitude with King David, the man after God’s own heart! How dare she criticize him for worshipping God!
We’re so quick to judge.
Let’s look briefly at her sad, sad circumstances. Clearly she and Dad haven’t been close—King Saul believes his little girl will “be a snare” to David (1 Samuel 18:21), not a blessing. In love with David (who may have preferred her older sister), her father, all but dares David to marry Michal by requiring him to circumcise a hundred Philistines as a bride-price. He’s refused to marry for love, but he jumps at the chance to kick a little Philistine butt! Michal faces life as a newlywed caught between an overbearing father who hates her husband, and her beloved husband, destined by God to take over her family’s reign. She saves his life by helping him escape, only to receive word that David’s taken another wife. And then another…
Meanwhile, Daddy Dearest decides to publicly humiliate his son-in-law by giving Michal to a man named Paltiel. In that culture and day, it’s unlikely that Michal had a choice. Saul takes his life in battle, her brother Jonathan is killed, David is finally anointed king. Years pass. David has six wives, more concubines, numerous children. But Michal is, perhaps, at peace for the first time in her life, content to live with a man who actually loves her, who doesn’t have to fear for his life, who comes home each night.
Unfortunately, David goes into “payback” mode when an enemy wishes to get into his good graces. He agrees to accept the man—if he will bring back Michal (note that David never tried to get her back himself). Apparently Paltiel is much more heartbroken by his separation from Michal than David ever was--when she’s removed by force, he follows, weeping, until ordered to return home.
Within the context of all this turmoil and emotion Michal becomes embittered toward the man she once loved. Perhaps she has a problem seeing David worshipping God in the context of all the hurt, from her perspective, that he has caused her. Obviously she’s holding on to some baggage from the past when she confronts David with biting sarcasm in 2 Samuel 6. David responds with equal hardness. The chapter, and all mention of Michal, ends with verse 23 “And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.” The implication? No relationship of any kind between her and David…which probably suited Michal just fine. Unwilling to forgive, possibly unschooled in the ways of Jehovah, we can only guess that she spends the rest of her life in obscurity and self-pity.
But remember 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching…”—the stories in the Bible and the characters the Lord chose to include are there to instruct us, even the ones who appear to have gotten everything wrong. When my David and I were engaged, I prayed for a scripture for our upcoming marriage and was led to 2 Samuel 6:16: “When (Michal) saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” It became my goal and desire to do just the opposite—to not despise my husband for obeying God, even when I didn’t understand.
“What Would Jesus Do?” is a trendy phrase, but the next time we’re tempted to judge one of Bible’s sadder characters, I suggest we ask ourselves, “What would I have done?” as we try to understand the context of their behavior. If we had undergone the same trials and hurts. And without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who would eventually come to guide and teach.

Ellen Gillette is a freelance writer and author in Lillington, NC. She may be reached at ellenofgillette1@aol.com. Her comments and views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the membership or leadership of Crossroads Church, but they’re kind enough to let her ramble on here. And her husband David has been kind enough to consistently forgive her over the last 31 years when she has failed him miserably.

June 16, 2008

What Would Jesus Eat?
There’s actually a book by that title. And it’s a valid question …would Jesus, for instance, if physically on the earth today, frequent fast food restaurants? He was accused of hanging out with gluttons, and according to health department portion information, a children’s hamburger is about the right size—not triple that, with supersized fries! No wonder many of us have been losing the battle of…losing.
Can the Bible help us with the war on weight? Years ago “Ezekiel Bread” was a fad—God’s recipe for keeping the prophet alive in the desert for two years. Viewing one recipe online recently, I had to laugh—preparation time is given as “20 minutes” but the recipe calls for grinding your own flour (not to mention gathering nuts and berries from the Promised Land). Even today, you can buy “health” bread (i.e. barely edible) touting to be just like Ezekiel’s lifesaver. Taste-wise, the reviews aren’t great, but then, they probably don’t bake it on human dung as God originally instructed Ezekiel to do. (See Ezekiel 4 – I kid you not.)
Ordinarily when losing weight is discussed, it’s about doing without or limiting a certain section of the food pyramid—no fats, no carbs, nothing white after five o’clock, gluten-free. Those who have lost pounds and keep it off, however, maintain that success has more to do with keeping track of what you eat, incorporating true lifestyle changes, and having the support of family and friends than with sticking to any one’s no-no list.
The addition of one crucial element to our diet, however, added in the right proportion, would probably do more than any attempt at slashing menu items. Calorie free. Just-plain-free, too. I refer, of course, to that universally life-maintaining substance…water.
Being comprised of 75% water, we need lots of it every day to remain healthy—that old school chart axiom of 8 glasses of day is just the minimum, and if you’re like me, even that has historically been difficult to maintain.
Water aids digestion, regulates temperature and circulation, cushions joints, protects organs. Experts say that dehydration (a lack of water) may cause hypertension, asthma, allergies, and migraines; it’s also linked to depression and chronic fatigue. For those of us who want to lose weight, water has to be taken into account—too little leads to excess body fat, poor muscle tone, and water retention that makes us feel even fatter! Who needs that?!
A pharmacist once told me that the body would pretty much maintain an even keel if kept hydrated. Obviously, water is crucial to our existence, and yet, we habitually reach out for sodas and java, which actually deplete the water in our bodies. We don’t drink what we should (enough of it, anyway) and we substitute liquids that aren’t nearly as beneficial.
You can probably guess where I’m headed with this.
In John 4, Jesus tells the woman of Samaria that the water he gives is a spring of eternal life. In John 7, Jesus speaks to a crowd in Jerusalem on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Isaiah 55:1 calls out to us still: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” The psalmist created a beautiful word picture in Psalm 42: “As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
Just as our physical bodies depend on water for physical health, our spirits depend on spiritual water. Just as we are already dehydrated by the time our minds register that we are thirsty, causing us to seek liquids, we don’t always realize we’re spiritually dehydrated until things begin to fall apart around us. How many problems might we avoid if we simply and consistently drank of the living water? How many times have we heard someone say they felt dry?
I encourage you to not only drink more water, but to drink in more of Jesus’ pure, thirst-quenching, life-giving water through reading the Word, worshipping alone and with others, praying to the giver of all good things.
Ellen Gillette is a Christian writer in Harnett County, North Carolina who is trying really hard to drink more water. Author of Baaad Sheep- When God’s People Let You Down (CarePoint, 2007) she may be reached by e-mail: ellenofgillette1@aol.com. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of other individuals or corporate bodies associated with Crossroads Church. (New Revised Version of the Bible used this week.)
P.S. Studies recommend that if you are overweight you should add one glass of water to your daily requirement (of eight glasses) for every 25 pounds over your recommended weight.

June 2, 2008

Christians just want to help. After all, Jesus told us to love one another (John 13:34)—isn’t helping people the loving thing to do?
Not necessarily.
Most of us are familiar with the term “enabler,” one who prevents someone from facing personal demons and making significant life changes. We can become financial enablers by “helping” others avoid responsibility.
How do we avoid the trap? Simple—obey the word of God, which teaches that everything belongs to him (Job 41:11), while we are merely stewards (Luke 12:42-48). We are expected to use wisdom with the money God allows us to govern (Proverbs 21:20).
I’ve heard of borrowers who decided that loans were “gifts,” therefore not liable for repayment. Of folks who got stuck with buying out leased vehicles for those who didn’t properly care for them, because they had co-signed. Friends who loaned credit cards for others to purchase items they eventually sold…without paying back the loan! It makes matters even more difficult when loved ones or family members are involved…the very ones we’re most likely to help.
Unfortunately, I can offer the perfect cautionary tale. In 2006, a collections agency informed me of an outstanding bill with a utilities company in Florida! Surely it was a mistake. Yes…mine.
Years before, when we owned a rental house in Florida, I “helped” tenants by putting the utilities account in my name because they couldn’t afford the deposit required for new customers. I already had an account in good standing; no money was required—what was the harm?
Too bad I didn’t consult King Solomon before acting. He wrote that putting up money for someone else is foolish (Proverbs 11:15). Eventually we sold the house, and the tenants moved on…leaving an outstanding bill. When I contacted them, asking that they straighten it out with the collections agency, I got an earful of rage and cursing.
A relationship was seriously, possibly irreparably, damaged. Our bank account was depleted—the money was owed, after all; my name was on the account. As painful as the situation continues to be, from the Big Picture standpoint, it is also rich with opportunities to learn a few Life Lessons:
Pay attention to red flags. From the beginning, my husband was opposed to renting to the couple because he felt it would be a problem for them financially. I wanted them there so badly I “made it happen” instead of submitting to his wisdom. (Just one of several red flags I chose to ignore in my zeal to “help.”)
There are reasons why lenders ask for co-signers and companies require deposits. If someone hasn’t established a record of responsibility, be very cautious about yoking yourself to his or her financial wagon. Look for alternatives-- things would have been better off in the long run had I given our tenants the deposit money. (Better still if I had listened to my husband!)
Not every want is a need. If people have to take a measure of responsibility for their own provisions, their needs list may shorten drastically. On top of that, not every legitimate “need” is one you or I should necessarily meet. We may be asked to make a loan and the Lord will say to give a gift. We may be asked to give a gift, and the Lord will say no. Emotion shouldn’t cloud our judgment—even…especially… when fellow believers, close friends, or family members are involved.
Dependence on the Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is key in the matter of financial assistance. As it is in all areas, for that matter. We can’t possibly know what God is trying to accomplish in and through each life and situation. When we lack wisdom, all we need to do is ask in faith (James 1:5).
I failed in many ways, but I’ve come to realize that my first mistake was wanting to be perceived as a loving person (ouch) instead of being committed to a true and honest expression of showing God’s love. As a result, I actually hindered his purposes.
Which wasn’t helpful at all.


Ellen Gillette may be reached by e-mail: ellenofgillette1@aol.com. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of other individuals or corporate bodies associated with Crossroads Church or the Baptist denomination, but King Solomon would, I think, agree.

May 19, 2008

When Isaiah wrote about the beautiful feet of those who bring good news (52:7), he must not have been having a vision of mine—I’m on a constant look-out for creams and whatnot to help mend the dryness and cracks. Even though feet have to put up with a lot of abuse, there’s much we can learn by taking a closer look.
Buddhists consider the foot the most dishonorable part of the body and follow rules you’ll need to remember should you visit Thailand (or Richard Gere)—remove shoes before entering buildings and avoid pointing feet toward people, objects, or statues of Buddha. I’m not a Buddhist—I’m not sure even Buddha would be a Buddhist were he alive today, because if the guy was sincerely in search of enlightenment he wouldn’t appreciate being worshipped—but anything that cuts down on sweeping can’t be all bad.
In India, children touch parents’ feet to show love and respect and to request a blessing. Persian weddings of the past included foot-washing for the couple—somewhere, presumably, between throwing the garter and doing the Chicken Dance. Ancient Chinese women had their feet bound, practically crippling them, rendering them incapable of any kind of dance at all…this from one of the most advanced cultures in history.
Interestingly (and news to me when I began my research) is the fact that “feet” was sometimes used by Hebrew Bible writers as a euphemism for parts of the body not normally discussed in polite company (yes, those). When someone pointed this out to me, I did a quick Google to confirm--Bible scholars point to several Old Testament references that may not have anything at all to do with a pair of size tens.
During the time of Christ, the majority of people walked everywhere on dusty roads; feet, therefore, became dirty. Servants customarily washed the feet of employers and guests upon arrival, a custom mentioned several places in the Bible, most notably at the Last Supper, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet prior to his crucifixion (John 13).
Traditionally, his action stands as an example of godly leadership…not lording over those under one’s authority, but serving them so that the entire group—whether church, family, organization, or business—is built up for the corporate good.
During Medieval times, it was customary for nobles to wash the feet of twelve of the kingdom’s poorest men during Easter week; Queen Elizabeth still practices this, in fact (which makes one wonder how the wash-ees are chosen. Is there a sign-up sheet?). Some churches also reenact Christ’s foot-washing as a regular, or special, part of worship.
Over the years, I’ve received different responses to the idea of foot washing as an act of Christian service. On our honeymoon, I washed my new husband’s feet, symbolizing my willingness to serve him in love—a concept that won his immediate approval. Years later, not all my fellow teachers at a small denominational school were enthused when I shared a devotional on the subject and began washing their feet. One person would only let me wash one(!); another refused on the basis of the famous “That’s Not The Way We Do Things” protocol.
Another time I felt compelled to wash the feet of a Scottish evangelist visiting a home group we attended. He later told me he’d had to pray during the entire time I knelt there, pouring water over his feet as a blessing—apparently his feet are extremely ticklish. He was concerned he’d burst out laughing and spoil the moment.
A phrase we hear periodically in the media which captures man’s tendency to fail—“feet of clay”— comes straight from Scripture (Daniel 2). The “footwear” encouraged in the Word is the preparation of the gospel (Ephesians 6:15). When a prostitute washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, she shocked self-righteous onlookers but pleased the Lord (Luke 7). God’s Word is a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:105) but if we ignore it, we may well join those whose feet run to evil (Isaiah 59:7).
Containing twenty-six bones, feet walk about 65,000 miles in a lifetime. They perform a Herculean task, supporting our body weight day in and day out (more of a task for some of our feet than for others’!) but they’re also easily taken for granted—until we stub a toe or get a blister. Be kind to your feet this week, and pray about someone whose feet you may need to wash. Don’t be too quick to add on a “figurative” clause—the physical acts of finding a bowl, running water until it’s warm, draping a soft towel over one’s arm, kneeling at a brother or sister’s feet and looking up at them from a new perspective of submissiveness…there is power in really doing it.
Ellen Gillette is a Christian writer in Harnett County, North Carolina who puts “a foot massage” pretty near the top of her favorite things. Author of Baaad Sheep- When God’s People Let You Down (CarePoint, 2007) she may be reached by e-mail: ellenofgillette1@aol.com. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of other individuals or corporate bodies associated with Crossroads Church or the American Podiatric Medical Association.