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What Color Is Jesus?

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            Isaiah 53:2

On my kitchen windowsill is a Christmas card I received a couple of years ago. It is a simple but colorful drawing of the Christ Child in the manger, with several shepherds kneeling in adoration. All the people in the picture are jet black.

Am I offended by the lack of historical accuracy? Not at all. Nor have I written back to the sender, saying “By the way, Jesus was Jewish, and the shepherds were Jewish, and that picture makes no sense.”

Nope. I love that card, because of who sent it and where it came from. The greeting inside is a hand-written note from one of my friends in Uganda – “To my favorite author.” Elsewhere in the note is written in big letters, “UGANDA LOVES YOU!”

Lately there has been some heated discussions regarding the question of “what color was Jesus?” This question was the basis for accusing whole cultures of racism, western European types in particular. It seems that some European paintings of Jesus show Him looking, well, like a European.

But then, why not?  I would expect pictures of Him in, say, a Mexican church to look more Hispanic. In Asia you can find pictures of Jesus looking Chinese or Indian.

There’s a reason for this, and I’m guessing those reasons were more theological than historical.

These artists were probably aware of where Jesus lived and died, and yet they decided to paint Him in a way that made Him more relatable to the people of their own culture. These artists weren’t ignorant. On the contrary, I would respectfully suggest that their critics are the ones who might be missing the point.

And what is the point? What is the message of the Incarnation?

The point is, the Son of God – God Himself – left His home in heaven to become one of us (“us” being Humanity).

As a Man, Jesus went through the same experiences we go through. He was hungry. He got thirsty. He experienced weariness and pain and loneliness. He knew fear and stress and the sting of other people’s hatred. He empathized, He grieved, He knew anger and frustration. These are things experienced by every person that ever lived, every color, in every era, and in every corner of the earth. He came for all of us – for black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American. And for every race, every nationality, every ethnic group, He took our sins upon Himself and took them to the Cross, where He died for the forgiveness of all of us.

One of my favorite outreaches, the Jesus Film Project has been showing the gospel in video form for decades. Their movie, “JESUS,” the dramatization of the gospel according to Luke, has been translated into more than 1800 languages! Until the pandemic shut down the world, small teams of technicians and evangelists would trek into the remotest places, set up their equipment, and show the film to whole villages at a time. The people would gather to watch and be mesmerized to see the gospel story played out in their language! Now of course when Jesus was on earth He didn’t speak in the tribal languages of these obscure groups, but that doesn’t matter to them. They watch, they listen, they understand – and they believe! 

SIDE NOTE: If you are a linguistics expert and want to get nitpicky about the language Jesus really spoke, you might want to rent “The Passion of the Christ,” where the dialogue is in the original Aramaic. (You might also want to make sure the subtitles are turned on.)

The Apostle John’s description of Heaven in Revelation describes a multitude of people that could not be counted, people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Revelation 7:9) I’m guessing none of those people got hung up what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth as one of us. Who knows? When we enter into eternity, He may show Himself to us in a glorious new color we have never seen before in this life! (Yes, my imagination can go wild when I think of entering eternity after leaving this finite world.)

The Incarnation is a profound reality, one well worth reflecting on.  John 1:14 says,     “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In these days of arguing about anything and everything, let’s focus less on the flesh and more on the Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving the throne room of Heaven to live in this fallen world as one of us. Thank You for offering Your life for all of us as the perfect sacrifice. You paid the debt we could not afford, so our sins might be cancelled out and we might live with You forever. And now, as we place our faith in You, we can look forward to eternal life in Your glorious kingdom, along with Your children from every nation, tribe, people and tongue! What a glorious day that will be!  Lord, help us to focus less on the superficial and more on what’s truly important – how much You love us, how much we love You, and how much we should love one another in Your name. Amen.

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To Seniors and Others Missing Out

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.         Colossians 3:2

This piece, originally entitled “What Else Matters?” was posted May 3 of last year. I wanted to share it again, for all my readers who are or have seniors missing their prom, graduation, and other festivities they thought they would be enjoying now. Feel free to share this with them. I hope it encourages those who are feeling the loss.

It was the morning of the National Day of Prayer. I was sitting in the auditorium at City Hall, listening to my daughter’s school choir singing a goosebump-raising rendition of “You Are God Alone.” They were warming up for the city-wide prayer meeting that was starting in half an hour. And I was crying.

My daughter Kelly had been having a rough time in high school. The migraines that had first appeared when she was four years old had continued to plague her through grade school and middle school and had caused her record absences through high school, in spite of years of prayers and attempts to find a solution through medicine, both traditional and “alternative.”

But in spite of enduring more pain than some people suffer in a lifetime, Kelly had found a few sources of pleasure in her life. By far her greatest joy was singing, and her favorite part of school was choir. When the students performed, Kelly’s face radiated with unmistakable joy. She had looked forward to the national Day of Prayer and taking part, and as I had said goodbye to her that morning and she left for school, I had whispered a special prayer of thanks to God for this special day.

My optimism had been short-lived, however. Kelly had called me from the parking lot of a McDonald’s half a mile from school to tell me about the migraine that had assaulted her shortly after she had walked out the door. When I had suggested that she come home, take some medication, and rest until the assembly, she had sobbed that if she didn’t show up at 8:00 she wouldn’t be allowed to sing with the choir.

There are definite advantages to a small Christian school, one of them being teachers who know each student well and practice grace along with discipline. As I called the office to explain Kelly’s dilemma, the choir director, who “happened to be” right by the phone, responded with compassion. She said to let Kelly come home, take a pill and a nap, and meet the choir at City Hall at 11:30 if she was feeling better.

But the medication that knocked out the migraine had a way of knocking out the patient as well, and when I had tried to rouse Kelly for the prayer meeting, she had been hopelessly (and predictably) dead to the world. Now as the choir finished their warm-up and filed off the stage, there I sat, with nothing to do but feel sorry for Kelly, thinking of all the important high school events she had missed and would never again get a chance to do. And yes, I’ll admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, as well. (When “BabyBear” hurts, “MamaBear” hurts, too.) So in spite of my efforts to contain them, the tears flowed.

I was digging through my purse, looking for a tissue when I came across my small New Testament. Since the prayer meeting didn’t start until noon, I knew I had twenty minutes to kill, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend them wallowing in self-pity. So I pulled out the Bible and prayed.

Lord, Jesus, please encourage me. I don’t want to feel this way today!

I was not in the habit of looking for answers to problems by haphazardly opening the Bible; I hadn’t done that since college. But since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, I opened the Book at random, planning just to read until I found something helpful, or until the prayer meeting started, whichever came first.

The scripture that first caught my eye was the last chapter of Mark:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”                    (Mark 16: 1-6)

Something told me I had seen enough, so I stopped reading.

OK, what does that have to do with Kelly’s migraines? I wondered. But then I pondered the significance of the passage.

Jesus is alive … JESUS IS ALIVE! That means that death is not the end … for Him or for us! And it certainly means this life isn’t the be-all and end-all for those who trust in the Lord. – It’s barely the beginning!

Yes, my daughter had missed the National Day of Prayer, over a hundred days of high school, and numerous weekend festivities. She had missed Homecoming, but someday she would be at the greatest Homecoming in history. She had missed singing in the choir that day, but someday she would sing in heaven’s choir forever. Kelly loved Jesus, and she would get to spend forever with Him, at the never-ending, greatest celebration of all time. When one had that to look forward to … what else mattered?

What else matters? I asked myself, and I found that in spite of my pity-party, I was smiling. I decided that I would pour myself into the Day of Prayer and keep a better perspective on life from that day on, by remembering the one thing that really matters –

Jesus is alive!

Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)                           c 2015 Ann Aschauer

Prayer: Lord, we rejoice that You are alive! Keep us mindful of what really matters. In Your name, amen

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On Being Transparent

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.     Isaiah 64:6a

I don’t do windows.

Well, every few years I try. There will be that bright sunny morning when the light is streaming in, and the need for cleaning is so obvious, I grab the window cleaner, spray bottle, rags, paper towels, and squeegee and get to work. Two or three hours later I throw in the towel (and everything on it) and once more promise myself, never again!

Every summer we go to the house in Michigan that my grandparents built it in the 1940s. It was elegant then and it is still elegant now. Forty-six years ago, my husband Marty and I got married there, and two years ago our youngest daughter was married there. The house has French provincial architecture, fireplaces, a bay window, and French doors that open onto a patio overlooking the lake.

It also has windows that have had a curse put on them. Or maybe it’s just the paint on the frames that dissolves every time any liquid touches it… Each magical little pane is specially made to get dirtier the more it’s wiped. After several attempts at cleaning, the glass will go from mildly dirty to ridiculously streaked on the outside – when you’re looking out. Of course, when you’re outside looking in, all you see are the streaks that are inside. I have on occasion treated the job like an Olympic event, “the Window Sprint” – Can I run outside and get that streak off before I forget where it is? Pretty soon I’m streaked too, with sweat and dirt, and breathless with exasperation. No gold medal here.

(Now please don’t write and tell me how you clean your windows. Believe me, I’ve heard the advice, all about vinegar and newspapers and yada-yadda-yadda… I’ve tried it all.)

A few years ago, we put our house in Port Huron up for sale, and one of the many jobs that needed to be done was … clean the windows. [Insert scary horror movie music here.] When a perfectly gorgeous day came up and I had absolutely nothing on my schedule, there was no excuse to put off the job, however desperately I wished for one.

I was delightfully surprised to find the job was not only effective but surprisingly fun when it actually worked! I found myself singing as I got into the rhythm -squirt-squeegee-wipe, squirt-squeegee-wipe – and pretty soon I was looking around for more windows to clean. At the end of the day, I was standing in the living room, gazing out at the Lake Huron, relishing the fact that the windows were virtually invisible, and I may as well have been standing outside. >Eureka!<

For some reason I took this to mean I now knew how to clean windows, so when we later went to Portage Lake, one bright, sunny day I confidently grabbed my trusty squeegee and began to make the dining room gorgeous, one little pane at a time, forgetting that these windows were cursed… Two hours, one roll of paper towels, one bottle of Windex, and one tantrum later, there was not one pane that was totally clean. I threw up my hands and yelled “I GIVE UP!” followed by a few other things that were probably inappropriate for a Christian to be saying.

Have you been there? I don’t mean just with windows, but anything that you’ve tried to “fix,” that only gets worse the more you try? As I stood there that day, hot and exhausted, scowling at the streaks blocking the view of the beautiful lake, I figured the only way to get a clear view would be just to break the windows. That’s it! Just take out the pains – er, panes – completely, and the view would be great. Of course, that would have made the house a bit drafty and buggy, so Marty didn’t go for that idea.

It occurred to me that I was looking at a picture of sin. The Bible tells us that ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, all of Mankind has been under the curse of sin. For many people, their lives may seem “good enough.” But then the light of God’s truth shines through, and it becomes painfully obvious that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) The more we look at our sin, the more it bothers us.

So, what do some of us do? We try to clean up our act. Somehow, we think we can make it right on our own, although it should soon be apparent that if we were so capable of doing good, our lives wouldn’t be such a mess in the first place. After trying to make things right, we see that we have failed, and more often than not, our feeble attempts have made the situation worse than ever. At this point we should see that we can’t do this ourselves. But some of us refuse to believe we’re that helpless. So, we try harder, thinking if we could just try hard enough, we’ll finally clean up our lives.

The bottom line is, we can’t fix the mess ourselves. We have only two choices. We can avoid the Light and hope nobody notices the dirt, or we can go to God and ask Him to help us. Fortunately, He can. In fact, He sent His Son, Jesus, to take all our dirt onto Himself. When He died for us, He was taking our sin and nailing it to the Cross, and we never have to be enslaved by it again. He can make our lives clean, and He can shine His light through us. Isn’t it a relief to know we don’t have to try to clean ourselves up?

I haven’t yet figured out how to get Jesus to do my windows for me, but two years ago before our daughter’s wedding, we did hire a professional exorcist – er, window cleaning service. Now when I look out through the crystal-clear glass and remember how it used to be, I know what a mess I would be without Jesus. I’m just grateful that I’m not without Him, and that He was willing to do what was necessary to make me clean, so He could shine His light through me.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, in ourselves we are powerless to clean up our own lives. Thank You that You have not left us on our own, but You have shed Your blood to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, that we can live the lives You want us to live – the lives we truly want. We choose to trust You to shine through us today, in Your power, in Your name. Amen

The Friends I Didn’t Know I Had

It’s been a busy summer, and it’s been a struggle to keep up with the blogging world. I’ve been distracted in all kinds of good ways, including a wild sail yesterday on choppy waters and gusty winds – such fun! Somewhere in the conversation something reminded me of this post, and when I looked it up, I realized it has been over 4 years since it was first published. Since most of my followers have not been reading my blog for four years, I decided to repost what someone at WordPress (?) dubbed “classic.” Enjoy, and I will reconnect with y’all next week.

“… so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”     Romans 12:5

“Come with Me,” Jesus said. “There are some people I want you to meet.”

Heaven is an indescribably wonderful place, and the best part of being here is seeing Jesus all the time! It still boggles my mind that He knows the names of every one of the millions of people here, as well as every detail about their lives and personalities. He is always introducing me to people He knows I will enjoy, and the fellowship never gets old; in fact, it gets sweeter with each passing day.

This particular day He was inviting me to gather with a group of souls to hear “God stories” and enjoy the fellowship of a brand new circle of friends.  I didn’t know why He wanted me to meet this particular group of saints, but knowing He had His reasons aroused my curiosity, and I knew I was in for a treat, one way or another.

As I stood in the archway, watching this bunch interact, it was hard to tell why they were together. I tried to guess what they all had in common. Some seemed older and more experienced; others seemed childlike. Some were quiet and thoughtful, others gregarious, some more serious, others with a hair-trigger laugh. But as I looked carefully at their eyes, there was something there that I had learned to recognize. Even the childlike ones had that certain wisdom that was a by-product of past suffering. That look revealed lessons learned, as well as the ability find a reason to be grateful to God for every experience, whether pleasant or otherwise.

Suddenly one of them spotted me. His face lit up, and he exclaimed, “She’s here!” They all let out a cheer, as though this were some kind of reunion. I was confused. I had never seen these people before in my life, and yet they were welcoming me like a long-lost friend.

As usual, each of them had a story to tell, and their stories were almost as varied as their personalities. The common thread seemed to be health problems in their earthly life, but they ranged from injuries in auto accidents, to hemophilia, to cancer. I was still mystified. OK, so they’ve all had health problems, but who hasn’t? Why is this particular group of people together, and why did Jesus invite me to join them?

Jesus did know how much I have always loved “God stories,” and these folks had some great ones. Healing came miraculously at times, but most of the time it came providentially, such as when a car crash occurred right across from the hospital that had just received new blood supplies. The child who had battled cancer at such a tender age had seen the prayers of her church answered as her treatments succeeded beyond expectation, and she had even lost her fear of needles. She later went on to be a compassionate nurse, spending all her vacation days taking medical mission trips. One of these people had even left a belief system that disallowed blood transfusions two days before he needed one during surgery, and his life was extended by over twenty years because of it. It was during this extension of his life that he came to know Christ as his savior and led most of his family to faith.

I was enthralled with their stories, and still curious why they were so eager to tell them to me. Suddenly I was aware that Jesus was standing in the doorway again, radiating that smile that always fills me with deepest joy.

“Have you figured out why you’re here?” He asked. I gave him a sheepish grin and shrugged. “They wanted to thank you,” He said. I looked at all their smiling faces, and it began to sink in.

********************************************************************

“OK, you’re all set,” the nurse’s chipper voice broke into my daydream. She carefully removed the tape from my arm, slipped the needle out, and lifted my arm over my head. “Drink extra fluids this afternoon, no strenuous exercise, and don’t lift anything more than two pounds,” she added, wrapping a red bandage around my elbow. She helped me to my feet, making sure I wasn’t dizzy, before inviting me to have some juice or water and something to eat.

I took her up on the extra sustenance, but I passed on the stickers that I used to wear proudly after every blood donation, the ones that say, “Be nice to me. I gave blood today.” I didn’t need anyone to be extra nice to me. I was happy just thinking of friends I had yet to meet, and all the God stories I had to look forward to.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank You for saving us through the shedding of Your blood. You gave everything for us, and now You have told us to give our lives to one another. Thank You for Your promise that no gift is forgotten. We look forward to seeing the fruits of our giving, if not here, in the hereafter. In Your precious name, Amen.

Lesson from a Child’s Dreams

How beautiful on the mountains
     are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
     who bring good tidings,
     who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
     “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52:7 NIV

One morning when our first-born, Joanna, was little, she woke up crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me about two dreams she’d had.

The first was about a man who was going to die. “He said he was willing to die, as long as the children would get to live.” I knew right away that this dream was about Jesus, who willingly gave up His life to give life to us.

As I was still processing what my small child had said, considering the depth of her understanding at such a tender age, she cheered up and went on.

“Then I dreamed I had beautiful new purple slippers.”

At the time I was taking a class at church in biblical dream interpretation, so my mind was processing the details. Slippers – footwear. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news … who proclaim salvation … ” Missionaries … Evangelists …

I hadn’t spoken these thoughts out loud, but just then Joanna grew thoughtful and said, “Mommy, all I really want to do is be a missionary.”

>Bingo!<

As if to give one more confirmation, the children’s Sunday school class that morning was learning about “Having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6: 15)

Yes, I thought, she will have beautiful feet – in the purple slippers – the color of royalty. And I doubt she realized she was tying the two together when she said she wanted to be a missionary – an ambassador of the King of kings. Out of the mouths of little children … 

Since then, Joanna has been on just one mission trip, with a youth group that included a young man named Sean, who later became her husband. Sean served as an Army chaplain for several years and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, while Joanna stayed home, “holding down the fort.” She is now a busy mother of three, who are being raised “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) For now, this is her “mission field,” and of her three little converts, she has at least one child with an impressive grasp of spiritual things and a constant hunger for more of God.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are called to be a missionary.

This may or may not involve traveling to the remotest parts of the world; our mission field is all around us. Many, many people still don’t know about the saving work of Christ, even with all our high-tech methods of communication. In fact, the more means of communication, the more numerous conflicting and confusing messages are. If you know Jesus, you are called to make Him known to others. Your mission field will be as unique as you are. Your experiences, your testimony, your perspective, your gifts, your contacts, your personality, your lifestyle, even your weaknesses and struggles will all be used to reach those people in your life that only you can reach. The message is the same, but the ways of telling it are as vast and varied as the people God has saved – and wants to save.

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, let me be the first (or second, or twentieth, or hundredth) to tell you the Good News.

God, the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe – loves you! He created you to be unique, and He has a unique place for you in His kingdom.

But first, some bad news. Even though I don’t know you personally, I know that you “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I can tell you that confidently, because we all have. (Romans 3:23) Since God is perfect and His kingdom is perfect, in order to be part of His kingdom we have to be perfect, too. Otherwise, as soon as we get there, it’s not perfect anymore! But since we are all sinners, the only way to be made clean and whole again is to have our sins wiped out – eliminated.

(Forgiven.)

The only way for that to happen is for someone to pay the price. And “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) But that verse goes on to say, “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b) We will either pay the price for our sins with our own death – eternal death – or we can place our faith in Jesus and the price He paid when He allowed Himself to be crucified for us. His life was so pure, so holy, so selfless, that His death was enough to pay for the sins of all of us. And because His power is greater than death, He was raised to life afterwards!

When so much of the world is living in darkness, fear, grief, pain and despair, with no hope for anything better, this is Good News!

So, what do we do with this Good News? First, we take hold of it ourselves. We confess to God that we are sinners with no way to save ourselves. We ask Him to forgive us, save us through the death of His Son Jesus, and help us to become what He created us to be.

As soon as you’ve done this, meaning it with all your heart, then comes the fun part – watching what He’ll do with your life! We each have different callings, but one assignment we all have in common – tell others! Whether that means putting on your beautiful purple slippers or your indestructible combat boots, the world is waiting to hear and receive what you have. Jesus is the Man who died so the children – all of us – could live. Pass it on!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how can we ever thank You enough for paying the penalty for our sins? Our eternal destiny is forever changed. We not only thank and praise you for it, but we also yield ourselves to You. Send us where You want us to go. Let us encounter those You want us to encounter, and speak the words You give us to speak, in Your name. Amen.

Why Do You Ask?

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:3

Last week my son and grandsons were visiting us at the family summer house near Lake Michigan. We really wanted to get all the cousins together, even if just for an afternoon, but our daughter Joanna and her family and friends were vacationing on the other side of the state, close to where two of the girls were at camp.

My resourceful husband found a “waterfall” in a location we could all get to in a few hours, and we made plans to meet up there for a day of fun and frolic in the falls and the natural pools.

The five of us got there shortly after the seven of them did, and we gathered for a picnic lunch. After everyone had eaten, Joanna and I lingered at the table, catching up on one another’s lives, while the kids ran off to play in the water.

It wasn’t long before our visit was interrupted by a very unhappy child. Joanna’s oldest was near hysteria, because she had given her “special bracelet” to her dad for safekeeping, and he had accidentally dropped it somewhere in the water. The inconsolable daughter was sobbing, “I wanna go home!” Of course, Joanna tried to explain that the seven of them were not going to turn around and take the long drive back after less than an hour there, even if “going home” could solve the problem, which of course it couldn’t.

This girl’s distress may seem a bit out of proportion, especially if I were to tell you her age, but this is the same child who as a toddler would be apoplectic if two different foods on her plate were touching one another. (Yes, she has “issues,” and yes, she’s being treated.)

Meanwhile, I hated to see her so unhappy, and I confess I also didn’t want her distress to ruin everyone else’s fun.

Looking out over the falls and multiple pools, I decided to exercise my faith and ask the Lord to help me find the bracelet. The very next thought was that it would increase my granddaughter’s faith if I told her I was praying and then found it! But another part of me wanted to wait until after I had found the treasure … just in case I didn’t.

But if I had faith and asked God for help, why wouldn’t I find it?

Many of you know that one of my books is entitled BARRIERS (So if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) That book is the result of my spending two years going through the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, gleaning every verse I could find about why some of our prayers don’t get answered the way we want them to. (Truth is, every prayer gets answered, we just don’t like it when the answer is “No,” or “Wait.”) The results of my research were a list of fourteen “barriers” to effective prayer, which I have since used as a sort of checklist when I’m asking for something specific.

That day it didn’t take long for me to pinpoint what was likely to be the flaw in my prayer. The Still, Small Voice whispered, Why do you ask?

Motive.

Of course. One of my reasons for wanting the bracelet found was to make my granddaughter’s day happier – and everyone else’s. I did want her faith to grow, but not enough to risk telling her ahead of time that I was praying. Another motivation, I admit, was to spare her mother (and me) a lot of whining and putting a damper on our day.

But probably the most selfish motive of all that was lurking in the darker corners of my heart was the desire to be the Hero. Sure, I wanted the treasure found, but I mostly wanted it found by (drumroll…) ❤ “NANA!“<3

Bingo.

I sighed and reworded my prayer, while still looking into the water, which was clear, but only where it wasn’t being stirred up by multiple swimmers, especially children with their “floaties” and goggles.

->GOGGLES!<

Of course! There was a team of searchers already at our disposal, just waiting for something specific to look for to turn their random paddling into a treasure hunt!

A trio of boys with goggles were diving enthusiastically down to the rocks and back. They were about the age of my granddaughter and looked very approachable, probably because they were the age of kids I used to teach and love.

“Hey, guys,” I said in my teacher voice, and they respectfully gave me their attention. “There’s a red and white bracelet missing somewhere in the water, and someone is very upset that it’s missing! And oh,” I added, “if you find it, there’s a reward.”

Off they swam, and not five minutes later they approached us, holding up the bracelet in triumph.

I was thrilled. At the same time I couldn’t believe this beat-up string of plastic beads was what my granddaughter had been so hysterical about losing. Still, a promise was a promise. I hadn’t specified what the “reward” was, but I figured cash was the surest prize guaranteed to please, and a five was all I had. I gave it to the boys with high fives all around for their work. They seemed happy to get their reward, but even more, getting to be the heroes of the day.

Joanna was surprised and wondered how in the world it had been found. I was happy to give credit to three young men who took the challenge and came through in record time.

Prayer: Father, forgive us for the times we pray to You with wrong motives. We know You want us to be mature and complete more than you want us to have “stuff,” fame, or thanks. Keep molding us and purifying our prayers until we seek Your will and Your glory always, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Comedy of Errors, or Divine Planning?

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps. – Proverbs 16:9

I had returned to Kentucky for a few days to celebrate our daughter Joanna’s birthday and get in as much quality family time as possible before returning to Michigan. One day the schedule was especially tight, as Joanna had to take her oldest daughter Caroline to tutoring from 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M., then to the orthodontist at 10:30. The tutoring and the orthodontist were right next to each other, however, and there was also a coffee shop close by. So, we arranged to meet for coffee and at least get in a half hour visit. I got the name of the coffee shop from Joanna and directions from my GPS, and I was good to go… I thought.

Knowing today I could not be my usual five-or-ten-minutes-late self and still make the most of our visit, I got to the coffee shop fifteen minutes early. If you know me, you know what an amazing accomplishment that is. I got us a table and waited.

And waited.

About 10:10 Joanna called. I was at the wrong coffee shop, which was ten minutes away from the one she wanted me to go to. She suggested I order our drinks and bring them to the orthodontist’s office, and we could visit there.

At 10:29, I arrived with the drinks, but wonder of wonders, the orthodontist was running right on schedule, and a minute later Caroline was called back, as was Joanna.

So much for our visit, I thought, thinking of all the driving around for nothing.

Or maybe not for nothing ...

This was, in all honesty, the most awesome waiting room I had ever seen; consequently, I was in no hurry to leave. Besides the large flatscreen TV, there were four – count them, four – large massage chairs, the kind that cost thousands of dollars each, which I had only experienced by “trying them out” in the store and dreaming of having one of my own. In the next room were video games right out of the 80’s and a soft-serve ice cream machine. Yep, orthodontist’s waiting rooms had definitely come a long way since old magazines and an aquarium.

I sat in one of the luxury chairs, finding the perfect position and trying all the buttons to get the ideal blend of kneading and vibrating. Feeling like a kid on Christmas Day, I concluded that the outcome of that morning could definitely have been worse.

After a few heavenly minutes of bliss and prayers of thanks, I noticed another woman was coming in whose daughter had just been called back. As we exchanged small talk, reveling in living like royalty, however briefly, our personalities “clicked.” As we talked about where we were from, our families, our parents, aging, dementia, death, and relating to each other our dreams of our departed loved ones, the subject transitioned seamlessly toward the afterlife. Although I hadn’t asked specifically for a “gospel conversation,” here it was. As we shared some more, I asked her if she was a reader, and she said yes. When I asked what kinds of books she liked, spirituality was at the top of the list. I offered her a copy of my latest book, which I always “happen” to have in my car, and she accepted the offer. When I came back with it, she was smiling.

“It’s funny,” she mused as I was signing it, “I was just telling my husband this morning that I needed to get a book today. Tomorrow we’re leaving for Hawaii, and I didn’t have anything to read on the plane.”

“Well now you do,” I laughed, handing her the book. A few minutes later, she and her daughter were gone.

I’m glad I hadn’t wasted any energy that day griping about my thwarted plans for a visit with my daughter and granddaughter. Clearly God had other plans, and I’ve learned His plans are always better than mine.

I still let myself get frustrated way more often than I should. But this story is one more reminder, next time I feel I’ve lost control of my day, that Somebody is perfectly in control.

Prayer: LORD, You rule over everything that happens on this earth, whether You make it happen or allow it to happen. Help us to remember that as Your children we don’t need to be upset when our plans go awry. We only need to look to You, knowing You will never leave us, and You want only the best for us and those around us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

God’s Punchline of the Day

A merry heart is good medicine … Proverbs 17:22

About five years ago, my husband Marty and I uprooted ourselves from our Michigan home of 30+ years and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. (If you missed that story, here it is:)

As the realtor was giving us the final tour of the house that was to be our new home, I realized the generous number of walk-in closets upstairs. I suspect that with the lack of a third-story attic, off-season items are kept upstairs in these storage areas with sloping ceilings just under the roof. As I stepped into one, I realized that while it was awkward standing in this closet, one could kneel quite easily. I immediately knew that I wanted this space for my “war room!”

“Can I have this closet?!” I begged Marty. Seeming somewhat amused, he said magnanimously, “You may have it.”

In case you’ve never seen the movie “War Room,” the concept is that a place where one goes to pray (a.k.a. “prayer closet”) is comparable to the room where the commanders of the armed forces gather to plan their battle strategies. We are in a spiritual war, and the enemy (Satan) is attacking us – overtly or subtly – every day. The only way to battle this powerful, unseen enemy is on our knees. Prayer connects us to God – our Commanding Officer – and gives us the knowledge, wisdom, and discernment to deal with whatever the forces of evil may throw at us on any given day. I’ve seen evidence that prayer impacts people and events in other parts of the world, as well. So, prayer is serious business, and I have plenty of stories of dramatic answers to my prayers. But today I’m keeping it light.

Our enemy will do anything and everything to keep us from engaging in the battle. In my case, the opposition I face on a daily basis is a distractable mind. (Can you say, “Adult ADD“?) I need a place to get my mind away from the world occasionally and do battle.

I don’t go to the War Room every day. I don’t want to get to the point where I think of prayer as limited to a certain location. I can and do pray walking, sitting by the fireplace, driving, riding a bike, or kayaking. But this prayer closet is one sure place to get away from the distractions downstairs. I can close the door, light a candle, quiet my mind (as much as I can quiet this mind), focus my eyes on the cross hanging on the wall, and pray softly but out loud, so I hear myself and stay on track. Sometimes my focus is on the maps on the wall, showing areas of persecution and need, with specific prayer requests. (I have written posts about some of these global answers to prayer, which have been nothing short of miraculous.)

Recently I was having a hard time focusing, and I had no one to blame but myself. No one was home to distract me, but still there were plenty of things to get my mind off track, namely, things in my own mind!

I noticed I was out of Kleenex, so I ran to get a refill, in case I was going to get emotional.

I then heard the radio on downstairs and ran down to turn it off.

While I was there, I turned off the ringer on my phone and made sure it was recharging.

I figured I’d better turn off the coffee pot, too …

(I was starting to get annoyed.)

FINALLY! I was settling in, candle lit, ready to approach the Throne of God … And my mind came up with one more thought …

The front door isn’t locked.

In Michigan this wouldn’t be a big deal, as our place is in the “boonies.” But the crime rate here had been climbing, and I was a helpless (haha) elderly woman alone with nothing to defend myself with except a couple of brass candelabras and a menorah.

Oh Lord, I prayed. Please help me to focus. You know how easily I’m distracted by things like that ...

I was interrupted by the scurry of little feet overhead.

And THAT! I added, utterly frustrated.

Another scurry of feet. And another. There was a game of tag going on just a few feet over my head!

Suddenly I got the joke. I began to laugh. And laugh. And LAUGH, feeling the stress and frustration with myself melting away. I’m pretty sure God was laughing with me.

Yes, my Creator gets me. He knows all about my distractions. And just as I was confessing and complaining to Him – probably taking myself way too seriously – He sends me a punchline:

SQUIRRELS!!!

He was reminding me that, no, I’m not perfect, never will be in this life, and I don’t have to be. Jesus has this. Yes, prayer is serious business, but God will somehow handle it, even with my flaws and struggles. And there are times it’s OK to laugh, especially at myself. It keeps me humble. And happy.

So, I pray when I can, focus as much (->SQUIRREL!<-) as I can. I try my best to follow the path the Lord has laid out for me, keeping short accounts with Him and others. I aim to forgive anyone and everyone – including myself. Jesus gave His life so we can be forgiven and free people, and as such, we are free to be happy, and yes, to enjoy a good laugh now and then.

Prayer: Lord, Your Word says You rejoice over us with singing, with a shout of joy. Thank You for all the ways we can express joy, too, including laughter. You know we need it. You get us. Help us not to take ourselves too seriously. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Ten Freedoms

“You will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free.” John 8:32

Here in the U. S., we just celebrated our freedom and independence.

I understand what that means, traditionally. At the same time, I realize none of us is either truly free or completely independent.

Many people, when they think of “freedom,” think it means doing whatever they feel like doing. But in “divine perspective,” that isn’t freedom at all. Letting our feelings rule us is, in fact, bondage. Scripture says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)

As for “independence,” if I’ve learned anything in my Christian walk, it’s that I can never make it on my own. I am 100% dependent on the Lord. And that’s OK, because I also have learned that He is 100% dependable.

Jesus said He came to bring freedom. He also said He had not come to abolish the Law and the commandments, and when the average person thinks “commandments,” they think “rules,” “restrictions,” the opposite of freedom.

So, how can we have commandments and freedom at the same time?

When Jesus began His ministry, He didn’t excuse us from the requirements of the Law; in fact, He made keeping them even more difficult – impossible, really. It’s not enough not to commit murder; even being angry with a brother without cause is considered murder to God. It’s not enough not to commit adultery; a man who looks at a woman lustfully is an adulterer in God’s eyes. With so much evil residing in our very hearts, we are all guilty of sin, and sin needs to be paid for with a blood sacrifice. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:26)

But the rest of God’s plan of redemption is for His Son Jesus, to pay the penalty Himself. As the ancient animal sacrifices were required to be “without blemish,” this Sacrifice had to be perfect. sinless. Jesus alone was sinless, undeserving of the death penalty, and yet He submitted to it for our sakes. If we accept Hin as our Savior, the price has been paid, and we are forgiven free from guilt and fear of punishment!

What’s more, after dying in our place on the Cross, Jesus was resurrected, promising that as He was raised, we who believe in Him will also be raised to eternal life! Believers are free from the fear of death.

Finally, He comes to live in us through the Holy Spirit, giving us the ability to live as we couldn’t before, free from the tyranny of sin.

To see what this freedom in Christ looks like, let’s revisit the Ten Commandments:

I. You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3) Some religions worship many deities. Christianity has One. He is sufficient. We don’t have to worry about which god or goddess is going to meet a certain need, whether another will get jealous, which god we should pray to, and what’s to become of us if that god is insufficient.

II. You shall not make for yourself an idol. (Exodus 20: 4a) Since God is Spirit and worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), we don’t have to worship dead idols. God is alive and always with us.

III. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:7a) God’s name is sacred and precious, and in a relationship with our heavenly Father, we can speak His name and experience His power and peace. We don’t have to use God’s name to express rage or frustration, we can use it to call on Him for help.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Exodus 20:8) God instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest, but the religious leaders, were using this commandment to keep people in bondage. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) In other words, the purpose of the Sabbath was to make life easier, not harder. We get to have a day of rest each week. God has provided this gift, knowing our limitations.

V. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12) Children who trust Jesus to guide them and meet their needs don’t have to live in conflict with their parents. They get to follow their lead, honor them, and live in a harmonious household.

VI. You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13) We don’t have to resort to violence. We can trust the LORD to help us solve our conflicts and get along with others, even our enemies.

VII. You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14) Jesus gives contentment to couples that trust Him. He helps them through conflict and establishes happy (not perfect) homes. We don’t have to look elsewhere for fulfillment.

VIII. You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15) Scripture says, Since God will meet all our needs, (Philippians 4:19) He can keep us content. We don’t have to take someone else’s possessions.

IX. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16) With the Holy Spirit’s help, we don’t have to tell lies, complicating our lives and bringing trouble on ourselves and others.

X. You shall not covet. (Exodus 20:17) This freedom is like Commandment VIII. We don’t have to yearn for what someone else has. The more we trust the LORD, the more content we will be.

Notice with Jesus “shall notbecomes “don’t have to.” “Shallbecomes get to. I realize how simplistic this seems. We live in a fallen, broken world that is in bondage to sin, and bad things happen. But with Jesus we don’t have to be lost or without hope. When we have given our lives to Him, as we draw closer to Him, trusting Him more, His laws become less burdensome, more freeing. Having His Law is like finding the path through a dense forest; He is the Way.

Prayer: Father, Thank You for giving Your Only Begotten Son to purchase our souls, setting us free from the power of sin and death. May we live in that freedom now and always, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

How Do You Like My New House? (Cont’d)

“I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house, ” says the LORD Almighty. – Haggai 2:7c, 9a

Last week I shared a bittersweet season in our lives, when we said “goodbye” to the house on the lake that had been our home for 30+ years and prepared to move to Louisville, Kentucky, where our oldest daughter Joanna and her family lived, and where she had persuaded us we needed to be!

Ever since Joanna was a toddler, we’ve observed how her prayers got answered. I would be frantically searching for a lost item, Joanna would fold her chubby little hands and pray, and the next thing I knew, there it was.

So, when grown-up Joanna said (or threatened) that she was going to pray we’d find a house where she wanted us to be, I was encouraged. But even I didn’t expect the call that came nine hours later as we were eating breakfast in her kitchen.

“Good morning,” said our realtor. “Would you like to look at a house in the Highlands that’s not due to go on the market for six weeks?”

(I’ll let you guess the answer to that one.)

The couple selling the house should have had their own reality show. The husband was a contractor, the wife a real estate agent, and together they flipped houses. This little house, almost a hundred years old, had all new plumbing and electrical wiring, and was in the process of getting new cabinets, cupboards, hardware, flooring, and more.

When we first arrived, the little bit of house that we could see peeked out from under at least a foot of snow that blanketed the neighborhood. The brown brick wasn’t exactly dazzling, and whatever hard work the contractor’s wife had done on landscaping the tiny yard was buried in snowdrifts.

But something caught my eye that gave me a good feeling about the place. There was an old-fashioned lamppost at the curb, wearing a little mound of snow like a winter cap. It seemed to whisper “Narnia!” I could almost picture Mr. Tumnus standing in the snow.

The moment we walked through the front door, a man on a ladder in the living room, gestured with his brush to the patch of wall he’d just painted.

“Do you like this color?” he asked. “If not, tell me now.”

Um, can we look at the house first? I thought. His presumption was a bit odd, but also a little exciting. Was the painter prophetic? Was this our house?!

Long story short, yes, it was.

Compared with what we had been living in, it seemed as small as a wardrobe, but I loved the idea of the simplicity and convenience. The fact that they weren’t finished with the remodeling meant we got to choose the countertops and the kitchen hardware. And when they were about to carpet the upstairs, we were just in time to say we wanted to keep the hardwood floors.

This house was less than a mile from Joanna’s, so she was ecstatic. I texted Ben and Kelly to tell them we’d found our house.

“Send a picture!” came the immediate reply from Ben. I hesitantly took a picture of our little brown brick house in the snow, being sure to show the Narnia lamppost in the foreground, and texted it to Ben.

For the next day and a half, I didn’t hear back.

The night before we returned to Michigan, I found myself wide awake around 3:00 A.M., my mind racing.

Why haven’t I heard from Ben? Was he unimpressed? Have we made a terrible mistake?! Sure, this isn’t our big, beautiful house on the lake, but it isn’t that bad … is it??

And the worst thought of all:

Have we missed God’s will???

I said a prayer and tried to put the matter in the Lord’s hands.

The next morning, I was reading my Bible in the car. I was in the book of Haggai, the minor prophet who lived at the time when the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from years of exile in Babylon. They had been rebuilding their own houses, but Haggai had persuaded them to get their priorities straight and set about rebuilding God’s house – the Temple.

Ezra 3 describes the celebration when the foundation was laid for the new Temple. The people gave a shout of praise … well, most of the people. The older men, who remembered the past glory of Solomon’s Temple, wept aloud, because this was not Solomon’s Temple! I think it was for these discouraged people that the LORD spoke through Haggai:

“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? (Haggai 2:3)

The LORD went on, speaking to individuals by name and encouraging them, promising that His Spirit remained and that He would fill the new “house” with His glory. I didn’t see my name there, but it still felt personal to me. As I got to verse 9, I got a chill.

“The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:9a)

It might seem like a strange hope to take hold of – God’s glory in that humble house?

But isn’t that the way He does things – like saving ancient Egypt and the rest of the world from starvation through a Hebrew slave? Defeating a giant through an unimpressive shepherd boy?

And coming to earth in human form, being born in an obscure stable?

As I pondered the fact that God can do whatever He wants with whatever/whomever He wants to use, I had a feeling the adventures weren’t over just yet…

Prayer: Lord, help us to see Your purpose in unlikely people and places – even in ourselves, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

P.S. Wherever you are – temple, mansion, or in your prayer closet, know that if you have placed your faith in Jesus, He lives in you – you are the Temple. Enjoy His presence, “seek divine perspective,” and see what He’ll do with your life.

How Do You Like My New House?

Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong … my spirit remains among you. Do not fear. – Haggai 2:3, 4a, 5b

We had clearly entered a new season of life. Our two oldest had married, and both had moved a few times, settling in the South – Joanna to Louisville, Kentucky, Ben to Nashville, Tennessee. I had retired from teaching. Kelly, our youngest, had graduated and left the nest to attend college. Two years later she transferred from a Michigan college to one in Kentucky, at Joanna’s “suggestion.”

And now Marty was retired, leaving us with the question,

Why are we still in Michigan?

It made sense that we should move south to be closer to the children and the grandchildren that were starting to arrive on the scene. It also made sense that without a houseful of kids and their friends, we should be selling our large home. I for one did not want to spend my golden years taking care of a place that big!

The house had served us well for over thirty years, with plenty of room for birthday parties, sleepovers, s’mores and storybooks by the fireplace, Christmases and Thanksgivings with extended family, and Joanna and Ben’s friends from church gathering around the piano to sing worship songs. We’d had two weddings there, but they were not our own children’s, so it was a special place for a couple of other families, as well.

The large back yard seamlessly connected with the yards around us, where our children and the neighbors’ children would play for hours, jumping into piles of leave in the fall, building snow forts, and running down to the beach with their “boogie boards” the moment school was out for the summer. Summer afternoons would find me lying in the hammock with little Kelly, finding shapes in the clouds, smelling the “cotton candy dandelions” (peonies) we had picked, and singing our favorite songs together. We invented our own games, such as trampoline dodgeball with water balloons, or “Buddy baseball,” where I was the pitcher, Kelly was the batter, and our dog Buddy would cover the yard, playing every other position.

The beach on Lake Huron had provided thousands of sunrises. I had always told the children that sunrises were God’s saying, “Good morning! I love you! Have a wonderful day!” Some days He’d whisper it in the morning fog, others He announced it with beams of gold, and occasionally He would splash colors all over the sky, and it felt as though our heavenly Daddy had picked us up and was swinging us around! Countless memories of these ordinary mornings run together like watercolors in a beautiful blur.

Some of my favorite times were spent sitting by the lake with my guitar, singing to the Lord and sometimes hearing Him answer with a soft breeze or a dove that would sit on a branch overhead, listening for what seemed like hours.

Perhaps best of all, there were dozens of people baptized in the lake in front of our house. To hear these “baby Christians” tell how they had come to believe in Jesus and then to see them publicly seal their commitment – this to me was the greatest privilege of living on the lake.

But now it was time to downsize and move south. It was obvious where we were moving. Joanna had been by far the biggest hinter, persuader, and nagger about wanting us to be close to her…

“It was so good seeing you,” I would say at the end of each visit.

“Well, Mom,” Joanna would say, “if you lived here, you’d see us any time you wanted.”

Joanna lived in the part of Louisville called the Highlands, apparently the most desirable part of town when it came to buying a house. Marty and I would search the real estate sites for houses in that area, but when one went on the market, by the time we had packed up to go see it, the house would be snatched up.

At one point we found ourselves in a bidding war over a house we hadn’t even seen yet! We looked at each other and asked simultaneously, “What are we doing?!

Finally, we went to Louisville, camped out in Joanna’s guest room, and hired a realtor to find us a house in the Highlands. We looked at houses, apartments, and condos. A few were “close,” but the fact that they were a fifteen-minute drive from Joanna’s was unacceptable. She wanted us close enough that her children could walk to their grandparents’ house! So, the search continued. The house across the street from Joanna and Sean was up for sale, and Joanna strongly suggested we look at it. But the fact that there was no bathroom on the first floor was a deal breaker. That and the image of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and my popping in several times a day, saying, “Don’t mind me, dear, just pretend I’m not here.” (I am not going to be that mother-in-law!)

One night I was sitting in our room with my laptop open to a map of Louisville. A thousand red dots showed where houses were for sale, and they covered the map, except for one blank spot in the middle … yep, the Highlands. When Joanna walked in, I told her, “Honey, I’ve been praying, and I’m willing to live wherever God wants us – house, condo, trailer, cardboard box – but I’m looking at this map, and there’s nothing in the Highlands.”

Joanna got that tone in her voice that told me she was both defiant and close to tears. “Well,” she said, “I’m going to start praying, too! And I’m going to pray you get a house right here!” With her finger she circled the small blank spot in the middle of the map.

We should have had her pray when we started all this, because early the next morning …

(To be continued …)

Prayer: Lord, take charge of our lives. Send us where You want us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

To Judge or Not to Judge?

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? – I Corinthians 5:12

Recently a fellow blogger a blog post about a believer’s dilemma when seeing someone in church dressed in an inappropriate way.

On the one hand, inappropriate dress is a distraction from worship. On the other hand, we’re admonished to “judge not.”

I was thankful the blogger specified addressing the problem if it’s someone you know. In such a case it might be fitting to take that person aside and gently admonish.

If, on the other hand, the distracting person is a visitor to the church, especially a first-time visitor, I would prefer to extend a welcome and talk to the Lord about that person’s appearance instead, considering the unknown situation and possible reason for being in church.

The post reminded me of a (true) story a pastor once told that has stayed with me for many years. A woman had visited his church one Sunday, dressed in a way that was what some might deem inappropriate, others might call downright “slutty.” The women of the church warmly welcomed her, while the men treated her cordially, albeit maintaining a respectable distance.

The next week she returned, dressed a little more appropriately. Again, she received a warm welcome – respect at arm’s length from the men, and this time hugs from the women.

A few weeks later she went forward to receive Christ.

Shortly after making that commitment, the woman gave her testimony at her baptism. She confessed that when she first came to the church she had been determined to dress as she always did. She had also determined that the moment anyone said one word about the way she was dressed, she was going to walk out and never come back. But that had never happened. Instead, she had been won over by the unconditional love of Christians. At this point she may have been open to receive correction from her spiritual sisters, but by now that correction was unnecessary. The Holy Spirit Himself had been speaking to her heart and had given her, among other things, the desire to present herself “in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

How I wish this story reflected the norm, but sadly most churches lean either in the direction of judging visitors and driving them away, or tolerating, even covering up sin in their own congregation, for fear of “offending” a brother or sister – especially one who is a major donor. Some churches do both.

The best teaching on this topic comes directly from Jesus, beginning with the words that have recently replaced John 3:16 as the favorite Bible verse, especially among non-believers:

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. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

Notice two things about this passage: first, Jesus is addressing hypocrisy. He warns that if we want to correct others, we’d better be doing it from a position of humility and purity, having already corrected ourselves, because we will be judged by our own standards.

Secondly, Jesus, does not say we are never to judge anyone. In this context of a fellow believer, He is saying that we must first “take the plank out of our own eye” (correct ourselves), “and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” We’re to help one another live godly lives, but prayerfully and with an awareness of God’s grace toward all of us.

In the context of unbelievers, we should recognize that without Christ we are capable of every kind of evil we see in them – and worse. Being saved doesn’t mean we are better than they are, just better off. We should seek the same grace for the lost that we have received, and being self-righteous is not the way to win them over.

Paul gives a clear guideline for discerning when to judge and when not to judge:

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. – I Corinthians 5: 9-11

Once a person is saved, we should start to see the actions and attitudes of a changed life. Belonging to Christ transforms us, and although we will never be perfect this side of heaven, true believers have a desire to live for Him. One who calls himself a believer and yet willfully continues an ungodly lifestyle clearly doesn’t understand the purpose of grace. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”

The woman in the pastor’s story clearly had the fruit of repentance. What about you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we acknowledge that without You we are helpless sinners, bound for death and hell. But You extended Your grace when You died to pay for our sins. May we never take our salvation for granted. Give us wisdom to examine our own lives before judging others. Give Your Church the grace to help one another live as You have called us to, in Your name. Amen.

Winning Without Firing a Shot, Part 2

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe … Philippians 2:14,15

I was recently sent a video in which a woman professing to be a Christian was bragging about the way she stood up for her rights. I cringed as I heard her relate her argument in a park with a police officer telling her the rules. She refused to comply, insisting the rules were unconstitutional. They may have been, (I’m not a constitutional lawyer.) but the way in which she defied this person just trying to do her job was, in my opinion, anything but Christlike.

I have heard a lot of people recently declaring, “I know my rights!” Maybe so, but I’m suggesting there’s more than one way to get that point across. We’ve all heard the snarky way. For a better way, let’s look at the apostle Paul, formerly “Saul.”

Saul was a Pharisee, a high-ranking member of the religious elite. He was also a Roman citizen with all the rights included with citizenship. He spoke multiple languages and knew both Jewish law and Roman law. If anyone was entitled to be arrogant, it was Saul. And yet we read that when Paul the convert was brought before the authorities, both Jews and Gentiles, he spoke respectfully, even to those who deserved scant respect. Here are just two examples:

When Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned after delivering a slave girl from a demon, they spent the night, not cursing their enemies, but singing hymns to God. (Acts 16) When an earthquake rocked the prison, liberating them, they didn’t declare “Told ya so!” and leave. They stayed, reassuring the terrified jailer, who was about to fall on his sword rather than face a Roman execution for letting his prisoners escape. The relieved jailer took the disciples out, fell at their feet, and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

This is the question every evangelical Christian is longing to be asked! What followed was the happiest of endings:

“At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.” (Acts 16:33-34)

The next day the magistrates decided to release Paul and Silas quietly. Paul pointed out that they were Roman citizens and had been beaten publicly and imprisoned without a trial, the “alarmed” magistrates publicly escorted them out and requested that they leave the city. (There’s no record of a lawsuit; Paul and Silas had more important things to do.)

Later in Jerusalem, some Jews stirred up a riot because of Paul’s teaching. When arrested by the commander of the Roman troops, (Acts 21:27-36) Paul asked him, “May I say something to you?” The commander was surprised to hear Paul speaking Greek, having assumed he was the leader of a terrorist group!

Who could blame Paul if in the heat of the moment he had retorted, “Boy, do you have it wrong!”? Instead, remaining respectful, he corrected the record and asked to speak to the crowd. In chapter 22 we read his testimony. As wrong as these people were, he told them his story humbly, admitting that he himself had been violently opposed to “the Way,” persecuting the followers to their death. Far from chastising the mob for their error, he identified with them, telling them honestly that he “was as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (vs. 3) He told them of his vision of Jesus on the Road to Damascus, being blinded by the light, and his conversion, about Ananias, a godly believer who spoke miraculous healing to his eyes and baptized him. The crowd listened up until that point, but when Paul said God was sending him to the Gentiles, the crowd turned on him.

Wanting to appease the mob, the commander ordered Paul to be flogged. See how Paul shrewdly but respectfully addressed the situation:

As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

Then the commander said,” I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. (Acts 22: 25 – 29)

Can you hear the respect and fear coming over them? Paul didn’t have to throw a tantrum. In fact, if he had behaved like a hysterical child, I’m guessing he would have been treated accordingly.

(For other events in Paul’s life, read the book of Acts.)

History says the other apostles were cruelly crucified, stabbed, burned, stoned, or clubbed to death. As a Roman citizen, Paul had the “privilege” of being beheaded.

To the world Paul may have been a “loser,” but in God’s Book, and in Paul’s own words:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – I Timothy 4:7

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we’re selfish people. We want our way. We feel entitled, but as sinners we deserve only death and hell. And yet You showed us grace, leaving heaven to die for our salvation. Open our eyes, and help us follow Your example, treating others with the same grace, in Your name. Amen.