WHO’S IMPORTANT?

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. [Genesis 1:27,2:7 (NLT)]

SK8 Church Steamboat COOur family business makes products used in skateboards and many boarders are familiar with our name. After skiing one day, as my husband got on the bus, he was greeted by a boarder who spotted our company logo on his cap. “Yo, dude!” he called. Pointing to the cap, he asked, “You know those people?” When my husband replied he was “those people,” the fellow responded as if he’d met a celebrity and excitedly introduced my spouse to his pals. Soon they all were in an animated discussion of trucks, decks, wheels, and grip tape. The woman next to me, curious about the commotion in the back of the bus and not wanting to miss a celebrity sighting asked, “Is that someone famous? Is he important?” I replied, “He’s no one,” adding, “It’s just a skateboard thing.”

Later, I realized I’d given the wrong answer and not just because my husband is incredibly important to me. The better answer would have been, “He’s not famous but he is important.” Then, I should have added that she and I were just as important, as was everyone else on that bus, because we’re all important to God! I could have told her that real importance and value have nothing to do with fame, wealth, possessions or power. It has nothing to do with how we look, what we’ve done, where we work, what others think of us, or even what we think of ourselves.

Whether or not we were planned by our parents, we’re not accidents; God knew us all before we were born! Made in His image, we are God’s handiwork and precious in His sight. It was his breath that filled our lungs with life and His spirit that lives within us. Our names are etched on the palm of His hand, He’s promised to strengthen and help us, and He knows everything about us, including the number of hairs on our heads. If God carried an iPhone, our pictures would be on it and our numbers would be listed in His “favorites.” We are so loved by God that He sacrificed His only Son for us! As Christians, Jesus counts us among His friends and we’ve been adopted by God. As His children, we are recipients of a priceless inheritance. As followers of Christ, the God of the Universe has taken up residence in our hearts. Now that’s what I call important!

God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. [Fulton J. Sheen]

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! [Psalm 139:13-18 (NLT)]

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LOVE LIKE A CHILD

And do everything with love. [1 Corinthians 16:14 (NLT)]

GrandpaI actually thought the prayer’s words that Sunday asked God to show us what children can teach us about love. Looking through old photos of my children and grands later that day, I thought about the ways children love. Unconcerned with decorum (or potential lawsuits), they’re demonstrative: touching freely and unabashedly. They cuddle and climb on laps, hold hands, and spontaneously give hugs and kisses. They burrow under the covers with us and aren’t bothered by morning breath or bed head. It doesn’t matter if they’re soaking wet from the sprinkler or their faces are covered with jelly or chocolate nor do they care if we’re sweaty and dirty from working in the garden or dressed in our finest for a night on the town. Children know that touch, whether a high-five or hug, is an important part of love.

Children don’t need words to express their love—rather than talking about it, they show it. In his nineties, Grandpa was frail, nearly deaf, and partially blind by the time the first great-grand arrived. Nevertheless, they didn’t need to talk; the little one knew how to speak with love and the two of them communicated silently, playing games only they understood. Another grand sought out a shy child in her pre-school who wouldn’t speak at all. The girls became fast friends because they didn’t need words to communicate. Perhaps children don’t need discussion because they know that loving actions speak far louder than do words.

Children love with gifts and service and the adults they love become the recipients of a wide assortment of shells, dandelions, painted rocks, pot holders, feathers, rubber band bracelets, drawings, beaded jewelry and pinch pots. As for service: my grands have been known to fight over who gets to help me water the plants, set the table, wipe my counters, dust the furniture or help fold the laundry. Children know that giving of self is a fundamental part of love.

Children love unconditionally and with forgiving hearts. Both of our foster daughters continued to love (and defend) the parents that failed them time and time again. They’d wait all afternoon for the promised visit that never happened only to faithfully wait again the following week. They loved even when the love was undeserved and forgave what seemed unforgivable (and I pray they still do). Children love without judgment.

Children love with generosity and without embarrassment. Last year, when the cousins were at our house, the eldest boy introduced the little ones to the dress-up box. After helping them into princess and pirate get-ups, they wanted him to dress up, too. There was just one costume that fit him and the little guys begged him to wear it. Without complaint, the fourteen-year old donned a Cinderella dress for his young cousins and allowed them to accessorize it with a lady’s hat, purse, and beads. He did this with a smile because children love generously, unselfconsciously, and with joyful laughter.

It wasn’t until I was done with this devotion that I re-read the words to that Sunday’s prayer and discovered it asked God to show us what children can teach us about Him. I thought of the story about a little girl who was busily drawing a portrait. When the teacher asked who it was, she replied, “God.” Reminding her that no one knows what God looks like, the girl said, “They will when I’m done!” God is love and children certainly know how to love; perhaps the face the little girl drew was that of a child. Indeed, children can teach us a great deal about both love and God.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. … God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. [1 John 4:11-12.14b (NLT)]

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HEAR AND UNDERSTAND

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. … The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. … The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted! [Matthew 13:9,19,23 (NLT)]

While there’s nothing wrong with my hearing, I can’t always understand what’s being said. For example, when my husband tells stories, he prefers pronouns to nouns. Yesterday, I didn’t know whether the “he” to whom he was referring was the newsman, Uber driver, passenger, angry motorist, shooter, or police officer. Without knowing which man did what, the story was confusing so I kept asking for clarification. As it turned out, the Uber driver, who was also a policeman, shot the gun!

With their heavy accents and unfamiliar cultural references, I sometimes have difficulty understanding my son’s Indian in-laws and must ask them to repeat or explain before I finally get their meaning. My brother-in-law has Parkinson’s and speaks slowly, softly, and often stops in the middle of a sentence. But, if I give him my undivided attention and am patient during his long pauses, I can follow what he’s saying. I even have trouble with friends from the deep South who manage to make a one syllable word have two, a two syllable word have one, and use a charming set of unfamiliar idioms! Nevertheless, these are people I love so I try to understand them.

I’m the first one to admit it’s not always easy to understand Scripture. Then again, it’s not always easy to understand my family and friends but I take the time to do it. Understanding Scripture is no different than trying to understand people’s voices and, as happens with people, sometimes it take a little (or a whole lot) of effort to comprehend what is being said. Admittedly, with family and friends, there are times (as with the newsman/Uber driver/passenger/angry motorist/shooter/police officer story) when all that effort really isn’t worth it. However, I’ve never felt that way about anything written in Scripture; there, the message is always worthwhile!

Admittedly, some days I finish my Bible study more confused than when I began and there are times I want to give up. Yet, if I’ll make an effort to understand the people I love, it only makes sense that I’ll do the same thing with the God I love. God was pleased when Solomon asked for wisdom so I’m sure He’ll give us the discernment, self-discipline, patience, and ability to understand His word if we ask. He’s already provided us with countless study Bibles, assorted translations, plenty of commentary, pastors, teachers, and study groups to help us on our way.

Jesus told us to hear and understand. The best place to hear Him is in Scripture but, unless we open our Bibles and read them, we won’t hear Him. If we don’t hear Him, how can we ever understand?

“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” [Mark 4:23-25 (NLT)]

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GRIEVING HIM

In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years. But they rebelled against him and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he became their enemy and fought against them. [Isaiah 63:9-10 (NLT)]

SQUIRRELMany years ago, my two boys were playing at their grandparents’ house. While Grandpa worked in the garden, the brothers climbed high up the apple tree and started to throw apples at him. A patient man, their grandfather told them to stop and, when more apples came whizzing at him, he offered a sterner warning. After briefly stopping their barrage, the rascals were unable to resist the temptation and chucked more apples at their grandpa. To their surprise, this gentle and loving man turned around, picked up some apples, and returned fire. Having played ball as a boy, Gramps had a strong throwing arm and excellent aim. He didn’t pull any punches as he pitched those apples back at his grandsons. The boys, unable to maneuver easily in the tree, quickly learned the meaning of “as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.” When they called, “Stop, Grandpa, it hurts!” he replied, “Yes, I know it does, but you needed to learn that!” It wasn’t until those hard apples hit their bodies that the boys understood how much their disobedience hurt their grandfather (both physically and emotionally).

This is one of my boys’ favorite stories about their Grandpa. They aren’t mad that he hurled those apples back at them; they’re proud of him for loving them enough to discipline them. They learned a variety of lessons that day and not just that being hit by an apple hurts or never to be caught up a tree. They learned to listen to and obey their grandfather, that disobedience brings reckoning, and that obedience brings rewards (like apple pies). They also learned that their naughtiness grieved their grandfather as much as their punishment hurt them.

We know that Jesus experienced both physical and emotional pain when He walked the earth but what does God the Father experience? As a spirit, without a nervous system, I doubt that He feels physical pain, but what about emotional pain? Does God have feelings? There are two opposing theological schools of thought about this question (the doctrine of impassibility vs. the passibility of God) and a whole lot of middle ground in-between. Not being a theologian, I’m not addressing doctrine. Nevertheless, throughout the Bible, we find examples of God expressing emotions like love, joy, compassion, hate, jealousy, anger and even grief. Like any parent, God’s heart is touched by His children; it seems that He can feel our pain and that we can cause Him pain.

Although Scripture tells us that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love, like the boys’ grandfather, God eventually will get angry. Moreover, Scripture shows us that disobedience aggrieves our heavenly Father as much as an apple on the noggin and my boys’ defiance hurt their grandpa. When we disobey God, disgrace His name, doubt His love, forsake our faith, reject His guidance, choose hate over love or callousness over compassion, we bring sorrow, grief and pain to God. Scripture tells us that God can grieve and the parables of the missing coin, prodigal son, and lost sheep also tell us that God can rejoice. Rather than bringing grief to God, let us always do what pleases Him, for it is in the joy of the Lord that we find strength.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. … Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. [Ephesians 4:30a, 31-23; 5:10 (NLT)]

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DEVOTIONAL MOODS

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. [Colossians 4:2 (NLT)]

Ghost Ranch NMIn his classic satire The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives the reader a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, advising the novice demon on ways to secure the damnation of his “patient,” an ordinary young man. Warning that the demons are defeated whenever man directs his gaze toward God, Screwtape encourages his nephew to keep the patient (a new Christian) from praying. If prayer can’t be prevented, he advises getting the fellow into a “devotional mood… since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s [God’s] service.” Screwtape reassures Wormwood that “lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.” It won’t be difficult to redirect the patient’s attention, he tells his nephew, since humans aren’t really as desirous of “the real nakedness of the soul in prayer” as they suppose.

We know that Jesus prayed frequently and fervently. Luke, who was a physician, tells us Jesus prayed so hard in Gethsemane that He sweat blood. This rare condition, called hematohidrosis, was reported by both Aristotle and Theophrastus more than 300 years before Christ. Under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress, the tiny blood vessels surrounding the sweat glands can constrict and then dilate to the point of rupture; blood then flows into the sweat glands and a person can literally sweat blood. That night in Gethsemane, as Jesus agonized in the garden, there was nothing superficial or lazy about His prayer.

After reading Screwtape’s counsel to his nephew, I thought about my morning devotional time. By 5:30 AM, I am in a comfy chair, sipping a latte, and surrounded by iPad, Bibles, books, notebook and pen. During the next 90 minutes or so, I read assorted devotions and Bible commentaries, get through a few chapters in the Bible and whatever book I’m studying in small group, journal, and pray. Unfortunately, with prayer being last, it often is least and, while sincere, it can be rather generic and hurried. Screwtape’s devilish words helped me see how easy it is to mistake my “devotional mood” for prayer. Thinking about God, even spending time in His word, is no substitute for talking with the Big Guy Himself! I don’t think God expects us to pray so passionately that we sweat blood; nevertheless, I do think He expects us to bare our souls in His presence.

Establishing and reinforcing our connection with God, prayer is far more than study and reflection or telling God what it is we want. It is a concentrated, purposeful and deliberate time of worship, praise, thanksgiving, self-examination, confession, repentance, acceptance, intercession, and petition. Rather than being in a “devotional mood,” prayer is attending to God and His voice with undivided attention and submitting to His will with an undivided heart.

Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. [Samuel Chadwick]

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

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FEAR THE LORD

But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away. [1 Samuel 12:24-25 (NLT)]

horicon WisconsinWhile I prefer thinking fear of the Lord means regarding him with reverential awe, when Samuel said “Fear the Lord,” he meant good old fashioned terror and dread. Rather than trust in God, the Israelites had asked for a king and gotten Saul. As long as they and their king walked with God, Samuel said that all would go well for them but, if they rebelled and disobeyed, there would be serious trouble. To make God’s message crystal clear, he prayed for thunder and rain. While a rain storm would seem a blessing to people in an arid land, it was harvest time and rain during harvest would damage the crops and cause them to rot. Not a boon but a disaster, this clear sign of God’s displeasure terrified the people and demonstrated God’s tremendous power over their lives. The same God who brought blessings to them when He parted the Red Sea, made the walls of Jericho fall, rained hailstones on the Amorites, and scattered the Philistines with a thunderstorm, could rain trouble upon them as well. The thunderstorm showed that they could be punished for disobedience as easily as they’d been blessed for obedience. The Israelites were given good reason to fear the Lord.

Unfortunately, Samuel’s warnings (and those of the many prophets who followed) were not heeded and, as prophesied, the kingdom was swept away less than 500 years later. One of God’s Biblical names is Elohay Mishpat, the God of Justice; the fall of Israel and Judah was His judgment against injustice, evil, disobedience, and sacrilege.

What does fear the Lord mean to us today? The Hebrew word for fear is yirah and it can be applied in many different ways. It conveys dread and terror: the sort of fear the Israelites had when God displayed his awesome power and authority with that rain storm. Yirah also expresses reverential awe, wonder, worship and respect. Fear of the Lord means regard for His might, trust in His limitless love, awe of His majesty and power, loving reverence for His being,  submission to His commands, and an overwhelming mindfulness of His existence in our lives. Let us never forget, however, that our God is fearfully powerful. As followers of Christ, we have no need to fear natural disaster, the strange or unfamiliar, the future, shame or embarrassment, speaking the gospel, enemies, persecution, judgment, or even death. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I beg to differ; the only thing we have to fear is the Lord!

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [Matthew 10:28 (NLT)]

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. [Hebrews 12:28 (NLT)]

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