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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Two Souls, One Survivor

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

In this passage in the book of Mark, Jesus addresses His words to everybody present, believers and unbelievers alike.  He describes two kinds of people: those who want to live life according to God’s terms and those who want to live life on their own terms.  There is no neutrality; no middle fence.  A person is either with Him or against Him.  Look at the contrast between the two types:  Those who would live on God’s terms must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Christ.  They will surely lose their lives through this surrender, but by so doing will end up saving it.  They will lose the world, yet their souls will be saved.  True followers are not ashamed of Jesus Christ or His gospel.  Those who acknowledge Christ will be acknowledged by Him upon His return.

The others, those who want to live life on their own terms,  want to preserve it as such. They are unwilling to surrender to God and instead, reject His terms.  This present world and it’s offerings, however temporal, is their desire.  So they gain the world, but in the end, they will lose their soul.  Why?  It boils down to this:  God is God and He will accept no other place in our lives.  Let everyone understand this:  We will all bow before God; either now willingly, or later, on the judgment day, unwillingly.  In the end, God will give us what we want: we will either enjoy eternity with Him or suffer the torment of eternal separation.  The choice is ours.

Jesus asks, “Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” It is a rhetorical question.  The answer is, of course, nothing. Sinful man can never redeem his own soul. God’s requirement for redemption is a perfect sacrifice.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).   Jesus is the only one who lived a perfectly sinless life and as such, became the perfect sacrifice.  He is the only one who could ever save us. We, in turn, can only receive like a child what is given.  It is only by God’s grace, through the faith He gives us, that our lives are redeemed and we become part of God’s family.

Jesus made it clear in these words that the life surrendered to God is not an easy one. Following Jesus means daily self-denial, bearing burdens, and sometimes, great sacrifice.  It is living as God desires, not as we want.  This life is one of bold, courageous love that extends grace and forgiveness without partiality, just as we ourselves received grace from God who loves us all.  Surrendering ourselves to God means exchanging our will for His will.  Instead of the pattern of my life being “all about me,” it becomes all about Him. Sound tough?  Difficult?  Impossible?  You’re right, it is … in our own strength.  We ourselves cannot live holy lives without help.  God sent us a Helper – the Holy Spirit.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Rely on God.

No, it is not easy to follow Christ, and we will stumble many times.  That is where confession, repentance, and faith come in.  It is a daily challenge.  In difficult times, I like to encourage myself to persevere by looking forward to someday hearing these great words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your Master.”  

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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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So What Do You Do All Day?

Somebody asked me that very question the other day.  “You don’t work [outside the home].  It’s just you and your mom, yet you’re always so tired.  What do you do all day?”

Hmmm.  What do I do all day?  Let’s see:  

Okay, what else do I do all day?

Picture this:  It’s 8:00 am on a Tuesday and I’m snoring away in the snuggly comfort of my bed while my kitties snooze peacefully beside me.  Downstairs, my mom has already risen and is spreading jelly onto a couple of pieces of bread for herself.  The sun is shining, nary a cloud in the sky; it’s a beautiful day.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

By the time I snort and snark myself awake, Ma has managed to spread jelly not only on the slices of bread, but all over the bread-bag, table, counter, and herself.   She no longer remembers to use a plate nor can she precisely control her hands like she used to. Fortunately for me, since I am the clean-up crew, she has long since forgotten coffee.  Six months or so ago, she made it every morning – with way too much coffee and no filter, if you get my drift.

My Alzheimama

My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, a disease characterized by memory loss.   Her short-term memory is shot.  On a good day, she can recall simple events or conversations no longer than a minute or two afterward; on a bad day, it is a matter of seconds at best.  She forgets what she’s saying even as she speaks and has difficulty finding the right words. Fortunately, I know my mother well enough that I can usually fill in the blanks. Nowadays, however, her conversation is rather limited since she’s unable to fully formulate a cohesive thought AND express it before her brain short-circuits and shuts down.

Her long-term memory is breaking down as well.  She remembers some things from her childhood, however faulty, but nothing from my childhood.  It’s like she sort of passed us by.  Most of the time she thinks I’m her sister; occasionally she calls me Mom.

Beyond memories, though, Alzheimer’s continues on its destructive path.  One does not just forget events and words and people and memories, but the brain slowly loses the capacity to process information; to think and act accordingly.  My mom can no longer dress herself appropriately.  She puts on two or three shirts over her nightgown, steps into her shoes, and thinks she’s ready for church.  I have to dress and undress her.  She has difficulty even remembering how to take off or put on her clothes.  Too many steps or choices are overwhelming.

Right now my mom is able feed herself although manners are a thing of the past.  She uses a fork and spoon, but isn’t safe with a knife.  Sometimes she eats with her fingers. She talks with her mouth full, which is kind of gross (wanna see a train wreck?).  I serve her soft foods only, with everything cut up ahead of time.  I tell her to drink her milk, take her pills, brush her teeth.  Making jelly bread and pouring herself a glass of water are the only nutritional acts she remembers.  Anything else is too confusing.  She can’t even make a bologna sandwich anymore.  If I did not prepare her meals, she would never eat anything except jelly bread.

Eventually, my mom will no longer be able to walk, talk, feed, bathe, or toilet herself. Those things will become my job.  She will lose all recognition of me, my sisters and brothers, and eventually even herself.  Unless God takes her home sooner rather than later, she will become a kind of human vegetable.

It is my desire to care for my mom at home until the end.  I hope to never need to place her in a nursing home.  Be assured, however, that I am not looking forward to cleaning up poop and pee, vomit and drool on a daily basis.

My Old Man

In fact, I’m pretty well aghast at the idea of bed baths, bed messes, bed changes, or anything else associated with the nasty secretions of a crumbling human body. Yuck!  But I do want my mom to spend her final days and weeks and years in the comfort of our home, safe and sound, with me to watch over her.  I can do this, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit through God’s radical and free-flowing grace toward me.  God always provides what is needed to carry out His will.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Let the reader understand: there is no way on God’s green earth that I ever would have chosen to do what I am doing.  I am no self-sacrificing, gentle, kind, loving thing.  That is only Christ in me.  Let there be no comments like, “What a good daughter you are!”  I am not a good daughter – not on my own, not by myself.  God put this in my heart.  I came kicking and screaming to obedience and it certainly has not been smooth sailing ever since.  But God’s mercies are new every morning.

So this brief telling explains a little of what I do all day.

Christ In Me

It’s been a long, strange trip solely fueled by a daily dying to self through the power of the gospel.  The credit, the glory, belongs to Christ in me.  Amen!  So be it.

And now I ask: What do you do all day?

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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Making God Happy: Three Essential Steps … Not!

 

Dreamstime image used with permission

The righteous requirements of God were given to His people in Exodus 20:1-17 and are known today as the Ten Commandments.

  1. No idols
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking of the Lord’s name in vain
  4. Keep the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. No murder
  7. No adultery
  8. No stealing
  9. No false witnessing
  10. No coveting

Written in stone.  Unchanging.  God is holy and so also must His people be.  Selah and amen.

On the whole, it seems fairly simple.  Do and don’t do.  Easy enough. For most people, it’s a dream position, isn’t it?  “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

Making God Happy: Three Essential Steps To Holiness

  1. Learn the Ten Commandments,
  2. Do and don’t do accordingly;
  3. Reap the results.

Simple!  Nothing complicated here.  So easy a caveman can do it, right?  Let me ask you this: Have you ever lied?  Cheated?  Stole something?  Ever disrespected your parents?  Ever done something they told you not to do?

Sinner!  You’re in good company.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every one of us is guilty before God.  And you’d better believe that we are reaping the results.  The Israelites had the whole sacrificial system in place to deal with their mistakes.  Whenever they messed up, they just sacrificed an animal or two … or two thousand.  Now, before you starting searching the yellow pages for Animal Sacrifice, think first about the sheer number of bulls, goats, and turtle-doves they actually sacrificed over the ages because of sin.   And yet, “Every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).  What?!

We have all sinned.  No one has completely kept God’s Perfect Ten.  So why bother sacrificing those poor animals if doing so does not take away sins?  As a Christian you are thinking, “Because the wages of sin is death!”  How right you are.  Blood is required for all sin.  “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).  The constant problem of sin is the reason so many animals were sacrificed.  

But, you say, if sacrificing animals didn’t completely take away sin, what good was it?  “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Even in terrible situations, God can bring out good. Rest assured no Israelite could forget about sin for very long.  The daily blood and guts of an animal sacrificial system was undoubtedly in-your-face to remind them.  The sinful state of their hearts could not be avoided.  They were constantly aware of the discrepancy between their hearts and God’s standard of holiness.

The Law – all those commandments resulting in all those offerings – had a purpose.  The purpose of the Law is to lead us to Christ.  First, the Israelites had to perceive the holiness of God.  Second, they had to recognize their own sinfulness.  Third, they had to come to understand that sinfulness is not merely outward behavior, but a condition of the heart.  It is the same today.  We sin, not because we weren’t paying attention or because of a mistake, but because it is the very condition of our hearts.  We are rotten to the core.  No matter what good we may do or what love we may give, it is always, always infected with the disease of self.  “As it is written:  There is none righteous, no, not one; there is no one who understands; there is none who seeks after God …” (Romans 3:10-11, from Psalm 14:1-3 and Ecclesiastes 7:20).

The law was designed to show us that sin and death have penetrated to the very marrow of our being.  Because the commandments reveal sin, we realize we are sinful.  And no matter how hard we try to clean up our act, we cannot, and in any event it is too late.  Already we have sinned.  Already spiritual death has overcome us.  We have behaved, and continue to behave, according to the dictates of our heart.  Sin is not just a set of behaviors that we sometimes do.   No.  Sin is a heart issue. It is ever-present within us.  “As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man” (Proverbs 27:19). We don’t just sin; we are sinners.  We cannot change this.  We need rescue.  We need salvation.   We need Christ.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As sinners, our very life is required of us.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  We are truly caught between a rock and a hard place.

But here’s the good news: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Only Jesus kept God’s commandments perfectly.  This is why, when Christ willingly gave his life and died on the cross, his death satisfied the righteous requirements of the Law.  The evidence that God’s justice was satisfied in Christ is seen in Christ’s words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  The result was the resurrection.

When we confess our sin to God, when we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, our sins are forgiven and we are saved from eternal death.  “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).  Do you believe this?  Do you?

Are you saved?  Have you availed yourself of the free gift of salvation and forgiveness in Christ?  If so, then ask God to continue to help you to seek His face that holiness would be your heart condition.  If not, please pray in sincerity something like this:

God, I believe you.  I have not kept Your commandments.  I confess that I am a sinner.  I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross fully paid the debt of my sins and that You raised him from the dead.  I place my trust in Jesus who died that I may live forever with You.  Amen.

If you prayed this, please tell someone!  Talk to a Christian friend or pastor.  And email me.  I’d love to pray for you.

 

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2010 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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Hallelujah! Party

 

Balloons

Dreamstime image used with permission

Mothers typically look forward to autumn and some mothers look forward to autumn as early as June.  Those little blessings, so cute and talkative, make it difficult to get a day’s work done.  They’re in, they’re out, they’re up, they’re down.  They’re always hungry.  And the older they get, the louder they become.  Their shoes are everywhere, their toys underfoot.  They want this, they want that.  They want iPhones, iPods, iPads, ice cream.  They want to go here and there, and with all their friends.  And the little ones want to cling, especially during the hottest, most humid part of the day.

When I was a kid, there were six of us.  John, Jeannie, Cindy, Barney, Diane, and Tommy. We were all born within the short span of seven years.  My mom had been pregnant for the greater part of seven years and after the youngest was born, she had six little children, all under the age of nine.  We were like a locust swarm in those days, eating everything in our path and perpetuating destruction in our wake.  We were not quiet, mild-mannered children.  We were loud to the point of deafening, unruly, rambunctious, and given to name-calling, arguing, and scuffles whether working or playing, all on a daily basis.  It’s amazing my mom stayed sane throughout those years.

Visions of bright yellow school buses danced in her head all summer long.  The sight of a school or bus garage could move my mom to tears.  Labor Day, I’m sure,  was my mom’s favorite holiday, and she looked forward to fall even before school was out for the summer.  I remember her saying again and again, “All I want is some peace and quiet, just some peace and quiet.”  She was perpetually exhausted.

In those days, when September rolled around and the first cool breeze of the season caressed her face, a little bell went off in my mom’s head and she began to feverishly make secret plans with the neighborhood moms.  Labor Day passed and the school bus began its creaking ascent up Rickard Hill Road.  The six of us, with our notebooks and little brown bag lunches, trudged up the hill to join the rest of the kids at the bus stop.  Just as we waved a tearful goodbye to summer and climbed aboard, things went into action in our house at the bottom of the hill.  My mom was already on the phone to the other moms on our rural road.  Flinging off floured aprons, the three of them threw on a farmwife’s version of party dresses and gathered together in one of their kitchens for the much-anticipated, long-awaited Hallelujah! Party.

Woman eating cake

Dreamstime image used with permission

Hallelujah! The Kids Are Back In School!

This trio of harried housewives got together every year on the first day of school to sip coffee and eat cake in happy celebration of freedom.  Freedom to finish a chore, a meal, even a sentence – without interruption!  At first they just breathed.  Then with a sweet sigh of relief, a frilly little lightheartedness danced into the room.  Playful chatter filled the air.  There is nothing like hot coffee and the sweet, crumbly texture of a brown sugar topping on a moist piece of homemade coffee cake to banish any shadows.  For a moment, the peace and quiet of a comely silence descended and they would smile at one another.  Hallelujah!  The summer was so worth it.

This year the tradition of the Hallelujah! Party shall be carried on.  Soon and very soon, when all the children are back in school, when the dust begins to settle and our minds unfrazzle, we gals are getting together in the spirit and grace of my mom and her friends. It’s the fall kickoff for our women’s Bible study and we are having a Hallelujah! Party. Food, fun, and fellowship.  Peace & quiet, not only because the kids are back in school, but because as God’s children we can have the peace of Christ, a far better peace that quiets our minds AND hearts.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

We will praise together, pray together, and eat cake together.  We shall certainly celebrate peace and quiet, although I must say that with me around it is not likely to be very quiet.  After all, I’m still one of those six obstreperous children, albeit all grown up.  A leopard doesn’t change its spots; they just fade a little with age.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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