Saturday, May 31, 2008

Spending Time with Us

"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands . . .” (Rev. 2:1).

The meaning of this statement is found in chapter 1.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “ like a son of man” . . . In his right hand he held seven stars . . . The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.* (Rev. 1:12-13, 16; 20)

The marginal note for the word “angels” is “messenger.” My understanding, then, is that the seven stars were the pastors of the seven churches.

So throughout Revelation, we see Jesus as Mighty God, but also—here in chapters 2 and 3—as the one who spends time in the midst of his churches and holds their pastors in his right hand. How privileged are we as members of the Church, and how secure are Christian pastors!

*Rev. 1:4 identifies further these churches as "the seven churches in the province of Asia."

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Second Look at Justice

Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
" 'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "
the world."

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."
He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (Matt. 13:24-30; 36-43).

Any farmer’s field will sprout a few weeds along with his crop. In this parable, the problem is greatly compounded by an enemy who, under cover of night, deliberately planted tares, or weeds, in a field. Understandably, the farmer’s servants wanted to pull up the as soon as they were apparent, but the farmer insisted that they wait until harvest time, lest the good wheat be uprooted prematurely along with the weeds.

This gives one reason why God does not immediately remove evil-doers—those who exploit us on the job, make our neighborhoods unpleasant places to live, are a bad influence on our children, or cause dissention in a church. Removing an evildoer might “uproot” innocent people as well. If my unjust boss is permanently removed by a heart attack, who will support his children? And how will I support my family if the business by which I am employed folds because of his passing?

Secondly, could not the presence of this troubling individual be an occasion for us to grown in humility and maturity?

“Consider it pure joy, brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

How do we become Christians who are not bent out of shape by evil, but who overcome evil with good? By viewing trials as opportunities instead of situations to grudgingly endure!

Finally, the Lord does not immediately remove the wicked because “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). After inflicting harm on many Christians, Saul of Tarsus was converted.

A different Saul—the first king of Israel, who had rebelled against God—hounded David, his successor-to-be. Although presented with two opportunities to kill this mortal enemy, David refused, leaving it up to God to remove Saul in his time and his way. After spurning many opportunities to repent, Saul died on the battlefield. What if he had been removed immediately? David would have been deprived of the process of developing into a strong, faith-filled man and acquiring a core group of followers whose skill and loyalty were forged in the fires of shared persecution.

Jesus indicates in the parable that it is the angels’ job—not ours—to remove the tares [weeds]. Some of them might yet repent. (Some of them might not even be as much of a weed as we are!) Until they repent or are removed, the promise to us, if we determine to accept it, is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . .” (Romans 8:28).

This is an excerpt from Streams of Living Water: A Daily Devotional Guide to Meditation on God's Word by F. Burleigh Willard Sr. and Celia Willard Milslagle (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2007).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Only the Merciful May Judge

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits
of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. (Rev. 5:1-7)

The Lamb proceeded to open one seal at a time. As these seals were opened, catastrophes occurred on the Earth. These disasters, according to Rev. 11:18 and other passages, were God’s judgments against the wicked.

Here's what struck me about this passage: God apparently does not capriciously or hastily pass sentence on wrong-doers. No one was judged until after the Lamb had died for mankind, and even then judgment could only begin at his signal. And I'm guessing that his signal did not come until all hope of remediating earthly wrongs was gone, because of the message stated loudly and clearly from the beginning of the Bible to the end:

“God our Savior . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” ( 1 Tim. 2:3).

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

“Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13b).

Only the merciful One is allowed to judge. The one who will do anything to save and transform us, to love us into becoming good—only he is allowed to decide our eternal destiny. Aren’t you glad?

Afterthought: Do you suppose this means that the Lord does not approve of our judging anyone unless we love them? believe in them? will do anything to help them become reconciled to God and find their God-given destiny?

What does this say about our tendency to respect and accept one person, while despising and rejecting another? Here’s a scary truth: The first part of James 2:13 says,

“because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”

So none of us are God’s pets. He actually loves the wicked, just as he does his children who are already redeemed. If we break his heart, and anger him, by refusing to show patience and mercy to the wicked (whom he loves), the Lord will likewise judge us “by the book,” instead of with a heart of mercy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back on Track

Upon further meditation on Rev. 3:15-20, I realize that Jesus was modeling the attitude we can take toward ourselves, when we fail. [See yesterday’s Journal for this passage from Revelations and for reflections on Jesus’ attitude toward the Laodiceans.] We can either kick ourselves for our failure for days on end, becoming more and more discouraged and full of self-hatred. Or, we can quickly choose to forgive ourselves and draw on the goodness of God, which resides in us through the Holy Spirit, to get back on track—or even step up to a new level of maturity.

I see two principles at work in the person who quickly gets back on track with the Lord after realizing his failure. One is a healthy, proactive mindset (as opposed to an unhealthy, reactionary mindset). A reactionary person reacts to failure with emotions, angry remarks, sulking, avoiding anyone who knows about his failure. As long as his embarrassment lasts, or as long as anyone seems to remember his failure, he seems powerless to regain a grip on his life. A proactive person does not allow his emotions or the attitudes of others to have such a strong effect on him. He takes responsibility for the situation and—in spite of what he feels or others are saying—takes some forward-thinking actions that will get him back on the road to success. –It is especially easy for a Christian to be proactive. All he needs to do is “open the door” to the Lord who is ready to encourage and enable him to change course (Rev. 3:20).

The other principle that helps a person quickly get back on track after a failure is humility. We might think that wallowing in regret is a sign of humility, but it is not. It is a sign of pride. If we are that shocked about our failures, we have too high an opinion of ourselves! A humble Christian knows that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 8:18). A humble Christian knows that the whole secret of Christian living is “not having a righteousness of my own . . . but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil. 3:9). The humble Christian is more concerned about getting back in right relationship with God than she is about saving face.

Steve Gray, pastor of the church in Smithton, Missouri, which experienced such revival in the 1990’s, made a statement when visiting our church which utterly melted my heart. Quietly he confessed the effect that revival had had on his heart, saying, “I’d rather be good than be right.” How relieved our Lord must be when we are more concerned about being good again, than grieving that our past attitudes and deeds weren’t right.

Just think of the potential for growth and maturity if we react to every rebuke from the Lord by quickly forgiving ourselves and allowing him to encourage and restore us! Think of how much better we will feel about ourselves if we see ourselves as Jesus does—as beloved children, whom he does not see as being “bad” but as promising works in progress.

Note: The proactive approach to life is one of the concepts thoroughly and helpfully described in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. I highly recommended them both. The teen version is downright entertaining--and very enlightening, just like the "adult" version.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Unexpected Kindness

I would not have wanted to be a member of the church of Laodicea when the Apostle John sent to it this message from Jesus:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see
(Revelation 3:15-18).

How embarrassing! How terrifying to know that this was their evaluation by Jesus himself!

But notice what immediately follows:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:19-20).

To our thinking, it might seem as if Jesus switched gears. First, it seems, he was fed up with them. Then, his heart softened a bit. But, no--Jesus states that the whole message was prompted by love.

First, love compelled him to set them free from the deception that was alienating them from him and thus causing them to become increasingly ungodly. Secondly, he quickly assured them that he loved them as much as ever. (Didn’t he initially make a way for them to come to him when they were still sinners? Rom. 5:8.) Then, lest they were still reeling with shame, maybe even ready to run away and quit trying to be a Christian, he stepped close and said, “I’m right here at the door of your heart. Not to condemn, but to bring you right back to where you were before, in loving and obedient fellowship.”

When I worked in the church nursery, I was given instructions on what to do if a child was hurt. The final instruction was to ask for the parent to come in and hold the child for a bit, to establish the child’s emotions again. This passage shows Jesus’ tender concern that we not become overwhelmed by the revelation of our faults. He wants us to be strengthened by the knowledge that he is rooting for us all the way as we set out to do better. And, in the light of such acceptance, support, and affection, who wouldn’t do anything to please him?

Monday, May 26, 2008

About Me: The Long Version

The Bare Bones
A daughter of Free Methodist missionaries, I grew up in the Dominican Republic. I attended high school in Arizona and college in Los Angeles and Illinois. I was married for 23 years during which we reared our son, Mark. Mark is now an accountant living in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, Heidi, and two children, Nikki and Connor.

During my 31-year career in the public schools, I taught high school math and science; 5th grade; and junior high math, health, life skills, and an assortment of other subjects. In 2005, I retired early to pursue a writing career.

Travel was part of growing up. Today I have built-in opportunities for road trips when I visit my far-flung family. Gardening and hiking are right up there, too, on my list of “likes,” but my favorite hobby of all is reading.

I enjoy creating things. As a child I was not keen on playing with dolls unless it involved something like making dresses for them. As a teen and young adult, I made a lot of my own clothes and always had a needlework project going. Today my creations run in the direction of computer-generated photo collages and writing projects—which is surprising because, when I was in school, I dreaded writing assignments. Today the ideas come so thick and fast that I jot them down—pretty much daily—in computer files.

Love for the Bible
Bible reading and study were part of our family life. I can remember lying on the bed with my sister on a Sunday morning, each of us reading our Bibles—and laughing together about quaint phrases in the King James Version. When I was in high school, my father taught the book of Matthew in the youth Sunday school class, because it was the only gospel not already in the Nogales Bible School curriculum. I immediately did an inductive study of the gospel of John on my own, and have loved studying the Bible ever since. Recently, I have taken a number of classes at Midwest Bible School in Lincoln, Illinois, where I discovered that I could write forever about God’s awesome Word.

My Passion
A teacher at heart, I enjoy learning about and teaching a wide range of subjects. However, the key purpose and greatest joy of teaching, for me, is sharing with others any insight or skill that can improve the quality of their lives. So I derived great satisfaction from making math less mysterious for my students, and even more fulfillment from the opportunity to instill wisdom in young people through health and life skills classes. Although retired from public schools, I am still immersed in teaching—writing a curriculum for my church’s nursery children, leading a Bible study, encouraging people of all ages, and writing to promote personal growth and the "abundant life" that Jesus came to offer.

About This Blog: The Long Version

I almost named this blog “Hidden Treasure” because of the surprising and delightful imagery in these Scriptural passages:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matt. 13:44).

“Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ Col. 2:2b-3.

The law . . . the statutes . . . the precepts . . . the commands . . . the fear . . . the ordinances of the Lord . . . are more precious than gold . . . [I]n keeping them there is great reward” (Psa. 19:7-11).
(Boldfacing and enlargement added.)

I consider this imagery surprising because . . . WHO WOULD'VE THOUGHT that anything religious could inspire joy?!! Could be considered a treasure--more precious than gold?!! I consider this imagery delightful because … this is treasure that anyone can find.

So I almost named my blog “Hidden Treasure,” but somewhere along the line, the phrase “treasure trove” came to mind. In consulting Webster’s, I discovered that “trove” is the past participle of the Old French verb trover, “to find.” So a treasure trove is “found treasure.”

I LIKE THAT. Of what use is treasure unless it is found? And so “CM’s Treasure Trove” is about the valuable insights, understandings, and messages that I find day by day as read the Bible and follow Christ--finds that water my soul, enlighten my mind, change my heart, and activate my spirit.