Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Trust and Obey

In Genesis 15 it says:

"But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, 'You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.'

Then the word of the LORD came to him: 'This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.' He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'"

And Genesis 16:

"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, 'The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.'"

Sarai's weakness is my own weakness.

Sarah chose a painful detour in order to "help God." Her thinking was understandable, because it was disgraceful to have no heir for their estate, and it was customary to take a servant to produce an heir which would become like the woman's very own child. She had till this point waited ten years to see God fulfill his promise to give them a child, and He still had not done it.

Sarai saw the consequence of her impatience, of making her own plans to get it done herself. She despised Hagar, she blamed Abraham for the whole affair--she was not able to handle her own guilt. Hagar's child, Ishmael, was prophecied to be violent against her own offspring. Detours are dangerous.

But God's time table was perfect. What was the perfection in making Abraham and Sarah wait 25 years to receive the child that was promised? By making Abraham and Sarah as good as dead when they conceived, God truly would get all the glory, and He truly would be most marveled for causing such a controversial and miraculous conception as He promised. God is far more interested in us getting to know Him, than spoiling us by giving immediately. Our goal is to trust Him. But even at year ten Sarah had so little trust that there is no record of her praying about this decision to use Hagar; she just took over and used her own resources to accomplish the goal.

God's delay does not mean God is denying us. Here is the evidence of walking by faith and not by sight:

--what you do is done for the glory of God. Not like Sarah who buckles, under pressure, stealing God's glory.

--willingness to wait on the Lord. Scheming and planning and compromising is not waiting.

--acting on the authority of God's word.

--when we act by faith then God will give us joy and peace instead of frustration and bitterness. Sarah's faltered faith produced no joy or peace in her home.

Waiting is a cross that is taken up, daily. Today I can die to self-satisfaction of receiving the promises I long to own.

This morning as we were studying these chapters in BSF we also sang the hymn "Trust and Obey:"

"But we never can prove
the delights of His love
until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
and the joy He bestows
are for them who will trust and obey

Trust and obey
for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus
than to trust and obey"

--John H. Sammis

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A new movie about Elisabeth Elliot

The author of "A Path Through Suffering," Elisabeth Elliot, is featured in a true story-movie coming out this Friday, the 20th. It's called "End of the Spear."

It is based on the book she wrote back in the sixties called "Through Gates of Splendor," which told the story of how her newlywed husband and four other male missionaries in Ecuador were murdered by the very tribe they were evangelizing.

I have quoted much from her book about suffering, in the last several months here on my blog. She also wrote the book "Passion and Purity" which is a story of her devotion to Christ through courting with her to-be husband Jim Elliot. I first read it back in 2000. Tonight I opened it up and read some of my old underlines....

"Finally Dave invited Jim to come home to New Jersey with us for Christmas. We had some long, long talks after the family had gone to bed. The more Jim talked, the more I saw that he fitted the picture of what I hoped for in a husband. He loved to sing hymns, and he knew dozens by heart. He loved to read poetry, loved to read it aloud. He was a real man, strong, broadchested, unaffected, friendly, and I thought, very handsome. He loved God. That was the supreme dynamic of his life. Nothing else mattered much by comparison."

"Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship. The cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the heart's truth. My heart, I knew, would forever be a lonely hunter unless settled 'where true joys are to be found.'"

--"Passion and Purity," pp. 32-33, 39

Aspiring to obey the laws of God

Every Christian loves the laws of God, and aspires to obey them.

So then we all can relate to the Jewish Pharisees who delighted in and understood and upheld the laws of God when they were consistently befuddled by Jesus, "the friend of sinners and tax collectors." His fellowship with them had the appearance of making sport of the laws of God. But the real event here was that God found that those who truly loved Him were those who acknowledged they needed Him to help. They became obedient by means of their love and therefore by means of their wretchedness. Case in point: the sinner woman who cried on the feet of Jesus.

The book of Isaiah shows that our God has always been a Lord of the underdogs.

Maybe that is why in our walk with God there has to be an endless supply of fodder for Him to be soberly appraising the evil nature (our sins) within us, because without it we would not call on the Lord after salvation, feeling superior as if we had arrived, and we would never pursue nor rely upon abiding with the Lord spiritually. This is the exact weakness of the Galatian church. They think, as all Christians have at some point, as I struggle myself everyday to not be tempted, that they don’t need Christ anymore. That somehow they can attain their goals by their own effort because their flesh is obedient after salvation. But as Paul said in the end of chapter two, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

We do not have it in us, to obey God! Only God, in us, can obey the Lord.

Like the Galatian church who was troubled by accusations from other believers of being incomplete and unfit for fellowship by faith alone because of the greatness and scandal of their sins, we need to protect our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus from accusations even within our own conscience:

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies." rom 8:31-33

"You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." 5:4

That’s me! I want to be found measured well by the ten commandments. Everyone feels this way, and some people will go to faithless means seeking to “establish their own righteousness” (rom 10:3) by including law's deeds as stepstones of confidence to believe we are becoming like Christ.

2 cor 12:7-10 says: ““To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It is God's very best for us to have a thick weakness of being unwilling/incapable of doing the good we delight to learn about.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"I Love Mormons"

As I was doing my Christmas shopping at the Bible Book House, I noticed a new book that I very much wanted to purchase, but didn't. I remember it fairly clearly.

Just the picture on the front was enough to make my heart leap and my eyes to do a double take. Here, in the midst of skimming a shelf-full of thick texts published within the last year meant to apologize against the latest LDS stances in order to demolish the strongholds of LDS doctrine and to explain the real truth of the gospel, was a thin book with a simple title and a big color photo.

The photo was of a man sitting with his back to the camera, wearing one of those big white "I [red heart] NY" - style shirts, but it said across his back "I [red heart] Mormons" -- he sat there on a little knoll overlooking the expanse, relaxed, and peacefully confident of purpose.

The solidarity I had with the man in the photo as he captured the subject's passion could have been seared with just as big letters across my own chest.

I don't think I will ever forget that image as long as I live. Nor will I forget how it stood out on the shelf of thick books with scary-fonted, dry titles.

Maybe that cover is just good marketing.

I hope not. I hope there is content that will affirm my own discoveries. One day I hope to buy it and then I can read to be sure I am not the only one who has had a revelation in my heart and mind about how to accomplish by a different or maybe theologically zany road, the Love of Christ displayed to and poured out upon these.

We'll see.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Yes for blogging

Another reason why it is good for me to blog, and good that I am not a teacher or put in a place of authority over anyone mature, is because I am not able to express myself very well.

My college friend is able to see it but even her husband who I have never known closely, sees it. He says "She does not speak clearly."

That's because I had that period of time in my life where I stopped talking altogether.

When I speak I say things that are not the right way to describe what I want to say.

Just like that sentence above. Ha ha. Messy and confusing. Gotta keep on plugging away at this....

Monday, January 02, 2006

A Surprise Letter

Back in the summer of 2002 I had recently been married and had given birth and moved to my current home. I prayed to get involved in a bible study and later that week I was invited to a bible study with the International Church of Christ (ICOC). After several weeks of getting to know them and studying with them they told me, "You are not yet saved because you haven't been baptized truly understanding and agreeing to become a disciple of Christ."

Many of you who know me, know this story. You know how it floored me, how I went home and I tried to find out for myself whether I was really saved or not. It started me reading my bible like crazy, and I read it for about 8 months about 5-12 hours a day (I was a stay-at-home mom with just one child). I had acquired over 200 pages of notes of study myself, before I started an online collection. Since I was told this by this "cult" I have been filled with a passion for expressing to myself and to others the biblical and experiential difference of what a saved life agrees to be.

I had only a few, precious studies with this lady who hosted these studies, where I could share with her that so far in my understanding, I was inclined to disagree about salvation, and then she moved away. And that was it. I wrote her a letter, and we sent Christmas cards.

This year I opened up my Christmas card and here was the letter inside:

(Since the only person who knows who this lady is my husband I don't believe there is any way to compromise her confidence.)


"I hope it doesn't seem odd to be hearing from me after a long absence of communication. I've found it difficult to write you because I've not been able to communicate my thoughts and express them in the way I'd hope. So, please forgive me for my failings and for leaving you in the dark when you've been such a good friend to me.

"Over these past two years there has been a fall-out of the International Church of Christ, so I've been given the chance to search out and challenge my 'convictions' like never before. It's required me to humble myself and admit things I really didn't want to. For example, I had studied the bible with many people (including you) from 1996 to 2003 using the same 'biblical' rational that was used with me in my introductory study. While these studies were meant to help people build deep convictions in and on God's word, I now see that they also hurt people's relationship with God by subtly interferring (though never actually saying) that a Christian's life was to look one certain way and should demonstrate conditions of commitment, service, baptism, and evangelism as interpreted by church leadership. This developed a culture of legalism within the church and God's grace became more and more difficult to grasp.

"I've always felt protected by our Lord, but never more so in these last two years. He's led me to a body of believers which intensely studies God's word, but which always puts out the sovereignty of God's grace before everything else. Instead of discounting people's faith, it observes and upholds the tiniest display of faith. The source and shepherd of our faith is glorified and hope is refreshed continuously. My heart has felt conflicted (and convicted) with emotions of sadness for my sisters and brothers hurt by the legalistic culture of the ICOC; of remorse for my own part in steering others into that culture, and of joy because of the freedom I've experienced once more as I cling to God's grace.

"I ask for your forgiveness Michele for trying to have you read more into the scriptures than is actually there regarding baptism. It was never my intent to hurt you as I sincerely believed at the time that what I was teaching was according to God's word. I appreciate the love and and patience you displayed toward me in your want to continue to study the topic so that we might gain a mutual understanding. I praise God for his kindness in gently leading me to better understanding and for placing people like you in my life.

"I hestitated to write you in 2004 and into 2005 because I still wasn't clear on what I believed regarding baptism. Over the summer I studied out this topic of baptism again, especially the point that baptism is the point in time that a person is saved. I came to the conclusion that baptism is -a part- of the salvation process and something God requires us to do, (there are too many examples throughout the NT to discount it), but that faith is the only thing necessary for salvation. 'This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.' Romans 3:22a

"So, Michele, my prayer is for your encouragement, perserverance, and discernment. I hope my clouded understanding did not cause you to think that faith alone is insufficient for one's salvation. Baptism is a wonderful mystery and has its perfect purpose for which our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will reveal at the perfect time. I am content with that."

And then she closes with some highlights of her family.

Here's what I clung to back in November: "When, by my own faults and indifference, or the distractions of the world, I have drifted from this changeless principle (and imagined that I might -avoid- the deaths and somehow be fruitful) the words have rung again in the ears of my soul, -if it die, if it die, if it die-." --Elliot

I laid down being there at LDS Digital so that I could walk by faith. It's hard to choose to bottle up passion for the gospel. But look at the way God has blessed it. He has given me this precious woman back, who wants to encourage me and whom I want to encourage! I am honored to talk to someone who -wants to talk about- freedom in Christ. I need that.

Not only that but the week following my choice to not be there with the LDS online, our sunday school teacher announced that we are going to be studying Galatians. He looked right at me because he's known for a long time how I want to have unity with the body in understanding over the topic of what it means that Christians are dead to the law. I am blessed to be able to share with my class what I have learned, or if I have not learned much, to learn from them what I lack.

So I see how the Gospel in my heart is not bottled up as I once thought it'd be.

I'm blessed.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Typhoid Christmas"

Here is the account of the worst Christmas I have ever had short of when I was 13 years old.

My uncle heard of all the trouble and called my mom "Typhoid Clare," but I told everyone it should be renamed over the whole Christmas.

Let me share the list:

--My grandma was in the hospital a week before my mom and dad got out here for the first time in six months, so they had to worry that she was going to die before they got home. She's 86 yrs. old and they were talking about hospice to finish off her life. My mom got there (she's a nurse) and got her off the feeding tubes and stuff, and my grandma was like, "thank you." No relapse in that agressive throat cancer we found out the next week, all benign polyps. Wow. But she's weak and living on her own as of the 19th. My parents were taking care of her and living with her.

--Monica my sister scheduled her induction of her third baby on the 21st. Monica had already been struggling to live basically on her own for a week before giving birth because her husband had gotten so ill with the flu that she had to go live with her sister in law. That same morning that she was admitted her husband Rich was also admitted into the ER. Rich already knew that because of his flu he couldn't be there for the birth. But now Monica cried because she was worried for Rich. By nightfall he had been admitted to ICU.

--The next night they found unchecked pneumonia which had exploded outside his lungs to along his chest wall, and they moved him up to the top of the list for surgery. Rich no longer was allowed to breathe on his own, but a machine moved his body up and down while he tried to sleep.

--The surgery was successful but his body decided to stop breathing while he was undergoing it, and was put on the ventilator. Meanwhile, their little two and four year old girls were left confused not seeing their mom for about four days, and left with odd babysitters except when I had them, on the 23rd and the 24th. The girls could not come to see their mom because they both were throwing up with a flu.

--The sister in law who was supporting my sister and the three children (Rich's older son Colton came up to see his dad for the first time in over a year, but still had not seen him even though he arrived on the 18th) had run out of food, especially affecting the kids.

--On Christmas day we drove up to see my mom and dad who were anxious to see not only me and my kids but also my sister and her girls, and we only had an hour and a half to spend because we were supposed to spend all day on the 24th but since no one bought the groceries for dinner, my mom explained "I can't do everything," and cancelled it. (You see, she was fighting for my grandma's life and then was fighting everyday with the docs for Rich's life.) When we drove up all the cars were gone because my dad had gone to the ER having intense abdominal pain--a suspected appendicitis. After five hours in the ER he went home with pain pills for kidney stones. We didn't see each other at all.

--On Tuesday the 27th as I was putting on my shoes to go see my friend Julie, home from the Peace Corps commitment to Jamaica for a coveted two weeks, my friend Mel who is 34 weeks pregnant went into possible early labor and called and said, "Can you come and see me? Can you watch my son for me?" Two hours later she was released but things haven't been the same for her pregnancy. Her husband just found out yesterday that he has bronchitis.

--They wheeled over the newborn baby and my sister from the mother/baby unit to ICU, right before Rich's surgery. He couldn't touch the baby because he was in a containment thing, but he was very proud to see him. After the surgery, whenever he would wake up he would fight the tubes and so they had to sedate him, and they kept him sedated for that reason until about three days ago.

--I had the flu leading up to the 21st, when Monica had her baby. Since she didn't have her husband to stay with her I did for those two nights, and as soon as I got out, the two days when I watched in total seven kids and cooked dinner for seven adults as well as well as making cupcakes for Jesus' birthday as well as helping the kids make get-well cards for their uncle/father, Ben was in bed sleeping for two, almost three days straight. His flu did not go away like mine did but developed into strep throat, which only got through hanging on yesterday.

--The sister and brother in law who were hosting my sister and her kids, contracted about four flus in about four weeks, of which I have now caught one of them I guess again, and the whole family was throwing up as of yesterday.

--Rich got off the ventilator miraculously on Wednesday, and finally came home yesterday night. Now their brand new little baby has caught the throwing up flu, and is congested. The two little girls have not seen their dad for over a week, easy.

I feel like it has finally ended, now that this evening I went over and saw Rich face to face for the first time in several days. He was laughing like his usual self--so amazing. I remember wrapping the presents for Christmas on the 24th and thinking, "What are you doing, Rich??" We all thought for most of this time that he was going to die. Monica and Rich might lose their home, because his job had no benefits for sick leave.

Now let me tell you what I am thankful for:

We all have our loved ones to hold tight.

My church was amazing. I asked for prayer and then I asked for a donation of an hour of housework so that the kids could have a pleasant Christmas while with me, and when they came they brought groceries for the family who was so much in need of them. They also brought grocery store gift cards. One family came over Christmas Eve night just when I was running out of things and energy for the kids, and just rough housed with them--not even Ben could do this for children who sorely needed their fathers.

Then I received this email:

"Hey, everyone..

"I know that most of you have been kept up to date with T's emails regarding Michele's brother-in-law's situation, so I'm not going to go into detail on what's going on... But the idea has been brought up, that it would be nice for our class to prepare meals for Michele's sister and family. Not only has she just come home with a newborn baby, which can be tiring and require a lot of work, but her husband is still in the hospital... We have one meal planned for Monday night, the 26th, but we are looking for volunteers to start bringing them meals starting the 28th, Wednesday, and continuing every other night, for as long as we can help out with.

"If this is something that you are interested in helping out with--please me know as soon as possible---and I will get the dates coordinated. I know that the majority of our class has probably never met this family before--but what a testimony of God's love to be able to reach out to strangers during this hard time in their lives.


And there they came. My sister saw the food being put into the back of her car and said, "You're kidding?!" Hugged me and started shaking. The sister-in-law started crying really hard and said, "You don't know how much this means to me." The kids came running out, all happy and excited for having someone to play with them, everything had turned around, and they drove away smiling and laughing back tears.

That was a God-moment.

Kim called me later and the first thing she said on the phone was "Michele, you have a wonderful church."

Who cares about a flu or two. I got to see Rich today, playing games with his little girls. The girls I worried were going to be orphaned. I am learning so much about family and the preciousness of children because of first my miscarriage and second the thought that my own flesh and blood nieces would have to know a world losing their father so inexplicably.

He should never have gotten so ill. And once he got so ill, he should never seemed to be able to recover. I will never take for granted his life again. I'm on my knees, seeing him, grateful and awestruck at God's mercy and faithfulness.

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