Sunday, February 26, 2006

In the Bible, Paul says he is being "poured out like a drink offering" for God. That's in Second Timothy 4:6. What does that mean? What would it mean if we were that drink offering being poured out?

Hmmm, let's see. We could think of a cup, a bowl, or a pitcher. The liquid in it is poured out for other people--for them to drink, so it becomes a part of them. So in this way, God can fill us completely with his spirit, as if we were the pitcher. Then he pours out the liquid, which could be his Spirit, filling us. So through us, he pours out his love and joy to other people. What do you think?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Deep Calls to Deep

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says, “We are designed with a great capacity for God; and sin and our individuality are the things that keep us from getting at God.”

Humans are “designed with a great capacity for God.” The Bible says we are created in his image--we're somehow like him, then. This means we have a tremendous capacity to know him--to experience him--to receive and be transformed by his love for us. It can grow deeper and deeper throughout our entire lives. But many things keep us from responding to his call.

His nature is profound--far more than we can comprehend. Even though we have a "great capacity" for God, we can never come to the end--the bottom and sides--of knowing him. All through our lives, he reveals new things about himself to us. This nature of God continually calls to us and fills us because we are designed to be somehow like him, as we see in Psalm 42. His fathomless love speaks to the most profound in us: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (7).

When we seek him, we will find him. And we have the capacity to receive that love in amazing ways. Charles Finney, a 19th-century revivalist, told of a feeling of "waves of liquid love” pouring through him (Walker and Marus). That describes exactly how I felt one night when I was on the Walk to Emmaus; when I opened my heart to him, that love came pouring in like the ocean.

We thirst for him, even when we don’t know that’s what the problem is—when we’re out in the middle of the desert of life. In Psalm 63, David says,

O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

His love is better than life.

Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour, 1935; 1963. November 18 entry.

Walker, Ken, and Rob Marus. “Baptists renew debate over charismatic practices.” Baptist Standard online.
21 July 1999. 25 Feb. 2006

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

More about “spiritual gifting" . . .

My friend TS is a little frustrated. He has asked a question—and has gotten a number of answers—but none of the answers have actually answered his main question. He wants to know why some charismatic Christians these days are talking about receiving “spiritual giftings” instead of “spiritual gifts.”

Here is part of his blog-entry response to my blog-entry response about it:

. . . But while Judy shows "gifting" is a proper word, no one has explained its use in place of "gifts" when referring to spiritual gifts. As I wrote earlier, even the King James Version authors saw fit to use the word gifts, and there is no English translation that uses giftings anywhere. Was the introduction of "giftings" accidental or intended?

This situation reminds me of a short story I like to teach called “Conversion of the Jews,” which centers on questions asked by a young Jewish boy, Ozzie Freedman, a student in a Jewish school. In school, Rabbi Binder (note the delightful significance of the names!) always allows his boys to have “free discussion time.” However, the discussions are anything but free. It is okay to talk about anything—as long as it is about something uncontroversial like Jewish baseball players.

Ozzie has been in a lot of trouble for asking questions. The latest is this: “If God can do anything, why couldn’t he make a child without intercourse?”

The well-meaning but stubborn rabbi tries to tell him Jesus was a good man but wasn’t born of a virgin, as that’s not possible. It just isn’t done. Ozzie keeps saying that isn’t what he wants to know. What he wants to know is about God. Look at his question. Whacked and harassed, Ozzie is finally pursued to the roof of the building.

The story displeased many Jews, according to literary criticism. But contrary to what some believed, Roth doesn’t mean to proclaim that Jesus is God. The effect of his question, of course, is to point out a fundamental flaw in Jewish belief. Can God do anything? The answer is yes. If so, then why couldn’t he make a child without intercourse if he wanted to? The question is not why doesn’t he—but why wouldn’t it be possible if God is all-powerful?

Ozzie becomes temporarily powerful from the roof-top, and he makes everybody down below say that God can do anything. That God could make a child without intercourse. That they won’t ever hit anybody about God. So ultimately, the “conversion” of the Jews is that they admit the possibility and they will try to allow—and to answer—sincere questions about God.

All that, then, is to say that we never did answer TS’s question, although we jumped all around it. I, for one, would like to know the answer to his question, but I can’t think of a way to find the answer. As TS concluded,

Like the number of licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie-Pop, the world may never know . . .

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Gift? Gifting?

A few days ago, I wrote about “TS,” a fellow Christian blogger, and his concern about the use of the words “spiritual gifting.” His thought, and I agree with him, is that since the word “gifting” is not in the Bible, we should use the word “gift.” Words are important and should be chosen carefully. TS said, “Like Alice, I’m finding out just how far this rabbit hole goes.”

The Rabbit Hole
Now, you should understand that English teachers can get all worked up over a word, and as a result, they may not be able to let go of it. After TS got my curiosity going about the word “gifting,” I searched around and found some interesting things (for want of a better word).

Confirming TS’s findings, I saw quickly that the Bible doesn’t contain that word; I checked the search engine on, in several translations.

Dictionar-ily Speaking . . .
In the latest Merriam-Webster dictionary, I found that the word “gifting” is a form of an obscure verb, dating back to 1550. Apparently, it is the basis for the word “gifted,” meaning to have an unusual ability, such as “a gifted artist.” This same usage is in the Oxford English Dictionary, the granddaddy of all dictionaries. Therefore, even though I at first proclaimed that “gift” is always a noun and never a verb, I now must admit that I was wrong.

Since it is a verb—albeit a verb seldom seen—my inner grammar program tells me that it could correctly be a gerund. A gerund is an “-ing” verb form used like a noun, for example, in the sentence “Swimming is fun.”

However! It seems to me to be one of those “made-up words” that we are so good at today, like “offloading,” “dictionarily,” and “blogging.” As TS pointed out, it seems to be used primarily by charismatic Christians (of which I am one), and not by anyone else in situations other than “spiritual gifting.” I found it was used several times in my favorite magazine, the Discipleship Journal.

My Theory
Here is my theory about the use of “gifting.” In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, a number of words with slightly different meanings are used to convey the sense of “gifts.” These nuances give the Greek words a richness, exactness, and depth that we do not have in the English “gift.” So I am guessing that whoever started speaking of “spiritual giftings” did so in an effort to manufacture some depth of meaning to convey a different understanding of the word.

I believe “spiritual gift” and “spiritual gifting” mean the same thing, although, to me, “gift” is more solid and real. If you feel you must say you have a “spiritual gifting,” go ahead; I will try not to be bothered by the use of “giftings.” I reluctantly concede that there is nothing grammatically wrong with it.

Greek Origins
In The Complete Word Study Dictionary, Spiros Zodhiates gives four different words that mean “gift.” I am not a Greek scholar, so I may be saying this wrong—but it appears to me that the several Greek words used in the New Testament beginning with “dor-“ have shades of difference in meaning, emphasizing in various ways the free nature of the gift and the benevolent intent of the giver.

But I am most taken by the fourth one: charisma. The first part, “charis-,“ means “grace,” so “charisma” means “a gift of grace.” In English, of course, we use “charisma” to mean a sort of personal magic or magnetism about someone to whom others are irresistibly drawn. It’s interesting to speculate on how it came to have this English meaning. Where the word appears in the New Testament, it is used only to indicate gifts that are specially imparted by God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. When we refer to “charismatic Christians,” we mean Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit still actively gives spiritual gifts, such as healing and prophecy.

Gift of Grace
Zodhiates says that charisma is used “specifically of the gifts imparted to the early Christians and particularly to Christian teachers by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31; 1 Pet. 4:10).” He explains that it refers to “the grace of God given in Christ Jesus.” And as 1 Cor. 1:7 tells us (in Zodhiates’ words), “Whoever has that grace is not lacking in any gift.” Amen.

Zodhiates, Spiros, ed. The Complete Word Study Dictionary. Chattanooga, TN: AMG International, 1992.

Friday, February 17, 2006


The other night I had a strange dream. In my dream, I was about twenty-five years old, living at home with my parents and some other young adults. I don’t know who these young people were or what we were discussing, but at the time, it seemed perfectly normal. Our discussion was a big, stressful situation for me, and I was tired of it. I decided I would leave—I would go live somewhere else and not tell anybody what I was going to do.

So I gathered up a few things and put on my coat. My father came to the door and rapped lightly. “Come on in, Daddy,” I said, and set down my purse and bag. I was surprised to see him, even though I knew he lived there, too. He actually died in 1988, but in my dream, he was still alive although I hadn’t seen him for a long time. His presence was very real—when I woke up, it seemed as if he had really been there.

In my dream, he smiled at me with his twinkly blue eyes like he used to do. “Where you goin’?” he asked. Somehow, a calm communication took place between us, without any spoken words. He knew that I planned to just escape from this problem, turn my back on it without dealing with it. And he was disturbed about that. He wanted me to stay and finish whatever it was. Peace flowed into me, and I knew that I would do what he asked.

In the next scene of the dream, several of us were sitting around in the den with a fire in the fireplace. We were taking turns reading aloud from a book of British poetry. My father asked me to read “Cinnabar.” I opened the book to that poem and began to read. It was a poem about nobility of character. Cinnabar was a big, bright red bird that seemed to be a symbol of love and courage. That was the end of the dream.

The next morning, I looked in several books of and about English literature, and I have not yet found a poem called “Cinnabar.” I did not even know what the word meant. My new Merriam-Webster dictionary says it means a bright, scarlet red—vermillion. Hmmm. Could God be trying to tell me something?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Get a Life

“What you need to do is get a life!” I hear college students say that to each other sometimes. It is just part of the Big Put-Down that is the way of speaking and relating today.

People are very self-absorbed these days, it seems to me. Or actually, they always have been—but they have never been as loud and open about it as they are now. Dedication to self is a deliberate pursuit of many today. And because Self is most important, it doesn’t seem to matter what they say or do, as long as Self benefits.

According to Alex and Brett Harris, authors of “Addicted to Adultescence,” social scientists have studied young adults who appear to be living in what they see as a

new stage of life development: extended adolescence. Dubbed "adultescence," it covers the ages of 18 to 29 and beyond. Sociologists claim that putting off adulthood has become a permanent trend among American youth, and now, young adults. As young adults ourselves, and as Christians, we have no choice but to come to grips with this social phenomenon.

Adultescents (we'll refer to them as "kidults") often live with their parents, even after college, while hopping from job to job and relationship to relationship. They generally lack direction, commitment, financial independence, and personal responsibility, while somehow managing to spend more time and money than the average American on clothes, movies, music, computers, video games and eating out.

For kidults marriage and family fall in the zone of "maybe, someday, but that's years away." The typical kidult isn't committed to any particular local church. They're doing all sorts of things, but getting nowhere, just living from day to day in their own Never-Never Lands. They're Peter Pans who shave.

Marriage and family, the Harrises point out, then, are not part of this set-up. To have a lasting relationship, you have to be attuned to the other—to think of the other before self.

The only way to get a real life is to give yours up. The only thing worth giving up your life for is to follow the way of Christ. The more closely you are bound to him, the more free and rich your life is. If you live as his beloved, you also love other people as much as yourself. Self is nothing to worship.

Harris, Alex, and Brett Harris. “Addicted to Adultescence.” Boundless Webzine. 16 Feb. 2006.
16 Feb. 2006

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Covering of Love

On this Valentine’s Day, I have to share this wonderful weekly e-mail newsletter by Max Lucado. It is about love; it is called “A Cloak of Love.”

Do you own a cloak of love? Do you know anyone who needs one? When you cover someone with concern, you are fulfilling what Paul had in mind when he wrote the phrase “love … always protects” (1 Cor. 13:4–7 NIV).

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is known for its word study, not its poetry. But the scholar sounds poetic as he explains the meaning of protect as used in 1 Corinthians 13:7. The word conveys, he says, “the idea of covering with a cloak of love.”

Know anyone in need of a cloak of love?

A few years back I offered one to my daughters. The whirlwind of adolescence was making regular runs through our house, bringing with it more than our share of doubts, pimples, and peer pressure. I couldn’t protect the girls from the winds, but I could give them an anchor to hold in the midst. On Valentine’s Day, 1997, I wrote the following and had it framed for each daughter:

- - - - -
I have a special gift for you. My gift is warmth at night and sunlit afternoons, chuckles and giggles and happy Saturdays.

But how do I give this gift? Is there a store which sells laughter? A catalog that offers kisses? No. Such a treasure can’t be bought. But it can be given. And here is how I give it to you.

Your Valentine’s Day gift is a promise, a promise that I will always love your mother. With God as my helper, I will never leave her. You’ll never come home to find me gone. You’ll never wake up and find that I have run away. You’ll always have two parents. I will love your mother. I will honor your mother. I will cherish your mother. That is my promise. That is my gift.

Love, Dad
- - - - -

Know anyone who could use some protection? Of course you do. Then give some.

Lucado, Max. “A Cloak of Love.” The UpWords Weekly Email Devotional. 14 Feb. 2006

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Spiritual "Giftings"

A Christian blogger who goes by “ts” wrote a comment on my February 8 entry about the word “giftings.” I had to do a little searching to find where I had used that word, as it isn’t the way I ordinarily refer to “spiritual gifts.” In that post, I quoted a large segment of an article by John Thomas, who wrote about finding God’s will for our lives. Thomas says in his introductory paragraph that he wants to give “a few tips for discovering your unique giftings as an individual.”

At the time I set up that entry, I didn’t think anything about that word, one way or another. But now I do.

I found “ts’s” blog. He said that a visitor to his church pointed out that the Bible does not use the word “giftings.” Instead, it uses the word “gifts” to refer to the spiritual abilities given to Christians so that they can teach the gospel of God and minister to each other. Some of these gifts are teaching, prophesying, healing, helping others, encouraging people, and administering programs.

“TS” says in his blog that he

decided to research the issue. Using my trusty (free, online Bible), tried to find "giftings" in all the English versions--couldn't find it anywhere. I turned to the Oracle of our age, Google: more than 1.7 million hits for "spiritual gifts" compared to only a few thousand for "giftings." Moreover, the only websites that used "giftings" seemed to be Charismatic Christian churches. (Charismatic means believing that manifest works of the Holy Spirit--such as prophesy, speaking in tongues, healing--continue today and didn't cease with the passing of the original apostles.)

My best guess is that some crazy Charismatics, of which I am one, started using "giftings" mistakenly, and that the meme spread from there. It's kind of interesting to see how words that are spoken from the pulpit or from teachers carry a sort of undisputable authority, so that we don't even question the grammar of what's being said. It's a bit frightening, actually.

The use of “giftings,” then, is really incorrect. When I responded to “ts,” I said to him that “’Gifting’ is a verb and not even a main verb, actually.” But I suddenly realize that is wrong: “Gift” is a noun. You can’t put the verb ending “-ing” on a noun and use it as a noun. It is certainly not wrong to use an “-ing” verb as a noun, necessarily. We have gerunds in English—words like “swimming” and “reading”—that can be used as either nouns or verbs.

Oh, dear. This is confusing. Any time you try to put a universal rule on the English language, you are in trouble, because it originates from such a mish-mash of a number of languages. And English is always in the flux of change. But . . . I hold that people who write about spiritual gifts should say just that: gifts, and not giftings.

I think words are vitally important. A word is a symbol for something. We use these symbols to think and communicate. And our choices of words may have a huge impact on the way we are perceived—the effectiveness of our communication.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

On February 3, I wrote about the destructive mind-set that plagues many Americans. I believe it is a widespread condition caused by separation from God.

Here is a description from that gives some interesting details.

What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
Everyone feels anxious from time to time, like when they have to meet a deadline or deliver a presentation. But for people with GAD, a constant and exaggerated sense of worry interferes with their daily life. People with GAD tend to expect the worst when dealing with issues related to money, health, family, or work, even when there is no sign of trouble.

About 5% of people in the U.S. will have GAD at some point during their lifetime. Each year, about 3% of the U.S. adult population has GAD (approximately 6.5 million Americans). Nearly twice as many women as men are affected.

What are the symptoms of GAD?
People with GAD may experience a few symptoms or may feel overwhelmed by many symptoms. The key signs of GAD are anxiety and worry that are difficult to control and have lasted for at least 6 months. In addition to excessive anxiety and worry, people with GAD have at least 3 of the following symptoms:

· Restlessness or feeling on edge
· Fatigue
· Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
· Irritability
· Muscle tension
· Difficulty sleeping

People with GAD often have symptoms of depression as well. In fact, 2 national studies found that between 58% and 70% of people who suffered from GAD in their lifetime have also suffered from depression at some point.

It is real, and it has profound affects on our lives. But God offers loving and powerful help. If we just turn to him, he helps us understand that he is in control of the world, and we can depend on him. We don’t have to fix the world. We can’t do everything ourselves.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How do I find out what God wants? Part 2 of 3

Yesterday, I quoted from Part 1 of this series from the "Boundless Answers" section of the Boundless Webzine that I get through e-mail periodically. This is part of Part 2, which deals with what God wants from men, uniquely, and addresses how to discern what he wants "from you as an individual." It was written by John Thomas.

The Question
How do I find out what God wants me to do with my life?

The Reply
In my first entry I addressed the foundation, God's call for all people; in my third and last entry I'll explore a few tips for discovering your unique giftings as an individual. But now let's tackle level two, what does God want from you as a male?

Excuse the cliché of a sports analogy, but I really think this'll be helpful. Think of your life as a football game. The first 20 years could be thought of as your warm-ups — you're getting ready for the game. The second 20 years is the first half of play. During your 40's you make a few halftime adjustments, so that your second half — 50 and beyond — is strong and powerful. As a male (as is the case with females too), in each stage of the game, you've been given unique responsibilities, and you wrestle with unique challenges. A man must avoid the two extremes — "boyhood" on one side (immature and irresponsible) and what I call "achievatron" on the other side (robotic, lifeless, working, bill-paying machine) — and climb to the higher ground of manhood, marked by responsibility and adventure.

What God wants you to do with your life as a male is found in neither boyhood nor dead-man walking, but in a life lived with "the end" (eternity, God first) in mind. This includes accepting the responsibility of leading a family (rooted in a marriage you actively nurture), leaving a godly legacy, and having a great time in the process. He wants you to believe in and fight for a noble cause bigger than yourself, and to proactively craft your life adventure, rather than merely wander through life, even as a so-called "success."

During the warm-ups you're going through a few motions, getting a feel for what lies ahead, trying out a few habits, skills and values that will come into play in the first half — such things as purity, work ethic, leadership, service and the importance of faith — while still under the safety, protection and "inspection" of home. During the warm-ups you gradually move out of boyhood and adolescence, typically marked negatively by passivity and irresponsibility, and move into manhood.

In the first half, which is where you are, you should begin thinking more and more with "the end" (eternity) in mind, rather than the "short-term" thinking of adolescence. It's when you prepare for a vocation and/or ministry that will utilize your God-given skills. It's where you pursue and become one with a wife and begin leading a family in a great adventure.
God wants you to leave boyhood, reject passivity and accept the responsibility of manhood, while guarding against the trap of becoming a robotic, bored (and boring), bill-paying achievatron, ground down by responsibility and deadlines.

The theme for the male life is being proactive — proactive in nurturing your faith, in your pursuit of and intimacy with a wife, in starting and leading a family, in living with eternity in mind, in creating fun-filled adventures for you and your wife and family, in pursuing a noble cause, and in leaving a godly legacy that utilizes your unique design and giftings. I'll explore this more in my next column.

Blessings, JOHN THOMAS

Monday, February 06, 2006

How do I find out God's will?

This entry is quoted from the first in a series based on answers to questions that readers send to the “Boundless Answers” feature section of Boundless Webzine that I get about once a week through e-mail. It is published by Focus on the Family. The author of this segment is John Thomas.

The question: How do I find out what God wants me to do with my life?

How many times have we all wondered what God wants us to do with our life, and secretly wished for a burning bush or a Balaam's donkey?

There are three parts to answering your question, and you might visualize them as three levels of a triangle. At the bottom, the foundation is this: generally, what does God want from every person? Moving up one level, and more specifically, what does God uniquely want from males (at least in your case)? And at the top, and very specifically, what does God want from you as an individual? This top level is like your fingerprint, something specific to you an individual, a person uniquely crafted and gifted by God to perform meaningful tasks of service to Him and to others.

You must wrestle with all three of these. Skipping one or two, or making incorrect assumptions about any of them, will have impact on the others because they're all interrelated.

In this entry I'll address the foundation, and in subsequent entries I'll tackle God's call for men generally and explore a few tips for discovering your unique giftings as an individual.

The foundation of your triangle, like the foundation of a building, is the most important. If you build on the wrong premise, the other levels will be in constant stress. Everything flows through this level.

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God first and foremost wants us to know Him, to have a relationship with Him, to bring glory to Him by the way we live our lives, by how we relate to Him and others, summed up best in the "Golden Rule": Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:37-39; Mark 12:29-31).

As Rick Warren famously said in his multi-zillion selling book The Purpose Driven Life, "It's not about you." Life is about God. God is the Creator of all, and all of creation, including me and you, exists to bring Him glory. This flies in the face of pretty much every message communicated to us since birth (even sometimes within Christian circles), but it is, in fact, the absolute bottom-line of reality. Believing and living otherwise is a never-ending, empty uphill battle.

Parenthetically let me add this. Before we dismiss God as an insecure egomaniac, let's quickly remember that He became one of us, entered into our suffering, and gave His life so that we could experience the primary purpose of our existence — to know Him. He defined Love by His actions. He did not create then abandon. He created and stayed and acted. He loved to the point of death and secured a path for our ultimate fulfillment: eternity with Him.

So, we start with God, not us. If you are making decisions based primarily on what makes "me" happy, then you have your priorities backwards and you will stumble at every turn. God first, then you. That's the order laid out by Christ in the paradoxical Matthew 10:39, "If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me" (paraphrased in The Message).

In the same way that a hiker must orient himself to true north before he can begin his journey, so we must orient (and continue re-orienting) ourselves to the absolute truth that life is not to be driven by what makes us happy, but by what brings God glory. That is life's "true north." Only by doing so will we ever begin to experience the fulfillment and adventure of life. So, the better way to ask your question is this, "How could I live my life in such a way that brings God the most glory?" Now we're asking the right question, and we'll explore more answers next time.

Blessings, JOHN THOMAS

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Saving Face

Look at these amazing creatures! My son sent me this picture and about four others that someone took (probably) in Yellowstone National Park, he said. The other pictures are other views of this ferocious fight.

I wonder if bull elk ever get their antlers so enmeshed that they can't pull loose from each other. If they do, I suppose they die that way, eventually. They probably have to have big fights over lady elk and over positions of power in their herds. It's important to save face, of course.

That sounds like some people I know! Sometimes we get so engrossed in ourselves that we think we have to become unnecessarily . . . assertive, shall we say.

I am reminded of a time when I was sitting in the dugout at a Little League baseball game, carefully keeping score for the coach, to whom I was (and still am) married. I was right between two daddies, who were arguing over something (I don't remember what).

I became gradually aware of the increasing volume of their voices, as they slowly rose from their seats. Jaws jutted out and fists doubled up and angry curses flew. I was scared, and I looked up to see them right over my head, their noses getting closer and closer together.

I had an urge for self-preservation and a desire to spare the little boys from the violence of this spectacle. So I said, as kindly as I could, lest they attack me, "Are we going to have a fight right here in the dugout?"

Just like two old mangy tomcats in a stand-off, the men slowly unwound, turned away from each other, growling, and sat back down. They had saved face.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Boy with Sucker

On Thursday, I took my mother to a medical clinic to get a flu shot. A young Hispanic woman was coming in behind us, with her two beautiful toddlers, a boy and a girl who were both busily (and messily) working on red suckers. They grinned at me shyly and moved a little closer to their mother.

I helped Mother get into a chair in the waiting room, leaving her wheelchair nearby for a minute. While I was waiting to talk to the receptionist, I became aware of some pressure on the back of my legs. I turned around, and saw that the little boy had pushed Mother’s wheelchair right up behind me.

His drippy sucker was in his mouth, and his sticky hands were on the handles of the wheelchair; I could see his big amazed brown eyes over the back of the chair. He grinned at me. His sucker fell out of his mouth onto the floor. Not the least bit disturbed, he bent right over, picked it up, and stuck it back into his mouth. Not a problem. Then he hurried back to his mother, who put her arm around his shoulders and spoke softly to him in Spanish. He smiled, nodded, and wiped off some of the red stuff just before it dripped.

Children who know they are loved have faith that things are going to turn out right. They know who is in control, and they are glad it is not them. Maybe that’s a lesson we could learn?

Friday, February 03, 2006

And....Destructive Mind-Set

This is the fourth and last in a series about most people. More important than the ailing body is the suffering spirit, which is harder for God deal with only because we don’t recognize our spiritual ailments, and we don’t ask him to lift them from us. We stubbornly hold on.

The storms and sicknesses of modern life are all too apparent. AIDS, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes plague us, as Philip Yancy points out. We suffer from guilt, fear, worry, despair, suspicion, and unmet longings for love and positive regard. We are attention deficient, autistic, schizophrenic, and bipolar. We don’t know how to communicate with each other. In short, we desperately need the healing power of Jesus that is seen in Matthew 8 and 9.

Let’s look back at the healing of the paralyzed man in Matthew 9. I think we can put ourselves in this picture. There we are, lying on the mat, paralyzed by our anxiety, our fear of saying the wrong thing and being rejected, for example. If Jesus could restore a completely paralyzed person to physical wholeness, think about it! A little anxiety or cynicism would be an easy thing for him.

But how we hang onto those spiritual diseases and love to wallow in them. We have to seek him and ask him to heal us of pride, fear, anger, and resentment. And we have to know that he can do it and give us peace in its place. He can make our spirits whole, just like the paralytic’s body, and raise our spirits to new life, like physically raising the dead.

Whatever our spirit sickness is, we can give it up, with his help—by the touch of his healing hand—even if we’ve hung onto it for twelve years, our spirits bleeding like the bleeding woman. Or blind, like the blind people he healed, we can see, through him. We can be free and whole. And then we don’t have to live a miserable life separated from God, but a rich life filled with his praises. We just have to see our spirit’s sickness for what it is, ask God to lift it—and know that he can and will.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Destructive Mind-Set, Re-revisited

This is the third in a series about most people. We Americans have conquered the world’s worst diseases, but we are so separated from God that we destroy ourselves by the choices we make.

In Matthew 8 and 9, we see eight or nine instances of Jesus healing horrible disfiguring and debilitating diseases; driving out demons that made people act psychotic; and ending conditions that plague, torment, and frighten people. He even raised people from death.

Here are two specific things:

--He told a paralytic to “get up and walk” and forgave his sins.

--He healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years; she said, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

Are all these just disconnected stories? I tell my English composition students to use transition and make connections between ideas; Matthew didn’t do that for us. But God shows us that through these healing times, Jesus is building a powerful concept.

The key words and ideas, all tied up with healing, are faith, power, and forgiveness. Through all these instances, Jesus is revealing the importance of faith. Most of these suffering people came seeking Jesus because they believed that he could—and wanted to—help them. His tremendous power to do these things is obvious; the pictures of healing demonstrate his power.

Then he makes a connection to forgiveness. In Chapter 9, forgiveness for sin begins to show up when Pharisees question him. In verses 5-8, he said to them, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ’Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . , ” he told the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” In modern language, this might be “I am healing this paralytic—telling him to get up and walk—so that you will see it and realize that I do have the authority and the power to forgive sin and to heal your spirit.”

Truly knowing that he can heal physical illness teaches us that he also has the power to take care of the more important healing of our sin-sick spirit. These pictures, then, are not at all disconnected, but pictures of what he wants to do for us, linked together by strands of faith and healing power.

And more important than the ailing body is the suffering spirit, which is harder for God deal with only because we don’t recognize our spiritual ailments and we don’t ask him to lift them from us. We hold on to them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Destructive Mind-Set, Revisited

Phillip Yancy says in Rumors of Another World that sin is both a point of view and a series of choices. And both have the effect of avoiding “the truth about God’s world.” He says sin “retards growth, ravages health, and chokes off the supply of new life.”

Our behavior is often subtly sinful as we engage in activities that harm our bodies. To make his point, Yancy explains that in America, the “primary health issues are life-style-related”—in many cases of heart disease and diabetes, some cancers, violence, and AIDS, for example. These are all physical things, of course, yet the bottom line is that many of them are caused by spiritual problems. In India, on the other hand, the main health issues are malaria, leprosy, dysentery. We Americans have conquered the world’s worst diseases, but we are so separated from God that we destroy ourselves by the choices we make.

I see how Yancy’s diagnosis of our national spiritual/physical malady rings true in my own life. If I keep on eating endless piles of chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, and cheese enchiladas because they taste good, I am making a choice that avoids God’s truth and harms my body, which is his temple. And I am making it hard for myself to experience wholeness in this body, which was in perfect health when he put me in it.

Echoing Paul, I say, why do I keep on doing this, even though I don't feel right about it? Even though I know what overeating will do to me? Who will rescue me from this body of death?! Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (That’s in Romans 7:24-25.)

Yancy, Philip. Rumors of Another World. Zondervan, 2003.