Saturday, April 12, 2014

Puppy Prayers

“Hey Mom, don’t you want another dog?” Ryan asked.  My twelve-year-old son was convinced that another dog was an essential addition to our menagerie, which already included an elderly dog, two cats, four rabbits, four chickens, three horses (including two wild mustangs), and two show cows, in addition to a small herd of commercial cows.  “Absolutely not!” was my quick reply.  

As the weeks went by, Ryan continued to push the issue.  “We really need a new dog, Mom.  Bud needs another dog to play with him.”  “Ryan, we do not need a new dog.”  “Mom, don’t you want a new dog?  Puppies are so cute!”  “Ryan, I am feeding enough animals.  I’m not buying a dog or any other animal.”  

Ryan saw a potential crack in the armor.  “What if someone gives us a dog?  Can I have a dog if someone gives it to me?”  He was relentless, so I finally outlined the only way I’d allow a new dog.  “It has to be either a teacup poodle or a chocolate lab, registered, papers included in the gift, and female.   It would have to be a puppy, not an older dog who’s been someone else’s problem.”  Frankly, I thought the possibility that Ryan could find a dog that met all those criteria was pretty slim.  As time went on, he intensified his efforts, and began to look at the newspaper classified ads on a daily basis.    

Children are masters at playing their parents against one another, and Ryan was no exception.  When Mom said “No,” he took his case to his Father.  His Heavenly Father.  He began to pray daily for a dog.  I reminded him of the guidelines for an acceptable puppy.  I assumed he’d mention those guidelines in his prayers.

After several months, I began to feel confident about avoiding a new dog.  Ryan was even more certain a puppy was not far away.  

One Saturday morning, he went with his 4-H advisor to look at a new show calf.  He called me with good news.  “Hey, Mom.  Mr. Greg has some cute puppies.  He says I can have one if you don’t care.   Please, Mom.  These are so cute!”  They weren’t teacup poodles.  They weren’t chocolate labs.  They weren’t even registered.  I was worn out with his pleas, and, amazingly, my resistance evaporated as he pleaded.  

“Ryan, this will have to be the ONLY dog.  You can’t have another dog if you find one that’s registered.”  That was clearly fine with Ryan.  “Hooray!”  I could hear him telling Mr. Greg the good news.  “She says I can have it,” he whispered.  

Like all puppies, the new half-Labrador Retriever, half-German Shepherd puppy was a wiggly, furry, bundle of fun.  As we played with the puppy later that evening, I asked Ryan about his prayers. “I thought you were praying for a Labrador retriever or a poodle.   What happened?  Couldn’t you wait for God to send what you’d asked for?”  “Oh, Mom, He DID send what I asked for,” Ryan said.  “I couldn’t remember all that stuff you said.  I just asked God to send me a dog you’d let me have.  And He did.  Isn’t he a cute puppy?”  

I have a tendency to ask God to do what’s best in my situation, and then offer a variety of “suggestions” about how He should accomplish whatever He does.  I want to be sure He gets it right.  It sounds as silly as it is, doesn’t it?  One day, though, I’m going to learn to pray like Ryan.  He doesn’t bother to tell God a litany of guidelines, because he trusts God to not only know what’s best, but also to give what’s best.  

Is it hard for you to trust God with your needs?  With the desires of your heart?  Take a lesson from Ryan.   Make your request, and then let God do the picking.  Ryan would tell you, “God picks good.”  Judging by our new puppy, I’m sure He does.

Eye Disease (Luke 6:41, 42)

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:41, 42 NASB)

The tiniest speck in your eye is a miserable irritation, isn't it? It causes your eye to increase tear production in an attempt to flush out the foreign body, resulting in a frightful combination of scratchy eye and dripping tears. Numbing drops can lessen the sensation, but will not stop the speck from continuing to cause irritation to the fragile tissue of your eye. Untreated (and depending upon the type of foreign body (or speck) in your eye, it can wreak considerable havoc in your eye. The only thing that will truly help is to get the speck out. 

Instead of Speck Disease, some of us have a much more severe condition known as Log Disease. It is a terrible thing, and all of us are afflicted with it at one time or another. Instead of a tiny speck in our eye, we have a big log in our eye. Can you see with a log in your eye? No. Of course not. The problem with Log Disease is that it not only blocks our ability to see clearly, but also tricks us into thinking we CAN see clearly! What a mess!

There is one thing people with Log Disease can see. They can see specks in the eyes of people with Speck Disease. Generally, those tiny specks are magnified in the eyes of the people with Log Disease, so that the speck seems much larger than it actually is. Unfortunately, people with Log Disease are also frequently tricked into thinking that, because they can recognize the speck, they are qualified and equipped to remove the speck.  The log protruding from their own eye makes that impossible, but they are likely to persist in their efforts! Jesus said that the people with Log Disease need to get their own log removed so that they can help the person with Speck Disease remove their little speck. 

You may be wondering what this means. These verses indicate the need for us to be blameless before we try to deal with someone else's sin. We need to examine our own heart before we examine that of another. 

We all likely have one condition or another. Speck Disease or Log Disease. Which one do you have? The only treatment is to allow the speck or the log to be removed. The only physician who can treat this is the Great Physician, Jesus Himself. Are you overdue for an "eye" examine?  Why not let our Lord treat you today?

Pray that we and our loved ones will willingly submit to the Great Physician's care and be willing to stay until all the treatment is done and healing is complete.  
Link for last night's post:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Night With Friends: The Perils of Self-Pity by Annette Clayton

INTRO:  Annette graciously agreed to give a brief devotional at the Emmaus meeting last night.  She had her transcript typed and ready when she arrived, and I asked for permission to use it as our Friday Night With Friends blog.  You might find, like I did, that there is a little "ouch" here.  Annette wanted me to tell you that she had not anticipated it being used as a blog, and that she had spent some time looking on the internet for help with her devotional.  She said she copied some sections, but wasn't sure what came from where and she has tried to make this her own.   If we have inadvertently violated a copyright, please let us know, and we will be sure to give credit where credit is due.  

Have you ever felt sorry for yourself?  I'm not talking about being just a little whiney here. Have you ever gotten down in the dumps - way down in the dumps - and begun to moan and groan, saying "Woe is me!"?  This is difficult to say without sounding harsh and judgmental, but here goes.  Self pity is an extreme form of self-centeredness, and usually a result of a very selfish perspective of the world.  People who regularly indulge in self-pity are miserable, and they tend to make others quite unhappy, too.

Unfortunately, the self-pity mindset has a way of taking a death grip on us.  If we allow ourselves to do so, most of us can find plenty of reasons to feel sorry for ourselves.  When we allow our minds to run unrestrained, we will almost always think negative thoughts. It's our nature.  Without self-discipline in the area of our thought life, most us of have a natural tendency to become sullen.  What is so hard to realize is that self-pity is a bottomless well. Once we allow ourselves to begin plunging into that well of self-pity, we can easily find ourselves in a free fall to a deep, dark rut from which there seems to be no escape.  

It doesn't take much unrestrained self-pity to turn the best of us into bitter, pessimistic, angry, hateful, unhappy people.  It is important, of course, to separate self-pity from depression, grief, and sadness.  Those are totally different issues, and not the topic here at all.  The person who engages in self-pity is often looking for sympathy from others.  They become dependent on  the support and encouragement the receive to make them feel better. Unfortunately, such a dependence is very similar to a chemical dependence.  The high soon wears off, and they need another fix.  

Fortunately, the number of people who constantly pity themselves is rather low.  It seems, though, that we all know one or two people who have a constant pity-party.  Their fixation on what's going wrong in their lives can be like sandpaper on our brains.  Pointing out the good in their life is not well received.  Their dramatic interpretation of the events of their life as nothing short of exceptional tragedy is not only annoying, it is harmful to our relationship with them.  

There is a person in my life who's never happy or content with her life.  Maybe you know someone like this.  Maybe you are someone like this, at least sometimes. Things are always bad and getting worse, and her greatest desire is for sympathy.  People like her are convinced that no one else could ever have as many problems as they have.  I do feel bad for her and for people like her.  They make themselves feel worse, and are never happy about the positive things in their lives.  After a while, there is a diminishing return on the sympathy they receive, and they continue to see the world as a dark and difficult place.  

Jonah was a man like this.  In case you've forgotten, after a miraculous and divine rescue from the belly of the big fish, Jonah finally obeyed God, preached repentance to the people of Nineveh, and watched as revival fell upon the city.  Afterward, he was sitting in the sun and God made a gourd vine grow up to cast a shadow over Jonah and give him shade.  He was really glad about the vine.  In fact, he was more concerned about the vine than he was about the entire city of Nineveh.  When the vine died, he lost his shade, got hot again, and started whining. He was so desperate from losing his shady vine that he wanted to die.  Jonah was like a yo-yo.  One minute he was up and the next he was down, living based on his emotions all the time.  

We are not much better, are we?  We cry out to the Lord in our distress, begging for His intervention and promising all kinds of devotion and obedience.  Once God, in His mercy, moves in our situation, we rejoice briefly and, before you know it, we are whining again over the latest pressure that has arrived.  Immediately, we protest to God, ask where He is, wonder if He still loves us.  What pathetic attitudes we sometimes adopt!  One day, we will meet our Lord and all will be uncovered.  How will we feel about our circumstances when we see Jesus face to face?  

When we are filled with self pity, we put SELF at the center of our universe, rather than God.  The fruit of that choice is lack of faith, discouragement, victim syndrome, anger, resentment, and wasted time and opportunities.  What are we to do if we are caught in the web of self-pity?  The first step is to recognize that self-pity is SIN.  Reject it in your life and seek God's help and grace to remove it completely.  

2 Corinthians 2:14 says, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ and maketh manifest the savor (or fragranc) of His knowledge by us in every place." Self-pity is a foul aroma that stinks up your life, and leaves no room for the aroma of Christ.  Wouldn't you prefer to spread the sweet aroma of Christ to everyone you meet? That's a fragrance worth wearing every day!  

You can stop allowing self-pity to rob you of the joy of your Savior.  The way to escape is simple, and is found is John 16:33.  "These things I have spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace.  In the world, you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world."  

Pupils and teachers part 2 (Luke 6:40)

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40 NASB)

We looked at this verse yesterday and saw that the word for "trained" can also mean repaired or mended. The objective for the disciple of Christ is to allow Him to heal all our broken, hurting places and make us like Him. 

It is important to understand that Jesus is not the only teacher we, as pupils, have the option to follow. We can also follow one or more of our fellow humans, or even the evil one. The training we receive depends on the quality of the life we follow. The person we become is totally dependent upon the one we follow, as well. 

That is the very reason parents are so concerned about the friends their children choose. We become like the people with whom we associate. We begin to speak like the people to whom we listen.  

What good characteristics have you learned from your friends? What negative (or less than godly) characteristics have you learned from them?  How have you become more like those with whom you spend the most time?  Are you more like Christ because of the time you spend with them?

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will make wise choices about friends and associates. Pray that we and our loved ones will grow so much in the ways of Christ that we will have a positive influence on those around us. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mending what is broken (Luke 6:40)

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40 NASB)

Yesterday, we looked at the parable of the blind leading the blind. Here we see the relationship of the pupil and teacher. The pupil, Jesus said, is not above (or more important) than the teacher. The objective for the pupil is to be trained so that he will be like his teacher. 

This word "katartiz┼Ź" in the original language is translated here as "fully trained". It is also used to indicate "equipped" or "completed".  My favorite alternate translation, though, is "to mend what was broken". We may not like to admit it, but we are broken people. Our sin has broken us and made us less than we were. It is only by allowing God to change us and remake us in the image of Christ that we are mended and become the complete people we were intended to be. 

Do you feel broken? Have the consequences of your choices or the choices of others left you wounded and hurting? Our Lord understands it all and longs to heal completely. 

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will eagerly, willingly give our broken selves to Christ and allow Him to teach us, lead us, and repair us until we are wholly formed in the image of our Lord. 
Here's the link to last night's post:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bahamian Blogging # 11: Road Work

When we were church hopping on our recent trip to the Bahamas, one of the churches to which we hopped was the First Baptist Church of Freeport. As many churches do these days, they have a three-year theme.

I've seen a fair number of church themes that I thought were pretty iffy, so I wasn't optimistic. If the church is the bride of Christ (and it is) then the theme should have something to do with Jesus. Preferably, it would come from something Jesus said, and not some popular author's book. The Bahamians, however, have done a marvelous job of choosing. Their theme is "Transforming the Jericho Road", and they have the Good Samaritan in mind. If you remember the story, you know that Jesus used it to answer the question, "Who is my neighbor?"  

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was filled with robbers and extremely dangerous. No one wanted to go that way, and the route was undertaken with great caution. A man made the trip, was attacked by mugger-robbers, stripped naked, beaten to a pulp, and left for dead. They took all his money, too. First a priest and then a Levite passed him on the road. They didn't want to get involved, so they crossed by on the other side of the street. 

Finally, a hated Samaritan came by. He took one look at that jumble of crushed humanity and his heart broke. He scooped the battered man up, treated his wounds, and carried the man to an inn where he could be cared for until he was strong enough to go his way.  

Jesus wanted us to understand that the Samaritan treated the stranger the way He wants us to treat people. The Samaritan did what needed to be done at his own expense, no questions asked, no expectation of repayment. "You go and do likewise," Jesus said. 

First Baptist Church of Freeport has a bold vision. They have decided to tackle the problem of the (figurative) Jericho Road. They plan "to banish fear, to offer hope, to show compassion, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to keep God at center, and to build a beloved community." These visionaries hope to accomplish this in three short years. Now THAT is a theme! THAT is a church that is doing what Jesus wanted. He said, "Do likewise," and they are. 

If you haven't had a Jericho road experience where, when you least expected it, circumstances conspired to knock you down and leave you battered and ruined, you probably will. The great difficulty with Jericho Road experiences is that we cannot rescue ourselves there. It takes someone willing to be the hands and feet of Christ to help us. It takes someone like the members of The First Baptist Church of Freeport. 

I've thought about that church many times since I visited there, and I've wished I worshiped and served with them every week. The amazing thing is that, because we are all part of the Church, the bride of Christ, I am a part of them, and they are a part of me. Isn't that beautiful?  Just so you know, my church is doing road work on the Jericho Roads of life and actively watching for those crushed on the side of the road. We could use some help. Wouldn't you like to come along? 

Blind leading the blind (Luke 6:39)

And He also spoke a parable to them: "A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? (Luke 6:39 NASB)

This verse is also reported in Matthew's gospel. In that passage, Jesus had just argued with the Pharisees. They complained that the disciple/apostles did not follow the "tradition of the elders" because they did not always wash their hands before they ate. Jesus said (Leanna version), "YOU are breaking the law of God by not taking care of your parents! You are a bunch of hypocrites!" Later, the disciple/apostles cautioned Jesus that He had upset the Pharisees by what He said, but He was not worried. He had been headed to the cross from the time He was conceived, and their indignation was just a stop along the way. His response was a less than flattering description of the Pharisees. "The blind leading the blind straight into a ditch!" 

That metaphor is repeated here. Although not physically blind, He was describing them as spiritually blind. They were unable to "see" and recognize the Messiah standing right in front of them. They picked and chose the laws of God they wanted to obey and, at times, created laws of their own that they would prefer to obey. Worse, they presented themselves as knowledgeable and led the unsuspecting crowds down the same hopeless path.  

The Pharisees were the blind leading the blind. Jesus said that a blind man leading another blind man was most likely to eventually stumble into a pit. It should serve as a warning to us to choose wise and discerning leaders, and not ones who only say what we want to hear. 

Whose leadership do you most often follow? What criteria do you use when evaluating leaders? What about your own leadership standards?  Are you careful to obey Jesus or do you, like the Pharisees, pick and choose those things you would most prefer to obey, yet leave the harder things undone?

Pray today that we will be obedient to the entire counsel of Christ and not just the "easy parts".  Pray, too, that our loved ones will see our obedience, find no hypocrisy in our lives, and be drawn to Christ by the purity of our walk of faith. 
Link to last night's post:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Saving Daylight

All was quiet as I drove through town toward home. As I entered my front door, it was strangely silent except for the puppy frantically barking. It wasn't until I began dinner preparation that I realized the light was off in the refrigerator. "Hmmm," I thought, and reached for the overhead light switch. Nothing. I glanced at the oven and realized the clock was dark. The electricity was off. A quick call to my neighbor revealed it had been off for close to an hour. 

My water comes from a deep well on the farm and is supplied by an electric pump.  When there's no electricity, there's no water, either. My first thought was of all I couldn't do. The second was of all I still could. 

I assembled a quick sandwich for dinner and was amazed at how much less time that took. I cook every night, and the preparation, cooking, and clean up all consume a considerable amount of time. Tonight, I saved more than an hour. I laughed out loud as I thought, "Now THIS is really daylight savings time!" 

With all that extra time, I've played with my dogs and tried again (and still unsuccessfully) to teach Mamie to fetch. I've laughed at my hopping puppy and snuggled with Maggie (who has been unusually tolerant of the puppy's antics).

I like being "unplugged ".  It's odd how that which is supposed to be a time-saver has actually been consuming so much of my evenings. I'm surprised by it, and wondering what other time-saving item I could eliminate so I can actually save some time. Don't get me wrong. I do not want to give up electricity. I enjoy my heat pump and running water, and I'm certainly not interested in relinquishing my refrigerator or oven in exchange for an ice box and an open fire.

It may be my mindless dependence on technology of all types that is the problem. I text when a quick phone call might be better. I send emails when a hand written note would be much more appropriate. I google my question when there are books on my shelves with the answer I need. Do these things save me time? Not always. 

Perhaps the problem is not the technology. Perhaps the problem is actually how I view time. If I truly understood that every one of the finite minutes I have moves me closer to eternity, would I treasure each one more? Would I spend them more carefully? Would I be less likely to squander them with mindless banality?  Would you?

For this evening, I've enjoyed the brief power outage and am pondering how to spend those precious moments I've gained. I'm thinking a few handwritten notes by candlelight might be on the agenda. And sealing wax, of course. A little Thoreau. Maybe even a few minutes on the porch spent watching it rain and savoring the fragrance of fresh-washed earth. Sixty very precious minutes. I'm spending them well for a change. 

Why don't you join me with a little time-management of your own? You might be surprised by all sixty minutes can contain.  Unplug. Slow down. Enjoy!

The Giving Measure (Luke 6:38)

Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure-pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return." (Luke 6:38 NASB)

"Give," Jesus said. That should have been enough. Since Jesus said to give to others, we should be willing to give without thought of reward. He knew, however, that we are a people of "What's in it for me?" Despite being created in the image of God, we are not naturally generous. As toddlers, we are selfish to the core and it is often with many tears that we learn that sharing is a part of life.  It is not our natural inclination.  

To give us motivation in our giving, and perhaps to lessen the fear of doing without because we give, Jesus offered an amazing promise. We will receive in direct proportion to the generosity of our giving. If we give unreservedly, we can expect to receive in that same measure. He described the measure with which we will receive: pressed down to make room for more, shaken together to get the air pockets out and make room for more, and running over when the giving-container can hold no more. 

Oddly enough, He promises that we will receive, but doesn't promise WHAT we will receive. If we give our discarded clothes, will we receive more clothes? Not necessarily.  What He promised was not an exact payback, but a proportional return, a like-measure return. We decide what we will give, but God decides what He will return. He looks at our hearts and makes the decision about return based on what He sees. We don't know exactly what measure God uses, but I imagine things like the generosity of our giving, the obedience of our faith walk, the gentleness of our spirit, and the stewardship of our resource management all enter into the measuring. We know He gives good gifts to those He loves. That should be motivation enough if simple obedience was not. 

What measure do you use in giving?

Today, pray that we and our loved ones will have such generosity of spirit that we will give for the pure joy in the giving rather than what God might offer us in return. Pray for the body of Christ to demonstrate such generosity that no need around us goes unmet. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Being kind (Luke 6:37)

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. (Luke 6:37 NASB)

In this discourse, Jesus has been teaching about how to treat others, particularly our enemies. This verse deals not only with how we treat our enemies, but others as well. Once again, Jesus has given a general instruction (treat others the way you want to be treated) and now He is giving a more specific description of how to do that. If you don't want to be judged or condemned, don't judge or condemn. If you want to be pardoned, be quick to pardon others. This verse leaves no room for a haughty, prideful spirit, does it? 

The instructions here could be summed up in two words:  Be kind. Now being kind is not quite all there is to this. We must be kind to everyone, and we need to mean it. The attitude with which we act matters greatly to God. It's one thing to ACT in a kind manner. It's another thing entirely to BE kind. Being kind implies that you have a spirit of kindness, free from a judgemental, critical attitude. 

I like the way The Message paraphrases this verse:
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.” (Luke 6:37, 38 MSG)

"Be easy on people..." It's harder than you might think, but vitally important as you strive to demonstrate Christ to a world without Him. Begin today to "be easy on people".  The best place to start is with those enemies we've been talking about, and not just the people who have wronged you but also those people who irritate you on a regular basis. Be easy on them, and you will find it much easier to "be easy" on everyone else. 

Pray today that we will treat everyone (especially our loved ones) with the kindness that flows from a heart that is kind. 
Link to last night's post:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Rwandan genocide 20th anniversary

Today is the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, and is an international day of mourning for those who died.  Before the world realized what was happening, this self-described Christian nation in the heart of Africa developed a kind of social madness and hundreds of thousands of people were killed, countless atrocities were perpetrated, families were disrupted or destroyed, and the nation was forever changed. 

Rwanda has three castes or tribes. The largest are the Hutu (traditionally farmers), then the less populous Tutsi (traditionally cattle ranchers), and Twa ( Pygmy forest dwellers). Longstanding conflict between the groups erupted, and the Hutu majority attempted to eradicate the Tutsi and Hutu moderates.  According to Wikipedia, "During the approximate 100-day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed,[1]constituting as much as 20% of the country's total population and 70% of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda." The attempt to eliminate the Tutsi was very nearly successful. 

What is still so hard for me to believe is that the genocide was well underway before the rest of the world took note and tried to intervene. We didn't notice. If we had, we could have done more. We could have saved more. 

As I've thought about that brief time twenty years ago, I've wondered what I was doing that was so much more important. I had a busy medical practice, a failing marriage, and a son who was just a toddler. I was preoccupied. I had no idea what else was happening in the world. Besides, what difference could one woman make?  I'm going to have a hard time explaining those excuses one day. We all are. 

History is full of examples of how one man or one woman took note of an injustice and made a tremendous difference. Noah, Moses, the apostle Paul, and William Tyndale are just a few of the people who have singlehandedly impacted the world. What we never seem to realize is that one man or woman on their knees and interceding for a nation, for a situation, can also have tremendous impact. I wonder what God would have done in Rwanda if there had been a concert of prayer in churches across America at the very beginning of the conflict.

What worries me is how easily and how quickly the genocide happened in the Christian nation of Rwanda. Could it happen here? Yes, it could. John Stewart Mill once said, "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing". That is exactly how the Rwandan genocide happened. Unless good men (and women) decide to stop looking on and start becoming involved in the fight against injustice, it could happen again, if not in Rwanda then somewhere. 

What can you do? Decide that you are through being a bystander. Take note of what is happening around the world. When you recognize injustice, begin to fight against it by hitting your knees to pray, then taking a stand against the wrong you see. Write letters, make calls, recruit help from friends and family, do something!  You may think you can't make a difference, but Tyndale probably thought that, too. 

Be the good man or woman who looks on and takes a stand, then do not budge when evil tries to push it's way past. Be the one who makes a difference. 

My spiritual encounter with dental bleach

More than a decade ago, I was in considerably better shape. I was also, of course, more than a decade younger and a little more concerned (okay, vain) about appearance than I am today. As part of my beauty maintenance program, I decided I needed to bleach my teeth. 

At my next dental appointment, I broached the subject with my dentist. He was brutally honest.  "Yeah, you can do it, but it won't make your teeth pearly white," he said. I wanted him to prescribe whatever product would give me a movie-star smile. "Nothing's gonna do that.  Your teeth are a little discolored from antibiotics as a child and they will never be perfectly white," he explained. Needless to say, I was a little indignant and determined to try. Six tubes of 22% White and Brite later, I realized he was right. 

This past Friday was my scheduled cleaning, so I checked with my hygienist, thinking maybe a more effective product had been developed. "Oh, we still use the gel.  It works if you use it," she assured me. I explained that I had used it before, but a little re-do was needed. "Didn't you do a touch-up every couple of months?" she asked. What??? It was bad enough wearing the mouthpiece with the foul-tasting gel every day to get a less than pearly result. I had no idea about touch-ups. It turns out that, if you want sparkling white teeth, you need to bleach them thoroughly to get that pearly white smile, then do a regular re-bleach every month or two for a few days to remove all the new stains.  

How amazing is that? Dental bleaching is a lot like the Christian life, isn't it?  When Jesus forgives our sins and washes us white as snow at salvation, we feel as clean and spotless as can be. It doesn't take long, though, before the sin that so easily entangles us leaves behind another layer of unattractive stain, and we are in need of a re-bleach. The wonderful thing about soul-cleansing is that no uncomfortable mouthpieces or icky gels are needed. All that is required is a repentant heart. 

With a mouthpiece loaded with 22% gel, I'm on my way to a brighter, whiter smile again. The question, though, is what am I doing to get my soul squeaky clean again? What are you doing? I have good news! The stain of sin is much easier to remove than dental stains, and a whole lot quicker. What can wash away our sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus, and He's happy to do it. All you have to do is ask. 

Becoming Merciful (Luke 6:36)

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36 NASB)

This little verse is jam-packed with truth and challenge. The word translated as "be" is "ginomai" and is also translated as "become" or "arise".  Another translation is "to be made". We are to be merciful. If we aren't merciful by nature, which we aren't, we are to become merciful. That difficult task of transformation can only be done by The One who IS mercy, and it is available for the asking. In a nutshell, we can arise with mercy when we allow God to transform us.  

So, what is mercy? Mercy is not giving us what we deserve.  The penalty for our sin is death and eternal separation from God.  Because of His great mercy, he does not give those with repentant hearts what we so clearly deserve.  

The word in the original here is "oiktirm┼Źn" and denotes a more intense kind of mercy, a "tender mercy".  It can also be translated as "compassionate toward the ills of others".  Just as God is compassionate toward our troubles and difficulties, even so we are to be compassionate toward others. Unceasingly compassionate. 

That is where the trouble comes, at least for me. Because we are made in the image of God, we have the capacity for compassion. We can see someone with difficulties and our heart goes out to them. That's why we give (time and money) when there is a tragedy of some sort. The problem comes when the tragedy is not quickly remedied or when the one in trouble makes no progress. Our compassion begins to fatigue, and the assistance we so freely gave begins to diminish. When the difficulty is one that is self-made, our feelings of mercy abate all the quicker. 

Don't get me wrong. Mercy is not enabling and it does not mean that there are no consequences. Mercy doesn't give us death and damnation when we deserve it. It does, however, give us consequences and conviction. Mercy's desire is always transformation. 

How merciful are you? How merciful is the body of Christ? 

Today, pray that we would willingly be transformed into those who demonstrate the mercy of God and that we will arise with mercy toward all those within our path, especially those we love. 
Link for last night's post: