Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Bible Bug and the Gospel it Contains

At dinner last night, one of my fellow physicians talked about his experiences as a beekeeper. That conversation led to a discussion of another insect, coccus ilicis, also known as "the crimson worm." 

Our worm expert told us that it's mentioned in Psalms and is an example of how nature declares the truth of God. "The gospel worm is prophetic of Jesus."

The Beekeeper chuckled. "Here's another blog topic for Leanna." 

I was a little skeptical, and very hesitant about writing on the gospel bug, so I did an internet search this morning, including 

Coccus ilicis is an insect mentioned in numerous scientific articles. In ancient times, it was highly prized for its use in dying fabric a rich crimson color. It was so valued that it was used in commerce as a form of money in some early cultures. 

Psalm 22:6 does, indeed, mention the crimson worm in a prophecy of Jesus.

"But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people." Psalm 22:6 nasb

The word translated as "worm" is towla and refers to the female coccus ilicis. According to the Blue Letter Bible (follow link for citation), the female permanently attaches herself to the trunk of a tree before laying her eggs. Her body covers the eggs and serves as a protection for them until they hatch. As her body decomposes, it releases a red fluid that stains the tree. 

In a manner of speaking, her death on the tree brings life to her offspring. The red dye that stains the tree is considered by some to be symbolic of the blood of Jesus that brought life to us, His children.

It's one more example of how all creation declares the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1) 

I'm reminded of the words of Jesus on the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Pharisees told Him to silence the praises of His followers. "I tell you," He said, "if they keep quiet, the rocks will cry out." Luke 19:40.

As I've thought about the crimson worm this morning, I've realized that this tiny insect declares the truth of Christ with her life. She's a living testimony of the redemption of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. 

It's what we, His followers, are meant to be. As disciples, our words, our actions, our very lives are supposed to point people to Jesus, but do they?

Today, let's look for testimony to the truth of Christ in our own lives. Is there enough evidence to point people to Jesus? If not, what needs to change? 

The heavens declare the glory of God, and so should we. 

"Ask the animals and they will teach you or the birds in the sky and they will tell you..." Job 12:7
ps - I know coccus ilicis is an insect and not a bug, but I've taken a little artistic license with the title. 

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: When the Twenty-first Century Church Acts Like the First Century Church 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Jordan, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Friday, April 21, 2017

When the Twenty-First Century Church Acts Like the First Century Church

I'm writing today from Colorado Springs, where I'm attending a meeting at a well-known international ministry. 

Most of us on the national Physician's Resource Council have been meeting together twice a year for a decade or more. Over the course of those years, we've become family.

A young physician visited with us yesterday. Last night, he made a comment that, in a way, summed up what we do. In addition to learning more about the ministry and wrestling with the most difficult issues in medicine to help with ministry position statements, he said, "You do a lot of two things: Eat and pray." 

We all laughed, but, in a way, it's true. We have three meals a day with snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It's not more food than usual, but we sit down to eat these meals around tables lined with people we love, and that's unusual. For physicians, a seated meal that won't be interrupted is a luxury. 

He's right about the praying part, too. Our meetings begin on Thursday. We always start that day with a thirty-minute devotional, followed by an hour-long prayer time. After every speaker has finished their presentation, we pray for them. 

At the end of the day, we pause to be sure that each person's most pressing needs have been mentioned, and stop to pray for those needs, too.

The more I've attended these meetings, the more I've realized how much like the first century church they are. 

"And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe..." Acts 2:42-43 nasb

When I hear all that's being accomplished through this ministry, I do feel a sense of awe. This is the way the bride of Christ is supposed to function, and it's beautiful. 

If we're to be all Jesus intended, we'll spend time together, gather around the table for meals, share our burdens, pray big for our needs. We won't do it once in a while. We'll do it regularly. 

That's why mid-week "family night suppers" with our church families are so important. It's why church small groups that meet regularly are encouraged.

When the 21st century church steps away from our busy lives to function as the first century church did, things will change. We'll share each other's burdens. No one will struggle alone. We'll pray more. Eat together more. Love more. 

When we spend quality time together, we'll gain more than good meals and lots of prayer time. We'll also become full of love and unity for one another.

If we feel isolated, disconnected, and alone, perhaps we need to reconnect with the body of Christ and do what the first century church did. "Continually devoting themselves..." 

Today, why not invite a fellow believer to share a meal. Spend some time together. Share your hope, dreams, concerns. Pray for each other. 

Be intentional about being the church and watch with anticipation. A sense of awe over all God does is sure to follow. 
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Choosing a Lifestyle of Love Even When We Don't Want to Risk It 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Jordan, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Choosing a Lifestyle of Love Even When We Don't Want to Risk It

Yesterday, I wrote about the dilemma of actions and consequences and the importance of making wise choices. Today, as promised, we're considering the importance of choosing a lifestyle of radical love.

"Radical" is more commonly associated with terrorists than Christians, but (according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary) the primary meaning is "from the root," such as a plant that grows from a root-like stem. 

When we're rooted and grounded in Christ, our growth should be, in a way, radical. Instead of a long, leggy stem that puts us far from Christ, we, too, should grow close to the root.

 A secondary meaning of "radical" is the one that's used more commonly today. "Very different from the usual or traditional" describes the kind of love disciples of Christ are supposed to have for those around us. 

"Radical love" extends past those who will love us in return, and includes everyone, including those who don't love us. 

When John wrote, "Whoever does not love does not know God," he wasn't kidding. 

Let's read those words aloud. "Whoever does not love does not know God." 

We can choose not to love the unlovely, the people who are different from us, the people we fear, but, when we don't love, according to John, we tell the world, "I don't know God." 

Consider that for a moment. Yeah. It's an ouch, isn't it?

For disciples of Christ, radical love is not optional. 

I had breakfast with friends at a local restaurant recently. The waitress approached our table just before we offered the blessing. One of my friends smiled and said, "We were just about to pray over our food. How can we pray for you?" 

The love with which she listened and prayed for our waitress, a stranger, was radical love.

"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing," is radical love.

When we reach past our prejudice to love those who are least like us, we begin to love as Jesus loved. When we look past skin color, lifestyle choices, piercings, tattoos, and head coverings to see the person inside, we see as Jesus sees. 

When we reach out with love to those around us, we begin to grow a little closer to the root (Jesus) with radical love.

Will our radical love always yield a warm and fuzzy result? No. Probably not. Nevertheless, it's not optional. 

I hope to give you a chance to exhibit radical love a little later this year. One of my colleagues and I are planning a cross-cultural communication experience. We'll be inviting Muslim women and Christian women for tea and conversation. 

Muslims and Christians will talk together about challenges with children, culture, families and faith. We'll listen to each other, get to know one another. 

It's what  I do every time I go to Arabic lessons. It's not scary. It's not hard. (Well, learning Arabic is hard. Befriending my tutor is not.) 

I'll write more about it later, but, for now, consider the possibility that the woman wearing the head scarf is just like most of us, living the faith into which she was born. She's living what she knows. We are, too.

Here's the difference: We have a risen Savior who loves everyone with abandon. He's not a remote figure who lived and died and remained in the grave. He's risen and reigning and with us by His Spirit. 

We have a reason to love, and a command to love. The only choice we have in love is whether or not we'll obey.

Today, let's consider all the people God brings into our path and ask God to plant His love in us. Let's allow that love to extend to all and demonstrate that love with smiles, kind words, helping hands, welcoming hearts.

The ones who don't know God don't love. The ones who know Him, do. Which ones are we?

"Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: When Our Actions Choose Our Consequences 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Jordan, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

When Our Actions Choose Our Consequences

Maggie the Wonder Dog loves to roll in the mud, even though leaves and sticks almost always get caught in her fur. I'm pretty sure she knows, at least after the fact, that mud-rolling always ends in a bath.

She doesn't like baths, but she rolls in the mud anyway.

We're more like Maggie than we probably think. When we want to do something, we tend to do it without regard for the inevitable consequences that will result. I think this tendency is because we don't believe the consequences will happen to us. 

After three decades of medical practice, I can promise you one thing. They do.

Just last week, a former patient complained about a cough and shortness of breath. 

"Remember when I told you that you needed to stop your second-hand smoke exposure because it was causing lung damage?" I asked.

Yes. They did remember.

"Did you do what I said?"

No. They didn't.

"This is what I told you would happen, and it has." 

It sounds harsh, but they reaped what they sowed. They don't like it now, but the time to prevent their symptoms was thirty years ago, when healthy-lifestyle recommendations were first made.

When we choose tobacco use, alcohol use, obesity, a high-fat diet, or sedentary lifestyle, our choices put us at risk of dreadful consequences. In the moment, we seldom stop to consider whether we want the temporary pleasure of our choice or the long-term result of that choice, but we should. 

As important as health and lifestyle choices are, our faith-walk choices are even more critical. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote sobering words:

"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit..." Ephesians 5:15-18 nasb

Here's the Leanna Paraphrase: Quit being foolish. Make wise choices. Life is short. Do what's right, and do it God's way.

What is God's way? Jesus summed up the law in two simple statements of love.
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as (in the same way) you love yourself.

Is it easy to love with that much abandon? No. It's impossible, without God's help.

Just as the use of alcohol lowers our natural inhibitions, being filled with the Spirit works in a similar way. The Spirit of God empowers us to overcome our "natural" resistance (or inhibition) to obedience, and equips us to love and live as Christ commanded. 

If we want to live long, healthy lives, we need to make healthy choices. If we don't, we probably won't like the results. 

If we want to live a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we need to make the right choices, too. It all begins with love. Love of God. Love of our neighbor.

It's a radical love that changes everything.

We need look no further than the life of Jesus and His disciples to see this truth. The first life that must change, however, if we are to have radical love, is our own. 

We'll talk more about a lifestyle of love tomorrow. For today, let's take a careful look at our own hearts. 

Are we choosing love as our lifestyle? 

Do we love only the neighbors who are most like us, or do we love those who are least like us, as well?

Do we harbor prejudice against those who make different choices in religion or lifestyle? Does that prejudice keep us from love?

What long-term consequences will we suffer from our failure of love? 

What changes are needed?

Radical love changes everything, so let it begin by changing us.

"Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Does Truth Matter Anymore?

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Jordan, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Does Truth Matter Any More?

I grew up asking "why" and "how do we know that's true?" It was maddening to teachers and family alike, but I've always have a yearning to "know for sure." 

It's one thing to be certain about the distance of a star, but it's another thing entirely to stake my life and my future on something I believe. In matters of eternity, I want to be as sure as possible that I have truth.

It's odd to me that not everyone cares as deeply about what's true and what's not.

A couple of "missionaries" stopped by my house recently. They wanted to talk "Bible" with me, and proceeded to tell me about what their Bible said. They were very polite and friendly, so I listened. They had so much wrong, though, that I finally had to speak.

They chose 1 Peter 3, a passage I know pretty well. I hesitated, but finally said, "I'm pretty sure that's not what 1 Peter 3 says."

"Oh, yes ma'am. It does."

"Let me get my Bible."

After I showed them 1 Peter, they tackled another passage and tried to explain it to me.

"Let me show you that in the original language." I opened the Interlinear Bible from and showed them the Greek. "See, it doesn't mean what you say at all." I explained the passage.

They tried again. "We think it says..." 

Finally, I explained, "It doesn't matter what you think. All that matters is truth. I know truth, and I'm happy to share it with you, but you need to decide whether you want what you think or what's true."

They didn't know what to say, so they left.

When I was at the Garden Tomb recently, the guide told us an interesting fact that disputed the "truth" I thought I knew, most of it obtained from singing a favorite hymn. I can hear the song in my head as I type. "On a hill called Mount Calvary..." 

She said Jesus probably wasn't crucified on the top of the hill. The Romans did their crucifixions beside the road leading into the city so that more people could see the criminals hanging there. The shame was supposed to act as a deterrent. 

This has been confirmed by the number of bones and archeological findings at the foot of the hill, along the roadside. Most likely, the guide said, the crucifixion actually occurred by the road at the foot of the place called Golgatha.

The lyrics should, more accurately say, "By a hill called Mount Calvary..." 

I was a little disappointed to learn I've held the wrong view for the better part of a century, especially since I learned so much theology from singing hymns.

There's one hymn that nailed the theology, though. Ryan and I would sing it together when he was a little boy.

I'd sing, "What can wash away my sin?"

He'd sing his response, "Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

Though our sins be as scarlet, that precious blood washes them white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18) It doesn't matter how much wrong we've done, the Blood is powerful enough to pay the penalty.

There's a bit of truth we sometimes forget. It doesn't matter what the worst person we know has done, the Blood is powerful enough to cover their sin, too. 

That truth changes how we see people, or it should. 

I have a friend who says we're either Christian or "pre-Christian." He bases those categories on 2 Peter 3:9. "...instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 niv No matter who He meets, he treats them as a potential brother/sister in Christ.

That's truth in action.

Is that how we see others, especially the people with whom we disagree or those who've harmed us or those we love? 

Is that how we treat them?

We learned these truths as children, and they're still true today:

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son that anyone who believed in Him would not go to Hell, but would live in heaven forever. (from John 3:16)

We can't have it both ways. What's true is true all the time, not only when it's convenient to us. When we know truth, we're supposed to obey it, all the time. 

Today, let's make sure we embrace the truth and live what we know. God loves everyone, and we should, too. 

"Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4:8

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: After Easter: What Comes Next?

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Jordan, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Monday, April 17, 2017

After Easter: What Comes Next?

Mary, Peter, and John raced back from the tomb with the news that it was empty. They were incredulous, ecstatic, astounded. Their enthusiasm could not be contained. 

As they were sharing the news with everyone who would listen, the chief priests and the elders were concocting the story that the disciples had stolen the body. 

Both stories raced through the city. People believed what they wanted to believe, as people always do.

What they believed (or didn't) couldn't change the truth. The Messiah was risen and alive. 

We've heard it so many times that it's lost some of its luster, but imagine for a moment that someone you dearly love has died an agonizing death. After the funeral, you go to put flowers on the grave. You find that the grave is not only open, but your loved one is walking around, alive and well.

How incredible would that be?

That's how it was for the disciples. The most unbelievable thing had happened, and they couldn't stop talking about it. 

The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive. He still is.

Those facts change everything and we should be just as excited about our living Lord as they were that first blessed Resurrection morning. It should change our speech, our priorities, our focus in life.

When we have a living Lord, nothing else matters, or it shouldn't. Every day should be a celebration of worship and love.

But is it?

Will we leave the joy of resurrection behind with the Easter baskets and the flower crosses? Will our enthusiasm fade as the chocolate is consumed?

Today, let's focus on the empty tomb in a new way, and let the joy of His resurrection flood us, change us, consume us.

Let's live as those who have not just been redeemed but who have an ever-living, ever-loving, ever-present Savior who is with us to the end.

"And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age..." 
                                  Matthew 28:20 nasb
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The Incredibly Terrible Week and the Missing Messiah

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Jordan, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Incredibly Terrible Week and the Missing Messiah

A lot can change in a week's time, and it had. 

First, there'd been the triumphal entry, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People shouted Hosannahs and threw palm branches on the ground before Him. It looked as if He would soon come into His kingdom.

The Jewish officials watched the crowd and knew it was true. Jesus would take over if they didn't do something. They'd pondered their options for a while, but they were finally sure. 

Jesus had to go.

Less than a week later, they got what they wanted. Jesus was crucified as a criminal. They were finally free of Him, or so they thought.

When the women went to the tomb early that Sunday morning, they saw the stone rolled away and ran back to get the men. "The Lord's body has been stolen," they cried.

Peter and John raced to see. We don't know what they thought, but surely someone in the group remembered what Jesus had said. 

"He said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.'" Mark 9:31 niv

Peter, followed by John, looked into the tomb. They saw the grave clothes and the folded face cloth, and they believed. I can imagine Peter looking at John and John looking back, a little twinkle in their eyes. "Yep," they probably thought. "He's done what He said."

I'm a little surprised that they didn't stay to look for Jesus, but, really, where do you go to find a risen Savior? 

Peter and John left Mary, still crying in the garden, and went home. 

"Why are you crying?" Jesus asked Mary. She was caught up in her weeping, as women are prone to be, and didn't notice who had spoken.

It was Jesus. 

The Missing Messiah wasn't missing at all. He'd just been walking in the garden.

A stroll in the garden doesn't seem unusual until you remember that He had been beaten beyond recognition, whipped with a scourge until His back was ripped open and bleeding, hung on a cross, and crucified until He died. A crown of thorns had been jammed onto his forehead. A soldier had stuck a sword into his side so that blood and water had poured out. 

The last time she'd seen Jesus, He'd been dead. 

He'd spent the rest of His time since then defeating sin and death. We don't know all that happened while His body was in the tomb, but He emerged with fresh clothing and a fresh body. He was on the move. 

It's called Prevenient Grace, this ever-seeking grace of God that searches for us when we're far away and calls us back to Him. We shouldn't be surprised that the first action we see from our risen Savior is that of seeking out one of His own.

Peter and John could go home without anxiety because they understood one important fact. If Jesus was raised, He would come to them, because they were His.

No matter where we are, we're never too far for Jesus.

No matter what we've done, we're never too bad for Jesus.

No matter how long we've lived, we're never too old for Jesus.

He knows His own, and our Good Shepherd still seeks his wandering sheep. He's not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to Him. 

A lot can change in a week's time, including in us. 

If we're tired of our sin and its consequences, we have a Messiah who can change us, cleanse us, wash us white as snow, and fill us with His Spirit. He can (and will) replace fear with power, hate with love, sorrow with joy, doubt with faith, despair with hope. 

Our Jesus is able to forgive, to love, to change.

If you're ready, He is, too. 

In case you missed this Holy Weekend's posts, here are the links: