Sunday, September 15, 2013

God is Still in the Miracle Business!

       The Bible tells us that God did amazing miracles in the Old Testament. He did them Himself at times & through His prophets or chosen leaders at other times.  Why? He wanted to show His people the awesome different traits of His character. He showed them His mercy, His provision, His healing power, His protection, His ability to fight their battles for them & His overwhelming love for them in spite of their unbelief and frequent failings. His character was easily seen through those things that He did.

     The New Testament Gospels record how Jesus performed amazing miracles. Why? He wanted to point the people away from the ritualistic religion that had taken His people into the bondage of law and return their hearts to loving God. He did miracles of healing, deliverance, & power over both nature & quantity. He raised the dead, healed incurable diseases, & showed the importance of obeying God rather than man. He didn't abolish the Law, but showed how its use was for the purpose of love rather than domination.

      The epistles of the New Testament show us that the apostles did amazing miracles. Why? They were showing God's power, through Christ's work on the cross, in order to validate the ministry & message. They wanted the people to see that Christ's body, His church, could continue on through the power of the Holy Spirit. The church would be established in spite of the fact that opposition rose against it both from established religion & secular governments. Their miracles were important in that they showed God's continuing presence on the earth, even after Jesus returned to His Father.

     According to Romans 15:4, the purpose of all this recorded information is so that we who have come after will be encouraged & have hope. It was not to tease us with something that we could never see or to make us envious of power that we could never have. It was to call us to a deeper intimacy with God & to propel us into an experiential knowledge of what we have in Christ and what we can do through Him.

     So has God changed His mind? Has He decided that our generation should wallow around powerless & ineffective?  Is there anything God can no longer do? Or is it merely the fact that we don't appropriate the power given us because of our unbelief?

     God is still in the business of performing miracles. Ephesians 1:19 says He wants to do amazing things through us & for us through His unlimited, immeasurable & surpassing great power. He didn't cease doing miracles when the Bible was completed. He didn't stop using His saints when the last of the apostles died. He is still in the miracle business. I'm not talking "name it-claim it" theology that uses God like a cosmic vending machine or a genie. I am talking about the power that God wants to exhibit through & for true believers whose faith allows them to see beyond the things seen to the things unseen. I am talking about divine deliverance, supernatural healing, & works of awesomeness that bring glory, not to any man but to the Father.
     Knowing all this, how should our lives be? They should be full of peace, joy, & confidence that is not based on circumstances or situations always being favorable, but based on the knowledge that God is in control, that He always knows what is best, & that when we relinquish control to Him we can then rest, expecting Him to act.  He still does miracles. He still wants to do them. What do you need today? Ephesians 3:20 says He can always do more than we can ask or think. Ask, wait, believe & watch! He hasn't changed. He's still in the miracle business!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Life Lessons, part 2

Last time I wrote about 3 life lessons that I was reminded of during the long season of illness that Dan's mom endured. They were 1- Don't ignore the smallest details; 2- Training a child is not something to be taken lightly; 3- Things that seem innocent can be deadly!

There are many other lessons that God brought to my attention through that period. I hope these next few will also be meaningful to you.
Lesson 4 - Little things mean a lot! Small gestures that  take very little time to do really mean so much to a person in a hard place. A card, a few flowers, a handwritten note of encouragement, or even a phone call can turn put a spark of happiness into a dreary day. In this age of texting, social media, & emails the thought that someone cared enough to take a few minutes to do something personal & individualized is such a boost. Emails & messages are nice but hearing a comforting voice or receiving even the smallest token of friendship or love really sends a hug straight to the heart. I am determined, after our recent experience, to try to do so much better at this. It takes more effort, but it's worth everything to the receiver!!
Lesson 5 - Give grace in abundance for some day you may walk in their shoes. It's so easy to criticize. When someone is hurting, they really aren't themselves & neither are the ones who love them. It is emotionally draining to care for or even sit with someone who is seriously ill or in pain. All of us have our breaking points & we need to put ourselves in others' shoes before we take their outbursts or barbs personally. Grace, grace, grace...if you can't spare any, ask God to give you some of His for it is abundant. You will never really "get it" unless you go through it, so be careful about judging words or actions from the sidelines.
Lesson 6 - Remember, the Thumper rule still applies. "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Spouting Christian-ese or worn out clich├ęs are NOT better than nothing. Sometimes it's better to just sit with someone & listen, hold a hand, or give a hug than to try to deny the pain, minimize the situation, or be Pollyanna! Encouragement, as I said, is nice, but platitudes are not.  Before you say it, ask yourself if you would want to hear it if you were the other person. (I remember a deaconess coming to the hospital room of someone who had just lost a baby & telling her that she should stop her "moping" because God knows what is best and her grief was a lack of faith in His plan! While God's plan IS always best, her timing was ill-advised & her "theology" didn't do anything to comfort or encourage!) We will all be judged by EVERY word that we speak, so we'd be better off to speak less & listen more!
Lesson 7 - Gratitude goes a long way! Hospice workers, nurses, caregivers, & others in that field are often criticized for their lack of compassion, & there may be some who have lost their sensitivity to the anguish of a patient or family in pain, but ours & most others who work in that area of service are amazing. They do their jobs efficiently, quietly, & respectfully - even the worst jobs you could imagine. They never raise a voice or react in anger, even when there is little or no cooperation. They relay information, without being overly dramatic about things, & are calming influences even in the worst of situations. Truly they have seen it all before, but they don't act condescending or make loved ones feel bad about their reactions. Ours acted as though we were their first concern & our loved ones their first patients. In fact, as we mirrored their kindness, our loved ones got even more attention. They were gentle & sensitive to all of us. After our season was finished, I showed my thanks for their efforts by sending a card and a large tray of brownies. It was greatly appreciated...& sadly one of the first positive acknowledgements they had ever received. (Of course there are always an abundance of complainers!) Before we write caring service off as part of the job, we would do well to consider how hard that job is and show a little appreciation - in whatever way we feel is appropriate!

If you find yourself in the shoes I just walked in, try to recall these few life lessons. They are not the only ones, but they are important ones. You may be the calming, loving influence in your situation that everyone around you can depend on & count on when the situation seems overwhelming. It isn't an easy time, but you will get through it with more strength & grace if you let God's light shine through you & you remember these simple principles.

God bless you!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Life Lessons, part 1

      Watching someone change from feisty & vital to lethargic & numb is never an easy process. All the time I was enduring the process, I kept asking God what He was trying to teach us. While He never decided to answer with audible words or even words of wisdom & discernment, I did make some important connections that looking back I can appreciate.
      Lesson 1 - Don't ignore the smallest details.  Major illness can start with the tiniest symptoms. While that should not make us turn into raging hypochondriacs, we should always be aware of changes that occur. Most of the time they don't mean much but awareness catches even the rarest of symptoms. Just like in the spiritual sense...when we become aware of tiny changes in our desire to go to church or our need for Christian fellowship, we had better do a self-check on our spiritual health. Small changes in attitude can fester into raging diseases of apathy & disinterest. A lifetime habit can easily be broken, especially when our enemy gets involved through small incidences of hurt feelings, self-pity, or bitterness. Don't allow anything like that to remain. Take care of it with forgiveness, spiritual infusions of worship & prayer, & increased fellowship.
      Lesson 2 - Training up a child is not something to be taken lightly. As parents, we have all been challenged with the Word to make sure our children have solid spiritual foundations. The importance of that was made vivid to me during the final days of my mother-in-law's life. She could no longer react, speak more than a few words, or even seem to focus. One late evening, as I was playing worship music to calm her spirit, I went over to turn down the volume & when I turned back to her, she was mouthing the words to "How Great Thou Art". She had definitely not been in church since her childhood & I'm sure had not heard that song in over 70 years, but its comfort & peace were still there in her mind when she needed it most.  As parents, & grandparents, we have the privilege of teaching our children God's amazing attributes & ways. We can't depend only on Sunday School or Christian friends. We need to be intentional about playing Christian music at home or in the car, reading Scripture & sharing Bible stories as families, & praying together. Even if our children seem indifferent, the Word gets in their spirits & stays. Don't let another day go by without Jesus in your world & daily life.
      Lesson 3 - Things that seem innocent can be deadly.  Mom had a long-time struggle with Diabetes that eventually took her life. When talking about it with others, I was amazed at how many people were unaware that it can be that serious. Most people just think it's a matter of reducing sugar or perhaps, in major cases, taking insulin injections. Unfortunately, there are tremendously more serious consequences in ignoring or minimizing the disease. Loss of limbs & gangrene poisoning are not things we like to consider, but they are very real possibilities when the disease goes unchecked. Sin & worldliness are much the same. We ignore the changing values & worldly standards of behavior blasted to us through our computers and televisions. We rationalize & justify our attitudes toward these changes as "being tolerant" or enlightened. We accept societal norms rather than standing strong on Biblical principles. We need to re-examine our reactions to sin. Do swear words still cause you to cringe or have you become immune to their impact? Does the sight of gore & extreme violence turn your stomach or are you fascinated by it? When viewing or hearing about crimes perpetrated against the innocent are you outraged or indifferent? Do your Biblical values & spiritual foundations affect what you listen to or watch? I am not being judgmental with this. These are questions every Christian should be asking of themselves & taking the answers seriously. If a stranger lived in my house for a few days, would he know that I was a Christian by my choices of television programming, music, leisure activity, & lifestyle? Since we are to represent God in our world, perhaps it's time to take a little self-assessment. Innocent though it may seem at first, ignoring worldliness which is infiltrating our lives can be deadly to us & to the world that we are supposed to be influencing. And, by the way, God holds us responsible for not showing the sinner his error. If you don't think so, read chapter 3 or 33 of Ezekiel. Ouch!
      There are other lessons that God reminded me of through these last months, which I will write about at a future time. For this blog, I have had enough of a challenge...& hopefully you have too!  Blessings...