May 30, 2015

My "Testimony"-- the beginnings

I alluded last week to the deceptive potential of a  testimony.  But it is clear in Scripture and in life that an honest retelling of what the Lord has done can be a powerful encouragement as well.  It's not always easy to put it into words though. That's what I've been wrestling with this week--how to boil down the story of God's working in my life to a blog-bite's worth of text. 

When I was a kid we went to 'Testimony Meeting' on Wednesday nights at church.  The service was a short one. It opened with a few hymns and then the microphone was turned over to whosoever-will-may-come!  There were various regulars, some more predictable than others.  Mostly it was the grown-ups that made their way up to the microphone to say a bit.  But there was this wild-card.  When Mr. T led the service one never knew what might happen.  

Now I admired Mr. T.  He radiated a love for the Lord and for His creation. He was an avid bird watcher and he was also my highschool Bible teacher.  But when he led testimony meeting it could be intimidating.  For he was very eager for the 'young people' to be a part of the service.  And he didn't mind making it happen.  Every so often he would verbally lasso the whole lot of us.  And we'd find ourselves lining up at the front to take a turn at the microphone dispensing a 'testimony' of what God had done in our lives that week or that year, or once-upon-a-lifetime-and-worth-repeating.  This could be very uncomfortable, especially if you couldn't quite figure what there was to say, beyond what you'd already said the last time this happened!  To make the matter even more intimidating, the first half hour of  these services was broadcast over the radio!  And this was not small-town radio.  Our testimonies would reach all the way to New York City!  There was definitely pressure to have something worth saying!

We youth usually came up with something fairly formulaic to say, patterned after our elders and kept very brief:  "I'm thankful that God saved me and I'm on my way to heaven"  or something of that nature.  Rarely would we volunteer a testimony and  how well I remember the uneasy tension of waiting till we were off the hook and the meeting over.

I've grown up quite a lot since then and have experienced the Lord's good hand in many more situations but still this week I've been grappling with how to give a 'testimony' here that would be of some encouragement and not merely a glorified personal history.  A classic salvation testimony is supposed to tell the before, the 'then what', and the after.  Ideally there should be a big contrast of 'before' and 'after' and just enough spice thrown in so the listener can relate and be 'wow'ed by the obvious transformation without being dragged through the messy details. Well, that's not my history.  Mine is a rather 'boring' story given those parameters.   For I was born into a Christian heritage of believing parents and grandparents on both sides.  I grew up with believing cousins, surrounded by a community of dedicated Christians in our own little protected world.  We not only sang hymns and read the Word responsively together.  We ate together after church and the people we saw on Sunday we went to school with and were taught by on Monday. In the summers these were the ones we picked strawberries with on Saturdays and even swam with at our own local pool.  Into this heritage I was born, as my parents had been born before me. 

Still, I remember a moment of personal 'decision'. 

I was ten I think, when I went forward with my friends at the close of an evening service to kneel at the bench and pray.  I didn't anticipate it being a life-changing moment in my life.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  It's what people did at Camp Meeting.  You prayed around the 'altar' (beautiful low wooden benches) following the official closing of the service.  And maybe there would be more singing, and maybe if people were very happy there'd be marching around the perimeter of the auditorium and back up the center aisle, just for the joy of it.  That was Camp Meeting. 

But this particular evening a wise older lady knelt beside me and asked if I knew that Jesus had died for my sins and whether I had ever prayed to receive Him as my personal Saviour.  I supposed that I hadn't but it certainly seemed the right thing to do.  So I did.  As did my friends.  And we were very pleased with ourselves on rising from our knees.  And happy to know Jesus was in our hearts.  As I recall we dashed out the side door into the balmy summer evening  bubbling over with joy.  But really, it's a bit of a  foggy memory for me. Though I have a definite recollection of Mrs. Wolfram's gentle entreaty to me but I couldn't tell you if there was a dramatic change in my life after that.  Maybe so. I don't remember.  So much for the crucial 'before' and 'after' of a good testimony!

Mine has always been a 'boring' testimony consequently.  But the older and wiser I grow the more grateful I am for a 'boring' story.  It is the one God has scripted for me to walk out for His glory.  He eased me into this faith I call my own. He did the drawing and shaping and destining me for what I would become.  Even the temperament with which I was born was His doing.  I was a child eager to conform to others' expectations of me.  Having grown up in an atmosphere of devotion and service to God it was as natural as breathing to follow in this path. 

Here of course is a potential deception.  For children are not born like radiant sunflowers pointing God-ward.  We are born in sin and bent on having the world revolve around us.  I was no different.  It's just that pleasing others pleased me. My motives were self-serving. Only in retrospect do I see the great mercy of God in welcoming me to His family despite my very limited awareness of my desperate plight.   I  assented to needing a Saviour but, conscientious pleaser that I was, I thought I was pretty good already. (I've been unlearning that every since! It's been no small feat, but God is faithful.)

So that was the beginning of my 'testimony' as I see it.  Perhaps the clearest evidence of God's spirit at work in me though was my love for His Word.   I cannot remember a time when it was not important to me.  I had the advantage of Christian schooling, and dedicated teachers that taught us to memorize it and to personalize what we were reading by asking questions of the text and noticing the details.  That was Junior High.  Reading the Bible through in a year was a challenge we kids all took up more than once.  My parents modelled a dedication to reading the Word. Their morning quiet times were a part of my definition of morning! 

What was missing though was a reminder of the difference it makes to know Jesus.  Because I didn't rub shoulders with 'the world'  I lacked this appreciation.  The Word began to seem same-ish and old like stale bread. I didn't see it changing lives. Then God sent Audrey.  She was a top-notch student, eager and studious.  She even liked History class, which I did not.  Unlike me she wasn't afraid to ask questions and we became good friends.  But she was not like my other friends from childhood.  She hadn't grown up in our kind of church.  Her mother was staunchly religious but not approving of the evangelical idea of salvation in a personal sense.  However, Audrey's parents had recently divorced and Audrey was interested in a relational God.  One night at youth group she asked me how she could become a Christian.  True to form I doubted I could get her there so I took her to George, our leader, and he had the honor of introducing her to Jesus.  That's when life began to change, for her and for me.  Overnight she developed an insatiable appetite and enthusiasm for the Word of God.  She copied down verses on wee scraps of paper  to share with me each morning at school.   Little verses jumped off the page and into her heart--promises and sweet truths she was seeing for the first time.  And her  enthusiasm was contagious. It revived my faith.  We grew together, played guitar together, wrote songs and ate ice cream on waffles.  She was God's gift to my life that year, just when I needed it.  She was pulled out of my school and my life the following year.  This sort of faith was too radical; it ran counter to her mother's form of religion.  So ended  our friendship and so began an intense testing of her newfound faith.  But that is her story to tell.

As for mine, God had plans I wouldn't have dreamed of.  I wasn't much of a dreamer really, just a quiet somebody content to have a few friends, to read my Bible and to love the natural world around me.  I imagined growing old in my childhood home in New Jersey beside a little woods with a little stream running through and a little lake for skating when it froze a little in the winter...Mine was a small and protected world that I had no particular interest in leaving, but God had bigger dreams for me. To Him I owe all that I am, all I have and all that I will yet become.  It's His doings. He has carried me all the way...The journey has been a good one.

That is hardly the place to stop my testimony but for this week it will have to suffice.  Hopefully next week I can commence another installment without such a struggle to 'step up to the microphone' and find something worth saying!

Thanks for your patience,

"He chose our heritage for us..." Ps.47:4

"Listen to me, O house of Jacob...who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save." Ps.46:3,4

May 24, 2015

The Power of a Testimony

I’ve been struck this week by the power of a testimony, to deceive.
Once upon a time testimony meetings were held among people who knew one another and shared life together.  There was context for the testimony.  You knew the man who stood up and thanked God he hadn’t sinned in twenty years.  He was mentally unstable and not to be taken seriously.  He had believed a false doctrine and lived in self-delusion. 

And you knew the woman who came each week with a fresh testimony of God’s goodness, often a little parable from her garden.  She was your Bible teacher and the mother of your best friends.  She lived her faith.  She clearly loved the Lord.  Her testimony attested to the reality that her life displayed.

So you weren’t deterred from your faith by the crabby spinster’s glowing evaluation of her own sanctification.  It was clear to everyone that there was yet work to be done.  Years later you would meet her again and that gracious work would be evident without her needing to say so. The fruit of the Spirit was clear.

Such were the testimony meetings of my youth. It was understood that God was supposed to get the glory, even if  there was a certain temptation to look good in the telling. A testimony was expected to center around themes of sin and salvation.  And when there were extravagant claims, they could be seen for what they were.  We knew each other.

Times have changed. Testimony meetings have largely gone the way of Sunday night meetings and prayer meetings.  Obsolete.  But now we have YouTube. Testimonies abound. But they are strangely different.  The focus is no longer on God and what He has done for an undeserving sinner. More often the focus is me and what I've experienced and how good (or strange or bizarre) it felt and how much more I'm hoping for and…you should too!  There is little or no connection to Scriptural truth or precedent.  We are beyond that now and paving a new way for God to work outside the box of truth as revealed in Scripture.  Not surprisingly these ‘testimonies’ leave us more in awe of people than of God.  How spiritual they must be to have had such an experience!

But since these folks are strangers to us and often disconnected from personal accountability, outrageous and unsubstantiated claims can be made.  We can’t see the way they live or the impact they have on those closest to them.  But they make claims of great things--some have looked into God's face and seen his fiery eyes. They've felt waves of electric love ripple through them. God has spoken to them. They've been frozen by His presence, for days at a time. And by the time they are through giving their testimonies they have followers, promoters and believers hanging on their every word.  Next thing you know people from your church are signing up for missions trips in hopes of getting to the source and bringing back some of what they have!  OK I’m exaggerating, a little, but this stuff happens. It is the deceptive power of a testimony.

As a child I overlooked the testimonies that didn't seem to jive with reality. They were not compelling. Not so these YouTube kind.  People love the tangible. They crave the sensual.  They are drawn to the sensational.

The problem with testimonies  based solely on experiences is just that.  They are based on subjective perceptions of what has happened. But when we convey them, we convey them as fact.  We don’t recognize how our beliefs have shaped our expectations and our expectations in turn have shaped our perceptions. Secular researchers tell us our minds are fully capable of concocting false memories without our even realizing it.1  What are the implications for our testimonies?

We’ve all heard fishing tales which grow with the retelling until the real fish that got away has taken on mythical proportions.  This can happen with personal testimonies as well, once they are unhinged from the reference point of God’s Word.  Sometimes this is unintentional; we are impressionable beings. But often such inflated testimonies are intended to establish the credentials and authority of the teller for their own gain.  We have been warned about such things. 

“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. “Col. 2:18,19

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" II Tim.4:3

"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness..." I Tim. 4:7

'just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth,' II Tim.3:8  [Jannes and Jambres were the magicians in Pharaoh’s court who imitated the signs and wonders Moses performed]

'there will be false teachers among you, secretly bringing in destructive heresies...many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words....' II Pet.2:1-3

But all too often, the testimony is so impressive and has such an aura of spiritual power about it  that we suspend judgment feeling it is out of our league to question or challenge such an experience.  It seems almost sacrilegious.  We’re cautioned not to quench the Spirit and not to judge another’s story.  Meanwhile all manner of fraudulent nonsense is carried on in Jesus’ name and attributed to the Holy Spirit.  And worse yet, the listeners are made to crave such experiences as the evidence of true spirituality.  And so they are led away from the simplicity of devotion to Christ, the reality of walking by the Spirit and the true meaning of growing in the  knowledge of God.

Instead they are made to crave the bizarre, the sensational, the miraculous, and the un-Biblical! 

“There are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Gal.1:8

This was happening to the Galatian church in Paul’s day.  It is happening in ours.  When a widely respected ministry leader says he is “unwilling to live with a Gospel without miracles” (meaning external signs and wonders, not mere internal transformation), look out!  He will spread a kind of gospel but it will not be God’s good news.  It will not free from sin and damnation.  It may provide signs and wonders and the thrill that accompanies them in this lifetime,  but it will not bring eternal salvation. And so he takes himself and his followers into the fog of deception, following doctrines of demons as they unwittingly embrace another gospel. 

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, I Tim. 4:1

Another lauded leader boasts freely of her bizarre encounters with the power and presence of God and by so doing earns the respect of many as a ‘very spiritual lady’.  Was this the sort of person Paul warned of when he said: “Let no one disqualify you… going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head…” (Col.2:18,19)

Nevertheless she is held in high esteem because of her dynamic testimony and  because she carries on her work among the poor in a far-off land and most of all because ‘there are miracles happening ’.  When did these become the measure of a work of God?  All of these things can be carried out apart from the Spirit of God and the Word of God.  But we don’t want to judge…  So, few question the power she has encountered.  Instead they pay to be part of her ministry and so get closer to the source. And unwittingly they buy into error and import it back to their local churches when they come home ‘all fired up’.   

A testimony is a powerful tool for deception when unhinged from the truth of God’s authoritative Word.  It is not judgmental to use Scriptural discernment in evaluating a testimony’s validity no matter how ‘spiritual’ it may sound.   If what we are hearing is not compatible with the Word of God and not honoring to the character of God as revealed in Scripture we are not obliged to believe that testimony.  If it glorifies man more than God we have reason to doubt it.

Human testimonies are fallible.  God’s  testimony of Himself  as revealed in His Word is not.

In a YouTube crazed world it is essential that we keep our heads and hearts moored in the written Word of God.  It is to be the bedrock of our faith, the measure of every experience (ours and others’), and the only sure proof of what is true and trustworthy.  The apostles who wrote the New Testament were eyewitnesses to the life of Christ.  They were given to the church to establish with authority the life, death and resurrection of Christ. These apostles wrote eyewitness accounts under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  There are none like them, nor will there ever be.  Yet even they call us to regard the Scriptures as our most sure authority:

Here’s Peter:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,  knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. II Pet.1:16-21

Here is the testimony we can trust—God’s testimony of  His love for rebel mankind and of  the only way to know Him.  I spent a bit of time seeing what Matthew Henry had to comment on this passage.  I love it.  It exalts the Scriptures as precisely what we need in a YouTube generation.  Here are his useful pointers for those who would ‘give heed’ to the Scriptures:

1. They must account and use the scripture as a light which God hath sent into and set up in the world, to dispel that darkness which is upon the face of the whole earth. The word is a lamp to the feet of those who use it aright; this discovers the way wherein men ought to walk; this is the means whereby we come to know the way of life.

2. They must acknowledge their own darkness. This world is a place of error and ignorance, and every man in the world is naturally without that knowledge which is necessary in order to attain eternal life.

3. If ever men are made wise to salvation, it is by the shining of the word of God into their hearts. Natural notions of God are not sufficient for fallen man, who does at best actually know a great deal less, and yet does absolutely need to know a great deal more, of God than Adam did while he continued innocent.

4. When the light of the scripture is darted into the blind mind and dark understanding by the Holy Spirit of God, then the spiritual day dawns and the day-star arises in that soul. This enlightening of a dark benighted mind is like the day-break that improves and advances, spreads and diffuses itself through the whole soul, till it makes perfect day, Prov. 4:18. It is a growing knowledge; those who are this way enlightened never think they know enough, till they come to know as they are known. To give heed to this light must needs be the interest and duty of all; and all who do truth come to this light, while evil-doers keep at a distance from it. 
                                                                      --Matthew Henry

We dare not not believe everything we hear, nor everything we see and feel! If so we will be tossed about with every teaching,  (especially if it comes with a YouTube eyewitness account!)   Every testimony must be made to bow to the truth as revealed in God’s Word.  Testimonies may mislead.  Signs and wonders prove nothing. Even Satan can counterfeit them. His deceptions are powerful. (II Thess.1:9,10). 

“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” II Cor.11:14-15 

 But the Word of God is a testimony we can count on, forever.


The righteousness of Thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live. Ps.119:144

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,  through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, ... If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; ...  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.  Command and teach these things. ...  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. ...  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (I Tim.4:1-2,6-7,10-11,13,16).

Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. II Peter 3:17,18


1”The Power of False Memory” a NYTimes article. Click here.   

May 15, 2015

He’s Calling You!


I came home Monday from an early morning birding excursion with a fresh awareness of bird songs and calls and of my own ignorance of them!  Standing and listening motionless to birdsong for 15 minutes at a time is an exercise I hadn’t tried before.  Apparently birds sing most in the early morning.  They have songs and calls which are generally unique to their species.  It is primarily the males which sing the songs as a means of attracting a mate and establishing their territory.  Calls are simpler and less musical and used by both male and female to keep in touch, to sound a warning, to beg, and to intimidate enemies… I am learning these things.

But I must admit this first outing was a little like a blind man seeing for the first time.  What’s that? was my most pressing wonder. Only I couldn’t ask for fear of disturbing the birdsong. I can identify  the sounds of so few birds that by the end of that first outing I must admit I had turned to the more familiar and was snapping pictures of flowers and reading trailside plant identification signs.  I am not a good auditory learner. 

We were listening specifically for just a handful of species.  But birdsong was everywhere.  In contrast to my ignorance, the birding expert I accompanied had jotted down the names of at least half a dozen species at each stop.  We had not seen them necessarily, but her ears were quick to hear them.  Her job was to give an account of the birds in the area under study.  And for this job it’s the hearing that really matters. If you’ve learned to listen even the secretive unseen types can be counted.

Well, so that was all very interesting and I hope to be invited out again and to hone my listening skills.  But fresh on the heels of that experience, with bird songs and calls on my mind, I came home and  opened to the day’s Bible reading, the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10. He had no choice but to be an auditory learner!

There he was sitting at the dusty roadside, listening,  hoping for the pity of passers-by, hoping they could spare a shekel…His ears were no doubt attuned to the sounds of sandal traffic..Suddenly there was a great crowd approaching.  “What’s going on?” It wasn’t a feast day, why all the traffic?  He listened acutely to the snatches of conversation around him. “It’s Jesus, from Nazareth!” somebody hollered as feet raced by to meet the approaching crowd.  Hope surged in his heart.  He had heard the stories of this man.  He taught and acted with authority unlike any teacher before him.  Demons obeyed him. He made the sick well, the deaf to hear and way up North a blind man had regained his sight.  Had Bartimaeus heard this story too?  Perhaps. 

One thing he had heard somewhere, somehow, was that this man Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, ‘the Son of David’.  He believed it.  And over the noise and bustle of the approaching crowd he began to cry out at the top of his lungs:  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” 

What more could he hope for than mercy?  He was despised, a useless tramp, dependent on the alms-giving of the pitying public.  in fact his cries embarrassed them, annoyed them.  “Shut up!” they said, as if to put him in his place.  He cried out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” hoping somehow to be heard above the clamor of the crowd.  If only Jesus could hear him…

I have a hunch Jesus would have made a stellar birding companion.  He wouldn’t have missed a ‘cheep’ or a ‘tut’.  After all it was He that composed the songs that come chortling in the early morning,  He that designed language and gave the birds their calls, to each kind its own.  Then He walked our dusty trails and noticed little fallen sparrows and circling vultures.  He knew the habits of a barnyard hen gathering its chicks and heard the early-riser rooster. He saw the seeming innocence of cooing doves.  None of these escaped His notice.  Nor did Bartimaeus.  Obscured and nearly drowned out  by the crowd, his voice still came to Jesus’ ear.  Since Jesus could not make his way to the man for the press of the crowd He called to him to come.  And the next thing beggar Bart knew, people were no longer telling him to be quiet.  In fact they were saying the unbelievable:

“Take heart. Get up; he is calling you!!!”  They probably couldn’t believe it either.  But Jesus had stopped in his tracks and was waiting for this scruffy blind beggar to feel his way through the crowd to Him.  He didn’t have to wait long.  Bart leaped up flinging off his cloak and the crowd parted and drew him forward till he was standing right in front of Jesus. 

The next words he heard were: “What do you want me to do for you?” The Messiah was offering to serve a beggar--calling him to Himself, extending the very mercy the man had hoped for.  This is our Jesus. 

Just prior to this incident, His own disciples, James and John had come with their mom to ask Him a big favor.  And He had said to them also:  “What do you want me to do for you?”  They had asked to share His glory in the coming Kingdom, to sit one on his right hand and one on His left.  Their request was denied, not being His prerogative to grant.  He told them they did not know what they were asking! When the rest of the disciples heard their presumptuous request they were indignant.  A teaching moment followed in which Jesus told them clearly that servanthood was to be the mark of His disciples.  “…and whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Mk.10:43,44

Jesus was no exception: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” he had gone on to say. (Mk.10:45)  Next thing you know, they are on the outskirts of Jericho and a blind beggar is crying out to be heard.  What followed was an object lesson for Jesus’ disciples.  He turned from the fawning crowds who would soon be hailing him their King and offered His services to a helpless beggar:

What do you want me to do for you?

Bartimaeus respectfully asks for his vision to be restored.  And Jesus, pleased by his faith, and his humility (Have you noticed how the two go together?)  grants him his request saying, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” But Bartimaeus doesn’t go.  He leaves his roadside rags and follows Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. This would be the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which He would demonstrate ultimate servanthood, laying down His life ‘as a ransom for many’.  Bartimaeus would be a part of that week because Jesus had heard his cry for mercy and called him to Himself.

And still He calls.  It doesn’t take a birder’s trained ear to hear.  We do not need a course in listening, or a book, or an advisor, anymore than a bird needs an Audubon guide book to identify his own species calling.  God’s voice is the one we are wired to hear; we are made in His image.  Adam heard it in the Garden, God in the cool of the day coming to walk with him, calling him by name: “Adam, where are you?”  He cringed. He had sinned.  He was in desperate need of mercy, like the blind beggar on the roadside. We too are  designed for fellowship with God.  We hide like secretive marsh birds because sin has broken that fellowship, marred that image.  But Jesus is near, calling, listening for our cry for mercy.  He calls us to come to Him.  He will do the rest.  He has come to seek and to save the lost, to open our eyes to the hope of our calling, to free us to follow Him…

Isn’t this the heart of the Gospel—this news that God has made a way for man to come near to a Holy God?  Whether we find ourselves in the place of Bartimaeus, the blind man crying for mercy, or in the place of the people in the crowd who brought Bart the good news: “Take heart, get up, He’s calling you!” we have a calling from God. 

For those of us who have long since had our eyes opened and have answered the call to follow Jesus, this story reminds us that Jesus hears our heart’s cries still.  Though we have left behind our rags to follow Him, He doesn’t expect that we will cease to need Him for even a moment.  Still He calls us to take heart and clamber out of the ruts we fall in from time to time.  Still He calls us to relationship with Himself when we stray.  Still He offers to serve us:  “What can I do for you?” and He knows when to say “Yes” to our requests and, mercifully, when to deny them because we don’t really know what we are asking. 

We are the ‘called out’ ones who have gone from being roadside beggars ‘having no hope and without God in the world’ to being ‘brought near by the blood of Christ’, reconciled to God with access in the Spirit to the Father, ‘no longer strangers and aliens but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.’  Ours is now the song of the redeemed.  And like so many songbirds who cannot help but sing, we are wired to sing His praise with our very lives.

Let my lifesong sing to You!


‘…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you’ (Eph.1:18)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  I Pet.2:9,10

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Eph.3:20,21


[This old hymn came to mind as I was writing today.  It seems so fitting I pass it on…—LS]

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult

1 Jesus calls us: o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth
saying, "Christian, follow me."

2 Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world's golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, "Christian, love me more."

3 In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
"Christian, love me more than these."

4 Jesus calls us: by thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thy obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

--Cecil F. Alexander (1852)

May 9, 2015

Whom shall I fear--and WHY?

The Lord is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Ps.27:1

I was struck this week by Nehemiah’s confident perseverance in the face of fear. He had undertaken a daunting project—the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  He was surrounded by enemies opposed to this work.  But he didn’t succumb to their taunts.  He refused to be discouraged or to run and hide.  He just kept on building and spurring the work crews on till the job was done.1

It set me thinking about my fears. I am easily disheartened, readily fearful. As a Mom I know the taunts that can come when a daunting project is undertaken.  Rearing children is such a task.  Mine have outgrown their nest but not their mother’s care. It’s the most natural thing in the world to fear what may come of them.  The possibilities are endless.  This is the stuff of nightmares.  And yet we serve a living God, an awesome God, a God who is worthy of our fear and our faith.

Because Nehemiah feared God he persevered, refusing to be deterred even by threats to his life. (See Neh.6:10-14)  Because he knew his calling and His God, the fear of man had no power over him.  What if I were to fear God like that?

What if we were to fear God alone, no one else and nothing elseonly Him? Not impending disaster, not pain, not cancer, not prodigals straying forever, not... (you name it), not radon poisoning (see cancer), not loss of life, of love, of current comforts, not even being laughed at, only God.

What if we were to relinquish our insistence that life go as we desire, (i.e. no disaster, no pain, no cancer, no prodigals, no loss, no ridicule...) and rest our case with the One who has given us life and truly keeps us in life for His glory, not our own, for His purposes, not our comfort, for His Kingdom's sake, not the success of ours?

Could such a fear of God free us from all our petty temporal fears--even those fears we mothers legitimize as needful for the well-being of our offspring?  These are my thoughts as Mother’s Day makes it approach.  Fearing God leaves no room for fearing for our children’s welfare. Our worst nightmares are no match for His power.  He calls us to stand firm in faith, to call on Him,  and to find our refuge in Him when fears array themselves around our sleepy heads.  He is their Savior, not us. 

He may well call us to face our fears with sling in hand, to take action.  But these Goliaths of the mind won’t topple by our strength, we must come in ‘the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. ‘
I Sam.17:45. 
He must win the battle. And it will be our faith not our fear that brings the victory.  If God is our singular fear we are in Good Hands. 

Jesus’ own words come to mind:  “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”  2 In this context Jesus was warning his disciples not to fear the Pharisees or be tainted by their hypocrisy.  Their hearts were hard toward God despite appearances. They lived to look good before people and to be made much of.  Consequently their own fear of men exceeded their fear of God.   And in fact it undermined their ability to believe in Jesus. (see: John 5:44)  But this fear was propagated because they held great power to ostracize those who believed.  Jesus said, Don’t fear them; they may kill you but that is all they can do.

If we are honest with ourselves, this fear of death lurks in the backdrop of our worst nightmares and is the root of many fears. And yet it is for this that Christ died for the godless: “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Heb.2:14,15  What if we were to relinquish our right to life and health and happiness and trust God with the length of our lives and the quality of our days?  What if in the face of each of our worst fears we were to confess that God is our One and only fear and leave the outcome with Him?

Jesus continues:  Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?  But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.   But interestingly, He is not finished.  He goes on to say that: Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God. Lk.12:1-8

It hasn’t yet become a matter of life and death in North America to confess that we are God’s and obedience to Him takes precedence over obedience to the laws of men.  But it may yet… Perhaps it would be good to practice putting the fear of God before our other petty fears.  And don’t miss the rest of the picture—the Son, Jesus, confessing that we are HIS before the angels—His trophies, ‘the children God has given me’. (Heb.2:13)  If we are His He will keep us by His grace, safe and sound for eternity.  And by His grace our own children will be there to present as well—‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’  This is my Mother’s Day hope and prayer.  I will trust Him with the outcome.



“Do not be afraid of them.  Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your… sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Neh.4:14

“For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.’  But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Neh.6:9 

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet…Heb.12:12

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Heb.10:35,36

And He will be the stability of your times,
A wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge;
The fear of the LORD is his treasure.

Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Pr.28:14

Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you. I Pet.3:6


1 I haven’t begun to do justice to the story of Nehemiah.  Please read it for yourself in the book by his name! It is a strong and encouraging testimony to the courage that comes with fearing God alone and living to do His will.

2 Luke 12:1-8

May 1, 2015

Settling into the Word


The boxes of necessities are unpacked.  The furniture is placed. Best of all I’ve found a place to nestle in for morning quiet times and I’m settling back into the Bible reading plan I had suspended during our recent move. I started reading this way, several chapters a day drawn from all throughout the Bible, in 2014.  It has ‘hit the spot’ for me.  I took a little hiatus and stuck with just one little book at a time recently.  That was good, but I have missed the big perspective.  So I am glad to be back to my plan.

I’m reading now in Leviticus, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Mark and Hebrews--just a chapter a day from each. If this were any other book than the Bible this would seem a crazy way to read it! [And even so I wouldn’t recommend this plan to anyone unfamiliar with the various book and genres of Scripture. ] But because it is all inspired by One great Author and centered in one Great Epic of Redemption, I find that reading it in this way really makes that theme stand out.  Each component part, each book and genre, is like one facet of a diamond.  Reading them side by side adds to the collective ‘sparkle’ as one passage reflects and magnifies the truth made clear in the other!

In hopes of encouraging you to try it, let me see if I can give an example using one day’s reading this week.  Notice how the themes in these various readings complement one another…

  • Leviticus is sometimes thought of as a dull book of endless ceremonial rules and the penalties for their violation.  But today’s reading brings its purpose into focus.  I paraphrase from Leviticus 18:   You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt or in Canaan.  The things they do make the land unclean and themselves unclean. Do not do those things because I am the LORD your God.

This was God’s design for HIs people.  He intended for them to reflect His nature and character in the midst of nations who had no idea of God’s design for the human race.  This is still His intention. When His people violated that design bad things happened….

  • As Nehemiah considers the shambles that Jerusalem is in he prays remembering God’s promises to scatter and to gather His people.  When they forgot their God and copied the nations, they were taken captive by them.  God promised that if they returned to Him in repentance He would gather them again to the place where He has chosen His name to dwell, i.e. Jerusalem. 

Nehemiah prays: “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand.  O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name…” Neh.1:10,11   And as Nehemiah prays God begins to impress on his heart His plan for the restoration of Jerusalem.

  • Moving on to Psalms we get a picture of this God who is to be feared as King of all the earth,

“Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness…The voice of the Lord is powerful—it thunders, it’s majestic, it breaks cedars, it flashes like fire, it shakes the wilderness…The Lord sits enthroned as King forever. May the LORD give strength to his people!” (Ps.29 excerpts)

This is the God Nehemiah fears.  His day job may be cupbearer to a pagan king, for after all he lives in exile as a result of Israel’s rebellion.  But his heart is to see God’s kingdom restored in Jerusalem. (Neh.2:12) Its walls may be torn down, the returned exiles may be in a sorry state, but God is on the move.  His will will prevail; His kingdom will come.  And Nehemiah will be His agent in this restoration project.  But first he must get a leave of absence from the Babylonian king.  No problem…

  • As our Proverb for the day puts it:
    The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov.21:1) And peeking ahead to tomorrow’s reading in Nehemiah we see this illustrated:

 “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (Neh.2: 8)  Indeed, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.” ( Prov. 21:30)  God has the plan, and Nehemiah is His man for the job.

But where were we…

  • Isaiah chapter twenty-nine describes the siege of Jerusalem that has brought them into that sorry state Nehemiah was reckoning with.  Why did it happen?

“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Is.29:13)

They had lost their fear of God.  They pretended to honor Him but their lives did not reflect His glory.  So He brought foreign nations against them.  He turned His might (remember the description of it in Psalm 29?) toward punishing them so they might turn from their unfaithfulness and be saved.

God’s intent was not to destroy His people but to restore them.  This passage in Isaiah ends with a beautiful prophecy of good things to come:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.  And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding and those who murmur will accept instruction.” (Is.29:22-24)

This is a prophecy specific to Israel but in it is the pattern of God’s dealings with the people He intends to redeem for His own glory. We were designed to reflect His nature, the beauty of His holiness, and so to bring Him glory.  He is still at work in the world to bring people back to this design.

But HOW?  And that brings us to our New Testament readings.  First,

  • Mark
    John the Baptist appears on the scene in the first chapter of Mark to announce Jesus’ soon arrival. He will come to redeem man to God, to make a way for them to fulfill the design only hinted at in the Old Testament. The Old Testament rules laid out in our first reading, in Leviticuswere insufficient to make men holy.  They illustrated God’s holiness but were powerless to transform men into His likeness.  Now John the Baptist announces Jesus is coming to baptize men with God’s Holy Spirit.  This is something new, something transformative.  This is the Good News Jesus has come to announce. It is how the Kingdom will come to earth: “The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

So by the time we reach the New Testament it becomes evident that restoring the walls of Jerusalem, the city God chose to represent His character to the nations, was only the beginning of His grand scheme.  His desire is that His name should dwell in people, not just in the Jewish nation, but in all those who will repent of their own ways of making life work and believe in Jesus.  The first chapter of Mark suggests that it isn’t enough just to know that Jesus is ‘the Holy One of God’.  Even those rebel angels, the demons, knew who He was (Mk.1:24).  Whether they liked it or not they were subject to Him for He is the King of Kings!  No, it will be those who, like Nehemiah, know the fear of God and willingly bow to His Kingship who will inherit this Kingdom.

  • Hebrews paints the picture beautifully of what it means to be a subject in this kingdom.  Chapter 12 was the perfect round-up of all the day’s readings.
    Leviticus (18)was all about God’s holiness.  Here, ‘He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.’ (10)
    Nehemiah (1)referred to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  Here we find reference to ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’, to which we are invited.(22)
    Psalms (29) emphasized the awesome might of God’s voice. Here in Hebrews we are warned not to refuse Him who is speaking!  “For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens’ “.
    Isaiah (29) spoke of an imitation fear of God.  Here we are called to the real thing!
    And finally, in Mark (1), Jesus came announcing the coming Kingdom of God while here in Hebrews we are admonished to ‘be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,’ and to ‘offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.’

Do you get a glimpse of why I so much love reading the Bible in this way? The God of the New is no different than the God of the Old.  There is no contradiction in His character.  He is beautiful.  He is good.  He is worthy of our worship!


P.S. Are you bogged down in your Bible reading or just in need of a more consistent  plan?  This plan requires only about a half hour per day. Once you’ve committed to carving out the time you’ll be hooked.  Read the details by clicking the “Just Read It” tab at the top of this blog’s web-page. 

(If you’re reading this  post in your email, you’ll need to click on the post title to get to the website of my blog) 

A summary of my plan is here.  It is especially helpful if you’re very familiar with the Scriptures. As you look for related themes , familiar passages will shine in a fresh way!