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Friday, November 21, 2014

Jesus' Strange Wording

I'm sure you know the feeling. You're reading along in the Bible, and suddenly, it's as if you see something highlighted in yellow. Yet in the case I'm thinking of, the highlight is more like a muted murky orange, because the verse or the wording is not only strange, but confusing and even seemingly unlike Christ.

I ran across a verse like that in Matthew 10. Jesus sends out the twelve Disciples with instructions, including this:

"Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave" (Matthew 10:11 NIV)

What? Worthy person? Were the Disciples supposed to know already who was worthy for salvation? But we are never worthy for salvation. We come to Christ not on our own merits but because we actually are unworthy. So what does Jesus mean?

One commentator explains this passage saying "worthy" refers to:
an hospitable man; one that was very liberal; who was willing and ready to entertain strangers; for such a man they would want, having neither money nor food: and so the same word, in the Hebrew language, signifies "to be worthy", and "to give alms", because an eleemosynary man, or a man given to alms, was reckoned by the Jews a very worthy man: they thought giving of alms to be a matter of merit. Christ here speaks in the language of the masters of Israel; (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible).

I found out that the same word for "worthy" in the Hebrew language refers to "to give alms." Jews thought giving of alms "to be a matter of merit."

Here's a fascinating bit of culture from Jesus' world:

"When a stranger arrives in a village or an encampment, the neighbours, one after another, must invite him to eat with them. There is a strict etiquette about it, involving much ostentation and hypocrisy; and a failure in the due observance of this system of hospitality is violently resented, and often leads to alienations and feuds among neighbours. It also consumes much time, causes unusual distraction of mind, leads to levity, and every way counteracts the success of a spiritual mission" (Thomson, 'Land and the Book,' p. 347).

So by the disciples choosing quickly a "worthy" man, (one who is hospitable,) the time and energy usually expended in figuring out who would host a visitor would be eliminated! And by staying in one house for the duration of the visit, the process wouldn't have to be repeated again and again. Then the disciples could fulfill more quickly the assignment Jesus had given them: to speak of Him.

I love how Jesus is so specific and teaches His disciples how to be efficient. I wonder how hard it was for them to follow Jesus' instructions because it would mean changing one of their cultural ideas. Did they fear the townspeople would be upset that their usual "cultural procedures" weren't followed? Jesus' instructions might even seem unusual or unwise because they would risk the people's wrath and thus possibly create hardened hearts. But Jesus knew the best way.

Maybe you and I might someday be challenged to go against the cultural habits of someone when we are sharing the Gospel or trying to represent the Lord. It's then that we'll need to do what God tells us to do, not what the "culture" says.

The other lesson I learned from studying the background of this passage is that there usually is an explanation for something I don't understand. There are many verses in the Bible that cause me to scratch my head. I can't figure it out. It seems contradictory and I may even become convinced it's impossible to understand. 

But if I don't give up and I follow through with some study, I often do find the answers. God wants me--and you--to know what He wanted to communicate. 

Let's not give up, even when the wording is strange!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What is Lewy Body Dementia that Robin Williams Suffered From?

It seems surreal that Lewy Body Dementia is getting "press" since Robin Williams' suicide and the news that Mr. Williams had been diagnosed with LBD. For so long, few people knew what Lewy Body Dementia was. Ten years ago, our family became aware of it because we realized that my mother-in-law Audrey had it. 

Looking back, the first hint was the day she called and said to me, "The life insurance company doesn't want me to be insured with them any more." 

What? What a strange thing to say. Although she was 88 years old, there shouldn't be any problem with her insurance policy. 

"Really, mom? How do you know?"

"The letter they sent me."

"Okay. Well, when I come over later today, I'll look at it."

"I can't find it."


We didn't realize it but that was the first evidence that we noticed of her paranoia--one of the symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia. She believed the insurance company was against her and withdrawing her policy. In time, she believed everyone was against her--including us--her son and daughter-in-law, even though she came to live with us and we provided for everything she needed. She still believed we were trying to kill her.

Another symptom was her delusions: she could tell you the history of her life--completely re-created. With a straight face, she could tell you that Don, her second husband, had murdered her first husband so that Don could steal her money. The truth was that Don was her first and only husband and had died only a short time before. 

Another symptom of Lewy Body Dementia is hallucinations. She could tell you that the TV was spewing out poisonous water. She would hold up anything--a piece of paper--in front of her face to prevent the spray from reaching her face. 

And finally, she had Parkinson's symptoms: she shuffled along, and at times her hands and fingers shook. 

In the beginning of our journey with her disease, we tried to talk her out of her wrong beliefs and false stories. But in time we realized it was futile. It only made us frustrated that she would never agree and it distressed her that we didn't believe her. Our responses became cooperation. Oh, there's a man coming into your room with a knife? We will get a new lock on the door so that he can't come in. And we also found an effective medicine that prevented many of her symptoms, including her ceaseless pacing throughout the night. 

If you'd like more information about Lewy Body Dementia, check out www.lbda.org. 

I'll share more in my next post.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Quotable Quote of J.R. Briggs

"I don't like using the word success when talking about ministry. I'd much rather use words like health, faithfulness, and obedience."--J.R. Briggs

J.R. Briggs is a pastor and the author of Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (InterVarsity Press). Quote from article "Pulpit Disappointment" in Christianity Today,  July/August, p. 87. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Do You Live With An Angry Person?

Do you live with an angry person? Or do you know an angry person whom you must have lots of contact with? It can be a very hard place to be. Do you feel like you're walking on eggshells afraid of the next angry outburst or their hardened heart of silence?

I was on the other end. I was the angry person. I made other people miserable--well, more accurately, my husband and children--with my cold heart, blaming words, negativity, and believing I was the pure one. It was everyone's else's fault. Well, more accurately, it was my husband and my children's fault that I was miserable. It certainly couldn't be me! Pure me!!!!! I only wanted other people to act right for my benefit and to make my path smooth. Why didn't they want to do that? We'd all be more peaceful and they would escape the fury of my wrath. 

Yes, I did take some responsibility but Satan's lies whispered, "If only he (or she) would change, then I could be who God wants me to be." 

Somehow, in time, God intervened--and I responded. Of course, God was always trying to intervene and help but I fought it. But because I was terrified that I would kill my toddler in one of my rages, I finally admitted I was totally responsible for my reactions. I began to take full responsibility and admit that other people weren't responsible. I rejected the lie "Since they don't treat me the way I deserve, I can treat them horribly."

I hope that angry person in your life comes to that truth faster than I did. And that it doesn't take something hurtful to change their perspective. But in the meantime, you only need to take responsibility for your own choices.

Yet, it's also true that you both are contributing to the conflict. I say that because no one can possibly perfectly respond in a godly manner in the face of anger. Your insecurities will be revealed and God wants to do something in your life through this. It's not just about that angry person learning godliness--it's also about you learning godliness. I've found that God allows a particular situation in a person's life to bring them to an awareness of their own similar sin, or something related.

For instance, the husband has the apparent anger problem because he rages out loud and acts it out obviously. The wife reasons, "I'm not angry." But maybe she should add to that statement, "...like that." She might not be obviously angry but her anger might be in the way she mentally and bitterly rehearses every fault of his. He is The Rageaholic but she is The Bitteraholic. She shuts her heart off in cold rejection but justifies it by thinking, "But I'm not hurting anyone with angry words or reactions like he is!" From God's perspective, because He looks at a heart's motives, she is just as guilty as her husband, but in different ways. They both are reacting in disobedience to God. 

If you are open to allowing God to show you what He wants to do in your life, even in the midst of trying to avoid breaking the eggshells, you will be taking a huge step toward your own healing and strength. Out of that strength, God can empower you to react toward your Angry Person appropriately. Not with the goal of changing him or her, but with the desire to represent the Lord with a pure heart, a heart motivated by love, not self-protection.

(A cautionary word: If you live with an angry person or are in a dangerous situation or wonder if you are being abused, please talk to someone like a counselor or an expert in relationships. Find out if you are in an abusive situation. Often, the person who is being abused can't see it. They are convinced it's all their fault. If you think that, you could very well be being abused. Please get the help you need.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Be Assured: I've Never Been in Jail

One day I was trying to think of a way to illustrate the concept of "redemption" which is defined as: "To be bought back." This story is what I came up with. Be assured that I've never spent time in jail or in prison--except in my heart.

Seated on the bunk in my prison cell, I rested my head in my hands. How did I end up here? I don't want to be here.

Regret swept over me. I didn't think I'd get caught for my crime, but here I was.

Later at lunch, staring at my unappetizing meal, the prisoner sitting across from me drawled, "There's a rumor that someone is willing to take anyone's place for the rest of their sentence."

My mouth dropped open in disbelief. It sounded too good to be true so I didn't believe him. 

Other prisoners expressed their disbelief by giving the reasons they wouldn't take advantage of such an outlandish thing:

"There must be some catch. It's a trick to get me to admit my guilt. I won't do it."

Another inmate sounded off: "I'm almost done with my sentence, so I'm just gonna wait it out. Besides, if I do the time for the crime, I can pat myself on the back that I did it myself. No one is going to take that away from me."

A third said, "Don't tell anyone but my friend is setting up an escape plan for me. I don't need someone else's help."

But I decided it might be a good idea to check it out so I set up an appointment with the warden and asked him about it.

He replied, "Yes, it is true. We don't understand why this is happening, but there is indeed an offer by some local person who is willing to serve any inmate's term."

I stared incredulously at him. "What do I have to do to take advantage of it?"

The warden laughed. "Well, that's the really weird part. This person only requires the inmate to admit his crime and believe he really will actually take the person's place. Sounds outrageous, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," I replied. "I'd expect him to at least want me to pay him some money or something."

"Yes, I would too but that's not what he has offered."

I made my decision in that moment. "I want to do it. Will you let him know I've acknowledged my part in the crime, and want him to take my place here?"

He nodded that he would.

Walking back to my cell, I could hardly believe what had just transpired. Can it really be true that I'm about to be set free? 

The next day, the dream became a reality when a guard led me from my cell, taking me through the releasing process. As I signed my name to the release form admitting my guilt, I could see a man being taken through the adjoining room, but he didn't look like a criminal at all. "Who is that?" I questioned.

The guard replied, "That's the man who's taking your place."

I stared at him, and as I did, he looked over at me. I silently mouthed, "Why?" 

He smiled back with a look of compassion in his eyes and said, "Because I love you."

It was only then that I noticed the blood dripping from the palms of his hands.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Have You Tried Washing and Rinsing Your Soul From Sin?

The last time my mom was in the hospital, six months before she died, I paid particular attention to the sign in the bathroom which instructed us, "Wash your hands for three minutes and rinse them for two."

I couldn't help but think of visiting our newborn grandson when he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit for five weeks. We learned the routine well: before we could go into the NICU, we had to scrub our hands with soap for three solid minutes and rinse them for two minutes.

The washing part didn't surprise me but the rinsing did. But when you think about it, the rinsing makes sure that what the soap destroyed (or not destroyed) is completely washed down the drain. 

As I thought about that experience, I thought of I John 1:9. It's a commonly quoted verse and one of my favorites: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Pause for a moment and think about something we take for granted. If you weren't so used to hearing the two main points--forgiveness and cleansing--always being given together, don't you think you'd be satisfied with only hearing about being forgiven? Doesn't the "cleansing" part seem a little extra, maybe even superfluous? Isn't the forgiveness the most important thing? Then our sins are covered  by Jesus' blood and we're no longer held responsible for them. Certainly, that's sufficient, right?

Then why do we need the cleansing? 

I wonder if the cleansing represents the fact that our loving Father no longer holds the sin against us. The sin has been neutralized through the confession and forgiveness. But without the cleansing, it's still there to haunt us. It still remains if it isn't washed down the drain. Keeping soap on our hands may take away it's power of germs, but the soap and the dirt is still on us without the cleansing. The cleansing removes it from us. 

Psalm 103:12 tells us, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." The sin is gone! Therefore, we don't need to keep focusing on it and recalling it to mind. It's gone completely.

Many years ago, I had a little epiphany. It felt like I was always saying to God, "Lord, I did it again!" Of course, I meant some sin that I'd confessed over and over again.

At one point, based on Psalm 103:12, I knew He might have replied, "Again? What do you mean again? I don't remember what you did before because it's forgiven. And I'm more than willing to forgive you of this present sin."

Maybe you realize that you have asked for forgiveness and you know you've received it. But it still haunts you. Try picturing the forgiven sin being cleansed--as if you were in the hospital and were obeying the rule of rinsing for two minutes. All the residue is gone now and your sin is forgiven--and cleansed! It's no longer remembered. It's no longer there!

And if you try to ask for forgiveness again--just imagine God's response. "Again? Why again? I've already forgiven it and it's gone because I don't remember it!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Mom's Shocking and Sad Revelation

I'd thought I'd heard all of my mom's stories but as we sat at lunch about a year ago, she shared something I'd never heard before. It was a shocking and sad revelation for me. 

My mom and dad eating their wedding cake.

Of course, I knew that my mom, Vivian, was orphaned by the time she was ten. Her dad died when she was seven and her mother died when she was ten. I can't imagine the grief and "lostness" she must have felt. And unfortunately, in those days, rarely was anyone allowed or encouraged to grieve. How sad it must have been for that little girl to have no means to express her sorrow.

I also knew that when her parents were living, mom grew up in Michigan along with her cousin, Eileen, as her best friend. They were together constantly and mom adored Eileen's parents, who only lived a short distance away. Eileen (for whom my middle name is named after) went to the same school as mom. 

I also knew that when mom's mother died, Edna was chosen by the family to raise my mom and her fourteen-year-old brother, Harold. Edna was my mom's aunt--her mother's sister. Everyone knew how Edna came from California to Michigan to pick up Vivian and Harold and take them "home." But Edna had never had children, was a widow, and worked full time. Mom and Harold were on their own. My mom says she never remembered a home-cooked meal. They went out to dinner at the cafeteria every day.

I knew all that, but my mom began to tell me the new part, "When my mom died, before Edna came to get us, Eileen's parents offered to adopt me. I so longed for that. Eileen and I were inseparable. But  they said they couldn't adopt Harold too. He was known as a wild child and they didn't think they could handle him. So the family decided Edna would take both of us, not wanting to separate us. I was devastated. Edna took us to California and I detested California. And I hated Edna. Everything that had meant love and security to me was taken away. All I wanted was to live in Eileen's family."

I listened carefully for I realized I had never heard this information before.

My mom continued, "As soon as I arrived in California, I had a frequent dream that I would leave my Detroit elementary school looking for Eileen's house but I couldn't find it. I would search and search but never find it. That dream haunted me and I would dream that same scenario frequently."

My mom paused with a deep look of longing on her face. Then she said, "But the night I married your dad, I had the dream again, and this time I arrived at Eileen's house. After that night, I never had that dream again. I had found my family and security."

I was in tears hearing this. As she related this story, I could barely contain my sobs. To think of this little girl knowing she missed her opportunity to live with a loving family was beyond my comprehension. And how it must have fueled her dislike for her brother--who she was bound to blame for getting in the way of her desire. 

Somehow I was able to hold back my sobs and say, "Oh, mom, and just wait until you go into heaven and see Jesus."

And my mom replied with an even more intense look of longing, "And my family." 

I could understand afresh the value my mom placed on family. It was the driving passion of her life. For a decade, as a child, she had been denied the family of her dreams and at twenty-one when she married my father, her dream was fulfilled. It explained so much about her motives--and that dream.

As I think of my mom who is now discovering Jesus fully satisfying in heaven, I think of we as Christians who have been adopted into the security of a forever family. We long to be reunited with Jesus for there is a part in all of us that longs for the security that humanity experienced in Eden. Because Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, we all in one way or another, are now living out the desire in our hearts to be returned to paradise and be a part of a perfect family.

How wonderful that heaven includes our perfect family and our adoption in Christ will be completed. We'll no longer need to dream of finding our way home. 

My mom's shocking and sad revelation of the longing within her dream no longer has one whit of importance for her. Jesus in her heavenly home provides the fulfillment of everything important. May we remember that will be true for us also when our own dreams seem unfulfilled here on earth.