Friday, December 30, 2011

In His Arms

I had it all together, until it all fell apart. I was an Ivy League educated physician with research accolades, a successful practice, a loving and devoted husband, and a gifted, handsome son. And even a fulfilling, creative hobby that had become a passion – ballroom dance – that my husband and I could share and that had carried us across the globe to share our love of dance with others.

Yet on April 17, 2000, the beautiful melody of our carefully orchestrated lives came to a screeching halt in a crescendo of offbeat discords. A call from the police had interrupted our son’s tenth birthday celebration at a theme park the day before, as the alarm at my mother’s house had sounded and she could not remember how to disarm it, or even how to unlock the dead bolt at the front door to let in the police. When we arrived she was wielding a butcher knife, trying to cut the wires to the blaring alarm, and then she planted herself against the wall, stubborn as a mountain goat, as we pleaded with her to come to the hospital with us.

Over the next few hours she quickly returned to her mild mannered, loveable self, and the doctor could find nothing wrong. Yet I feared that she had had a mild stroke and that Alzheimer’s disease was stealing away the mother I loved, just as it had her mother who had been my constant companion from the time I was born until she died when I was 14.

My grandmother had left me a legacy of faith and prayer that sustained her through a lifelong series of hardships. As a 16 year-old bride she emigrated from the Ukraine to Nova Scotia; lost nine children – all but my mother -- in childbirth or to pneumonia in early infancy; and lost her husband to a brain aneurysm when he was only 35. She moved to New York as a single parent, raising my mother by working long shifts in a bakery as she had never learned to read or write. Yet she was faithful to God through it all, praying to Jesus, drawing strength from her faith in Him, and even scrimping together enough money to donate to her church a beautiful mural of Ruth gleaning in the wheat fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:8).

Despite my grandmother’s example, I had always been a seeker – praying to God without knowing Him, reading the Bible dispassionately as a student of literature and history without grasping its significance (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In college I explored New Age philosophies and Eastern religions, never finding the truth I desperately hoped would transform my empty life and fill it with peace and joy.

An evangelist sat next to me on a long train ride when I was in college, patiently explaining that the only way to Heaven was through Jesus, Son of God (John 14:6), Who came to earth wrapped in human flesh (John 1:14) to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His death on the cross paid the debt for all our sins, past, present and future, so that whoever acknowledged and turned away from their sins, and had faith in His death, burial and resurrection, would be forgiven and have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-28; John 3:16). But I was a know-it-all, self-righteous, desperately lost college girl who resented the intrusion into my study time and argued with the well-meaning stranger over the merits of reincarnation.

My futile search continued, leaving me empty and unsettled about my future and about how to cope with setbacks, sadness and trials. On that life-changing morning of April 17, 2000, my husband and I had to travel from Florida to New York for a dance competition, even though our dancing had taken giant strides backward and we could barely step on the dance floor without bitter arguing. Our son was hurt and disappointed that his birthday was spent mostly in the doctor’s waiting room, and my mother’s health was uncertain at best.

That morning we stopped at my office before leaving for the airport, only to find more bad news and chaos. The mail brought notice of two separate legal actions, each without basis, yet both attacking my professional credibility and threatening my career. To make matters worse, our office manager announced she was quitting without notice, leaving the practice in utter turmoil.

As we rushed off to the airport, I was too numb to care, overwhelmed by the office situation, my mother’s health, the legal battles, our son’s missed birthday, and our dancing which now brought more frustration than joy. We boarded the plane with feelings of resignation and doom, and my shoulders and neck were as tense as wet ropes wrung dry. My mouth felt like chalk, and my head throbbed as if a salsa band inside clanged off key and off time. I strapped myself into my seat and pinched my eyes shut for takeoff.

I tried to fight back the tears when suddenly there was no need to fight anything. The tension melted away like glacial ice warmed by the radiant sun, flowing into living water that engulfed me and floated me upward. A divine embrace protected and sheltered me, blessing me with complete peace, perfect love.

“Jesus,” I said aloud. It was both a prayer and a greeting. In His arms the words I had heard before without understanding, that He was my Savior and that through Him I had eternal life, became the only truth, the only reality worth knowing. At that moment I knew I would follow Him anywhere. In Him I was a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), my sins forgiven (Romans 8:1-4), a child of God (Romans 8:14-17). I had been His enemy (James 4:4) and rebelled against His truth, yet He had adopted me as His own and even had appointed me to be His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), to tell others of how He had changed my life (Matthew 28:19) and to honor and glorify Him in all that I do (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23).

As I remembered the evangelist who had told me of Jesus two decades earlier, I hoped he was not discouraged over planting seeds of truth and love seemingly wasted on my hardened heart (Matthew 13:3-23). I look forward to seeing him in glory and thanking him for the effect his words ultimately had in showing me the Way. Through the years I have thought often of that encounter, and of my grandmother’s loving model of faith and prayer, as they remind me that God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11) and that our work for Him is never in vain (Hebrews 6:10).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Less is More

The world equates grandeur and power with showy displays of wealth, force and excess. Worldly success is measured in mega-numbers, whether dollars in bank accounts or bodies in church pews. Music is blasted at deafening volume, and even food is super-sized.

But God, the source of all power, wisdom, love and light (1 John 4:7-8; 1 John 1:5), is often understated and subtle when He speaks. If you’re distracted by the world’s fanfare, you can miss what He has to say.

He spoke to Elijah not in the roar of the wind, in the shaking of the earthquake or the blaze of the fire, but in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).

God first brought His only begotten Son, Creator and Ruler of all, to this earth not as a conquering warrior, high priest, or revered king, but as a lowly infant. The Son first appeared not in the battlefield, temple, or palace, but in a filthy stable, born among the animals (Luke 2:7). His first utterance was not a declaration of leadership or an eloquent sermon, but the helpless cry of a newborn.

Yet that humble beginning marked the greatest story ever told – Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God the Son left His throne in Heaven, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35), and wrapped Himself in human flesh. His earthly life and ministry reflected self-sacrificing love, forgiveness, humility, and self-control. He was born not only to teach us about God the Father, and about how He wants us to live, but He was born primarily to die. He could have summoned legions of angels to rescue Him from an agonizing death (Matthew 26:53), but He went meekly as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7, Acts 8:32) arguing nothing in His own defense.

His holy, sinless life was the perfect, and only, sacrifice that could reconcile Holy God to sinful man (1 John 4:10). As His death on the cross paid in full the punishment due all our sins, past, present and future, He redeemed us from sin and death. When God the Father looks at those who trust His Son, He no longer sees our sins, but only the perfect righteousness of His Son (Romans 8:1-4).

He died not just to pay for our sins, but to rise again, that whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life with Him in Heaven (John 3:16; 1 John 5:11-13), and abundant life (John 10:10) the moment we repent of our sins and place our faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

But for us to receive the full blessing of being in His perfect will, we must hear what He has to say. If our own voice clamors for attention, we will drown out His still, small whisper (Psalm 46:10; Zechariah 2:13). If we fill our life with our own grandiose plans for accomplishments we believe we can achieve in our own strength, there will be no room for Him (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yielding to Him, preparing our heart to receive and cherish Him, will allow His light to shine through us (Matthew 5:16) and His living water to flow through us to bless others.

If we are king of our own life, we, like Bethlehem, will have no room for the Holy Infant, Emmanuel (Luke 2:7).

We must decrease so that He can increase (John 3:30), our lives becoming vessels emptied of self and filled with His glorious presence. We should rejoice in our frailty, knowing that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, allowing His power to rest on us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This Christmas, my prayer is that each of us will receive the Gift of His Son (2 Corinthians 9:15), and that we will give back to Him the gift of our own lives, so that our fleeting time on earth (James 4:14) may be transformed from our own inconsequential purposes to His eternal glory (Romans 5: 1-2; Romans 15: 5-7;15-17; Philippians 1:11; 1 Peter 5:10; Psalm 84:11 ).

2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Be Fruit-full!

When God told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful,” (Gen. 1:28), He was of course referring to having children, yet I believe He also wanted the first husband and wife to have productive lives according to His will, having dominion over all the animals.

Now that we are in the age of grace, we can also interpret “Be fruitful” to mean not only to be prolific and productive, but also to produce the fruit of the Spirit so that people know we belong to Christ by our words, our works, our attitude, and our behavior (Luke 6:43-45).

When we get married, we have on opportunity for the light of Christ to shine, not only through each of us individually, but through our new, combined family and community. For that to happen, each of the partners individually, and combined in the marriage, must have the fruit of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:9). This will keep us from the works of the flesh, which can destroy individual lives and a marriage through evil deeds and thoughts including adultery, hatred, anger, drunkenness, etc. It is a daily battle between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

Gal. 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

We can’t work to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and it is not naturally found within us, but it flows from us when we are saved, turn away from our sin, and put our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven. Then the Holy Spirit indwells us and produces this fruit, if we yield to Him and die to our sin nature (Gal. 5:14-16).

Love refers to “agape,” the self-sacrificing love best portrayed by Christ on the cross, shedding His blood to be the perfect sacrifice and complete payment for our sins (Matt. 26:27), and God the Father giving His only begotten Son so that sinners could be reconciled to Him (John 3:16). God is love, and if we know Him, we will love one another (I John 4:7-8)

Joy in the Lord can be constant even in times of trials and tribulation, no matter what the external circumstances. As born-again believers, we have reasons to be joyful (Philippians 4:4) – God loves us; He has forgiven our sins; He allows us the privilege of prayer 24/7, He has indwelled us with the Holy Spirit; He communicates with us through His Word; He has adopted us as His children and appointed us as His ambassadors, He will return for us, and we will live eternally with Him in Heaven (1 Peter 1:5-8).

Our peace, which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven, that we are reconciled to God, that He works all things together for our good, and that we have eternal life in Him. (Romans 5:1-2)

The fruit of the Spirit we’ve spoken of so far are sweet and pleasant, but we can’t pick and choose which fruit of the Spirit we would like – they all come together when we are saved and the Holy Spirit indwells us. That’s why Paul refers to it as fruit of the Spirit, and not fruits of the Spirit. Some, like long-suffering, or patience, are not as pleasant, because they are the result of trials and tribulation (Romans 5: 3-5). But self-sacrificing love requires suffering, sometimes brought on by the one we love, or at least putting the other person’s needs ahead of our own. Self-sacrificing, agape love is patient, kind, seeking to meet the needs of the other person, always thinking the best of the other person, not expressing anger, being constant through all circumstances. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

The Greek word for gentleness in Galatians 5:22 is the same word which is translated kindness in 2 Corinthians 6:6. It means goodness, wanting to please others and to be pleased with what they do, mildness of temper, calmness of spirit, not easily flustered, polite, always putting the needs of others before your own (2 Corinthians 10:1, Psalm 18:35).

Goodness is another fruit of the Spirit expressing doing good for others, spiritually by educating them in the Word, and meeting their physical needs also (Romans 15:1-4; Exodus 34:6; Psalm 107:9).

Faith is the belief we must have in order to be saved and in order to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Our faith is in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the perfect, holy sacrifice to pay for all our sins. In Galatians 5:22, the word “faith” also refers to trustworthiness, keeping your word and promises, keeping the secrets or confidences of others. God is faithful to keep His Word and His promises, and He is faithful and unchanging in His love for us, and we should strive to do the same (Psalm 119:90; Isaiah 25:1).

Believers are meek because their power and destiny are based on the indwelling Holy Spirit, not on their own strength, status, or circumstances (Matthew 5:5). Paul tells the believers that to be good ambassadors for Christ, they should be humble and meek, patient toward one another, and putting up with each other’s faults (Ephesians 4:1-2)

As Christians we have access to all the wisdom and power of God within us through the Holy Spirit, but when others ask us about it, we must answer meekly, not showing off that power, but sharing the truth with humility and love (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus could have summoned legions of angels to rescue Him from the cross and to destroy His enemies, but instead He went meekly like a sheep led to the slaughter.

If a wife who is saved is married to an unsaved husband, He may become saved through her meekness. He may see Christ in her not through displays of power, but because she lives a sanctified life, is submissive to the will of God and of her husband, and puts her husband's needs ahead of her own (1 Peter 3:1-4). In marriage, as in life, submission to the one in authority does not diminish our power but confirms it, and is pleasing to God.

Temperance means power or control over the sin nature, including tendencies toward sexual immorality, drinking alcohol, using other intoxicating substances, angry outbursts, and overindulgence. Galatians 5:23 says “Against such there is no law,” meaning that we will never get in trouble by using too much self-control. Temperance is a stepping stone to patience, godliness, and self-sacrificing love (2 Peter 1: 5-8).

All the fruit of the Spirit represent qualities of Jesus Christ Himself. The 9 words emphasize different aspects of these qualities, but they are all interrelated and based on self-sacrificing love. Similarly, all the names of God emphasize His different attributes, but they all describe the same God. When we are saved, all these qualities enter our heart through the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we don’t always show these qualities because our sin nature fights against them.

In marriage as in life, we will show the fruit of the Spirit if we die to self and yield to the Holy Spirit, loving God and loving one another, doing His will and putting the needs of the other person ahead of our own. In a Christ-centered marriage, the wife can submit to her husband because the husband loves her completely and with a spirit of self-sacrifice.

Ephesians 5: 22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Highly Favored

The angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary that she was “highly favored” with God, yet she was “troubled” when she heard this news (Luke 1: 26-29), with good reason. After recovering from the fear and awe Gabriel caused her by his visitation and life-changing news, Mary had so much more to face as the reality hit her of this incredibly difficult yet significant assignment.

As a teenaged, betrothed virgin, she was pregnant, not with just any child, but with the Son of God conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:30-35). She would face rejection and criticism by her community, and the hurt and bewilderment of her fiancé Joseph, who thought she had been unfaithful and betrayed him (Matthew 1:18-19). She would escape the prying eyes and wagging tongues by traveling to the hill country to reach her cousin Elizabeth, an old woman also miraculously with child (Luke 1:36-40).

Then Mary and Joseph would set off for Bethlehem (Luke 2:4) on a long, bumpy journey with her precious Child bouncing up and down with each step of the donkey. She would wonder why no innkeeper could find room for the promised Messiah or His earthly family (Luke 2:7). She would endure the pain of childbirth in a smelly stable on scratchy hay, without any earthly comfort or help other than that given by her inexperienced husband and the warmth of the animals.

She would wonder why the King of Kings was not welcomed, recognized, and worshipped by most of those He came to save (John 1:10). She would face the pain and fear of knowing that Herod was trying to kill Him (Matthew 2:16-18) and that a sword would pierce Him and her soul also (Luke 2:34-35).

Yet the Bible says she was highly favored. How had she found favor with God? When faced with the impossible, Mary knew she had no strength, wisdom, experience or support of her own, and that the Lord Himself was her strength and her salvation. She turned it all over to Him, accepting His will and her role as “the handmaiden of the Lord” (Luke 1:38) with grace, courage and praise (Luke 1:46-49). He chooses those whom He favors not based on their ability, but on their availability and yieldedness to His will.

How did God show His favor toward Mary? God often favors His chosen servants not with worldly success, power, prestige, comfort and riches, but with trials that He can use to accomplish His will to His glory. Yet if He called you for a specific mission, He will provide all you need to complete it.

God sent angels as ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14) -- He sent Gabriel to Mary to inform her of His plan (Luke 1:30-35); and He sent an angel to Joseph so that He would help Mary carry out this plan (Matthew 1:20-25). He sent Mary to Elizabeth so that they could encourage and uplift each other (Luke 1:39-45). He sent angels to tell shepherds to worship the newborn King (Luke 2:8-20) and He sent a star to lead wise men to also worship Jesus (Matthew 2:2-11), giving Mary confirmation that her Child was indeed the Son of God. He spoke through dreams to protect Jesus from the evil plot of King Herod (Matthew 2:12-23).

We can do nothing apart from God (John 15:5,8), but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37).

So no matter what our weaknesses or what resources or experience we seem to lack, let’s be yielded to God’s will, and give Him praise as He works through us! His grace is sufficient; His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9); and to Him belongs all the glory!

Luke 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.… And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.… 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Have you ever thought about how a lowly, plodding caterpillar becomes a glorious, free-flying butterfly? At precisely the right time in its life cycle, the caterpillar attaches itself to a twig and forms a shell, or chrysalis, around itself. Within that chamber, it releases digestive enzymes that completely destroy what was once the caterpillar. From that pool of raw materials, new tissues form that are unique to the butterfly and in no way resemble those of the caterpillar. With precise timing, the new tissues develop into the new creature, complete with wings as delicate and intricate as fine lace.

But the amazing process doesn’t stop there. Before it can take flight, the newly born butterfly has to free itself from the chrysalis representing what is left of its old self. As the fragile wings fight to emerge, the abdomen pumps fluid into the wings to give them strength. Once the butterfly breaks free from its imprisoning shell, it rests upside down for sunlight to dry its wings, and then it has the power to soar from one colorful, fragrant flower to the next. The struggle is essential for the butterfly to live and to fly – if a well-meaning onlooker cuts the chrysalis to “help” the butterfly out, its wings will shrivel up and it will die.

If God has engineered this incredible transformation of caterpillar to butterfly (which totally deflates any evolutionary argument of “chance” formation not only of the caterpillar, but of the completely redesigned butterfly), how much more can He work the miracle of transformation in our lives?

In the physical, He unites a single egg and sperm into a completely unique being who develops from that single cell, not yet visible with the naked eye, but within nine short months fighting her way out of the dark, protective cocoon of her mother’s body to enter a new world of light, sound, and love. God knew that unique person before she was even knitted together in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and throughout her life He keeps track of every hair on her head (Luke 12:7).

Each day, cells throughout our body die so that new cells can replace them, allowing the transformation from sickness to health, from life to death (Psalm 30:2-3). A seed planted in the ground decays before it is transformed into a living plant (1 Corinthians 15:36).

Physical changes, such as water vapor in clouds condensing to form rain (Job 28:24-26; 36:27-30) or freezing to form snowflakes, each one different from the next, follow laws God established for these daily miracles we often take for granted. Chemical reactions He engineered transform elements and compounds into very different substances, with dramatic results that allow all kinds of observable and incredible phenomena such as those that fuel our cars and even our bodies.

In the spiritual, the transformation is no less dramatic. As we are born again (John 3:3-8), we become new creatures, progressively conformed to His image. Like the emerging butterfly, the struggles and sufferings we undergo are an essential part of that process (Philippians 3:10). Ultimately, the saving power of God’s love transforms us:

--From sin to righteousness! (Psalm 51:1-10; Isaiah 61:10; Romans 6:18)

--From death to eternal life! (John 3:16; Romans 6:23)

--From worldly darkness to His light! (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:22-24)

--From defeat to victory! (Philippians 3:12-14; Psalm 30:1)

--From sadness to joy! (Psalm 30:5,11; Revelation 21:4-5)

--From anxiety to peace! (Philippians 4:6-9)

--From enemies of God to children of the King, joint heirs with Christ, and ambassadors appointed to spread the Good News of the Gospel! (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 16:13-15).

--From corruptible bodies to glorified bodies! (2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Romans 8:18-23; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

Praise God that through our faith in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, He can wash away our sins, turn our sorrow into joy and praise, and renew a right spirit within us (Psalm 30). As we die to our old sin nature, we are born again and progressively shaped through sufferings into His image (Romans 6:3-11; Philippians 3:10). He can transform us from a sinful wretch to a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) destined for eternal life with Him!

Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Romans 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection…11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.