Monday, October 26, 2009

From dumplings to descendants

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ...If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Recently my church hosted an annual fall festival that entailed baking 800 apple dumplings. New to the congregation, I decided to help with the two-day event as it created an opportunity for me to meet other members. (No, the above photo is not the baking committee.)

Assigned to measure out vegetable shortening for each batch of dumplings, I chatted with a young woman who stood across the kitchen counter from me. Our questions flowed in sync as we scooped out, measured, and placed individual portions of shortening on serving trays. Are you a student? Where do you attend school? Why did you move here? Where did you move from? One question resulted in an answer that led to another inquiry.

Our conversation became more animated when we discovered Trish's grandparents live in the community where I was raised. I made a note of their names; and that afternoon, I called my mother, who lives 875 miles away, to determine if she was familiar with this young woman's family. To my amazement, I learned not only is my mom acquainted with Trish's grandparents, but Trish and I are cousins. Trish's great-great-grandmother and my grandmother were sisters!

Genealogies have had a significant role in history since the beginning of time. The first family tree recorded in Genesis 5 begins, "This is the written account of Adam's line."

In the New Testament book of Matthew, the account of Christ's life begins with a genealogy 17 verses long. It is like a pedigree giving evidence that proves a title and making out a claim that confirms our Lord Jesus is, indeed, the son of David and the son of Abraham.

Matthew's aim in writing his gospel is to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. Proof of a man's lineage was required before a Jew would even consider a man's credentials for royalty, the priesthood, or even his place among the people of God. Consequently, it is imperative that Jesus' direct line to the throne of David, and His link with Old Testament prophecies concerning that line, be fully traced before beginning the account of His birth.

All Bible genealogies culminate in this final line of descent that ends with the birth of Jesus. Once Christ was born, the only family line needed is the one that has its direct source in Christ. Through faith in Him, every individual who becomes a "child of God" is an heir in His family, with all the attendant rights and privileges.

Where our earthly families are concerned, connections are valuable. Connections are one way we keep this big world smaller, simpler, and more intimate.

The following day when I arrived at church to finish our dumpling project, I hugged my newly-found cousin and showed her a never-before-seen picture of her ancestors. That day, the world became a bit more personal for Trish as she made a connection with her great-great-grandparents, as well as her great-great-great-grandpa.

"Cool," she said in a hushed tone as she cradled the photo in her hands and studied the faces of her ancestors.

I agree. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are Abraham's true, spiritual descendants. We are recipients of his promise. God is definitely "cool."

Friend, you never know who you'll meet. How are you connecting with God's family of believers to help make your world a little smaller, a bit more personal?

Blessings, dear friend.

Faithfully Following

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sweet triumph

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him."
2 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)

Tucked safely in my mother's womb, alongside my twin sister, I sat in a church pew months before I was ever born. I come from a long line of Christian heritage with ancestors who immigrated to America for religious freedom more than 170 years ago. Hhmm. Maybe my nomadic tendencies are genetic.

Growing up in a rural, Christian farming community, I loved playing Sunday School as child. A collection of fuzzy, button-eyed bears and sweet, vinyl-faced dolls sat attentively on an assortment of child-sized benches and chairs. In beautiful chorus, we sang Praise Him, Praise Him All Ye Little Children and I Am Jesus' Little Lamb. All eyes were fixed on me as I told action-packed accounts of a young boy who killed a giant, three men thrown into a fiery furnace, and a baby king born in a stable.

Sadly, somewhere between a child's delight singing Jesus Loves Me and a young adult's craving for independence, I lost my joy for Jesus.

Oh, I attended church sporadically. But I began focusing more on starting a professional career and fitting in amongst new friends. Soon the busyness of a new lifestyle created distractions from my fellowship with Jesus. Quite frankly, I bought into the idea I could live with one foot in the secular world while keeping the other in a Christian walk. A subtle compromise here. A change in behavior there. Gradually, my childhood affection for Jesus grew dull.

Thankfully, where I wandered away from God, in His mercy, He remained faithful to me.

Pastor Henry Blackaby writes in Experiencing God, "God takes the initiative to pursue a love relationship with you. This love relationship, however, is not a one-sided affair. He wants you to know Him and worship Him. Most of all He wants you to love Him."

Slowly but surely, I was drawn back to my faith. A girlfriend invited me to a mom's home Bible study group. A new acquaintance extended an invitation to a church women's retreat. I began a simple, daily devotional time. Like a patient waking from a long coma, I began to experience a hunger for God like I'd never known before. Nineteen years later, I am absolutely head over heels in love with Jesus!

Blackaby states, "God has been working in the world all along. He has been working out His purpose for our lives since before we were born. He is building our character in an orderly fashion with a divine purpose in mind."

In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that God has a specific role in our quest to follow Him. He guides us, shows us the way to go. But, how can we recognize God's leading?

When Israel crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, God told Joshua to take twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from where the priests stood and put them at the place where they stayed that night. These stones served as a memorial of the mighty act of God in behalf of His people (Joshua 4:2-7).

To understand how God is leading me, I find it helpful to identify my memorial stones or "spiritual makers." A spiritual marker identifies a time of transition, decision, or direction when I clearly know that God has guided me.

Ask God to reveal to you where He has been working in your life. Think about your heritage, your salvation experience, times you made significant decisions regarding your future. Start making a spiritual inventory list today. It doesn't have to be comprehensive. Add to it as you reflect and pray about God's activity in your life.

God is faithful. He leads us in triumphal procession. And, as we follow Him in faith, we become a sweet-smelling reminder, a fragrance of His grace, in the lives of those we touch.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stirring hearts

"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirti of God was hovering over the waters."
Genesis 1:2 (NIV)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Without form and void, it was shapeless and useless. Then, something happened. The Spirit of God moved.

The author of all being and fountain of life sprung into motion.
Where God the Father willed creation, God the Son spoke it through His Word, and God the Spirit gave it life through His breath.

Let's take a closer look at the Spirit "hovering over the waters." The Hebrew word rachaph used in Genesis means "shake, move, flutter, to hover."

The same word rachaph is used in Deuteronomy 32 when Moses reminded the children of Israel how God delivered them out of slavery in Egypt. "In a desert land he found him; in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions." (Deuteronomy 32:11)

Eagles are fascinating. Its egg is a little larger than a duck egg. When the babies are born, both parents take responsibility for their care. They bring food to the nest and feed the young small pieces of meat. Within 12 weeks an eaglet is practically full size; with a wingspan of 79 to 90 inches, it weighs 10 to 14 pounds. Yet, it is in the nest.

In preparation for flight, a process called fledging, young eagles lose their fluffy baby down and grow special feathers. A parent hovers over the nest and flaps its wings. As the fledgling stretches for its food, it mimics the parent. The subsequent wind made by the parent causes the baby to rise slightly above the nest as the young eagle also flaps its newly feathered wings.

Sometimes if an eaglet is fearful or doesn't show interest in taking its first flight, a parent withholds food, forcing it out of the nest. In her book An Eagle to the Sky (1970), wildlife author and ornithologist Frances Hammerstrom recorded an heroic eaglet's first flight.

The young eagle was now alone in the nest. Over and over again, a parent came with empty feet. The eaglet grew thinner. He pulled at meat scraps from old dried-up carcasses lying in the nest. Days passed. As he lost body fat, the eaglet became quicker in his movements and paddled ever more lightly when the wind blew, scarcely touching the nest edge; from time to time he was airborne for a moment or two.

Eagerly he called for food. Beating his wings and teetering on the edge of his nest, a parent flew past. Just out of reach she carried a delectable meal of a half-grown jack rabbit.

Hunger and the cold mountain nights had their effect on the young eaglet's body and disposition. A late frost hit the valley and a night wind ruffled his feathers and chilled his body. When the sunlight reached the nest edge, he sought its warmth,; and soon he was bounding in the wind, now light and firm-muscled.

A parent flew by, downwind, dangling a young marmot in its feet. The eaglet almost lost his balance in his eagerness for food. Then the parent swung by again, closer, upwind, and riding the updraft, as though daring the eaglet to fly. Lifted light by the wind, he was airborne, flying--or more gliding--for the first time in his life. He sailed across the valley to make a scrambling, almost tumbling landing on a bare knoll. As he turned to get his bearings, the parent dropped the young marmot nearby. Half running, half flying he pounced on it, mantled, and ate his fill.

Are you comfortable in your "nest"? Are you so content within your surroundings, your way of doing things, your way of thinking, your way of living that when God "stirs up the nest" you become upset, even angry? Curious, yet fearful, are you teetering on the edge of your comfort zone thinking you're too old, inexperienced, unskilled, or unintelligent to experience what lies beyond?

If we're really honest, it may be we simply don't want to grow. We're satisfied with how things are. But God wants us to fly--to become all He calls us to become. English missionary William Carey's most renowned principle of action was, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God."

When God stirs up our nest, He does so with good reason. What's more, when God hovers, He also breathes life.

Happy flying!

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

Monday, October 5, 2009

Improving your serve

"Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."
Galatians 6:10 (NIV)

Relationships would be so much easier if it just weren't for the people involved.

In one of the last episodes of Jesus' ministry in Galilee, Jesus told His disciples about His destiny: He will be betrayed, killed, and rise again from the dead (Mark 9:30-31).

Immediately after this revelation, the disciples followed Jesus down the road to Capernaum. But the journey was far from silent. The Twelve argued among themselves who is the greatest within their ranks. Disagreement traveled all the way to Capernaum. When they arrived at the house in which they stayed, Jesus asked the men what they discussed. They were silent.

Jesus knew His friends argued. He also knew what they argued about. And so, He began to teach them about greatness; or rather about humility. If you want to be great, He said, you must be last and a servant (Mark 9:30-37).

What motivates any argument? In James 3, the Apostle writes wherever there is bitter jealousy, covetousness, pride, or selfish ambition, there is turmoil. He also says God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Why? Is it because where pride is there is simply no room for God? Does He give grace to the one who is humble because that person recognizes their need for what He has to give?

James' words accurately describe what took place among the disciples. Unfortunately, the argument didn't belong among the followers of Jesus. Yet, even in His presence there was "disorder" and "vile practices." Jesus turned the disciples' argument upside down. They weren't talking about being last or about serving. But, Jesus said that's how a person becomes first.

Jesus is the greatest. He is the first. He met the criterion when He was delivered into the hands of men, killed, and rose from the dead. He is the servant of all.

Like me, do you quarrel with your spouse because you want something done your way? Do you pull rank to end a family argument? Concerned with your interests, do you ignore a co-worker's need? What about within your church. Do you close your ears to another's viewpoint and push a personal agenda? We're human; so it's probably safe to say we've each, "been there, done that."

Based on Jesus' teaching, James encourages, "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in meekness of wisdom...the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:13, 17-18)

Are you intrigued by the notion of a servant heart? Does part of you hang back because you're afraid that being last could mean being taken advantage of?

Jesus accomplished the ultimate act of service. He gives us power to serve with wisdom that is humble, open to reason, fair, and forgiving. When we do, we produce "a harvest of righteousness" and peace.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following