Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Side Effect of Healing

 Advertising for prescription drugs nearly always lists possible side effects. Such things as heart attack, stroke, nausea, headache, or high blood pressure may be among the effects. Sometimes ads even say, “In a small number of cases death has occurred.” The audio versions of the ads are delivered via a pleasant sounding voice, similar to the calm assurance a mother would give to a child.

We’ve all heard mothers try to assure us as we weighed a new experience against the fear of getting hurt: “Honey, just try the monkey bars. What fun you’ll have. And if you fall, it’s only four feet to the ground.” After urgings to, “Go ahead. Have fun. You’ll enjoy it. Be a big girl,” the warnings also arrived: “Be careful. Hold on tight. Don’t fall.”

Those mother-messages had mixed blessings of love, concern, and caution. Re-reading portions of Ezekiel brought a question to mind for the drug companies and their ad campaigns: Why isn’t HEALING mentioned as a side effect? If an ill person looks for a cure, wouldn’t you want to hear that the main reaction most have to your prescribe drug is healing?

This week in our Bible-book journey, we’re in the land of Ezekiel, a major prophet, who spoke warnings and also pronounced side-effect-blessings. However the majority of the book of Ezekiel is filled with warnings, the ill side effects of disobeying God.

Filled with symbolism, a good portion of Ezekiel describes God and the judgment that has come upon Israel (Ezekiel and others were already in Babylonian captivity). Why were they there? Israel had broken faith with God and given allegiance to foreign gods.

But not every individual had abandoned God. As always a few remain devoted and Ezekiel was one of them. A characteristic theme throughout Ezekiel’s writing is individual responsibility before God. No wonder God chose this completely obedient man to act out messages to his wayward people. And his were tough assignments: Who among us could refrain from weeping if our beloved spouse died? Find out why in Ezekiel 24:15-27.

Or who among us could lie on our left side in public, eating only grain-rich bread for 390 days, and then roll over and remain on our right side for an additional 40 days? All of this was done so that Ezekiel might be a visual aid, a prophetic-one-man act, a sign to Israel about the punishment for their sins (Ezekiel 4). Since the bread ingredients are mentioned in the Bible text, some have attempted to duplicate this grainy bread that sustained Ezekiel for well over a year. At you can buy the bread, or find a recipe at

In other prophetic references, we see that Jeremiah, Baruch, and Ebed-melech were among those “marked” to be spared from the punishment that would fall upon so many. “The mark was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, ‘taw,’ written as a cross in the oldest script,” states “Erdman’s Handbook to the Bible.” Talk about symbolism!

Through Ezekiel God said each man will be judged according “to his ways.” They were told, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.” God further encouraged them to get a new heart and a new spirit, also saying that he took no pleasure in the death of anyone. (18:30-32).

We hear of illness, tragedy, wrongs done, and we long to hear that all is right again. Things have been fixed. God’s mercy intervened and there was a good outcome. In an another scene, Ezekiel shows us a nourishing river with fruit bearing trees lining its banks. That’s how Ezekiel wraps up his writings by letting us know sin has awful side effects, but healing can take place.

Index card verse for week 21: “Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).

Receive a blessing this Memorial Day, take time to thank our Father for the freedoms we enjoy because men and women were willing to love this country and us in sacrificial way.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hibernacula--Covering with Prayer

 “Miss Goody Two Shoes” was a childhood slur cast toward girls, who were behaving well or flaunting their obedience. True goodness, purity of motives, and resulting humility comes from above.

If we humans were left solely to our own devices, I’m afraid we’d treat each other rather badly. We’ve all had our moments, and maybe lifetimes, of misbehavior. As the oldest sibling in my childhood family, I sometimes took advantage of my siblings’ weaknesses, played tricks on them, and agitated them.

At times, I could even coerce my sister, Sherry, 22 months younger than me, to join in tormenting our little brother. One such occasion happened when I was about 10-years-old. I hope my brother Kenny read this because we both regret telling you that the small round, red, very hot pepper, growing on the short garden plant, would taste just like an M&M. Your four-year-old mouth was not the only thing that burned that day. If I remember correctly, our punishment involved a bit of warming on the seat of our summer shorts.

After the flood, God said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). He accurately described the imaginations of my heart. I was definitely engaged in a war. I wanted to be good -- was good a lot of the time -- but temptations loomed everywhere, especially to cause my siblings misery.

I believe the prayers of my godly parents protected me during that time. The good news is that at any age, we can call on God to help us. His Holy Spirit will refine and tune our hearts to make better and best choices.

Earlier this month at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures in California, I heard a keynote from Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah from Accra, Ghana, Africa. Here in the states studying for his doctorate of divinity, he taught from Psalm 103. I wrote one of his short sayings in the margin of my Bible near that psalm. He said, “God is more willing to forgive than we are willing to be forgiven.” Isn’t that true! We are often reluctant to forgive ourselves when God has already forgiven and forgotten our sins.

Our memory scripture this week comes from the book of Lamentations. While most congregational worship seems to focus on celebrating the goodness of God, would a “lament” service be appropriate from time to time? This could be a time when we would consider our personal sins and offenses against God, mourn how we hurt our good Shepherd, confess our sins, and repent.

We sing a song in my home congregation, “O Lord Prepare me to be a Sanctuary.” As each person sings that request, they ask God to create a holier heart house, in essence saying: “Make me a dwelling place for you. Hollow out my heart. Sweep out all offensive things. Make a spotless place, dear God, for you to abide and guide.”   

The word “hibernacula” in zoology means the dwelling place of a hibernating animal. In the world of botany “hibernacula” means the covering over a bud during its dormant phase before it blossoms. I’ve had on my mind, the tender hearts of our communities’ children and the summer ahead. Children pass through a stage of hibernation until they begin to emerge into their life story. Ever developing in stature, mind, and heart – wouldn’t this world be a better place if all children had the covering of their parents’ and grandparents’ prayers?

Jeremiah, noted as the author of Lamentation by some of the latest manuscripts, in five poetic chapters tells about the just judgment of God on his people. He and his countrymen ended up in a foreign country, captured, humiliated, and removed from their homeland because they rebelled against God.

Sorrow for wrongs committed against God permeates the chapters of Lamentations, but God steps into that pool of tears to tend and correct Jeremiah’s broken heart. God is truly “more willing to forgive than we are to be forgiven.” The Lord’s mercies are new every day to toward our developing children and their families who will call upon him.

Index card scripture for week 20: “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23).

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Monday, May 09, 2011

We Project Ruin, God Projects Salvation

One of the bravest women mentioned in the Old Testament is the Hebrew mother of Moses, Jochebed. She lived under cruel taskmasters, her people enslaved for hundreds of years. When the slaves’ numbers grew, Egyptian officials feared that the slaves might join enemy forces and cause an uprising.

On the sly, Pharaoh wanted the Hebrew midwives to kill any male child at delivery. But the women feared God more than the king’s edict and refused. When questioned about their disobedience, they reported the vigorous Hebrew women had delivered by the time they reached the woman in labor.

Those midwives, who feared the Lord God and guided new life into the world, could not smother newly sanctioned breaths. So, the ruling dynasty gave an order to all his people, “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22).

In that wicked culture, Jochebed, whose name means “the Lord is glory,” delivered a son. Did her heart pound with fear when she delivered a male child? Had she plotted ahead on how to spare this baby? Did she expect the worse or hope for the best?

By the time Moses reached three months old, his mother had finalized and almost completed her plans. She built a mini ark, made of papyrus reeds, coated inside and out with tar and pitch. By then she had reached the limits of her protection.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) says that often when “men are projecting ruin . . . God is preparing . . . salvation.”

The minute a child is born, a mother is born, too. All types of mothers have rocked cradles, the good, the bad, and the worse. But there’s nothing more heartwarming than a wholesome bond between mother and child. Sweetness exists in that relationship like no other.

No doubt Jochebed’s first few months with Moses were bittersweet. And one day, preparations made, Jochebed chose to place her infant son in the reeds near the bank of the Nile, post big sister Miriam as guard, and trust God to have a plan for a river, a floating bassinet and a beloved infant.

Some mothers will be able to embrace their children this Mother’s Day. Other women are separated by miles, while some mothers are separated by rifts. Moms, if you have a good relationship with your children, cherish the blessing. If your relationship has a few cracks, gather your tools and work on a patch job as soon as possible.

If your relationship is completely strained, pray over them and, like Jochebed, place them in God’s hands — it may be time to put them in the boat. Remember, sometimes when we project ruin, God is planning salvation.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Index Card Verse for Week 18: “”You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

The Real Jesus--No Pretense

When Jesus entered a synagogue on the Sabbath, he didn’t adjust his language, any mannerisms, or thoughts. He didn’t force a smile to his face. The Jesus who walked into the place of worship was the same Jesus who walked the roads of Judea and Galilee on weekdays. He embodied truth and grace.

For most, it’s easy to be good inside the church building. Smiles, hugs and friendly handshakes come easy. Praise hymns ring out with gusto. Serious thought time is given to life, or when a minister says something lighthearted, wholesome laughter erupts.

In classes, when a Bible teacher's emotions are moved by a text, many Bible students are also moved and shed tears. The Holy Spirit presides over gatherings uniting worshipers. Praise, conviction, repentance, comes easier when we’re gathered with like-minded believers.

When it’s time for church members to leave a worship service for their separate homes, church leaders pray that the individual congregants will step out into their unique circles where their personal convictions will shine against the dark backdrop of the world. Godly leaders also long for our Sunday-hearts of worship to guide us Monday through Saturday.

Hearty corporate worship blesses us, but the extremes of Christianity—fanaticism and hypocrisy—can throw buckets of cold water upon someone who seeks to know more about God. Even an ounce of cynical spirit can douse a seeker’s curiosity.

In my home congregation, we’re encouraged to find one person, lodged in our weekdays, who shows an interest in learning more about Christianity. An important part of reaching out is to not prejudge whether someone might or might not come to Christ.

If I had been a traveling companion of Jesus when either the rich young ruler or Zacchaeus sought Jesus, I’d have placed my hopes on the rich young ruler, who was a member of the chosen Jews. He confessed that he kept the commands of the Mosaic Law. He had initiated his search for Jesus and asked what he needed to do to be saved. But, I would have been wrong. When Jesus told him to sell all he had, give it to the poor and follow him, the very rich young man turned away from the Messiah. While Jesus knew the young man’s heart, I would have only seen his outward appearance and heard his list of good deeds.

The last person, I’d expect to turn to Christ was literally found up a tree. Short in stature, Zacchaeus had climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus when he walked on a nearby path. I’m told that the average height of a Jewish male during this time was 5’ 4”. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, known for underhanded shenanigans. He’d short changed plenty of local citizens. Surely, his failures and tarnished reputation would not fit in with a holy group of people. Could his sin encrusted heart really make a turn around? Wouldn’t his loathsome past cancel out any future good he might do? And yet, he was the one who longed to repent, to repair, and be replenished.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). Jesus wanted his disciples to know that opportunities were everywhere to share their faith.

We would do well to put away our prejudices of who will accept Christ. A better stance is to remember that God doesn’t want any to perish, and he alone knows how to look deep into a person’s heart and draw them to himself. We are Yellow Pages for Christ, pointing others to him, anyone who asks!

We best light the path to God when we behave and love like his Son. The real Jesus walked into a synagogue and the real Jesus walked out, no pretense, no change to his demeanor. He remained true to God at all times. To shine against the backdrop of this world, fully imitate the Christ seven days a week.

Index Card Scripture for Week 17 – “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

POster "Girl" for HOPE

When my dad worked as a minister just south of Houston, they met a woman in the congregation named Minnie Miner, not her maiden name. With her double M names it seems that she ought to be a poster girl for something. As her story unfolded for me over the years, I finally understood that she is indeed just that. She is a poster girl for H-O-P-E.

Last year, Minnie passed the milestone of 100 years of age, and I learned more about her life from her friend’s letter written to honor Minnie. When I first met Minnie she was 80 and had the energy of women half her age. A sad part of her history includes the year 1958. When she was only 48, her dear husband died inside their home. That first night she couldn’t make herself sleep inside. His presence seemed everywhere, so she slept in their car for one night.

After a year of deep sorrow, she knew the only way to step away from her sadness was to invest in the lives of others. Never shy, and having performed on the organ and piano, she made plans to cheer people up who were going through rough times.

She bought yards of white furry fabric, and without a pattern, she constructed a bunny suit, complete with a cotton tail and large pink ears. She found a job to support herself, and she often took the bunny suit to work with her, and didn’t go home until later in the evenings. Driving around Houston and Baytown in her pink Rambler, she visited shut-ins and the sick. She felt the gloom lifting from her life. Although she’d always miss the love of her life, she found a new passion for living.

Straight from work, she visited nursing homes. At other times she wowed the children at MD Anderson and other hospitals, schools, and doctors’ and dentists’ offices. For 26 years that bunny suit, and later also a Santa suit, helped her warm the hearts of the hurting. Mark Devon with “The Lake Travis View” interviewed Minnie last year close to her 100th birthday, and she said her daily goal was “to make one person happy.”

Her jovial spirit found her winning the “Miss Congeniality” title in the Miss Texas Senior pageant when she was 79. Minnie continued to work well into her 90s, and now lives in the Austin area with her daughter and family.

Back to thoughts about Minnie Miner as a poster girl for “Hope.” Her spirit of resolve to overcome misfortune and invest in others didn’t come from Minnie. That hope sprang from the heart of her risen Savior, poured out into her life. She’s not shy about her love for the Lord.

When Jesus walked this earth, his continuous message was one of loving our fellowman, and making things better for others in life, and he supplied all needed for his followers to do this. Through their witnessing of his powerful miracles, they knew that Jesus offered genuine help to overcome small problems and even death itself.

I am especially drawn to one biblical scene near the streets of Nain (means pleasant or green pastures). When Jesus and his disciples approached the city gate, they met a funeral procession and a large crowd of people carrying out the only son of a widowed woman. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry” (Luke 7:13).

When we see funeral processions driving toward us, we pull over, we wait. We show respect for the mourners by stopping our lives for a few minutes. But we can do nothing about the life that has passed. Jesus’ words were legitimate because he alone had authority over death, and the power to return her son’s life-breath.

Undoubtedly, Jesus had seen many funeral processions, but this time he intervened for the widowed woman, he intervened for those standing there that day, he intervened so we’d have this accounting of his power over death. He touched the coffin and those carrying it stopped. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”

And he did! Utterly amazing.

This spring, on church signs, in yards, and in greetings we see and hear the words, “He is risen.” They express confessions of belief that Jesus returned to life after his death by crucifixion. They express awe that Jesus intervenes in our everyday lives, and that he will raise us up at the appropriate hour, known only to God.

Minnie’s story. Your story. My story. They all include miracles of birth and the power of rebirth into the awesome arena of Jesus Christ. Like Minnie we can be poster people for hope, the hope found in trusting and obeying our Lord.

Happy Easter because the story of Easter spells H-O-P-E.