50 Years and Counting

Last month my husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. It’s a milestone reached by only about 5% of couples. To attain it, you must marry fairly young, and then survive both death and divorce. If you do, you earn the luxury of looking back on many memories and lots of challenges you’ve navigated together. You’ll learn to lean on God a lot. Staying together isn’t always easy, but in the long run, there is a sense of accomplishment.

This month I’ve found myself reading, ironically, a memoir entitled Heartbreak written by science journalist Florence Williams. In it, she records her experience of divorce after a long marriage (25 years). During the three years after the breakup of her marriage, she traveled across the U.S. and also to England and Croatia to meet with researchers, therapists and others in order to understand the effects of losing a mate. Guess what? The consensus is divorce is bad for your health. It wreaks havoc on brains and bodies. Among the documented effects are poor sleep, increased anxiety, and a weakened immune system. Many people show symptoms similar to PTSD. It can even affect your heart (yes, really!) and cause early death. Of course, these same symptoms may surface upon the death of a mate, but data about the health effects of being single, widowed or divorced, show that the effects of divorce are the most damaging. One health study calls it, “a costly life event.”

On the other hand, scores of studies show that married people live longer, have fewer instances of cancer, strokes and heart attacks, and are less likely to become depressed or overweight.

As Christians, we should not be surprised. After all, in the book of Genesis God says:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

Adam, when presented with Eve, calls her:

“…bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…” Genesis 2:23

In marriage, according to the Bible, we become “one flesh.” No wonder divorce feels like an amputation — it is!

I know there are reasons that our sinful nature sometimes makes divorce the only option. Addiction or abuse spring to mind. Still, if we know what’s good for us, we should do what we can to stay together.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

For more posts about marriage see:

The Marriage Challenge – A Book Review

In Marriage Relationships

Give Thanks for Marriage

Wake Up!

There’s a lot of hype these days around the word “woke”, which has come to mean
alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism. Another kind of wake-up call has been evident in my spiritual life lately.

A few weeks ago my husband’s sermon was based on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew chapter 25). If you recall, all ten took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. He took so long to arrive that five of them fell asleep. By the time they woke up, it was too late to go out and purchase oil for their lamps, and they missed the wedding feast.

The following week, we worshipped at a different Lutheran church. Both the Sunday School lesson and the sermon that week centered around Matthew 24, a section that discusses the second coming of Jesus (this wasn’t planned, it just happened). We’re told to stay alert and ready because nobody will be able to predict when this will happen. Finally, my reunion group friend, told me this verse came up in the community Bible study she attends:

“(Behold I am coming like a thief) Blessed is the one who says awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed>’ Revelation 16:15

I guess you can see the theme that is developing. Advent is a time of waiting for our Savior to come. He came once, and He’s coming again. We need to anticipate that coming all year, every year, not just for a few weeks before Christmas. If we’re not “woke” to the magnitude of our sin, to our need to repent and live in a way worthy of our King, we’re not going to be ready to meet Him when the time comes.

So, if you’re already awake, stay that way. If you’re not, wake up! It’s not too late, but it might be soon.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” Matthew 24:45-46

For more about being ready see:

Perhaps Today

The End of All Things

Get Ready to Get Dirty


Growing Up, Part 5

Learning about my spiritual gifts helped a lot, but I wasn’t grown up yet. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us:

Each one of you has received a special grace, so like good stewards responsible for all these different graces from God, put yourselves at the service of others.”

I began to seek out ways to use the talents God had given me. This sometimes meant taking a risk, but as a Christian friend once told me, “if you’re going to try something new, do it at church. If you fail, they’ll still love you!” One of the first things I did after taking the spiritual gifts class was start to write Vacation Bible School programs for our church. That was a big risk, because in addition to the skills I had, it required some of the ones I didn’t — crafts and organization. But you know what? I found other people to help me with those. That’s one of the wonderful things I’ve learned about being part of a church family, there are many people who will encourage you and help you when you step out and try to do the things God calls you to do.

Growing up as a Christian has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Who would have guessed 40+ years ago that a shy introvert like me could do things like … lead a retreat? start a Bible study group for women? Stand up in front of a group and give a talk?

 “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26b

For more about following God’s calling see:

What’s Your Vocation?

Your Calling

Your Dream. God’s Plan. by Tiffany Smiling — Book Review

1 Peter Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

This must be a favorite chapter of mine, because a number of phrases stand out and I have written about them before. For example, “a gentle and quiet spirit” 1 Peter 3:4 (A Gentle and Quiet Spirit), “with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:16 (With Gentleness and Respect) and “seek peace and pursue it” 1 Peter 3:11 (Pursue Peace). Peter is chock-full of good advice! This time, I’ll pick something different — “the hidden person of the heart.” In any number of places, Scripture tells us that God does not judge us because of the way we look, or even our behavior, but by the true motivation and intentions in our heart. When God chose David, He told Samuel:

” The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

And Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying,

““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27

What does this tell me? First of all, God sees everything. I may fool those around me by a lot of good deeds or holy-seeming behavior, but I can’t fool Him. Secondly, that I need to cultivate that “hidden person” deep inside. Changing what I do is important, but changing how I think is critical. In fact, if I change the way I think, I probably won’t have to worry so much about what I do!

This isn’t easy. When my reunion group friend and I review our behavior, we often admit that we’re more likely to be guilty of doing good things with a poor attitude than doing bad things. What’s the answer? I find it in prayer– praying to love those people who annoy me; praying to accept my duty with a cheerful heart; praying to give others the benefit of the doubt … just praying continually. I can change my behavior, but only God can change my heart.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2

For more about transformation see:

Rebirth and Transformation

This Is Your Brain on Faith

Learning to Count It All Joy

Strangers in a Strange Land

I’ve started a lectio divina reading of 1 Peter. If that’s unfamiliar to you, it means reading a chapter or a short portion of the Scripture daily in a slow, meditative way, letting yourself see what phrase or verse stands out. Maybe because the theme this month deals with walking and traveling, what stood out for me in the first chapter is this:

“… live your life as strangers here in reverent fear.” 1 Peter 1:17 (NIV)

In the English Standard version, it’s stated this way:

“Conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” 1 Peter 1:17(ESV)

What does it mean to live as a stranger or an exile?

The first thing that comes to my mind is, as a stranger, you aren’t too attached to the things around you. You don’t want to accumulate too much, because you won’t be here forever. Who wants a bunch of junk you just have to pack up and move, or leave behind? That is certainly a scriptural theme, as we are told in Matthew:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-24

That brings another thought to mind: as strangers we are always yearning to get home. We’re not entirely comfortable in this place — maybe we don’t speak the same language, or wear the same clothes, or eat the same food. We just don’t blend in. In fact, as Christians, we don’t want to blend in. We need to remember who we are and to whom we belong (that’s the reverent fear part).

So today, after my reading, I’m asking myself:

*How important to me are my “things”? After all, they are only temporary.

*Can the people I meet everyday tell I am a Christian? Or do I look and behave exact like everyone else? If so, I’m fooling myself about the depth of my faith.

*Am I looking forward to “the life of the world to come’? Or am I really devoted to the here and now?

*Am I “afraid” of the right things? Do I have a reverent fear of God and a desire to be holy, or am I really just afraid to die?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

I can walk with Jesus or walk with the world. I can’t do both.

For more about conforming to the world see these posts:

Pilgrim or Tourist?

Am I Habituating?

Do You Have a Saintly Worldview?

Do Unto Others

The great commandment of the Bible is to love. We are to love others as much, maybe even more than we love ourselves. Jesus Himself said:

“… in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

What does this mean in practice? Well, giving others the benefit of the doubt — do you want to be judged according to your worst day or behavior? It means trying to understand different points of view. Don’t you hate it when an acquaintance refuses to even listen to the reasoning behind your ideas? It means being compassionate and slow to become angry. I mess up plenty of times and need forgiveness, not censure, don’t you?

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, FRS (13 December 1815 – 18 July 1881), and English Anglcan priest and church historian puts it this way:

“Love one another in spite of your differences, in spite of your faults. Love one another, and make the best of one another, as He loved us, who for the sake of saving what was good in the human soul, forgot, forgave, put out of sight what was bad–who saw and loved what was good even in the publican Zacheus, even in the penitent Magdalen, even in the expiring malefactor, even in the heretical Samaritan, even in the Pharisee Nicodemus, even in the heathen soldier, even in the outcast Canaanite. It is very easy to fix our attention only on the weak points of those around us, to magnify them, to irritate them, to aggravate them; and by so doing, we can make the burden of life unendurable, and can destroy our own and others’ happiness and usefulness wherever we go. But this was not the love wherewith Christ loved us; this is not the new love wherewith we are to love one another.”

When we love in this way, we are blessed, and we become a blessing to others.

 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing “1 Peter 3:8-10

For more on this topic see:

Little Children, Love One Another

Charity = Love

By Our Love

R. C. Sproul on God’s Word

Do you study God’s Word, the Bible? God chose to communicate with us through words, and we won’t grow in our faith if we never bother to read them R C Sproul addresses the question of why we don’t study the Word of God this way:

“Here then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.” – Knowing Scripture, 1977

I’m sure, like me, you find the time to study the things that are really important to you. Sports fans memorize statistics about their favorite teams and players, employees take courses so they can advance their careers, teenagers (and many others) comb the internet to find out what’s going on in the life of that special celebrity. We all have our passions, but these things are all temporary. Make sure you also study the only subject that’s permanent. In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35

So, don’t be lazy. Study the Word.

For more about R. C. Sproul see:

The Holiness of God–R.C. Sproul–Book Review

Flee to the Scripture– A Quote by R.C. Sproul

A Quote From R.C. Sproul

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick–Book Review

In this book, author Steven Furtick examines the seven last statements (or “words’) of Jesus from the cross in light of the spiritual journey of every believer. He boils each one down to its’ essential meaning:

*Forgiveness –“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

*Salvation–“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

*Relationship–“Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

*Abandonment–“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

*Distress–“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

*Triumph–“It is finished.” John 19:30

*Reunion–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God Through the Last Words of Jesus by [Steven Furtick]

Each section includes questions for journaling or group discussion. At the end there is a forty-day reading guide with Scripture selections on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This was an easy read would be a good pick to use as a spiritual exercise during the season of Lent. Since the author is not Lutheran, there were some theological statements I disagreed with, mainly around the issue of “making a decision” to choose Christ. As Lutherans, we believe Christ chooses us.

VERDICT: 3 Stars due to the theological issues.

For more about the death and resurrection of Christ see:

Martin Luther on the Resurrection

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

The Resurrection is Now

Watch Your Words

Handley C. G. Moule (23 December 1841 – 8 May 1920) was an evangelical Anglican theologian, writer, poet, and Bishop of Durham from 1901 to 1920. This quote was part of my daily devotional reading:

“Take the last transient swell of petty impatience, or of unkind criticism; things which to the unawakened conscience look so small, to the awakened conscience so large. There is not one that need have taken place. Had I been walking that moment with God, abiding that moment in Christ, drawing that moment on the sanctifying Spirit’s power, I should not have lost temper, I should not have thought unkindly–not only should I not have looked impatient, or indulged in needless severity of words. The occasion for the very feeling would have been as if it were not, because neutralized in Jesus Christ. And if that might have been true for the last five minutes, why should it not be true for the next five, for the present minute? ‘I can do all things,’ I have resources for all circumstances, ‘in Him that strengtheneth me.'”

This writer is spot-on. We tend to think that sins of the tongue are not very important, but words can hurt and have long-lasting effects. I bet every one of us can remember cruel words that were spoken to us years ago. So think before you speak, so that your words will help, not harm.

“…. rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing, I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

For more about the tongue see these posts:

Hold Your Tongue!

Live at Peace/Tame Your Tongue

Do Not Be Rash With Your Mouth

Come Here!

As I read through the book of Mark prayerfully, what stands out in chapter 3 is the simple command — Come here!  Jesus sees a man with a withered hand in the synagogue.  The Pharisees were watching — would he heal this man “illegally” on the Sabbath?  Maybe they planted this man there, for that express purpose, who knows?  In any case, Jesus doesn’t hesitate.  He tells the man to come, stretch out his hand and be restored to health.  He reprimands the Pharisees, letting them know that this sort of thing is exactly what the Sabbath is for — to do good, to save lives.  

Jesus continues throughout the gospel to tell people to come, and not just for physical health.  Coming will bring health to our souls as well.  In Matthew He says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28a

And in John:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

So, why are we (I should say I), so reluctant to come?  We try to solve our problems on our own;  we think we can satisfy our longings with the things we can achieve or purchase;  we take on burdens that are not meant to be ours.  In other words, we make ourselves into gods, and that doesn’t work out well for us.  We’re not in control of the world, He is.

The invitation is still out there.  We don’t have to save ourselves.  We just have to come to the One who already did the work.  He will save us;  He will heal us:  He will feed us;  He will satisfy our souls.  Lay your burdens down and follow His command:  “Come here!”

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘come.’ And let the one who is thirsty, come;  let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”  Revelation 22:17