I’m a One-Talent Gal

From my 2007 Journal. There’s a parable in Luke 19 that has always bothered me. A man goes on a journey and entrusts five talents to one of his servants and expects him to double the gift. He gives two talents to another and expects him to double that, and one talent to the third, “each according to his ability.” Of course the punchline of the parable has to do with the one-talent guy burying his money instead of investing it. But my mind goes to the amount of the gift given in the first place. It seems unfair somehow. I personally don’t want the responsibility of doing the work to multiply five talents, but I’d like to receive the reward for doing so! But you can’t have the one without the other.

I have this feeling that I’m one of the one-talent recipients and I better make the most of it. Yet somehow I equate value or worth with the fact that I’ve only been given one. Why?

AwardI think it goes back to boarding school, Grade 9. I don’t recall anymore what all the qualifications were, but the most coveted award for the end of the school year was “Best, All-round Girl/Boy Award.” I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for the names to be called out. I want it so bad I can taste it. But when I’m given the award, I have mixed emotions. My pride (God forgive me) steps up to the plate and says I deserve it.

On the other hand, I see the shock and disapproval on someone’s face and I feel like a fake—apparently she didn’t think I deserved the award. I knew I was NOT the most talented, nor was I the most gracious. I was stuck up and prideful. I felt like I had hoodwinked the staff who had voted for me, but my peers knew better. That award belonged to someone else who was more talented than I and who certainly had a better attitude. I felt exposed, naked, ashamed. But I held my head up high and marched to the front of the auditorium to receive that precious little piece of metal.

I have long since repented of my pride, and God has covered me with His righteousness, but I still have to address the thought that I may have only been given one talent. Am I willing to accept God’s gift, no matter how small or how large and be faithful to serve Him with it? Today my answer is YES!

How many talents do you believe God has given you and why? And is it prideful to admit you have more than one?

Chosen

He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Worm

Journal 2018. Like many of you, I grew up singing the old familiar hymns and I still love them, but there are two songs that contain lyrics that I just could not identify with as a five-year-old child: “Amazing grace . . . that saved a wretch like me” and “Alas! and did my Savior bleed . . . For such a worm as I.” Mom told me that God loved me and I believed her. I sure didn’t feel like a wretch or a worm! I felt special.

I was unaware of the forces around me as a five-year-old when I chose Jesus to be my Savior. I was like an orphan, and God chose me out of the orphanage to be His royal child. Why? He’s the one who created me in the first place. But why didn’t He choose Susie or Billy or John? Why did I get to be raised in a Christian home by loving parents? Why am I so privileged today to live in a land of abundance, with ample food on the table? It makes me grateful and I feel special. But what about all the little children who are chosen to live in paganism or poverty? How do I / should I feel about them?

And I hear Jesus’ answer to His disciples: that’s none of your business! (Karen’s paraphrase). Am I willing to let God take care of my questions? Let God be God?

Where is the balance of truth between believing “I’m worthless, a worm, a sinful creature” and “I’ve been adopted into royalty”? Just because I got picked out of a lineup, does that make me special? On what basis did He choose me? Gideon’s 300 men were chosen, supposedly, because they were alert and watchful. They passed a simple test of raising water to their lips. But they didn’t even know they were being tested!

There is a balance between predestination and freewill that seems to trip us up. I think the invitation is for everyone: whosoever will may come. All are invited. To those who step out of the lineup and take a step of faith toward Him, these He chooses. He called, I answered, and He gave me my assignment. Not out of any merit of my own did I diligently seek God, however. I deserve nothing, but I would have been a fool to reject or renounce my royal invitation. I’m glad I accepted. But there is no pride permitted there. He is the One who wooed me and loved me and won my heart. When I choose to diligently seek Him, I believe He rewards that choice.

I suspect that the lyricists John Newton and Isaac Watts were feeling bad about themselves and their life choices and therefore believed they were wretched and worthless, but that’s not how God saw them. The truth set them free. And He can do the same for you and me.

Moving Day

By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take (Nehemiah 9:12).

May 2018. Packing and frequent transitions were a normal part of my life as an MK (Missionary Kid), but it’s different now that I’m an adult. Just the thought of moving makes me tired. I have two daughters in transition right now. I don’t envy them. Moving is disruptive, time-consuming, and unsettling to one’s little routines.

So I try to imagine being an Israelite housewife wandering in the desert. When the cloud or the fire moves, I have to pack up everything I own and get back on the trek. When it stays put, I get to stay a little longer in my tent. The pillar can move at any time and I have to trust God for His perfect timing. And maybe I have little kids who need routine and naps and bedtimes on schedule, and maybe I’m about to give birth to Number Six. But God says I must be flexible enough to pack up all my possessions at a moment’s notice and move on. You almost don’t want to unpack because you may only be at this location for 24 hours . . . or 24 days. You just don’t know. At least my daughters know their destinations and plan to stay there for a while.

DSCN3186 Timnah Park

Scott and I recently visited Solomon’s Pillars and copper mines in the desert at Timnah Park, Israel

I, personally, would have found this situation most unsettling! I wonder how long it took for the entire camp to start moving? After marching all day, could the Levites set up the tabernacle in just a few hours—with circus-tent efficiency? Up one day, down the next. What a life!

DSCN3203 Tabernacle

We visited a full-size replica of the wilderness tabernacle in Timna Park

But they knew that there was a goal at the end of their trek—a land ahead, promised for them, a good land, flowing with milk and honey.

I can’t wait for the day when I reach Canaan Land—when I have a permanent residence in heaven. No more packing and unpacking, no more moving, no more good-byes. No more temporary storing of worldly goods or worrying about breakage because things didn’t get packed securely enough for the moving truck. No more decisions about what to keep and what to throw or give away. I get to leave the worldly stuff all behind because I won’t need it anymore. Everything I need—all my real treasures—will already be there, waiting for me.

How do YOU feel about moving?

I Have Everything I Need–Really?

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (II Peter 1:3 NIV).

In this verse Peter is not talking about having all our material needs met—such as food, clothing, and shelter. He’s referring to everything we need in order to live a godly life. So if this verse is true (and I believe it is), why do we struggle so? Why can’t we just lay everything at the feet of Jesus and quit worrying? Why don’t we always make godly choices?

Money

Is there one area you’ve struggled with all of your life? For most of my married years, it was money. I deliberately chose to be a stay-at-home mom to my three girls at a time when many of my peers were starting their careers. If something had happened to Scott, our family’s bread-winner, I would have had no skills with which to support myself and my little family. I kept laying my worry on the altar and it kept jumping off again! But one day as I was trying to process my emotions, I heard the Lord say, “Karen, I am the husband of widows. I will take care of you.” From that moment on, my heart was at rest.

How did that happen? I had known in my head all the platitudes about trusting God and believing His word and His promises. I had knowledge of God’s character. But I didn’t know it in my heart until the day I agreed to feel and face my fear. Once I laid down my self-protection, my self-preservation, and my worry, God was able to speak truth to my heart that brought me to peace. And there’s my life theme again—In the Pursuit of Peace.

How may I help you today to find God’s peace?

Curious Thoughts on Exodus 32

Desert

When I read a chapter like Exodus 32, I end up with more questions than answers. I hope this doesn’t sound sacrilegious, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

Here’s the scene: After 40 days on Mount Sinai, Moses and Joshua (yes, he was there also) come down the mountain, 10 commandments in hand, after negotiating with God regarding not annihilating the whole Israelite nation. They have been in the very presence of holiness and purity.

While standing at the gate (What gate? What was it made of? Why was it there?), Moses calls out for the people to join the Lord’s side. How did Moses get their attention? How did he speak to a million people at the same time without a PA system? Did he yell at everyone near him to go to his or her own tent and they each passed the word to their neighbor? Or were they all together in a mob and the front guys passed the word back to those behind them? (Like playing the game “gossip” or “telephone,” I can imagine how that message would have gotten garbled!) Or did Moses just speak to the elders of each tribe who spoke to the clan leaders who fanned out to relay the message to those under them?

By this time, Moses had already ground down the golden calf and made them all drink it. (How do you force someone to drink something nasty anyway?! It’s not like he held a gun to their heads.)

So now Moses has all the Levites standing with him (Levi, the original brother, was no saint, but somewhere down the line, someone made some godly choices), and God honors that, and He gives them instructions to kill/murder/slay their fellow Israelites who aren’t on God’s side. And the Bible says they slew 3000 men! Does that include women and children? If not the women, can you imagine all those women being left widows? Knowing God’s dealings at other times with rebellious people, I suspect that whole families were annihilated. It says, “They went from gate to gate (there are those gates again).”

Apparently they had divisions between them—maybe to separate the tribes? Maybe to contain their animals? BTW, how did they find enough grazing food—not to mention water—for all those animals in the desert? The statistics are mind-boggling.

How difficult was it for the Levites to obey God? What residual emotional and psychological effects would they have had after this massive slaughter? Who had to bury all the corpses? And how do you bury that many people in the desert? I suppose they cremated them, but what a stench that would have been!

And didn’t the victims try to fight back? I’m sure they didn’t just stay put when they saw sword-wielding Levites coming toward them! They must have tried to run and hide . . . but where? . . .  or attempted to defend themselves. Chaos! Maybe the Levites came after the victims while they all slept! (I doubt it.)

And who inherited all their stuff—their tents and clothes and cooking utensils and sheep? (Can you imagine all the trading and bartering that went on in a camp that size? The entrepreneurs getting rich off their neighbors . . . ) Or maybe they burned their stuff up with the bodies.

My mind can’t wrap around the logistics of such an endeavor. What would it feel like to voluntarily kill your fellow man? Perhaps being clannish, it didn’t feel so bad, but verse 29 says, “Slay every man his brother, companion, and neighbor.” Is this literal or metaphorical? That would mean everyone who had not stepped over the line to join Moses and God. So if your brother or son did not join you, you were instructed to kill him. I can’t let my mind go there.

Following this, God sends a plague. You wonder if in the process of burying or burning this many people with rotting flesh in the desert (it had to be done very quickly) and grief being so strong, they would get ill from it. This is not to negate the miracle of a plague, but to understand the enormous stress they were under. Perhaps the plague weakened them so they wouldn’t seek revenge on the Levites.

God—who can understand His ways? He wipes out humanity with a flood, but keeps a remnant. He wipes out 3000 in one day and keeps the Levites. He allows a holocaust but brings a remnant of Jews back to the land. Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but God only brings out Lot and his women. (I don’t think it was God’s initial intention. Wouldn’t it have been better to have destroyed Lot’s lineage?) But God listens to a man. God wants to wipe out the entire nation of Israel, but Moses intervenes and asks God to spare them. God agrees—but only partially. He knew what was best.

Whose side am I on? Will I be willing to do the hard thing when You ask it of me?

Holiness, holiness is what I long for.

Holiness, holiness is what I need.

Holiness, holiness is what you want from me.

 

Dress for God’s House

You shall reverence my sanctuary (Leviticus 26:2).

I grew up on the mission field attending a church with backless mud benches, a cement floor, and a tin roof. The worshipers arrived each Sunday decked out in their very best attire. One day I was amused to observe a lady proudly wearing a bra over top of her clothing. (Bras were unheard of in that village, so I assume she was showing off her new purchase from the village market.)

I’ve listened to the debate between the old and the young regarding what is acceptable attire for church. My mother believed we should wear our best on Sunday morning in the sanctuary to show honor to God. My children think that God doesn’t really care what we wear.

I say both are correct—or both are wrong.

If I dress up in order to impress people, then I’m a hypocrite if I claim I’m doing it for God. In my African village, the American tradition of wearing a new Easter outfit was unheard of, but at the day-long Christmas service every single person in attendance had to have new clothes–for show I surmise. If we proclaim that we must give God our best on Sunday mornings, then why don’t we show up in tuxedos and formal gowns? (My mother did not have an answer for that one.) I wonder sometimes, however, if coming to church in sloppy or casual clothing results in sloppy or casual worship. On the other hand, if I arrive feeling comfortable in my clothing, I’m not distracted by hurting feet in high heels.

How much does culture weigh into this discussion? If I attend a church where the norm is more formal, it is appropriate to honor that culture. If casual is acceptable, then you might feel out of place showing up in a suit coat. In either case, we are admonished not to judge each other over our attire.

Does God really care what I wear to church? I doubt it. I think He’s more interested in my heart.

What do you think?

 

Pagan Holidays

In II Kings 23:4-7 we’re told that King Josiah cleansed the temple—not a synagogue, but the sacred temple in Jerusalem—where articles for Satan worship had been used for several decades. By now, asherah poles and houses for male prostitutes were fixtures.

Having been to this holy site in Jerusalem, it is unconscionable to me that anything unholy was ever permitted there. How could the people have strayed so far from the God who loved them? Josiah was 8 years old when crowned king, and 18 years later he discovers The Book of the Law and begins to obey God’s commandments. Up to that point in his lifetime, he had no clue what true worship was supposed to look like.

The question for us today is—what festivals do we practice that have pagan origins or overtones? Why do we celebrate Halloween? Christmas? Easter? I know some who have taken a stand against these holidays and refuse to go trick-or-treating, put up Christmas trees, or pexels-photo-356330decorate Easter eggs. I can respect that. But I don’t think it’s evil to display a tree in my house or send my kids on an egg hunt. In the past I’ve rolled my eyes at those who condemn these holidays as being pagan in origin and therefore shun all activities associated with them—and then I begin to think what if they were right? And what would it take for me to buck the culture and stand up for what’s right and holy and God-ordained?

Finding out the origin of Halloween is a no-brainer. But did Christmas and Easter begin in paganism or with Christ-followers? I hate what Christmas has turned into, and I cringe when I see bunnies and eggs in our churches. Why? Because Easter baskets weren’t part of my upbringing, and because of its association, I guess, to the fertility goddess. Perhaps, like Josiah’s day, we’ve strayed far from the purity of our original celebrations.

And then we rationalize. They may have pagan origins, but Christians say they have reclaimed the holidays for God. We’re not worshipping anyone but the one true God—even if we hide Easter eggs in our backyard—and we’ve turned the symbol into a Resurrection Egg. Is it ONLY a matter of the heart that’s important? The birth of Christ and His resurrection are legitimate historical events—so why shouldn’t we celebrate them?

My mind is free-wheeling here, but the thought crosses my mind that if these two holidays were truly of pagan origin, we wouldn’t celebrate them . . . or would we?

What if I found out, like Josiah, that I’d been doing it all wrong all my life? Would I have the courage to stand up to culture?

A God of Second Chances

. . . The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV).

How do you reconcile these two statements?

He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin.
He does not leave the guilty unpunished.

These verses about God’s character intrigue me. The Old Testament leaves me feeling like God is an angry, judgmental God, quick to wipe out the earth with a flood or a plague or an infestation of snakes to decimate certain ones who’ve rebelled. Of course the book of Revelation in the New Testament has its share of judgments as well.

But then I think of the years and years that God waited—patiently, mercifully, kindly, slow to anger, waiting for His creation to repent and turn around and look at Him. It was an act of MERCY to destroy the earth with a flood. He saved many generations from destruction by preventing their birth. He knew what direction His creation was heading.

Do not accuse my God of being harsh. He waits and gives second chances and loves and weeps and calls and nudges. But there is a limit even to God’s patience. It is actually more merciful for Him to stop man in his tracks than to allow him to infect future generations.

My God is merciful, gracious, forgiving, full of lovingkindness and truth, but when I know God has directly commanded something, I dare not disobey, glibly expecting Him to withhold judgment.

But what if you are a victim of someone else’s sin, and you cry out to God, “How long must evil continue?” And He replies, “I’m giving the perpetrator another chance to turn to Me,” how would you respond?

Is My God Box Too Small?

Any belief that isn’t part of your experience remains in the shadow of doubt (Pastor Allen Jackson, WOC).

Left to Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, is a moving and powerful story of a Rwandan genocide survivor. In this book Immaculée recalls how God protected her, how her faith grew during the ordeal, and how she found God’s power strong enough to forgive her enemies.

My Protestant roots antennae shot up, however, when I read how Jesus AND MARY, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Immaculée and ministered to her. This scenario flies in the face of mypieta-by-michelangelo_2463081 Baptist upbringing. Was it truly Mary or was it simply a visual that God gave her because He knew it would comfort her heart?

Does God use what we believe and are familiar with when He speaks to us? Does God accommodate us in our beliefs with which we’ve grown up? OR does Mary, the Mother of Jesus, truly have a role in ministry to us here on earth? From my understanding of Scripture, I would say no, but how do I account for this person’s experience?

I have a couple Gentile friends who believe we should eat according to Old Testament dietary laws and worship on the Sabbath. Does God honor their hearts—their desire to return to the origins of our Christian faith? Are Protestants out of God’s will for worshiping on Sunday and eating pork? Who gets to decide what’s right?

I want to be holy. I want to do right, be right. I want to honor God with my lips and my actions. But what if I’m doing wrong out of ignorance? Does God honor my heart attitude? King David did right most of the time, but fell once, and conviction ate him up inside. Can I trust the Holy Spirit to convict me, to guide me, to prompt me?

While praying with people in my ministry, I’ve often been astonished at the answers God gives them that bring them to peace. “How can that be?” I wonder. I freely admit that my God-box is simply too small. Am I okay with the fact that Immaculée claimed to have seen Mary and Jesus and that they ministered to her? Is my God-box big enough to handle it—that her experience is hers and “what is that to me?” Like Mary, I “ponder all these things in my heart.”

I also hear the echoes of my teachers and pastors who cry out for doctrinal purity—who are careful to interpret the Scriptures faithfully according to their understanding. But who’s to say their interpretation is always the right one? Warren W. Wiersbe says, “Godly men differ.” We come to the Holy Scriptures with the biases of our own experiences, our triggers, our needs, our culture, our upbringing. How can we shake off error and embrace truth?

Will God honor obedience to what we THINK is right—even if it’s wrong? In Leviticus law, it didn’t SEEM to matter what the heart was—it was all about adherence to a set of rules. Or was it? God made provision for the unintentional sin.

I want to do right and to adhere to truth that I know and understand. If my friend chooses to keep kosher out of conviction, should I follow? No, I don’t think so. Then I would be following one woman’s leading instead of Jesus’ conviction on my own heart. But what if God gave me a vision of Mary ministering to me? How would I respond?

So does God have (or reveal) different truths for different people? Or is there only one truth, applied many ways? I believe that there is only one Truth—and His name is Jesus. Look to Him alone as the author and finisher of our faith and leave all others to God to handle, instruct, and teach. I’m not responsible for the way God works in others. I am only accountable for myself and my relationship to Him.

We all have blind spots. I wonder what error, mis-belief, or false teaching I hold to in my life?

But It’s Against the Rules!

 

RefereeThis may be a hot topic for some, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve changed my views on this subject over time. I’ve moved from dogmatically opposed to cautious acceptance to taking my hand off the lid of the box and letting God be God. I’ve come to realize that some rules are guidelines, not always absolutes.

  • The posted minimum speed limit on the freeway is 40.
    But in fog or heavy snow, it would be foolish to try to maintain that speed.
  • The rule stated that only priests were allowed to eat the holy showbread.
    When there was no other food available, King David ate some of the consecrated bread and was not condemned for his action.
  • The fourth commandment says to keep the Sabbath day holy.
    Jesus healed the sick and “harvested” grain on the Sabbath.
  • The norm was for male judges to rule over Israel.
    One of the 12 judges in the Bible was Deborah.

The norm is for male pastors to provide church leadership. Can there be exceptions without violating Paul’s instructions to Timothy?

What do you think?