Wednesday, September 30, 2009

From Horror to Hope

It began with the clocks. My son noticed that almost every day he happened to look up and check the time just as the digital display on his timepiece read 9:11. Sometimes he caught it both morning and night on the same day. The numbers followed him to his job in a clothing store, where his attention would be arrested upon handing a customer exactly $9.11 in change from the cash register. He’d be straightening the piles of size 9 jeans in the display case and suddenly note that the size 11 jeans were right above them.

Once he mentioned it to me, I began to have the same experience. It wasn’t long before I was texting him about the rump roast that went across the scanner at my register in the grocery store and rang up at nine dollars and eleven cents. Or I’d mention to him when I got home from work about the order that totaled $91.10 and likewise caught my eye.

After a while it became apparent that we weren’t the only ones who saw the numbers 9 and 11 everywhere we went. His friend had a similar experience with the clocks, always noting the time just when it was eleven minutes past the ninth hour. Even his brother mentioned an eerie experience at school in which two friends stopped by his desk to chat, both wearing football jerseys, the one on the left sporting the number 9 while the one on the right bore the number 11.

The truth is that people everywhere notice the numbers 9 and 11 together, and instantly their minds go back to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the devastation that followed. I daresay never before has the numerical representation of a date in history been so etched in people’s memory that the mere reference of the two numbers together instantly causes our emotions to tumble towards despair and discouragement. Forces of evil in our world had a plan for destruction that they carried out that day. In the spiritual realm we likewise have an enemy that seeks to kill and destroy (John 10:10), and it’s not by chance that those numbers appear together before us so often, but rather his purpose to continually remind us of fear and defeat.

Many people have experienced personal catastrophes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the events of September 11, 2001, but that have created devastation and havoc in their homes, hearts, and lives, just the same. And daily, they, too, are faced with inescapable reminders of that which they’ve lost. Perhaps it’s the facial features of a spouse lost to death or divorce that they see in the eyes and smiles of the children they had together. Maybe it’s the familiar landmarks in a neighborhood they still have to drive through but no longer live in due to job loss and financial collapse. Or it could be a certain curve in the road marked with a small, white cross that stamps a symbolic “9/11” across the day their world changed forever.

Nowhere, however, was the devil given dibs on the numbers 9 and 11. Perhaps God is looking to reclaim them, to instill in us the positive emotions of hope, peace and goodwill that are associated with them all through His Word. He, too, has plans for us, perhaps stated best in a signature 9/11 verse in the Bible, that found in Jeremiah 29:11, which reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

On a whim I started looking up the 9:11 verses in the Bible and found that hope, peace, provision and protection are associated with them throughout the Word of God. It’s in Genesis 9:11 that God promises never again to destroy the earth with a flood. Numbers 9:11 establishes the annual celebration of Passover, the day when God spared His people from death and delivered them out of slavery. The same verse in Nehemiah is a reference to when God parted the Red Sea for His people to pass through on their way to freedom, while provision and protection is promised to the widows and fatherless children in Jeremiah 49:11.

Never should we forget the lives lost on 9/11/01 and the sacrifice, courage and heroism of the first responders and those involved in later recovery efforts. But neither should we forget the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, an action that defeated death forever and gave birth to the promises of good things to come that we find in the 9/11 verses of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:11 KJV, Matthew 7:9-11). His sacrifice is in vain if we let the devil steal away the joy and hope He purchased for us that day. May the 9/11s we see today instead inspire thoughts of a new beginning, a fresh start…a reminder of a glorious future rather than a destructive and depressing past.

It occurred to me recently that I use the 9/11 sightings in my life as an opportunity to connect with my son. God simply suggests we do the same with His.

"But [that appointed time came]when Christ (the Messiah)appeared as a High Priest of the better things that have come and are to come..."
(Hebrews 9:11 AMP, emphasis mine)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Double Trouble

The door to the vet’s office closed sharply behind me as I stepped up to the counter to request some refills on medications for my dog. I stated my name, and the girl behind the desk looked up my records on the computer. Once she found my information she read off the seven digits on the screen and asked if that phone number was correct. When I replied in the negative, she frowned and looked at the screen in puzzlement as we both tried to figure out why the name and number didn’t match. Suddenly a voice from the back of the office where another worker was filing folders called out, “There are two ‘Elaine Bridge’s.” Surprised, the girl checked the next record and found my information, and I left with my prescriptions minutes later.

There are two ‘Elaine Bridge’s. The words caught my attention. It was clearly a sentence God wanted me to hear, but I as yet didn’t understand the message. My spirit, however, was beginning to feel a little uneasy.

The next day I was scheduled to work in the grocery store and found myself stationed that morning at the register next to one operated by another cashier who was also named ‘Elaine’. For the four years we’ve worked together we’ve laughed at the “Elaine echo” that results when we meet and greet each other by name in passing. On this day we were working together companionably when the phone at her station started ringing. She listened in silence for a few seconds to the voice of the floor supervisor, a woman who was new to our store and had yet to meet all the front-end employees, myself included.

“No, I’ve already taken my break,” she said into the phone. “You must mean the other ‘Elaine’. There are two ‘Elaine’s.” She hung up the phone, and sure enough, soon I was clocking out for my fifteen minutes of freedom.

There are two ‘Elaine’s. Those words echoed in my spirit, where I’d heard them loudly enough already, just the day before.

With a sigh I had to admit that there are two ‘Elaine’s. There is the one that loves God passionately and looks for Him constantly, ever searching for a deeper relationship in her walk with Him. Full of faith, she prays with confidence, knowing that God loves her, hears her, and answers her prayers. But then there’s also the other ‘Elaine’…the one who doesn’t have an easy answer for the friend who asks her to explain the ways of God, especially when seemingly innocent people are hurt in the accomplishment of His purposes. She’s the one who knows that God can heal but wonders if He will, especially if she’s the one doing the praying. She’s the ‘Elaine’ who sometimes has doubts about her own spiritual standing. And she’s the one I’ve been subconsciously hiding from God.

From the days of Adam and Eve, we humans have been hiding our less-than-perfect selves from the God Who created us and Who knows every detail of our daily lives. Afraid of disappointing the One we love and disqualifying ourselves from His service with our shortcomings, we submerge them into our subconscious and try to pretend that they simply don’t exist. And yet all God asks of us is to simply come clean… to admit our failures, our weaknesses, our sins, our doubts and our fears…to bring them to Him and lay them at His feet…to allow Him to work in us and change us.

There is nothing we can say or do that will diminish God’s passionate love for us. He may be disappointed in our lack of faith, lack of focus, and our out-and-out failures, but He is never disappointed in us. He simply desires that when we are weak we’d come to Him for the strength that we lack, as did the father in the Bible with the demon-possessed son who struggled in his faith but said, “…I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NIV)

The Bible is full of stories of people who accomplished great things for God with less-than-perfect faith. They range from Moses who felt he couldn’t speak for God, to Jonah who wouldn’t do so and was swallowed by a whale as a result, to the believers who prayed for Peter’s release from jail and then didn’t believe it when it happened. Throughout the Bible, God set people physically and spiritually free in spite of the imperfections of those He assigned to do the work.

So then why should we worry about those days when our faith is lackluster and our spiritual muscles are weak? Perhaps the answer is simply that time is short and there is much work to be done before the trumpet blows and the world as we know it comes to an end. God simply hasn’t got the time left to coddle and coax and convince us that we are capable of doing what He asks. As events accelerate towards the end of time He needs a people who will hear simply His voice and move accordingly, without days and weeks of prodding and pushing.

On another day just recently I was once again working at the store, again stationed just a few registers away from the other cashier named ‘Elaine’. Suddenly a voice from the customer service desk came over the intercom: “Elaine, please call the office at extension 2021. Elaine, call 2021.” The other cashier and I just looked at each other, wondering which ‘Elaine’ would answer the call.

May God never have to wonder the same.

“In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses), in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor.”
(Ephesians 1:7 AMP, emphasis mine)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Melon Musings

Seven of us sat around a table in the church office, meeting to make plans for the upcoming holiday toy drive for needy kids in the area. In the small talk of the opening minutes the pastor’s wife and I were discussing God’s presence in everything around us. The jokester in the group, a man named Steve, queried, “How about in… a cantaloupe?!” We all laughed and then got down to the business at hand.

The Bible says that where two or three are gathered, God is there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). Indeed, it seemed to be the case that day that He was there, listening and ready to take on the task of making His existence in a cantaloupe known. In fact, we had been laughing earlier about Jesus literally being in the room with us, as a friend of Steve’s had accompanied him to the meeting and was dozing on a nearby couch. With his shoulder-length dark hair he looked remarkably like the images of Jesus we’ve seen in Bible portraits, movies and the like. Several of those who attended the meeting did a double take when they first came through the door and saw him sitting there, as the resemblance so easily came to mind.

Surprisingly, melons have been much on my mind of late. At the end of August the produce sections of local grocery stores as well as the vegetable stands we see along our highways this time of year are flooded with Indiana melons, a variety of cantaloupe that is exceptionally sweet and juicy. Or so I hear. I’ve been amazed at the customers that have come through my checkout line at the grocery store of late that have raved about it, often purchasing one and then coming back for four or five more because the first one was so good. All the talk finally piqued my interest, and noting that my husband likes sliced cantaloupe for breakfast, I decided to buy one and give it a try.

There is a science associated with picking a ripe Indiana melon, and after the fact I learned that listening for a hollow sound when knocking on the husk is not one of the approved selection methods. Chief on the list is the smell that emanates from the fruit. With a sigh I realized that this presented a problem. My sense of smell all but vanished when I was in high school, never to return. I can smell bleach and skunks and very little else. Undeterred, I continued my research and found that the other trick is to gently press the end opposite the stem, which should give lightly. Neither of these were criteria I checked before making my selection.

And so it turned out that I picked a bad one that was dry and tasteless. Disgusted, I cut up a few slices for economy’s sake and then threw the rest away, done shopping for melons for the year. My husband, however, doesn’t give up so easily. He, too, had been hearing his coworkers rave about melon heaven, and he encouraged me to stop at a roadside stand and try again. To his frustration I kept forgetting to do so, but after the subject came up in our morning meeting it was still on my mind as I drove home and I stopped at a stand minutes later. Apparently the demand is so great at the moment that even the farmers can’t keep them in stock. This one was sold out for the day at just noon. I vowed to stop again (earlier!) on another day and went on my way.

This morning I was drinking coffee on my deck when out of the blue God brought the melon subject back up, comparing the orange wonders inside the husk to the Word of God. At some point in most of our lives, whether it was because of some talk we heard about it or at the urging of a loved one, we opened the Bible and sampled the wares inside. Novice readers of God’s Book are much like me, shopping for a melon with no clue as to how to find a good one. We pick out a chapter and sample it, and if it’s not to our taste we put it aside and never pick the book up again. Admittedly there are some chapters of God’s Word that are a little dry and that don’t seem to apply very effectively to our daily lives. Yet a purpose of even those paragraphs exists, one we will eventually discover if we prove persistent in our pursuit of an answer.

But that’s the point. Too often we give up and put the volume away after our first taste, and in so doing we miss the sweet juiciness of another slice from a different chapter that might apply directly to some situation that we are going through. Just as there are ways to pick a ripe melon, there are right ways to start a Bible reading program. The first step is to pick a translation that is appealing rather than intimidating; a version that is easy to read and written in language that is easy to understand. It is also important to ask God to reveal Himself to us as we go, especially if we’re struggling to see Him in what we‘re reading. And then we need to press in regularly, and not quit! The goodness of God as revealed in His Word will then truly keep us coming back again and again for bite after delicious bite.

August ends all too quickly for cantaloupe aficionados. Thankfully the Word of God never goes out of season and is available for consumption year round. But don’t take my word for it. Like my friend Steve, issue a challenge to God and don’t be surprised if He shows up in the very place you’d least expect with a spiritual taste sensation that you will never forget.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8 NIV)
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