Beautiful and Disturbing

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When having tea with a new friend in Palm Beach, Florida, I was reminded of a certain verse of Scripture. I’ve meditated on James 1: 1-4 for three days now.

Let me start at the beginning. I work for an amazing ministry that sends me out to meet with the people who invest in our international work. I have the privilege of getting to know and working with some giants of faith, those who understand the urgency of the Great Commission. I consistently walk away from a donor brief with insight into what the Lord is doing in the world today. I’m telling you, I am blessed to do this work.

This meeting in Palm Beach was no different.
I’ll call my new friend Jessica. Sipping tea and looking beyond the sun-kissed tourists lounging around the pool and elaborately draped cabanas, Jessica’s gaze fell on the turquoise-blue waters of the Atlantic. “It is beautiful here,” she said.

Then she told me of some ugly places she’s seen.

Jessica explained that the Lord has allowed her, in small part, to see some of the hard-to-understand cruelties of life. Jessica is a lawyer who works pro bono for impoverished juveniles caught in the prison system. She’s wondered around the bowels of earth, the place where those who have been devoured by Satan now dwell. And she goes there without compensation.

I’m not kidding.

There we sat, at the Four Seasons Hotel, no less, and talked of boys who had little hope for a future. Boys caught in a vicious cycle of evil.

I shared one of my own stories. I’ve seen prison. I’ve had a child dwell there.

That’s when Jessica mentioned James 1: 1-4 to me. She reminisced that life is full of trials, and there’s no escaping this truth this side of eternity.

Powerful. Powerful reminder of God’s work.

When I returned from my travels, I looked up notes I’d written years ago on these exact verses. There, I found that I’d mined four nuggets from the waters of truth flowing through the book of James. Here they are:

1. When I am in a trial, I am in by God’s design. (Acts 17:26)
2. When I am in a trial, I am under God’s keeping. (Psalm 121:3)
3. When I am in a trial, I am under His training. (Isaiah 64:8)
4. When I am in a trial, I am in God’s timing. (Acts 17:26, again)

When the Lord pulls me away from sunny shores and drops me into the ashes of this world, it is by design. And that, is beautiful.

Trials prove the Lord righteous and trials prove the Lord trustworthy.

How, you might ask, does all this talk of beautiful beaches and boys in prison come together in James 1:1-4? Here’s my answer: the world our Holy God created is a place of immense beauty and peace but has been marred by the work of an evil force. As children of God, we experience both extremes.

Life in this world’s current and temporal condition is hard and joyful; beautiful and disturbing.

This is why the Great Commission is so very important. We must go into the bowels, along with Jessica, and share the beauty of the Gospel. Share our trials. Share our God.

Eternity is coming.

I pray you consider your trials as God’s design. And I pray you’ll not stop with your inward reflections, but outwardly share these truths with those who have not yet heard the lovely truth of God’s salvation.

Amen.

Laurie

Got a little something from my spiritual ramblings? Please like me on FB @LaurieGreenWestlake

Empty Plates

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Going back to work with an international Bible ministry, I’ve been reminded of the year and a half we lived in Equatorial Guinea working with a Bible translation project in process there.

I experienced a myriad of emotions as I recalled our ten-year-old son surviving an acute asthma attack while staying in a village that had no medical resources. We could only pray. And pray we did, into the cloudless night, begging God to put breath in our child. God’s answer that night was “yes.”

Another memory gripped my heart. I’ll never forget carrying my eight-year-old daughter, like a rag doll, unconscious into a medical facility. Again, we prayed and again the Lord’s mercy fell upon us. She left the crude hospital three days later walking out on her own two feet.

Sometimes, the answers to our prayers were “no,” and other prayers went, we thought at the time, unanswered. But living outside our cultural norms where our daily work was to survive, we became dependent upon prayer in a way few living in the Land of Luxury (USA) will ever experience.

Alongside a developing prayer life, we also learned many new life lessons—some of a physical nature but most bore a spiritual complexion. We rose each morning with the neighbor’s crowing rooster to the relentless education of equatorial village survival.

The lessons were so many, I’m sure some have gone dormant—lulled to sleep by my dreamlike, western lifestyle.

But recently one of these lessons popped into my mind, like the first popcorn kernel bursting from the heat of a microwave. It happened when I heard a media evangelist talk about the poor and their need for a stronger faith. My blood heated up and then pop, a picture of my kitchen in Equatorial Guinea exploded across the screen in my mind.

In the kitchen, I remembered, I had a pantry. Well, sort of. Open shelving hung above the counter and those shelves were stocked with canned tuna, instant oats, flour, sugar, and imported oils (I never did figure out how to cook with the local palm oil).

Let me back up and explain why my kitchen pantry is what I thought of when the evangelist suggested that if one finds themselves poor, then one is not giving his or her faith muscles a proper training.

Early on in our tenure of third-world living I was amazed by the spiritual maturity of the Christian Africans working with my husband in translation work. These simple-living souls had little opportunity for “formal” education, much less advanced theological studies, yet carried a weighty faith. Their spiritual and proverbial responses to my cultural groanings would leave me in awe.

Or twist the knife of conviction deep into my heart.

They suffered under a tyrannical dictator and most had little in the way of material means.

And me, well, I had a pantry.

The faithful Guineans I knew didn’t have the luxury of shelves stocked with food. They began each day with an empty plate and they began each day expecting God to fill it. Give us this day our daily bread were not words prayed as a corporate, spiritual exercise in church, but words my new friends lived by.

I must be honest and tell you that I have never asked the Lord to feed me on a daily basis. I’ve viewed the Lord’s example of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as a bigger, general prayer that covers a host of life’s disruptions.

I have had the faith to pray for big bold healings, interventions, and personal dreams. I’ve prayed the Lord move across the world through His Word, and that He bring peace to Jerusalem. I’ve told demons to get lost. I’ve prayed without ceasing for my children. But I’ve never headed out to lunch without money or credit card and said, “Give me, Lord, the food I need to eat now.”

That prayer requires a kind of faith that is fashioned through knowing God as Provider, Master, Keeper. It’s not a side of the Creator that is called upon often enough by those of us living in the Land of Luxury.

Do you understand how the media pastor’s words were an electromagnetic wave blowing up my brain like a bag of corn kernels?

I’d seen the faith of the Christian poor. A big, robust faith that I had little experience with.

Here is what Jesus says about it:

Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who recognize their need for God’s Spirit, for their spirit is lacking the ability for eternal life), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn (who know the depravity of man and are troubled by it), for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek (those who need God, daily, to survive), for they shall inherit the earth,
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (that know what it is to live under the rule of the unrighteous), for they shall be satisfied.

There’s so much to learn from an empty plate.

There’s so much to miss with a full pantry.

May we make spiritual judgments from our need and not from our abundance.

And Lord, may I come to you for my daily bread.

Emptying your plate,

Laurie
www.LaurieGreenWestlake.com

Are You a Crushed Olive?

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I had the chance to sit on a patch of ground on the Mount of Olives in a garden facing Jerusalem. The story of Gethsemane – Christ taking Peter, James, and John to pray the night before his mockery of a trial ensued – came to life in a tangible way.

I’m not sure that I sat in the exact spot where Jesus, three times, beseeched his closest disciples (human-flesh friends) to pray with him. But considering there are only so many positions you can take on the Mount of Olives to look down upon Jerusalem, I got the gist of the view and what happened that extraordinary, yet woeful night two-thousand years ago.

The experience chilled my heart. In a holy way.

A Messianic Jewish teacher recounted the story for me and the others gathered there. His breath quickened as he spoke of Jesus climbing his way up the rocky hill to the olive grove. His arms flailed about as he described Jesus sweating blood. His eyes brimmed with tears as he spoke of Judas’ kiss.

Reading the Gethsemane story in black ink on cream-colored, fine paper is a privilege I don’t take lightly. Thank God, He has given us the Scriptures. But hearing someone who knows the terrain and understands ancient Jewish culture tell the account is like no experience I’ve read. God speaks in pictures and the picture of Jesus praying in the garden surrounded by olive trees is a visual lesson the Jews lived out every day in the land of abundant, fruitful groves. I found a treasure buried in the story of the ordinary, Jewish olive garden.

Did you know that in the days of Jesus, an olive grove was called a garden? That an olive garden would always have an olive press within it? The night of his betrayal, Jesus took the disciples into an olive-garden word picture that foretold of the coming hours.

The word “Gethsemane” means olive press. Jesus and his three friends went up to a clunky, rock, olive press to pray.

Here’s a look at what would typically happen in Gethsemane at harvest time: After beating his olive trees with a stick so the fruit would fall to the ground, the gardener would carry his olive-laden baskets directly to the nearby press. Presses were always built within the grove because the baskets of fruit were too heavy to carry up and down a mountain. At the press, a heavy stone would roll over the olives, pressing down upon the black berried fruit to extract oil. The pressing process took place three times, wringing every droplet of oily goodness from the tiny fruit. Then the oil was bottled and sold, primarily, as lamp oil. Olive oil is how they lit their homes and the temple courts in those days.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus chose an olive grove as a place of prayer that fateful night.

It is more than happenstance that the method for getting fruit from the olive tree was by beating the branches so those little black balls would plummet to the ground. (Does “I am the vine and you are the branches” ring true here?)

It is not by chance that Jesus asked the three disciples with him to pray three times, for three times he was pressed.

It is by design that olive oil was used to light lamps all over the world.

Jesus compared Israel to an olive tree. Paul tells you and me that we’ve been grafted into this magnificent, yet strange-looking shrub.

The imagery here is fantastic.

I walked back down the Mount of Olives that day smiling, knowing that where Jesus sweat blood among his little olive trees and sleepy disciples is where he’ll place his feet again. Soon. And on that day, the very mountain of His burden will be split in two, redeeming the story of Gethsemane.

If you’re feeling like a tiny olive that’s been beaten, hurled to the ground, then crushed under the weight of a burdensome stone, take heart. Your sweaty mess is lamp oil that illuminates a world for a Christ.

God gives us extraordinary lessons from the ordinary things in life. 

Faith really does come by hearing.

Till all hear,

Laurie

A Lack of Wings

 

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Someone once told me that after their grandmother died, she became a beautiful angel in heaven. This gal had been raised in the church. She’d even attended a private, Christian college. 

Her background allowed me the space to address that little hiccup head on.

“You’re a sweet gal,” I said. “But your theology is off. Your grandmother may well be with Jesus and doing some awesome stuff, but she was not created as, nor ever will be an angel.”

My friend looked at me wide-eyed then blinked. Cute as she was, I had to explain the difference between humans and angels. I don’t say “had to” in the context that it was a chore I begrudgingly took on. I say, “had to,” because I felt if I didn’t share the truth, this gal may come to believe all sorts of fallacies. We’re so capable of following the trail of heresies, Jesus often referred to us as sheep – animals with limited brain capacity who will follow any-old path to self-seeking greener pastures.

I am passionate about doctrine. I get asked “why” all the time. Recently, after railing against the current, and popular notion that God’s creation account in Genesis is not a literal, six-day description, a friend asked me, “What does it matter? What does that have to do with salvation?”

My answer? Everything. Every-thing.

Doctrine matters. So does grace and grace abounds where our doctrines are often wrong. But the Scriptures warn us to be sleuths when it comes to uncovering the truth from the Word of God because in the last days, false teachings will be so slick, so attractive, we stand the chance of being deceived. This results in our heading out to deceptive, green-looking pastures.

I’ll write on the creation account and why that matters in another blog. Today’s exposé on false teachings about angels allows me to start slow and build from here.

Those who know me well know that I can’t stop myself sometimes. My brain goes into overdrive when I hear obvious, false and sometimes just silly theology. Recently, after learning I was a Christian, a new friend set out to defend her own, made-up, theology which was a blend of new age and Hinduism (defined as Syncretism). She wrapped up her aggressive discourse with a “After all, God loves everybody, and that’s what Jesus said.”

You won’t believe what Scripture blasted through my brain as soon as those words came out of her mouth. “Jacob I loved, but Esau, I hated.” Romans 9:9-13.

Don’t freak out. I didn’t quote this verse to her to convince her she was wrong about Jesus’ love for mankind. I believe that Jesus died for all, loving all, wanting none to perish. But, the Esau Scripture blew up my brain and I was forced to do something with it.

Which is the point of doctrine. We are forced to examine the parts of the Bible that ruffle our feathers, make us squirm, and don’t fit into our feel-good-God boxes. Doctrine matters because it forces us to look at just who God says He is. Which is sometimes quite different from who we want Him to be.

“But really,” Laurie, I can hear you ask. “What harm is done if a few biblically illiterate believers think we become angels when we die?”

This innocent-looking little hiccup alters God’s redemption story.

Jesus didn’t become an angel in order to reconcile fallen angels back into a relationship with God.

That privilege was given to man alone.

Christ put on flesh and bone to become like one of his lowly human creatures. Humans are redeemed. Angels are not. This is radical and so mind-blowing, even angels are fascinated by it. (1 Peter 1:12). As we should be.

Doctrine keeps us looking at God’s revelations about who he is, and away from our own, limited reasoning skills. Holding to doctrine is taking a stance on God’s Word. To say I want to be doctrinally correct is to say, “I am a created thing and my creator has revealed all of himself to me through the Word (which is also Christ, John 1). And as a created thing, I am in subjection to the Creator. Even when it doesn’t make sense to my wee, little brain.”

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

In this blog, I’ve taken a very simple, misunderstanding to illuminate the need for sound doctrine. In coming blogs, we’ll look at more complex, often debated Bible passages that get twisted around and used to create fake beliefs about God and His purposes.

I don’t have mighty angel wings. But I do have fingers and I type away, fighting against the fake dogmas looking to pull you and me away from truth.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” our human king explained. The question is not “Does doctrine matter? The question is, “Do I believe the Word?

“And the Word became flesh…”

Till More,
Laurie