Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Forget Jesus!

I imagine your home is decorated for Christmas by now. Twinkling lights, candles, a tree, and nativity sets of all shapes and sizes. Imagine if you forgot to put the figure of Jesus in the manger. What a ridiculous picture - Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men – gazing adoringly, worshipfully… at an empty space in the crèche. I was recently awakened to how easily this can happen.

Our Christmas cantata was last week and I had a short solo in one of the songs. The line I was supposed to sing was, “Born to be Messiah; God’s only begotten Son.” Somehow, however, at dress rehearsal I belted out, “Born to be Messiah; God’s only forgotten Son.” Even though no one seemed to notice, I turned three shades of red. And I realized how easy it is to forget Jesus at Christmas.

This has been our tendency since sin entered the world. We get so wrapped up in ourselves we forget the giver of all good gifts. God’s anguish comes through when He said, “Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number” (Jeremiah 2:32). A seasonal translation might say, “Do my people forget to exchange presents or buy Christmas trees to decorate their homes? Yet my people have forgotten me, the reason for Christmas, years without number.”

I examined six areas of my own life where I tend to struggle. I pray God will use my thoughts to help you remember the Messiah at Christmas this year.

Entertainment:
Kelly and I love to snuggle on the couch and watch movies. But we’ve been disgusted at many of the “Holiday” presentations this year. They have nothing to do with the reason for the season! They're either humanistic sentiment or blatantly anti-Christian. We rejoice in movies that lift up changed lives, sacrificial giving, and hope. It's easy it is to forget Jesus if we spend our leisure time on stories that muddy and distort God’s message.

Schedule:
Christmas is such a busy time. We have parties to attend, shopping to do, family to see. Meaningful time with the Savior gets squeezed out of the equation. I am exhausted at the end of every day! Yet without Jesus, the season is meaningless. The time I spend reading the Bible every morning and responding to what God is saying to me is the best part of every day. I couldn’t live without it. If God hasn't been a vital part of your Christmas schedule, start now!

Decorating:
I love to decorate our house for Christmas. We were late getting started this year and I pushed hard to transform the house while Kelly was at work. Just before he arrived, I lit candles and put on Christmas music. He stopped just inside the door. “It’s beautiful! he said. “It’s like entering another world. Outside it’s hustle and bustle, but it feels peaceful in here.” Then he started counting: “One, two, three…four nativities in the living room! Hmm, are you trying to make a point?” he laughed.

I guess it’s true. There are stockings and a few Santa ornaments on the tree, but they’re way outnumbered by the manger scenes and Jesus stuff. Yet, it’s still a challenge to remember Jesus and not get carried away trying to create a magazine perfect showcase.

Shopping:
Then there’s shopping. Buying gifts for each other, five kids, two sons-in-law, a boyfriend, two sets of parents, three sisters, three nieces and a nephew (not to mention an adorable first grand-daughter), can easily take over. It’s tempting to spend more than last year, making it better and more impressive, and give in to the shopping frenzy. I have forgotten Jesus at times as I make my lists and check them twice. It helps me to ask myself two questions: what’s my motivation? what's my limit?

Circumstances:
Many of you are experiencing financial disaster, lingering illness or injury, the heartbreak of divorce or rejection, or an addiction that’s sucking you dry. The year my husband of twenty years moved out just before the holidays, and for several years after our divorce, Christmas cheer stuck in my throat. But even in immobilizing pain, I realized the message of Jesus is not obliterated by our suffering, it's enhanced by it. He is God’s only begotten Son (John 3:16). He came to give us forgiveness and hope in the midst of our pain. No matter how painful your circumstances may be right now, they’re temporary. Jesus is eternal.

Heart:
I encourage us all to remember Jesus this season. It begins personally in our hearts and minds, and soon shows up in what we say and do, and how we say and do them. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost. That’s us! And to give us a reason to celebrate and share the joy of His coming with the world. By the way, I did get the words right for my solo in the performance. I’m so glad I remembered Jesus!
Beth Vice, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes God Waits

Many of you, like me, have a prodigal or two in your life. They know who God is; they have tasted His love and kindness. But for some reason they have chosen to leave His presence. They are off doing their own thing. Your heart aches for them. You see what a mess they’re making of their life and the pain they’re causing themselves and others. The pain they’re experiencing is of their own making. You want to do everything in your power to reunite them with Christ before it’s too late. How can we help them?

I have recently found the answer in two of Jesus’ parables. At first glance, God’s behavior seems contradictory. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18 and Luke 15), the Shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine to go look for the one who is lost. But in the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15), the Father stays home and waits for his wayward child to come back on his own. Why does God sometimes rescue and at other times wait?

I asked my husband what he thought and his answer made a lot of sense. “Maybe it’s because in the case of the sheep, it has gotten so lost that it can’t find its way home, so God goes to the rescue. The son knows how to get home, but chooses to stay away. So God waits for him to come back.”

This helps me know how I should behave toward the lost. Should I go and bring them home? The answer I get from the first parable is, if they don’t know the way home, yes. If they have followed the wrong shepherd to their own demise, yes. If they are mired in discouragement, caught in the briers of addiction, and don’t have the energy to get back, yes. If they have been trapped by the enemy and immobilized by their wounds, then yes, go where they are and carry them home. Rescue the perishing, as the old hymn says.

On the other hand, when should we wait? The Parable of the Son answers this question. The son has had every advantage. He has experienced his father’s love, wealth, and work, but he chose to reject a relationship with his father in exchange for whatever his father could give him. He squandered his inheritance and explored all the world has to offer. What he found was temporary thrills, shallow relationships, and desperate hunger. Even then, he stayed away, ashamed at his own selfishness. It wasn’t until he mustered the courage to go back that his father could show him the full extent of his love.

In the meantime, the Father waits and watches. He continues his work at home. He loves his missing son, oh how he loves him, and yearns for him to come back. He never stops watching the road. So when the prodigal finally does return, his father spots him while he’s still a long way off, and runs to greet him. He wraps him in his arms, and immediately forgives his son who is now broken and humbled. The father ignores all talk of servitude and throws a party to celebrate that his son is home at last.

In reality, that’s a hard example to follow. Waiting with one eye on the road feels like doing nothing. My heart breaks daily for those who choose to stay away. They say they want to explore what the world has to offer. They waste their godly inheritance seeking relationships with people who use and abuse them, and their souls are malnourished for the abundance in their Father’s house.

It hurts to see this happening, but I cannot force them to come home until they are ready. In the meantime I pray, claiming God’s promise that the Word planted in them when they were young will continue to speak to them: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

For all our prodigals, I pray that they will get sick of the empty life they are living and hunger for the sustenance of Truth. I pray they will remember the relationship with God they once enjoyed and find the courage to come back. Let’s keep our eyes on the road so we can greet them with open arms when they return. And when they do, we’ll party. Lord Jesus, bring them home soon!
Beth Vice, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bible Reading 101

As soon as we finished practicing the song, our pianist grabbed a Bible and started searching for a something. “Hold on a minute,” she said, “This is really good you’ll like this.” Since the song was, “God is Singing Over Me,” I guessed she was looking for Zephaniah 3:17 and called it out. It happens to be one of my favorite verses. After she read it, someone in back commented, “Beth would know that. She’s like one of three people in the whole choir who’ve ever even read Zephaniah.” And I have to ask, “Why is that?”

Why is it true that we who call ourselves Christians don’t read the Bible? Believers around the world willingly suffer persecution, torture, and death for the privilege of possessing even one scrap of this life-giving Word. They risk everything to smuggle it into their country so they can win others to Christ. Some memorize entire books of the Bible so they can pass it on orally without the incriminating evidence. And here we sit in America with 2-3 Bibles each and we don’t even read them!

I’ve heard all the arguments: “I don’t have time,” “I don’t understand it,” “I don’t like the Old Testament,” “I’m not a reader.” But none of those hold any water. Here’s why.

We Need to Read the Bible…
1. To get the whole story. Many people read the New Testament and skip around to other favorite verses. This is like reading only the last half of a novel or haphazardly watching scenes from a movie. We miss the setting, the plot, the introduction of characters, foreshadowing, motive, and continuity of thought (Colossians 1:25-26). It’s helpful to acquaint new believers with the story of Christ through the book of John or one of the other gospels. But when do we grow up and read the rest of the story?

2. To protect our hearts from false teaching. In 1517 Dr. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church. In it, he pointed out the discrepancies between the current teachings of the Catholic Church and the written Word of God. He suggested services be conducted in the language of the people instead of in Latin, so they could understand what was going on. Most people couldn’t read or write and relied on their priests to teach them what the Bible said. The Church had become corrupt and greedy, but the peasants didn’t know any better because they couldn’t read the Bible for themselves.

What’s our excuse? We know how to read and have easy access to Bibles and a wealth of resources. If we rely solely on pastors, teachers, and TV preachers to tell us what the Bible says, but don’t read ourselves, how will we know if what they’re saying is right (Acts 17:10-12)?

3. To protect our minds from worldly thinking. There’s stuff coming at us from every direction – TV, movies, billboards, radio, music, and popular slogans. The only way to counteract those deceptive voices is through regular contact with the truth (Jeremiah 4:22).

4. So we can tell others. If we’re not in the Word, how can we know what the Good News is? We have to get it ourselves before we can share it with others (Matthew 22:29).

5. To be a team player. If the quarterback is the only one who reads the playbook on his team, they’re not going to have a winning season. Yet, many Christians depend on our quarterbacks (pastors, teachers, missionaries) to lead the team and win the game. This attitude of nonparticipation is passed on to our children and new believers in the church.

6. To receive God’s power. Our only two weapons against the enemy’s attacks are prayer and the Word of God. We have no other offensive weapons. I don’t know about you, but I would rather fight the enemy than just stand there while he shoots at me (Ephesians 6:17-18 and Hebrews 4:12)!

What keeps us from reading the Bible?
1. Laziness. Let’s face it, self-discipline is difficult. Anyone who’s ever tried to diet or maintain an exercise program knows that. But the results are worth it!

2. Peer pressure. Who would think that Christians would experience negative peer pressure from other Christians regarding Bible study? And yet I face it all the time. If I refer to a lesser known story from the Bible in a Sunday school discussion, I get blank or guilty stares. I feel like an oddity. Comments, like the one in choir practice point out the fact that I’m different, even in my own peer group. But I’m resolved to please God rather than man.

3. No felt need. Many pour over the Bible when they first become Christians, or when they feel a need for comfort or direction. However, if we don’t read consistently, we won’t have anything to draw from when tough times hit. We need to store up God-talk in our minds and hearts.

4. Wrong impressions. It’s not how much we read every day that matters. It doesn’t do any good to read five chapters of the Bible a day if it’s just to check it off our list. I once heard a speaker say she reads until God stops her. That helped me to slow down and savor what I read instead of racing through devotions each day. The point is to take it in and respond to God’s message. It’s meant to be a conversation.

How Can I Start?
1. Ask God for help. The Bible is hard to understand; it’s a spiritual book, meant to be read over and over. If it was easy to “get” the first time, we wouldn’t keep coming back. God wants to give us understanding. So each day before you read, ask Him to speak to you.

2. Make it do-able. Reading the Bible in a year is a great goal, but most people get bogged down. Pastor Rob Baker recommends beginning each day with 90 seconds in the Word. You’ll be amazed how much you can absorb in that short period of time (the length of an average commercial). Once you get a taste, and it becomes a habit, you’ll want to read more.

3. Talk about it. It’s much more fun to learn when you tell somebody about it. My husband and I often read verses we like to each other. And we marvel at the way God gives us direction for our current situations, no matter where we’re reading.

4. Use tools. Bible study books, chain references, commentaries and other resources can help us get the most out of our reading. This time through the Bible, I’m reading Jon Courson’s Application Commentary as I go, and I’m learning terrific stuff! Just recently, he pointed out that when Isaiah prophesied that a guy named Cyrus was going to rebuild Jerusalem, it hadn’t even been destroyed yet (Isaiah 45)! But 200 hundred years later it happened just like God said it would.

I long to see hunger for the Bible in the hearts of God’s people. I yearn for the day when a verse in Zephaniah is mentioned, and instead of saying, “Zeph-a-what-a?”other Christians respond with equal excitement and others are encouraged. I hope you will be one of them!

I would love to tell you more! Invite me to your church or gathering. I teach a fun workshop called: "Ten Reasons to Read the Bible and Ten Ways to Go About It."
 
(c) Beth Vice, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sister Chicks and Friendship

Dinner With Best Friends
When I open my laptop, I’m greeted by a picture of my sisters and me on our Sister Chick weekend earlier this month. What a treat to spend two and a half days with my best girlfriends! It’s been several years since we’ve all three been together, so we chose to meet in Ashland to celebrate our birthdays. We went to “Twelfth Night” in the Elizabethan theater, shopped, ate out, and pampered each other. But the best part was just being together - talking for hours about anything and everything. There was no schedule to keep or husbands or children to attend to.

Before we left, Dad innocently asked what we had planned besides the play. We laughed. We’re going to TALK! We live in three different cities and stay connected by phone, email, and occasional letters. But face to face time is rare. Yet our friendships stay strong because we make them a priority.

Interestingly enough, the greatest example of friendship in the Bible is between two men. David and Jonathan had a bond that went beyond the norm. They chose to bind themselves to each other for life. Their commitment was tested in every way – marriage and family commitments, King Saul’s developing hatred for David, physical dangers, rumors, and opportunities for personal gain. Yet they remained true. Even after Jonathan’s death, David showed his loyalty to Jonathan. Their example of friendship is one I want to emulate.

Laughter and Tears:During our trip, my sisters and I laughed a lot and cried a little. I treasure the laughter and silliness in my heart and the special memories, as well as the sad moments when we shared our heartaches. Authentic friendship takes time and a listening ear - two commodities which are in very short supply in our world.

I’m sure David and Jonathan laughed a lot over the years, but the depth of their dedication to each other is revealed by their tears (1Samuel chapter 20). Jonathan checks out the situation with his father and discovers Saul does intend to murder David, so he meets his friend secretly to warn him. Despite the danger, they reaffirm their commitment to each other and cry, not knowing if they will ever see each other again.

Encouragement:
One of the reasons I love my sisters so much is they are such encouragers. We each have exciting things going on our lives but also many challenges. Sometimes, I get mired down and discouraged. Then my sister/friends come alongside and those challenges suddenly seem smaller. I strive to do the same for them. Praying together, sharing verses and insights, and venting in an atmosphere of trust sent each of us home with new courage and energy.

David and Jonathan encouraged each other repeatedly. They affirmed their commitment, exchanged gifts, did favors, defended each other, and listened while the other vented. My favorite verse about David and Jonathan, and my life verse is 1 Samuel 23:16, “Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” Jonathan didn’t go out against his father with an army to defend David (which might have split the kingdom and cost many lives). Neither did he try to bolster David with empty promises about how it would all work out. I imagine he listened while David poured out his fears and frustrations. Jonathan probably expressed a few of his own. Then they left it up to God. Jonathan helped David look to the only One who could help him through this mess, a habit that David continued even after Jonathan’s death.

Friendship is Personal:
My birthday was Tuesday. My parents sang to me on the message machine and both my sisters called. Kelly made me coffee in the morning, sent a rose at noon, presented me with a card when he got home, took me out for a romantic dinner, and treated me to cake and a foot rub when we got home. I received many happy wishes via text, email, and Facebook, and yet it was a very lonely day. Cyberspace cannot replace the physical presence of a friend. It seems silly to complain when Kelly spoils me so, but I missed having a friend who wanted to celebrate my birthday with me.

I know I’m not the only one who longs for this personal touch. In her article “Friendship Dilemma,” Marla Paul talks about her efforts to make new friends after moving to a new community. She attempted many of the same things I’ve tried – inviting women over or out, getting involved, and initiating conversations hoping for a “spark.” Her words echo my own feelings, “People were happy to get together when I called, but nobody ever called me. I was mystified, frustrated and lonely.”

Another gem from 1 Samuel 23:16 is that: “Saul’s son Jonathan went to David...” That speaks volumes. Saul was so jealous of David that he repeatedly took his army into the desert to find and kill him. Despite the danger (and the fact that he was next in line for the crown), Jonathan made an arduous journey into the desert to encourage his friend. He didn’t send a messenger with an encouraging note or a donkey loaded with food and supplies. He went to be with David in person.

Wisdom and Prayer:
Throughout my life, my parents and sisters have been wise and loyal counselors. All five of us have chosen to follow Christ and are bound by stronger-than-blood ties. I ask for their advice, because they do their best to base their answers on God’s truth, not popular opinion. With all of the talking, gift exchanges, fashion and makeup tips, meals, and such, my sisters and I ran out of time for an in-depth prayer time. Yet I know they are praying about the things we discussed together. Each morning as I lift them to the Lord, I remember their specific needs as well.

As for David and Jonathan, “The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained...” (1 Samuel 23:18). Eventually, friends have to go home. They have their own lives to live and families to care for. That’s why praying is so important! Prayers can get in where we can’t and penetrate barriers we cannot cross. That visit in the desert was the last time David and Jonathan ever saw each other. Jonathan and Saul were killed in battle and David eventually became king. But there’s no doubt in my mind that even though parted, they prayed for each other daily. God answered, giving each the courage and strength they needed to do the right thing.

There's so much to learn about friendship from David and Jonathan and I'm inspired to keep growing in this area. Even with a fantastic marriage partner (like mine), we need to nurture same sex friendships. God created us for relationships. When we make friendship a priority and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, He can inspire us in ways we could never imagine. As I sink my roots deeper into this coastal community, I look forward to building friendships with several like-minded women. I hope you find the friends you are looking for as well.

*If you want to read more about David and Jonathan’s story, you can find it in 1 Samuel chapters 18-23 and 2 Samuel 1.

(c) Beth Vice, 2010







Friday, September 10, 2010

Gentle On the Journey; Get on the Bus

My fabulous roomate Jan, and me
I've been  memorizing Philippians 4:4-9 for some time now. And the Spirit always stops me at verse five: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Does that grab you like it does me? I see two significant reasons for gentleness. First of all, the Lord is privy to everything we say, do, and even think. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to be gentle with His other children. As a believer, I don't see this as a threat, but a sweet reminder. Dad's around and I want to make Him proud of me.

Secondly, and the one I love most, is the security of having our Lord so near. He's got our back. We don't have to defend ourselves, prove our worth to anyone, or boast about our achievements. He is our Defender, our Creator, the only One we need to impress. So there’s no reason to be harsh or inconsiderate.


I saw that played out at this year’s Oregon Christian Writer's conference. In a profession where competition is fierce and we sometimes confuse what we do with who we are, I came home feeling blessed. This community of writers, all vying for success in the same arena, practiced gentleness. This was a terrific reminder to me as a member of the Body of Christ.

They gave us the bad news: the economy is depressed, publishers are going out of business, and our field is more competitive than ever. It reminded me of Erma Bombeck’s story of her son's first day of school. He said he didn't want to go back because it was too long and too hard.“Kid," she said, "you’ve just described life. Get on the bus.”


It's not just writers who have it hard though. As Christians, we realize our world is depressed, other believers are falling away from the Lord, and the competition for our souls is fierce. There are days when this life does feel like it's too long and too hard. But the eternal rewards are worth the effort. So every day, we choose to "get on the bus" and participate in this life of faith that requires our full attention.

Happily, there was also a pervading sense of encouragement at the writer's conference. Our leaders set the tone, reminding us that character is the most important part of the writing journey. The words and actions of those who have been at it a while said, "Let me help you grow and succeed." This also applies in the Church.
 
We who have been Christians for a while can reach out and encourage new believers. We're not in competition with each other, but want everyone to grow and be victorious. If we mentor and challenge with gentleness, remembering that our Lord is near, we can inspire one another even in tough times. What a great reminder this has been for me! I hope it speaks to you too.
(c) Beth Vice, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fresh Paint: A Cover Up

On my way home from town yesterday I noticed the road crew has repainted the center stripes on our nearby roads. It looks great. Sunflower yellow paint shone brightly in the late summer sun. It probably even reflects light at night, which will be helpful when dark rainy days hit. The only problem is they didn’t fix the road.

The intersection between the highway or town, and our neighborhood, has gotten so bad you have to slow to five miles an hour and pick your way through the potholes. Even then, it’s a bumpy ride. They say there’s no money in the county budget for road repair. Even so, I hoped they might resurface this main intersection before summer’s end. But nope, we got a fresh clean paint job instead.

Kind of reminds me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees: “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 dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28, NIV).

They were dedicated to implementing the law, but their hearts were not dedicated to God. Jesus told his disciples to follow the law they taught but not their example, because, "Everything they do is done for men to see” (verse 5). They were not the spiritual teachers they should have been.

It was tradition in March, after heavy winter rains, to whitewash the tombs so no one (especially priests) would inadvertently step on them on their way to the Temple. This contact with the dead would prevent them from participating in worship. It also tended to cover up the fact that there were dead bodies inside. Jesus said the Pharisees were just like these tombs – they looked good on the outside, but were dead inside.

I don’t want my life to be just a fresh coat of paint. I don’t want to be a road that looks good, but is full of ruts and inadequate patch jobs which slow people down on their way to find Jesus. I don’t want to be a pious teacher that tells others how to get to heaven, when my own heart is full of death and darkness. I don’t want to paint over the sin in my life, but confess it to Jesus and be made alive and whole through His forgiveness. Yes, I’m saved, but need to keep coming back for more of His grace and newness. And He gives it freely.

David had it right when he asked God to clean him from the inside out, “Soak me in your laundry and I'll come out clean, scrub me and I'll have a snow-white life… Don't look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health… God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don't throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! …Going through the motions doesn't please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you”(from Psalm 51:5-17, Message).

It’s not enough to look good on the outside; living in Christ has to come from the heart.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A few pictures from the trip (see following blog)

Rattlesnake, yum!
Richard
Kelly on the job

New Friends

Surprise for Rattle Snake Richard: Answered Prayer

Little did my husband, Kelly, know what God was up to when he left for Cerre Azul, Mexico with our church youth group. More than 50 kids went to erect buildings for a drug rehabilitation center there. Kelly led one group - 30 kids plus several adults, and Stuart led the other half. Of course it turned into a competition to see who could finish their building first.

As all mission trips are, it was an amazing experience – they made new friends, completed the structures, saw people give their lives to Christ. Twenty-one teens celebrated baptism in the cool waters at San Diego South beach. This not only impacted our people, but onlookers as well. One family approached and asked where they went. “We’re new to town and looking for a church. Any group that would do this in a public place as boldly as you have is where we want to be!” It was disappointing to tell them our church is more than a day’s drive north.

The trip had its difficulties as well. One of the buses broke down in Ashland, and half the group waited while a man from Eugene drove there with a replacement. They worked in the heat and were devoured by mosquitoes. They even survived a 6 foot rattlesnake hiding near the bathroom all week. They didn’t know about him until they left! On the way home met a power hungry guard at the border, Kelly’s tire went flat, and the trailer tire blew. Getting them fixed was a race against the clock. The GPS directions led to a retirement home (instead of Les Schwab). Twice, they tried to ask directions, first from a non-English speaking man, then a deaf mute. They finally made it to a Les Schwab with four minutes to spare and the shop took care of them in no time.

Kelly met Richard the first day at the Rehab Center during their lunch break. He noticed some guys digging a well and started joking around with them. Since Richard spoke English, he interpreted for Kelly and the others. From then on, every time they arrived at the work site, the first thing Kelly heard was Richard’s voice, “Kelleee!” It boosted Kelly’s popularity that he got to take the team’s leftovers to the men every day.

Richard eagerly waited to move into the Rehab center. He had lived a life of drugs, alcohol, and prison. He had come to the Rehab Center five months earlier and found Christ. He and the other men had moved out of the dorms so the team could stay there. Three were sleeping on the children’s playground with tarps around their quarters for privacy and “mosquito protection.” Four or five others camped in a truck bed on the ground, and others pulled together makeshift shelters.

Every day Richard brought Kelly gifts – a live rattlesnake in a bucket to show him and the others, which he cooked for them to eat. Kelly prizes the two snake skins and the rattle of a 10 year old snake Richard generously gave him. As he bestowed each gift, Richard said, “You’re my friend, Kelly, and I don’t want you to forget me.”

Kelly kept racking his brain to think what he could give Richard. There were no stores nearby where he could buy something. All his clothes were dirty, and the power tools wouldn’t do Richard any good. There was no electricity. Then God spoke to him, “Give him your shoes.”

“But, Lord, I just bought those; they’re brand new Nikes. Besides, what will I wear to our church services here and the Padre game on the way home?”

“You can wear your sandals or your work shoes. You have others,” God persisted.

Kelly argued again, “I’m sure they won’t fit him, Lord. He’s a small man and my shoes will be too big. Anyway, he’d be insulted to get my used shoes.”

The next day, everyone loaded up to go to the job site. Kelly put the bag of candy he had bought for Richard in his truck. Suddenly he found himself walking back to his room. What am I here for? he wondered. God said, “You’re here for your shoes.” So Kelly grabbed the shoes and threw them behind his seat.

Sure enough, as soon as they arrived Richard was there to greet them. After their hellos, Kelly pulled out the bag of candy and handed it to Richard, saying, “I have something for you so you won’t forget me. Don’t give it away to everyone else.” Richard grinned and nodded. Then Kelly looked down at Richard’s feet. His tennis shoes were ripped down both sides held together only by the laces. He put his foot next to Richard’s and asked, “What size shoe do you wear?”

“Eight and a half.”

“Could you wear a nine?” Kelly asked.

“Sure.”

Kelly brought out the brand new Nikes and said, “I have something else for you,” as he handed them to Richard.

Richard stood with an odd look on his face. Kelly asked, “Are you alright? Have I offended you?”

“No!” Richard assured him. “This is an answer to my prayer this morning. Two days ago a man came to camp and he didn’t have any shoes. I had two pair, these,” he said looking at the shreds tenaciously clinging to his feet, “and my good shoes. So I gave him my good shoes.

Kelly listened, humbled by Richard’s generosity. It reminded him of the widow Jesus praised. She gave all she had in the offering, while the rich man gave out of his wealth. Kelly knew which one he represented in the story.

Richard continued, “This morning I prayed, ‘Lord, you know I gave away my other shoes and I have no job to buy new ones. These aren’t going to last much longer. You’re going to have to provide.” Then he looked up at Kelly, “and He’s already answered my prayer!”

Kelly told me this story over the phone and he told the kids and adults in his group. He came home and told our children and friends at home. And, even though he was terrified, he agreed to tell his story at the men’s prayer breakfast, and our church. Over and over we marvel at the way God works. He was there when Kelly bought the shoes that would be perfect for Richard’s needs. He prompted Kelly to pack them because “they breathed better than his leather shoes.” And God brought these two men together in friendship and a mutual love for Christ.

Kelly says, “You can’t tell me there isn’t a God! He had it all figured out before I left home. He blessed Richard for giving when he has so little himself. And I got to see how God’s answered Richard’s prayer. We serve an amazing God.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Play What You Know: Witnessing

Elaine caught me just as I was headed for a walk in the sunshine (a rare moment in Tillamook this summer). “Hey, I just wanted to give you your free ticket to the fair," she said, handing me an envelope. Thanks for your willingness to play for the gospel sing on Wednesday.”
My stomach tightened. Even though I’m only playing one song, I have been nervous about it. I’ve got to choose a song that will appeal to both churched and non-churched fair attendees. I don’t have the advantage of lyrics, since I play the clarinet. But I want to make a positive impression for Christ. I looked up at Elaine smiling at me from her SUV, “I haven’t decided what to play yet.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “Just play something you know. Play something you love that speaks to you.”

“Good idea, that’s what I’ll do,” I agreed, and she drove off. The more I thought about it, the more I saw a spiritual application in her advice. It’s what God is constantly telling us in His Word.

Do the Song You Know

Whether I’m playing my clarinet, writing, or sharing Christ with someone, it’s important to start with what I know. I would never play a song in public that I hadn’t practiced in private. And a much repeated mantra at writer’s conferences is to "write what you know," either from personal experience or research.

As a Christian, it’s a pretty great idea to share what I do know about God with others (as opposed to uhm...you know). I get to know Him by reading His love letter (the Bible), spending time with Him (prayer) and His kids (at church), and learning through experience that what He says is true (obedience). Apostle John put it this way, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us (1 John 1:3, italics added). John shared the song he knew, and it got people excited about God.

Do the Song You Love

Secondly, when I play for others, I try to pick songs I love. I have heard musicians sing and play music they obviously don’t care about. And it shows. It’s the same thing with writing. I write about subjects I am passionate about – relationships, God’s Word, and the little ‘aha’ moments of life when I discover a new delight.

When I talk about my relationship with God I want that same passion to come through. Do I sound bored or legalistic about my beliefs? Or do I sound like I am totally in love with Christ and excited about following Him?

Play a Song that Speaks to You

Even though I can’t sing and play my clarinet at the same time (now that might attract attention at the fair!), I still pick songs that have a message. And I hope that comes across in the way I play it – whether it is jaunty, wooing, sorrowful, or pure joy. I also love writing about what matters to me personally – new discoveries in the Word, hurts healed, lessons learned, and the fun of living. I have written ad copy, and made good money at it, but it was hard to get excited about extruders, Persian rugs, and expensive vacation homes, like I do about our great God!

I used to think that when I talked about God I had to use a certain method – the four spiritual laws, the Romans Road, the color book. Now I realize it works best to draw others in with what speaks to me. I love God because He has proven himself faithful in every situation of my life. My heart is clean, because Jesus took my punishment. Even though I face pain and trouble in this life, I know He is with me every step. Christ walks me when it is dark and gives me joy I can’t explain. He infuses me with power to do His will.

Maybe, like me, you have been nervous about how to share Christ, like I was about playing at the fair this week. You feel like the pressure is on. You may only get one chance and you don’t want to blow it. I want to encourage you with Elaine’s God-inspired wisdom. Say what you know about God (and if you don’t know much, I challenge you to read at least 90 seconds in your Bible every day. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll have to talk about!). Secondly, focus on what you love about the Lord and your life in Him. Finally, tell others what speaks to you from His Word and what He is teaching you day by day. That will make your song authentic, winsome, and honoring to the God we serve and adore.

I would love to hear from you. Take a moment to click on the word comment below and send me a message.
Beth Vice, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Out of Grandma's Closet: Grief

I gazed into the open closet. It smelled like her, clean and sweet. Grandma’s familiar scent threatened to release the ocean of tears I held so bravely back. I dreaded looking through her things, but Grandpa had been so confident, so persistent over the phone that I felt compelled to come.
Wasn’t it too soon for Grandpa to give away her clothes? She’s only been gone a couple of months. And now he expected me to calmly rummage through her things and decide what I wanted. She had been such a tiny woman; I might not find anything that fit. And yet, I did want to have something of hers to remember her by.

Grandma Johnston was everyone’s favorite. She introduced me to Pig Rummy and Bingo, and how to make homemade bread, kneading it “until the dough felt like an earlobe.” She gave me her recipe for baking powder biscuits that melt in your mouth. Topped with butter and homemade strawberry jam, they always send me back to the blue and white kitchen where she reigned.

Grandma taught me how to knit when I was in the fourth grade and beamed when I presented her with my first project - a royal blue apron with red strings and a pocket so small she could only fit two fingers inside. The apron itself was small, even on her tiny frame. It looked like a potholder dangling from her waist. But she wore it every time I came.

Motherhood had been foisted upon her early in life, the oldest of twelve children, because of her mother’s frequent illnesses. Grandma only went to school through the eighth grade. Nevertheless, she was an avid reader and seemed to know a little about everything, especially if one of her children or grandchildren was interested in it.

At her gravesite we all shared stories of how her faith and love had influenced us. The grandchildren, now grown, remembered the hours she spent reading us stories. We liked her "out of the mouth" stories the best. She made us supply the characters. So we would think up the zaniest combinations we could – a dragon, a nurse, a clown, and the leaning tower of Pisa. With them she managed to weave magical, hilarious bedtime stories. We remembered how she tickled us, the twinkle in her eye when she was teasing, and the raspberry kisses we pretended to avoid.

My brother-in-law laughingly remembered how Grandma’s love extended even to her great grandchildren. “She was at our house for her eightieth birthday when I went to Heidi’s room to tell them dinner was ready. I found them both on the floor in the closet…playing dog.”

She loved with such abandon that we thought we were the only recipients and were surprised to discover how many other lives she touched. The memorial service at her and Grandpa's church was packed with people I'd never met before. She had taken meals to countless families, started a young mother's club at church before such things even existed, and had mentored many. My Grandpa also spoke words of love and gratitude for her in the dedication. For years I had seen them living and laughing side by side, but never knew how much he cherished her. And now she was gone.

Grandpa and I went through her clothes item by item. As we did, he reminisced. I jumped when his hand darted into the closet to remove a black velvet jacket.

"Oh, I want to keep this one," he said. "Your Grandma always looked so classy in this. I can’t give that away."

A few minutes later he came across a red bandanna hat and chuckled. "I remember the first time "Boots" (his nickname for her) wore this. We were climbing down a hill to look at a construction job I was working on. When I turned around to see if she was coming, all I could see this red hat bobbing after me." He laughed. "She looked so cute.” It was a faraway look - joy mingled with pain. "I'd better keep it too,” he said, holding the hat to his heart.

We spent the afternoon laughing and remembering. Tears trickled down our cheeks now and then. Afterward, I floated home on a cloud of memories with an armload of clothes, my heart full of love and grief.

That evening I withdrew to my bedroom and tried on Grandma's clothes. I found tissues in almost every pocket, and laughed. All my clothes have tissues in the pockets too. She would have been horrified to know she had left a legacy of “snot rags.”

Grandma had always kept their house spotless. She ironed everything, even their sheets and Grandpa’s v-necked tee-shirts he wore under his coveralls. I’d “helped” her many times as she bustled around dusting, mopping and washing. I remember lugging her wicker basket full of damp clothes to the side yard to hang wash together. I can still hear the click of wooden clothespins and smell the clean scent on the breeze.

Years of hard work had made her hands ugly. At least she thought they were ugly. Grandma especially despised her thumbs. They were short and flat at the nail, the skin toughened by years of loving service. The day she noticed my thumbs she was aghast.

"Oh no!" she said. "You got those awful things!" I looked at them with secret delight. I had Grandma's thumbs.

Her hands didn’t feel rough to me when I held them to walk around the neighborhood. She would call my attention to flowers, bugs, houses - always delighted with the details of life. I planted wisteria in my yard because I remembered the stone house on our walks. Grape-like clusters festooned the porch like the entrance to a secret hideaway. We would stop to catch the fragrance eyes closed, inhaling the rich perfume.

Suddenly I am aware of an image in the mirror. It is me wrapped in Grandma’s cardigan sweater with tissues in the pocket. What a surprise blessing to find a piece of her there! Tears of grief and gladness run freely and melt into her sweater as I finger the soft tissue. God knew the solace I needed and He brought comfort to my grieving heart from out of Grandma's closet.

~ (c) Beth Vice, July 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Have a Note from My Mother and Other Lame Excuses: Spiritual Disciplines

Students are famous for giving lame excuses to get out of work. But they are not the only ones. Here are some other questionable alibis for various forms of misbehavior:
• I won't be in today. My fish is sick and I need to take it to the vet.

• I took two Ex-Lax in addition to my Prozac this morning. I can't get off the john, but I feel good about it.

• Dear School: Please ekscuse Brent’s absence on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.

• Megan could not come to school today. She has very close veins.

• I stayed home from church last week because “I just had this feeling I shouldn't be there.”

• It’s okay to eat broken cookies. The process of breaking causes fat leakage.

• Sorry officer, I was leading in the Indianapolis 500...but I think I took a wrong turn!

• I can't go out with you tonight. There is a Leave it to Beaver marathon on TV.

These are so ridiculous they make us laugh. But what happens when this pattern seeps into our spiritual lives? We say: I love God; He is the Lord of my life; He is my first priority. Yet, when He invites us into activities that will help us grow, we have the gall to raise our hand and ask to be excused. Lame. I’m speaking to myself here as much as anyone. I know I can’t grow unless I practice. And practice means discipline.

In a scene from Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth struggles through a piano piece at the demand of Lady Catherine. During this mortification, Mr. Darcy tries to excuse his rude behavior to her at the Hertfordshire ball, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.”

She laughs and replies, “My fingers, do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do…. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault -- because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”

The key then to mastery is not natural ability or inclination, but practice. None of us is naturally Christ like. Some disciplines come more easily than others, but we still have to practice them. Like the piano, we don’t start with a sonata, but by plunking out scales, gradually adding more difficult pieces as we progress. That is when the fun begins.

And yet, like many piano students, we come up with every conceivable excuse for not practicing. Here are the most common:

“I don’t need to go to church to worship God.”

Here’s how one church responded to that:

NO EXCUSE SUNDAY: DEDICATED TO MISSING CHURCH ATTENDEES!

To make it possible for everyone to attend church this Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday": Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in." There will be a section with lounge chairs for those who feel our pews are too hard. Eye drops will be available for those who stayed up too late watching TV. We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church." Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot. Scorecards will be available to list the hypocrites present. We will distribute "Stamp Out Stewardship" buttons for those who feel the church is always asking for money. One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature. Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday. The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them. We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton wool for those who think he's too loud! Hope to see you there! (from http://madtbone.tripod.com)

It is God’s plan for Christians to be part of a church. Alone we fall prey to discouragement, false beliefs, and selfishness. In church we can learn from others. Sermons and small group discussions sharpen our thinking. And close interaction, including inevitable conflict, forces us to learn that love is an action, not just a theory. When we praise together, learn together, seek God together, we encourage others, and they encourage us.

Another copout I hear often is: “I’m not much of a reader.”

So when did God say, “Read the Bible if you love to read,” or “if you understand it all,” or “if you have time today”? It is shocking how many professing Christians do not read the Bible! Yet God says: read it, meditate on it, hide it in our heart, and tell others.

My daughter was away from home the month before we moved, so I packed her room for her. I came across a card I had given her months earlier…unopened. I was crushed. I could still remember how much time I spent picking out the perfect card and the sentiments I wrote inside. Imagine how God feels when we claim to love Him, yet never open His letter to us. He didn’t pick a pre-printed card off a rack, but inspired numerous authors over hundreds of years to record His live-giving message of love for us.

“I’m barely getting by as it is.”

This is the excuse of the non-giver. Yet, God doesn’t say, “Give when you have extra,” or “tithe if you like your pastor.” He says, “Bring the whole tithe… Test me in this…see if I will not… pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it” (Malachi 3:10). First we give then He pours out blessings – on our finances, meeting others’ needs, or funding ministries that bring people to Christ. God doesn’t ask us to give our wealth to make us poor, but to give from our poverty that He might make us rich in Him.

Next is the world’s lie that even Christians have bought into: “I can’t say no.”

The world says it is impossible to be sexually pure, that there is something wrong with a person who is not sexually active before marriage. But God’s directions haven’t changed.

Contrary to today’s philosophy, it is possible to say no. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).The answer is the same as always – look for the way out and take it.

If we accept God’s escape route in today’s culture we will stand out. Unashamed purity declares there is power for those who walk with Christ.

This next one hits home for me: “I’m going through menopause/pregnancy/mid-life so…”

I am currently going through menopause. There are days when I am cranky and irritable for no reason. My changing hormones are messing with my normal equilibrium, but I haven’t found any loopholes for menopausal madness in the Bible.

Psalm 4:4 says, “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” In the New Testament, Paul adds, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). Try replacing the word “anger” with your current weakness. “In your menopause, pregnancy, mid-life crisis, job loss, parenting teenagers etc. - do not sin.” Our feelings are real, jarring, confusing, but when we pause and ask for His Spirit to act through us, Jesus will enable us to respond in redeeming ways.

Finally, we come to the spiritual discipline that really kicks us in the gut, and the common excuse for not participating is: “I’m not good at fasting.”

So who is? We live in a country where we eat our fill at every meal. We are perplexed by Jesus’ expectation to sacrifice comfort. Yet Jesus said, "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do” (Matthew 6:16-17, emphasis mine), not “if.”

There are medical conditions that prohibit some people from a complete fast. However, there are many kinds of fasts – a partial fast (giving up dessert, coffee, or one meal a week), a juice or fruit and vegetable only fast, or giving up non-food items like texting, Facebook, or television for a specific period of time. Fasting is saying no to our flesh and yes to God - so we can pray, read His Word, or seek direction.

For me, fasting is one of the hardest disciplines because my mind and body, which are used to getting their own way, want to control my spirit. That is what makes it such a powerful tool against the enemy. When we are willing to sacrifice our desires to fill up on God, we become spiritually stronger.

So many times we fail in spiritual disciplines because we never get started. We figure if we don’t like practicing, we must be exempt. I have to say, as a young music student, I didn’t enjoy practice at first. But the more I did, the more I realized its benefits. Practicing opened doors for me in the music world I never would have imagined. It’s the same way in the spiritual realm.

So what’s holding you back? Do you want to be more like Jesus? Do you want to love God more than yourself and win against evil? Then crumple up that forged note from your mother and get going. Let God show you where to start and how to keep on going even when you want to quit. You will be so glad you did!

Beth Vice, (c) 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Great Questions to Ask Yourself from Vince Antonucci’s, I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt

Normally, all the material on my blog is my own writing. But I just finished reading Vince Antonucci's book, and these questions really made me stop and think. So here goes:

Great Questions to Ask Yourself from Vince Antonucci’s, I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt: Replacing Souvenir Religion with Authentic Spiritual Passion, p. 190-191

Is it possible that there’s something about the Jesus life you’re missing?

• If I feel most alive when I’m watching a movie or playing a video game or reading a book or watching sports, if those are consistently the best parts of my day, what does that say about my life? Shouldn’t it be more exciting to live my life than to watch someone else live theirs?

• In the Bible Jesus led his followers into dangerous places. Do I often find myself in dangerous places? And if not, what does that mean?

• Despite being completely righteous, Jesus attracted the worst of sinners. Are sinful people drawn to me, or are they put off by my so-called righteousness?

• When Jesus came into contact with people, their lives were radically transformed. Are people’s lives changed by knowing me?

• Do I have sinful habits I can’t seem to shake? Why?

• What do I dream about? What does my mind automatically turn to? What should it?

• Would the people who know me best say my life is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control?

• Do I read the Bible and pray because I can’t wait to spend time with God or because it’s what I’m supposed to do as a Christian?

• And why do I skip my Bible and prayer time on weekends or when I’m out of town? Is that time really just a habit, a part of my routine, or is it the sacred conversation it’s supposed to be?

• Am I living in a safe Christian bubble? If so, why does the world scare me?

• What do I use to escape from my problems? Why do I need to escape from my problems at all? Shouldn’t Jesus help me handle them?

• Do I serve because I get to or because I have to?

• Do I get upset about things in a way that is disproportionate to their importance?

• What are the top items on my current wish list?

• The word Christian literally means “little Christ” – so am I a Christian or do I just call myself one?

• Why isn’t Jesus enough for me?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No Looking Back: After Divorce

For months my second husband and I looked forward to a trip to Disneyland with our five adult children. We wanted an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other and make some new memories as a blended family. We expected some awkwardness and vying for position. What I didn’t expect, however, was to be haunted by flashbacks of my first husband and the trip we had taken our children on years ago. The question nagged me, What happened to that happy family?


This took me by surprise. The gnawing sadness made it difficult to fully enjoy the purpose of the trip, the bonding of our new family. I ran to God and He helped me focus and participate in the present moment. When we got home, the Lord used the story of Lot and his wife to continue His healing in my life – away from the past and on to the future.

God sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom before destroying it with fire. As they were leaving, the angel warned them not to look back. Lot’s wife couldn’t resist one last glance and immediately turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19).

Why would she do that after such a stern warning? Then again, why would I? Looking back for whatever reason can keep us bogged down in the past and saps energy from our current relationships. And yet, so many of us struggle with the temptation to look back. I discovered five possible motives for a backwards focus in the story of Lot’s wife:

• We’re reluctant to leave people behind
• We refuse to leave our stuff behind
• We want to satisfy our curiosity
• We doubt God’s rescue
• We want revenge

Reluctance to Leave People Behind
It could be that Lot’s wife – I’ll call her Lottie – didn’t want to leave the people she cared about behind. Her daughters’ fiancés had refused to join their escape. How can I let them be incinerated with the rest of the city? What will happen to my daughters now? Have any of our neighbors and friends decided to escape with us?

In the same way, I did not want to leave my husband of almost twenty-one years behind. I was devastated when he said he no longer loved me and held onto the hope that he would come back. Even after the divorce, I dreamed God would make our family whole again.

I had been so distracted by this backward glancing that it was destroying me. A dear friend of mine finally took me by the shoulders and said, “Beth, you’ve got to let him go.” Releasing my love for him seemed like a lack of faith. But my health and emotions were visibly crumbling. God was able to begin healing my heart when I finally accepted the fact that my husband had chosen to leave and that God would take care of me (Isaiah 54:4-6).

Refusal to Leave Stuff Behind
Lottie might not have wanted to leave Sodom because of her stuff. The Bible says Lot was an influential man in the city. He had already been wealthy when he and Abraham parted company years before. Lottie might have recently redecorated her kitchen, or they might have just bought a new house on Snob Hill. What would they have if they left Sodom anyway? Only what they could carry at a run. Was Lottie worried about comfort and security when she took that fateful glance?

A couple accumulates a lot of stuff in twenty years. It was a grisly ordeal in the divorce to list it all, appraise its worth, and parcel it out – one for him, one for her. I couldn’t bear to take down the family portrait until a month after it was all over. I ached at the sight of our once happy family hanging there, but the thought of an empty wall hurt even more. Finally, my girls and I took pictures of each other and filled the wall with new family portraits. And God reminded me that true treasure is not in stuff, but in my relationship with Him and in cherishing all those He puts in my sphere.

Needing to Satisfy Curiosity
Curiosity could have been what ultimately killed Lottie. Did she look back because she wanted to see if the people of Sodom were going to get what was coming to them? Or what burning sulfur looks like?

How many secondary accidents happen because drivers slow to gawk at another wreck? How many people crash spiritually while scrutinizing others? I was distracted by my own curiosity as well. What’s going to happen to him, Lord? I was faithful to my vows. Is this all the reward I get? The more I asked, the more my spirit dragged. It wasn’t until I focused on my own desperate need for God’s grace and forgiveness that I could lay that curiosity aside.

Doubting God’s Rescue
The fourth reason Lottie might have looked back is because she doubted God’s plan. We don’t know her true name, but she left behind a legacy of doubt.Will God really destroy everything in Sodom? How will we survive in the mountains? Lot even pleaded with the angel to let them go to Zoar instead of the mountains for safety. It seems they were both reluctant to trust their rescuers.

I struggled with doubt as well. I hated having to tell people that my first marriage ended in divorce. For a long time I felt like I had a black ‘D’ seared into my forehead; that I was irreparably damaged. I thought no one would want me. Although God was leading me out of despair, I doubted I would ever get over the pain. But now I see how my broken heart has helped me rely more on God, enlarged my compassion for others, and better equipped me to testify to His faithfulness.

Wanting Revenge
There’s one final option why Lottie might have looked back at Sodom. Revenge. When the angels entered her home, the men of Sodom surrounded the house and demanded to have sex with them. Lot offered his virgin daughters for them to abuse instead (Genesis 19:4-11). How could a mother live in this kind of environment? She might have looked back at Sodom to revel in watching the city burn.

It’s tough to admit, but even while praying to forgive my husband, I had thoughts of revenge. I did not dig my key into the side of his sports car or slash his tires. I tried not to say negative things about him, and remained civil when talking to him and his new wife. But in my dreams…I told him what I really thought, I beat the tar out of his cute little wench, and I became the sexy divorcee that everyone said he was an idiot to leave.

When I suffered physically, I wanted him to suffer physically. When I had financial troubles, I wanted him to have them too. When I felt lonely and worthless, I wanted him to know how it felt to be betrayed and abandoned. God reminded me that it is not my business to get revenge. My job is to trust Him and do the right thing. Day by day it got a little easier.

I am no longer looking back at the shadows of what could or should have been. Lottie’s story revealed the dangers to me in a whole new way. Now I am focusing on my relationship with the wonderful man God has brought into my life and our future together. God’s grace enables me to walk with joy, confidence, and incredible gratitude for what He has done for me.

All of us have a Sodom we need to leave behind - a crushed dream, a lost relationship, a hurt filled childhood, a life of sin. Lottie turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back. It’s not worth the consequences. When the enemy haunts you with shadows from your past, cry to God for help. He will rescue you and lead you on to a new and better place.

(c) Beth Vice, May 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hiding Ursula: Confession

I played cards with my five year old niece not long ago. Always an interesting experience. The idea of the game was to make as many princess pairs as possible without ending up with the Joker - Ursula the sea witch.

We laid down the pairs we already had then took turns selecting one card from the other person’s hand. Eyes closed, of course. Tori was noticeably upset when she drew Ursula from my hand. I was waiting for the chance to get it back in the remaining turns, but she never showed up. Finally, I realized there were several cards missing. We kept exchanging the same few cards without making any new matches.

So I challenged her, “Tori, do you have the Ursula card somewhere other than in your hand?”

She squirmed and shrugged; looking at me with angel blue eyes, but wouldn’t admit to anything. Then in a telltale move, she glanced at the hiding place behind her.

“Did you hide Ursula behind your back?”

Tori sheepishly admitted, “I don’t like Ursula.”

“But honey, if you hide Ursula behind your back you automatically lose the game. I can’t pick her from your hand if she’s back there.” I saw realization in her eyes.

How many times have I done that? I try to hide my sin from God (as if I could) because I know it’s bad. But then God can’t deal with the sin that is troubling me. Jesus wants to take it away. He knows the secret place in my heart where I have hidden it. He is waiting for me to hold it out and let Him take the offending card – my impure thoughts, my complaining spirit, my selfishness and ingratitude, my feelings of worthlessness and despair, my cutting words.

Why do I conceal these sins behind my back? Do I think if I ignore them they will go away? Or have I been duped by Satan’s lie that God wants to ruin all my fun? Or am I so ashamed of what I have done, what I have spoken, what I have thought, that I don’t think God will want to forgive me? When I believe those lies I’m the one who loses. The Bible assures us that when we confess, He forgives, period.

Life is so much more than a game. What we choose to do with sin now not only affects where we spend eternity, but it makes a profound difference in our life here and now. Confession destroys the barrier between us and God, as well as us and others. It opens the door to love, peace, laughter, strength, and so much more! I am ashamed I have tried to hide anything from the One who wants what is best for me. I am determined to daily, even moment by moment, hold out those Ursula cards for Jesus to deal with as only He can.
(c) Beth Vice, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Comparing Scars: Easter

It doesn’t take long in any group before people start telling scar stories. One person mentions a broken arm or leg, a concussion, and pretty soon everyone is rolling up their sleeves or pant legs to tell another “I can top that” story. Getting older doesn’t make us immune to showing off either. My sister caught sight of Grandpa doing just that with her neighbor across the street. She witnessed two old men in coveralls unzipped to the waist comparing their scars from open heart surgery.

Their scars saved their lives, but most of our scars are from childhood injuries or stupid stunts we pulled. My oldest daughter has a perfect two-inch circle on each leg from leaning against a motorcycle exhaust pipe when she was young. The horrible burns weren’t enough for her though; she picked at the scabs until they became infected. Then she would really have something to show off.



Although you have to dig through her hair to find it, my younger daughter has a scar on her head from stitches she got at age three. She and her friends played in the back while we moms visited inside. My girlfriend didn’t know her boy had dragged his father’s pick axe into the sandbox. Suddenly the whole tribe came running in the house with my daughter screaming wildly. Crimson blood streamed through her white-blonde hair. One of the children had picked up the axe and fell backward under its weight cutting her head.



Imagine what the boasting might sound like in heaven if a group of top name Christians started comparing their scars.



“These stripes on my back,” Paul might say, pulling back his robe, “are from the time I was lashed 39 times for preaching about Jesus. I got these rope burns when the believers in Damascus snuck me out of the city.” He gives a sideways glance. “They lowered me in a basket through a hole in the wall.” The men around him laugh. “And these scars are from the shipwreck off the coast of Malta, and here’s where the viper bit me...”



When one of the men is distracted by the obvious deformity of another, Apostle John explains. “My skin just hasn’t been the same they boiled me in oil. They thought they could get me to denounce my faith. When I survived that, they exiled me to the Island of Patmos rather than risk any further embarrassment.”



Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, everybody gets in on the act. For days on end, Christians persecuted throughout the ages show bullet wounds, saw marks, seared flesh, spear marks, and tell how they were hunted like wild animals. Everybody tries to top the last guy…until Jesus walks into the room. Suddenly everyone is silent.



I see myself in the crowd. Jesus approaches me and points to the scar on my knee and asks, “How did this happen child?



I am embarrassed. I don't have any grand stories of persecution, escape, or endurance. My scars are small in comparison. But He persists, so I answer. “You already know, Lord. You were there. You know all about me.”



His eyes are warm as He smiles and nods. “Tell me anyway. I want to hear it from you.”



“I got that from rollerblading. I skinned my knee, cut my thumb, and wrenched my shoulder when I fell. My daughters’ laughter hurt more though. They thought it was pretty funny, their forty-two year old mom on roller blades.”



“Yes,” replies Jesus. He touches the scar at His temples. “I know how it feels to be made fun of. They put a crown of thorns on me and laughed at the thought of my being a king.” He takes my hand and we begin to walk. He notices the scar on my finger. “How about this one?”



“That’s from high school wood shop. The person before me took the safety arm off the table saw and forgot to put it back. I didn’t notice until my board started to kick back. I panicked and let go. The board sliced through my finger, hit me in the stomach, and bounced off the wall in front of me.”



“Hmm,” Jesus sympathizes. “People don’t realize what they’re doing sometimes. See these scars on my hands and feet? The men who nailed me to the cross didn't know what they were doing. They had no idea.”



I feel so insignificant compared to my Savior, and yet here He is identifying with my pain. He leads me to a grassy spot and we sit. “What about this dent in your leg; what caused that?”



“Oh,” I laugh, “that’s kind of embarrassing. I got pinned to the ground by my yard debris bin.” Jesus laughs a kind hearted chuckle. “It had a lot of dirt and rocks mixed with the weeds and branches. When I tipped it to roll down the driveway it fell back on me and smashed my leg.” He looks sympathetic, so I continue. “I couldn’t lift it off or squirm out from under it and was afraid I had broken my leg. It was dark and cold, and no one around. I screamed until my voice almost gave out before my neighbors heard me. It took three men to lift it off. I felt scared and so alone.”



I see a tear coursing down Jesus’ face. “I remember how it is to feel alone. I had never felt that before. Even though there’s no scar to show you, that was my deepest wound of all. When the weight of the world’s sin was heavy on me, my Father had to look away. It is the only time we have ever been separated. That was the worst part of my death. I have never felt so forsaken.”



Seeing Jesus’ grief gives me courage to lean against His chest and wrap my arms around Him. “I am sorry, Lord. I know how it feels when the one you love the most turns away from you.” My heart hurts in remembering and He reaches out His hand to soothe my pain.



He nods. “Yes, Judas betrayed me, all the disciples except John ran away in fear, and even my Father had to turn away. I gave up my spirit after that and a soldier thrust his sword in here to make sure I was dead,” Jesus opens his robe and shows me the crimson scar. I touch it gingerly and melt into His chest weeping. I am embarrassed of my small scars. They are so insignificant compared to His. Yet this whole time Jesus has shown only compassion.



I look up at His face and Jesus is smiling! I pull back in surprise and He laughs - a glorious, head-back, joy-filled laugh. “All the pain is over now, child. None of your scars can hurt you anymore, because I wear these scars for you. I suffered shame, cursing, abandonment, cruelty, and uttermost darkness for you – I have conquered sin and death! I am alive to give you life. Your scars will all disappear when you receive your new heavenly body.”



“But what about yours?” I ask. “Why do you still have scars?”



“Because I am the perfect Lamb, slain for you. I will always wear these scars to remind people of what I have done. Everyone who comes to me for forgiveness will have all their scars healed.”



I didn’t want to leave, but the vision ended. I discovered myself back in my chair reading Revelation, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne… (5:6)” The Lion of Judah, the King of Kings, the sacrificed Lamb; my Savior. He is the only One who has scars worth bragging about. He didn’t get them by doing something stupid, or even to save His own life. He earned His scars by loving us to death, and back to life again.



© Beth Vice, March 2010









Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fleas, Yeast, and Easter Housecleaning: Preparing for Easter

We went to a fancy beach house recently to spend the weekend with our kids and first grandbaby. We had reserved an elegant two story home with a back deck that leads right onto the sand of a long, semi-private beach. But the trip was ruined by fleas. At first we started finding them on our eight month old granddaughter’s head. That took away her freedom to sit on her blanket or roll around on the floor. Next we felt them chewing on our ankles. Despite the lovely setting and our excitement to be together, the fleas were a constant annoyance. We felt guilty every night as our kids said goodnight, knowing they were sleeping in flea infested bedrooms. Despite constant cleaning, washing clothes, and setting off flea bombs, we still found them everywhere.

Going home was no relief. My husband and I were itchy and freaked out for days. Every time we saw a black spot we were sure it was a flea. I washed everything we took on our trip, dirty or not. So much for a relaxing weekend. Even after every precaution, I woke up with new bites on my legs the next morning. Did we all take home fleas from vacation?

The sad thing is that none of this was our fault. Someone else brought in the first flea weeks ago and they went undetected until we entered the beach house. But we certainly felt the effects.

My husband did some research and found out that it takes only one flea to infest a home. Here are some itchy flea facts:

• Each flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs

• The eggs hatch into pupa in two weeks (during which time they go undetected)

• At three to four weeks the fleas are full grown

• Fleas can live on skin, blood, and fecal matter in a house for three to four weeks without a live host

• Bombing only kills fleas in the adult stage, not the eggs or pupa

• Fleas lay eggs in out of the way places that are not regularly cleaned, such as the carpet edge by the wall

Since it is less than a month until Easter, I have been thinking about ways to prepare my heart and truly focus on Jesus. This flea episode has given me some ideas. In Jewish homes, yeast is hunted down and destroyed for the celebration of Passover, which comes just prior to Easter. Bread without yeast commemorates the haste in which the Israelites had to leave Egypt and is symbolic of ridding their lives of sin before leaving for the Promised Land. Yeast is as unwanted during the holiday as our vacation fleas were.

In the New Testament, yeast is a symbol for sin which starts small but spreads at an alarming rate. Jesus warned His disciples about the yeast of the Pharisees, meaning their hypocrisy (Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 12). Paul wrote, “Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 and Galatians 5:9-10). He used yeast as an example of wrong teaching and selfish attitudes that can infect an entire body of believers. Just like fleas.

So how can I get rid of this yeast (sin) in my heart before it spreads to the rest of my family, my church, and beyond? My newly acquired knowledge in flea eradication turns out to be good spiritual advice as well. And just happens to match the verses I have been memorizing:

Be on the alert for incoming

It only takes one flea to infect a home and one sin to infect a group of believers. We have to be on guard! Sin can wear many disguises. The psalmist expresses my thoughts perfectly: “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). I invite the Lord to search my heart for quiet intruders before they reproduce.

Set off occasional bombs

This sounds drastic, and it is. We had to set off several bombs in the beach house to kill the full grown fleas that were feasting on us and making us miserable. Psalm 19:13 says, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” The full grown fleas are the obvious, premeditated sins in my life. They ruin relationships, suck the lifeblood of my faith, and will lead to other sins if not dealt with.

Practice regular house cleaning

It’s not my favorite thing to do, but occasionally I vacuum the edges of each room, clean the window coverings, de-crumb the furniture, and wipe down the woodwork of our home. It is tedious and time consuming, but it feels good to get everything sparkling. Easter is a good time to do spiritual spring cleaning. Two areas that need regular maintenance in my life are my words and my thoughts. The psalmist said, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

I want to be ready to celebrate Easter with a pure heart. Like fleas, like yeast, like sin – there always seems to be little beasties creeping in and trying to take over. I do hate fleas! Hopefully our experience with them will be a good reminder to hate sin in my life even more.

© Beth Vice, 2010