Friday, June 22, 2007

Afraid to draw near?

For those of us captivated by the glory of God, it's hard to understand why everyone doesn't long to draw near as we do. We see and savor His beauty. Why do others - even some believers - not do the same?

At the heart of the answer to this lies the heart of salvation: the creation of a new heart that is enabled to see and savor His goodness. For those who don't know the fullness of His character, who have not seen the grace and truth embodied in Jesus Christ, God can be scary. Even the Israelites faced this struggle, recalled so poignantly by the author of Hebrews:

Heb. 12:18-24
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

God hasn't changed - vv. 25-29 warn us against taking this new covenant lightly, because God is a consuming fire. But the point the author is making underscores the contrast between the Old and New covenants ... between being fearful to approach God and having the freedom to come "boldly" into the throne. (Heb. 10:22).

Are you frustrated today by all those who don't see the glory of God in the face of Christ that you see? Pray for God to do a miracle of transformation in their hearts. Pray that they will not be too easily pleased with the pleasures of the world, and will instead long for deep pleasures that can only be met at the fountain of God Himself! For had He not awakened our hearts, we too would be settling for far, far less of Him!

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased.
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Little Girl Lost

It was a story of tragedy averted.

No movie could go beyond the drama of the real-life event I was reading about in the newspaper Sunday. A little girl, 5 years old, was missing and presumed dead after her grandfather's body was found in the water where they were swimming. They had been out for the day and she wanted to swim. What grandfather can deny his precious 5-year-old granddaughter a dip in the cool water on a hot summer day?

But as the family members and rescuers gathered and grieved the loss of grandpa, the worst was presumed about the little girl. She was gone too - it was just a matter of time before her body would be found.

Meanwhile, upstream a rescuer saw a young girl, naked, dirty, wandering in the woods. She approached him and asked for food. At first he didn't recognize her. After all, the little girl they were looking for would be found in the water somewhere -- right?

But it WAS her ... and soon tears of sorrow turned to shouts of joy. Mom and dad had no trouble recognizing their baby ... they felt the joy known only by a few, the joy of new life from death.

And that is a picture of our salvation. We were dead in our sins, Paul tells us. Not sinking, but dead. We were naked and hungry for spiritual clothing and food. We may even have been unrecognizable to those whose job was to "rescue" us. Yet our dear Father had no trouble at all knowing who we were ... and He guided us to a safe place every step of the way. We have the joy of new life from death.

Now serving as "rescuers", we must remember this image. Who are you looking to "rescue" today? Pray that God will help you see those coming out death into life -- that we won't miss them even if they appear to us naked and hungry.

And be encouraged that God has been guiding them all the way.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The bottom line

A common theme of my posts tonight seems to be that God makes things a lot simpler than we do! We complicate things, often because the simple path is so difficult on our flesh! The path to true ministry is no different.

Rom. 12:1 tells us that God desires that we be "living sacrifices". In the reader to the "Perspectives" course, Warren Chastain quotes Bishop Hill that when we look at those to whom we minister "you will find an altar ... and may God help you to be a sacrifice". Chastain elaborates on this idea with some memorable, and very true, comments.

"...God has engineered the fruit-making process so that it always involves sacrifice. But people invariably seek ways to turn the altar into a stage for seeking applause."

"...any line man draws is not the bottom line....let us be willing to let God draw the bottom line."

"'s sower should not fail to sow seed in the entire field...The sower...has a passion to bring life out of all kinds of ground. He will not write anything off, even in the rockiest ground. He has faith that the good seed can cling to life in th ehardest places and bear a specially precious harvest."

"God's weapons are crosses, empty tombs, and willing witnesses."

May God make you a willing witness, willing even to be a living sacrifice, today.

Glory is at Stake

My dear mother-in-law went to be with the Lord on May 25. She spent 99 of the last 105 days of her life in hospital or rehab. During that time, a high school friend died at age 38. I often wondered about suffering and death - why God in His power and sovereignty did not heal when He sometimes could, why a 38 year old died, why God worked differently in similar situations. Ultimately I came away with a stronger impression of the importance of the sovereignty of God ... knowing that He is in control brings such peace. But I also grasped more than ever that His glory is at stake in everything we face, and He alone knows how He wants to reveal His glory through our healing, our suffering, or yes, even through death.

In the depth of my prayer time, as I struggled to understand the truths I so easily typed out just now, I wrote in my journal: "I'm weary of trying to analyze how God may best be glorified." As I thought of biblical examples, I penned the following words. They don't form a perfect poem, but I pray God will bless them for His glory.

Glory at Stake
Heart of compassion, eyes that saw
The real needs before You -
You healed them all, working
Into the night, refusing
To turn them away
For glory was at stake.

Calming the waves, water to wine
Loaves and fishes multiplied.
You showed your might, doing
Only what Your Father willed
With a heart of love
For glory was at stake.

Enduring the cross, despising the shame
Not opening your mouth to rebuke.
Face resolute, joy set before
You willingly gave your life
Instead of holding back
For glory was at stake.

At God's right hand in heaven you see
A perspective in my life
That I am blind to now.
Power you have, and strength beside
But suffering continues into the night.
Yet...glory is at stake.

"Surrender", you ask, "and enter my rest".
I want to know what to do there,
How the glory will look.
"Peace be still" You whisper
To this storm of life
For glory is at stake.

Do I trust only when I know,
Or do I step onto the choppy waters,
Lift my hand over my own flesh,
Enter the realm of total faith?
I know the answer ...
For glory is at stake.

Quote of the day

"God will send the rain when He is ready. Your job is to prepare the field to receive it." (source unknown)

The Ethiopian Eunuch Loved by God

At the title many of you may be assuming this post is about Acts 8. Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch is certainly an incredible story of the God who loved this one man enough to take Philip away from a successful evangelistic outreach to share the Gospel on a quiet road! But the story of the eunuch I'm talking about is told not in Acts, but in Jeremiah. In the context of the judgment of Jerusalem and God's promises to Jeremiah about the new covenant, God presents an intriguing episode.

In prison, Jeremiah receives a word from God - not a word for the King for the Israelites, but a specific word for a specific man, an Ethiopian at that.

Jeremiah 38:7-13; 39:15-18
When Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch who was in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern—the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate— 8 Ebed-melech went from the king's house and said to the king, 9 “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take thirty men with you from here, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe in the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. 12 Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.” Jeremiah did so. 13 Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard. ... 15 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: 16 “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. 17 But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. 18 For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.’”

Because he put his trust in Yahweh, this Ethipian eunuch received a word specifically for his life. God's heart for the nations is revealed here. "Ebed-melech" means "servant of a king" and God certainly makes him the servant the highest King!

Be encouraged that God has been at work among your people far before you ever got there. When Philip talked to the Ethiopian eunuch, he was simply God's vessel for that time. God had been at work in the Ethiopian people for generations!

The Heart of Prayer

We humans love to make things so difficult. God, on the other hand, really keeps things pretty simple. When you stop to think of His majesty and glory, His infinite knowledge and wisdom, we really do see only the "fringes of His ways" (Job 26:14). What He has chosen to reveal in His Word is sufficient; we just like to complicate it so much. And one area where we are most vulnerable to this tendency is the area we need to pursue with the most freedom and simplicity of all: Prayer.

Jesus' model prayer to the disciples was very simple and basic in its wording, but deep in its theology. Coming from someone who prayed through the night, its brevity is especially surprising! And yet the model prayer, combined with a few other teachings such as persistence, focusing on God's will, having unselfish motives, and being childlike toward God, is what He chose to tell us.

Are you struggling with your prayer life? Perhaps an illustration will help. The following is on p. 339-340 of Don Cormack's "Killing Fields, Living Fields" - an incredible story of the church in Cambodia. As you read, as God to let you see the heart of prayer through this little boy's story. May God bless your prayer time tonight!

"One day, as I stood interpreting for one of the only two doctors at a place called Klong Wah where thousands needed their immediate attention, a little lad of about eight came up to me calling, 'Uncle, uncle, please come and help me carry my older brother over here where he can be given medicine.' The boy explained that the brother, about twelve, was lying a good two kilometres away in the bush, unconscious in a malaria coma. But I couldn't just walk away from my responsibilities as interpreter and the enormous task I already had on my hands helping to care for hundreds of dying people right there. Only a few yards into the forest there were more. How could I justify going so far and using up so much valuable time for just one? I told the boy I couldn't go with him, but to get one or two to help carry his brother in. Of course I knew even as I spoke that it was unlikely anyone was going to expend their own limited energy on a dying boy. ...

The boy however would not be put off. He persisted in crying out after me, till I finally steeled myself and ignored him. After about an hour of whimpering and pleading, he fell silent, deep in thought. He knew that I was the only lifeline there was to save his brothers' life. Next thing, I felt a pair of sinewy arms grip me round the legs, and a pair of ankles lock around mine. And there he clung like a leech. Now it was my turn to protest. But his lips were sealed. He clearly wasn't going to let go his vice-like grip on my legs till they followed him to that place where his brother lay dying. I was thus compelled to go with him in order to get rid of him. His dogged importunity had gained him the victory. And I reflected as I pursued him through the trees that this was surely what serious believing Christian pryaer was all about. It entailed a crucial element of 'violence.' It involved patiently holding on to the knees of God, even in the face of apparent silence and lack of movement. The older brother's life was saved."

Love vs. Duty

God has the power to force us to worship Him. John 18 pictures this when the Roman cohort falls to the ground when Jesus states "I am He"; John foresees this in Revelation when he describes a day when every knee will bow, every tongue confess that He is Lord - everything in heaven and earth and under the earth. The God who forms mountains and creates wind, who knows your thoughts (Amos 4:13) - this is the God whom we worship.

And yet, He has chosen not to have a people worship Him out of duty or compulsion, but out of love. The heart of salvation is the creation of a worshiper -- God, in His sovereignty, somehow takes someone who is so far from Him that Scripture calls him "dead", gives a new heart and a new spirit, and enables that individual to desire to walk in His ways. "We love because He first loved us", John writes, and Scripture makes it clear that faith and worship are inseparable. Our mighty, awesome God has us worship Him from a heart of love, a heart that He gives us.

Worship Him today for making you a worshiper. Together we will anticipate the worshipers He is creating around the globe ... in your neighborhood and in mine!

Christian Excellence and Ambition

I'm not a very good housekeeper. While I do manage to keep things tidy and sanitary, I never seem to get around to the "big jobs", forget to dust, and prefer the decorating scheme of "Modern Nostalgia" (i.e., whatever family members and kids have given or made). While I do consider myself a good homemaker (a different role than mere housekeeping, to my mind), I hold no illusions about winning a Better Homes and Gardens house of the year award! The word "excellent" would never cross my mind when describing my housekeeping skills!

Likewise, I have little "ambition" in the earthly sense of the word. I don't have a specific career-ladder goal in mind; I am not sure that I even want to achieve the next "step". I do want to do a good job every day, but earthly success is not my definition of "ambition".

Thankfully, God is very good at redefining terms for His children. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul spells out very clearly what Christian excellence and ambition should look like.

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
I Thessalonians 4:9-12

Excellence. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to "excel still more" in the second greatest commandment: Love one another. Love for other believers is so important that John writes if we don't love each other, we don't love God! Likewise he writes that if we love God, we will love one another. And he calls the commandment to love a singular command - though Jesus had stated love for God was number one and love for others number two. The sum of John's teachings leads to the conclusion that the first and second commands are two sides of the same coin -- if you have one, you must have the other. In calling us to excel in love, Paul comes alongside John's emphasis on love and strips away much of what is extraneous in our lives. We're not called to be excellent singers, excellent speakers, excellent newsletter writers. We're called to love excellently. That turns a lot of "musts" into optional activities and solidifies our priorities in the right direction.

Ambition. Paul also defines for the Thessalonians what their "ambition" should be. Their ambition is not to single-handedly save a continent, country, or even city for Christ; their ambition is not to meet an artificial numerical goal; instead, Paul defines ambition for them as leading a quiet life, minding their own business, and working with their hands. Pretty simple for a group of new believers, but good advice for all of us who love to set big plans in motion and fret when every cog in the wheel doesn't turn like we anticipated. Just work hard, don't do anything that would cause unbelievers to focus more on our "noise" than on the Gospel, and see what God does. This doesn't mean trouble won't come our way - but it does mean than when it does, the focus can be on the Gospel, not our antagonistic behavior. Here Paul concurs with Peter's teaching that our lives and testimony should be with such a gentle and quiet spirit that when we are attacked, even our accusers won't find any legitimate cause for complaint against us. The attack will be revealed to be against the message, not the messenger.

Have you been struggling with frustration at the lack of excellence in some area of your work? Are you overwhelmed with priorities and unsure where to begin? Are you ready to scream at the goals laid out before you -- goals that seem not to take into account the realities of your daily grind?

Come back to the basics. Excel in love. Make it your amibition to live a quiet life and work hard. See what God does when you get your plans out of the way and just be a vessel.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Encouraging - or being encouraged?

We’re supposed to comfort the dying – right?

That was my attitude as I ministered to my mother-in-law during her last weeks on this earth. While we never talked about it, she seemed to know that her time would soon come to join the crowd from every tribe, tongue, and nation around the throne. My husband and I were blessed as her caregivers to minister to her when she still lived in her own apartment, and doubly blessed when she moved in with us. We focused on making whatever time she had left – we didn’t know how much it would be – as pleasant and comfortable as possible. When her time to pass from this life to the next came, we were standing at her bedside.

We were intending to comfort her. Instead, we found ourselves experiencing the truth of 2 Cor. 1:6a: If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort….

“Comfort” here is the word often translated “encourage” in the New Testament. “Paraklesis” refers to calling to one’s side, exhorting, consoling, encouraging and strengthening, and, yes, comforting. If the word looks familiar, it should – it’s closely related to “Paraklete”, the Greek term used for the Holy Spirit.

Looking at this verse after Mom’s homegoing, it suddenly made sense to me. Both our affliction and our comfort are for the “paraklesis”, the comfort, the encouragement of others. Whether we are going through a difficult time or an easy time, God’s design is that we pass it on to others “for their comfort” – for their encouragement, in an encouraging way.

Mom never once quoted me this verse, but she lived it out every day. Even as she spent 99 of her last 105 days in the hospital, individuals still left her room feeling better than when they arrived. Within two weeks of her homegoing, she prayed with a family friend, “Lord, cause me to be a blessing to someone today.” Within an hour and a half before crossing into eternity, she was thanking the medical providers coming into her room and just enjoying hearing her family’s voice. In her last minutes, as she fixed her eyes on my husband and me and listened to us sing hymns and praise songs, she had a look of transcendent peace that spoke volumes to us weeks afterward.

I learned much through my encouraging mother-in-law. But among the most unexpected lessons was this paradoxical truth: Our affliction is for others’ encouragement. By God’s grace, when I face affliction I’ll try to be an encouragement to others. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to minister comfort to those in difficult situations, even those who are dying. But I won’t be surprised if I find myself on the receiving end instead.

How about you? What affliction are you facing that leaves you desperately feeling like you need to be encouraged? Is the load on the field weighing more heavily than usual today, causing you to need an encourager yourself?

Consider whether God has put this affliction in your life for the comfort, the encouragement of others. Then look around and see how your affliction becomes their comfort. Leave them wondering how, with all you are going through, you can possibly care about them. Then be ready with an answer for the hope that is within you -- because they'll ask!

Standing with you - to encourage you as you encourage them through the very trials that wear you down tonight.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Trying to Learn What is Pleasing to the Lord

Have you ever been in a place where you find yourself seeking to do things differently than you ever have before?

Many of you know that struggle better than I can ever describe. You've relocated your family, learned a new language, and adapted to new cultural demands and expectations. Again I'm reminded that field workers aren't "super-Christians"; instead, they are learning the same lessons I'm learning, but in a different location.

My life is in transition. My mother-in-law passed from worshipping in this life to worshipping in the next on May 25. She lived with us, and my husband and I were her caregivers - a blessing I highly recommend if God puts the opportunity before you. But after 12 1/2 years of providing some level of care for her, with the past 1 1/2 being fairly intense care, I find myself seeking to discover what to do with that part of me that was a caregiver.

Some days I get a lot done; other days I find myself fumbling around. But I take heart in Eph. 5:10 - "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." Not that I get it right or have a huge revelation ... but each day, I try to learn what is pleasing to Him.

This blog will continue and I will post here regularly, but I'm still working out how that will look. In this as everything else in life right now, I am "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord".

My prayer is that in your transitions today you will do the same!