Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Love is hard.
Usually, by the time we figure this out in ministry, we've learned that our love is insufficient. We know that what is needed is agape love - God's love flowing through us. We know that we are just vessels and that what is required is to abide in Him. However we get to that point, we tend to find it a relief to know we should relax and just let Him work through us.
Which is why it's a shock to find out that even being a vessel for agape love is hard.
I think that's why Paul's prayers for the churches included such significant prayers about love. He wanted them to know the breadth and depth and width and height of Christ's love for them ... but he prayed that they would have the strength to comprehend that love. Something about Christ's love is so mind-boggling that we need not only wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, but strength to comprehend it. In modern-day vernacular - if we truly got His love for us, we would be absolutely blown away. So praying for a deeper understanding of His love isn't enough ... we need strength to comprehend what He will reveal.
And then, we have to get our minds wrapped around the fact that this love is the love He wants to infuse into us and flow into others. And that's where it gets really hard. We're usually fine with His lavish, nonsensical, unmerited love toward us. It's when He asks us to pass it on to a poor waitress, a mocking co-worker, a thoughtless spouse, a people group bound by demonic spirits manifesting hate, that we struggle.
Which is why Paul also prayed that the church's love would abound - overflow - with knowledge and discernment. It takes knowledge of God's love, of His character and His Word, combined with discernment of the moment, to know what manifestation that love should take in a given situation. Should it be the love of grace and mercy, of unmerited favor? Or should it be the tough love of speaking truth and calling to repentence? Should we, as vessels, look more like Hosea or more like Amos? Will our heart's cry sound like the first half of Isaiah or the last?
Such things are hard to judge from the outside. But we can pray for each other, as Paul did, that we would have strength to comprehend God's love for us - and knowledge and discernment in exercising that love toward others. That was my prayer for you tonight - and I covet your prayers in this as well.
Yes, love is hard. But together we can "spur one another on to love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24). Thanks for praying!
Monday, December 29, 2008
What I loved and learned this Christmas
* Simplicity. Who cares that the economy is down! Less shopping means more time to focus on the Savior. And I personally find scouring resale shops to be a lot of fun ... and quite meaningful.
* Presence. This is really the heart of Christmas. The presence of God ... Immanuel, God with us. But not in a touchy-feely, warm fuzzy way - as one pastor put it, "There's a cross in the manger." We must never forget that aspect of Christmas.
* Humanity. Equally important is what my pastor pointed out - Christmas reminds us of Jesus' humanity. Without His humanity, we would never know that He identifies with our weaknesses. He took on human flesh, Hebrews tells us, to identify with us and the conquer death by dying.
* The Meaning of the Magi. What started out as an irritating column became a lesson for me (see previous post). The Magi traveled so far because Jesus was unique! In the nativity scenes so common at this time of year, we see that Jesus calls equally to shepherds and kings ... and we see that both worship Him because He is unique.
* Togetherness and tradition. I enjoyed just being around family. I loved the non-traditional meals; Bob's daughter-in-law's family scrapping their traditional Christmas Eve dinner out in favor of a potluck at David's house just to see us; my parents' reactions at their gifts; finding good music on the radio. I learned that I love the traditional versions of the songs and carols because we could sing along better. I found new songs I love, but they have a traditional feel to them. I also learned that I don't want entertainment, I want worship.
* Quiet streets and darkened stores. My favorite part about Christmas was the drive into Fayetteville after our travels ... Christmas night, the streets were quiet and most stores were darkened. I love that reminder that even though everyone doesn't believe or understand why, we still basically shut down one day a year for Jesus. Silent night, holy night.
O come, let us adore Him!
Monday, December 22, 2008
To quote Ebenezer Scrooge, Humbug! The logic of this argument falls apart when we wonder, if all religions are equal, why the magi would need to come to Jesus at all. If he is right and the magi's own belief system pointed them to Jesus, does this not underscore the supremacy of the Babe, rather than the similarities of all faiths? Simply put, if all religions are equal then there is no need for them to point to Jesus.
And yet we see, in many traditions around the world, in many cultures, traces of the Gospel. The villagers who believe that only by drawing a cross on the dirt can they ward off evil spirits. The "peace child" that must be offered to settle disputes between two parties. Don Richardson calls these the "keys" within cultures and religions that point people to Jesus. Often, when these people groups hear the message of the Gospel, they respond eagerly because of the preparation God has put within their cultures. (I'm sure some of you could tell far more stories than I could about this topic!)
The pastor is right about one thing - no one forced the magi to worship Jesus. But worship Him they did, as Matthew 2 makes clear. They didn't worship Him because He was equal to their traditions. They worshiped Him because He was supreme.
Jesus is unique. He draws shepherds and magi into the circle of His love and places them on equal footing. And because He is supreme, He can use people's own traditions to point them to truth, preparing them for the message of Scripture. But let's never confuse that preparation for the ultimate message. Always remember that Jesus is unique and supreme. The magi didn't travel 2 years to worship someone equal to their faith. They traveled 2 years to worship God Incarnate, Immanuel, God with us.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I don't know anyone on the field who hasn't memorized and recited Jim Eliot's commentary on this verse:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.
Jim Eliot would know more about loss than he ever dreamed, being murdered along with 4 other missionaries by Auca warriors. And yet today, the Auca are decidedly Christian. We know Jim would say it was worth it.
Risky business, this kingdom work. And that's why some quotes I read in an interview in this week's World magazine (www.worldmag.com) jumped out at me. The author, Gary Haugen, emphasizes involvement in worldwide justice -- but I think his perspective is most applicable if broadened to all work of kingdom advancement. Anyone on mission with God should find his words encouraging and appropriate. Thus, in some of the quotes below I have replaced the word justice with the bracketed [mission] to drive home the point. I hope you are as encouraged as I was to keep taking risks for the Kingdom!
- On why Christians are discontent: "They feel this way because they thought that the Christian life would offer them something that was somehow bigger, more glorious - but at the end fo the day, they find themselves wondering, Is this all there is? Christians seem to be yearning to be liberated from a life of accumulated triviality and small fears, and I see in Scripture a clear pathway to freedom - namely, in answering Christ's call to join Him in His struggle for [mission] in the world."
- On his use of the cul-de-sac as a metaphor for the search for safety: "When we began to build cul-de-sacs here in theUnited States, it was to address homeowner's fears about traffic in their streets. The thought was that these closed-off streets would eliminate the kind fo traffic that could be dangerous to children playing on the sidewalks. But now, studies reveal that cul-de-sacs are actually the most dangerous residential set-up for kids....So the safety we thought we were securing was just an illusion. In the same way, I find we've built spiritual cul-de-sacs for ourselves, believing that when we feel safe and secure, we can most experience the fullness of God; but in this illusory safety, we instead find ourselves restless, longing for a way out, and somehow missing that closeness to our Maker we thought we would find."
- On the importance of Christians pursuing something beyond our own strength: "When we choose to follow God beyond where our own strength can take us, He rescues us from our small prisons of triviality and fear - and this is a good and beautiful and freeing thing. When we walk with God to the jagged edges of our faith - the places beyond our own control, beyond what we may see the crowd around us doing or approving - God promises we will experience Him: His power, His wisdom, and His love."
When Joshua was very old, the Lord told him, “You are very old, and a great deal of land remains to be conquered."(Josh. 13:1-2)
When Joshua was old, God said, "You're old." I love that about Him! He doesn't let me get by with anything ... if I'm being selfish, that's what He calls it. If I'm tapdancing around sin, He goes straight to the core. He challenges me on my rationalizations and my realities. In short, He regularly states the obvious.
The problem is that I don't always want to hear it! I want the spiritualized version, the one with all the big words and turns of phrases that make me look better. I want a loophole - and He refuses to give me one. Teaching children's church and occasionally attending a Spanish worship service have taught me that boiling things down to the basics is an important lesson God wants me to learn - probably because He knows my tendency to make things more complex than they have to be.
So when He says, "Go into all the world..." I really don't have to look up the meaning of the words in three dictionaries. When He says "Go" He probably means ... "Go". When He says "all" He probably means ... "all." Being part of the "Go" is one of the most obvious things we can do to walk with Him. And if we aren't "going" then we should be involving in actively sending. That's what so many of you are doing - taking God up on His obvious word.
This Christmas season, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, please receive from me my heartfelt thanks for being such a great example of obedience to a command that God made incredibly obvious.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I found a letter that I posted last Christmas - a letter "from Jesus" that reminds us of His perspective at this time of year. However, I found much more than that ... I found a reminder of what true inspiration is.
Inspiration isn't always something new. It's not about coming up with something or presenting something new and innovative. I've said before that when I try to be profound, nobody cares. When I can't even remember what I've said, people tell me they were blessed. A simple reminder that I am just a vessel and if I'm too aware of the significance of what I'm saying, it's probably really not that significant after all.
Because what really matters is hearing from Jesus. The fundamentals - His words in the Word - the basics of our faith - the habits of prayer and worship and study - don't always feel "inspired". But they are the tools He uses so we can hear from Him. Unlike other religions, our Scriptures aren't considered divine on their own. They are powerful because they are HIS words ... and Scripture points us to the Author.
I do want Him to inspire me with fresh words - words that I hope will continue to encourage you. And I ask you to pray for me in that. But more than anything, I want to encourage you to hear from HIM. I want to point you to the Author. The Inspirer. The one whose every word is profound - who wants to speak to YOU this Christmas season.
May this letter encourage you as you face the holiday "rush" this year. Blessings!
A Letter From Jesus (by Anonymous)
Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.
If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:
1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.
2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.
3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.
4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.
7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families
8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.
9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.
10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.
Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember :
I LOVE YOU, JESUS
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
In the spiritual warfare that is called life, one principle has helped me dig in my heels to fight: we have to prepare for victory.
It's easy as a New Testament believer with the full counsel of Scripture to turn to the last page, see that we win, and sit back and wait for Jesus to return. But that's not what He's asked us to do. Instead, He lets us see the end so that we maintain courage in the battle - so that we know it will all be okay.
But we still have to prepare for victory.
That was God's primary word to Joshua after Moses' death. "Moses is gone - there's a war to win - get ready for it!" With a side helping of "Be strong and brave." It doesn't take much imagination to grasp that was a message Joshua desperately needed.
Know God's promises. Focus on Scripture. Obey what we know. Trust that He is with us. And keep moving forward.
Principles for Joshua - and for us. For as John Piper points out in Let the Nations Be Glad, life is warfare. We are left on this earth with a mission - to secure land that belongs to Jesus. Peoples that are His. There is warfare in the process - but the victory is certain. Only as we prepare for victory will we have the strength to move forward.
The same is true in the daily victories of holiness and righteousness along the way. As we battle with the world, the flesh, and Satan, we are fighting on a different front in the same war - the war of the kingdom. And the tools for victory are still the same. His promises - His Word - Obedience - Faith - Perserverence.
But if we don't prepare for victory none of that will happen. One of my struggles is food. If I pray for help, but let the salad greens ruin in the fridge, I'm not really prepared for victory! If I overload my plate, my prayers for self-control will likely have little effect. But if I pray - then act as one prepared for victory - I will see victories that have been elusive.
The same is true in prayer. The father (or mother!) of the prodigal should be prepared for the victory of answered prayers. I'm not talking about a works-oriented "have enough faith" approach. I'm talking about a God-centered, Christ-exalted, Spirit-empowered faith to perservere in prayer and keep the child's favorite snack in the pantry - just in case.
These days, I'm working at preparing for victory in my personal struggles, in prayer, and in the advance of the kingdom. I pray you'll join me. Be prepared like Joshua to be strong and brave - and let's see what God does!
Sunday, December 07, 2008
I love Christmas music - not the wannabe "holiday" stuff, but true, biblically solid, worship provoking, Christmas music. I fell in love with "Mary Did you Know?" because of the last line - "The sleeping child you're holding is the great I AM". At a time when people talk about Jesus, it's always good to clarify precisely who He is!
There's a false teaching out there that the God of the Old Testament had to change because of Jesus. No. People just didn't get what He was saying, so He sent Jesus to make the message clear. This song helps me wrap my mind around that - and hopefully will help you too. And when we understand it just a little better, we can take those opportunities that come up to talk to people about who Jesus REALLY is!
That's why I want to introduce you to my new favorite Christmas song. "Hope Has Hands" is part of a musical written by Phil Cross. I've posted a video and lyrics below. Please read them worshipfully - thinking of just how significant it is that all the things God is, were reflected in Jesus as He walked this earth. What He wanted us to know about Him, He lived out on this earth. That's why Adrian Rodgers used to say, "The cross didn't change God's heart, it revealed it."
Each year, I ask God to help me learn something new about the Christmas story. This year, a snippet of a song taught me to look at the dirty manger as reflective of my heart - He came in all His purity and perfection to a dirty manger, to let me know I could ask Him into my dirty heart. It's real - the most real thing you will ever know in your life. I am in awe today - realizing that Christmas is about the Advent of God. His coming. His giving hands to the hope He offered ... hands that would soon be pierced, with redemption's blood pouring out of real veins.
In search of a child, they traveled so far
Led by a star to a place of joy
The wise men told a beautiful story
Describing the glory of a baby boy
Hope has hands
Freedom has feet
Truth will stand
The word will speak
The holy and the lowly will finally embrace
For love has a heartbeat
And grace has a face
Compassion has a tear
Joy has laughter
And here everafter
Peace has a smile
Redemption's blood has veins to flow in
A temple to glow in
For light is a child
Hope has hands
Freedom has feet
Truth will stand
The word will speak
The holy and the lowly will finally embrace
For love has a heartbeat
And grace has a face
The holy and the lowly will finally embrace
For love has a heartbeat
Love has a heartbeat
And grace has a face
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
I am in the midst of a season where He is asking me daily to serve, sacrifice, and depend - to daily do something of service, something that requires sacrifice, and something that couldn't be done apart from dependence on Him.
It's challenging because in the process I'm learning a lot about myself - things like how much I do in my own strength; how little I actually sacrifice; and how easy it is to rationalize things as service to God without getting my hands "dirty" in ministry to others. It's a blessing, though, because God is teaching me that real service, sacrifice, and dependence often begin where choices end.
Let me explain. It's easy to serve when we get to choose what we do. I've heard it said that the real test of servanthood is how you act when you are treated like one. So true - and yet that is when true servanthood can begin. When we choose to respond to someone who acts like we "owe it to" him or her, with love and service as until Christ, we truly enter into service. Developing an attitude of service - a habit of service - on a daily basis will make those times much easier, I hope.
Similarly, I've learned that I like to choose my sacrifices. Sure, I'll give up that dessert, that extra something for myself, that item that I hardly use anyway. But when we don't have a choice about the sacrifice - when God rearranges our day, or when we find ourselves with a child with special needs or a spouse with a stroke ... when circumstances force us out of a country we love and back to a "home" that feels foreign ... when we are packed and ready to go and a phone calls tells us we'll be staying ... those involuntary sacrifices seem to hurt the most. What God seems to be teaching me is that the voluntary sacrifices will prepare me to handle those that I don't get to pick.
And it seems like it requires me being in a place where I have no choice but to depend on God before I remember what it feels like. In the daily round, my good intentions to pray before every new work task or decision seem to be forgotten. But when the mail brings unwelcome news, or an email changes the course of my day, suddenly dependence becomes second nature. My lessons of late are teaching me that I can seek out things to do that require dependence on Him - step outside my comfort zone if you will - and not have to face those crises of faith before true dependence kicks in.
The Christmas season brings reminders of service, sacrifice, and dependence beyond anything I've ever been called to. At our women's tea this week the lesson was on Mary's Song. Mary really reflects the heart of someone who has learned these lessons well. She exemplifies the hard thing that we don't choose. God chose her and blessed her, but she still had to face the crowd with a swollen belly - a crowd that easily could have stoned her. Mary knew just a little of God's plan, but it was enough to cause her to praise God, holding on to what she understood until He would show her more.
God has graciously allowed me to choose the vast majority of my service, sacrifice, and areas of dependence on Him. But when harder service, sacrifice, and dependence comes, I can learn much from Mary. I can learn to praise God for what I do know and understand, trusting Him with my questions. Like Mary, I can submit to His plan, realizing that what He really wants is a soul that magnifies Him.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
Monday, December 01, 2008
You never know when God is going to drop a lesson into your life.
Yesterday it was my turn for Children's Church. The lesson was a familiar one - Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I had gained several new insights during the preparation, and the lesson went well. I was coasting down the home stretch when I was hit head-on with an amazing truth. As the kids worked their word find and the teachers waited for church to dismiss, my bright students were struggling with a word. They kept saying they were "looking for Lazarus". Jokes soon ensued about whether he was in the tomb or not. But my mind was hung up on that phrase.
Looking for Lazarus. Mary and Martha - and the disciples - knew Jesus. They had confessed Him as Messiah, expressed faith that He could heal, and embraced the truth of future resurrection. But they weren't aware that He would be revealing His glory in the remarkable here-and-now. They didn't realize that what they knew about Him was about to be taken deeper. Soon, anyone who would go looking for Lazarus wouldn't go to the tomb - they would go back to the home. They would find him in his favorite chair, or working in the woodshed. Lazarus would forever be a reminder that we will never have God "figured out". We may fully believe in who He is, trust His wonder-working power, and look gloriously to the future - and still get blown away. Because He reserves the right to choose how to reveal His glory.
Looking for Lazarus.What is the Lazarus in your life right now? Is it an illness, an unsaved loved one, a financial crisis? The Lazarus in your life is that point at which you have expected God's intervention in a certain way - and He hasn't shown up yet. That point at which you are waiting two more days. That point at which He shows up to your relief, and yet your heart cries, "If only You had been here...." The point where you have the opportunity to trust His heart when you don't see His hand.
Looking for Lazarus. God is always up to something. He is always at work around us, as Henry Blackaby points out. Our job is just to see what He is doing and join Him in it. That requires eyes to see beyond today's understanding of Him, into the supernatural revelation of who He is in a new, deeper way. To trust His sovereignty and His goodness and His heart of mercy and His supremacy. To know that He is for us, even if He doesn't show up in a manner that fits our preconceived ideas.
Looking for Lazarus. When you're in the role of Mary and Martha (or Lazarus himself), the key verse in the passage is verse 5: "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." He loves you. He loves your loved one. And He hasn't stopped being FOR you.
Keep looking for Lazarus. Because in the Lazaruses of your life, you will encounter Jesus in amazing ways ... ways that tear down the walls of every box you could possibly put Him in.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
However, there should not be any poor among you, for the Lord will surely bless you in the land that he is giving you as an inheritance, if you carefully obey him by keeping all these commandments that I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you just as he has promised; you will lend to many nations but will not borrow from any, and you will rule over many nations but they will not rule over you. If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the Lord your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs.
In fact, a good argument could be made that one reason both Moses and Jesus asserted that there would always be poor among us is that having someone needier than we are keeps us from loving wealth too much. It keeps us focused on being a blessing, rather than being blessed. Generosity is the best protection against greed.
Whatever the purpose, God asserts that the poor among us are not to be ignored but cared for. As economic systems go, both socialism and capitalism have their natural pitfalls, their natural human bents toward sin nature. Capitalism has a tendency to despise the poor - think Ebenezer Scrooge. In such a context, socialism can be seen as attractive - as the "duty" of a nation.
In reality though, it's the covenant community - the people of God - who should be taking the lead in caring for the poor. Many evangelical believers shy away from such talk, because of the imbalance of the "social Gospel" that prioritized human need over eternal truth. Yet as we peruse the pages of Scripture we encounter a God who perfectly melded both temporal help and eternal hope. And He calls us to do likewise.
God wants us to give generously to the poor as He blesses us. Without hardening our heart, meet their needs. Failure to do so is sin. Failure to do so can easily lead to our wealth controlling us. God's method of redistribution is personal, not governmental. Be generous and sacrificial; give from the overflow as well as out of need.
Governmental redistribution should never be needed. As we walk through an economic crisis, let's heed the call of Scripture to give. Now, more than ever, when people are holding tight to every penny, let's show true dependence on God by not decreasing our giving.
May you be blessed to be a blessing this Thanksgiving week.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Then the words came to me: Does s/he love the cross? I was shocked. I didn't know, of course, what was in the person's heart. The question was really more about me than that individual. Sometimes God does that to me - gets me thinking hard about something related to another person, then turns the tables. I knew the question was really Do YOU love the cross?
C.J. Mahaney said it best: "We never move on from the cross, only into a deeper understanding of it." God knows me - He knows that I am prone to over-intellectualization, to paralysis by analysis, and to trying to find even a shred of something that sounds like what I want to hear from someone I am praying for. And so He brings me back with some regularity to what really matters. Paul called it "the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."
Without the cross, all the worst thoughts of nihilism and fatalism are true. We really are hard-wired to self-destruct, and the best efforts of people will only have a limited effect. Or to quote those great fatalist singers, the Hee Haw gang, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me//Deep dark depression, excessive misery."
Without the cross, all we have is punitive justice. Without the cross, only a totalitarian, highly regulated government works. Without the cross, we are stuck in Ecclesiastes forever: "Meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless."
But hallelujah - we are not without the cross.
With the cross, we have hope. With the cross, change is possible. With the cross, we can work for societal progress, knowing that even unbelievers benefit when believers live in the land. With the cross, we realize that common grace which benefits everyone and the special grace that believers should carry with them wherever we go. With the cross, we can have restorative justice, democratic government, and the promise that nothing is meaningless but instead, "All things work together for good to them that know the Lord."
Without the cross, all we have is the Fall. With the cross, we have redemption.
The speaker had none of the cross in his words to me that day. I had to determine to pray for my friend more specifically - not to get answers to many questions, but to would grow to love the cross.
It's foolishness to the world. But it's life to you and me.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Elijah was depressed. Following the literal mountain-top experience of seeing God defeat the prophets of Baal, Elijah runs in fear from Jezebel and feels like he is the only faithful one left in Israel. God encourages him with this word - there are 7000 who are faithful. Elijah gets back in the battle after this exhortation.
But this week I was thinking of the 7000. Sometimes (usually!) I have a delayed realization of the obvious. Yesterday it hit me that we are never told that those 7000 were all together. I'd always pictured them huddled in some early mega-synagogue, worshipping God and awaiting His instructions. Ha! Instead, they were probably not unlike Elijah - alone, scared, and maybe even depressed.
Furthermore, we are never told whether they received the same encouraging word as Elijah. Suppose for a minute that you were one of those 7000 - and did not receive divine notification that there were 6,999 others? Suddenly a prophet comes through and speaks of having heard that there were 7000 faithful. You might hope he's talking of you, and wonder who else is out there.
I'm not sure what Israel's exact population was at this time - a battle near this time featured 10,000 Israelite soldiers, so the population was large enough to support that many in one battle. Suffice it to say that 7000 wasn't a huge percentage. Yet for God's purposes, it was enough.
Sometimes when we are in the battle we feel we are alone. We wonder who else is out there seeing things with God-glorifying lenses and fighting for His name's sake. Sometimes God speaks to us to let us know we are part of a larger remnant. Other times, we have to take Him at His word.
He told Paul in Corinth, "I have many people in this city." At other stops, Paul just had to look for those who were looking for God. Jesus had said, after all, that He had many sheep not of the fold of Israel - and Paul was enough of a theologian to know that missions was the task of finding those sheep ... with or without the divine specificity of Corinth.
You may feel like Elijah today - or like the 7000 who may not have received the encouraging word that they weren't alone. Take heart: God has always maintined a remnant. Whether He reveals that to you or asks you to take it by faith, regard it as truth and move forward in obedience.
Above all, stay faithful. Stay in the battle.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
If you're on Facebook you know what it means to have no secrets. If you're not, let me give you a little insight.
Facebook is a social networking tool - kind of like email, only more public - where users post what they're doing, what groups they support, who their friends are, etc. It's a great way to stay in touch - I've recently reconnected with 10 high school friends after 21 years.
But there are no secrets on Facebook. Once someone is your "friend", when you log on you see what they are doing or have recently done. Status updates, groups joined, public messages written, pictures uploaded - it's all there for the world (or at least their friends) to view. The very attraction of Facebook has been the downfall of more than a few people who posted the wrong thing at the wrong time, seen by the wrong person - and a college application or job was in danger.
Strangely, this phenomenon reminds me of Scripture. I call it Facebooking in the Light. John wrote that we should live our lives openly, for all to see, in such a way that there is nothing to hide. On Facebook, I find myself thinking of status updates that would be "cool" - and resisting the temptation to be something I'm not when reflecting what I'm doing. I find myself paying attention to every group I join or every message I write, knowing that others will see it. And that's not a bad thing. People being the fallen creatures we are, there is deception, puffing up, manipulation, and outright stupidity on Facebook. There is also the chance, as a believer, to practice a biblical principle.
The thing is, John wants us to live all our lives in such a way that they can be this public, without shame. The groups we're involved in, the things we're saying to each other, the daily activities of our lives, should be free of needing to be tucked away in the shadows. We should walk in the light with each other - openly confessing our sins to each other, being straightforward when we realize someone has something against us - and we should walk in the light before the world, doing nothing that couldn't be posted for all to see.
There will be the temptation to act like something we're not. But the fact is that God changes us from the inside out. So what we demonstrate should reflect an inner reality (otherwise it's called hypocrisy). Sanctification should bring us closer and closer to a congruence between what the Word says we should be/are, what we are becoming inside, and who we are in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
What areas of our lives make us cringe at the thought of public portrayal? What would we want to keep off Facebook? Those are the very things we should bring before the throne of God and allow Him to work on ... so that we can bring one more area into the light.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I've come to the place of realizing I'd save myself a lot of grief if I could separate MY part in a matter from HIS part.
The fact is, most of my stress comes from fretting about something that's His part anyway. Figuring out how it should work out, what to do, coming up with a plan - my natural bent toward the analytical and my gift of administration make me want to ACT! The hardest times for me are not when He gives me a tough task, but when He asks me to wait on Him.
On the cusp of their advance into the Promised Land, Israel needed to be reminded what was God's part and what was theirs. They'd missed that message 40 years earlier, and He was making sure they got it this time. Right before the battle of their lives, He laid down 5 tasks that were their part:
1) Love God
2) Do what He requires (obey His word)
3) Live according to His standards
4) Remain loyal to Him
5) Tell those who hadn't personally experienced what they had about Him
That's it. And if they did, He promised them success over enemies larger than them. He assured them of victory. His part was the battle. Theirs was childlike love, faith, and obedience - with a good dose of passing along stories of His great works.
I'm trying to sort through His part and mine in several areas right now. One thing I can know for sure - His part will always be bigger than mine. That's how He gets the glory. And He doesn't need me giving directions from the backseat!
Saturday, November 08, 2008
There is a beautiful song that is the "theme song" for this year's IDOPPC - you can hear it and read the poignant words at: http://www.ninaastrom.com/node/51
I also found this wonderful story and encouragment from the website at www.idop.org. However you choose to do it, please focus some time tomorrow on prayer for the persecuted church.
From www.idop.org ...
There is a wonderful little story from Africa. The villagers in a poor area decided to build a hospital but really had no money so a small boy decided he would do something. The only things he had were some pens. So he started to knock on doors asking people to buy a pen to support the building project. A lady said to him, "But that's too big a challenge for you!" Then the boy smiled and said, "Oh, but I am not alone! My smaller brother is selling pens on the other side of the street."
Many brothers and sisters in Christ in more than sixty nations do not have the full freedom to confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour in our world. Just to give you two examples: when you read this some two thousand Christians are in prison in Eritrea and thousands have lost their homes in India as a result of anti-Christian attacks. More than 100 million Christians face disinformation, discrimination and persecution only because they want to follow Jesus Christ. And they are your brothers and sisters! They easily feel alone—in the jungle, in a hiding place or in a prison.
When I now welcome you to the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP) 2008 I challenge you to do whatever you can so that we together send a strong signal to our brother and sister saying: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Let's "sell pens on the other side of the street" so that they really feel that they are not alone.
I believe that God has equipped us with each other for a time like this, and that now is the time to show our love. You can do this by praying, printing out material from these pages and sharing them in your church, or by giving financial help to good organizations.
Many persecuted Christians have told me that they could feel that people around the world were praying for them when they were in prison. Now again is the time to form the world's biggest prayer group with more than 100 nations taking part. But remember that we are praying not only FOR the persecuted church, we are very much also praying WITH the persecuted church in November. There are blessings for all of us when we unite in prayer to glorify the wonderful name of Jesus.
Welcome to participation in IDOP 2008!
Sunday, November 02, 2008
And it did - words that I felt appropriate to share with you as well. The overall theme of the magazine is that as a society we move so fast, we need to hit the Pause button from time to time. God knew this, and He established the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath. And yet Pause is about more than Sabbath. It's about getting alone with God. To promote spiritual pauses in our lives, Life Action recommends that we:
And then, in the minutes and hours and days and weeks in between, we should follow Brother Lawrence's advice: Practice the Presence of God. Lawrence - a monk who worked in the kitchen and repaired sandals - exhorted believers not to ignore the process of getting to know how to hear God's voice. Most significantly for me, he exhorted: "Don't try to go faster than grace."
That's probably my biggest downfall. I have the heart of an activist. When I believe in a cause, I want to do something about it. When I have a passion, I want to plan and structure and outline and MOVE. When God says wait, watch, and pray, I struggle. I try to go faster than grace.
So I'm working to slow down. I'm trying to me more relational, more intentional, more prayerful. I'm trying to pause. Whatever task God puts before me I want to do with all my heart - but I never want to go faster than grace.
The tribes of Gad and Reuben liked the land on the east side of the Jordan. They couldn't imagine a better place for their cattle and were willing to give up their inheritance within the Promised Land for what was before their eyes.
Amazingly, God let them do it.
But God laid down clear lines - Gad and Reuben's decision wouldn't hinder the rest of Israel. This time, they would enter. Gad and Reuben could stay behind in the land they chose rather than taking what God intended for them - but not until they assisted with the conquest. Their position as His children wasn't questioned. They represent not unbelievers, but believers who simply settle for less.
You see, God doesn't force us to go all the way with Him. He will allow us to settle for less than what He has promised. But we have to realize that when we do so, we are frustrating the intentions of those in the body who want to claim all He has promised. And we are frustrating His intentions.
But He doesn't let us off the hook easily. We may miss out on personal blessings by staying in the security of the known, but He still calls us to assist others who are in the battle.
Don't get me wrong ... I'm not saying that only those who "go" or who are in full time ministry are in the battle. I believe with all my heart that God calls some to minister full time, some to go, some to be lights at secular universities and public schools, some to be in medicine and engineering and garbage collection - all for His glory. And all those people may be in the "land" of ministry God has for them, exercising spiritual gifts at work and in the church and fully entering what He has for them.
What I'm referring to are those who knowingly choose to linger back, sensing God's call to something unknown but choosing not to heed it. "I know God wants me to teach Sunday School, but I hate to miss the service once a month." "That job would be an awesome ministry opportunity, but I know all the people at this one and I'm such an introvert." "God has put that country on my heart, but I could never go because I'm scared of flying."
Those are the people who, like the tribes of Gad and Reuben, choose less than God's "land". I've been in that group at times - as I'm sure you have. And yet God's handling of the situation tells me - yes, God will let me have my preferences, but He isn't going to hold His plan back on my behalf. He still expects me to pray and give and fight for those willing to enter the fray. I can retreat then to my safety, but if I'm needed, I have to get on my knees or give and serve.
I have reached a point in my life where I pray I will never again let fear of the unknown hold me back from a ministry opportunity. I want all the "land" God has for me in His kingdom purposes - not for my own sake, but for His glory. I appreciate God's understanding and mercy when I asked to be held back. But even more, I love seeing Him at work when I'm not frustrating His intentions ... when I'm hearing Him march in the treetops above me and I know He is leading the battle and that I will soon watch and see the glory of the Lord!
If there's a Scripture easier for the enemy to use against a seasoned believer than this one, I don't know what it is. Just as he threw God's words at Jesus in Luke 4, hoping to throw Him off by causing Him to doubt God, this is one he brings up at the worst moments of our lives. In whispers or shouts, he challenges us:
That boss who is out to get you? Surely he's against you.
That election didn't turn out the way you'd hoped. The new leader will be against you.
You were thrown in jail for your faith. The authorities are against you.
Each challenge brings us to a climax of faith: will we believe God, or won't we? We understand the truth theologically, but in the warfare of the trenches we wonder how it applies to our situation.
Thankfully, God gives us examples from His word to show us that what Paul was teaching the Romans is that for a believer, He is a stubborn supporter. He is on our side - even when things are bad. He's not out to get us, to punish or condemn us, to curse us. He is FOR us.
Israel experienced God's stubborn support even as their own stubborn unbelief left them wandering the desert for 40 years. In the midst of that era, a prophet named Balaam thought he would curse Israel for a few bucks. Numbers 22-24 records the result: Every time he opened his mouth to curse, blessings poured forth. God was stubbornly supporting Israel. Israel didn't know what was going on behind the scenes, but God was actively working on their behalf.
Paul goes on to talk in Romans 8 about enduring death all day long, about facing persecution and trials and challenges. Yet he also talks about how God works good in all things ... not that all things are good. He is shaping us into His image, and we can know that the hard things we face are part of His good in our lives - that He is FOR us.
Don't let the enemy lie to you. You have a stubborn supporter. He is for you. Behind the scenes He is actively working on your behalf. He never stops transforming curses into blessings for His children.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
But let me share an honest reflection from my own experience: Sometimes when we are first really learning to worship we find that it is an acquired taste. Meaning, we don't necessarily know what it looks or feels like. We are hard-wired in our sin nature away from worship and toward self, so when we seek to turn that around we may wonder if we are doing it right.
I remember as a new Christian not feeling and wanting the things that older, seasoned believers told me were "normal" for Christians. I struggled with prayer, with Bible study - and with worship. In each case, I had to ask God to give me that desire, that passion. I went on the assumption that He would give me what I was supposed to have, but I felt like something was wrong because it wasn't there "automatically".
What I have learned over the years is that for me, the things of the Spirit must be nurtured and developed in my life, rather than being an automatic presence. After 11 years or so of quiet times I still have to drag myself out of bed - but I have learned that it's okay to pray and ask Him to make it worthwhile. I've learned it's okay to wake up in His arms - literally!
Learning to worship for me is like learning to eat healthy after spending too much of my life eating junk food. With each piece of fruit and salad, I retrain my taste buds. Likewise, with each time of focusing intentionally on God, I reorient myself spiritually away from self and onto Him.
That's a long introduction to this video. Before this morning I'd never heard of the group or the song - but it is such a blessing to me now. It hearkens the story of David & Mephibosheth in 2 Sam 9. Mephibosheth you recall from 2 Sam 4:4 was Jonathan's lame son. David calls him to the table to dine with the king - but Mephibosheth doesn't know that David's intentions are fellowship. And the picture, of course, is one of Christ and us. I won't waste any more words introducing this except to say that this is one of those videos that will give you a taste for the things of God, to help develop that worship which is so essential to having a heart for the kingdom.
2 Samuel 9:1 And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?” 2 Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” 3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4 The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” 7 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”
9 Then the king called Ziba, Saul's servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master's grandson. 10 And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master's grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master's grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. 11 Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David's  table, like one of the king's sons. 12 And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba's house became Mephibosheth's servants. 13 So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king's table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I often wanted new stories. I tried to get daddy to read to me at night; I would tell him stories that I heard and ask him to tell them to me; I would even finish the stories for him to show him I knew them. But in the end, it always came back to those three stories. Looking back over the decades since I've heard one of them, I smile; those stories were the anchor of my childhood. In ways I could never understand at the time, the simplicity and purity of three stories around which bedtime centered was a gift.
That principle reflects a pattern in my life. A central core, which anchors me, and from which I can freely explore the world around me. I'm an admitted nerd; I love research and studies and books. We all have pitfalls to watch out for; one of mine is over-intellectualization. I could easily see myself being a philosopher or theologian - someone who takes the very life out of life by over-analysis.
And yet God, in His faithfulness, has consistently anchored me to simplicity. My dad's stories. My mom's aversion to politics and religion, and her simple, homespun wisdom that has gotten her through 6 decades despite very little formal education. The predictable Southern Baptist churches I grew up in. A husband who gets it right in his gut far before I get it right in my exegesis, and seems to instinctively land at the right action while I analyze the choices. Our church, Calvary Chapel, with its strong emphasis on verse-by-verse teaching of Scripture. Friends like you who go and do while I sit and ponder. These are the anchors that keep me tethered, that keep me from wandering too far afield, that remind me of truth and what really matters.
One of my constant prayers echoes Paul's desire for the Corinthians: I want to never be led astray from simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. And so, while I prepare to go work on my paper and do more research on an esoteric topic, I am thankful for all of you who remind me that it means nothing unless I bring it down to where the rubber meets the road. I can go out and research all the stories I want, but there are really just the basic ones that matter: the cross; the commission; the commitment. If I get those right, I'll be okay.
Somehow I think God is keeping me anchored until I do!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I'm at lunch clipping articles from the international section of The New York Times for a friend who is going to serve abroad for two years, and I'm reminded of the lesson from my quiet time today:
Our sacrifices belong to the Lord. When we give something up to Him, He gets to choose how it's used.
In verse 2 above, God refers to Himself 4 times in respect to the offering laws He is preparing to hand down. The sacrifice would be food He gave, presented to Him at appointed times, in the way He prescribed. Some of that food He used one way (given to priests for sustenance) and some a different way (poured out on the ground). And it was all His decision.
I think that's the hardest part of spiritual sacrifices for me. I realize that I need to sacrificially serve, give, love, pray, praise. Indeed, what have I received that did not come from His hands? I can get my mind wrapped around the fact that I need to put something in His hands. But what I struggle with is doing so without preconditions or presuppositions.
Putting a wayward child into His hands doesn't mean she'll return to Him when I rise from my prayer time. Asking Him to watch over my parents doesn't always protect them from injuries. Putting our nation in His hands doesn't mean my preferred candidate will win Nov. 4. And trusting my dear friend into His hand doesn't mean He won't call her to the other side of the world to serve people in countries I have to learn how to spell.
What it does mean is that I am trusting Him with a little more of me. Just like marriage should grow to increasing levels of intimacy, my relationship with God should open up more and more - where I can put more of what matters to me into His hands and like a child, trust Him to know best. I love praying bold, active prayers ... but a submissive trust should underline every request I make.
So on a day when every clipping represents a sacrifice, I submit my friend - and myself - to Him yet again. And hope that I can learn a little more about trust, a little more about intimacy ... a little more about Him.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
When God awakens us to His kingdom purposes, we often immediately assume that He wants us "over there". We start wondering what country or people group He is sending us to and start mapping out the route.
But if it becomes clear that His purposes for us involve staying, things can get a little murky. In our selfish humanity we sometimes start thinking that He must have something BIG for us. Maybe He wants us to give up our job and focus on full-time ministry, or maybe He'll call us to start a major new work. Surely He intends us to give up something major in exchange for letting us stay here. In many ways, we turn it around to us - as usual.
We often miss the calling right before our eyes - the one that brings our gifts and passions together for His glory. The one that doesn't feel like we're giving up a thing. This is the calling that we almost feel guilty for having. Surely, we think, it can't be as spiritual to be a professor or a city clerk or a computer technician or an administrative assistant or a caregiver for an elderly parent as it is to be a field worker in some exotic land.
But the fact is, God has His people everywhere. When we automatically assume we must give up anything "non-spiritual", we remove ourselves from an entire field. We miss the ministry of tentmaking, the dialogue in the market, where the rubber meets the road.
Bill & Amy Stearns point this out well in 2020 Vision, explaining how we can find our "niche" in God's kingdom purpose. One of their key points is that we discover a place where we find "I'm virtually designed to minister among these people." God aligns our passions, gifts, and the need in unique ways. And He doesn't always send us overseas to do it.
What we have to get our minds wrapped around is that we are ALL on mission with God. That's why I've changed the purpose of this blog - my heart is to minister to Kingdom workers, but also to awaken the church to realize that our job is for everyone to be Kingdom workers! As I love to tell our women's group -when someone "goes" we are all going with her ... she just happens to be the feet.
Sure, we are still called to sacrifice. If we stay, we should give sacrificially to those who go. But we also should see that our place in the Kingdom doesn't start and end with that check. Our place in God's kingdom purpose involves every interest, activity, job, errand, hobby, and sphere of influence in our lives. In God's economy, nothing is wasted. To truly be on mission with God, we should maximum everything in our lives for His glory and His kingdom purpose. Our morning quiet time, the day at the office, the lunch trip to our favorite restaurant, the kids' soccer game, the prayer meeting at the church, and our evening perusal of the newspaper should all reflect our focus on God's big-picture purpose to glorify His name and magnify His grace.
It can be hard to go. It can be harder to stay. But wherever we are, our passion can be for His glory. And our heart can beat for His purposes.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I am blessed to live in the most beautiful part of my state for fall color. In fact, it's been known to attract travelers from other states, especially when it used to peak around craft fair time.
But one of the drawbacks to living here is that I can become over-familiar. I can look without seeing - absorbed in what I have to "do" that day. I'm a task-oriented person, and so I can drive down a street thinking about what I am on my way to do, and completely miss the beauty unfolding around me. Like the introductory notes of a great symphony, I can easily overlook the greatness of the work.
Until - BAM! I wake up one morning and the colors are breathtaking. I wonder when they turned so beautiful - not realizing that I was missing it all along. At the crescendo I can no longer look without seeing. Invariably, I become focused on the beauty that was before me all the time. Those are the days I'm glad my husband drives to work, so I can enjoy the ride.
Unfortunately, it's not unlike that in my relationship with God. I am much more of a "Martha", one who can forget "the one thing that is needed". Walking with God, having friends in Christian circles, talking the church-talk, it can be easy to miss the beauty of what we have in Christ. It can be easy to take grace for granted and to forget that the One who lives in us is the One who appeared in the Shekinah glory in such power that the Israelites wanted Moses to go up for them.
We were discussing this at Bible study last week. After years in Bible study it can become easy to over-analyze the Word ... to take for granted what a privilege it is to encounter the Living Savior on the pages of Scripture. But while we could have a purely intellectual discussion of the Constitution, our study of Scripture should never be so detached.
I think that's one reason why God gives us experiences - they drive home the truth of Scripture in unforgettable ways, and make it come alive. That's what Peter, James, and John experienced when they alone saw the transfigured Christ on the mountaintop. Peter and John both spoke later of being "eyewitnesses" of His majesty - it was REAL to them. They saw the glory of God, and nothing about that was mundane.
I don't ever want to be over-familiar with God's presence in my life, with His grace, with HIM. I want to quit looking without seeing - and open my eyes so that, like Peter, James, and John, I can become an eyewitness of His majesty. Then I want to spend my life pointing it out to others!
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I've been having some odd thoughts about Adam and Eve today.
For some reason I was thinking about how people select mates and realized that the First Couple had no choices! God put them together and expected them to learn to be counterparts - even before the Fall. So when they looked around after realizing their shame and began pointing fingers, there was no choice but to work it out. Not only was there no legal system for divorce - there weren't even any other options. So with fallen hearts, they had to learn to pick up the pieces of their marriage and move on.
They must have done so successfully, because several hundred years and a houseful of kids followed. But imagine the difference in our marriages today if we truly lived out that picture of exclusivity. We are married - there is no one else. No other option but to work it out.
I don't say that in a condemning fashion - I myself have been divorced, and so was my husband. Many of you I know have struggled with the pain of the effects of the Fall on your marriages. My point isn't really about avoiding divorce - it's about exclusivity.
What would your marriage look like if you treated your spouse as the only one? The only one to lean on, the only one to turn to, the only one to confide in? I'm not minimizing other friendships or relationships - I'm just saying that we have so many choices now that it's easy to forget the picture of exclusivity that Adam and Eve gave us. She didn't have a mom to call or a friend to have a Girls Night Out with. She just had Adam, the animals, the kids - and God. Likewise, Adam didn't have Monday Night Football with the guys. He just had her. Exclusively, at least for a while.
Our extended relationships are crucial and valid. But we need to remember that there needs to remain part of us that belongs just to our spouse. Not just physically, but emotionally we should be one flesh with all that entails. I know there are weaknesses and struggles; I realize that because we live in a fallen world and struggle with the flesh we may have extended seasons when we are a long way from that ideal union. But always, always we should realize that it should be better. It should be more intimate, more exclusive. We'll always fall short, and thank God for those friends and family members who fill that void because our spouse will never be everything we need - only God can do that. But we should keep striving toward oneness.
Ultimately, that effort will better reflect the exclusivity of our relationship with Christ as His bride. As Peter said - we have nowhere else to turn. He alone has the words of eternal life. And so through all our crises of faith and things we fail to understand, we keep learning how to be His bride - exclusively. We have no other option. And the oneness that can result as we draw close to Him, as we take on His heartbeat, will reflect the depth of relationship that is possible. That's the real reason that marriage is worth fighting for - to show the world what that relationship with Christ is like.
Like marriage in a fallen world, we won't always get this relationship right either. Thankfully, He will. And we will stumble forward, learning what it means to be His ... exclusively.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Research has confirmed what many of us know by experience: Extremely close married couples - especially elderly ones - are statistically more likely to die within 6 months of each other. The key in the study seems to be whether or not the surviving partner has some sense of purpose beyond the relationship with the deceased. (You can read a report at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26980587/).
But the part of the story that really touched me was the detailed research on why this might be true. It's not merely psychological or emotional - there is a physical element involved. Specifically, research shows that long-time couples actually have a regulatory effect on each others' heartbeats. From the article:
In one such study, Rollin McCraty, research director at the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, Calif., looked at what happened to six longtime couples' hearts while they slept. Heart-rate monitors revealed that during the night, as the couple slept beside each other, their heart rhythms fell into sync, rising and falling at the same time. When the printouts of their EKGs were placed on top of each other, they looked virtually the same.
“When people are in a relationship for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, they create sort of a co-energetic resonance with each other,” says Lipsenthal, who is the past director of Dr. Dean Ornish’s Preventative Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. “A simple analogy is two tuning forks, put next to each other. They create a co-resonant pitch. What happens when two people sleep together for 50 years? What happens when one goes away?”
"They looked virtually the same." They took on each others' heartbeat. Incredible.
Paul tells us that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Whose heartbeat are we reflecting - individually, in our local body, as the church in our nation or on the field? Can we say that our spiritual EKG would match His?
If not, there's only one way to get it - give Him our quality and quantity time. Draw close to Him, open His Word, and let Him start retuning our hearts.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
God sent the spies into Canaan. This observation is critical to an accurate interpretation of the passage. It's also one I overlooked for years.
Without paying attention to this fact, it's easy to fall prey to the deception that any preparation indicates a lack of faith. But God wasn't sending the Israelites to take the land blindly. As Moses charged the leaders, they were to discover
what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or fortified cities, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether or not there are forests in it. And be brave, and bring back some of the fruit of the land. (Num. 13:18b-20)
Clearly, some of what God wanted the spies to see was designed to encourage and excite the people to anticipate what God had in store: they surely would see the land was good, rich, and fruitful. But it's easy to overlook that He was also preparing them for the battle ahead; like the God of Hosts that He is, He would lead them into battle after a full recognizance of the enemy. They would know who they faced, and they would know Who was leading them. They would be aware of some potential problems, but their trust would be in God to give them victory.
Preparation isn't wrong. In our spiritual walk with God, He is going to call us to do things for which we need spiritual preparation. We'll need to know that there might be forests where the enemy can lurk, that some battlegrounds might be easily swept through like a camp while others will require the tearing down of fortified strongholds, and that the enemy is strong. But we'll also need to know the fruitfulness and richness that awaits us after victory. Most importantly, we'll need to be aware that God is thoroughly for us and is the Lord of Hosts, allowing us to see only what is necessary to prepare us, not for fear but for victory.
And yet in that very preparation lies the seeds for temptation. Even leaders can fall into unbelief and lead others astray. And while preparation is not unbelief, what God allows us to see in times of preparation can lead us to doubt. We have to determine to move forward in faith, and not be swayed into unbelief during times of preparation. When faced with conflicting messages, we must discern which reflect fatih and glorify God's gracious promises, and which reflect fear and dishonor Him by casting doubt on His word.
We also have to be aware that experience isn't enough. The people saw the awesome glory of God - and yet complained even in the shadow of His presence. All our experiences must be united with faith.
Preparation isn't wrong. But if you are in a time of preparation - whether for the first step or the next one - be aware that with the preparation comes the potential for temptation to doubt. Trust God that what He is revealing is for victory, not fear. Then say along with Caleb, "Let us go up and occupy it, for we are well able to conquer it" (Num. 13:30).
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Then last night after watching the debate I woke up during the night and found myself praying about the presidential election. Sensing a spiritual battle involved, I was crying out to God to give me a Scripture to pray over the next month. This morning He answered that prayer, leading me first to Isa. and then to Isa. 1:16-20, 23-27. I am posting this to share with you and ask you to consider praying this passage with me.
1:16 Wash! Cleanse yourselves!
Remove your sinful deeds
from my sight.
1:17 Learn to do what is right!
Give the oppressed reason to celebrate!
Take up the cause of the orphan!
Defend the rights of the widow!
1:18 Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,
you can become white like snow;
though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,
you can become white like wool.
1:19 If you have a willing attitude and obey,
then you will again eat the good crops of the land.
1:20 But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
Know for certain that the Lord has spoken.
1:21 How tragic that the once-faithful city
has become a prostitute!
She was once a center of justice,
fairness resided in her,
but now only murderers.
1:22 Your silver has become scum,
your beer is diluted with water.
1:23 Your officials are rebels,
they associate with thieves.
All of them love bribery,
and look for payoffs.
They do not take up the cause of the orphan,
or defend the rights of the widow.
1:24 Therefore, the sovereign Lord who commands armies,
the powerful ruler of Israel, says this:
“Ah, I will seek vengeance against my adversaries,
I will take revenge against my enemies.
1:25 I will attack you;
I will purify your metal with flux.
I will remove all your slag.
1:26 I will reestablish honest judges as in former times,
wise advisers as in earlier days.
Then you will be called, ‘The Just City,
1:27 Zion will be freed by justice,
and her returnees by righteousness.
I must admit this wasn't quite what I was expecting. God basically let me see the spiritual battle isn't as much about the election as about the soul of our country - particularly the church. So the answer isn't the right outcome in an election - the answer is revival. Thus I will be praying the following:
For the church, starting with myself (vv. 16-20, verses that follow God listing spiritual grievances He has against them)
* Promotion of justice, not self-interest ("the least, the last, and the lost", as one of you wrote in a newsletter recently)
* Willful obedience
For our nation (vv. 23-27)
*Return to our ideals of justice and the rule of law, based on our constitution, as opposed to social injustice and legal corruption
* Leaders/officials who grasp their responsibility and seek peace ("wholeness") over personal gain
* That God would come against those He deems are His enemies - whoever they are
* That He will re-establish honest judges and wise advisers
* That our nation will be freed by justice and righteousness, not our own efforts or any political leader
Let me clarify something: I don't think the US is "Zion", nor have we ever been a theocracy. But God is Just and Righteous today just as He was then. In Scripture He consistently criticizes those who fail to uphold principles consistent with justice and righteousness, who fail to realize that governments are established by Him for the benefit of the people not the rulers. This post isn't about a specific outcome in the election or a specific theology of the US. It's really not about politics at all - it's about revival.
Would you pray with me then - and trust Him to hear?
Monday, October 06, 2008
This song reminds me of Abraham Kuyper: ""There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"
Thank You Lord. It is all Yours.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
You have to understand - my mom HATES political conversations. She tolerates them briefly, and then informs us that it's time to change the subject. I'm not sure why - she's just been that way as long as I can remember.
My dad, on the other hand, LOVES political conversations. He loves to debate, to tease, even to argue! And I am much the same way (except for arguing). Other than my husband there is no one on earth I'd rather have those conversations with than my daddy - even when he has me wanting to pull my hair out.
These days, those conversations are by phone and they only occur when my mom isn't home. My dad is hard of hearing and so my end of the call is rather loud. But when daddy wants to talk politics - I talk. Even in Wal-Mart. I treasure every phone call, remembering his successful bout with cancer and knowing that one day I will be recalling the last conversation instead of preparing for the next.
But all the years of conversations with daddy have taught me something else - something he has never verbalized, but that I've seen every day of my life. My dad, better than anyone else, has taught me what it means to love someone without regard for self-interest. He is the hardest person to buy for because everything he wants is whatever makes my mom smile. He joyfully lets her choose restaurants, make plans, and yes, tell him when to quit talking politics. I try to talk her into letting us continue - he happily moves on to the next subject. If you were to ask me one thing that best describes my father it would be simple: "He loves my mother with complete disregard for himself."
Love is hard. 1 Corinthians 13 is filled with action verbs - not emotions. Not everyone can envision what it should look like. Yet it is so important that we try - because through our acts of love, others are pointed to the One who IS love.
The Apostle Paul prioritized love in his teaching about relating to others in the church with differences of opinion (Rom. 14). He also demonstrated love when he willingly became "all things to all men" for the sake of the Gospel.
Those of you on the field know what he must have gone through. It isn't easy to lay down preferences and rights, to give up a favorite food or adopt a restrictive style of dress. No motivation but love can carry those decisions forward past the tough moments, when the very people you are trying to reach push you away.
And yet love is always right. Whatever sacrifices we make for love's sake are never in vain. So the next time you struggle with letting go of a right for a weaker brother, or making a cultural change to reach a lost soul, know that the message comes through. I've learned more about love from those times my daddy quit talking politics than from anything I was taught verbally. Love has a way of shining through - and people are watching.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
One of the songs gripped me in a new way - so dramatically that I caught my breath:
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God
(Chris Tomlin, "Indescribable")
There is much in this short chorus to evoke worship and reflection. But what I heard with new ears was one word: Untameable.
Untameable - as in, He can't be tamed. When we tame an animal we try to bring it under submission, to make it fit our purposes and needs. In short, we try to control it. Not so with God. As others have said before me, a God we can control is no God at all.
But the practical implications of this are truly profound. We can't put Him in a box. He reserves the right to act in ways that don't fit our preconceptions. He has revealed what we need to know in His Word, but we make a serious effort when we think His Word is all there is to Him. It's not. It's just a tool He gave so we could know something of Him who is beyond knowledge. We simply can't handle any more. My intellectual bent loves to parse Greek words and dissect phrases - but if I think by doing so that I've figured Him out, then I need to start over. Any conclusion that limits God or makes Him smaller is wrong.
God's "untameable"-ness also means that He reserves the right to interrupt my life - or my day. He hears my prayer requests and knows what's on my to-do list, but it remains MY list -- not His. If He wants me to be part of the answer to my prayers for an ill, lonely church member by shifting my schedule around to send me on an errand of mercy, that's His prerogative - even if I thought that the job should go to someone else. If He calls me to lay down something as simply as my list or as life-changing as my career, it's really His call. Why should I expect Him to get with my program? He's Untameable.
Thankfully, our Untameable God also is a God of grace, mercy, love, goodness. And He exercises these in Untameable ways as well. A dear friend has a blog titled Scandalous Grace. Others has emphasized the riches of His love. A local church proclaims weekly, "God is good all the time//All the time God is good." We put limits on our mercy. He doesn't. The Untameable God is a limitless God.
Is it scary to trust ourselves into the hands of someone so - untameable? Sure. But what better place to land.
“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
"People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time."
- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe