Wednesday, April 30, 2008
It may be overwhelming depression. It might take the form of a dreaded disease. It could be a day you think you might die. It could be tragedy to a loved one. Whatever it looks like, you are left groping like someone lost in a cave. You fervantly want to hold on to something solid - something that matters.
One the darkest days of our lives, all that really matters is relationship: with God and with others. Those relationships are all that survive this temporal realm, this fallen world, this present darkness. When we are certain that our standing before God is unchanged because we come through Christ, and when we know we have invested our lives in others and have authentic relationships with them, we can land on our feet in the tumult of darkness. We can have a stable point of reference as we grope our way back to the light.
So today, a reminder: Prioritize those relationships. No matter how "busy" you are, how task-oriented your personality, come face to face with what you would hold onto in the darkness. Then build it in the light. Develop the intimacy that will pull you through when you can't see up or down.
The day will come when we each discover what really matters. Let's make some advance preparations now.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
If I was going to show off God's wisdom, I sure wouldn't pick the church.
Creation, definitely. The intricacies of the human body, the profound beauty of a sunset, all the creatures that live beyond the human eye showing that creation is for God's pleasure and glory - obviously show God's wisdom. If Scripture said "through the creation ..." I wouldn't have blinked an eye.
But as He so loves to do, God stunned me with His Word. God's manifold wisdom is made know - through the church? Really?? Did I read that right?
But indeed, there it is preserved for all eternity - God shows His wisdom through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places! Those spiritual beings see in the church God's wisdom.
It's a stunning thought, really - and a profound one. What we do, how we respond to the struggles in our lives, the reactions we allow ourselves to demonstrate when no one is around -- are all watched from the heavenlies. We glorify God when we demonstrate His character in such situations, even when no one is watching. As "the church", we show God's wisdom when we work in His power and not our own; when we exercise spiritual gifts and work as a body where each part is needed; when we come together in unity around Christ without distinction of our racial, gender, or socio-economic differences. We may not feel like it's anything special, but from a heavenly perspective, God is being glorified in our simple acts of fellowship.
You and your support team are part of the body, the church. When you walk out together the propogation of the Gospel, when you truly see each other as parts of a whole that is needed for kingdom advancement, when your gifts strengthen and edify each other and the churches of which you are part, then God is glorified as His wisdom is made known in the heavenlies. When you personally handle those difficult people, those hard days, those disappointments, with grace and love and the fruit of the spirit, then God is glorified as His wisdom is revealed.
I'm still shocked that for all the failures of "the church", it is still God's tool to demonstrate His wisdom to heavenly beings. But I'm also encouraged and challenged, because this truth gives a new depth of meaning to every reaction, every word, every relationship. It's not about me. It's about glorifying God for His wisdom.
And all heaven is watching.
Friday, April 25, 2008
“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’(Rev. 3:7-13, ESV)
It's great to know that the advance of the kingdom doesn't depend upon us.
The words of Jesus to the church at Philadelphia remind us that when we feel the pressure of having just a "little strength", there is a Power moving that is above the fray of earthly struggles. And even more amazingly, this Power is both personal and loving.
When God opens a door, no one can shut it, and when He shuts one, no one can open it. But one of the most amazing things that jumped out to me today when I read this passage is what that while He is opening and closing doors for a tender church with just a little strength, He is also encouraging them about His personal love for them. In fact, He makes an amazing promise: "they will learn that I have loved you."
Wow. He isn't just going to advance the kingdom despite their lack of strength. He is going to make sure that His love for them is evident. I couldn't help but think how this echoes the principle David observed in the beloved 23rd Psalm: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" (v. 5). He doesn't promise us a lack of trials or opposition, but the theme underscored by both David and John writing under the inspiration of God is that our relationship with Him will be obvious, even to our opposition. Even to our oppressors.
Peter addressed the issue of our interactions with the opposition as well. 1 Peter 2:15 tells us that our right actions in the face of their abuse will shut their mouths: "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." What I learn from the principles of David, John, and Peter is that when we are so focused on our relationship with God, and the love He has for us, then we will be able to do what is right and even our opposition will know that the relationship is deep, real, and loving. And they will be silenced. Maybe not on earth - but in the heavenlies, none of their arguments will have merit. God will have shut their mouths with His love - and what He shuts, no one can open.
Watch for open doors today. And trust Him to shut mouths.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
I'm really glad that all our Biblical heroes of faith aren't paragons of spirituality, always pictured spending hours on their knees before any decision. While I complete concur with the purported statement of John Wesley that "I have so much to do I must spend 3 hours in prayer", the reality of my life usually happens too quickly for such intense prayer times. In fact, often a hurried prayer is all I can manage before making a decision that could affect others as well as myself. Sometimes, not even that - the decision and prayer come hand-in-hand.
I don't say this to encourage a popcorn prayer life. In fact, I'm convinced that the times in our lives when we have to make decisions prior to or simultaneous with prayer are undergirded and supported by intense times in our prayer closet. There we learn His voice, so that when He guides us quickly we can recognize before we analyze. We KNOW Him experientially. He is real to us.
My husband is a former police officer and he was taught that "In stress you revert to training." Those times of prayer are "training" for times of stress. When I've been in life or death situations with others, I've seen this work: you discover more about yourself and your relationship with God because you are acting out of nature and habit more than reflection and prayer. And the beautiful thing is - it's okay! It's called walking in the Spirit, and it works.
Daniel showed this when he boldly offered to interpret the king's dream - a dream that was unrevealed. He steps out, acts on the life and death situation before him, and gets the chance he requests. But notice what he does next: He runs for his prayer team. And God answers.
I love those times when, like David, we can pray "before we go up" in each step of the way. But I also love that God showed us Daniel, who jumped into a situation then trusted God to follow through. And he is called a hero of faith. His prayer team was ready and they sprung into action. That's the other thing I learned; when was regularly facing life and death decisions, I had a prayer team that I knew was taking the time I couldn't in those moments. And it worked, every time.
You're on the field, and it is crucial for you to spend intimate time with God. But sometimes you are going to face decisions that can't wait. At those times, please have your prayer team lined up to pray for the follow-through on your decision. Ask them ahead of time to pray for your wisdom in those crucial moments. And know that it's okay.
God meets us in the moments. Not just those on our knees - but also those in the fray. Daniel is proof!
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The specific circumstances aren't what's important - I've experienced the theme often enough to know that sometimes God is going to throw me a curveball. He's going to ask me to say "Yes" to something, knowing full well that I'm not ready for all the facts. He keeps me on a need-to-know basis. And sometimes, the results leave me crying out, "This is not what I signed up for!"
You may have experienced this as well. A child with a disability. A parent hit with Alzheimer's far too early. A reassignment on the field taking you away from what you thought God wanted you to do. A health trauma with a loved one. All those things which leave you wondering what God is up to and why He couldn't have clued you in earlier.
In my own life I've come to see these times as God drawing me closer to Him. He knows that I am going to need to communicate constantly with Him, and He makes me clearly aware the He is in control, not me, and that I am just His tool. It's not "my" ministry, "my" plans, "my" gifts ... it's all about Him, and times that are far beyond me serve as a vivid reminder of my dependence on Him. They point out that I am the vessel and He the potter. Not the other way around.
And yet through it all He is so full of love and grace and mercy. At those times of desperation I cry out like the Rich Mullins song "Hold me Jesus/I'm shaking like a leaf/You have been my king of glory/Won't you be my Prince of Peace." And He responds.
Because you see, He has already said Yes to me. 2 Cor. 1:19-20 tells us "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory." Jesus is God's YES to me ... so all my yeses to Him are a response to His ultimate Yes.
Oh, how glad I am He didn't tell the Father, "This is not what I signed up for!" on the way to the cross ... how He doesn't say "This is not what I signed up for!" when I fail ... how He never points to me in frustration but always in love. Even His hard lessons are from a heart of love.
Do I expect Him to stop throwing curveballs? No ... because He knows that I can't handle seeing the depth of the problems at once. Like a loving Father, He will continuet to reveal what He knows I'm ready to say Yes to. And He will continue to give me more than I never signed up for. Things like unexpected mercy. Profound demonstrations of His presence. Grace abounding. And Love without measure.
May He reveal Himself in unexpected surprises today!
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Like so many scriptures, this one seems counterintuitive. Peter tells us that Satan roams like a lion to find someone to devour in the same breath that he tells us to cast our anxieties on God. In fact, the basic message he presents could be "Don't be anxious - fight"! Yet for me the thought of fighting produces anxiety!
But God is, as always, wiser than me (what a relief). He knows that if we are anxious and burdened about the cares of the world, we won't see the battle for what it is and fight it spiritually. If we allow the enemy to distract us by anxiety and fear, we give him the upper hand. And so Peter tells us to put our anxieties on God, and focus our energies on the spiritual battle.
The things in this world that make me anxious are all in His hands. Instead of anxiety, I should be on the alert for Satan's schemes. Resist him, Peter writes - and one tool for resistence is the awareness that other believers are also suffering similarly. Our "fellowship of suffering" becomes part of the battle. Peter also reminds us that our suffering will lead to God perfecting, confirming, strengthening, and establishing us. In other words, a proper theology of suffering is part of spiritual warfare!
Are you suffering today? Put your anxieties on Him, and learn from the suffering how to do battle with the enemy. You'll find yourself strengthened in the process.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)
It's an unspoken tragedy for many western Christians: We don't know what it means to delight in God.
With our rationalistic mindset that emphasizes natural over supernatural, our "cultural Christianity" that prioritizes how God can help us with our goals, and the general perception that exuberance is for children, not adults, we are programmed for everything but pure, unfettered delight.
We love God. We obey Him. We may be radical and not just believe in Him, but truly believe Him. But we balk at unabashed delight.
Delight can be defined and described easier than it can be developed. The word means pretty much what you imagine: Strong's Concordance defines it in part as "to be happy about, take exquisite delight in, make merry over, make sport of". The picture we may get is one of a child's first taste of ice cream, or the squeal of delight when they discover the puppy on Christmas morning. It's joy that can't be held back.
But all that is theoretical unless we are able to develop delight. And there's the rub for many of us. How can we develop delight in God - apart from divine intervention? Part of it, of course, is divine intervention - the new heart that He gives us at salvation is hard-wired to long for Him. And yet He loves us enough not to short-circuit the process. He wants us to develop the relationship with Him - and part of the joy is in the journey.
If you've ever struggled to delight in someone that you loved dearly - a child, a spouse, a friend - you will find that some of the same relationship principles that develop delight in people will also strengthen your relationship with God. I'm listing a few that I've learned from experience. If you've become more focused on yoru tasks than on pure enjoyment of God, then my prayer is that this helps you recenter on the privilege of delight.
* Delight comes with time - specifically, spending lots of time together. Even if you fell in "love at first sight" with your spouse, likely the true delight came as you spent time together, seeing each other in different settings and truly enjoying the person you observed. It's the same with God. We have to spend lots of time with Him if we want delight to bloom.
* Delight comes with shared experiences. Part of my delight in the people I'm closest to is that we have been through a lot together. Laughing our way to McDonald's this morning to beat out a strong storm before work was a shared experience that caused me to delight in my husband's ability to make even stressful times fun. Likewise, I've grown to delight in God when we come through something together. But I have to communicate for that to happen. He's always there, of course - but He wants me to acknowledge the fact and let Him in on my life, much like a parent wants a child to tell them about the bad day even if the teacher already called.
* Delight comes with mutual goals. The people I delight in the most are those with whom I share similar passions, dreams, and goals. There is just something about working together for a common cause - the heart of the Greek word koinonia that our English "fellowship" has minimized to church socials. Indeed, probably the best tool for delighting in someone is to find a common interest. It's the same with God. If we want to delight in Him we have to share His interests, His heart. He is passionate for His glory. His heart is for the nations. He is interested in our spiritual progress. He intentionally builds His church. Those big-picture purposes go beyond the "failures" of today. If we get on mission with Him, building His church, spreading the Gospel to the nations, and meeting practical needs as a way to bless others around the world, we will find delight springing up unexpectedly!
Most importantly, undergird all of this with prayer. God wants us to delight in Him - He delights in us (Zeph. 3:17)! Pursue Him in these ways passionately - and ask Him to give you the delight for Him that He wants you to have.
Then get ready for joy you can't hold back.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Two nights ago, I read this passage in the NET Bible and have heard this words ringing in my ears from Psalm 102:
102:18 The account of his intervention will be recorded for future generations;
people yet to be born will praise the Lord.
102:19 For he will look down from his sanctuary above;
from heaven the Lord will look toward earth,
102:20 in order to hear the painful cries of the prisoners,
and to set free those condemned to die,
102:21 so they may proclaim the name of the Lord in Zion,
and praise him in Jerusalem,
102:22 when the nations gather together,
and the kingdoms pay tribute to the Lord.
Think of it from where you sit. "The account of His intervention will be recorded...". Don't you see the need for it everywhere? Even in the Christianized society in which I live, I see that His intervention is desperately needed.
This Scripture reminds us that He sees, hears, and sets free for one key purpose: so those freed will proclaim His name when the nations gather together. It's a Psalm anticipating that favorite passage of kingdom-minded believers in Rev. 7:9 - that time around the throne with every tribe, tongue, and nation.
And what will our song of praise to the Lamb extol? Merely "the account of His intervention". He intervened in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself. He intervenes in our individual lives. He intervenes in society. He is not distant. He is not a clockmaker, like the Deists envisioned, who leaves us to figure all this out. He is actively involved. And He hears your cries and those of your people.
Imagine. Of those you serve, some who are yet to be born will praise Him. Maybe that pregnant woman next door. Or perhaps the couple who are marrying this weekend will have a child in this category. The possibilities are endless.
I join you in prayer tonight that His nail-scarred hand will pierce the division between heaven and earth, bring God's will to earth as it is in heaven, and that by His Divine Intervention make progress toward that day.
Even so, Lord Jesus, come. Let all Your interventions in our world prepare a people to praise You when the ultimate intervention comes and we gather at Your throne.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Perhaps for that reason, my friend's email today really touched me. She has been rallying a group of us to pray for a boy in Children's Hospital. She has prayed for him for years, and so is very sensitive to God's direction in prayer for Spencer. She put into words so beautifully what I've often felt, but never articulated, that I asked her permission to use her words here. My hope, my prayer is that you will be encouraged -- because even though she writes about Spencer, I've experienced this on your behalf. And I know many who would say the same.
The next time you are having a tough day, remember that God might be waking someone up on the other side of the world at that very moment. And we will get to be part of what He is doing for you.
Hey all. thanks for your continued prayers. I will never forget the things God has taught me and reminded me of through praying for Spencer. I knew when he was so close to death. My sister used to be his night nurse, so I knew from her, and from God. I woke up one night and I didn't know why I was awake. I tried to go back to sleep (I don't have probs going back to sleep if i wake up) so I got up and checked my emails, as we all do as soon as we wake up ha (or maybe it's just me) and I had an update that Spencer needed urgent prayer. That is when they put him on the oscillator.
So I started to pray. I knew God was allowing me to participate in what He was doing. I just knew. And I knew that Spencer was very close to death. As I prayed God was saying to me, "I can do this all by myself, but I'm allowing you a great oppertunity to participate in what I am doing." I prayed all night till sunrise that night. I went to bed and when I got up there was an update that Spencer had made it through the night and was stable.
I knew that so many of us had been praying for him. I felt our connection in prayer. Whatever had happened, I knew that God was in control, and I was privileged to be part of it. And part of being united in prayer with others. Prayer has changed for me as I have learned that it's about being in the prescence of God. I have always known that's what it is about, but I haven't always experienced it that way. Not as deeply as this has been. Just a few times in my life, this being one. And I am grateful.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
To compensate for my lack of interest and natural ability to find cobwebs, I have designed a cleaning schedule. I have things I do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Well, things I'm supposed to do, anyway. This schedule isn't a reflection of my heart to clean but my lack thereof - it's an indicator that cleaning is truly a chore for me. So more gets done than if I didn't have my schedule, but rarely does everything on the schedule get accomplished.
Currently I'm in the process of revamping my schedule. I'm trying to do my weekly cleaning in a different way or on a different day of the week, to make it easier to accomplish other, higher priority goals in my life. I'm finding this is more of a challenge than I thought. I'm stuck in my cleaning "habits" and find it hard to shift out of my system.
Tonight, I had to clean more than usual for a Thursday - a lot more. We are expecting weekend guests, and they'll be here before I'm off work tomorrow. So, I sat folding clothes and reflecting on the challenge cleaning has always been for me. And I realized that it really reflects spiritual tendencies that are easy to fall into.
It's easy to set up a spiritual "cleaning" schedule. On Sundays, we go to church and confess. The rest of the week, we dabble at religion. Maybe we touch this or that area, but overall, we leave it to the scheduled day for Jesus. We get stuck in a life-rut and wonder what happened, when the problem is that all along our hearts aren't in it.
It can happen in ministry too. "Every time I lead a Bible study I ...." "Here are the exact steps to disciple someone." "Outreach? Sure, I've done a hundred of them. We'll throw something together the week before, it'll be okay." We just assume that the way we approach it is the only way God will work, and soon our hearts aren't even in it.
So God throws wrenches into our plans, or knocks us off course - because He wants to fully engage us. He wants our hearts in it. He wants us to allow Him to scrub the walls on Monday night, for heaven's sake!
So, let Him shake things up a bit. He's just cleaning house, moving furniture around. He'll have it ready for the work He needs to use it for. Just don't get too comfortable there. Because soon He'll be at it again. Because He knows what it took me forever to learn about housecleaning: if something just sits unused, it will eventually get covered in dust.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name. And do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. (Heb. 13:15-16, NET)
James turned my spiritual world upside down. A 4 1/2 month study of the book (summary notes are on my other blog, http://worldchristianfoundations.blogspot.com) drove home to me like never before the importance of practical Christianity.
And then I got overwhelmed. Once aware of the needs and the importance of meeting them, I began to see problems at the societal level, issues that I couldn't begin to figure out how to tackle in a practical manner. Even some personal ministry opportunities God gave me seemed to be over my head!
And then God brought me to this wonderful passage in Hebrews. Oddly enough, the admonition to "share what you have" brought me great encouragement as I realized - aha! God doesn't expect me to share what I don't have! And He doesn't expect me to do what only He can do. He calls me not to what I can't do, but to what I can.
Sometimes that is a lot, and sometimes it's a little. Always it involves love. Always it is practical. Always I should pray. And always, I should trust Him that it is enough. Jesus didn't ask the boy to provide food for 5000. He just took what was offered, and made it sufficient.
It's pride that says if it's going to get done, I must do it. Humble trust simply says "Lord, here's what I can do. You take it from here."
What is overwhelming you tonight? Are you perhaps focusing on what you can't do? Try the lesson I'm learning - seek to do what you can. Give what you have. He never asked you to multiple the loaves and fishes - just to be willing to share them.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
As I read these words this morning, I had one of those "Aha!" moments - you know, the ones where you realize something you should have known all along.
What I saw in the text was that steadfastness - which comes as a result of testing - results in us being perfect ("mature") and complete, lacking nothing. In other words, as I "hang in there", somehow I have all I need. This echoes 2 Peter 1:3: We have all we need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus!
How often I want the "perfect, complete, lacking in nothing" without the steadfastness! It's like my current weight loss goal. I want to be at that final weight. I really, really want to have this weight loss journey behind me. I don't want to figure up what percentage of my goal I'm at - I want to be able to say "I lost xx pounds." And yet, I can't get there without the steadfastness. It's the weekly losses of 1/2 pound, 1 pound, 2 pounds, that add up over time. And those are achieved by the daily choices, one small decision at a time. A salad instead of chips here, turning down the cheesecake there ... it all matters. I can't reach the goal without the steadfastness required along the way.
And that's what the "perfect, complete, lacking in nothing" part is all about. I frequently joke that I wish I were the person I am in my quiet time ... the one with an understanding of theological truth that is so excited about applying it. Not the one who snaps at the car rental company because I only have 5 minutes to solve a problem at work. I want to have arrived. God wants to get me there.
And trials are part of the process. For me and for you, those trials that James exhorts us to count as joy are tools that God uses to produce that steadfastness which results in that maturity we so desire. If I look back over my journey with God, I see a lot of things that I wouldn't have chosen. But I also see a lot of growth that I wouldn't trade for anything.
And so I rejoice ... even in trials. May He bless you to do the same tonight.