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