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.