Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wanderer Two

Psalms 107:10-16, “Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron.”

Here we have another wanderer, the one who sits in the darkness.  I see an emotional component to this.  There are actually two people who fit this; one is intentional and one is unintentional.  Let’s begin with intentional. 

There are people who choose to be miserable.  Aren’t they a dandy?  They love to sit around and wallow in their gloom.  It is like enjoying a nice dip in a big Jacuzzi tub filled with tar.  You walk into their homes and they want to know if you want to get in their tub of tar, and you look at them like, “Why would I ever want to, a: get in that tub with you, and b: wallow in tar?”  These are the longest visits, phone calls, meetings of your life.  Ask people that you really trust if you fit this description.  I sent out a questionnaire to some of my friends one time.  I wanted to know if I accurately viewed myself.  They questions came from these eight points, from the book, Lit, by Dave Edwards,

1)      I do the right things.

2)      I deal with my mistakes instead of hiding from them.

3)      I deal honestly and truthfully with everyone and in everything.

4)      I am careful to use my words to build life in myself and others.

5)      I defend the righteous when they are unrighteously accused.

6)      I do what I say I will do.

7)      I use my resources to build up the kingdom of God.

8)      I do not use others to accomplish my own agenda.

You have to really want to know, right?

So this brand of wanderer sits in darkness and gloom, prisoners, literally shackled to their misery.  They choose this.  Imagine all of the things in life that you choose, and then imagine choosing this.  Some people do, and their misery, their tar-filled-Jacuzzi-tub runneth over.  The thing is, this Jacuzzi tub filled with tar feels just like a wonderful warm bath to them.  It is equivalent.  There is something that happens in this darkness that allows some people to substitute reality with this dark fiction that they own and feed.  This is their rebellion from the words of God, from the counsel of the Most High.  God tells us, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” So, if this is you, get out of the tub!

Next we have the flip side of this, those who are in darkness and gloom not from their own choosing.  These people understand this verse, Job 7:3, “so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.”  The Jacuzzi darkened people are a disgrace to these wanderers, a complete sham.  These unintentional wanderers desperately desire to draw close to the Father, and yet, they are shackled to irons of misery and darkness.  The loneliness crushes their souls.  They are the unwilling participants in this type of trouble, but they are deeply troubled and wait for the Lord to bring them out of this darkness.  I have known so many women with various psychological disorders or challenges, or simply those who go through a tough time.  It is their burden, in the midst of this to keep the words of God close to their hearts and remain fixated on the counsel of the Most High.  It is a challenge of which I cannot conceive.  These are the carefully chosen few who can endure, and have the capability to draw into the Father under the most extreme of conditions; conditions in which most of us would fail.

Whether intentional or unintentional, their hearts are bowed down with hard labor, because all labor is hard when it is under this weight.  Getting dressed, walking outside of your bedroom, prayer…they all seem like an untrained athlete in the middle of an Ironman competition.  It is labored and they fall down…often.  They cry out…often.  They are alone, even when in a room full of people and no one can help them.  The difference that I see between the intentional and unintentional wanderer is this crying out.  The intentional wanderer is not so concerned with being rescued.  The unintentional wanderer desperately desires the Lord to save them from their distress. 

I love how God’s steadfast love is described for this person.  He brings them out of darkness and gloom.  It is like someone walking you from a dark room into the middle of summer in Phoenix.  From darkness to light, it can be blinding.  Wait, this is the best part…He shatters doors of bronze and cuts bars of iron to free these wanderers.  What an amazing God!  He desires freedom for His people and He is willing to act like Super Superman to do it.  Nothing is spared when it is time for the Lord to free His people.

Lord, thank you for your relentless, steadfast love that desires freedom for your people.  Continue to gather up your people from the ends of the earth.  Give us vision to see our broken bonds as a reflection of your glory.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wanderer One

What a find!  The Lord has guided me to scripture today that I need to hear.  Today I was feeling a little discouraged.  Sometimes after I teach the youth girls, Satan plants the barb of doubt in my head.  I feel that high school girls are one of the most important and costly demographics in the church.  They will someday be the women, wives and mothers of the church.  It is a high calling that they are entering into, largely unknowingly, and it is one that often takes a long and winding road.  I do not envy this generation.  They have so much information to process and their life experience cannot possibly match the level of maturity that it requires.  In other words, they know more than they should, and they experience more than they should have to.  I just love them and I look forward to what God wants to show them.  Saying that, I still feel completely unprepared for the task.  As we know, that is probably why I am still here.

I know that today I am to thank the Lord for His steadfast love because He loves these girls more than I can.  The Lord is doing what He does best, loving His people.  I am so excited about this scripture.  Psalm 107:1-3, says, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”  Hallelujah, the Lord is gathering.  His love endures forever.  He loves those who are lost.  He loved me and he loves me now when I wander or fail.  His steadfast love endures. 

I am the redeemed.  I am the bride of Christ and I am told that I should say so.  His steadfast love has sustained me through a life of trouble, many times of my own making, and he has gathered me more than once.  He has had to go to may lands to find this one sheep (me) who has wandered away from Him.  Praise God that He has never left me alone.  He has never been afraid of the places that I have run to, the dark nights of despair.  His love is steadfast.  I know that He will search the earth to find not only these girls, but all of the people whom I love who do not really know the Father and this amazing love for the troubled.

And that is just the introduction…this is such a meaty chapter.  It gives us four kinds of troubled people.  Think of who you know.  This is like an instruction manual for the love language of the lost.  I will give a little preview of what I found:

Type 1: Wander in the desert

Type 2: Sit in the darkness

Type 3: Are sick from their own ways

Type 4: Went down to the sea

This is fascinating because I am one of these, you are one of these, and I guarantee that you know one of these.  Let’s look at the first one.  Psalm 107: 4-9, “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.” 

These people wander in the desert.  They willingly wander through nothingness.  This desert cannot sustain you.  Some translations say the wilderness.  Those who wander here cannot find their way to real relationship, real community.  They could be those in and out of relationships, constantly finding people who will meet their needs and then discard them.  They are the ones that believe that life is their buffet.  They pick a little of what they want out of everything and everyone, but never stick to anything.  They visit every singles group in every church in town and finally give up, declaring that they didn’t like the way that the pastor talked about sin.  They are never filled.  They cannot find their way to a town that is inhabited, only to those sad abandoned old towns that you see when you drive across country.  They used to be something but now they are just a collection of old memories falling down, with no one to testify for them.  They are empty. 

We talked about the woman at the well last night.  The girls and I determined that this woman was probably pretty savvy; she knew what Jesus was saying to her.  John 4: 13-15, tells us, “Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  Jesus knows where we are thirsty.  He knows the things in our life that have made us hungry.  He looked at her and saw the secrets that made her soul faint as her life had been passed from man to man.  She was wandering in the desert, the wilderness, and she could not find an inhabited town that would give her safety and relationship, so she just kept wandering.

She did it, though.  She said to the Messiah, “I want that.  I am in trouble.  I am hungry and thirsty and I cannot find a home.  I want that water, the living water, so that I will never feel this way again.  I will never feel broken and empty.  I will never feel alone with no where to go.”  Immediately, he delivered her from her distress.  He told her that even though no one else really knew her, he did.  He knew about the other men and He knew the extreme loneliness that each man had only increased.  Despite all of this emptiness, Jesus came through Samaria to gather her up in her distress and take her into an inhabited town.  He gave her a path to follow and living water to quench her thirst.

So, I will thank the Lord for His steadfast love, because He bothered to come and gather me in my times of trouble.  He will do the same for those whom I love.  He satisfies my thirst and hunger.  What good things He fills me with!  Today He gives me steadfast love and a thankful heart.  I did not start there, but His word has drawn me to Him once again.  Praise Him. 

Father, thank you for your steadfast love.  Thank you for gathering us from every direction when we wander away and our hearts are thirsty and hungry.  Remind us that we can never be filled by anything but you and give us the hearts and minds to accept your good things for us.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Me, in control?

When I was in seminary, I wrote a paper on Hebrews.  The only thing that I remember about that paper was that it only covered a few chapters and my professor wrote, “Your writing is problematic”, on one of the pages.  Sweet, wasn’t it?  For all I know, it could have been.  So, endure some more problematic writing with me as I settle in my cozy chair and look at this book. 

I am home and today I have not been to any hospitals.  We are in the middle of figuring out what we are looking at with one of my family members.  It is hard to watch people that you love hurting.  I remember when I was going through, “the year of the back”, or 2008 as some called it.  In my wretched state, I would look at the face of my husband.  I was mindful of what I was going through every second of the day, but my physical pain was as intense as his emotional pain.  When I would be stuck on the floor for hours, days, weeks…his face said it all.  He felt completely out of control and his heart was breaking for me.

As life travels on, the last couple of weeks we have watched as another one of those close to us is hurting.  I have wondered if I am doing everything right.  I listen to the doctors and the endless opinions of people around me.  Don’t you love those?  I no longer feel that I have to defend my actions to anyone without a medical degree.  Hallelujah, I am free.  So, onward we go, often feeling out of control, but hopeful.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have to have a crisis to feel out of control.  I have not been home for more than a couple of days in the last 3 weeks.  My house is out of control.  I have dust and no food in the fridge.  I don’t know what tomorrow brings, so today I rest in the Lord and go to the grocery store.  I was reading Hebrews 2:6-9,

“'What are human beings that you are mindful of them,

or mortals, that you care for them?

7     You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;

you have crowned them with glory and honor,

8     subjecting all things under their feet.'

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower  than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone."

This passage makes me come back to the basics.  Who am I?  Who do I believe that I am?  If the God of the universe is mindful of me, cares for me, then what am I?  I am not just someone who goes through events in life.  I am not simply reacting to trials and sufferings, relationships and the hours of my day.  God is mindful of me; it is bigger than me.  The verse goes on…we are a little lower than the angels.  Usually don’t we think that there is a cataclysmic difference between ourselves and the supernatural?  I can hardly see any of the higher beings wandering the bean aisle in grocery store, so maybe they are a little higher than that.  But that is only for a little while.  We will not be in this world forever, can I get an amen?

We are crowned with glory and honor.  Today, will I act like I am assured of this?  Will I get down and dirty, worrying about what a doctor can come up with or wallowing in the cares and gossip of this world; or will I walk around my home, parking lots, and grocery stores adorned in my proverbial purple linen robes and jewels knowing that I am a daughter of the King.  I am, whether I choose it or not, crowned with glory and honor.  That is what I received when I joined the family of God.  I can wear my proverbial fineries and have the world stare at me and say, “Look at that silly woman, why in the world would she be in those robes?  She looks so uncomfortable”; or I can act like I know who I am.  They can say, “Look at that woman; she has a texture to her that I desire for myself.  She is different, set apart.”  Glory and honor are already ours, whether we understand them or not. 

The next part is really the catch.  As this being crowned in glory and honor, do you feel like all things are subject under your feet?  God has left nothing outside our control.  We are the children of the Creator.  We do have power in Him.  We have the power to live intentionally.  We have the power to change our homes, our marriages, our careers, and our children’s future.  We are just lower than angels in hierarchy.  The rest is under our feet.  God left NOTHING outside of our control.  Nothing.  We are only subject to the one who created us. 

Looking around your life, you might say, “Come over on any given day and I will show you what is out of control.”  Hebrews covers that, too.  Right now, we can’t see everything that has been made subject to us.  We couldn’t possibly, and the author of this book gives us that.  But we do have a glimpse.  Jesus was made lower than the angels for just a short time.  He was just like us, walking in homes, market places, and the temple.  He showed us what is possible.  We really do have this living inside of us.  He has already saved us from the worst possible out-of-control experience, being eternally separated from God. 

Let’s live today like we believe scripture.  We are crowned in honor and glory, sisters.  We are going to be with the Father for eternity.  All things are subject to us and nothing is outside of our control.  We have the power to be life changers, aggressively advancing the kingdom on earth.  So, let’s ask, who am I today?

Lord, you are so good that you have left us with your word, because we cannot understand this life apart from your truth.  Thank you for being mindful of us.  Let us see how to interact with your world today crowned in honor and glory.  Show us where we need to assume control of our lives under your guidance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Heart Yes

I have one more good reason to take my rigid claws off of the good things that the Lord wants for me to have. Even with good gifts, if you beat yourself up and everyone else around you on the journey there, then by the time you reach it you have beaten up and tired people. You have no smiles and no giggles. You have resentment and mistrust.

I have said before that there are good biblical things that I want for myself and my home. I believe that the Lord desires them for my home. I have time right now to think through what I want for it to look and feel like at some of these milestones. Mostly, I want for joy to be present. I want for my husband to say, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all (Proverbs 31:29, NRSV).” Stay with me here.

You know when you get a glimpse of a really good thing for your future? It might be something that God actually has in store for you. Example: God wants for my family to be in church. What if I was a woman who’s husband did not want to do this? The end is that God wants this man in His house.

As a wife, I know this, so what would I do about it? I have a choice. I can drag his beaten and harassed, barely breathing body to the front door of the sanctuary in his best business casual, or I could pray. I could let God weigh every thought of action that I have and conform it to His. I could let no discouraging or judgmental word fall from my lips. I could demonstrate only the love and desire of the Father as I daily offered an example of obedience by going to church and living in community.

Ok, so shake your heads (do it righteously for me). We all know this, right? Ok, so what about when your husband is wrong about a family issue. What is our choice then? Do we hold him accountable lovingly and biblically, or do we make him wish that he was as smart as we are because we can interpret the Holy Spirit in his life? Lots of women want their husbands to pray and read scripture more. Do you force this issue until he runs away from you and your bible? How about children? They make mistakes. They cannot see the future clearly. Maybe we shame our children until they no longer feel safe in our homes. Perhaps we let them see how much we disapprove of their father when he is wrong about something, or maybe he is right and we just don’t like it. Let me say one word, “money”.

I have come to see in the last few weeks how crucial “the process” is. It is the welfare of the souls and spirits of those around us by the time we reach our milestones that matters. The disagreements and the hurt, are they really worth it? Usually, it is my fear that causes me to lose it in times of uncertainty. I compromise relationships in my desire for security when really my security can be found in the health of my relationships.

Is there anything that Jesus cannot handle when relationships are His primary concern in the entire universe? That was His concern when He offered Himself for me. Relationship. He could have done all of those cool things from heaven, but no, he did them while walking through towns and homes. We have such a responsibility to nurture and love each other. We have to be the people who say, “WE will get through this. I am on your team, sink or swim.” Those words that we offer to our families and friends count more than any gift that we receive. Meaning these words means even more. You know what I am saying.

Most of the things that I think would fit perfectly in my pre-fabricated world, never reach my hands. The Lord has given me more. He has blessed me beyond comprehension. It is the moments when I am not feeling well, when I am sad and disappointed, when I am scared and unsure; those are the marks of my heart. These show me who I really am.

Have you ever gone through a situation and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe that I could handle that. I see where Jesus is working in my life”? Then there are times that demonstrate just how far we have to go. These moments tell us everything that we need to know. Jesus waits for the word of kindness, for the confession, for the forgiveness before He gives us another inch to the milestone. It is His to give and He is a heart guy. This does mean that the process is more important than the outcome. Complete obedience is important, and sometimes it is an absolute immediate decision. If so, skip to the prayer. A lot of times, it is a series of heart “yes”. These are when we prove our love for Him, our choice for Him.

Newsflash, in case you are stuck on the gift part; these blessings will not look the way that we want them to look. They will not be in our time frame. They will surprise us and derail us. They will take more and be more than we have in our composition. This should be our expectation. These are the milestones, the outcomes, which only lead to more milestones and outcomes. These are what we do not hang our hat on. You may know that we are headed in a direction, but don’t try to define it too much. You will only laugh at yourself later. Think of that next gentle word. Think of that next kind act. Let these be our focus and keep your eyes on Jesus’ face, not His hands.

Lord, thank you so much for your insistence on our “yes” heart. Let us see your face as we go through difficult times. Let us know your will so that we can prove our love and devotion to you. Make us focus on the process and not the outcome.

Monday, April 20, 2009

In the Rushing Flood

Praise God, I am writing again tonight! It has been such an interesting journey over the last week and a half. I am eager to put my thoughts about this time on paper. Grandma Knowlton was buried on Monday of last week. The next day, I was called to Texas for a family health emergency. We drove last Wednesday to a hospital near my home for more testing, and are currently waiting on the results while back in Texas. Still, through it all, the Lord is so good.

I was reading Nahum 1:7, 8a, NRSV, the other night, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him, even in a rushing flood.” This is what I focus on right now. The Lord is good. He is good whether I am or not. He is good whether the news tells me that He is or not (and believe me, I have watched A LOT of news this week). He is good whether unbelievers say that He is or not. He is good whether I am facing trial or not.

In reading in some other OT books, when God wants to bring His people back to Him, the prophets warn that He will destroy their strongholds. The dictionary says stronghold is, “a place of security or survival”. Amos 6:8, NRSV, “The Lord God has sworn by himself (says the Lord, the God of hosts): I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”

God hates the strongholds that we choose apart from Him. He hates the allegiances that we devote ourselves to when we face pain and trial. We recall them to our side as we walk down these familiar emotional paths, although the landscape looks different. There is little question that our pride, our belief that we are more able to manage our times of crisis, gives us the vice-grip on these useless tools. Guess what? Those are things that the Lord will destroy first when He comes to claim us, my strongholds that allow mere survival, barely breathing, will perish. When He calls to my heart during these moments, He is razing the strongholds of my life. Why? He hates them.

I have been thinking of Nahum in connection with my “life verse”, Galatians 2:19b-20, NRSV, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

If this verse is true, then I will hate these strongholds, too.

So, in a day of trouble God is my stronghold. He is the one that I will hold on to as the landscape shifts hues of gray. Knowing this makes me optimistic for the future when I think about the trials that I have gone through, the pitfalls that I have fallen into, and the renewed potential to walk through this valley in a day of trouble with my Stronghold. I have a new opportunity to hold His hand and offer to others what He wants to give them.

He protects those who take refuge in him. God protects those who do what?...take refuge in Him. So, if I choose Him as my stronghold and I choose to take my refuge, my security and my survival in Him, then I am protected. I can trust Him because He said so. His concern is for my best and His outcome will reflect Him through my choice, my obedience. Lord, let this come.

See, this event in my life is bound to get worse before it gets better. Some of you know what that means. You are in the middle of, “I know that I haven’t seen the worst of this, yet”. Maybe you are in the worst of it. It could be teenagers, back pain, obedience, health issues, loneliness, or addictions.

You know what? You are right. It could get worse. I could be entering the rushing flood. Think of that. Do you willing walk into a rushing flood? Are you standing on the dry land knowing that it is just rolling toward you? It is only a matter of time until it completely submerges you. I immediately think of financial situations happening all across the country. The rushing flood takes your feet out from under you and carries you away. But even in this rushing flood, my stronghold is protecting me. You know what? That might still mean that I get carried away in the flood.

Remember where we started? The Lord is good, and I can trust Him…and that is the point.

Father, bless us with the knowledge that you are with us today. Thank you for the endless protection that You offer us when we choose You. Destroy strongholds in our lives and set our feet firm even in the floods.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Empty Shiny Packages

What an interesting week this has been.  I am riding across the country in a car with my husband.  First, I have to thank God for the prayers on behalf of our Grandma Knowlton.  She passed this Wednesday after a faith-filled life and a treacherous year of suffering and trials.  She is missed and we are going to celebrate her homegoing.  Her absence is on our minds but it is with a heart of thanksgiving that we face this. 

I have been in the middle of Acts for a few days and it has been a great addition to my traveling, activity bag.  I was worried that I would get bored in the car, but what better thriller to open that this book.  My husband loves the twists and turns, verifying what I believed to be true about its male appeal.  This week has made me think about the passage in Acts 20, where Paul talks to the elders from Ephesus.  I have been recalling all of the people who have left a literal impression on my life.  Grandma Knowlton is just one of them.  I have been lucky enough to know astoundingly, godly people, and when they left this earth it made me wonder who could ever fill those shoes.  How could we ever complete God’s work with them gone? 

Here we see Paul.  It is the last time that he will ever see his friends in Ephesus.  He is saying goodbye and passing the torch to them, to be responsible for their own faith.  They are losing their patriarch, and gracefully, lovingly, Paul is releasing them.  Well…that is, as gracefully as Paul speaks.  In verse 26, he says, “Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you”.  He had a way with words.  He wants these believers to stand on their own feet, to know the living God in the same way that He did, in the way that Paul had taught them.

In verse 17-24, Paul gives a few sentences on himself.  It is not a defense, though, because they already know who he is; they had watched his life.  What a challenge!  I can recall that only yesterday I “had a moment” in the car.  I don’t want everyone to see my life all the time.  In fact, the thought of voluntarily pooling people together to make this speech kind of makes me want to stay home.  He is telling them that he has no regrets.  He has lived his life in a way that demonstrated faithfulness.  Paul also knows that it is not over.  It is not even close.  There are imprisonments and persecutions waiting for him.  So how can he get up on more day and do this all over again?  How do you get up every day and do it again when you know that it will not lead to comfort, wealth, and immediate happiness?  Acts 20:24, “But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.”  It is a heart issue.

I “had a moment” in the car because I value myself above others.  I value my comfort above others.  I worship my perceived needs and my desires.  I don’t know how to be Paul.  I don’t know how to count my life of no value.  Sometimes, I think that I do, but Christ shows me that I am still so attached to this flesh.  I wish that I took this message well, but I didn’t.  It hurt.  Often, I am like a child, completely satisfied with myself staring at the good gifts that are laid out for me on my Father’s table.  I want to crinkle the paper and feel the fluffy ribbon.  My anticipation builds.  Surely, the Father wants those things for my life.  BUT…I go ahead of Him.  I pounce at them, ending in an unattractive face dive, greedily hugging empty boxes covered in shiny paper and glittery bows.  Without Him, His gifts are nothing.  They are only gifts when they are filled with Him.

I love to watch and read of the faithful generations that went before me; it gives me hope.  They teach me that this Christian life that we have joined is constantly moving, shifting, and morphing.  If done right, the collection of life lessons and the grace of the Father sustain us more and more, or maybe face diving gets more painful the older that we get.  When I face the moments of my life, like yesterday, I pray that God will not grow weary of me.  I pray that He will, just like He did for the saints before me, continue to create me into something useful for Him.  That I will, someday, count my life as nothing and finish this course that He has set before me. 

Thank you, Father, for the lives of the saints.  Thank you for filling each valuable gift with You.  Continue to make us in your image, so that we can finish the course that you have ahead of us.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fish Tank of Love

I have been a Christian since I was nine.  I have been through many different stages, but I first knew Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I went forward at camp that year.  I don’t remember anything other than it was a service and I went up at the alter call, but I do remember that I felt different. 

My first visit inside the doors of a church happened pre-birth.  We were there for church, prayer meetings, Sunday school, potlucks, ice cream socials, business meetings, and, well, everything.  I grew up in the church; and, in prayer this morning, I was really challenged thinking about this life experience.  Some of the constant religious doctrinal drone worked against itself.  Instead of relationship, it created what has been labeled for me, “spiritual white noise”.  Much of what I should have clung to, I could not hear anymore.  It is like visiting a friend’s house when all of their children are speaking at once, and no one notices…or, it is like visiting my house when all of our dogs are barking and we don’t notice.  Valuable information is just lost into white noise.

This morning I was sitting on the concrete patio with the sun on my face.  God, figuratively, kept holding up my face up to Him, and I could not look away.  I realized that much of what has stuck, the essentials of the faith, I got the hard way.  I have recreated the wheel of relationship with Christ because I (my prideful responsibility) could not separate valuable information from rhetoric. 

The truth is that we all have to recreate this wheel to some degree.  We all need to freely understand what we are looking at.  Jesus wants for us to know what we are doing when we enter into His family.  Christianity is the hard way, not the easy way to live.  Some people enter into it with head knowledge and no faith in its transcendence.  In other words, we understand the words, but we do not believe that it actually crosses into our reality.  It is a distant God with distant thoughts and distant love.  Some people are very aware of spirituality but the have no knowledge of God.  It is the emotive experience that drives them, but not its relevance to anyone before them. 

I have been both.  I have been arrogant enough to think that God would leave me alone, even if I was acting out my will in His name.  I have also been arrogant enough to think that my feelings dictated His actions.  I have been confused about spiritual issues for much of my life. 

Meanwhile, while widdling this giant wheel of mine.  The struggle most relevant to me has always been love.  I have been very confused about God’s love.  I was indoctrinated with songs and gold star scripture verses, but I never really understood the love of Christ.  My most effective strategy has been letting God teach me about His love, first hand.  I understand now that He is the one who wanted to show it to me all along.  I just had to ask.

Think of a fish tank, a big one.  I can be a bottom feeder and live my life stuck to the side of the glass eating mold and being swatted in the head by my swimming friends, or I can glide effortlessly in the entirety of the tank.  I can experience the whole world that is at my disposal.  I have all that I need to sustain me while floating in my own underwater world.  That is what this love is like.  It is closer than my breath.  It is around me and through me; I swim in it and dive in its depths.  Everything that I am, it is.  I am not a bottom feeder with my back to the action.  I belong to Him, surrounded by Him; He is present.

I have been asking lots of questions in prayer.  You don’t have to grow up in the church to experience this “spiritual white noise”.  It is a part of many experiences.  When the big theological words get thrown around, a lot of that becomes just spiritual white noise.  It must be said that although this is my perceived experience, it is not necessarily God’s reality.  The name that God gave to Moses was, “I, I am.”  Even back then, He was reassuring people of His presence.  This morning He held me there, in front of Him telling me how present He is in my life.  His love might have become the backdrop at times in my life (my perception), but He shows me that He is and was (I am) invasively and aggressively present.  His love is the foreground (reality), whether I understand it or not.  I am swimming inside of this picture that tells of His love. 

Lord, thank you for your unfailing love.  Show it to us today in specific and clear ways.  Surprise us and let us delight in this present love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Path of Impossibility

Acts 13:44-46, “The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.”

I have been reading in Acts over the last week, and it is so intriguing. Sometimes I just need basic answers for basic questions. My husband wants a picture of a hummingbird. He is an excellent photographer and that is a mini-goal of his. Almost every time that I am in the yard, I see one flying right in front of my face. Every time I call to him to get the camera, it leaves. That is an excellent question, “Why do hummingbirds like me and dislike my husband”? There are other more important questions, however, that I do not even know to ask, but when I see the answer as I read scripture, I say, “Yes, that is a heart question for me”. That, in itself, is an excellent reason to read this bible. The Spirit knows my heart and what answers I need. I can recognize the answer without even knowing my need for the question. This is happening a lot these days.

In Acts 13, Paul is talking to the Jews in Pisidia about Jesus. He is making this beautiful plea to almost the entire city (v. 44), presumably many people. He and Barnabas are rejected, as they often were. This is where it gets interesting. They were rejected because of jealousy (v. 45). When I see that I think of the gospels. That was the primary motivation of the leaders that led to the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a strong emotion.

So, as we read on we see a basic answer which begs a basic question. I do not have a common life experience to the audience of Paul. I, also, will never be as lucky as they were, to sit at the feet of Paul and Barnabas…I mean, come on. Yet, as different as we are, Paul says something here that is true for each human. The reason that we reject God is because we judge ourselves to be unworthy of eternal life. Granted this is complex, but it is succinct and inclusive.

First of all, we reject God. So we can even the playing field, let’s just understand that we all reject God in small or big ways. We reject His commands and we reject His love. We reject that He knows us better than we do, and we reject the best that He has planned for our lives. There are many ways that these play out; we judge, we covet, we hate others and we hate ourselves. This rejection says that we are in control, we are the judge. We know what is best for us. It seems kind of silly for the created to know more than the Creator. We are silly people. Remembering this will make us grateful for His faithfulness.

The next is judging ourselves…let’s stop there. We actually stand in judgment of ourselves. That means that I make the decision to use my judgment. I decide to reject God based on my superior understanding of myself. Through my decision making process I declare myself unworthy of God’s gift.

I was just doing some of my mentoring work last night. I am studying decision making. When we look at decisions in front of us, USUALLY, the decision that points to Christ is more difficult. That is why we often choose the other way.

God’s way seems insurmountable most of the time…so how do we accomplish His way? We don’t, He does; it is His way. God is glorified by our decision to do it His way. We will always opt for the easy way that leads to death because we cannot accomplish the things of God on our own. It is intentionally set up like that. So this judgment of myself is limited to what I can see, easy and hard. The decision is between two things. I look at the impossible…eternal life, and I look at the familiar…what I can accomplish myself.

Let’s assume that we choose God’s way, the hard one; it is now in His hands. We don’t have to touch it again. We do what He tells us and the burden is light. Standing in judgment of ourselves is like a death match with our nature. We cannot win. This is why he gives the people in the bible strange and impossible tasks, so they will never rely on themselves. Have you ever tried to overtake a major city by walking around it and yelling? Neither had they (Joshua 6). The impossible is where God is glorified. We cannot do it, so let God have it.

So, we come to the strangest and most impossible task of them all. Believe in Christ and He will give you eternal life. To make this decision, I have to ask what I believe about myself. Will I reject Him? Will I tell Him that I have it all under control and I don’t need help? Will I claim the seat of judgment over my own life? Have I done that well on my own, that I actually believe that I know what is best for me. No, in fact, many years ago, I wrote a prayer of surrender that I prayed every morning. I slid out of bed and said,

I have seen where I can take myself

I have been alone, scared, sick

Only You, only Your power, Only Your love can save me

I had never been amazed, joyful or embraced until I knew You

I cannot do anything by, for, or using myself

I beg for your kindness once again

To take my life and make me yours

I surrender to You because there is nothing else

I know where I will take myself. I have judged my affairs falsely, and I will not reject my Lord. I will not stand as my own judge…frankly, I stink at it. I am only worthy of this Savior…the Messiah because He stands in judgment. It all hangs on that one thing. I cannot be worthy of eternal life, but through the blood of Christ I am because He made that decision. I carry His identity. I am no longer myself. This is no longer my life. Hallelujah. Knowing this, let us choose Him with all of our life. Let us make Him the judge of everything today. We are worthy of His gift because He chose to give it to us. We are the beloved. Let’s live today like we know it.

Thank you, Jesus, for claiming us as your own, for giving us hearts that recognize you. Be my judgment; be in charge today as I rest in releasing my life to you. Thank you for your light burden. Thank you for including us in your kingdom.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lamentation Meditation

Lamentations 3:22-24, NRSV,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

I do not deserve Him. He is steadfast. I can look back at so many times that I have not been steadfast, in fact, I am afraid that I would not even break half on a test. Steadfast. When I am confronted with gossip or when my pride has been wounded, I at least twinge. I desire to act; and all of my resources are calling upon the minions of heaven to keep me from falling. I am movable but He is steadfast, never flinching, never looking to the side, intentional, never ceasing.

I have been prideful in my life. I have refused to let the Lord love me. I struggle with believing that I am deserving of His love, but how I feel does not change who He is. His love never ceases. He will never stop pouring it out on me. It is the very spring from which all other things come. Discipline comes from love, trials come from love. He is jealously in love with me and my heart will find no other resting ground than in His hand. He has shown that His mercies will never come to an end. Believe me when I say, I have tried Him and tried Him. I have said, “yes” and “no”, so many times. Still He is merciful. I cannot understand it. His mercies never come to an end.

Each morning as I get up and I sit in my thinking chair praying and reading His word, I think about the fact that this morning is a clean slate. If I choose to carry yesterday’s accounts into this day, it is my decision. I can end yesterday and every day before that simply by repenting before the Lord. I can loose the people that I hold in bondage to me through forgiveness. I can set them at the foot of the cross for Jesus to work in their lives. I certainly cannot change anyone, nor do I want that responsibility, but I know that He can. He changed me. His mercy is new today, what will I do with it? I will know Him better. I will search the depths of Him through His Spirit. Pour it out on us, Lord.

Great is His faithfulness that He would tolerate me, stand with me, forgive me and love me. Great is His faithfulness that He would watch, as I have spun destruction on all sides of me, and then say, “Enough, my daughter, come and find peace in me”. I was faithless and I was treacherous. Great is His faithfulness as He grows a disciple, a woman, a wife and a home through me. Praise His name.

I was thinking today of when I am satisfied. The truth is I am never satisfied unless I am with the Lord. I am never satisfied with what I do, what I have or who I am. I am never satisfied with what anyone delivers or offers me. Without Him, I carry an insatiable void waiting to be filled by the nearest person or thing. I am only satisfied when I am on my knees, in his presence, offering to Him, existing with Him through my days. It is only then that I am able to walk in this world and know who I am, complete and able.

This is when I know that the Lord is my portion…my soul says it. My soul tells me what it needs. It tells me what will satisfy it. “The Lord is my portion”, says my soul. Oh, how sweet it is to hear that. Praise your name, Jesus.

I will hope in Him. How in these days and in these times I hope in Him. I depend on Him for my next breath in some moments. I hope in His steadfast love. I hope in His mercy. I hope in His faithfulness. He is my portion and my soul sings that truth. He is my hope.

Lord, God, for your own sake you have offered these gifts to us. Father, manifest these brightly in our lives today and always. Thank you for your goodness.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dorcas Tells All

Acts 9:36-41, NRSV, “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.”

This passage struck me this morning. I remember as a kid thinking about the unfortunate translation of Tabitha to Greek, which only sounds bad in contemporary English. I giggled every time I heard the name Dorcas (the emphasis is actually on the last syllable, if that helps). It means gazelle, which paints quite a lovely picture of any woman. She probably had quite a presence. She was obviously a faithful woman. This morning, I found myself desiring to be her. I want to be that effectual. I want to be so relevant that people actually want for me to come back from the dead. Am I bordering on self-worship?

So, first we hear that she is a disciple. She is a disciple named Dorcas, who was devoted to good works and acts of charity. By what this passage says, we can assume that she was a patron of widows, amongst other things. That is such a noble assignment. Widows and orphans have a rich place in throughout Jewish tradition and into the early Christian church. I hope that we can say the same for our congregations now. Dorcas was an effective woman. She was going to leave a gap in the hearts and activities of the church. That is a powerful legacy, even more when you have been brought back from the dead.

I am being entrenched in the area of order, mostly because I ran across some materials, unintentionally. This is not a bad thing, although it does make us all catch our breath, doesn’t it? This morning I was given the verse, “for God is a God not of disorder but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33, NRSV)”.

God gives order for peace; peace and order are linked together, one begets the other. I can have peace in my home with order. I have been reading Donna Otto and Emilie Barnes. They challenge you to make a Life Statement. Then, my mother and I talked this week and she is reading another book talking about, essentially, a living epitaph. You know those things in your life that just keep coming up…well, mine is life statements and goals. I made my statement after a few weeks of praying and writing. I was so glad to finish it. I was sitting over breakfast in San Diego a week ago, and it just came out. It took so long for me simply to decide who I wanted to be; how I wanted to be remembered. What does God want for me to accomplish in this world and what will my legacy be? He gave it to me one word at a time.

In one of our recent discussions, my mother flat out said, not for the first time, “You are involved in too much”. Every time she says it, I know that it is true. She said it because I told her things that I desire in my life and I feel that God desires in my life, and then I contrasted it with what I was actually up to. Apparently, we have a shared gene that uncontrollably mutters the word, “yes”, when anyone says, “Could anyone (fill in the blank)”? So, I am prayerfully analyzing what should be in my life and what should not be in my life. I desire order in my life that allows the things of God to fulfill my identity and purpose. I desire that everything else goes away. Now I have to kick those things out.

Dorcas’ purpose was written down for eternity. She is one example of what I am striving for. She devoted herself to good works and acts of charity. I bet that she understood this about herself; in fact, I bet that she did it without a life statement. She probably did not try to do children’s nursery, the book reading club, prayer groups that meet on multiple nights, and every bible study that is offered. She devoted herself to two things and she was remembered forever for her diligence to them.

My mother also tells me that you can’t have it all. You have to choose the things that you really want, and do a few of them really well. This takes a lot of prayer and maybe the loss of some dreams. I will not be a marathon runner or tri-athlete in this lifetime. Although I have seen a movie of my triumphant win in my mind, after my back surgery last year I do not believe that this movie will ever make it to celluloid. I will not be an artist; I live this vicariously through my husband, lthough my mother did tell me that I was extremely promising after I did my self-portrait as a freshman in high school. I now will allow myself to be a fan of other’s art and let that 20 year dream finally rot. As long as I live with our pets and love them past the spoiling point, I will never have a completely clean home. If we have children, I will really never have a clean home.

I am at the point. I need to choose and devote myself. I need to understand that I am simply a vessel for the Potter and allow myself to be fulfilled and used by the unpredictable abundance of Him. He does not work under the shotgun effect…shoot and splatter. He is precise with His resources. I need to allow His order into my life into my home, so that I can be flexible enough to deal with this world. Coexisting with this order will be the gift of peace to people who touch my life because it will be tangible and intentional. Thanks Dorcas and mom, for inspiring me today to live out my purpose.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us the option of peace in our lives. Thank you for giving us the desire for your purpose. Give us the strength to be truly effective in our lives. Tell us where we belong and where we do not. Close doors for us and open others.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Talking Animals

Paul is such a great patriarch, isn’t he? He loved the followers of Christ. He loved the people who he had helped convert. When he heard that a church was doing well, he was joyful. He was like a proud papa. When a church was doing poorly, though, watch out. He was like a disappointed papa. In 2 Corinthians, he tells of his fear for this congregation. 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” With the same spirit, I am afraid of this for myself and for everyone that I know. We have a mighty enemy. Help us, Lord.

The serpent deceived Eve by its cunning. Revelation 12:9, “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

I put this in, just in case there was any question who we were dealing with. How uncomfortable does it make you to hear that ‘his angels’ were thrown down with him? There are lots of them. I have not counted, but my experience this week tells me that there are many; either that, or there are a few that are really busy. But that is not all, Satan can take many forms. 2 Corinthians 11:14, “And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Do you feel uncomfortable, yet?

He deceived Eve. How did he do it? Genesis tells us that the snake simply said that God lied to her. She would not die if she ate the fruit! That is the silliest thing that Satan had ever heard. No, no, she would be like God, knowing good and evil. And in a moment, she was able to experience good and evil. Do you think that she was uncomfortable, yet? Before this, there was no sin that she could experience. Her creation was given a boundary that let God take care of the evil, solely. Eating the fruit was opening the portal to the experience of evil. God knew what a mess it would be when we could experience it. We are not created to understand evil, to productively interact with it…do you understand it? It is cunning.

How does it play out in our lives? It plays out in our thoughts. I don’t know about your thoughts, but mine will follow anything that is shiny. My friends know to ask me very few questions, because I tend to answer all of them at the same time. I enjoy being analytical; in fact, I feel like I should don a crystal studded pocket protector at times.

I have no trouble seeing how Eve could become obsessive over the one thing in paradise that she could not have. The tree was a freak show because it was different from all the rest. I, also, have no problem seeing how her husband sat with her, speechless, and just ate what she gave him. My husband eats anything that I give him, too.

If you had no exposure to evil, you are not thinking analytically about a lying, talking snake. There could have been many talking animals in the garden. I have to believe that because she did not get caught up on the talking snake. If a snake were talking to me, I would not care what it said. I would check myself in somewhere. I certainly would not eat anything that it recommended.

Satan is no longer trying to get us to eat apples, but he is still trying to disprove God’s character. As he does with everything, he wants to veer our thoughts just slightly off course; it does not take much. He wants to make us desire other things. He tells us to look at the one tree that we cannot eat from and stare at it, while the world passes us by. The goal is to move us slightly from sincerity. When I say to God, “I trust you”, do I mean it? Do I trust Him with every moment, every desire of my heart, every tragedy that I will experience? The goal is to move us slightly from purity. Is my heart pure? When I continue to hold that harmless grudge, or when I obsess over what God has set outside of my experience, can I maintain purity of heart?

Paul had it right. Our pure and sincere devotion to Christ is the prize. Our thoughts are being fought over at all times…our mind is the battleground. The small decisions and obsessions are the victories for Satan. Enough small decisions will open doors to experience things that were never meant to be our burden, just like evil in the life of Eve. If only we had a talking snake to go along with each temptation, we could see them coming. We don’t.

2 Corinthians, 10:4b, 5, “We destroy arguments 5 and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Thank you, Lord, for your sovereignty. Thank you for being our advocate in the battle for our thoughts. Lord, give us strength to have pure and sincere devotion to you. Take each thought captive and let it glorify you.

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