Friday, January 30, 2015

What I Crave



In the computer world, this is a long time standing principal, but it also holds true in every other area of life.  Why, when it comes to God, do we expect differently?

With these sunny skies of our balmy January, I've had an inkling towards gardening.  It is too early to be planting, obviously, but one thing remains true.  No matter the quality of the seed, the success of the plant depends greatly on the condition of the soil.  Every ounce of energy I invest in improving the soil is worth it in fruitfulness.

We relish in the produce.  Oh the delight of the first tender peas, the baby spinach, the radishes, and sweet lettuce!  But long before I receive these blessings, I first work the soil.  I labor.  I invest.   

The seed of the Word of God is of highest quality.  The problem is not in the seed, but in the soil of my heart.  How is it that at the same worship service one is touched, inspired, and revived, but another is left unchanged, even claiming the service was dead?  Was God's Spirit really absent?  We know it cannot be, for "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20)  God promises His presence, but we can miss Him entirely. How?  It all depends on our attitude, the soil of our hearts.   

We might come away from a service thinking, I got nothing out of it.   If that is the case maybe its because we never put anything into it.  "Sing us a song," the people demanded of God's chosen. (Psa. 137:3)  And we start to think that worship is a performance, something that someone else does for us rather than the surrender of our own hearts. 

Growth only comes as I participate with the Lord.  I recently heard this on the radio, "Each of us has as much of God as we want of Him." (Dr. David Jeremiah)  After thinking about that all week, I have to agree.  Do I truly desire the Lord with all of my being?  We sing, "Better is one day in Your courts than thousands elsewhere."  Really?  Is that the craving of my heart?  Maybe if it were, if all I sought was "to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His Temple", worship would take on a whole new dimension.  (Psa. 27:4)

God wired each of us differently.  One person wears their emotions on their sleeve, while another, though just as intense in their focus and passion, might wear it on the inside.  Yet, both need to be sensitive to one another and accept how each is made.  Worship is not something that can be driven.  Furthermore, forcing someone to be who they are not, kills worship.  And so where is the balance?  Perhaps not in how we worship, but in Who, not in the level of expression, but in the preparation of the heart.  

And so I ask myself, "What do I crave?"  The intensity of my seeking is probably only as great as the desire for what I crave.  If I truly want more of God, I will pursue Him in greater measure.  Input.  Output. 

P.S.  There is one exception where this does not hold true, and it has everything to do with eternity.   Sandwiched between grace and mercy is this, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8)  I put nothing into my salvation, but I receive "every spiritual blessing in Christ." (Eph. 1:3)  I simply place my trust in the work of Jesus, calling on the Lord to forgive my sin, and His blood washes me clean. (Rom. 10:13) I am set free.

My position in Christ does not budge.  It is the anchor for my soul.  But then, like kneading color into play doh, we work out, or practice what God has worked in.  Not as passive onlookers, but active participators in His work as He conforms us into His image.   


Monday, January 26, 2015

Worn Out Christmas

You know how it is.  One month past Christmas and some still have their lights up.  It's like they are clinging to the magic, hoping these lights will dispel the doldrums and dirge of January.  But somehow the same lights that brought comfort and joy at Christmas seem old, worn out, and mocking in January.  And dare I say it?  Even irresponsible!

It was weeks ago that I undecorated my tree.  But its branches were still so green, that I could not bring myself to dispose of it just yet.  Instead, I kept its lights intact and dragged it to my front porch where, for a few weeks, it's been friends with my neighbor's tree across the street.  Their quiet limbs whisper secrets back and forth, hoping passers by will notice their last ditch effort to push back the dark. 

However, this weekend, forty five minutes before a mob of middle school girls and their parents were to arrive at my house, I was fighting with a tree.  Motivated by what they would think, I had to get it off my front porch.  The tree at last succumbed, ready for the fire.

In December people make a conscious effort toward peace and good will to all.  I don't know if New Year's resolutions make us grumpy, but somehow the warm fuzzy feeling in the air turns sour.  When the lights come down, so does the nice.  Between verbal backbiting and public murmuring, it would seem there had been no Christmas at all. 

Spring is coming, when all things are made new, but in the meantime, can we just shine these little lights a bit longer?  Can we think about what we are saying, doing, or promoting and how it might do more damage than good?  So what if it is my pet-peeve or my agenda.  If it hurts another, is it really worth it?  Don't we have anything better to do?

The coward spouts their case on the public scene, a place where they are accountable to no one and where they can gain the support of others on the broad road, worn out Christmas lights.  Many hop on this band wagon, but it takes all the power of Christ in us to remain silent.  We would rather revel in the satisfaction of verbally 'punching it to them', a selfish delight.  

But the courageous, the truly brave, come with their complaints on the private spectrum, maintaining the accused dignity and respect, giving the accused an opportunity to present their perspective and to clear up any misunderstandings.  This is the narrow road which leads to life, peace, and restoration . . . real change, but few choose it.

How can there be fellowship between light and darkness?  There is a chasm between the two, for when God created the light he "separated the light from the darkness." (Gen. 1:4)  They cannot coexist.  And "God saw that the light was good".  Good!  And yet, my nature is drawn to the darkness because in reality my sin loves it, deceiving myself into believing dark is good.  But God knows I am most happy in the light.  Only in His light will I find peace and good will to all.

Though most of my Christmas decor comes down shortly after the holidays, I purposefully leave a few lights until Valentine's Day.  Their warm glow encourages me through the dark winter, a reminder of the beauty of light, The Light.  Why did Jesus go through all that trouble to lay down His life?  Why did He willingly humble Himself so painfully?   Was it for separation?  No, God is not like that.  It was for restoration:  fellowship with our Heavenly Father and unity among brothers and sisters.   

My tree might be gone, but I do not part with Light, for He continues to warm my soul, guard my heart, and guide my steps. 

Lord Jesus,"Let no unwholesome talk come out of my mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."  (Eph. 4:29) And do not let me grieve the Spirit of God who so graciously dwells within me. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

On The Move

I can sense it.  At every turn I find a squelching of hope, a struggle which does not let up, but goes on and on, one thing after another, pushing and shoving, seeking to gain an advantage, to defeat and destroy.  This has been my experience over the last few weeks.  From physical injuries to emotional strife, from discouragement to failure, sometimes the shadow looms large. 

Okay, so I can hardly stand to look at this, but I keep it big to illustrate my point.  Sorry. 
However, this morning as I met with the Lord, I saw Him, high and lifted up, with a view on my trouble.  The turmoil is only a stirring of the waters.  God is on the move, and whenever God is present, there I find also the forces of darkness fighting strong.  It seems He is about to do a new thing in my life, yet, I cannot place my finger on it.  Only this.  I'm listening closely for His voice.  I don't want to miss His activity nor His direction. 

Just as a child cannot be birthed without struggle and pain, so there is this wrestling that occurs before the breakthrough.  Often, in the midst of life, I do not perceive the presence of God until shortly after, when my spirit senses His touch and my heart exclaims, "Wait!  Was that God?  I think I just encountered Him!"  And my soul is hushed with a holy awe of what I just witnessed.  This happened last week, and then again this morning. 

God is on the move.  He is accomplishing His purpose not only in the broad scheme of world events, but also in the most minutest details of my own personal life.  Sometimes I forget of His power and control.  I forget that just a word from His mouth can melt mountains, the earth is His footstool, and clouds the dust of His feet.  He's got this! 

Furthermore, I am His child, "with whom He is well-pleased."  (Mk. 1:11)  God is not mad at me, nor distant, nor aloof.  That is nothing but lies.  I'm amazed at how the presence of God can be so very real, so near, and at the same time, these lies threaten to push Him away.   May "the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psa. 19:14)  The phrase is so convicting.  This is why I pray earnestly, Lord, guard my heart, for every thought comes from that place and is crucial to my well being.

It's been awhile since I've read the Psalms, and as my personal quiet time has taken me there, my heart is swept up with heavenly vision, a plane not seen from below.  In that other world, my heart has been encouraged, so much so, that there is this joy, an unexplainable energy.  And yet, my circumstances have not changed.  The work which must be expended to accomplish His purpose, the fight, and the pressure of deadlines still remains.  It continues to take all the strength of my body, an ongoing state, to truly love the Lord my God with all of me.  But the presence of the Lord, His life in me, makes all the difference to my perspective. 

One assurance brings me great comfort, that "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow...I will fear no evil", because "God prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies," and "my cup overflows." (Psa. 23:4,5-6)  In fact, my heart is so full right now I am nearly bursting!  And like footprints, goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.  This boggles my mind!  No matter what I'm going through, nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus! (Rom. 8:38)  Nothing.  And because God has only my good in mind, I fear no evil!  His grace is enough. 

Who is like Him?  There is no one.  None even come close.  He tells me, "Be still," little one . . .  mighty warrior, "and know that I am God."  (Psa. 46:10)

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Anchor Holds

A woman sprints toward the United States embassy, a 100 yard dash of life or death!  Her Soviet pursuer lunges close behind, gaining speed.  At last he catches up, reaching for her shoulder, but the woman, spurred on by adrenaline, doesn't yield.  Instead she pushes her arms back, releasing both her jacket and the Soviet's grip, shouting out, "Open the gate!  I'm an American!  I'm an American!" Just in time, the gate opens and the woman slips through.  Safe!  Whew! 

Though I have not watched this movie in a very long time, the intense scene remains vivid in my mind.  And in recent days it has become very real for me.  While the accuser condemns and chases hard after me I sprint to the gate crying out, "I'm a child of God!  I'm covered by the blood!  I'm a citizen of heaven!"  The gate opens and clanks behind me, locked securely by Jesus Himself.  Safe! 

This is the anchor for my soul, that Jesus has gone before me, taken my shame upon Himself. (Heb. 6:19) Spit on, mocked, and beaten, and then falsely accused, he endured an unfair trial where He knew to defend himself would only fall on deaf ears.  And so He said nothing and died for my sins, in my place.  Now I stand secure in Him, where "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  (Rom. 8:1) 

It's been a rough week and I'm trying to sort it all out.  When it seems that years of pouring out my life is still not enough, my soul weeps, losing its courage to move forward. 

Yet, I firmly believe that with every criticism, there is an element of truth, an area that God is bringing to my attention for change.  Instead of discouragement, I'm beginning to be energized, spurred on toward a precise focus with less distraction, a purging of my own insecurities and prideful ambitions.

I've always had a hard time understanding this phrase from the book of Hebrews, "we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us," because the word flee seems like I should be running away  from something, not toward  it. (Heb. 6:18)  But now I get it.  "Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever..." (Heb. 6:20)  This is why I run toward Him because it is my only safe place.  This is not a slow jog, but rather an all out sprint, my 100 yard dash.  My accuser is right.  Yes, I failed.  I let people down.  I have no excuses, only this.  Let him who is without sin cast the first stone . . .

because we are all in the same boat together, with Jesus, our only safe haven. 

Jesus is the one who holds us.  He alone keeps us from falling and I would hope that we could fight together against our common enemy rather than each other.  I earnestly pray that the love of our Savior would cause us to love what He loves. 

Despite seasons of sickness, boundaries of structure, or mistakes of its crew, staying aboard is still better than to abandon ship, for it is what God designed to accomplish His mission.

Storms are inevitable.  They will come, often causing some churning of the stomach.  God has not promised a life of ease. And these waters can be hard to navigate. Yet, in the midst of the storm we run, not away from each other, but in support of one another, toward our safe place, Jesus, our refuge.

I know a place, a wonderful place,
where accused and condemned
find mercy and grace,
where the wrongs we have done
and the wrongs done to us
are nailed there with Him
there at the cross.
 (lyrics by Guy Penrod)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Seek and See

There is no turning of the calendar quite like December to January.  Somehow we think this action will make us new persons, but it takes only one day to realize we are the same.  While this last year overflowed with God's presence and power in my life, some places remained a desert.  How is it we can know success in one area and simultaneously be so lame in another? 

Actually, I love the desert.  It calls me, so much so that I will even watch a movie for the sole purpose of the desert scenery!  There is something about the desolate winds, the fine sand, the barren rock, and the harsh plants which speak of adversity, perseverance, and character. 

And then there is this, "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord."  (Isa. 40:3)

I long for God to show up in my wasteland, for I know that He alone can transform it into beauty.  And yet, I have a big part in that coming about.  The way must be prepared.  I can think of no better way to prepare than through prayer.  What would happen if I devoted myself to private intentional prayer the way I devoted myself to diet and exercise over the last year?  Is it any wonder that we sometimes become useless in ministry or that we roller coaster with circumstantial happiness?   Effectiveness has direct bearing on my dependence and focus on the Lord.
Last night at youth group my husband gave this challenge:  Are you serious about God?  Is there evidence in your life to prove it?  New Year's resolutions are easy to say, but it takes devoted action and enduring sacrifice, forcing my will against my feelings, if they are to come to fruition.  A way of life, rather than just a resolution. 

It seems so basic, this command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."  (Mark 12:30)   Because the heart, soul, and mind, abstract areas of our lives, seem more spiritual, we often focus on that.  But the strength?  This can be hardest of all for it involves my physical world, my body.   Diet and exercise is very much a part of my physical world, but prayer?  Yes, this too requires all the strength of my body.

A vine cut off from its source bears no life.  This I know. 

Yet, how easy to wane in prayer, to slack off in passion, to neglect thanksgiving, or to shift my eyes away from the Lord.  Sometimes it takes a barrenness in the desert for me to realize my utter dependence on God.  How easy to believe the lie that I am the one causing the increase, that I am so important, or that no one else could do the ministry that I am doing.  (Ugh!  I shudder at all the me in that sentence!)

I ache for a fresh wave of God's presence to permeate my desolate lands.  However, if the presence of the Lord is to be evident, there must be a preparation.   My activity Saturday night has an effect on my Sunday morning worship.  My devotion to private communion with God has a direct bearing on fruitfulness.  He must increase and I decrease.  This is one of my goals for the year, to prepare the way for the Lord, because wherever He is, there I find sacred ground, land that cries out, "Glory!

"In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."  (Isa. 40:3-5)

Often, the glory of the Lord is very present.  It is simply not recognized.  He can be right there in front of me, His presence very real, His blessing massive, but I don't see because I've failed to look upward.   

Lord Jesus, give me strength to seek and eyes to see!