Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Walk

The statement seems obvious.  "This is the way, walk in it." (Isa. 30:21)  Duh!  Of course, if I know the way, I will not hesitate to go there.  But I forget about a third factor . . . the constant pull toward my own desire. 

As long as I can remember, there has been a big hype about finding the will of God.   If only we knew, we would follow!  Oh what excruciating efforts we put into the knowing!  Yet, so often, it is not more knowledge I need, only surrender acted out in obedience.  Why do I think that having information in my head equals a grasping of the concept?  Certainly, knowledge is a starting point, but that's as far as it goes.  In order for God's Word and way to become a reality in my life, I have to live it. 

When I found out that our theme verse for Vacation Bible School was, "This is the way, walk in it", my heart skipped a beat.  Conflict of circumstances had already substantiated the fact that I could not teach one of the classes.  However, I knew that somehow I had to be there because I felt these concepts were meant, not just for the children, but for me.  I did not want to miss hearing God's voice.   And so I volunteered to be one of the photographers.  Doing so gave me a perspective I would not have gained had I taught the lessons. 

The reason this theme was so attractive to me is because it is the current story of my life.  All last year God instilled on my heart these words from Joshua 24:15, "Choose you this day whom you will serve."  The choices I make daily determine whether I know life or death, victory or defeat.  I'm not talking about oxygen or lack of it, but of true, joyful, abundant life in Christ. 

My kids thought I was insane when they woke one morning to these notes taped on my fridge and all over my kitchen cupboards.  Each note said the same thing in big bold letters, "Choose Life!"  It helped me gain control over my emotional eating.  I've since taken those reminders down off the walls, but the concept has spread beyond my physical health to deeper battles in my life.

Only yesterday I made a choice that sabotaged my day, catapulting me into a downward spiral of depression.  I know my weakness but I yielded to it anyway.  The power is not in the knowing, but in complete surrender to Jesus.  Resistance to His will is what pushed me off the path.  

All of us can display determined will power for a time.  I'm not talking about that, because there comes a point where will power fails us.  In fact, anything that comes of our own strength will ultimately let us down.   "Walk in it" can only come about through the power of Christ in me. 

I find the walking part of the phrase peculiar.  Not run, skip, or reach . . . just walk.   There is a consistent daily factor to walking that sticks to the path for the long haul.  Likewise, in my relationship with God there must be a consistent obedience for me to grasp the abundant life He offers. 

That said, I'm off to do my 'walking', embracing God's agenda for the day, rather than my own. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jars of Clay

We each have our passion.  For some it is organization.  For others, music or sports, mentoring or constructing.  You fill in the blank.  But one thing is evident.  When we rest from that one thing which drives us, we discover our heart's true calling. 

Though to an outsider it may seem that I've been coasting in summer time bliss, deep down it has been a struggle.  When God directs me to pull back for a season and rest, I flounder.  It seems so out of place, so odd.  Most of all, it causes me to realize that my identity belongs, not in what I do, but in Christ.  In this place of vulnerability, I am pulled into a deeper wonder of God's grace and a greater dependence on Him.

Trust is not always in more doing.  There is nothing noble about working ourselves into the ground.  Why are we made to feel guilt for setting limits and saying no?   Life holds many seasons and right now, mine seems to be that of waiting.  Yet, as my entire church rallies around a large scale VBS, I find my heart aching to teach.  However, due to various circumstances, this was not my year to do so. 

I am so uplifted when I teach.  I love how the lessons grip me personally and cause me to worship with a greater intensity.   And yet, how easy to hog that for myself, never allowing others the opportunity.  To pull back now and then is a win win situation because others are given the chance to receive that blessing as well.  But there is a deeper pain than being set on the shelf, that is, coming to believe that you have been disqualified from ever practicing your gift. 

Several months ago I encountered a conflict which threatened to derail my passion for teaching, causing me to lose all confidence.   I know, it is God, not me, who works through me to accomplish His purpose.  Yet, I was petrified because of an attack on my integrity, causing me to live in false guilt and overwhelming shame.  How can I carry on if what I am wired to do is squelched?  If this is my spiritual gift, (and I believe it might be), then what is my purpose without it?  I thought I might wilt.  But some interesting creatures have recently crossed my path to help me gain perspective. 

Sunday night, my family ventured out on an exploratory hike.  There we met some wildlife, which, at the time were quite entertaining.  Now I'm realizing they were a gift from God's hand, for these animals provided the picture I needed for the last few months to make sense.  It was an "aha" moment.

A kangaroo mouse scurried across our path.  We followed it because we found it peculiar, those long legs on its hind quarters looking like a kangaroo's, plus it had a strange tail.  But we were surprised to find that as we approached, it did not move.  Finally, we came so near that my daughter nudged it with her foot.  It tipped over a little, stiff as a board, as if it were a bobble toy, and then sat upright again.  It was obviously paralyzed with fear.  No wonder these small creatures often become a snake's dinner!  

Likewise, in my own life, my fear was causing me to be 'food for snakes'.  I was embracing defeat like that mouse, stopped dead in my ministry, thinking I could never teach again.  I assumed my purpose was thwarted.  But now I realize that the enemy sought to use this situation to destroy me and hinder God's work.

However, we also met another creature.  Coming around a bend we came upon a mountain sheep, all stately in his curly horns.

He stood there for quite some time, completely still.  He watched us hike toward him, scarcely moving an eyeball.  When we began to venture too close for comfort, he proudly sauntered away. 

This sheep reminds me that there are times when God would have me pull away from intense ministry and be still.  He commands me, in fact, to rest.  But not in paralyzing fear.  Rather, God would have me simply be still and know that He is God.  And sometimes that stillness is brought about by a perceived failure. 

The contrast was striking.  Such confidence and assurance were displayed by the big horn sheep!  That is the kind of stillness I desire.  One that keeps its dignity intact and refuses to let a snake intimidate, or worse yet, eat it.  I may have been derailed, but I know the character of my God.  He will not let me be destroyed.  More than that, He will restore and "cause all things to work together for good to those who love [Him]."  (Rom. 8:28)  God is for me.  He is not against me.  Ever. 

I will trust Him in the silence.  

"But we have this treasure
 in jars of clay
to show us that this all-surpassing power
is from God and not from us."
2 Cor. 4:7

Friday, June 12, 2015

Freedom's Paradox

I feel as though I'm walking in a dream.  After a whirlwind three weeks with my oldest daughter, she has now returned to Ohio where I will not see her again for some time.  I'm thankful she made it okay, driving alone to the other side of the country.  But now I feel somewhat dazed wondering, what just happened?  But one thing I do know.  She challenged me to embrace freedom.

Before she left, I was rushing to finish reading a book of hers, The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges.  She will be using it as a launching pad to teach the student leaders of Bible study discipleship classes at her school.   I was intrigued by the book because it addresses a struggle I've been going through in my own life. 

Last year I finally realized that God's strength in my weakness does not mean I do nothing.  Actually, I knew that before, but it finally sunk through in my practical living.  All my life I've been taught to surrender to God and watch Him work.  While true, it is only one wing on the plane.  The other wing consists of my obedience through action, yes, simply put, my doing . . . discipline.  Herein lies the paradox.  While relying on God's strength, I move. 

However, it is easy to fall into the thought that 'my' discipline places me in greater favor with God, when, in fact, God is not impressed.  My only merit before Him is His own grace lavished on me.  This is His stamp of approval, nothing else.  

I've been weighed down with made up rules, otherwise known as legalism.  I've had experience at being both the offended and the offender.  Yet, one thing is true for both; all the fussing is exhausting and becomes a spring board for pride.  Many of the rules we make up are to accommodate what is most comfortable for us, our preferences rather than God's standard.   Is it really a hill to die on?  Is love not the better goal? 

Walking through a canyon at dusk we found all these little creatures.  I'm not kidding you, the frogs' croaks literally sounded like goats bleating.  What a noise they made, their voices echoing off stone walls and across still ponds!  And as it got dark, they became even louder. 

Such a racket from such small creatures!  Much like us.  I long to rise above the squabbles and simply worship God with wholehearted devotion.

The last few weeks I have been everywhere.  To the mighty Pacific, across vast deserts, and near tallest mountains. Seeing and experiencing these sights has opened my eyes to the grandeur and splendor of my Creator.  How can I dawdle in mud holes of my own agenda and lists of what's proper when there is all this!

The God who made and sustains all creation calls me His own!  I am His and nothing I do or do not do will change the fact that He loves me.  My life might seem in the shadows or on the shelf, but that does not mean He has forgotten or withheld good from me. 

Once His, I am always held by grace.  How could I ever murmur or complain?  This calls for worship! 

As I've been reading through the book of Jeremiah, I've seen Babylon in a different light.  Not only as a nation which was used by God to discipline His people, but as a picture of my own resistance.  God has been asking me, "What is your Babylon?" 

I've seen some areas of my life that are the discipline of God and I have been fighting against it rather than embracing and living among it, yes, even settling there.  I'm learning that though something is not my preference or even my conviction, God would have me humbled and simply submit to what He brings into my life.  In a word . . . love. 

Love and obedience is what God requires.  I cannot make up my own rules to fit my disciplines so I might feel closer to God.  Furthermore, when I fail, when I disobey, God still loves just as tenaciously.  It's a hard concept for me to really grasp. 

Then why obey?  Why go to the trouble of loving others?  Because righteousness is the best place for me.  The greatest joy is found in surrender to God and what He brings into my life.  And perhaps the pat answer despised by children is reason enough.  Because God said so. 

I plan to buy this book of Heather's that I recently rushed through.  I want to have my own copy to mark and read at a slower pace.  Most of all, I want to live in Christ where I am free of legalism and yet, thriving in true holiness.