Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I have two sons, and shortly after they were born, I noticed something about them. I needed to teach them a lot. They needed to learn to speak properly, to eat politely, to say please and thank you, to treat others with respect, and to control their tempers. They also had to learn not to write on walls with magic markers, not to hit, not to go outside in their underwear, not to spit, and not to use the shrubbery for a bathroom. One thing I never had to teach them, however, was how to misbehave. Like most children, one of the first words they learned was "NO!" Completely on their own, they pitched angry fits. Somehow, they had come already hardwired for disobedience.
I do not like this one bit. Not only because it infers a hard truth about them, but because I know it applies to me, too. Simply put, I am born believing that I am the most important person in the world. My opinions and desires rank above anyone else's. I am going to do exactly as I want to as often as I can. In fact, I want to sin. I'm good at it and have been from the beginning. My black little heart harbors thousands of ways to sin and I can hardly wait to implement them. I know better, but I can't be blamed if I yield to them. Just this once....
This only have I found: God made men upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.--Ecclesiastes 7:29
Adam and Eve did it, and immediately made excuses for themselves. I want to do the same thing. You give laws, and I break them. In the same way that I spent years trying to train the natural disobedience out of my children, You continue to train the natural disobedience out of me. I do not like this, not only because it is a great inconvenience, but because it requires hard work.
You, however, have more...
See part two later.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Two years ago, my husband had cancer and I had to consider what would happen if he died. As a man of both great courage and faith, he weighed death with equanimity thinking, like Paul, "to live is Christ, to die is gain," but I did not. I could release him to heaven and know that he went to joy, but I knew all to well that I would be left behind. "What about me, Lord? You may take him, but I would stay here alone. What about me?"
You said this:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father.--Matthew 10:29
Then I remembered. You, Father, have the plan for all things and exact that plan at every step. Not one thing happens that can divert it. Your plan is holy and you show me the way to walk in it. Your Son, a very part of You, is Your Word and reigns with You. Your Spirit shows me the way to follow. All three operate according to your plan, which you constantly make known, and this plan exists eternally with You, a pillar of the universe You created.
Whatever is happening around me may seem random, but You will not allow me to be destroyed unless it was Your will from the beginning. If I am lost, I am lost already. If I am Yours, I cannot be lost.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.--Jeremiah 29:11
I am safe with you.
Thought for today: How is God asking you to trust His plan for you?
Friday, August 26, 2011
When I taught seventh grade, we had two ducks for class pets, Leonardo and Archimedes. They weren't real ducks, of course. Real animals and large numbers of thirteen-year-olds do not mix well. The ducks were made of polyester fluff and stuffed with beans, easy to care for, and small enough to sit on desks or on shoulders or to hang from the ceiling fan.
They provided low-key amusement for the students, but the ducks persistently mocked me. Education is serious business, after all. I wanted to rock students' world with wonders: the beauty of poetry, rhythm of mathematics, the nobility of history. In naming the ducks, the kids had reduced the nobility of art and numbers to balls of fuzz. I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all.
I thought school to be made of nobler stuff--of reaching beyond their grasp, of dreaming big and then making those dreams happen. That part was all right, but I also thought that I could make it all happen, that I had chosen this career and could bring it to life by the force of my own vision.
But I was wrong.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last.-John 15:16
My job is not to enact my own vision, but Yours. I wanted to bring Truth and Beauty into the lives of youngsters, but that is not within my purview. Truth and Beauty belong to You and You deliver them to men. The fruit You want me to bear have arms and legs, flesh and blood. Truth and beauty are easy. They hover above this poor earth like beacons You gave to light the way. My job, whether a teacher or a plumber or a mother, is to deal with the messy parts, the people.
Now, Archimedes and Leonardo, they just sit there, wearing noble names and doing nothing, exactly the opposite of what You want for me. Any noble name I ever have, You will give. In the meantime, I must remember the beautiful, but work in the immediate. You have chosen it and it will last.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
I've often marveled at how God puts us together in families with people we would never have chosen for friends. After all, we tend to choose friends like ourselves in temperament, in belief, and in interest. When siblings don't fall into those categories, however, our relations with them become more like exercises in patience and forgiveness rather than true friendship. We sometimes love them because we have to. We will, after all, be related to them forever.
God has a family, too. When He adopted us as His children, He gave us brothers and sisters according to His choosing, not ours. Some of them we like, and others we may not, but we are related to them all forever. We are joined with each other through the Lord we all love, for better or worse.
He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will to the praise of His glorious grace which He has freely given us in the one He loves.--Ephesians 1:4-6
We are all adopted children in God's family, equal before Him by virtue of our faith. The blood that joins us, the shed blood of Christ, is at least as strong a tie as shared DNA. We cannot reject one another when we have differences, but must take advantage of every opportunity to face our rough spots with honesty and overcome them.
I don't always understand my fellow siblings in God's family, but by God's grace, I love them. They, like my physically related sister and brothers, teach me to deal with dissension and criticism as well as how to enjoy agreement and affection, but they do it under the eternally binding influence of faith. I may not have to spend hereafter with everyone in my physical family, but am blessed, or stuck, with God's family forever. Thank you, Father, for the challenge of family business.
Thought for today: How do you think God's family differs from a physical family?
Monday, August 22, 2011
Like many of you, I can say that I went to church yesterday. I pulled in, parked my car, and walked through a door. The building had walls and a roof and a cross up front. It had pews in which I stood, and sat, and knelt side by side with other believers. However, had the building been empty of any other person, had I been alone, I could not have gone to church. The building would have been there, but the church would have been absent.
God did not build His church with wood or stone. He built it upon the belief of man.
"But what do you say,?" He asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,"
Jesus replied,"Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."
The word 'Peter' means rock. Jesus, in giving Simon Peter this new name, invested him with a special place in His early church, but He did it at the specific moment that Peter declared the one essential truth that binds the church even today, the declaration that Jesus was the Christ. Everyone who believes this is the church. Jesus built His church not only on Peter, but upon the power of faith.
Together, the people of the church live and breathe the Word of God. We bear the gospel with every step. When we are together, we gather the power of the Holy Spirit into one vibrant place. There is no doubt that God wants us to gather, but He doesn't much care where we do it. In fact, the more we concentrate on our buildings, the less attention we have to concentrate on Him.
So, on Sunday morning, I search out the people of God and pray shoulder to shoulder with them because of what Jesus said to Peter so long ago. I know there is power in our communion with each other and with Him.
But tonight, when we have dinner with believing friends to mark their daughter's departure for college, well, that's church, too. Christ reigns over both places and we glorify Him through both activities. Our church exists because of Him and because of each other and we delight in being together.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Here's the picture--it's Sunday morning. Mom and Dad are getting dressed for church, she in a sweet chintz dress and he in a blue striped tie. The children line up for approval. Mom straightens the last cowlick and wipes a smudge off a patent leather shoe and they march first into the station wagon, then through the church door. There, they sit quiet and attentive in the pew: standing to sing, and sitting to listen, and kneeling to pray, satisfying and squeaky clean. They have gone to church. They are ready for another week.
OK, so that's a dated picture. Today, the family is more likely to show up in jeans or shorts, often to join in electronically enhanced worship, but the concept remains the same. When it's Sunday, we go to church. How did we get this idea? God sees things differently:
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God.--Psalm 84:1-2
Where are the pews? Where is the stained glass? Where is the choir? Instead, the psalmist paints a picture of longing, panting, yearning, not of pews standing in regimented order full of proper people who pray and sing and go home. God's church is a living thing, pulsing and full of vigor. His church is not a place, it is an entity, a phenomenon. It has blood and bone, soul and spirit.
From God's view, it is impossible to go to church. We cannot go to church any more than we can go to life. Wherever believers gather, we are in church. Whatever we do together is worship. Our Holy God does not live in a building made of human hands. His house does not have a door.
If you want to go to church, look in a mirror. If you want to find the house of God, look at the believing friends standing together with you in your photo album or on Facebook. God breathes through you every moment and His Spirit works with more power when an assembly gathers. You do not go to the church. The church, when God lives in you, goes with you.
Thought for today: What purposes do church buildings serve?
I work at a winery. Whenever I walk through the front door, particularly in this season, when the harvest is beginning to come in, the ripe smells of plenty surround me. In the back of the store, bright fermenting vats stand in regiments and, in the front, bottles of deep flavors fill bins and shelves. When a customer comes in, I set a glass before him and pour a taste of wine, sparkling and clear. This place is full and rich; it overflows with tastes and smells.
You want this richness. You incorporate it into Your picture of life, Your hope of heaven.
...my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.--Psalm 23:5-6
In fact, cups overflow in heaven, too, but they do not contain any liquid.
...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.--Revelation 5:7-8
The house of the Lord, the halls of heaven, serve up more than mere wine. We men, Your children, fill up Your cup with prayers that sparkle and satisfy, that provide conduit to Your power, that glorify You and flood heaven with Your praise. Like wine, prayers smell sweet and satisfy, then spill over into the golden lap of heaven.
Rather than vats and bottles, angels and saints stand rank on rank before You. Rather than wine, Your glory fills every space. The aroma of prayer drifts up from this poor earth to fill Your cup and then, You fill my soul.
Thought for today: This world is God's reflection. Where do you see His truth in it?
Monday, August 15, 2011
I wake up in this world every day. I share my existence with a man, a cat, a tree. I listen to birds and the noise of distant traffic. I smell vivid lilies or a heady skunk. I am in deep. Life surrounds and covers me. But I am a human being. I live in a world that is like me--vibrant, temporary, and flawed.
God, however, is something else, and has shown enough of Himself for me to define Him. This is the definition of God: He who has the power to give life to that which has none, to call out that which is not as though it were, to promise with unfailing power and confidence, and to fulfill every promise made in His perfect will.
He (Abraham) is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls out things that are not as though they were...he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.--Romans 4:17, 20
Ah, sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.--Jeremiah 32:17
Like I have lived every day of my life in this world, God lives in an infinite creation of His own making. I am surrounded by what is like me, but God surrounds Himself with Himself, perfectly sufficient and powerful. And, because I am His reflection, I share in the glory of His infinity. I am taken up in it as I raise my eyes to Him in faith. God is both the irresistible force and the immovable object.
God is like the vast ocean--unrelenting, consuming, overpowering, but at the same time beautiful and refreshing. Even as I am drawn down into Him, He bears me up.
Thought for today: God makes Himself known to everyone. How has He made Himself known to you today?
Friday, August 12, 2011
We like to entertain and our guest rooms are often full. Most of the time, guests are not family members, but anyone from sweet friends, to occasional hangers-on, to near, needy strangers. Whoever they are, we believe God brings them and we try to make them comfortable accordingly. Recently, though, as we welcomed our granddaughter for a couple of weeks, I realized something important about guests.
Through Him (Jesus), we have access to the Father by the Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners or aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household.--Ephesians 2:18-19
A chasm of difference yawns between the way I welcome a young unrelated guest and the way I welcome a granddaughter. For a casual guest, I fluff pillows in the same way, and make sure she has toiletries and clean towels in the same way, but do not concern myself so much about whether she brushes her teeth every morning or eats properly or what poet she may prefer so I can plan for her next birthday gift. And I certainly do not giggle at infant resemblances in family pictures or discuss which pieces of my jewelry she may prefer to inherit. Nor does a casual guest ask for advice regarding college choices with an expectation that I will be there later to help. An unrelated guest does not have privileges like these. On the surface, relatives act respectfully and with consideration for one another just as we would to anyone, but underlying expectation and responsibility apply from both sides that we cannot ignore.
So exists my relationship with God. I am his daughter. He has adopted me. Without Him, I would still live in His lovely world, would still see the sun every morning and the stars every night. I would eat the food He has provided and smell the flowers He made and hear a bird call. I could not, however, lay any claim to it. I would be a guest in His world, able to use what He provided, but only for the short time I stay.
As a daughter, and only as a daughter, I have rights and privileges. God makes His guests comfortable, but He loves His children as His own. I know I have an inheritance and bear His resemblance. As a daughter, I have responsibility to Him and He teaches me. As a daughter, I learn the family secrets, the truths, and am invested for the long haul. As a daughter, I do not only enjoy the guest room of earth, I know that the inheritance of heaven is already prepared.
Thought for today: How do you understand your daughterhood or sonship?
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
It is both a wonderful and terrible thing to grow old. With years comes experience, and a calm familiarity with the wild twists life tries to throw. I can look at illness or misfortune or financial change with a straight face because, after long acquaintance, I recognize them. "Oh, yes, it's only you..I've seen you before."
But the accumulation of years holds also the terror of regret. Here, I have lingered incapacitated, useless. Old sins and errors have left sad wakes of damage and hurt that no action on my part can change. They lurk and mock. They niggle away at hope. Unlike private sin, these sins have altered not only my life, but the lives of the people I love--my husband, my children, my sweet grandchildren. Every time I look at them, they stand in the relentless shadow of my regret. "You struggle today because of what I did...and I can't undo it."
But You, my God, my Savior, have something to say about this, too.
Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.--1Peter 5:7
This is the realm of the impossible, where I fail and You shine. I have already crucified my life to You, but I have wrongly retained responsibility for the lives of those I love. These are the groans for which there are no words, the utterings that You, Holy Spirit, whisper directly into the Father's ear. I have to give myself to You as You gave Yourself to me, and cast my cares on You for the rest, for all the rest.
My sin helped to shipwreck my family, but just as my life was not beyond Your reach, neither is theirs. You will not punish them for my sin. You can call them, just as You called me. I cannot do any of this, but You can. My reliance on You in this is my next leap of faith, and the faith I need to do this must come from You.
I can do nothing to change the past. I can rely on you to change their futures, however. My regrets have been gods to which I have knelt too long. They have brought neither power nor joy. I have hoarded them. Now, I lay them at your feet and, with them, pray for your will to be done in us all.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Be still and know that I am God...
I must be still not only because You come in whispers, as for Elijah, but because You have something to say and will be heard, no matter what.
Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among nations. I will be exalted in the earth.--Psalm 46:10
I must keep still until the racket of ME dies down enough for me to remember Your thundering majesty. I have to interrupt my consuming self-possession so that You may be exalted. And You will be. You do not need my permission, but You do want my attention. You, who are my constant companion in all times and places.
When I am still, inside and out, You surround and consume me. It is then I see You more clearly, then I face my sins, then I find forgiveness. It is only then I know the quiet of peace, hope, and confidence in the middle of the only place they can exist, Your exultation.
Saturday, August 6, 2011
It's not hard to understand why someone who doesn't know God would be reluctant to confess fault. Someone who has no God, but has to admit their own imperfection, is not only wrong, but alone. It's a prison of sorts, propping up a sagging structure on no foundation, no way out, no way to repair what we know is in truth is broken. For someone who has no God, living with irredeemable wrong must bring dark echoes of fear.
Faith and the freedom to confess go hand in hand because for the faithful, confession brings no fear. If I bear fault, but have no God, I am wrong and alone. If I confess to God, however, I know immediate communion with Him. I have sinned, but He is always near to pick me up. I may fall to my knees, but rise by His side, and confession is the only gate that opens into this sweet field of grace.
In fact, taken to its logical result, resistance to confess sin constitutes a lack of faith. Reluctance to admit wrong demonstrates failure to understand the very nature of God. He is holy and I must remember it. Stubborn, intentional, ignorance of God's majesty circumvents knowledge of a love most obviously demonstrated in forgiveness. If I know who God is, I know who I am, and will immediately confess my sin. When I know who I am, I know who God is and will immediately worship Him. The concepts cannot be separated.
God does not deny or ignore my sin, nor can I. He faces it--calls it exactly what it is, and what I am in consequence of it. God tells me that I am wretched, not because He made me that way, but because I have turned my back on the very glory He put in me. But, even as God tells me the hard truth, and as I utter my acknowledgement of that truth in repentance, He extends His hand. As I struggle toward Him, He keeps picking me up. If I refuse to admit who He is, however, I struggle alone.
Repentance brings me directly into God's throneroom, at His feet, in His presence. If I stand on my own strength, unwilling to admit fault, I stand alone and know the fear of it.
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.--1John 1:8-9
Until your old age, I am unchanged, and until your hoary years I will carry you; I made you and I will bear you, I carry you and I will rescue you. To whom can you liken Me, or consider equal, or compare Me that we should seem alike?--Isaiah 46:4-5
Thursday, August 4, 2011
They crawl up on me sometimes. The basic, vital truths about God that exist all the time, all around, just sneak up behind me, then all in a moment, jump up and say 'Look, here I am!' These truths, the ones God saves for special gifts, these I treasure in my heart, like Mary. I put them in a special place, take them out in private moments, turn them over in my hands and say, 'Oh, yes, you still are beautiful.' And so today.
Not by might or by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord--Zechariah 4:6
Short and sweet. And so simple. When I see God, I see power. I look into a thunderstorm or an avalanche and see Him. I hear birdsong and a baby crying and see Him. I feel a bird's shy feathers or the sweet pressure of a kiss and see Him. He is wind. He is flame. But He tells me that, no, He is not to be found in only those ways. He wants me to recognize all of Him.
God differentiates Himself. He is three and one, but Jesus does not know everything He will do. He is three and one, but He both keeps and reveals secrets. By faith, I connect to His power (see yesterday's blog), and through that power, I usually think I understand Father and Son, but He shows me more. He shows me His Spirit.
I see power, but God says no, you see Spirit. His power is Spirit. His strength is Spirit. Spirit moves mountains. Spirit cracks thunderbolts. Spirit breathes out wind. Spirit raised Jesus from the dead.
Spirit provided the motive power that made the world from the Father's creative idea. Spirit embodies motion and work. So, the Father, Son and Spirit exist as concept, flesh, and work, all holy, all finding expression through me, their mirror image.
When something is conceived, it is through the Father. When something is done, it is through the Spirit, using the hand of the Son. This is why Jesus never knew the day or the hour. Knowing comes from the Father. doing from the Spirit, and means from the Son. Perfect. But I already knew that.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints and His incomparable great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.--Ephesians 1:18-20
If I interpret this correctly, Faith = Power.
Faith, which is a gift from God, provides a gateway through which He downloads the very same power He employed to raise Christ from the dead. This, indeed, is the 'incomparably great' power to which this verse refers.
The Greek word for "heart" here is "kardios," and means inward illumination or visceral understanding: a knowledge, then, that comes through faith.
Faith brings understanding, not intellectual acknowledgement, but something deeper.
This is why God wants me to have faith. He does not look for some kind of rock star adoration. He does not want me to throw my intelligence to the curb. He does not want a mimicking automaton. Instead, He knows that faith connects me to Him in a way nothing else can. Faith plugs me into His power and through that connection, brings the glory and joy He always intended for me and still wants for me.
Faith, my friend, brings power. The same power He used to raise Jesus Christ also raises me.
Monday, August 1, 2011
For thirty-nine chapters, the book of Isaiah cries out blistering warnings: cities and civilizations will fall. Jerusalem, Egypt, Moab, Babylon will be defeated. The Nile will dry up. The land will be desolate. God will enact judgement on the idolatrous.
Isaiah sings a sad litany of sin, details the error of those who said they loved God. It builds a tower made of example after example of wrongdoing and then topples it with one wide swipe. God's people bury themselves in the rubble, a pile that dwarfs 9/11 in that it is anchored by sin and condemned by eternal judgement.
Then, I turn the page.
Comfort my people, say your God. Speak consolingly of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her period of exile has been completed, that her iniquity has been forgiven...A voice calls out in the wilderness--clear the way of God; make a straight path in the desert, a road for our God.--Isaiah 40:1-3
Blossoms rise in the field, voices open in song, and God carries his people on eagles' wings. Suddenly, hope and strength grow where only dust and ashes lay. But they do not come on the strength of men. They come only with the power of God.
Ascend upon a high mountain, O herald of Zion; raise your voice with strength! Raise it, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"--Isaiah 40:9
Men, then, remain weak and corrupt. If they finally triumph, it is because God carries them in His mighty arms. If they rise from ashes, He clears their eyes. Beginning with Chapter 40, Isaiah draws a stunning picture of the heights to which God can raise men who look to Him. He shows us our future. He shows us our Savior.
Exponents in math show growth densely multiplied and mathematicians call them powers for a reason. Each successive power builds on its predecessors, zeros upon zeros, until they soar in imagination. Isaiah's prophecy builds in much the same way, and by Chapter 40, he has taken us nearly to heaven. From then on, we see visions and dreams and images of God's beautiful powers that inspire and bring hope to anyone sad and torn. Isaiah, through intense contrast, sings of God's glory in a way that multiplies grace and soothes our spirit.