Friday, December 30, 2011

Covered by the Night

Nights stretch long at this time of year.  And sometimes, they weigh heavy, too.  In deep winter, I question more, consider longer, and lose resolve.  I feel weak, and I am not accustomed to weakness. 

What I feel, however, is not new.
From the ends of the earth, I call to you. I call as my heart grows faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.--Psalm 61:2
I cried like a swift or a thrush. I moaned like a mourning dove. My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens. I am troubled, O Lord. Come to my aid!--Isaiah 38:14

I remember that life is not turning out the way I planned. I feel alone and helpless, still like a  baby when I thought to have figured some of life out. I expected to have gained some wisdom by now, but feel as unsure as ever.

God's message to me hasn't changed, however.
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.--Psalm 94:19
Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall.--Psalm 55:22

What consolation, I wonder? I am not righteous. What sustenance can you offer, God?
And who is equal to such a task?--2Cor 2:16
Nothing good lives in me, in my sinful nature. I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out.--Romans 7:18

I am a grown woman, but feel like a helpless child. Wisdom flies from me and I can't find the answers I need so badly.

This is the important part:
My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.--2Corinthians 12:9

When Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic, He said to him:
Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.--Matthew 9:2

When He saw that the woman who had bled for twelve years looked for healing in only the hem of His robe, He said:
Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you.--Matthew 9:22

You know that I am weak, Lord. But You come in the very weakest hour. You look for my faith and the instant You see it, lift me up. In the flesh, I am bare, completely uncovered, without protector. But You cover me. My only unreserved attachment must be to You. Life falls short. Neither husbands nor children nor aspirations fill the void. But as I look to You, You do. Only faith, by sheer grace, makes us well.

My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods. With singing lips I will praise You. On my bed I will remember You. I think of You through the watches of the night.--Psalm 63:5-6

The night still covers me. I am still unaccustomed to weakness, but God is enough.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Ultimate Family Reunion

For many, the holidays are all about togetherness.  We go over the river and through the woods, promising to be home for Christmas where we sometimes catch a glimpse Mommy kissing Santa Claus.  Of course, rubbing up against relatives sometimes falls short of expectations, but that's OK.  We already enjoy a perfect family relationship. 

First, we are God's inheritance and He is ours:
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He divided all mankind, He set up boundaries for the people according to the number of sons of Israel, for the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance.--Deuteronomy 32:9

God is our foundation and we are His building:
For we are God's fellow workers.  You are God's field, God's building.--1Cor 3:9

God has sacrificed for us and we sacrifice to Him:
You, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to Christ Jesus.--1Peter 2:5

We belong on one another.
All things are yours...all are yours and you are of Christ and Christ is of God.--1Corinthians 3:22

God sends us His glory and we return it through Christ.
All I have is yours and all you have is Mine.  And glory is come to Me through them.--John 17:10

What we enjoy with Christ is more than a family reunion.  We share hope, hope for more than a distant heaven.  We share the realization of God's design and promise.  In fact, this relationship is heaven, and it begins now.

God assigns us fathers, mothers, spouses, and children as objects of service.  We share love and experiences with them, but we can't forget that the Creator of the universe has welcomed us into a relationship that predates and supersedes them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What You Said

In a universe yet unspoken, swirled in dark chaos, You ruled, breathless and complete. Before making, before matter, before motion, You knew men not yet shaped, not yet sinned. Simultaneous Creator, King, Emmanuel, Savior. While time waited, You said,

I am the Word made flesh.”

In a dark rush of hot blood mixed with new life’s water, You burst forth in first breath. Already living man, already Incarnate God. Sacrifice awaiting slaughter, already laid on the altar of the world. Another crimson flow forecast, Holy and Eucharist, Body and Blood, poised beneath the waiting knife, You said,

I am the Bread of Life.”

In a rude manger whose splinters spoke the thorns’ prophecy, You cried new tears. The spine not yet become a spear, the burr not yet become a scourge, the branch not yet become a crown, from sapling to stump, from cradle to cross, You would too soon carry wood that now carried you. As your pain bloomed, You said,

I am the Vine.”

In the cold, ignorant night after four hundred silent years, You lit an only star. Halting the great wheel of heaven, leading three staunch kings, confounding one royal fool, this blaze of celestial glory ended in a sad hill’s forsaken dark. Although “My God, My God” consummated the alleluia, and despair shrouded all, You said,

I am the Light of the World.”

In an unwary stable, serenaded by angelic choir, You dreamed, Victorious King, and heard:
This is my Son.”
It is Finished.”
He is risen.”
You saw sin and hell laid waste, temptation’s dark angel aflame, the fallen fruit of your own imagination returned in tearless triumphant reunion through heaven’s gates flung wide.
All this, and yet a baby. You said,

I AM.”

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wiser than We Thought

Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. Ask someone about the part played in the Christmas story by the three wise men and you will most likely hear about the gifts they brought to baby Jesus. It figures. Mention Christmas and the focus goes right to gifts. In this story, however, as in our customary gift-heavy celebration of the holiday itself, we have missed something very important.

First, these wise men were not just some smart guys who decided to take a trip together. These men were kings, rulers of ancient realms. They commanded wealth and armies. They owned slaves and employed servants. Normal relations with neighboring kingdoms usually involved battle, not field trips. But on this occasion, they did not send emissaries. And they ignored, for this venture, their differences.

Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.--Matthew 2:2

Kings do not visit other baby kings. Rulers of the ancient Orient did not like one another. They were more likely to send a spy or an assassin than bring a gift. Obviously, something here was different.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him.--Matthew 2:11

They worshiped Him. The gifts were symbolic, gold and spices, but they came for another purpose. They came to worship.

As I look at my Christmas preparations--the baking, the decorations, the tree, and, of course, the mound of gifts--have I remembered what those kings knew? In that first Christmas season, they put away their privilege and prejudice to bow down before the King of Kings. They made themselves humble in a foreign land, disregarding custom, to worship the Son of God.

Forget the gifts. They don't matter. Forget the gifts and worship the baby. It's worth the trip.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Open It, for Heaven's Sake!

I like to give gifts. Most of us do, I think, and while we do, we imagine the delight of the recipient--their quick smile, their laugh, their grateful hug. Consider, then, a scenario in which we give our loved one something we hope they will treasure, but, after they unwrap it, they say it just doesn't fit, that surely we should have given them something else. In reality, loved ones probably don't tell us this, but we do.  We do it all the time regarding one of the best gifts we ever received. We do this with our lives.

God gave us life. A human, heartbeating, blood coursing, emotion-filled life. He did not do this by accident.

God made me human. I am born flesh, not spirit. I live as a human, not an angel. God does not want me to deny or eschew what He has bestowed in order to try to be something else. Yes, I must repent from my sin, but He does not want me to apologize for life. God tells me to live.

True, Paul tells me to die to myself. He does not mean, however, to die completely. In putting aside my sin, my selfishness, my pride, I do not put aside my life. It may feel like it, but I do not. Instead, faith and obedience to God sanctifies me, dedicates the life I live in the flesh to God. Living my life in the flesh for God makes me holy.

I am crucified in Christ and I no longer live. The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.--Galatians 2:20

God gives human beings life, this day and every day, and declares it the stage upon which He wants us to reflect His own Self. He made it specifically for us as a gift. He does not give us life for us to treat it as a drudge or a burden. Neither does He expect us to be spiritual beyond what the bounds of our flesh permit.  

God wants us to appreciate life exactly as He gave it to us, to value it and enjoy it within His ordained parameters, and as we do this, to see His glory.  He wants us to live as beloved men and women, sure that our humanity is not a mistake, but a design blessed by God.

We are not perfect, but are loved beyond our imperfection.

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.--Psalm 27:18

Open your gift.  Live.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And They Opened Their Mouths...

Did you ever listen to Handel's "Messiah"? Not just the Hallelujah Chorus, but the whole thing? What a triumphant picture! It recalls the entire miracle of God's presence on earth, from annunciation to resurrection, bursting out at intervals in unbridled praise as though Handel simply can't control his amazement. And, as result, neither can we. I like those parts the best...

"Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God in the Highest...
Who is the King of Glory, Who is the King of Glory?....
Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace..."

We went yesterday to listen to this beautiful work and, somewhere along the line, I realized that, in order for us to hear it, a lot of gifted people had to open their mouths and lift up their voices. They had to use what God had given them to His glory, and I was smitten by the result.

The choristers were not being 'spiritual' when they did this. They sang. They just sang. And God burst from them as juice from a ripe fruit.

I don't know how many of them believed in the miracles they sang about, but some of them obviously did. These men and women sang not to exalt themselves, but as conduits, as passageways, for God to declare Himself. In other words, they fulfilled the purpose for which God created them and the duty to which He commands us all:

Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.--Psalm 29:1-2

It's simple, really. Live because God gave you life. Worship Him in it.

We can never give to God more than He deserves. We can never pay Him back for when He did for us, but we can use the thing He did give us--our life--in His service.

God gave us life because He wants us to live it.

He gave us love because He wants us to know love. He gave us the sweetness of taking a clean breath, the pleasure of flowers, the inspiration of music, the satisfaction of food and drink. He wants us to enjoy them all, not bottle them up.

God gave those singers beautiful voices not just to sing in the shower, although they probably do that. He did not give them voices just to croon a lullaby for their restless baby, though they can do that, too. He certainly did not give them those voices to compete on American Idol. He did not intend that these voices make them self-aware or satisfyingly self-congratulatory.

God gave them voice for one purpose: to proclaim His glory and in that proclamation, bring delight both to the singer and the listener. When bottled up, the song stagnates. When let loose and shared, it fulfills its purpose.

We could go through life just following God's rules--His Thou-Shalt-Nots--but we will miss the glory God gave in giving us life. We were meant to exceed His law, to grab this life and squeeze it out for God's glory, to let its goodness incubate and bloom in us, broadcasting its seed everywhere in our wake.

Who is the King of Glory? Who is the King of Glory?

Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Petting the Tiger--Long Arms are Harder to Bite

Sometimes we forget that teeth and claws are dangerous. Yesterday, my sister related her latest adventure at an exotic animal rescue facility. The day she visited, they had three tiger cubs she got to pet and play with. Still too young to have teeth or claws, they frolicked like any other kitten--jumping, rolling, cuddling. She remembered, luckily, that in a matter of weeks, these little balls of fur would mature into the wild cats they were born to be and the kind of play she enjoyed that day would become impossible, but for then, she could relax in the company of a wild beast.

I couldn't help thinking about the dangers we, as Christians, sometimes toy with.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.--1Timothy 4:1

If you study the Scriptures, you know that these are the last days. The dangers described surround us now, and in growing measure as years pass, every bit as dangerous as a tiger's teeth. We tend to think that we are safe in church but, as Timothy tells us, we are not. Believers today are not immune to the same temptations suffered by pharisees and pagans in Christ's time. Sanctified zealousness easily becomes crippling legalism. Yearning for the Spirit develops into charismatic idolatry.

We embrace appealing leaders too tightly, even in the church, if Christ is not in place as our only head.

We strain our ears to hear a word from God, so eager to share divine knowledge that we fail to adequately test what we hear. We trust experienced men and women of faith to lead us toward God and sometimes they do, but sometimes they do not.

Anything that comes through the lips or pen of another human being is suspect, and grows more so with every passing year.

Unfortunately, our love for God often becomes too entwined with our love for His people and the vine that should be Christ's alone eventually takes on other faces.

When this happens, be ruthless. I have to sift everything I hear from everybody through what God says in the Bible. No exceptions. It's not easy. I want to believe what God's people tell me. In the end, though, looking to one another rather than standing side by side and looking together to Christ always brings calamity.

Just as a longer arm more easily holds a soon-to-be-dangerous tiger cub at bay, so does our longer spiritual arm when it reaches past a dear and familiar world directly to God. He wants us to do this. He wants us to look directly into His face and to say, like Samuel,

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.--1Samuel 3:10

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Paul's Secret

The apostle Paul said that he was content in all circumstances. Well, I am not. I do not like sickness, trouble, or outright adversity. I do not like bad weather, hard days, or crabby people. Frankly, I do not think that he did either. Nobody does.

So what exactly did he mean?

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation...Philippians 4:12

Paul needed to learn a secret in order to achieve this contentment. Well, Paul, give it up, will you?

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.--Philippians 3:4

His secret was knowing Christ. He gave up everything for this secret. He began life educated and influential, met Jesus, and left it all behind. Without money or power, Paul leaned only on faith in Christ, and he found it plenty. This was his secret.

But, be careful in this. He did not find faith by the giving up of money and power. Practical trouble and poverty do not automatically usher in faith--they are not admission into the throne room of God. We do not become holy by experiencing privation. And yet...

Trouble does seem to follow believers, however, doesn't it? Sometimes seemingly more than for unbelievers. What's up with that, God?

It's really not that hard to understand. Simply put, adversity endured brings faith, not because we are rescued out of trouble, but because God comes to us in the middle of it to a degree we never otherwise see.

"Oh, God," we say when things are good..."You are powerful and mighty and faithful. I love you." And it's true.

But when times are tough, and the sun begrudges its rising, and we wonder why in the world God opened our eyes on another sad day, to say "Oh God, You are mighty and powerful and faithful. I love you," means something quite different. On those days, we know that we know, and something firm and strong is built in us, a bulwark that supports and carries with all the assurance the love of an almighty God brings.

We pray so often for rescue from our troubles, forgetting that God comes on the wing of trouble more vividly than any other time. Trouble is more than how we grow--it is where we meet the Living God, able to see His glory.

I have been reading Paul wrong. He was not content with nasty circumstances any more than I am. He did not enjoy his troubles, but he did enjoy what God brought through them--abiding faith that comes not from rescue from them, but from having met God in them.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Get Over It--From Faith to Forgiveness

I've heard it said that we live in an age of the perpetually offended. There's some truth in that, I guess. It certainly seems like we do a great deal of tiptoeing around, working too hard to avoid the unpleasantness of strong opinion or the disagreement of firm belief. Sometimes, I just want to scream, "Get over It!"

Unless, of course, I'm the one needing to do the getting over.

I do not like being hurt, ignored, or betrayed any more than anyone else, but it happens, and God has clear instructions for me when it does:

If your brother sins, rebuke him and, if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says, "I repent," forgive him.--Luke 17:3-4

God says forgive. He uses small words and short sentences, but the task is not easy. After Jesus explained the need to forgive to the apostles in the above passage, they, during one of their rare moments of clarity, knew exactly what they needed to do it.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"--Luke 17:5

It takes extra faith to forgive. While unforgiveness has its roots in self-interest and earth-bound understanding, forgiveness steps out of these and casts all of our lot into God's lap. That's why we need faith.

Unforgiveness keeps the focus on us. Forgiveness keeps our focus on God.

Forgiveness operates by the same spiritual mechanisms as obedience. I can neither obey nor forgive if I make earthly justice and my own way the goal. Obedience and forgiveness only happen when I see God rather than myself. I must forgive and obey not because I think I can, but because God tells me to.

Forgiveness and obedience may outwardly change nothing. They right no wrongs, ease no hurts. They do, however, draw me directly to the side of Christ and from there, all things are possible.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Raising our Banner

In reading the Old Testament, I notice that ancient people built altars a lot. Every time something significant occurred, they erected a new one to commemorate the occasion. In addition, when God designed His Tabernacle in the desert and the Temple in Jerusalem, He specified that each contain an altar also. On each of these altars, the same activities took place: slaughter and sacrifice.

Moses, as leader of the Israelites, set this pattern. Shortly after God delivered His people from the Egyptians and showed them He would provide miraculous food for them on their journey, and that, by defeating the Amelkites, He would defend them from enemies, Moses knew what to do.

Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my Banner.--Exodus 17:15

Moses first used his altar for sacrifice, for the slaughter of that which God desired. Then, afterward, he declared it his identifying banner. In doing this, Moses made public statement that everything from which he drew his strength originated with his sacrifice and obedience to God.

A banner not only identifies, it proclaims. It announces allegiance. When it is planted in a plot of ground, it declares victory. A banner identifies the source of strength.

Our strength comes from sacrifice, too. The altar is where we both acknowledge God and access His power. At the altar we acknowledge sin and the price necessary to expunge it. The altar, always fresh with Christ's blood, is where we meet God, always looking up from our knees.

Moses' ancient altar served a precursor to the cross, and as such, remains a declaration of both allegiance and victory. The altar and the cross irrevocably tie sacrifice to freedom and strength.

Moses' altar became his banner because it connected him to God. Our cross does the same, a banner meant to be carried before us with holy awe.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Where Are You, God?

In the course of living a life of faith, I often find myself looking for God. He's everywhere, He tells us, but life, in all of its bland ordinariness, doesn't seem a fit place for Him to occupy. Intellectually, I know He's around when I'm doing dishes or driving to work but, in the absence of a burning bush or pillar of fire, I am hard put to recognize His Glory.

In ancient times, God had men build him first a tabernacle, then a temple in which He specified a place for Himself, the Holy of Holies. They watched Him descend into it and take up residence there.

My dwelling place will be with them. I will be their God and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy when my sanctuary is among them forever.--Ezekiel 37:28

Now, the New Testament tells me that my body is God's temple,

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, who you have received from God?--1Corinthians 6:19

but I have a hard time reconciling the precious beauty and careful obedient provision of the first temple with my own vain and unreliable striving. I know without a doubt that I am not a fit temple for God.

But I am looking at this the wrong way. In both cases, it is not the place but the Person to which He draws attention. God is not talking about two things here, but one. The sanctuary of the temple and the temple of the body are the same thing.

And there is more...God once lived in buildings made of hides, then of bricks made by men and now He lives in men themselves but, just as the first building was not made of only one man's home, neither is His dwelling now made in only one man's individual body. As the first temple encompassed the worship of many men, so does it still. Today, God doesn't only dwell in me, He dwells in us. The body He occupies today is the church, not our local go-to-Sunday building, but the church He instituted when He made Peter His rock. The church that includes all men and all countries for all time who believe.

Once, His visible power descended into a communal sanctuary. It still does. The Holy of Holies doesn't exist today only in my heart. Through the church, God makes a public declaration of power. The nations must visibly recognize Him. Every temple God designates exists for only one purpose: to demonstrate His Glory.

We cannot hoard God. He will make Himself known and has designated the places from which He will do it. Both within our hearts and in communal worship, God declares Himself.

Of course life is ordinary. Compared to God, everything is.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


After all these years, I finally get it. It's not the turkey, or the cranberry sauce, or going over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house. It has little to do with the meal we make so much of a fuss about or reuniting with distant relatives. It is about much, much more...

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me and prepares the way so that I can show him the salvation of God--Psalm 50:23

We are to give thanks not only so that we learn to appreciate our blessings, but more so that we can open the way for God. God wants us to thank Him not only for what He gives, but for who He is.

And it looks like this:

I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, and tongue, people, and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they cried in a loud voice,

"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb"...

They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying,

"Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen!"--Revelation 7:9-12

Now that sounds like thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What My Dog Doesn't Have

Thanksgiving is hard upon us and, more than at other times, we tend to share all for which we have cause to give thanks. The lists are long: health, wealth, security, safety, peace, family, faith. We all have at least some of these, but God's gifts go far beyond this.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure...Ephesians 1:7-9

When we list our gratitudes, we tend to include so many things that God gives all his creatures. He gave my dog some of the same things He gave me. Fido has health, security, safety, and a family too--he even experiences a kind of love. But Fido does not have, nor can he ever have, an understanding of God. Understanding is a higher gift, one God reserved for us alone. And He wants us to broadcast it.

But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 9:24

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How to Find a Real Friend, Part 2

I had a tearful conversation this week with someone who'd been lied to by a friend. She just couldn't comprehend how someone she'd trusted for years would betray her so readily.

I felt sad for her, but remained a bit amazed that she was so surprised. She did not understand that no one is trustworthy. No one on this earth. The hurts and betrayals sometimes come intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but they will come. Our friends will hurt us. Guaranteed.

Understanding man's basic failure to be faithful does not grow from pessimism; it simply allows God to take His proper place. It does not mean that our friends and family do not care--in fact, they provide islands of love, but even these come with storms. If you want a friend that never fails, you have only one choice.

God is not a man that He should lie, nor son of man, that He should change His mind--Numbers 23:19

God never lies, never exaggerates, never forgets, never deceives. He is mighty not only to save, but to remain steadfast for all time and in all circumstances.

The world is a dark place sometimes. Friends fail, but when the darkness closes in, reach for the light.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.--John 1:5

When we stand in the light, we can finally understand.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Find a Real Friend, Part 1

The world is confusing. We are always trying to figure out how we fit, how to relate to the people around us. We feel sometimes like Diogenes, wandering around with a lamp trying to find an honest man, someone we can trust. "Who am I?", we wonder. "Who are you?"

Diogenes, as far as anyone knows, never found his honest man and, consequently, found himself very much alone. We, too, want trustworthy companions but, like Diogenes, find our fellow humans wanting.

Diogenes failed to consider God. When we reach for God, we find everything men lack. Savior, Brother, Friend, Almighty. He is all these and more. But then, we encounter another puzzle.

God made us. He laid down our world and the laws that govern both it and us. We exist only at His pleasure. How can I possibly achieve friendship with the One who rules?

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.--John 15:14-15

Only God offers faithful friendship and, in order to enjoy it, He says that I must first obey Him. This does not sound like friendship to me. Friends share, not obey, but I can only share so much with a holy God. On a small scale, it's like trying to maintain a friendship with Alexander the Great. The gulf between us is just too wide.

Obedience to God, however, puts the relationship between us into proper perspective. While nothing can level the playing field, obedience opens the door to Him. When I obey eagerly out of love, He can treat me like a daughter and He can share not only knowledge, but His created heavens and earth as an inheritance. When I serve and consider myself bound to Him, I am tied to Him not by ownership, but by affection. Thus is His friendship not the precursor, but the byproduct of His commanded obedience. I cannot earn His friendship, but I can obey my way to it.

First, I believe. Then I obey. Later, I trust. I obey when it is hard because God has shared His truth. I trust when everything else fails because God has showed His vision. I serve when rewards fail because service to God's truth sanctifies. I persevere when men fail because friendship forged with God lasts forever.

Diogenes looked in the wrong place.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Please Pass the Valuables

Imagine this:

Tonight you have laid out your best china and spent hours cooking a feast for your dearest friends. These are the people you love the most, brothers and sisters only hearts can join. You have shared many evenings like this, but tonight is different. You've had some tough times recently.

A week ago, Joe promised you that he would fix the bad fuel pump on your car, but never had time and the car quit half way to work. Yesterday, you weren't feeling well and Laura said she would take you to the doctor but slept through the appointment. John lost the first edition you lent him. Rachel lied about you, telling her family that you'd been expelled for cheating in college. Randy finally decided that he'd waited long enough for your job, deliberately undermined your best account, and your boss fired you. Your friends, every one, have hurt or betrayed you.

But no one can tell tonight. You laugh, reminisce about the good times, and raise glasses in tribute to one another. Then, instead of dessert, you bring out a box you have saved just for this moment.
"I have something to give each of you," you tell them.

From the box, you remove your car keys and give them to Joe.
"What's this?" he asks.
"It's yours. I'm giving it to you."
He narrows his eyes. "I don't get it."
"There's nothing to get. I'm giving you the car."
He drops the keys on the table and waits.

You take everything else out of the box....the deed to your house, transfer of your 401K, the contents of your safety deposit box, your mother's wedding ring--everything of value that you own--and give them to your friends.

They grumble and murmur. One by one, they get up from the table, sharing low glances at each other but never looking back at you. They take their coats and head for the door, but before going out, remember to take your gifts. They remember that.

Would you give away everything you value to faithless friends? Well, neither would I, but we are not the givers. We are one of the friends. This is exactly what Jesus did in the upper room the night before He died. That dinner, in the company with men He loved, was framed, both before and after, in betrayal. The same men with whom Christ feasted demonstrated little but faithlessness and still, in the midst of it, He washed their feet and gave them Himself. The Last Supper rose as an island of blessing in a sad, black place.

And what Jesus did for the disciples, He still does for us today, giving everything without reservation when we don't see, don't follow, don't understand. Even when we deliberately forsake Him, He extends His hand holding the most precious of gifts.

This is my body, which is given for you.--Luke 22:19

Friday, November 11, 2011

Prayer 3: Words of my Mouth

My friend Vera has a killer prayer list. She keeps it in two three-ring binders and tends it every day, spending literally hours in intercession for people and situations. We have prayed together a number of times, always about something specific that had sprung into her heart or weighed on her mind, but when it comes to her list, I marvel at her zeal and faithfulness in it.

In contrast, my own prayers are clumsy, wandering, searching for direction and relevance. I have a list, too, but am not faithful to it, mostly because, well, my prayers just sound dumb. I just never seem to know what to say.

I should remember this:

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.--Romans 8:26

I'm starting to think that I just need to shut up and present myself to God. My thoughts, my words, will never be good enough.

But He lives in me. What I can't say, He can. Where my words stumble, His do not. When my heart faints, His is strong. I can depend on Him to direct my heart and inspire my stumbling mouth. You can, too.

When my prayers do not come because I am depending on my faltering heart to provide them, all I have to do is to lean toward Him and listen before I speak. Then the words of my mouth will always be acceptable.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oh, that smell...

A few years ago, a summer camp near here constructed a full size replica of the tabernacle that the Israelites built according to God's instruction and carried around the desert during their years of wandering. I went often to see it, sitting and praying and just looking, trying to get some feel for a place God literally inhabited. The images I stored up during those sunrises and sunsets, during those sweet hours of contemplation, still serve me well, not only as still spots in a stream, but as pictures of God's physical presence preserved in wood and linen by His specific command.

It turns out that each construct within the tabernacle exists to explain something about God's character and desires.

Make an altar of acacia wood for burning incense. Put the altar in front of the curtain that is before the Ark of Testimony--before the atonement cover that is over the Testimony where I will meet with you. Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for generations to come.--Exodus 30:1, 6-8

In the Bible, incense always indicates prayer, and promises to usher in His Very Presence.

May my prayer be set before you like incense, may the lifting of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.--Psalm 141:2

So God commanded constant prayer, refreshed intentionally every morning and evening, but burning steadily at all times. This prayer was not optional. God commanded it--like the daily sacrifices, like the tithing. Every day, a priest offered up new incense, went out into the courtyard to kill and dismember the day's sacrifices, then washed his hands and came back to the incense again. As the incense framed the priest's dirty business, as it burned and drifted up along with the burning of offerings, so does my prayer need to do the same.

Prayer has nothing to do with results, with my mood, with my location, companions, or circumstances. Prayer is not just for church or even for the side of my bed, but for days filled with work and other concerns. Although life may be bloody, prayer, like incense, brings sweetness.

The New Covenant of Christ has made me a priest and I must pray. It is the constant offering of the hours of life, of constant praise, of constant lifting of my spirit toward my God. My suns must rise and set with it. I can never let my incense go out.

Pray continually.--1Thessalonians 5:17

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Who Are You Lookin' At?

I went shopping the other day to buy an anniversary card for my husband, and nearly went home empty-handed. I expected to find a card that would tell him what a wonderful husband he's been, but these were the messages I found:

"When I met you, I never knew how much my life would change."
"I want to wish you all the happiness you've given me."
"All I want is to love you for the rest of my life."

Good grief--the cards were supposed to honor him, but most of the sentiments they expressed started and ended with "I". They showed much more concern for his effect on me than gratitude for all his years of love and the security and fun he'd brought to our life together. In other words, these messages tell him that he is important only to the extent that he makes me feel good. That does not sound like honor.

And neither does the same kind of language when we use it in worship or praise directed toward God. When a prayer uses "I" or "we" more than "You", who is most on our minds? When we sing more about how God makes us feel than who He is, who are we honoring?

The best way to praise God is not to describe how we are happy or singing or lifting our hands or bowing down, but simply to praise Him--to say He is holy and mighty. To acknowledge that He is all beauty and power. Israel's King David understood this when he prayed:

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the majesty, and the splendor, for everything in heaven and on earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you. You are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.--1 Chronicles 29:11-12

Not an "I" in it. Real praise destroys self-awareness and replaces it with God-awareness. When it does, we praise not our own position and character, but His.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Enjoying the Dance

I'm not usually fond of country music, but some years ago, country stations were playing a song that went something like, "Life's a dance you learn as you go..." I liked that. When I heard its carefree melody, I couldn't help thinking about how we really do learn how to live.

Then I realized that it is good an proper for a man to eat and drink and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the days of life God has given him--for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift from God. He seldom reflects on his life because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.--Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

God shows us in simple terms how to live. He puts our proper circumstances squarely before our eyes and tells us to enjoy them. He tells us not to plot and plan for a future we may never have. He cringes when we spurn His gift of days and say, "I wish" or "I want."

I keep thinking that I have to change my circumstances, to fix everything, but do I really? Has not God determined the days of my life for my benefit? I have to work, of course, but do I have to spend so much time figuring stuff out? Hasn't God done that already?

God gives some things and takes others away, but will not leave us lacking. In the end, I think that my real job is to receive smiling the circumstances that God brings not because they are all happy, but because He brought them. If I can do that, if I can find God in all my circumstances, then I will be happy because we will be together.

Life really is a dance we learn as we go and God wants to dance every dance with us, every moment of our whole lives, to every beat of our hearts, keeping the tempo of His unending song.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Regaining the Image

God made us, He says, in His own image. What does that mean, exactly? I know that, when I look in the mirror, I see an image of myself, but applying that same logic to God confuses me. I know that I don't look like God but, on some level, He tells me that I do or was meant to.

Sounds like there is some work to do. God agrees:

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose.--Philippians 2:13

Work has to happen on both sides.

God works in us, but He does not work in us to make us better people. He works to change us to be so much like Him that we will, or want, the same things that He does.

Then, we work out what He has worked in. Once we turn our eyes on God, this is our only job, and we fear and tremble at the magnanimity of it.

God works Himself into us until our wills change, letting the salvation He wrought work itself into actions. He does not stop until we see only His own face.

We become better people in the process, but not primarily in our relationships with other men, but in our relationship with Him.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Striking the Perfect Note

At a symphony, when the conductor raises his hands and the music begins, its beauty comes less from each individual instrument than from the whole of them...their magnificence is in their union. Even the meaning of the word "concert" includes an understanding of beauty arising from what happens when individual components work together.

Prayer is like this. God does not answer every prayer, only those within His will and His will, like the symphony, has one intended direction. As when violins, one by one, join with the composer's will for them to make something beautiful, so it is with prayer.

Perfect harmony is the power of both music and prayer.

We tend to measure the efficacy of our prayers by those God grants, but fulfilled prayer says much less about us than it does about Him because we tend to forget its dependence on His will.

When God grants our prayers, He is telling us that we are on the right road, that we have found at least one single point where we have properly cast our lot with Him. God gives us what we want when it is the same thing He wants.

Granted prayer testifies to the glory of one clear note of communion.

This, then, is how you ought to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. --Matthew 6:9-10

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Glory of Dirt

Work. God gave Adam work to do in Eden and He gives it to us, too. Every day. We have jobs to do at home and outside, for our families and for others. We even have to take care of ourselves, and that is work, too.

God tells us to do work for His glory, so I try to sort through the jobs He brings for the glory they hold, but it's often hard to find. I rarely see glory in mowing the lawn or doing dishes. It's hard to see any glory in doing homework or mediating arguments or in listening to someone bemoan their own troubles for the umpteenth time. I want to see God in these, but He doesn't show up and I just end up tired with dirty hands.

And yet, these are the jobs God has brought. Am I looking at this the wrong way? Is it possible that I cannot choose what brings God glory, but that He chooses it by bringing it to me? Does God mean to teach me about what He wants by laying it at my feet and asking me to pick it up and do something with it? Does it really matter how the job looks from my point of view?

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay Him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.--Romans 11:34-36

Come to think of it, the work Jesus did on the cross didn't look very glorious at the time, either. In the end, it is for God, not me, to choose the work that brings Him glory. And He shows it to me every day by laying it at my feet. I don't have to choose it; in fact, with my limited view, I can't. But He can, and does.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wake Up, Sleeper!

Every night, we look forward to sinking peacefully into sleep, drifting off with relief, unafraid and grateful, expecting to wake with refreshment and renewal. Sleep is a little death, and as we wake from it, we know a daily rising, a triumphant new life.

God made us to need sleep and He did it for a reason. In making daily dying and rising a necessary part of our lives, He teaches something about Himself: for every death, large and small, a waking follows.

Unconsciously, we let go of our life every night when we close our eyes in full expectation that we will open them again. Sleep rarely brings stress or rebellion--it relieves them, but the sleeping and waking pattern God established is harder to apply to other situations in which He also tells us to let go.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.--Galatians 5:24 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.--Ephesians 2:1,6

As we die daily in sleep, so are we to die daily to sin and, eventually, die physically. He has already established the pattern: a waking follows each one, a waking with Him.

As I lay myself down every night to a relieved sleep, confident that I will wake up in the morning renewed, so must I lay down a used-up sinful life to be reborn in Christ and look forward to a final physical death from which I will finally wake up where the sun never sets.

Photo courtesy of Kristen W, Writers' Alley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Beautiful...

Grapes on the vine crowd one another, lush and full of juice, but if they continue to hang there, serve no purpose. To make wine, they must be crushed, and the crushing is our job. It makes a mess, to be sure, but the beauty of the resulting slurry, or must, lies in its promise. From this, along with an expert winemaker's intervention, will come a beverage not only beautiful, but full of goodness.

And so the gospel. When we employ the Word of God and its power in our lives, we stir things up. Things get messier before they straighten out, both in our own lives and in those around us. But oh, what a beautiful result!

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!--Romans 10:15

Photo credit:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Only One Job Left...

Every morning, the day spreads before us full of tasks and obligations, each of them clear and each commensurate with our station in life: go to work, feed a baby, tend an invalid, shop, wash, repair, plant. We know what we have to do. We keep a list of it.

You, God, have put us in this life's place and intend it for our good. If we accomplish the tasks you set us, we stand good and obedient before You. Like a child who makes his bed or ties his shoes, then raises his eyes to be praised, we do what you ask of us.

You want more than practical work, however. You want repentance, goodness, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, love, discipleship, fellowship, the breaking of bread, prayer. These rise before us, too--our spiritual to-do list.

The same to-do lists that frame our days, however, also separate us from you. Their objects, the people and tasks they involve, so easily block our view of You, who are their real purpose. We forget we do not live to do jobs for you, jobs you could more easily do Yourself. Instead, we live to find You.

You want us to want you and have woven tasks into our constant yearning. You are found within the tasks you give, and the tasks exist only as framework or venue. They are not You. We are not to achieve tasks. We are to achieve communion. Even if we check everything off, if we do our jobs well, both earthly and spiritual, we could still have left our most important task undone.

In the end, we have only one item on our list: to know You.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as silver and search for it as hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.--Proverbs 2:1-5

I will go before you and level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I AM the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.--Isaiah 45:2-3

You give me jobs so that I can find You in the context of a life You created and embellished for one purpose. My job is not to complete all the tasks to find You; it is to know You every moment while I do them. The work itself is prayer. The work is worship. It is obedience. It is where I reach out and You meet me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pilate's Good Question

The Ten Commandments look so easy. Short and sweet...Thou shalt...Thou shalt not. They state their instructions simply and clearly, like number nine:

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.--Exodus 20:16

Don't lie. Simple and straightforward. Tell the truth, all the time. Like when a witness puts his hand on the Bible in court--"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Not three things, but one. The truth with nothing added and nothing left out.

But the commandment raises another question, a much harder one:

Jesus answered..."Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
"What is truth?" Pilate asked. --John 18:38

Good question. I want to tell the truth and to act on it, but what is it? How can I tell that what I believe is real? It takes work.

I am not only responsible to believe, but to verify.
If I hear something on CNN, don't repeat it before I verify it.
If Aunt Mabel tells me something about someone, don't believe it, verify it.
If my pastor preaches a sermon, check it out before I take it in.
Even the Bible begs verification--through history, through science, through nature, through my own experience.

Truth is not what I am told, but what I know because I have investigated and learned. Truth is what reality and facts support. Truth is what IS.

The Lord God calls Himself the I AM for a reason. He exists in one way and one way only. He can never be what He is not, no matter what I believe.

God made only one truth and I have to find it. The truth originates in Him, not in my feelings or my lofty imagination. I can care about people and listen to what they say, but God requires ruthlessness on this point: if what people say does not agree with what He says through the many ways He has said it, I cannot believe it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Real Will Power

Our bodies house tremendous power. Our hearts beat relentlessly, pushing blood through miles of vessels. Muscles move on command and electrical impulses carry communication from our brains to extremities in an instant. It's possible to chart how these systems work, but not all of what makes up a human being responds to a doctor's measurement. Medicine can prod a brain, but not a mind. A textbook can illustrate a muscle, but not the will.

Something incorporeal drives our physical systems, something not made from cells. Thought and desire do this, and we call them our will.

The will has power, too. Anyone who has seen the movie "Green Lantern" will recognize this--the hero has a ring that projects his thoughts, his will, on anything at which he points it. This ring, the one that harnesses his will, gives him power over everything around him, and he likes that power.

Who doesn't? When I make something happen, I feel good, too. The movie misses something important, though. I can will something destructive as easily as I can will help or rescue, and my limited vision doesn't always know the difference. Jesus knew this too, and offered a simple solution:

I seek not to please myself, but Him who sent me.--John 5:30

I don't have a ring bringing intergalactic power, but I do have a strong will, one that can indeed change the world around me. I can use it for good, like the Green Lantern, but only if I subject it to another will upon which I can completely rely.

May Your will be done--Matthew 26:42

My will is easy to spot. It starts with the thought, "I want...." This is the place where I have to catch myself and redirect my view beyond me to You.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Drawing up the Nectar

Even now, when autumn has taken firm hold, butterflies frequent my backyard garden. They float delicately on the last of the season's warm breezes, flapping a little, but mostly gliding from one flower to the next, sipping on each one. They don't live long, but look beautiful for a while, lay eggs, then die.

I know people like them. They are beautiful and smile a lot. They move easy, and shift readily to find places where a benevolent sun shines. They wave lightly and settle in for as long as it lasts, until a challenging puff of wind unseats them and they look for another tranquil spot. Their fragile wings do not bear mistreatment.

A bee's lot is different. He is sturdy because he has work to do. He buzzes a warning, but stings interruption. An ungainly lump, he flies with purpose and stays at a flower only long enough to gather what he must transfer elsewhere. He builds for other purposes than his own.

It's a matter of motive, I think. Each creature, butterfly and bee, become what they must for their specific purpose. As in uninvolved onlooker, I prefer the beauty of the butterflies, but farmers don't agree. For farmers, bees pollinate crops and bring fruit forth from flowers. Butterflies produce nothing but more butterflies.

Of course, neither insect chooses their what purpose to serve, but we do. For men as for insects, actions follow purpose. What we do is a consequence of what we most value, what we build a result of what we believe.

Don't you know that when your offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?--Romans 6:16

I am going to follow something, to obey someone's call, and my actions will fall in line with that call. I will live, I will drink from the flower, and I can do it as a butterfly, that is to nourish only myself, or as bee, to build up for something more, for an almighty motive. In either case, I give my life, become a slave, to what I live for.

Thought for today: Whose purpose drives your actions?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Coloring Inside the Lines

Sometime before 1508, Leonardo da Vinci took up a pencil and began to sketch. He knew what men were meant to be--the image and likeness of God--and he intended to remind them in a place where they would have to look toward heaven to see it--on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. He drew boldly, a muscular Adam, naked and vulnerable in his first moments of life, but his first strokes bore only a shadow of what da Vinci saw in his head.

His first sketches incorporated no color, no texture, no life. Only black and white, they carried the image, but shared no likeness with the finished product. They didn't yet breathe.

We share the same incomplete state. God created us in His image but intends for us His likeness, and as we live and let Him do His work in us, He fills in the empty places, transferring with His own finger an eternal glory only He can confer.

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.--2Corinthians 3:13,16,18

We begin as an outline, a vague echo of our Creator, and as we live and daily approach Him with sincere humility and reverence and repentant acknowledgement of sin, He fills in all the empty places with His own life, His own blood. One by one, all the small details bring dimension and make us more real, not only more like what God made us in His head, but like the first Adam, perfectly complete, who walked in Eden by God's side in the cool of every day. We take on life, and what began as a poor shell assumes heavenly glory.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Math of Name and Word: 3 + 2 = Infinity

You told Abraham to leave Ur for Canaan. Your voice burned through a bush in Sinai. You called to Samuel in his sleep. You gave gentle revelation to the crowds on a grassy plain at the foot of Hermon. You ate chatty dinners with your friends. You whisper in my secret thoughts. You know my name. I want to say Yours.

You have made Yourself known from three different faces: as the Father who spoke in fire and smoke to the patriarchs, as the Son who scuffed His sandals beside created men in humble dust, and as the Spirit who remains accessible even now when I look for You. You have spoken to us, and, for the times when we speak back, You have ordained a special place for Your Name.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.--Psalm 29:2
I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your Name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your Name and your Word.--Psalm 138:2

You are known as three, through contact with three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. But how is that contact achieved? I can't touch You any more. The bush no longer burns. The mountain at Sinai rises stern and silent. But other contact points remain--Your Name and Your Word. This is where You speak today, where I can still discover You in Your dwelling place.

You made men with a desire to touch You; it is natural for men to call upon You. But Your Name isn't a label for You, it IS You, like Your Word IS You. They stand as holy gateways through which I can find everything You are.

You command me to treat your Name with reverence because when I handle Your Name, I touch Your Person. You command me to follow what You reveal in Your Word, because when I do, I approach Your throne. The only way to do these things is with reverence and awe. Anything else is blasphemy. Your Hebrew name, still unpronounceable, reminds me. When I say "God", or any of its derivative versions, a glimpse of eternity settles into this poor world.

Thought for today: How do you use the Name of God?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Looking into the Bush

Days in the sheepfold stretched out long and peaceful. Moses listened to shy wind in the trees, watched mild sheep graze in long fields. Birds sang and, though his ears always rose attentive for the wolf, he brought his animals in and out in satisfaction. His wife waited at home with a hot meal and his children wrapped their arms around his legs in greeting when he walked through the door. He worshiped God in those days, and lived in as much harmony with Him as exile allowed. God gave him a good life and he lived it in gratitude.

Now, Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of fire from within the bush. God called to him from within the bush, "Moses, Moses!" Then He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.--Exodus 3:1,2,4,6

The bush burned, but did not burn up. The flames crackled and their heat drove Moses back in fear. Their light hurt his eyes. And it did not extinguish. It lit the desert before him, illuminated Horeb as a backdrop. What moments before had been an ordinary day burned with glory that left him barefoot and shaking. He found no comfort here.

That day, You called Moses to more--more than shepherding, more than father and family, more than content Hebrew exile. You set him on a road that would eventually shred his old life, but one on which he would see you face-to-face.

You do the same for us. The leap we make when we initially set out eyes on Your road and start walking is only the first. At some point, You ordain a second. Some day, while we are peacefully attending our flock, faithfully seeing to the life You have given, studying, worshiping, serving, You call our name and beckon us to more. You set a bush aflame before us, rise up in new glory, and say "Here I AM!"

That day, You call us to worship only You--not an image of You, not an idea of You, not the motion of worship, not a reflection of You. You intend to shred our life, too, and fill the void with Yourself. That is the second moment of decision, and we face it in fear, because You have unmasked Yourself before us.

Thought for today: In what ways is God calling you to more than a well-managed life with Him? Where do you feel the fear of abandoning your life to Him?

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Fangs that Deliver Passion

Slow movement in still, dark leaves, a short bright hiss, and a sharp pain...venom leaks from fang to flesh and rank poison rushes in circulation with life's blood, killing as it tries to nourish. In another place, however, under a laboratory's light, doctors use the same snake venom to treat high blood pressure and cancerous tumors. What kills, then, can also heal, but how to bend the deadly and dreadful to a purpose constructive and good?

First, recognize the poison:
I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of our lives. I undertook great projects...I tried cheering myself with wine...I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom...everything was meaningless, a chasing after wind.--Ecclesiastes 2:3,4,12,11

Sometimes fangs deliver passion. My zest to accomplish, my desire to make, to build, to grow, to enjoy, all belongs to a life that eventually ends. I know that my calculated accomplishments will fall to dust, but I continue to reach out for them. Passion feels right. It hisses and uncoils so near to me that I let it bite time after time. Feelings this strong must surely belong to me, a proper part of who I am.

But the snake is never kind. It does not build, it destroys. No matter how attractive passion looks, it still belongs to the serpent and the serpent's nature kills. The snake forever remains the snake, and its mouth opens in rank greed for my soul. Only You can turn passion to constructive use.

I must remember the picture of Your passion--arms spread wide receiving simultaneous death and victory. My passion delivers only me to a summit of sand that collapses in a dark whisper. Your passion delivers You to Your rightful place in eternity. The hill I climb must be Yours, not mine. My determined face must set itself not inward, but toward Calvary.

Thought for today: What are you passionate about and who does it exalt?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Still in Eden...

Stop. Right where you are, and look around. Don't say a word; just look. Now close your eyes. and stay there for a while. What do you hear? What sensation activates your skin? Listen for your heartbeat. Can you hear it?...soft thumps that leap unbidden somewhere within. You can slow them if you want. Concentrate.

Now take this new place and populate it. Let it fill with Eden--not with more distraction from gardens or new animals, but with God who walks with you in the cool of the day. Fill up every clear place with His presence and let Him have you. Remember His first desire for you:

You shall have no other Gods before me.--Exodus 20:3
Worship the Lord and serve Him only--Matthew 4:10

God put men first in a garden next to the Tree of Life. Only two humans lived there and God was every day with them. They knew Him in every motion and He filled every aware moment.

He still waits for us there, but He will not clear your mind and motion to make room for Himself. You and I have crowded Him out. Only we can sweep away with broad strokes what impedes His path to our hearts and minds. Shreds of Eden remain and our God still walks there in footsteps that beckon, "Follow Me."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Waiting for the Second Cry

Bright pain, muscles involuntarily heaving, a rush of blood and water, and another human being is born. The baby draws first breath and begins his life, most often with a cry. He takes possession of the first of his days , seeing and feeling, moving and exclaiming. He knows his life and will not give it up easily. I have sometimes measured the pace of my own breaths or, in particularly focused times, heard the rush of blood pacing the beats of my own heart. Life is physical, palpable, and so very real.

It also slides inevitably to final conclusion, usually lasting eighty years, more or less--long years of failure and triumph, all belonging to me, all trailing behind like dust I track in on my boots. Somewhere during my years, I found You. This is where I am supposed to say everything changed, but it didn't. Only some things did. I moved over, shared my life with You, and found You beautiful, generous, forgiving, and just. I learned to measure my life, not against other humans, but against Yours.

Yes, You became a man so that I could know what kind of man to be. But You have more:

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, or of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God--John 1:12-13
I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.--John 3:3

I am too concerned with the moments of my life--how I spend them, how even I sacrifice them. You wait for the time when I care less about my life in You and more about Your life in me. You say I am born again, but this birth is not another human birth with a new twist. It does not give me another life. It ordains instead Your life in me.

My new birth does not create a new, holy version of me. My new birth isn't mine at all--it's Yours, taking on my flesh, You becoming part of me completely, the only way Your perfection allows. If I am made holy, it is not because I live in You, but because You live in me. If I cry this time, I cry with wonder.

Thought for today: If you are born again, what exactly has been born in you?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Whose Life is it, Anyway?

Sixty years ago today, amid bright pulsing pain and a rush of blood and water, my mother gave me birth. I drew my first breath in this world, saw first light, knew cold. I cried then and, for the first time, consciously lived. I did nothing to initiate this, but grasped it with both hands. Life. My life. Mine.

For sixty years, I have marked time by the beat of my own heart, commanded long muscle to move, watched my own coalescing breath. I have married and borne children of my own, bought and sold, learned, then spoken and written. I have desired and acted on those desires. By the sheer power of my own will, I have changed the world. I have LIVED.

I know You gave me this life. Men and women can will union, but not its product. The creation of life's spark belongs to You alone. And so with mine. You made this life specifically for me, then gave it to me as a gift. Or did You?

For a long time, it seemed so. But slowly, I lost possession. You began to take it back. I know when this started. It began the first time I called you Lord. You showed me how desire became sin, then made me push it away in disgust. You showed me how will becomes stubborn disobedience and wrenched me from it. You turned my steps down only Your path. Every day, by your command, I shrink. Soon, I may disappear, become a star that simply fades against a velvet background and eventually winks out. What is happening to my life?

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body.--2Corinthians 4:11
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.--1John 5:12

You gave me this life; now You take it back, not to leave me with nothing, but to replace it with something greater. You gave me this life so that I understand not how great it is, but how great You are. Once I know You, really know you, You will take my life completely back and give me Yours in its place. I want this, but tremble and hold on. I do not know any more where I end and You begin, but my grip loosens daily. Some day, some sweet day, my fingers will fall open.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Father's Orchard

Early evening sun sinks into red western skies. A farmer walks through lush orchards--the harvest nears. Row after long row stretch out before him. He planted them with his own expectant, prayerful hands years ago, when time stretched as far before him as his dreams. Now, he can count the number of harvests that remain to him on his own fingers. He approaches the end.

The orchard will live after him, but he has no son, no child to work what he so carefully built. There were sons, but they moved on to other places. They had their own dreams.

"No thanks, Dad."
"It's too much work."
"I can't make enough money."
"Are you kidding? I've been stuck here long enough."

Without attention, his orchard will sink into unproductive wilderness but, more than that, when his sons reject the orchards, they reject him. Everything he'd tried to teach them originated with these trees.

You do the same.

Yet to all who received Him, to all who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.--John 1:12

To the ancient patriarchs, You reigned as God, great and terrible. They served You, You dealt with their sins, and they knew the terrible weight of disobedience. They lived at arm's length from You, never in Your embrace.

But to me, you offer kinship. I can flourish in Your love and inherit Your favor. But I have to receive what You offer, what You built for me, as my own because it came from You. You gave me life and grew the great trees that You mean to hold it up. You did the planting, nourishing, and pruning, and You hand it to me as a gift. I have only to reach out my hand.