Sunday, January 29, 2012

Anywhere But Here

Some circumstances just stand out in life.  Like signposts punched into the crossroads of days, they mark places we don't forget.

One of the markers in my life came from my sweet stepmother Maggie.  While my father suffered from Alzheimer's, getting progressively sicker and more difficult and unpredictable, she served him patiently and with almost seamless love.  It cost her, and she grew thin from it, but somehow, the weariness rarely showed on her face.  She smiled and comforted with hardly any visible personal distress.

One day, when I asked her how she was doing, she took my hands, looked me in the eye, and said, "I don't ever want to be anywhere but here."  Years later, I still find that absolutely amazing. It seems like I spend so much of every day's space thinking about somewhere else.

I confess impatience with life.  It's not just that life brings trouble.  It's that life is so often so darned, well, ordinary.  And I am willing to do the mundane, but in the process, I sure expect something significant and enlarging and ALIVE.  But life doesn't work that way.

When the woman saw that the fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.--Genesis 3:6

Eve had the same problem as I do.

I constantly look here and there for something better than what I have, thinking that life is bigger than what lies right at my feet. But God has already shown me the path of life. He says so.

These are the days of my life.  Right here.  Right now.  Just as they unfold, the beautiful and the mundane.  If I don't live them, waiting for something different,  I will not only miss the grand and lofty, I will miss everything.

These days, every one of them, are gifts from God.  I need to live them, expecting beauty not because of what the days bring, but because of who God is.  The wonder of days, after all, does not come from their own unfolding hours; it comes through God's ordination.  

Days have beauty simply by virtue of their creation by God. That is why I rejoice and am glad in them.

I have come so that they may have LIFE and have it to the full.--John 10:10 (my emphasis)

I do not ever have to wait one more minute for life to begin.  It races by second upon second.  I spend it as I talk or write or love.  I also spend it while I grumble or argue or look around somewhere else.  Life is my Lord's wonderful gift, unwrapping itself with each breath.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Live. Now.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Looking Both Ways, Part 2

As pleasant as memories can be, God does not want us to look behind. God has prepared for us  another vision. Part 1

We are the temple of the living God..."Therefore come out from them and be separate," says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing and I shall receive you.--2Corinthinans 6:16-17

On the day I first truly understood my sinfulness before God and was broken by it, He set me apart.  On that day, I walked, or more  correctly crawled or crept, into God's throne room  and I return there daily to be refreshed.  As I approach Him, He infuses me with Himself with the intent of separating me from everything and everyone who is not part of Him. 

He means to make me like Him, the way He originally created all men.
This is what He wants me to see.  He not only offers me healing, he offers me holiness.

I must concentrate wholly on God, seeking to please Him, soaking up moments with Him, listening to Him so that I can obey, repenting for my failures before Him.  Where I am preoccupied with other concerns, past or present, I do not let Him take hold.

All the people in my life are important, but not I cannot focus on them.  They are the platform upon which I demonstrate God.  That is why He brings them.  

As I draw near to God, He shows me His character for the purpose of changing mine to resemble Him in the way He originally created me.  My arena in which to accomplish this are the people and circumstances He ordains and, in the process, as I succeed, He is glorified. 

The Lord God not only fills the rearview mirror with His own dear face.  If we are looking, He fills the windshield, too.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Looking Both Ways, Part 1

There has come a point in life, now that I have walked pretty far down the road, when I know I have more years behind me than I have ahead.  Memories pile up and as they multiply, tempt me.

Memories exist always in the present tense.  They are always so THERE--prancing in anticipation of attention like a three-year-old.  I settle into them sometimes, reliving old days in either delight or regret, feeling every swell and twinge all over again.

But God does not exist behind us...He waits before.

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it...the King must not acquire a great number of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord told you, "You are not to go back that way again."--Deuteronomy 17: 14,16

I am not to go back that way again. 

Memories fall into one of two categories:  sinful, that is, ones for which I must repent and allow God to put behind both our backs, and ones constructive in the sight of God, which I lay at His feet as a sacrifice of homage and thanksgiving.  In either case, I have to remember that, when I first walked into my Lord's throne room, He helped me close the door by which I entered. That door closed on many things, one of which was the power of those memories.

I am not to remember primarily what I did, good or bad, but what God did.  

This applies to my husband, my children, and my work, both in the Kingdom and in the world.  Reliving the day when my sons took their first step, or my wedding day, or the day I got my first car bring warm feelings, but I cannot attach too much affection or importance to them.  Remembering what God did through those and other, that has some value.

Our Lord's rear view mirror shows His face alone.
Part 2 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Am I Not Sending You?

I always felt kind of sorry for Gideon.  Bible stories tell us that he was a mighty man of valor, but they sure seem to exaggerate.  Gideon cried, and cringed, and complained.  He questioned his mission at every step. He performed every act of 'bravery' sneaking around at night.  And I don't blame him. 

God gave Gideon an nasty job, then took away every tool he needed to perform it.

God found Gideon sneaking around threshing wheat in his father's winepress so the Midianites wouldn't find him.  Then, when God told him to cut down his father's pagan worship sites, he did it at night so no one would blame him for it.  When God told him to defeat the Midianites, he said, "Who, me?" and whipped out a fleece to see whether he could get out of it....twice.  When the day finally came to do the deed, and he snuck up (again) on the Midianite camp with his pitiful 300 soldiers, they wielded flares and trumpets rather deadly weapons.

God  heard Gideon's weak whining, but ignored it.  Frankly, I'm surprised that Gideon didn't give it all up as a bad job.

Gideon had to take his piddly army into a sad kind of battle saying only, "God told me."  He must have looked like an idiot.  What if he was wrong?

God, of course, had something clear and plain to say to that:

The Lord turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand.  Am I not sending you?"--Judges 6:14

Visual:  [Slap upside the head]

"Am I not sending you?  Am I not the God of the universe?  Did I make a mistake?"

Of course not.  God says 'Defeat the Midianites' or 'Build the temple' or 'Kill the giant,' then proceeds to tell us that we don't need anything but what little strength we have and Him.  It's about Him.  It's always about Him.

Gideon didn't need any equipment greater than his faith.

Fortunately, he did have that.

God has given us a job, too.  He is sending us somewhere without equipment or soldiers or bravery.  Is our faith strong enough?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Double Vision

Roche-a-Cri State Park
We live in Southwest Wisconsin, an area called the driftless zone because the glaciers that leveled much of the Midwest missed us.  As a result, our local landscape undulates with rolling hills and rocky bluffs that give our long views a kind of romance.  They also make for interesting hiking.

Nearby Roche-a-Cri park, for instance, brags a 300-foot bluff that rises alone on an otherwise nearly level plain and can be climbed by anyone determined enough to conquer its 303 steps.  We have done this, and enjoyed it, even when we had to stop a few times along the way to catch our breath.  When we got to the top, we felt we'd done something worthwhile and the resulting view rewarded us amply for our efforts.

In thinking about it now, the stairs themselves made the climb easier.  Not only did they keep us off the dangerous and uneven rocks, but they more importantly provided a continuously rising path, constantly visible and with clear, progressive markers along the way to an easily recognizable goal.  Our life in Christ is not so neat.

God provides stairs, all right, but we don't see them clearly.  We stop and start, turn this way and that way.  The goal looks close one day, far away the next.  No wonder we get tired.  No wonder we just sit down some days, close weary eyes, and sigh.

It seems like God wants us to walk not hundreds, but thousands, or tens of thousands, of little insignificant steps, and the end doesn't seem to get any nearer.

Kind of like this climb--there's something entrancing at the end, but we can't seem to figure out how to get to it.

Frontenac, Quebec City, Canada
Jesus had the same problem, but He had an advantage we do not.  He had perfect double vision.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down before the right hand of God.--Hebrews 12:2

Jesus put His foot on the step in front of Him, regardless of its seeming insignificance or very real pain, understanding fully the importance of both that step and the culmination of all steps.

He did not forsake the small for the big, nor did He do the reverse.  He did not neglect circumstantial needs in favor of eternal heaven, nor did He concentrate so much on immediate situations that He neglected the everlasting.  He embraced the immediate need for the cross, but kept His eye trained on His heavenly throne.

A discipline to double vision gets us though life, too. 

On any given day, I have steps before me: some hard, some easier, some just plain mundane.  Do laundry, write, respect my husband.  But before my eyes God has also hung His heaven.  This is the joy set before me.  I have to keep my eyes on both the long view and the short.  This is how I learn to look squarely both at today's step and tomorrow's destination.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Already Begun, Part 5

The faith we embraced first buoyed us up (Part 1), then tore us down (Part 2) and (Part 3) , then, ragged and bleeding, brought us to the feet of Christ, the place He always intended us to come (Part 4).  Grace has seen us through.  All we need now is a good nap while we wait for heaven.

Wrong. God has more in store. 

Arise, shine, for your light has come.
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land,
deep gloom enshrouds the people,
but over you the Lord will rise,
and His glory will appear on you.--Isaiah 60:1-2

God disciplines, but He then restores.

God will restore what he has taken a hundredfold.  He did it for Abraham.  He did it for Moses.  He did it for Job.  He did it for Joseph.  He can do it for us.

And with restoration, the cycle completes. 

The first and last instruction Christ gave to Peter was, "Follow Me."  He says the same to us.

"Take heart," God says, "I have overcome the world."  It is time for us to learn that, as we follow Him, we will overcome the world in His Name.  And we have to do it the same way He did, by walking in obedience into the place of terror and, through grace alone, walking out again, hand in hand with His Father.

We cannot access glory from ease, but whatever challenge God deems appropriate, He brings to refine the gold He deposited in us way back at the beginning, when we first put on our faith.  Now, after all the repenting and testing, He tells us to arise and shine.

Our story does not end until He accomplishes His resurrection in us.

Sweet Christ, let whatever glow emanates from our poor souls originate not from gold as I know it,  but as You do, from the radiance of Your glory.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Already Begun, Part 4

So we are no longer carefree youths. God is growing us up.  We have come to understand that His way will not be smooth. The faith we grabbed with such exuberance has brought testing that stripped us bare.The hard news has joined hands with the good news.

  Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?--Job 2:10

This series has been about understanding that we are part of a story already begun, and a story moved forward both in heaven and on earth by the progression of our lives. Part 1  put our ongoing story into perspective in the face of a new calendar year, Part 2 reminded us that Christ borders our initial life with Him with obedience, and Part 3 brought the sometime-unwelcome news that any growth we experience brings hard times, and with them, sufficient grace.

God has a reason for bursting our bubble.  He strips earthly comforts to accomplish our readiness for grace.  As the discipline of trial is a gift from God, so is the grace He gives to see it through.  We cannot gain grace without accepting trial.

But the trouble that purifies has special qualities.  This trouble is not a minor annoyance.  Like fire, it is a flesh-destroying terror.

This terror, this destruction of flesh, is the gift God gives to those who follow Him. 

Grace brings relief by transferring the burden to Christ, but ease is not its purpose.  Life's shattering trials and the grace that accompanies them are the doors through which we must walk to holiness.

Now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life.--Romans 6:22

The climax of our part of this world's story nears.

God did not make men to make them happy.  He did not make us for comfort or pleasure. God made men to be like Him.

So, He gives us humanity, then hammers on  His gift until it resembles His own image. The beating leaves us torn and needy, needy enough to give up and accept the grace that relieves and thus the holiness that brings us to the place by the Lord's side for which He created us.

But God is still not done yet.
See Part 5.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Already Begun, Part 3

I remember when my youngest son realized that, when he got out of college, he would have to take his place as an adult, assume responsibility, and  in general, grow up.  He was not impressed.  He quickly decided that growing up did not live up to its advance publicity.  He would have much rather remained carefree, allow someone else to maneuver him out of difficulties, and focus on whatever pleasant circumstances that life brought his way.

Now, I can almost see you shaking your head, maybe even chuckling.  You know that my son had to man up, to grow up, or live a life barren of accomplishment or earned satisfaction.  He had to learn that work, not pleasure, frames life and, to his credit, he did.

We, however, as believers, often do not. In  Part 1 and Part 2, we explored how, though we might begin a new calendar year, the journey of our life with God  began long ago. Now, consider that, in getting a grip on our ongoing story, we don't always think about how our faith lives must change.  Like my son, we do not consider that, after our first taste of easy adulthood, God will up the ante.  He doesn't say, 'Relax, you've earned it.'  Instead, he tells us to get our still-immature behind in gear.

He wants more for us and He expects us to want it, too.
From everyone who has been given much, much more will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.--Luke 12:48

Faith comes with a price.  It will not ease my way; it will pile it with obstruction.

As the faith is God's gift, so are life's challenges.  As one increases, so will the other. But, as trouble increases, so does grace.

Grace does not come with ease.  It is not needed there.  

As we ask for  revelation of faith, for wisdom, for a greater vision of God Himself, we have to remember that trouble and challenge will be their companions.  But so will grace, our access to your already-accomplished victory.

We should not be surprised when God pares away what we do not need in order to fully animate what we do.

And, thankfully, He has still more.
See Part4.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Already Begun, Part 2

When my children were small, I remember beginning their training with short words and simple sentences.  "Don't lie. Don't hit. Don't steal."  When they grew a bit, I offered them alternatives.  "If you eat your dinner, you'll get dessert.  If you don't finish, your dad will eat your cake." They understood these principles and, in their own way, were grateful for that understanding.

In Part 1, we talked about how a new year not only comes in the middle of our own life story, but also well into God's plan for His world.

God, a much wiser parent than me, gives us simple, straightforward choices, too.

This day I call on heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.--Deuteronomy 30:19a

Following simple instructions first is how we grow up in God.  Just like a toddler learns that she is not the center of the universe by doing what she does not want to do so that she can get what she does want, so do we.

We acknowledge sin so we can enjoy the benefits of truth.
We repent so that we may be saved.
We forsake sin so we can approach God.

We do not want to do any of these things, but this is the choosing God commands, the casting of our lot with life rather than death.

And like a good parent, God not only tells us what to do, but why to do it.
Listen to His voice and hold fast to him,
For the Lord is your life.--Deuteronomy 30:19b

We not only follow the Lord to attain life, but the Lord IS Life.  Life is not the blood that beats in our veins or the breath that fills our lungs.  It is not thoughts or actions or desires.  Life is HIM.  When we choose Him, we choose the life we were born to, the life we walk through, dream through, fight through.  When we choose Him, He gives life, and we do not wither, but grow.

And He has more.
See Part 3.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Already Begun, Part 1

We forget sometimes that the story has already started and we have come into the middle of it.  The Bible, in presenting its genealogies, reminds us that we are works in progress, both as individuals and as parts of God's overall plan.

The story of our lives, my friends, has already begun.

Beginnings lack perspective.  By nature one-dimensional, beginnings carry no weight of history or experience behind them.  A baby, for instance, never having known any challenge or discomfort in its snug pre-born home, thinks he has plenty of reasons to cry.  He is only starting to learn pleasure from pain.  Give him time.  What produces a wail today won't even register on his radar in twenty years.

Our faith lives are the same.
No wonder we call our first look into the face of Christ being born again.

We need to spend time with Christ, too--time to learn, to experience, to trip and fall, to rise and overcome.  And time to know the difference.

We are already on the way.  2012 may be just beginning, but it does so in the middle of our journey, a journey of both years and faith. A new year may present an opportunity to stop an look around for a moment, to get our bearings, but as we do, to notice that the road already stretches behind and beyond.

The real beginning occurred long ago, in the mind of God during His first breath of conception.  Every life stretches forth from that one clear point.  Before we every looked on this world, we took our place in it by virtue of God's sovereign intent.

Only one thing remains--to reach out and grab what God has already conceived.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me—Philippians 3:12b

On this day at the beginning of a new year, our ongoing life story does not begin, or even begin again.  It continues with resolute steps toward Christ.

And now that we have found our first place, He has more.
See Part 2