Sunday, September 30, 2012

Being Beethoven

"How do I know God's will?" she asked me.
"How can I be sure I am doing what He wants me to do?"
Good question.

Anything we do, God Himself can do better, so what, after all, does God want from us?
And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.--Micah 6:8

Yes, yes, I know that. But what to DO?
God gives us stuff to do not because He needs us to get it done for Him, but because He wants us to seek Him in it.

Seek Him first, last, and always...then do what seems right until we can't do it any more.

Don't concentrate on the result. 
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.--Isaiah 55:9

Do what God gives us to do because He gave it.  
He manages the result.
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.--1Corinthians 3:61
We cultivate devotion to God.  He brings in the harvest.

Beethoven was nearly deaf when he composed his ninth symphony.  He never heard it, but he wrote it, and conducted it, with such genius and fervor that almost everyone recognizes its Ode to Joy:

God asks us, too, to play the notes even when we can't hear the music.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.  I will sing and make music.  Awake, my soul.  Awake, harp and lyre.  I will awaken the dawn.--Psalm 57:71
Play on, and our love for God becomes our true song.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Now Where Was I?

My husband does not want me to use herbicides.
But I want a perfect, weedless garden.
For 30 years, we have wrangled about this.
It needs to stop.

But how?  Nobody wants to give in.  We both think we are right and, from our own perspectives, we are.  After all, no biblical principle hinges on whether I spray Roundup on the creeping charlie.
Or does it?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.--Matthew 5:3,5
A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.--Proverbs 29:23
I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.--Isaiah 57:15

Think about it.
What makes us really humble?
Is it bowing and shuffling when someone tells me that I have done something well?  No.  That makes me secretly proud.
Am I humbled when I experience defeat after striving to do or learn something?  No.  As often as not, that simply spurs me on to try harder next time.

But obedience, now that breeds humility.
Doing what someone else wants, not what I want, when I know my idea or plan is just as valid as theirs.  Setting aside my own will in situations where all I sacrifice is me.
That's humility.

Of course, I should never set aside my holiness, my love and devotion to God, but all else can be well lost.

And it feels nasty.
Is not my opinion or desire of value?
Of course it is.  That's why setting it aside takes so much effort.
I am humbled by giving up my will not because it has no validity, but because it does.

Some positions are not important enough to fight over.
But they make great tools by which to learn holiness.

Obedience in these issues is how I push aside the extraneous parts of me, how I enter into the holy of holies, where my humanity takes a back seat to God's supremacy.

Humility was never about my position before other men.  
It was always about my position before God.
And, as it turns out, pulling weeds.
I am always with you.  You hold me by my right hand.--Psalms 73:23

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Beyond the Bandaid

I am concerned about my son.
No--that's not right.
Just say it.
I'm worried about him.

Never mind why.  The reason doesn't much matter because he's a grown man and I can't do much about it.
But that doesn't stop the love.  Or the worry.

In fact, his maturity increases the concern because my ability to influence his situation decreases with his increasing age.
Unlike when he scraped his knee falling off a bike or when little Jimmy took a poke at him on the playground, I can't kiss away his hurt.
I can't fix it.
And parents are fixers.

So what do I do?  God has some advice:
This day I call 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...Deuteronomy 30:19a

I want life and blessings for my children, but I can't get them by fixing their hurts and problems.  I do it by choosing God.

Can I bring my sons practical help?  Sure.  In fact, I should.
But that help is only a bandaid in the larger scheme of things.

My choosing God, however--walking with Him before my children and the world--gives God the opportunity He craves to do what only He can do.

How do I know this?  He told me:
Listen to His voice and hold fast to Him, for the Lord is your life.--Deuteronomy 30:19b

Choosing God first will probably alter the kind of bandaid I apply to my son's owie.
Choosing God first may open the wound farther so He can clean it out properly.
But choosing God brings real healing and everlasting life.
And that is what a mother ultimately wants for her sons.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pleasure and Pleasant Places

The world is big and wonderful and full of cool stuff--stuff God made specifically for us to use.  And, as I've already said, (Don't Blame the Apple) God declared it all good.  All of it.  He did not stutter.

But--yes, there's a but--He also sends a caution.

I can, in good conscience, enjoy everything God made so long as I do nothing sinful,
I can do all of this,  but...
...not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible, but not everything is constructive.--1Corinthians 10:23

God wants us to enjoy what He made, but these pleasures should only sweeten the straight way, like berries that line our road to heaven.  We may pick and enjoy them, but we are not to stray from the straight path to over-fill our bucket.  God made the berries and they are yummy,
but they are only pleasant, not necessary.

God promised to thrill us with what He has made.
But even He, when He walked the earth, never failed to remember the goodness of the Lord, not the pleasure of  living, as most important.  We must do likewise.

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.--Psalm 27:13

The trick for us is to find both the Lord's goodness and what is beneficial among the world's welcome pleasures without letting our focus stray.  We have to hold on to the loving Lord who made all of these pleasures, and not gather closely the all-too-sweet world that offers so many of them.

Pleasures exist so that we use them, not for us to be used by them.
That's why it's called self-control.
Pick your berries, but stay in charge.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Don't Blame the Apple

Christians don't drink.
They don't smoke either, or eat too much, or talk too much, or spend too much.
I can find Bible verses to back these up.
And every one of them would bear a degree of truth, but I would be missing the point.

Our God made the world and everything in it.  And He said it was what?
He said it was good.  All of it.
He made wine, and tobacco, and lots of yummy food, and the ability to speak, and wealth.
He did not make a mistake when He did it.
He wants us to find pleasure in what He made.

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This, too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or drink or find enjoyment?--Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

But, this is the point that we usually miss when we talk about drinking or smoking or any of the rest.
God wants us to find pleasure in what He made for us to use, but He wants more than that for us to find pleasure in Him and to use His creation to bring Him glory.

The Bible tells us not to get drunk, not to give in to gluttony, and not to gossip or defame because these things can never bring God glory.
Asserting, however, that all strong drink or all of a certain kind of food or a particular association is wrong for every Christian will not make us holy.  It can, if we are not careful, make us Pharisees.

 You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.--Matthew 23:13

Obedient worship makes us holy.  Loving God more than anything or anyone else makes us holy.
Abstaining from strong drink does not protect our faith.  Following God does.
If that means, for you, abstaining from strong drink, then well and good.  If that means, for you, never eating a donut, that's fine.  If your cigarette separates you from God then, for sure, put it down.  But remember that doing so will not make you a good Christian.  Only loving God will.

God told Adam and Eve that they couldn't eat the apple not because there was anything wrong with the apple, but because it was more important that they want what God wanted.  
Apples are good.  Ignoring God is not.
Wine is good.  Tobacco is good.  God said so.
They exist because God wanted them for us.
But more than that, He wants our love and respect and worship.

We can use God's stuff as long as we can use it in His name for His purpose--to bring Him glory, to love Him properly.
If we cannot use something of His creation to honor Him, then, indeed, it is time to put it aside.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.--1Corinthinans 10:31

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Entering the Throne Room

Why does God tell us to pray?
He already knows what we want.
He knows what needs to be done.
Why bother?

Why doesn't God just do what needs doing without all the fuss?
Take what He did to Mary, for instance, right after the resurrection:
Mary stood outside the tomb, crying...she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not recognize Him.  "Woman'" He said, "why are you crying?"..."Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him."  Jesus said to her, "Mary".  She cried out, "Rabboni!"--John 20:10-16

Mary knew Jesus thoroughly, pined for Him, mourned His death.
And He stood there, right beside her.
Why didn't she recognize Him?
Because He didn't want her to.  Not then.  Not yet.

Jesus wanted Mary ready for Him. He wanted her as much as she did Him, and jealously.  He wanted her completely focused on Him, fully in His presence.
This is prayer.
It brings us fully before God.  Prayer is our opening the door to His knock. 

Christ says,
Ask and it will be given to you.--Matthew 7:7
And it is.
Not because we ask--God already knew what we were going to say--but because we have come properly into His presence.
This is His throne room.  This is the place to which He invites us, saying,
Test me.--Malachi 3:10
Taste of me.--Psalm 34:8
Come to me, all you who are weary.--Matthew 11:28

Prayer is a mechanism.  It does not have power because of its activity.
It has power because of the place to which it brings us.
Prayer brings us into communion with our God.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What the Marys Know

In the Bible we meet only one Martha, but three Marys--accident?  I think not.

Most of us can identify with Martha of Bethany at one time or another--hardworking, efficient, aware of others' needs, skilled, a doer of things that need doing and thus always busy and, oh yes, complaining.

The Marys, all of them--Mary Magdalen, Mary of Bethany, and the virgin mother of Christ--were lovers.  All of them.  They had "the better part."

We know we are supposed to be more like Mary but somehow we just, well, can't.  
Why not?

Because Martha is just so NECESSARY.
Dishes need doing.
Babies need feeding.
Lawns need mowing.
Who is going to do it all if all we do is hang out with God and love Him all the time?

I've decided that even Mary can mow the lawn.
What separated these Marys from Martha was not what they did, it was their attitude.

A Martha knows her Bible verses.  She goes to church.  She attends Bible studies. She helps folks in need.  She cleans the church and bakes pies for socials.
Martha marches to God's cadence.  And God loves her for it.

But Mary allows herself to be drawn into His arms and loses herself there--not forever, not so the beds never get made, but for the sheer joy of these times of communion.
She does not give up one for the sake of the other.  She has found her beloved and intends to enjoy Him.

They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.--Luke 2:16-19

Don't let the tenderness of moments with Christ escape you. 
As Marthas, we only begin our life with Christ. 
As Marys, we find its depth.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

At All Times? Really?

David, the man after God's own heart.  Listen to him--
Praise the Lord, O my soul, all my utmost being, praise His Holy Name.--Psalm 103:1
I will extol the Lord at all times, His praise will always be on my lips.--Psalm 34:1
At all times?  Really?

The song of God lived in David's heart.  His song and dance before the recovered ark was a single day in a life of songs that started much earlier--when he wandered the sheepfold, way before he ever picked up a sling and five stones.  He could not stop singing.
He sang fear and sorrow as well as victory and joy.  It was all a song.
But when David sang for the pleasure of God's gifts, he may sometimes have sung for the pleasure of his own sin.

David...the singer...and the sinner.  He sang at all times.
Did he praise the Lord as he rose from Bathsheba's bed?
Did he praise Him when he gave the order to put Uriah, her husband, into harm's way so he could hide his betrayal? 
He could have.
At least until Nathan forced him to see himself as God did...not as king, not as singer, but as betrayer and murderer.

For what do we praise God?
Can we see clearly what may be a blessing and what may not?
Do we praise Him for what He gives or what He does?
We only know safety when we thank God not for what He gives, but for who He is.
That is, when we praise His Holy Name.

God loves our praises.  They rise to His ears like a song, like incense.
David lived a habit of praise, and so can we.
But raise your voice in praise, not of circumstances, or for things, but in the presence of His holiness...
He is my God, and I will praise Him.--Exodus 15:2
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!--Deuteronomy 32:2

Saturday, September 1, 2012

All the Wrong Places

Of all the things we are supposed to know how to do as Christians, the most basic is to love.  We are supposed to know how to love.

Oh, yeah?  Try it sometime.

What is loving, anyway?
Love does not harm to its neighbor...--Romans 13:10
Love is patient, love is kind...1Corinthians 13:4
Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.--John 15:13

So we are to care about other people more than ourselves.  
Is that love? Really?
If so, any atheist could love.

No, love must be something more.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.--1John 4:7
Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me...--Matthew 10:37
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and great commandment...--Matthew 22:37

Love comes from God, so we have to love God first to love at all.

So, what does that look like?
It looks like this:
Love does not see the task first.  Love sees God first.
Love does not see the person first.  Love sees God first.

When the phone rings, we do not hear the phone first, or even the person on it, we hear God first.
When a child reaches up, saying "Mommy..."  we do not see primarily her sweet tears, but God.
When we pull out our wallet to buy something, we don't lead with desire for the thing, but for God.
When someone offers a mission trip, we do not see the  legions of unbelievers, we see God.
When we hear sermon, we do not listen for the pastor, but for God.
When we pick up a husband's socks for the hundredth time, we don't see the socks, we see God.

The small decisions and the big ones, they are all God's, for His glory, in His name.  Where we live, how we furnish our home or choose our friends, or spend our time.  All God's, for His sake.  No exceptions.

Does that mean we have no fun?  Absolutely not.
But God's highest will for us is to derive our primary pleasure from Him.

It means we lead with the Song of Solomon, not with the Ten Commandments.
We live with the Magnificat in our hearts.
My soul does glorify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...--Luke 2:46-47
How beautiful you are, Oh my darling!  How beautiful!--Song of Solomon 1:15

This is love.
From God.  Of God. For God. Back to God.
Once we know that, the rest will come.