Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Round and Round We Go
Oh, those Israelites.
Round and round in the same circle.

They soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test. So He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them.--Ps 106:14-15

Round and round.

Actively loving God, then complacent, then rationalizing sin, then worshiping idols, then subjected to bondage, then rescued by God, then back to actively loving God again.
They never quite got it, did they?  I wonder why?
I should know, after all. I do it, too.
So do you.

Nobody lives in a constant state of awe and humility before God. Nobody always credits and adores Him for life and love and faith. We all cycle through our own sinful tendencies.
And He knows this. So God gave us a conscience. And He put up danger signs, so we don't have to retrace the same sickening circle all the time.
Do you know your danger signs?
I know mine.
My danger sign is rationalizing.

Here's what rationalizing sounds like:
First comes that prick of conscience, the annoying one, the one I want reason to ignore. Then the justification--
"God won't mind that second, or third, piece of cake. He wants me to be happy and satisfied. He says so."
"I can stay a little later. My husband won't mind."
"I'm so tired. The kids can make their own breakfast. I need to take care of myself, after all."
And I can find a Bible verse to support every one of these.

The bottom line, though, is that I don't want to give up my pleasure and I want God to agree with me.
Sounds a lot like "Did God really say...?", doesn't it?
Rather than using my Bible to teach and enlighten and bring me into God's throneroom, I use it to justify myself.
Here's the beartrap:
The minute I go to my Bible to get more of earth rather than more of God, I'm in trouble.
I have entered my own cycle of sin.
When this happens, this is the next place I must go:
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy Name and glory in your praise.--Ps 106:47
It's all God. All God.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

First Light

I have wondered for a long time about how soldiers get ready for their days, the ones in which they know they will have to risk their lives in combat and during which they might die. The rest of us get up, brush our teeth, decide what to wear or what to have for breakfast, kiss our spouse, and go to work. Somehow, a solder has to rub sleep out of his eyes, shoulder his weapon, and prepare to fight for his life.

I have heard a few discussions about this, memories of times filled with bullets and explosions and blood. I have heard about days when the dead lay all around except for one. I have heard about the smell of spent shells and been asked to imagine the sound of the accumulated gunfire of a hundred men shooting at once, but I have never experienced anything even remotely like it. I do know, however, someone who has.

Israel's King David did not use a gun, but he did use spears and shields. And he also did something that few soldiers can: he found words for what he experienced.

Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life, men without regard for God. -Psalm 53: 3
See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, O Lord--Psalm 59:3

Every soldier must at some time cry out just like David did. And I'm ashamed to say it, so do I, even though my lot is less dangerous and the price much lower. Some days, enemies just seem to crowd around and I can almost hear their spears rattle. On those days, though, I have to find solace in the same place David did.

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler, arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. --Psalm 35: 1-2a

And on those days, knowing that we do not have the final say as to who wins or loses, who lives or dies, there is only one place to look for real assurance.

Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation.' Psalm 35: 2b
Rest, soldier. Your battle may still rage, but the Victor fights beside you, and has already won.

Reprinted from By This Still Hearth, 5/18/2011

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Denying the Storm

At some point, the pleasant circumstances of my life will fall into ruin--illness, poverty, separation from loved ones, famine, fire, storms of all kinds.

And when the ruin does come, there's only one thing to do.
Cleave to God.
Not as a rescuer from trouble, but as a strong rock above it.
Nothing else will save me. 
I may feel like I must be pulled to pieces, but I can remain intact, if not untouched, as I cling to Him.

This is how God saves:
As I cling to God, I become part of Him.
No misfortune has enough destructive power to overcome God, not when He resolves to protect what He deems needs protecting.

Troubles tear at the fabric of our lives.
They rip and snarl and destroy, but they can only touch what I expose to them.
A storm may rage and beat, but in God I am safe.
I am God's and He is mine.
The storm cannot touch where I do not allow it sway.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?--Romans 8:35

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Learning from a Prostitute

One of the tests of sanity is whether we know right from wrong. And most of us do.
Of course, knowing right doesn't always translate into doing right, but it could.  It's simple, after all. Just ask yourself one question:
Do  feel like I need to hide this?

Kathleen Norris tells a story about a monk named Ephrem who, when tempted by a prostitute, asks her to follow him to a crowded place then, once among the throng out in the open, gives her permission to do what she wants with him. He knows that her business is never done in the light, though, and she leaves him unmolested.*

We can put our own temptations to a similar test. Is what we are thinking a thought we can speak out in a crowd? Is what we want to do an act we can perform in public with perfect comfort?
The same reasoning applies to us as it does to the prostitute in Norris' story.
If we feel like we have to hide something, it's probably wrong.

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, your hand was heavy on me...then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," and you forgave the guilt of my sin.--Psalm 32: 3-5

Hiding does not work. The only free soul is the one who has nothing to hide.
If I cannot be transparent before men, I cannot live righteously before God.

*Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk, p. 278

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Reluctant Unknown

Jesus lived 90% of His life in complete obscurity. 
The Bible says almost nothing about Him until He began His ministry at 30, and He died at 33.
How could the Son of God, the coming Savior, go unnoticed for so long?

I think I know why:
He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.--Philippians 2:7
He did exactly the opposite of what we normally do. He knew what He had to do, melted into His appointed place, and did it. Without fanfare. Content to go without credit.
When He turned water into wine at Cana, He didn't want any notice:
Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.--John 2:4
When He healed the leper, He told him:
Don't tell anyone but go, show yourself to the priest...Luke 5:14
When He was tempted, He did it alone.
When He suffered at Gethsamane, He did it alone.

Jesus did not need an audience.
Why do I?

I want to matter. I want notice, credit for what I do. I want to be recognized, known.
I am vain.
I count the hits on my blog. I wait with anticipation for comments.
"Oh, they like me..." I think.
Significance. The unquenchable thirst.

Like drunkenness and gluttony, vanity drugs me into overindulgence, and I disappear beneath its insistent desire:
All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied.--Ecclesiastes 6:7

There is only one solution. I must remember who I am. God does.
...He know how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust.--Psalm 103:14

Dust. I am dust before God. He made me and any vanity I have before Him makes me ridiculous.
I must expect no notice, crave no attention.
Instead, I must bathe in the attention of God alone, trust Him for all satisfaction, thank Him for every comfort, and honor Him for His glory.
And, as a result, I will probably be alone a lot, too.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The 'Rest' of Faith

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God does not take a break. 
He works all the time.
We are not like that. 
We need to rest.
But there is more than one kind of rest.
First, there is the rest we take when our work is done:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day, He rested from all His work.--Genesis 2:2

So, I nap on Sunday afternoon, right?
Maybe, but there is more.
The real rest God has for us is not just the break we take after digging a ditch or cooking a meal or building a house.
Our best work before God has less to do with our muscles than with our head and heart.
The real work God wants from us is to believe, and His rest is His reward.
"They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways."
So I declared an oath in my anger,
"They shall never enter my rest."--Psalm 95:10-11

His rest is not a nap. His rest is the peace and luxury of His presence.
Like in this instance, when He denied the promised land to doubters and complainers, those of us who do not believe, who do not worship, will miss it.

God instructed the Israelites to rest on the first day of the week, so they made up a bunch of rules about walking and cooking, and that may still be necessary for workaholics. But He really wants us to have soft hearts before Him. That brings real rest.

So what are we to do on the seventh day?
We are to remember God, honor His ways, and worship Him, just like every day. But, because we have put aside our customary physical activities, we can pay special attention to Him while we do it.
Our Sunday activities are not defined by the kind of work we do as much as the One for Whom we do it. Our Sabbath is celebrated by special effort of belief, whatever that looks like.
How do I know this? Jesus said so:
The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.--Mark 2:27

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ninja Kittens: I Should Have Known the Danger

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Everything sweet in this world has a hard edge that also wounds.
Like a cuddly kitten that suddenly strikes with a sharp sword, warm days turn bitterly cold or dangerously stormy. Dreadful error shadows good intentions. Lovers and friends fail. Years melt a debutante into a crone.  Every flower eventually develops a curling edge of brown that precurses deterioration. Those close to our heart die.
I can't help but wonder why life is said to be a gift when it harbors so many bitter disappointments and hurts. 

And then I remember God.
You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.--Psalm 4:7

God brings joy; life does not.
Life is the vehicle God made so that I could know the joy of loving Him who is perfection itself.
He gives me love so that I can return it.
He inspires hope so that I can survive life's inevitable wounds.

Whatever destruction people and circumstances bring, my God never changes.
No human being can make a promise they will keep. Knights in shining armor all eventually succumb to their own weaknesses. In the end, none of us can love one another through our worst moments. We will all shrink and retreat. The kitten will not only will cut, and deeply.

But God stands firm. He knows I am dust and loves me still because I am the work of His own hands.
God alone brings me the joy of a new day, as long as I can recognize that joy as His and His alone.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.--Psalm 90:14

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Let Me Do the Weightlifting--Being a Child (Part 2)

Ok, there are some things kids are not made to lift weights.
And, we are supposed to be like little children.
God says so:
Truly I tell you, unless you change and be like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.--Matthew 18:3
(Click HERE to see Part One)

So, as a child, I can do some stuff, and some stuff I can't.
How do I tell the difference? How do I know when I am lifting too much weight?

So, I made a list--

What I can do:
Let's see....
Chores and jobs, the things I can pick up right now. Yes, I can do those.
I can control my immediate actions and attitudes. Yes.  Don't like it much, but I can do that.
What else?
Not much, as it turns out. 
I can deal with myself and this moment, but otherwise, I'm pretty much out of luck.

So, how about a list of what I can't do?
Control the weather.
  Can I hang laundry? Can we go to the park?
Control my own circumstances.
  Will the butcher have good pork chops for tonight's dinner?
  Will the car stall out again?
  Will the neighbor's dog dig up my petunias?
  Will my husband keep his job for the next year? 
  Will our savings will last through retirement?
   Will I or anyone I care about live through the day?
Convince someone else to do or feel or believe anything.
   Will Jackie pick up his own socks today?
   Will Joanie know that I made her favorite breakfast because I love her?
   Will Johnny EVER come to a saving knowledge of Christ?
The second list, the one made of what I can't do, is much longer. Why am I surprised?

So, when God tells me to be like a child, what does he say to do?
He tells me to concentrate on the first list.
He tells me to let him do the weightlifting.
I just need to realize that I truly am a child--too little, too weak--whether I like it or not.
That's all.

I just need to do what I can and let Him do what I can't.
And remember that His list is longer.
Hm....maybe that's not so bad after all.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This is the Kingdom of Heaven--Being a Child (Part 1)

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God tells us to be like little children:
Truly I tell you, unless you change and be like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.--Matthew 18:3

So, we need to be like children to get to heaven.  
This is important to God.
So, what does it look like for us to become like a child?

Imagine for a minute.
Lay on your bed and open your eyes. You are a child.
You have no plans.
The day spreads before you without schedule or obligation. Free and exciting.
You brim with expectation, ready for surprises.

Days do not have orders. You do not keep a calendar. You do not check your messages.
What happens to the details?
Why, your parents take care of them, of course.
They take care of everything you cannot.
Simple. And all based on trust. You trust them to take care of what you cannot.

As for you, the first bird of the morning sings, your mother takes down your favorite cereal bowl and fills it, your dad, fresh from the shower, gives you a hug.
Later, you may have to make your bed, or help with the dishes, but the hard stuff is in their hands. You don't have to worry about where to live or what to eat or keeping safe. They will.

Your days live ripe with expectation of the unknown and you can do so without worry. Someone cares for you.
This is the kingdom of heaven.

For Part 2, click HERE