Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Practice, practice, practice

Playing the piano well means hours of practice. Drawing, writing, painting, quilt making, baking, interior decorating, or any artistic effort (and other skills too) usually improve with the doing. Do I have any reason to think that spirituality is different?

Paul wrote about the stuff in his life that he considered worthless and must be left behind. Instead, he wanted to know Christ and reach the perfections promised him in redemption. He wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

He had been a Christian for many years when he wrote this, yet he knew that he had not yet arrived. Being like Jesus is a lifelong pursuit. In fact, 1 John 3:2 says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

In other words, when I see Jesus, the transformation will be complete. This incredible hope is based on the promise and power of God, yet, verse 3 is clear; spirituality is like music lessons and other endeavors. It says, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

In other words, if I want to be like Jesus, I need to practice.

The Scriptures contain all kinds of ways to do that. Some call them spiritual disciplines. I call them ‘places of grace’ and my reason for that is simple; spiritual disciplines are what I do, the places I put myself, but grace is what transforms me. I cannot make myself into the image of Christ any more than a stone can turn itself into a poodle, or a poodle into an oak tree.

Author Richard J. Foster in his classic book, “Celebration of Discipline” lists these categories: inward disciplines, outward disciplines, and corporate disciplines. He says, and I agree, that the practice of these put us into places where God can perfect us. In ourselves, the mere doing can be ritual or even a waste of time, but as God takes hold of me while I do them then my life changes.

Inward disciplines include meditation, prayer, fasting and study. Study gives me truth to fill my mind in meditation. Study also helps me pray in the will of God. Fasting sharpens the mind so I can hear God’s direction and guidance as I study and pray.

Outward disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission and service. Simplicity is setting my mind and space around me free from clutter. I’m really working on this one these days. Solitude, being alone to commune with God and experience His presence, has the amazing effect of making His presence and that two-way communion easier to experience in a crowd.

Submission is saying yes to God and others and sets me free from the tyranny of always insisting on my own way. Some things matter, but most of my ‘I wants’ are not that important. Being like Jesus means serving others, meeting their needs, putting them first.

Corporate disciplines include confession, worship, guidance and celebration. Confession is a dual thing. In the Bible, this word means ‘agreeing with God’ or saying the same thing as God. I must agree with Him about my sin, that is, confess my sins. I must also say what He says about my salvation and confess Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.

Worship is a lot of things, mostly the expression (in some way or other) of the glory of God. It is tied closely to celebration (see yesterday’s post) and according to Allen P. Ross, true worship makes me a participant in the glory of God—thus as I worship I become more like Jesus.

Guidance is also a spiritual discipline, emphasis on the word ‘discipline.’ Sin, as defined in Scripture, is that deep-rooted inclination to go my own way, do my own thing, ignoring God, and in most cases ignoring everyone else. Seeking His guidance involves reading the Bible, prayer, listening to His Spirit, but also listening to His people. No one has spiritual insights in their absolute fullness. We need one another. I need to hear the unique perspective of others so I can stay on track as I press on toward that prize. This requires discipline.

My devotional book uses a phrase that prompted these thoughts. It says until we reach glory and worship in the heavenly sanctuary with the angelic choirs, “we are merely tuning our instruments.”

I’d drop the word “merely” because as significant as that goal is over the warming up (and as discordant as my playing along sometimes is), God tells me over and over that He wants me to work hard at keeping myself in tune.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the mood for a party . . .

I’m in lofty territory. My devotional book is about worship; the theme for the Bible class I teach is the glory of Christ. As I read and study, I’m challenged to make these incredibly truths applicable to ordinary life.

The book defines true worship as: “the celebration of being in covenant fellowship with the sovereign and holy triune God, by means of the reverent adoration and spontaneous praise of God’s nature and works, the expressed commitment of trust and obedience to the covenant responsibilities, and the memorial reenactment of entering into covenant through ritual acts, all with the confident anticipation of the fulfillment of the covenant promises in glory.

That is a mouthful! I know that God wants my worship, but human as I am, I tend to ask, “Is there anything in this for me” and if not as blunt and selfishly as that, then “What practical purpose does worship serve in the life of a Christian?”

That second word is significant: celebration. Remembering the last birthday, or wedding, or anniversary, or home team victory, or personal win produces a faint hint of the emotional delights of what God gives us in the celebration called worship. Before, during and after these lesser events, my heart is elevated and that ‘bright mood’ or whatever way it can be described, affects everything. I’m more cheerful with myself and others, more energetic, joyful, eager to get at things. Reading this definition makes me realize that true worship is that too.

I’m sad about the times I’ve wasted opportunities to worship by falling into rote, routine and ritual. For me, those modes are not only boring but produce the opposite mood. Instead of celebrating, I’m (at the least) in a hurry for it to be over. When I’m not celebrating, those other ‘C’ words so easily come into play—complacent, complaining and critical.

With this book and the study of Christ’s glory, my heart easily fills up with worship. As I read 1 Timothy 3:16 this morning, its truths put me in celebration mode. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.

God came to earth and took on human flesh. Jesus is fully God, yet fully human. He knows what life is like for us, knows our temptations, sorrows, limitations and struggles. While He did not sin, He knows our battle against it. I’m awed by his willingness to leave the “glory He had with the Father” to do this.

At the same time, I cannot imagine the affront to His senses as He experienced this world with its sights, sounds and smells. For Jesus, coming here was no holiday. Compared to the perfections of heaven, earth, even at its best, would be to Him an ugly, noisy, smelly place.

I know that in a small way only. A couple years ago we took a short trip to southeast Asia and experienced a culture totally unlike the ‘glories’ of living in our homeland. While we wanted to be there, we didn’t anticipate great culture shock, but shocked we were. At the same time, the people we were involved in that place certainly celebrated that we came.

Our trip was a small thing. Jesus coming into our world is a big thing. God manifested in the flesh; that is glory. He did that because He loves me; that is glory. Just thinking about it has me in a party mood—I’m ready to celebrate!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Priorities in Worship

Obviously worship is supposed to be God-centered, but sometimes people focus on the preacher, the worship leader, or even the congregation.

Years ago we were members of a large church in California. The pastor is an author and well-known defender of the Christian faith. The first three Sundays we attended, I could not remember what he looked like because his message was so biblical, so Christ-centered, that all I could think of was the Lord and my relationship with Him.

We soon discovered that if this pastor was going to be away and a substitute would preach in his place, attendance fell. At first I wondered about that, but began to understand. It was easy to boast that “we go to ____’s church.” Occasionally I still do it, probably because people react by putting me on a pedestal along with this preacher. I know better. It is okay to respect the pastor, but that is not what church attendance and worship services are about.

I’ve noticed the other dangers too. A charismatic worship leader gets more attention than the One toward whom he attempts to direct our worship, or a congregation enjoys their love and fellowship so much that their worship and attention on God is overshadowed.

Colossians 1:19 says, “He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence.

Jesus came in “the image of the invisible God” so that we might know God and have access to Him and eternal life. In worship, we should enjoy a fresh awareness of who God is and what He has done in revealing Himself and in offering His plan of redemption to us. Worship ought to focus primarily on the grandeur of God, not the abilities of the preacher, the talents of the worship leaders and musicians, or the delights of our love for one another.

God has given my local church godly and dedicated leaders. I’m supposed to respect them, but whether they do well or not, worship isn’t about them. The body of Christ in our church is a grand group of people who love the Lord and one another, but I must attend church functions with an even greater desire to meet with God as I enjoy being with my Christian family.

The practical part of this is easy. Guard my heart. When I’m in church, am I evaluating the people up front? Or is my focus on God? Am I looking around for those I want to greet later, or looking up at the One who made it possible for me to belong to this Body of His?

Of course I will not neglect respect for leadership, nor will I neglect fellowship with other believers. I just need to always put first the One who is “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” and who said, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Leaving or Staying?

As I’m getting into this study on worship, I find the following statement:
“Once people begin to probe this matter of worship, they will discover a richness and a depth to their spiritual experience that they never imagined. Once they catch a vision of the raised Christ in glory and are transported to sing with the angels, it will become harder and harder to remain in lifeless and uninspiring services.” (Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory, p. 66)
My husband and I have both been in church leadership. We know about the folks who complain about the ‘worship service’ saying the music is too loud, or the wrong kind. We know about those who become annoyed about something or other and leave. Some of them come back after realizing other church services are flawed too. Others find another place that suits them better, and a few sadly stay home on Sunday morning.

I’m fairly certain that none of these people have studied worship and have been “transported to sing with the angels.” Nevertheless, they sense something is missing in their experience and since this awareness is related to church, then the church must be at fault.

They could be right, but they forget one thing; the church is not “all those other people” but all of us, together. As a local congregation and as part of the universal church, each of us are members of the Body of Christ and members of one another. True, some will worship in different places for various reasons, but God made us one in Christ Jesus, and Jesus Himself prayed in John 17 that we know and reflect that unity.

But what happens if the church I attend happens to deteriorate into those “lifeless and uninspiring services” that Ross is talking about? I can think of a couple of things I need to remember.

The first is that getting disgruntled may or may not be because I’ve been “transported” into the recognition that our worship could be improved. All human beings are prone to complaining about their lot in life, and I’m not an exception. Sometimes the only difference between a so-so service and a great one is my attitude.

Second, I could be right. Our local church could become lifeless and uninspiring, but leaving isn’t necessarily God’s idea. Hebrews 10:24-25 say, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

I’ve a responsibility to care for and protect the Body of Christ just as I do my own body. If one finger was broken and bleeding, I’d be quick to nurse it, not be made at its failure to perform and cut it off. If the Body of Christ is sick and losing energy and impact, I’m to give it the same attention, not just up and leave.

Pulling out because things don’t meet my expectations is selfish and contrasts the idea of “consider one another.” If others are not loving, I’m supposed to stir them up. If others are not doing good things, I’m to motivate them. I can neither do that from home, nor do it complaining about the things I don’t like.

Suddenly I feel the weight of this. If I don’t like something about my church, leaving would be easier than exhorting, and I understand why some just leave. Yet this is sad. We need one another, and even more as the Day of Jesus’ return draws near. I doubt if anyone, even those who complain the most, wants to be in the wrong place or doing something they would be ashamed of when they see His face.

I wonder what Sunday morning would be like if all those who left the church for whatever reasons decided to come back to encourage those who stayed. Would they be welcomed with gladness? No doubt, but first the rest of us might have to be picked up off the floor.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Genuine Worship is Life Changing

In Jesus’ conversation with a woman at a well, she talked about the location of worship but Jesus wanted her to understand that worship is not about a place. He said to her, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

For me, this instruction seems simple yet profound. The simple part is that God isn’t looking for fancy externals or concerned about modes of worship. He wants it to come from the heart. He also wants our thoughts and attitudes to be based on truth, not lies, false information or anything contrary to who He is.

My devotional book clarifies the profound side of Jesus’ words. It refers to the basic senses of the human spirit as we responds to God: intellectual, aesthetic, corporate, and moral. While I’ve never thought of my spirit in this way, his descriptions ring true.

Intellectually, I must understand the meaning of religious observances. If I follow the rituals without knowing how they connect to the realities of God’s character my relationship with Him, they become empty routine or even superstitious obsessions. By hearing good sermons or sound biblical teaching, I learn how to “relate the vision of glory to the reality of life.” Since my purpose for Bible study is making my faith practical, I consider this understanding vital.

Aesthetics are about the beauty of any symbolism, ritual and drama in worshiping God. Some denominations do this better than others. Years ago I saw a dancer move in harmony to music that accompanied a powerful reading about God creating the universe. It was incredible and I’ll never forget it. Plays and singing draw me to God, open up the meaning of what He has done and is doing, and impact my heart to serve Him.

Ross warns that aesthetics in genuine worship should draw the worshipers into participation. In other words, we are not doing this as observers. By being involved in worship services, but also baptisms, weddings, funerals, musicals, plays, the Lord’s supper, and other ‘rituals’, we ought to experience a heightened sense of God’s glory and more deeply worship Him.

Corporate worship is part of that idea of being joined together. My praise to the Lord is richer when it is given in the harmony of fellowship with others. Together, our love for God and our sense of being His children becomes much more powerful and real to us than when we are alone. Of course this means each of us must be walking with Him in truth, living our Christian lives with integrity. Fellowship is marred when even one member of the Body of Christ has unconfessed sin in her life. I can do little about the person next to me, but am responsible for keeping my own life clean and my sins confessed.

This leads to the moral sense that is developed through true worship. As my book says, worship must change lives. If not, “the intellectual sense will become arrogance, the aesthetic sense will be entertainment, and the corporate sense an unguided assembly.” Every aspect of the worship service must impart this moral sense. If the teaching is just giving out information, the rituals are rushed and unexplained, and the fellowship is thought of as socializing, people’s lives stagnate and the church has lost its way and its power.

How is this practical? God reminds me how often my husband comes home from golfing with interesting stories about the people he is partnered with. There are times when they are strangers with ‘colorful’ language, but after a few rounds with my husband who does not swear at all, they stop using offense words. Sometimes they even apologize to him. One person can change the way others behave.

The reverse is true too. I’ve been in a well-behaved group, that is until someone starts to gossip. Soon others slide into the same pit, and I’ve had to watch myself or I will fall down too. One person can change the way others behave.

These truths about worship are mostly for a congregation, not one person, but I can seek to develop a greater sense of understanding about what we do in church. I can encourage the aesthetic, and just be there—never “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” I can also openly and eagerly allow God to change my life. I am only one person, but the principle of being an example works in church as well as on the golf course.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The bottom line

I didn’t get far in my devotional book again today. The first sentences I read say, “The worshiper is never to be a passive auditor of the words and the ritual of worship. Neither is worship to be a dry routine nor a formless ecstasy. It is designed for the consecration of all our faculties to God.

A passive auditor” jumps out and convicts me about the horrible practice of evaluating the worship team, worship leaders and the worship service in general instead of being involved in worship. My focus turns to the form and the rituals instead being on God.

Perhaps that critical attitude comes along on the heels of letting worship fall into a “dry routine,” something done from habit rather than being a delightful and vibrant consecration of myself to God. Whatever the source, reasons or excuses, such practice is nothing else but a sin-filled affront to God.

Being a bottom-line person, I need to examine what promotes that fall into habit. How can it happen? If God were a visible Being seated on His throne before me, worship would never be a ritual or dead and dry. I know that seeing Him as He is knocks the socks off me and puts me on my face.

What I just wrote is a contradiction. God is not visible, yet I do see Him. He makes Himself known to me in His Word, through the things He has made, how He hears and answers prayer, through His everyday care, and in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

I know God because He makes Himself known, but I can ignore that. I can stop reading the Bible, stop looking at the world with an appreciation for its Creator, stop praying, stop relying on Him, and turn my focus off Jesus in vain efforts to be my own Savior and Lord.

When I do those things, God, like a wise parent, allows me to find out the hard way that avoiding and ignoring Him has consequences. For unbelievers, those consequences may not be experienced until Judgment Day, but not so for those who have put their faith in Christ. Psalm 11:3 hints at ignoring the basics, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

When I turn from God, I remove the brick of fellowship and soon experience a sense of loss. The deeper that fellowship has been, the greater the hole it leaves in my life. Instead of being thankful and appreciating all that He has done, those bricks crumble and I start whining and complaining.

Take out the brick of trust and that hole is filled with worrying about life and others, along with a feeling of despair over the mess I see in the world around me. At the same time, I’m trying to do it all, fix the holes with my own bricks, but when that isn’t working, I’m upset and unhappy.

But Christians are supposed to be joyful. So I paste a fake smile on my face (a plastic brick?) and go to church, only to experience more dry routine.

The other side is that “formless ecstasy” bit. I’m not hyper-emotional, but can understand that happening to people who rely on their emotions (instead of what God says) to give them a sense of being right with God and the world. Their phoney bricks include getting pumped by music and ‘good news’ but that never fills the hole the same way as the awe and wonder of God. True worship always rises above and beyond any human ‘perfection’ or excitement we rely on to arouse our faculties.

In four sentences, God challenges me and reminds me that while worship is all about Him, what I am doing at a ‘worship service’ speaks volumes about me and my spiritual condition.

Now for the practical part.
  • Study the Bible with intention.
  • Continue praying about all things, relying on Him for all things, and being thankful for all things.
  • Stay close, and when sin interferes, be quick to deal with it.
Basic stuff, the foundations, but without them, I will crumble and my worship will no longer be a sweet offering to God.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Worship — for my greatest good

A well-known Christian educator, Howard Hendricks, says that human beings resist change yet for Christians, change is our destiny.

His comment ties in with Bible promises like Romans 8:28-29. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.

How God uses “all things” to change me is amazing enough, but another related verse says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This one says that even looking at Him changes me!

My devotional book points out that the revelation of the glory of God produces worship, and as a person worships God for what they have seen, they participate in that glory. As this verse says, then I am being transformed into that same image.

Yesterday I thought about the reverence and fear that happen in my heart as I gaze at the glory of the Lord. That happened to Isaiah as well. He saw the Lord “high and lifted up” and was immediately convicted of his own lowly condition. He said, “Woe is me” and confessed his sinfulness. But he didn’t turn away. As he stayed before the Lord, he was cleansed from that sin, then God invited him to serve Him.

My book calls this a spiritual progression of true worship. First there is revelation or a vision of the holy God of glory. This is overwhelming in that I see myself in contrast to His glory, and that produces guilt and shame. However, as I confess my sin to Him (and woe is me if I try to avoid it), He cleanses me based on what Christ did on the cross. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Then, just as after Isaiah confessed and was called to greater service, I too am better able to hear the voice of God directing my life.

Revelation or seeing the glory of God demands a response. If I correctly understand what I see, it will show up in my life. God will change me, make me more like Jesus, and give me a great desire to participate in His glory. Nothing else will matter, and never again will I be trivial in my worship for I will see that God intends it not only for Himself, but for my greatest good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Consuming Fire

My sister called yesterday morning asking for prayer. Her youngest son and his family live in San Diego and at that hour were trying to decide whether to stay or leave. She was deeply concerned for their safety. I prayed with her and asked she keep me posted.

At that time I’d not realized the extent of the fires so turned on the television. We used to live in Los Angeles and know those Santa Anna winds each fall make this fire season, but I was not prepared for the pictures that I saw. By today, hundreds of homes have burned and thousands of people have been evacuated.

I’m not a pyromaniac or a storm chaser, but maybe understand their passion. Fire and extreme weather hold a fascination for me too, albeit a fearful one. A few months ago a fire in our neighborhood kept me at the window watching in horror. A large (empty) house burned to the ground but I couldn’t turn away. Even though fire terrifies me, I wanted to run over and be closer to watch it.

Storms are the same. I’ve seen wicked clouds, thunder and lightning with large hailstones, but never close the curtains. Watching them fills me with an emotional stew of awe and fear that I’m sure others share.

I’m also certain that this ability to feel both terror and awe is wired into us. These emotional responses are even necessary. Otherwise, we could not properly worship God.

Hebrews 12:28-29 says. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.

Many people do not appreciate the mystery and majesty of God. Their response to Him is indifference, at best curiosity, but often irritation. However, the more I know about Him, the more I understand how He is a consuming fire. At the same time, I can serve Him with reverence, even delight.

I don’t want to compare God to the fires in California, only compare my feelings about Him to those fires. God is not a random destroyer of life and property. He is sovereign and has allowed this fiery tragedy, but His motivations are not evil. Even the mystery of that and the difficulty of understanding how He can be both holy and love itself are part of the fascination that I feel.

I stand near Him and cannot take my eyes off Him. I am awed by His power, but also humbled by His grace. He may be “a consuming fire,” but because of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, the only thing in me that He consumes is my sin, to which I say good riddance.

As I worship and gaze at His glory and radiance, I am changed. He takes away the dross in my life and gives me light and a deep passion to serve Him, and as the verse says, this incredible mixture of reverence and godly fear are part of that service.

Prayer is also part of serving Him. When my sister called, we both knew that God can rescue or not, keep a family safe or not, allow a home to burn or have the fires go around it. This knowledge is part of our reverence and fear.

So we tearfully prayed for our family and other families, asking for grace knowing that He is the Lord and will answer according to His will. I felt as if we were standing at the edge of a much larger fire, not knowing what He would do, yet knowing He loves us. Reverence and fear.

My sister later let me know that my nephew and his wife and children did leave early enough to miss the gridlock on the highways and are out of the fire zone. May they know and understand also that they are never out of the gracious reach of God, and respond to His care for them with reverence and godly fear.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Worship is more than mouthing the words

If asked, most Christians would say that worship is honoring God, yet in their minds the worship part of a worship service is the singing. We may even think of verses like Psalm 66:4: “All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.

After studying the words translated as worship, I find out that the definitions don’t mention music. Instead, these words mean “to bow down” or “kiss toward” or “give homage to” and while a person can do that as they praise God in song, worship goes far beyond singing.

Worship could even be said as the way I live my life before God. It showing a deep respect for Him and a recognition of who He is by all that I do. With that in mind, worship must then include all kinds of expressions of adoration.

As for worship in song, my singing voice is not going to win awards, but it seems that is not as important to God as singing with an attitude of humility and reverence. I’m not supposed to be wondering if my shoes match my outfit, or if my hair is wandering out of place. I’m not to be looking down on the child who is acting up in the seat in front of me, or wishing the fellow behind me had remembered to shower this morning. Instead of planning dinner, or thinking about the rest of the day, or wondering how to tell the person three rows up that her label is sticking out the back of her sweater, I’m supposed to be focused entirely on the God my mouth is praising. In other words, my heart is to be in this, not just my voice.

I could say this is easier for people who actually can sing, but that is not true. God isn’t concerned that I’m an alto or soprano or even that I’m on key. He invites me to make a loud and joyful noise, knowing He is God (and I am not), and that He loves me and wants me to simply love Him too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gazing into His Glory

The glory of the Lord was revealed in the Old Testament by visions, fire, and amazing events that astounded those who saw it. They were also fearful and fell on their faces to worship Him. When Moses spoke with God, his face shone. The people were in awe even at that, and Moses had to put a veil over his face because of their reactions. The New Testament explains that the veil also served to keep them from seeing that glory fade. Moses had to return to God often for the glory to remain visible on his countenance.

I’m finding that gazing into the glory of the Lord is difficult for me, almost more than I can bear. While I am not terrified like they were, seeing more and more of what He is like thrills and awes my heart to the point that I want a veil or want to turn away. His splendor is too much for me.

This experience is tied to an amazing discovery about the way children develop. Scientists have found that when a mother and child are making eye contact in that delightful and intimate bonding experience, the child becomes so intensely excited that he has to look away just to protect himself from his own fervent emotions. This causes a sense of relief and is necessary, even though the baby will soon return his gaze to his mother’s eyes. However, if the mother looks away, the baby immediately becomes distressed and agitated, uncertain and confused.

After reading this, I more fully appreciate David’s psalm that says, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God wired into us a deep desire for intimacy. He also wired into us the need for a parental gaze that never quits, yet that gaze is often broken. Parents are not able to perfectly fill this built-in hunger for face-to-face attachment.

David also wrote, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face! Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me. . . . even though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.Even though they turn away their eyes, God will never turn away!

God made me so that I have the option of looking away from Him, not that looking at Him is harmful, but sometimes His glory is just too awesome for me. I have to lower my eyes, bow my head, even weep at the magnificence of what I see. The spiritual discipline God asks is that I keep coming back. He promises great things and an amazing transformation to those who keep looking.

Yet it is not easy. Even Moses had a problem with staying there, with continually being with God in an intimate way. Exodus 33:11 says, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Moses gazed into the face of God, then went back to work. Joshua stayed in the tent of meeting. Later, an uncorrected major flaw in Moses’ life kept him from entering the promised land, while Joshua was able to go in as the new leader of God’s people.

Is there a connection between this outcome in their lives and the time they spent in that tent with God? I don’t know, but I do know that the Bible says those who gaze into His glory “are being transformed into His likeness” and as challenging as it is to my emotions, that is enough to keep me coming back to Him.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Revealing myself

After hearing several speakers at a conference this weekend, I noted that some seemed more ‘real’ than others. I heard other attendees say this also. No matter the topic, it seems a few of us were looking for speakers who are transparent, who reveal themselves without pretense, or holding back, or covering up with any sort of layers.

This is not easy. Most people fear some things about themselves will cause rejection. Instead of being open, we will create a persona that we hope is more acceptable. However, in the process we might seem less authentic.

What is it that makes me want to see past the layers or feel perturbed by a facade? Why do I want others to be open about themselves? I think this is partly because I want to know if they are like me, if we have the same struggles, temptations and fears. When someone conveys that their life is perfect and I know I’m not, I feel disconnected from them.

But there is another reason. I cannot really know someone if they fake it or cover up what is going on inside. That doesn’t mean I need their deepest secrets or to know ‘all the dirt’ in their lives, but that I do want to know the real person. I want to be close to them. It goes both ways. Larry Crabbe’s book on encouragement says that most of our relationships are layer to layer rather than heart to heart, yet we long for that deeper intimacy.

So did Moses. God had given him the stone tablets with the commandments, spoken to him on the mountain, appeared to him in fire and a cloud, and spoke to him face to face in the ‘tent of meeting’ outside the Israelite camp. As Moses talked with God, he asked various questions. God promised His presence with him, but Moses wanted more. He wanted to have something from God that would distinguish him and his people from all others. God reassured him. Then Moses asked, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).

According to my Bible dictionaries, glory means all the manifestations of God’s power and presence, the showing of His attributes. So hadn’t Moses already seen the glory of God?

Alan Ross, in his book Recalling the Hope of Glory, says something I didn’t know before. In this verse, the normal word for glory is not used. Instead, it is a personal pronoun, which means that Moses actually said, “Now show me Yourself.” Ross says Moses wanted to see past the bright cloud and the fire to the real person, even though he knew that “no one sees God and lives.

God had appeared in various ways, and of course the cloud and the fire were not layers that He used to protect Himself. He appeared in these ways to protect His people. Had they looked upon the actual Person, they would die, and even though we as sinners deserve to die, God didn’t want that to happen.

With Moses, He replied, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you. . . . But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” He then placed Moses in the cleft of a rock, covered him with His hand as He passed by, then removed His hand and allowed Moses to see His back, but not His face.

Aside from the wonder of God doing this, even aside from the marvel that He appeared to us again in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, I’m struck by the idea of how God demonstrates the one legitimate reason for hiding anything that is true about me from another person. In my case, it would not be usually be glory, but the opposite, yet it could also be the good stuff.

Using God’s example, if there is any covering up to be done, it has to be because the revelation would harm the other person. For instance, if I just won an award and am talking to someone who just lost their job or was disappointed in their own personal performance, telling that person all about my win would be totally inappropriate. I’m not hiding it to protect me but to protect that person.

If someone suffers loss, is hurting from mistreatment, or is sad and upset for any reason, I don’t need to tell them all my woes. In this case, being transparent is unloving and adds a burden to their already overburdened heart.

The Bible says that as we gaze into the glory of the Lord, we are changed into that same image. My idea of the glory of the Lord is so lofty that I’ve feared such a spiritual discipline would be highly impractical, but this is not true. In showing His glory with fire and a cloud, God reveals enough about Himself to turn people from their own problems and struggles, but hides enough that they are not harmed by His revelation. His motivation in how He communicates is never self-focused but directed by a deep love that protects and wants the best for others, a very down-to-earth lesson for me today.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Speaking of Him . . .

Last night I met a young Christian woman who quickly made known her depth of faith. Within five minutes of introduction, she told me of her love for the Lord and the way He was encouraging her in the ministry that He gave her. She was as open and transparent as anyone I’ve ever met, a delightful child of God.

I read 1 Thessalonians 1:8 this morning and thought of her, but also was convicted about my own life. Paul wrote, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.

When Paul wrote this epistle to the church at Thessalonica, he had no rebuke for them. They were doing everything that God gave them to do, including talking to everyone about Him. Their love for the Lord was obvious. They told others because they wanted them to know this same Jesus that had done so much for them. Paul commended them, but I don’t think he would say this in a letter to me.

I used to talk much more about my faith, but after people rejected it (I felt like they rejected me too) I became less vocal. Writing about it is easier, but a blog, an article or even a personal letter isn’t quite the same as a face to face conversation.

The book I’m reading talks about the goodness of God and His holiness. He is above and unlike anything or anyone. “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD almighty; I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.

Pagan people, and even the more civilized, worship idols of their own design, idols that have the same flaws as those who made them. They do not know about the holiness of the One who is the first and the last. Shirley Maclean stands on a beach with her arms in the air and shouts, “I am god.” She has no idea what she is saying, or who she is claiming to be.

God is more than statues, carvings, images, or vain imagination. While we are made in His image, even the most godly of us fall far short of reflecting who He is. At times, I truly am at a loss for words to describe Him, to tell others about Him, to proclaim His holiness, but that is no excuse for remaining silent.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Like the air that I breathe . . .


Interval training or exercise is working (in my case, walking) at a slower pace, then a faster pace—in intervals. It is supposed to strengthen heart and lungs. I started this week and noticed already that my normal shallow breathing has become deeper.

This morning I’m reading about the major attributes of God: all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), everywhere at once (omnipresent), and eternal, without beginning and without end. My book says, “He alone lives forever—in fact, he is alive in a sense that we cannot begin to understand, for he is the giver of life, the sustainer of life, and the restorer of life—he is life!”

When I read that, a phrase from Acts 17 popped to mind, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Suddenly I became acutely aware of my breathing, and my eyesight, and that I can hear, and feel, and swallow. This life that I experience is from God. He breathed into Adam and made him a living being (Genesis 2:7). Without the life of God, would there be any life at all? The Bible says no.

When the apostle Paul traveled to Athens, he noted that the people were religious, but the entire city was involved in idol worship. After finding an altar dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD,” he went to the Areopagus, their center for philosophical debate, and started talking to them about the God that they sensed was out there, but they didn’t know who He was.

Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

With a few sentences, Paul says a mouthful about God. He declares that He is Creator of all things, Lord of all, and self-sustaining. He is life and He gives life to all. He made one man and from that one man He produced nations of human beings to fill the earth and live where (and when) He determined. And should anyone wonder why He bothered, Paul says He did it so we would seek Him. However, unlike the Athenian view that He is “unknown” and “out there” suggesting He is unreachable, Paul says God is as close to us as our own life.

I know God is not the air that surrounds me, the air that I breathe, but I sometimes think of His presence like that. He is around me, close to me all the time. I sense His Spirit who is as real as that air. He does give me life and sustains my life (as the air is vital to life), but He is also personal, a God who loves me, a God who makes Himself known to me. As I think about all these things, my heart is filled with awe and worship.

The book I’m reading, Recalling the Hope of Glory, is filled with Scripture and wonderful thoughts like these about the Lord. In three days, I’ve read only four pages and the Bible verses that go with them and am overjoyed. I hope that the next 467 pages will be as rich with truth for I’m eager to see what more God will show me about Himself and His glory.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lowering my Aim

I’ve met a few famous people, and after meeting them, my ideas of what makes a person great are changing.

I used to think that reaching the top of the ladder would bring with it a superior sense of confidence in oneself and an aloofness from the ordinary person. Some are like that, but for the most part, the authors, speakers, politicians and entertainers that I’ve met are surprisingly humble and approachable. They come to mind as I’m reading Recalling the Hope of Glory by Alan Ross.

Ross begins this book by discussing the holiness of God. He points to Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’”

In Isaiah 6, the prophet had a vision in the temple where angelic beings declared the holiness of God. What he heard and saw astounded and convicted him. He recognized his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the people around him. He made no excuses, asked for no favors. Instead he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone!

Upon his confession of sin, God forgave Isaiah and gave him a job to do. Later Isaiah tells the people, who were still unrepentant, that their Holy God lives in a high and holy place. He is a different, other than, separate from, cannot be compared with any other being. He is holy, holy, holy and even unapproachable, yet He also chooses to dwell with those who humble themselves. In fact, this verse says that God’s high and holy dwelling place is with such people—humble people can dwell with Him, but only in their humility!

The more I learn about the greatness of God, the more I realize the enormity of His mercy and grace. He is superior, over all creation. He could act like it. He could be aloof from everyone and everything. He could turn His glory away from us and has every right and reason to do so. But He chooses to make Himself at home in the hearts of people who know their place before Him and can say with Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone.

Is God humble? Is He like those famous people I have met who do not consider themselves anything special? Does He say, “Aw, shucks” when praised?

Of course He doesn’t, yet there is a humility about God that is exemplified in Jesus Christ. This is the true humility described in Philippians 2:5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery (something held on to) to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Holiness and humility. The High and ‘other than’ God choose to become one of us. I cannot wrap my mind around it, but I know it is true.

For me, true humility is choosing to be a servant of the most High, not caring about reputation or what I look like. It is giving up my life (and my ‘rights’) to serve God. It is having the mind of Jesus. Whew, I’ve a lofty target, and to hit it I must stop aiming high and lower myself.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Part of the Problem? or Part of the Solution?

We just had a civic election. The newspaper headline this morning says a national election is possible. The debates and speeches start all over again, and I want to groan.

Of course, leaders come and go. When new people take office, John Q. Public looks eagerly for change, a better lifestyle because of these new leaders, but within weeks, excitement becomes disappointment becomes grumbling. Even those who voted for change are again wanting change.

Isaiah, a prophet in Israel, lived on the edge of change. He writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I (Isaiah) saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

The king was dead, but Isaiah was not looking for a new king. Instead he went to the temple of the Lord to seek His face. The revelation he saw might have been far more than he expected. God gave him a glimpse of His glory, a revelation of His holiness.

Isaiah’s response is recorded in the next verses, “So I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’”

The Old Testament says that no one can see God and live. Isaiah didn’t fall down dead, but something in him died. After seeing the holiness and majesty of God, he saw his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of the people around him. He was devastated.

Then the Lord sent one of the seraphim (most likely an angel) to touch his mouth with a hot coal, signifying that “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.

After that, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord discussing the need for someone to send. He offered himself, “Here am I! Send me.” And God did.

All around me, people are putting their hope in new leaders. Isaiah didn’t do that. His hope was in God, but in seeking Him and perhaps his will for new leadership, he first saw his own sin and inadequacy, then fell on his face before God.

What would happen if the citizens of my country did that? What would happen if each one of us recognized that apart from the cleansing fire of God, we are unclean? Isn’t that uncleanness demonstrated in our never-ending desire for more, bigger, better for our lives and for the people who lead us? Our discontent runs deeper than taxes and legislature. It is a cancer that robs our peace of mind, and replaces what could be great hope with continual dissatisfaction and whining.

But seeing God has a cost. It hurts to know that in the blinding light of His holiness, I am a sinful being. It hurts to be purged from my sin. Then, when I persist in seeking Him and listen to His plans, I am motivated to ask for a role to play, a job to do. I do not realize (at least at first) that this will cost me my plans, my time and energy, maybe even my life.

As I compare Isaiah with the pundits and grumblers who banter back and forth about our current “king” and who will be the next one, my heart says I’d rather be like the prophet—even though something in me also resists that role. I shrink from the sacrifice of not being my own boss. I shrink from the realization that God told Isaiah to speak out against sin, but warned him that no one would listen or cooperate with what he said. I shrink from the loneliness of total allegiance to God.

But I also shrink from the ease of blame-shifting and the popularity of grumbling and complaining about the current government. I know that all that is wrong in the world is not the fault of a few politicians. Some of them no doubt are doing their best, but they are fighting the same problem that God and Isaiah fought—no one is listening or cooperating.

Through his prophets God called the people to choose whom they would follow. Would it be ‘go with the flow’ or take the higher road? Today, He is still asking the same question.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Unflappable

In the book I’m reading one of the characters says “money is power.” In the city I live in the candidates who won yesterday’s civic elections say votes gave them power. The newspaper article I just read was about the power of hurricanes. In some families, mom has all the power, or dad, or the kids. The point is, power is different things to different people.

In Colossians 1:11-12, Paul prayed that Christians would be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.

No doubt “His glorious power” has many different meanings too. Some suppose the power of God is His ability to create and destroy. Others might think it is His sovereign control, or His ability to change hearts. Some pray that God will bring them health, wealth and total happiness, indicating that His power is about granting them whatever they ask.

In these verses from Colossians, Paul offers a different definition. He puts power in the same category as “patience,” “longsuffering with joy” and “giving thanks.” Many people think that these things have nothing to do with power, but God’s Word says otherwise.

My study Bible says patience has to do with enduring difficult circumstances, while longsuffering is more about enduring difficult people. Sometimes both happen at the same time, but anyone who suffers trials of any sort knows the impossibility of being joyful and thankful during those trials. I know I cannot manage it. Even at the best of times, it’s easy to find something to be unhappy about or to grumble. God asks me to “count it all joy” (James 1:2-4) when my world falls apart, but sometimes I have trouble being joyful when all things are going well!

The power of God is about being like God. Christians inherit His nature. The Holy Spirit lives in us to give us godliness, yet godliness is not about having power as defined by the dictionary; it is about having power as defined by the character of God.

Whatever life hands me today, God wants me to respond to it in His power, meaning that I will be patient, enduring, joyful and thankful—whether my day is creative or the wheels fall off; whether I see God changing my world or I feel He is absent; whether I see change in myself and others or backsliding; whether I get richer or poorer, stronger or weaker, happier or sadder. If God answers my prayers or does not, living in His power means that I am patient and joyful, the same, all the time.

About a year ago, I selected a word as my goal. The word was “unflappable.” Every now and then God reminds me that the only way I can reach this target is through Him. Today He shows me that only His awesome and surprising power can keep me the same, all the time, unflappable.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Glorify God, with or without words

Wouldn’t you know it, the question I’d hoped to ask yesterday didn’t get asked! However, by everything else that was discussed, I was blessed. For a few minutes the ladies talked about the way they glorify God in simple things, like eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31) and taking care of their homes. Their answers revealed that words were often unnecessary, and glorifying God was mostly about their attitude. Isn’t the heart where homage begins?

My verse for today seems an odd one. It is Benaiah, who served King David, responding to David’s decision to appoint Solomon king in his place. In 1 Kings 1:37 he says, “As the LORD has been with my lord the king, even so may He be with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.

The devotional reads, “He (David) was a king in the wilderness when as a shepherd of his father’s sheep he put a lion to flight in the name of the Lord. Later when Goliath threatened Israel . . . David remained unafraid. There is no fear in the heart of a king. But above all, when as a fugitive from Saul he suddenly found his pursuer at his mercy, he resolutely refused to strike the blow that could have brought him quick relief. This was true kingship, for he who cannot control his own spirit is no king. A true king is king under all circumstances. He reigns everywhere.

As I read these words, I thought of the ladies in my class who want to glorify God even as they clean the bathroom or take out the garbage. My husband teaches another class and he said people were asking, “How can I be Christian in this situation. . . .”

I feel the joy of the Lord with these responses. Christians have been accused of hypocrisy in that they are “Sunday Christians” who live one way that day and do whatever they please the rest of the week. These people are not like that. They want to glorify God all the time and in every situation. A true Christian is a servant of the King under all circumstances.

One question I did ask was, “How are you motivated to change by seeing God’s glory in His people?” This morning is my turn to answer that. My class motivates me to stop grumbling about my to-do list, stop resenting that I need to vacuum again, and instead be thankful that He gives me a to-do list, and a house to vacuum, and the strength to tackle these ordinary things of life.

They also motivate me to recognize that my attitude of homage toward my King will show up in grace and acceptance of His decisions, even those that bring challenges to my life, like David’s decision would bring challenges to Benaiah’s life. Responding to that challenge with hope and a positive attitude is a way to glorify Him.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This should be easy . . .


This morning, I’m going to ask the ladies in Bible class for ways we can give God glory when people praise us for something and we know the praise belongs to God. I am personally interested in their responses because this is often difficult for me.

Praise has a way of corrupting any good attitude that I might have. When someone tells me I’ve done well, pride jumps up like an impertinent ‘friend’ and says, “Pick me!” Even pondering the thought immediately stands in the way of praising God.

The person offering praise needs to be considered too. They mean well. If I’m too abrupt, I can see in their face that what I say sounds to them like a criticism of their intentions. Instead of praising God also, they are thinking, What a dolt. She’s trying to be holier than thou.

One summer day I was weeding our front yard rock garden. A neighbor drove up, got out of her car, chatted for a minute, then said, “Your garden is lovely.” In a spontaneous gesture, I held one hand up toward heaven and said something like, “Thank God.” She offered back a thumbs up response, grinning broadly. For me, praising God is seldom that simple.

In the New Testament as the church was beginning, the religious establishment didn’t like anything the disciples of Jesus Christ were doing. On one occasion, a man had been healed then Peter spoke to the amazed onlookers. Acts 4:2 says that the priests, temple captain, and Sadducees were “greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” so they put them in custody.

The next day they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” In other words, who gave you the right to teach spiritual lies (in their minds) to the people? Where does your authority come from?

In those days, that was a threatening question. Peter answered it, but first God filled him with the Holy Spirit. His response meant sticking his neck out, saying things that he knew could get him in a lot of trouble, yet he pointed to the Lord as his source of power, doing so without fear.

When someone sees me do something that impresses them (I’ve not healed anyone though), they seldom, if ever, ask how I could possibly manage that. Instead, they praise me. Compared to what happened to the disciples, I’m convicted. I’d rather my actions be such that people knew I could not possibly do such things on my own, and that I needed something or someone outside of me to accomplish them.

In my heart I know that I need the Lord to do even the most ordinary stuff. I’ve never planted or cared for a rock garden and am grateful for His goodness in allowing me to do it and making it grow so beautifully. But the people around me don’t know that unless I tell them. Others grow gardens without thinking of God, so in their minds, what’s the big deal? How can anyone need God for such basic stuff?

Later on in Acts, Paul had opportunity to speak in Athens to a group of philosophers who worshiped idols. He talked of God as Creator and said, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.

Perhaps experience plays a role, and certainly the Word of God has shown me that this is very true. I could not draw another breath apart from the grace of God. He is in charge of my life; He allows me to live and breathe, never mind accomplish things. Like Paul, I want people to know this, but telling them often seems more difficult than spontaneous. In the garden that day, the Holy Spirit lifted my hand and gave me a simple way to do it.

I’d like it to happen more often.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

God’s Timing

In his novel, Safely Home, Randy Alcorn describes a scene in heaven where, with great angst, the angels are watching the persecution of God’s people. The Lord is watching too, feeling their pain, waiting for the right time to vindicate them and end their suffering.

While many people would ask why He allowed it in the first place, I am greatly comforted by Alcorn’s fantastic description of God’s perspective and how he reinforces the fact of God’s sovereignty in my mind. I don’t understand God’s thinking, nor do I always like what He is doing, but knowing He is in control relaxes my racing heart.

Luke 18:7 is a line from the middle of a parable about prayer. Jesus says we “always ought to pray and not lose heart,” then after his story about a woman’s continual appeal to an unjust judge, He says, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?

Sometimes when I pray the answer is right on the heels of my amen, yet other requests continue for years without any sign that God is doing anything. The picture Alcorn creates of a patient, loving God waiting for the right time doesn’t come to mind as often as it should, for it is a true picture. His eye is on the sparrow, for goodness sake, so why should I doubt that He is watching and waiting, ready to respond to my cries for help?

A few months ago a friend asked for prayer concerning her brother and a huge problem in his life. We prayed and I kept praying, daily at first, then every few days as he came to mind. In a few weeks, her face shining with amazed joy, she reported that the situation was resolved. God impressed me, not only because of the answer (this man was in serious trouble), but because he lives on the other side of the world. We who prayed have never met him, but God was watching, and listening. He heard our cries and at the right time, He rescued this man.

The parable in Luke is about a woman seeking justice against an adversary, perhaps an unjust landlord or a creditor. As for me, most of the time my adversary is not flesh and blood, but “principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Like the forces against my friend’s brother, these are unseen foes. I have no idea what they look like, and often don’t know exactly what they are doing.

But God does. He sees the unseen. He watches my struggle. He feels my pain, knows my sorrow and the burdens that bring me to Him in prayer. He watches, and waits, and even though it seems that He “bears with” me for longer than I want, He makes something very clear—at the right time, the best time, He will avenge (vindicate) me and deal with whoever or whatever is troubling my heart.

Today’s prayer list is long, as are the demands on my time, yet few things on the latter list have eternal import and they can wait. God is asking me to get out that first list and get to work.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Prayer is . . .

Today’s reading from Matthew 6 is a discussion on the second verse of the Lord’s model prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The writer of my devotional guide says that prayer has a three-sided nature. When we pray, there is “someone prayed to, someone prayed for, and someone prayed against.”

As I read it, I’m convicted that I sometimes get those roles mixed up.

As the prayer says, I’m praying to “Our Father in heaven,” yet I’ve been in prayer groups where my prayers sounded more like I was telling the others all about my request instead of simply taking it to the Lord—who knows more about it than I do and needs no long explanation. That isn’t what praying is about.

As for what I pray for, most of my requests involve the needs of people. These needs come to my attention and I take them to the Lord, often with all sorts of suggestions as to what He should do about them. In other words, I’m telling God how to run the universe.

Jesus’ model prayer doesn’t do that. These words from verse 10 are an expression of surrender to His will, asking Him to do what He wants done, not telling Him what I want or think He should do. I may assume that I am not opposed to Him. I may assume that I am yielded to His decisions and choices, even that I am willing to accept “no” or “wait” as an answer. Yet how can that be so, if I find myself telling God what to do? That isn’t what prayer is about either.

In that same vein, I often catch myself praying fervently for something that is clearly His will, something that He wants more than I do—as if to persuade Him to action. I believe God has the power to do anything, but sometimes my prayers sound like He is resisting and I am trying to talk Him into doing something.

When I pray, I have to remember that I am not persuading God, nor is He is my genie in a bottle. Instead, I am partnering with Him against all evil influences that stand opposed to His will. The devil comes to mind, but it is not always the devil; sometimes people have built up strongholds of resistance to God. It that case, I’m to pray that those strongholds are brought down and every thought brought into obedience to Christ.

Yet the resistance that most often stands opposed to Him is not the devil or others, but me—me—even as I talk to Him. When I say, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” then I better mean it first for myself.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Wisdom of my Body Builder

I love that KIA commercial where the elderly man picks up three Goth-types whose vehicle is broken down. He takes them through all sorts of wild terrain, yelling at the top of his lungs at every bump, splash and skid. The three start with solemn faces, but are soon yelling along with him and leaping in delight when they get out of his vehicle.

While the change in three young men delights me, the elderly man is of more interest. He seems to be the most unlikely person to pick up three strange and oh-so serious strangers, then on top of that, acts like a teenager himself, using a wild ride in his vehicle to break them out of their grim exterior into wild and crazy laughter. If these were not actors, I’d like to know that man who surprises me with his unexpected people skills!

Christians are described in the New Testament as being like a human body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses that metaphor to say that all parts are necessary and that I should love everyone, never thinking that some members of His body are unimportant.

I hate to admit that I’ve done that. Outward appearance, slowness in some way, and so on, have been my excuse for dismissing people and God rebukes me for that. Verses 21-25 say, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor . . . But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.

Every body part is important. I was reminded of that again this morning when I whacked my left hand against a hard corner. Blood started flowing from the main knuckle of my ring finger. It has a tight bandage, but is still seeping. The two fingers on either side are also sore, and I’ve a feeling I may not do much at the keyboard today. Those fingers that seem rather unimportant have suddenly taken center-stage.

The metaphor for Christ’s body is also illustrated in my Bible class. Sometimes the people who seem less ‘with it’ in terms of input and discussion say things that turn our heads — and our hearts. These parts that seem to be weaker are necessary.

Every few weeks, we are joined by a woman whom many might call a bag lady. She obviously has some mental problems, and often sits without saying anything, yet when she speaks, her transparent attitude and practical knowledge of the Lord’s care elevate our discussion. When she first came, I struggled with the distraction of her wandering attention and words, but God gives this weaker member greater honor and uses her, a most unlikely ‘part’, to bless and draw the rest of us closer to Himself.

Every believer, no matter how insignificant we might feel at times, is in the Body of Christ for a reason. God says so. Whatever function I have differs from that of others, but all are vital to the working of a healthy and growing church. Our Lord is our Body builder, and He knows what He is doing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Peace that passes understanding

One of my aunt’s said, “I don’t know how you do it; you have been through so much.” At that time, I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. What looked like “so much” to her obviously was nothing to me.

Since then, we’ve been through “so much” by my definition, yet I am astounded that I’ve experienced the same calm spirit that sustained me through the “less much” that my aunt was talking about. Whatever those things were, it may have been a practice run, or a warm-up, for the next round of life’s mountains.

This morning I’m reading Psalm 55:22. It says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.

One version says I will not “be shaken” and another says I will “not fall.” Both remind me of similar promises. Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand.”

God doesn’t promise a trouble-free life. Were that the case, the whole world would stampede to the Cross. On the contrary, a Christian’s life could be far more eventful and full of difficulties than the average. Consider Job. He was a deeply righteous man, one that God commended for his faith and obedient life, but God allowed Satan to take from him his family, wealth, and health. Job was a spiritual battleground, not because he was a bad person, but because he was a faithful believer in the Lord.

The Apostle Paul is another example. He was God’s great spokesperson for the Gospel, wrote much of the New Testament, yet he suffered too. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, to verify his ministry in comparison to false claims, he tells the church at Corinth, that he “worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Jesus didn’t live a peachy life either. The first years might have been quiet, but once He began His ministry, it was only three or so years later that His enemies killed Him.

Cast all your burdens . . .” obviously does not give me a ticket to no problems, no trials. These three took what was happening to them to the Lord, and He didn’t remove the problems for them, so I cannot expect He will necessarily do it for me. However, He did carry them through each trial, over each mountain.

Philippians 4:6-7 clarifies how He does it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Anxiety is a reflection of distrust in the sovereignty of God, distrust in His plans for my life, distrust that He knows what He is doing, distrust that He cares about me. If I’m sure He is in control, sure His plans are good, sure He is wise and loving, then I have a perspective of my personal mountains that like the eagle flying over them rather than like the mouse that is looking up. I may not have a clue what or why, and I may feel some dismay (Job did, Paul did, and Jesus sweat drops of blood), but for prayerful trust He promises a soaring sense of peace.

Today’s burdens are not very big. No one is dying or ill, at the moment. Life is ticking along. Sometimes I think, Will I be able to cast my burdens on Him when those big ones come along? Will I trust Him in the very worst trials?

Then I realize that He is my Savior; I cannot save myself—even from my own doubts. When the mountains loom high, He will sustain me with His peace, that peace that gets me up in the air closer to Him.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Thanksgiving, Contentment & Twenty-Six Things

I’ve known at least one person who complained when her husband took her out that they never stayed home, and if they stayed home, complained that they never went out. The man was wrong, no matter what he did.

Condemned if you do, condemned if you don’t. This is the song of the chronically unthankful, and I sing it far too often. I know that my problem isn’t about externals, but what is going on in the heart, and it is far more serious than being “a bit grouchy today, are we?

Romans 1:18ff describes how God can be clearly seen in His creation, but ungodly people will reject Him anyway. Verse 21 says, “Although they knew God (in the sense that He exists), they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

I worry about myself when I stop being thankful because this verse tells me that is one of the first things to go when a person rejects God. When I stop glorifying Him and become a complainer, I’m saying NO in some part of me.

Thankfulness and contentment surely go together. Both are the result of knowing that God is in control and deciding to be happy about what He is controlling. Yet contentment takes time to learn. By nature, human beings seem to continually want something other than what we have. We vote a government into power, and how long is it before we are complaining? We marry the person of our dreams and how long is it before we think we married the wrong one? We make a sandwich for lunch and wish we’d cooked soup.

Before Jesus came, John the Baptist announced that He was coming. John lived an austere life that included rigid abstinence, but the religious establishment who admired a Spartan lifestyle, rejected him. Then Jesus “came eating and drinking,” and they said, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, and friend of tax collectors and sinners.

The Pharisees didn’t like John, but when Jesus lived a normal life among them, they didn’t like Him either. Did they even know what they wanted?

When I’m in a grumpy, discontented frame of mind, and am not happy with anything, I don’t know what I want either, but my problem isn’t about externals; it is about me. My heart is not right. Being thankful might be difficult for someone who lives in poverty, has extremely poor health, has lost all their family and friends, and has no positive signs for their future, yet I’ve met people like that who can still be thankful. Thankfulness and contentment aren’t about externals; it is about the heart.

I started a list this morning and want to finish it, an alphabet of some of the things that I am thankful for and content with:

Ankles. Mine are still slender and I’m old enough to have fat ankles!

Bath tubs. What would the world be like without a hot bath now and then?

Chocolate, and a good place to hide my stash of the dark, good-for-you, chunks.

Dish soap. Imagine trying to wash them without it, especially after turkey?

Eternal stuff that keeps my heart from becoming too content living here.

Fat-free ice cream, which is far more delicious than it sounds.

Green lettuce. Without it, where would my waistline be? No doubt out where I can see it.

Habits, or otherwise I may not get up some mornings, even this morning.

Instinct, which is a lot like faith. I just “know” some things are true and some are not.

Jack, my older brother, and a 90-year-old cousin with the same name. Both are great guys. And Janet, my sister and good friend.

Kisses — don’t need explaining.

Lovely . . . anything that can be put after that word, like lemons, laughter, and leftovers (so I don’t need to cook tonight).

Miniatures, for those times the regular size is just too much.

Note cards and the delight that comes when someone takes the time to send one to me!

Onomatopoeia: words that make sounds that go with whatever the words are about, like cuckoo and buzz saw and whiz, and awww! and bleat, clunk, grrr, hum, zip and crunch.

Pranks, like my dad used to play and the memories of laughing at ourselves when we fell for it.

Quilts. Making them, the colors and comfort and feel of them.

Rope, and the memory of my dad teaching me how to make my own lasso.

Sand, white on the beach at our timeshare, each grain a tiny jewel.

Tom, my younger brother, whose brand of religion is awful, but he is still a neat person.

Umbrellas with flowers and riotous colors and the feel of being in the rain but not getting wet.

Vigor, which I wish I had more of, but am glad for the bits God gives me!

Wind, and I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Xi and Xu, two words that have helped me win Scrabble games.

Yellow, my new favorite color (even though I love them all).

Zebra. I’ve pictures of them above my PC desk, in my family room. Black and white me loves black and white them.


It should be Thanksgiving every day.

Monday, October 8, 2007

My most precious commodity

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Some of the family will be over for turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. Many trees lost their leaves in last night’s wind, but the day is grand with blue skies, light cloud, and autumn colors. I’ve much for which to be thankful.

However, the events of the past few days have me on another track. I’ve experienced a couple of days of strong spiritual warfare, a sense that spiritual enemies were trying to stop me in some way. The battle became intense in my Sunday school class. I could sense a strong conflict, but it was nothing outwardly observably. I pressed on with my material.

Two unsaved ladies were present. One has been coming for a few weeks, the other for the second week in a row. She is from another faith, a strong movement throughout the world. At the end, another lady asked a question and I found myself explaining the gospel in terms of the difference between Law-keeping and a changed heart. During that time, I could almost see the clashing of swords. After class, another regular member told me she felt it too.

Later in the day, I was physically and mentally exhausted. My thoughts included the idea that this is too hard, it is time to retire, and if not, God, what do You want me to do with the rest of my life. How should I spend my time?

My devotional reading today is Mark 12:41-44. The thoughts it provokes seem suitable for today. “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

I could make an excuse about giving and this passage. I am not a widow. My husband earns most of our income so he makes most of the donation decisions. I don’t think it is my place alone to determine how much we give. However, he is generous and God has blessed him for it. But that is his story.

I don’t have a huge income, just a bit from writing and other ‘at home’ efforts. I have learned to be generous too, partly because I have little reason to spend it on myself, and see so many other people that need it more than I do. I’ve a strong sense that God is not using this to speak to me about money, but about another resource that I guard far more diligently than my pocketbook—my time.

A few weeks ago I was inwardly complaining about the time it takes to pray. It cuts much out of every morning and my to-do list is long. As I mused that I had so much work to do, God heard my heart, and I heard clearly His point of view: “Praying is your work.”

In this incident with the widow and her giving, Jesus commends her for giving all she had to live on, implying that she would need to earn more before she could eat again. This was truly a sacrifice. As I think about the prime time God asks from me, I feel the pinch of sacrifice. Morning is the most energetic part of the day for me, the time I feel most alert and able to do my best work. That is the time He wants me to give totally to Him.

Does that mean the rest of the day is mine, to do with as I wish? I don’t think so. If I’ve learned nothing else in thirty plus years of following Christ it is that I am His all the time, not just on Sundays, not just for “spiritual” work, not just when He gives me a specific job or lays a need before me and asks me to fill it. All of my days are His, all of my hours, minutes. Seeking His will for Sunday’s lesson material is one thing, but I need to seek His face for today, for the next hour, for the next thing on my to-do list.

God told Joshua, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Day and night, hours and minutes, all for Jesus—and it will be a sacrifice, but it will also mean prosperity and success—and I don’t think He is talking about money and fame.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sin isn’t about what I don’t do

Becky was four years old, a ‘student’ in Junior Church. I was responsible for that program at the time. One Sunday our topic was sin. Four-year-olds have no problem understanding what it means, but Becky surprised me. I told these little ones that the Bible says, “All have sinned.” She turned to me, hands on hips and her brown eyes wide with indignation, and replied, “But I’ve never murdered anyone.”

The classic answer. Sin is always worse than whatever I am guilty of, a bigger thing than all those little things I do against God. I’m not a sinner; it is those awful other people.

Becky’s response also reflected the same general attitude toward sin while Jesus was on earth. Most people thought that if they outwardly kept the commandments, they were okay, even considered righteous before God. When Jesus told them otherwise, they accused Him of trying to do away with the Law of God. He replied, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill . . . For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17, 20).

Jesus taught that the Law was good, but it wasn’t enough. If Law-keeping was going to get people into heaven, they had to live even better than the Law. Matthew 5:21-22 says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ (meaning ‘Empty Head) is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

At age four, little Becky didn’t realize that in the eyes of God, getting mad at her little brother (she had one), and calling him a dummy or a fool was as serious as murder, for these thoughts are the roots of murder. Killing someone is not merely an outward action; it begins with an attitude of the heart, and those attitudes reveal that all are sinners.

Jesus came to change hearts, not to do away with or reinforce the rules. The Law had a purpose (to show us we cannot be righteous on our own). It was never intended as a measurement of how good we are, but a “school master” to bring us to our knees before God, pleading for mercy. Jesus didn’t do away with Law; He revealed the deeper point of it.

I don’t remember what I told Becky way back then, but the Holy Spirit must have been working on her heart. He must have shown her that sin was not about what she didn’t do, but what she did do. He also must have guided her to her knees, for many years later I received an email from her. She, and her brother, are now followers of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Only mercy allows me to be a mirror

Christians are aware of the saying, “You are the only Bible some will every read.” If that is true, then I shudder.

A few weeks ago the thought occurred to me that if I am the only Christian that my family knows, they will have a distorted idea of what the Body of Christ is all about. It is not that my life is so opposite of what it should be, but that it is also incomplete. Aside from the sin and selfishness that I still am battling, I cannot be all of what God intended in the church. I have some gifts and some good qualities, but only Jesus was a perfect representation of what God intended humans should be like.

I’ve also noticed how exposure to other Christian has a positive effect on our unsaved family members. One told me how much she likes our Christian friends and appreciates how they talk and think. This reinforces the reality of New Testament descriptions to me: the church is a body; all the members are important, and we are to deeply care for and support one another.

Today I’m reading a description of how the Old Testament priests had slipped from their important position because they had ceased to obey God. They represented the people to God, but also God to the people. Malachi 2:7-8 says, “‘For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the LORD of hosts.

The priests were responsible for making the law and will of God known to the people. When they misrepresented God, they became “contemptible and base before all the people, because you have not kept My ways . . .” and God sent judgment on them. Their role was too important and He could not look the other way.

In New Testament, 1 Peter 2:9-10 says of all Christians, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”

Every Christian has been given the role and duty of a priest. We must praise God because of the mercy He has shown us. Other passages tell us to represent others in prayer before God as intercessors, and to represent God to the people as His ambassadors. In other words, we are the only Bible some will ever read.

I know that I fall short as one of God’s priests. While I don’t want it to be true, I fear that I am like the priests in Malachi; people have looked at me and thought, If this is what it means to be a Christian, forget it. My sins and incompleteness do cause others to stumble.

But not just mine. The Christian church is God’s Body here on earth. What do people see when they look at us? Shining examples of goodness in a dark place? Or failures who stumble and cause others to stumble? If the former is true, I’m totally convinced by my own failures that anything good others see in me is another one of God’s mercies. If the latter is true, all of us need to repent. I must stop stumbling and start shining.