Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Path Ahead

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 

Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.
Proverbs 29:17

     Today was a wonderful day. I began it with a prayer meeting--myself and two other ladies crying out to God for revival, for forgiveness, for our families and churches, and for many other things. I had the chance to visit with some old friends and some new ones, and during the course of the day I was blessed with encouragement from two moms of teenagers. This was no small thing, for I have given much thought lately to the rapid approach of that season of life in my own little family. My oldest is on the very threshold of it and not many months will pass before I will no longer have a little boy but a teenage son.

     And I am looking forward to it.

     Early this morning, I confided to my friend (whose oldest son is now a man-sized 14) that I simply refuse to dread my kids' teen years. I am truly and eagerly anticipating them! She wholeheartedly fortified that ideal, adding that all the investment we put into our kids now will pay off then. She is already seeing the fruit of it, as her son is recognized by many as a wonderful, Godly young man and she still enjoys a close relationship with him.

     I must admit that the word "teenager" has such a negative connotation in my mind that I find it difficult to apply to this young fellow and others I have met like him. My own nieces, for example, are not "teenagers" in the sense our wretched, warped culture regards them but sparkling, inspiring, Godly, and devoted young ladies who will make wonderful wives and mothers. Both are gifted with beauty and brains, and both value family and have good priorities and good sense. Oh, they are not perfect--none of us are, but they are not the so-called "typical" rebellious youth full of anger and angst. They are kind, decent, honest, and wholesome ladies who bring joy to their mother and to their whole family. I count myself blessed to even know them, much less to be related to them. They, too, inspire me as a mother.

     Finally, in the evening I met another lady whose oldest is 15, and she also had motivating words about the close and tender mother-son relationship they still maintained. She was honest, saying they had dealt with issues here and there, but she was thankful that she could be there to deal with them.

     For me, standing on the brink of these things, both conversations served as a welcome and timely reminder that the teaching and training I am doing is by calling and not an option. All the difficulties of homeschooling and training, all the days I wish I could have a substitute or a fund-raiser for my school, all the times I muster a giggle after listening to snippets from books that my kids find hilarious and I just...don't, every single time I ground them from friends so they can remember how to act towards each other, each teachable moment where Scripture comes alive for us because of an event or opportunity during the day, and all the other myriad details that I could pile up until you wept from sheer boredom--all of it is a gift from God.
     And when they are teens... those homeschooling and scheduling difficulties will still exist, I will wish more desperately for that fundraiser as my curriculum prices skyrocket, the snippets from books will provide challenging and thought-provoking conversations for us, the moments of reconnecting with each other will (I hope) become more deliberate and less forced as I hand over responsibility for their own relationships to them, and the Scripture will continue to be a living and active part of our days... and those days, too, will be a gift from God.

     And when they are grown... I will cherish the quiet moments of their infancy. I will miss the noise and chaos of their childhood. I will be thankful for the opportunity to shepherd them through their youth and into adulthood. If I am allowed to continue homeschooling them until they graduate, I will praise God that I was able to spend 18 or so years with each of them,  and I will be grateful for every single day that we had together.

      No, I will not dread the teen years. I will relish them as the final season of my parenthood, I will delight in my young adults, and I will give thanks for the precious days we have had together and the precious days we have left.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Busy, Busy

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalms 19:7-14

      In my life, I have found that it is one of those sneaky, presumptuous sins that gets me in trouble the most often. One of them, my pride, is also sneaky and presumptuous, but that is not the one I am talking about here, though it definitely qualifies! The one I am talking about today is just as insidious in nature, and in the past I often did not realize it was upon me until I was completely engulfed. It is one that now I find myself watching for over my shoulder as I walk down the path, hoping to catch it lurking and thwart it before it nabs me again. It is busyness.

     As a homeschool mom, it would seem that I would be more immune to busyness than the average working woman. But I am not. As a matter of fact, there is such a plethora of opportunities for homeschoolers these days that I have found it takes a great deal of focus and prayer to keep our day simple and our school focused on, well, school! I have fallen into the trap of thinking my kids needed other activities to keep them healthy and developing well. What I found down that path, however, was the contrary.

     I found that, rather than developing healthy and well-rounded character, the kids were cranky and had a bad attitude. As a matter of fact, the more I did for them, the more selfishness I was seeing out of them. The more I tried to follow their whims for dance, soccer, etc. the more I found that they seemed to have a sense of entitlement. The more playdates we had, the more sibling rivalry and argumentativeness I saw.
     Not only the kids, but I suffered as well. I was always run down and exhausted. With chronic daily headaches in addition to migraines that have plagued me since a bout of viral meningitis just before my 3rd pregnancy, I did not have the stamina to run the rat race. Keeping up with all these things left me depleted mentally, physically, and spiritually. I had little to give my kids, less to give my husband, and my housework seemed to pile high enough that it threatened to crash down and bury me. Worse yet, my non-negotiable morning Bible time was ending more frequently in my wiping drool off the pages of my beloved Book where I had literally passed out while trying to read or pray. Far from allowing those streams of Living Water to flow through every aspect of my life, I found all our activities was stemming the flow and putting up dams where there should have been reservoirs.

     Now, mind you, I did not see all this at the time. I was merely surviving through each day. It wasn't until I had had enough that I cried out to the Lord in desperation and complete misery. And He answered, as He always does. He showed me that I was setting my priorities by worldly standards of success and not by His ancient and wise standards. As a result, I was reaping worldly-minded children and training them less in Godliness and more in busyness. I was not giving them an example to follow, either, as I was so strung out and battling so much pain that I was shrewish, angry, and irritable more than anything.

     God showed me where I had taken on tasks or set agendas that had never been in His plan for me or for the kids. He gently helped me unburden my schedule and learn how to say, "no" unless I heard a "yes" from Him. He showed me how I can allow Him to set my priorities and how to trust Him for the results. I still face the temptation when a fun or interesting-looking program or class comes along. However, I have learned my lesson and if my Lord says, "not this time," then I say "no" as well. I still have plenty of room for improvement, but let me tell you what a blessing the simplifying has been.
     I have been able to read and enjoy God's Word again, spent solid and heart-felt times in prayer both talking to and listening to my King. I have begun to see a reduction in sibling rivalry and an increase in them playing well together and enjoying one another. I have energy left over to spend time with my husband at the end of the day (well, some days anyway!). We have begun to really treasure the times that we all read the Bible together and are finding that talking about it when we sit down and when we rise is not that difficult when we are calm and focused on Him. Even more thrilling, my kids have each begun to read their Bibles for themselves, slipping off for some time alone with their God! That is one of the most exciting fruit of all that schedule pruning.

     Perhaps most importantly, I have understood more completely why Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the good portion and did not sympathize with Martha's plight. I am learning the wonder of carving out plenty of time to sit at my Lord's feet and just be with Him. Allowing Him to set my priorities means more opportunities to serve others arise and less to serve our own selfish desires, and at the end of the day, we are all more fulfilled and find that our service is often much more fun than we ever realized it can be. We have learned what it means when it is written, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery," (Galatians 5:1). And most of all, I am learning how very refreshing the Law of the Lord is, truly and utterly reviving my soul -- and the souls of my children.

Oh, Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!   Psalm 8:9

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Intolerant Christian

    Tolerance. It's a word I have heard murmured throughout our culture lately. For me, however, the word does not have a positive connotation. When I hear "tolerance," I think of two things: (1) To tolerate or to put up with, or (2) the time when your body no longer responds to a drug (for example, an over-the-counter painkiller has a reduced or absent effect when you have developed a tolerance for it).  I would so much rather love someone than tolerate them, and I would hope to receive love, not tolerance, in return.

     You see, "tolerance" is often thrown carelessly in the face of anyone who dares to hold a belief that there is a concrete right and wrong, that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Many times, such people are labeled "judgemental," and while some deserve it, others are merely holding fast to moral convictions and refusing to be swayed by popular opinion. Some are harsh and critical, but others merely understand that we are subject to such laws as "right," "wrong," and "gravity" and abide by them.

     Tolerance in and of itself is probably not a bad thing, I suppose, but tolerance run amok in the selfish mess of humanity is. Too often, it is not the people trying to live quiet and respectful lives, obeying the rules and paying their bills that are screaming "TOLERANCE!" It is those who have a chip on their shoulder and are glaring around the barroom, defying anyone to disagree with what they are doing. It is those who have seared their conscience and are so maimed by it that they want others to sear theirs, too. It is the captive to sin who does not wish to admit that there is a thing called "sin" or that they have any accountability to anyone. It is the swelling of pride that disdains to think anyone other than themselves may have a sensible view of life. It is the frothing, rabid hater of others who shrieks "tolerance" to anyone who dares to hate them back.  It is the epitome of the absolute absurdity of this "tolerance" that many of the very people who desire it do not wish to give it in return.

     In actuality, this kind of "tolerance" seems to be merely an end to the individual's right to form an opinion. Rather than creating peace, it is stirring up an undercurrent of repressed resentment and then compressing it further under fear of public opinion. This can only simmer, growing hotter under its lid until the pressure grows too great and it explodes outward in manifestations of malice and contempt. This ridiculous form of "tolerance" left to grow unchecked will bear a bitter, repugnant fruit.

     So I propose that we stop tolerating each other. Rather, let's do something more radical that will bear far sweeter fruit. Let's love each other. I am not talking about sweaty-palms, fairy-tales-and-knights-in-shining-armor here. I am talking about laying down our lives for one another. I am talking about hanging up our rights and our tender feelings and rolling up our sleeves to feed and clothe the truly oppressed. I am talking about allowing the rabble-rousers of the world to go on rousing thier rabble somewhere else, remaining calm and unaffected by it and quietly loving the unlovable and the unlovely. I am talking about refusing to be stirred to retaliation but instead repaying evil with good. I am talking about turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile laden with your oppressor's pack, and doing the hard work of humbling ourselves further and still further with full knowledge that no matter how low we stoop, we can never achieve the depths our Savior did for we do not have as far to stoop. I am talking about sacrificial, selfless, God-focused love for both the physically and the spiritually crippled, blind, and lame of this world. Above all, let us love Him so intentionally and so intensely that we cannot help but love the people He came to save as well.  I propose we love as He first loved us.
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.
But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:38-48

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.

John 15:8-14

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Inside Out

     One of my oldest friends (that is to say she has been a friend for a longer time than others, not that we are quite yet old!) is honoring a friend per day via her status updates on Facebook. This particular friend happens to choose a different color from the crayon box for "flesh tone" than me, and her post was honoring someone who had never had any qualms about race during their growing-up years. I made the comment, "What the world would be like if we could all see each other inside out. . ." and that thought has lingered with me.  I have always tried to see others inside out as much as I can, and indeed in my younger days I have even been repulsed by men that other girls swooned over simply because I saw arrogance or cockiness where they saw a pretty face. I have, however, had more recent opportunities to see beyond my own prideful assessment of such people to see the wrongs done them that led up to their haughty demeanor. But back to the point: What if?

     If we could all see each other inside out...

     There would be no race riots. There would be no racial tensions. There would be no race anything, for what we would see would not be skin color but the person of the heart. We would see people as they actually are without making assumptions based on something as trivial and absurd as the amount of melanin in their epidermis. Some of the most beautiful people I know do not share my skin tone and some of the most abhorrent do. The bare fact is, Christ came for all people and all are equally welcome in His Kingdom if they will only surrender their lives to Him as King.

     If we could all see each other inside out. . .

     We would not see the hurt that we received, but rather the hurt that caused our antagonist to lash out in the first place. We would see the pain, the suffering, the sadness of our fellow beings.  We would see the severely beaten boy grown into an overly defensive man. We would see the abused girl grown into a callous woman afraid to open her heart. We would see the sorrow of loss, the abandoned child, the broken heart, the disease; in short, we would see the affliction of our fellows and we could react with greater gentleness when wronged.

     If we could all see each other inside out. . .

     We would see the enslavement to sin and ache for the person bound by it, the person who had not yet been set free by Christ. We could see the torment that addictions cause in the addicted mind and body. We could see the fear and self-consciousness of the critical, the battered and torn self-image of the arrogant, the gaping loneliness of the aloof, and a thousand similar permutations and combinations.
     If we could all see each other inside out . . .

     We would also be exposed, our pride on display, the hatefulness of our hearts hung out for all to see. Our words would be chosen more carefully, our thoughts more completely controlled, for self-control would be rather awkwardly thrust upon us by necessity. There would be no self-righteousness, for it would blaze like a beacon of shame. There would be no hidden lusts, no hidden fears, nor hidden motives for all that we are would be naked and unprotected as a hatchling robin. We would be as readable as a book, and no lying to ourselves or rationalization on our part would change it. Our sin would be undeniably visible as sin, neither ornamented to look nicer nor covered up to be hidden. We would be vulnerable to others and they to us. We would be as the Lord wishes us to be.

     For He does see us all inside out... and He chose to suffer and die for us anyway. He saw the venom behind our carefully-constructed smiles. He heard the bite of sarcasm behind our well wishes. He felt the sting of our sharp words and the anguish of our rejection. He knows us intimately, inside and out, for He knit us together in our mother's wombs. He knows our hurt and our sorrow, our joy and our triumph, and He understands our weakness fully. He alone knows our heart when even we, ourselves, do not. He knows when we are honest and when we lie--even when we are lying to ourselves. He knows every secret desire and each and every sin, for nothing is hidden from His sight. And He gave Himself for us even so.

      How can we, if we are honest with ourselves and if we see our own hearts inside out, how dare we reject Him who loves us despite it all? How can we help but adore Him completely and in our adoration relinquish our pride to Him?  And seeing ourselves so stripped of all forms of justification and pretense--seeing the deceitfulness of our hearts laid bare--how can we fail to look at others with kinder eyes and a more forgiving nature? How can we fail to see them inside out?

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner."
And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you."

And he answered, "Say it, Teacher."

"A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt."
And he said to him, "You have judged rightly."
Luke 7:36-43

     Forgiving Father, please give us eyes to see others as You do and not tainted by our own fallen and often selfish perspective. Open our hearts to love relentlessly, just as You have loved us without regard for race, social standing, or overall wellness. May our gratitude for Your ultimate forgiveness and for Your atoning sacrifice suffuse all that we do, and may we forgive others in the same way You have forgiven us. It is in heartfelt appreciation we submit ourselves to You for refining and for use in Your service however You choose. Your will be done in us, Father, as it is in heaven, amen.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'  Luke 14:16-20

      Just a day or so ago, I was reading through the above passage when something new stood out to me. I realized that the excuses made by the invitees were legitimate excuses, not just a careless brushing off of the feast. Of course, since it was customary to extend invitations early and then a second invitation when all was prepared, we do see that these guests were rather careless in their commitment. They did not mark off the approximate day of the feast but instead went about their business without concern or regard for the invitation.  Still, as we all know life goes on, things come up, and plans change.

     With that in mind, the three excuses mentioned seem really quite reasonable, especially when we consider that two of them pertain to making a living. One man apparently had an obligation to see to a field he had purchased, presumably for planting in order to have food and an income. The other had made an investment in oxen, which were needed for plowing, tilling, and other farm work that was necessary to provide his bread. It seems natural that the pressing needs of provision for one's family would rank higher than an invitation to a party.

     The third man had married a wife, and he was also within Jewish legal bounds, for Deuteronomy 24:5 states that, "When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken." So this man, while not obligated by his business, had a solid reason to stay home with his new wife.

     The problem is not, then, that these guests were brushing their host off for trivial matters. Indeed, they each had matters of great importance to see to. The problem is that this was no ordinary banquet. This parable is told using the banquet as symbol for the Kingdom of God, for the Teller of the tale was always preoccupied with the will of His Father and the glory of His Kingdom. The invited guests in this story were blind to the significance of the Feast, and so by their absorbtion in their earthly lives--jobs, material possessions, the pursuit of happiness--that they politely declined the invitation. Let's take a look at the response of the giver of the feast:
So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'   Luke  14:21-24
     The host, it seems, is not amused by their casual passing over of his carefully prepared and lavish feast. He in turn rejects them and sends instead for the "nobodies," those who have nothing to give, who are rejected and despised because they have no livelihood, who are likely unwashed and uneducated concerning the Law. These who may have never attended any feast will probably have deep gratitude for the amazing act of mercy bestowed upon them.

     The attitude of the first invitees reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting and listening to Jesus while Martha was making preparations for dinner. She became frustrated and asked Him to rebuke Mary for not helping her. Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one things is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her," (see Luke 10:38-42). Those who find themselves busy with their affairs may not wish to "waste" time simply celebrating at the Lord's table. However, those who accept have chosen the good portion.
     If we think carefully about it, this parable of the great banquet offers both warning and encouragement. We are warned that we must not for any reason, however momentous it may seem at the time, neglect the Lord's invitation. It is not dining with Him that is a waste of time, but pursuing that which He will gladly provide if we just trust in Him. We must also not assume that we can  join His Kingdom later but for now we have pressing matters to tend, for we do not know if there will be a later. As J. Harold Smith reminds us, we cannot count on accepting at the 11th hour because we might die at 10:30. Instead, if we receive that invitation, we should humble ourselves and realize that we are poor, blind, and lame, gladly accepting His invitation and with joy flinging aside anything of seeming importance that tries to hold us back.

     For those who are among the spiritually maimed, who feel themselves too crippled, too filthy, too monstrous, or that their garments are too tattered and soiled to attend, it is encouraging to realize that no matter how low our state, the King still invites us to His table--we only need be willing to come. We must not let any spiritual or physical disease nor lack of proper garments keep us from Him, but we must come to Him just as we are. You see, He has invited us with full knowledge of our pitiful state, and He has provided His own righteousness in which to clothe the humble and the willing.

      If He is inviting you, friend, I urge you to accept eagerly with heartfelt gratitude, and to do so immediately. This Banquet is not one to be missed. There is no one so defiled that the sacrifice of the Christ cannot cover it, and so put on Christ with bliss, shrug off the chains of mediocrity that is all the world can offer you, and feast sumptuously with the King of kings, basking in His total forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Will you not accept the good portion that is offered?

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 4, 2012

His Way

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:  
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:5-15
     Here is a reminder from the Lord Himself on prayer. He begins by reminding us not to pray for our own honor and glory--that is, to watch that it is not ourselves we are worshiping with our prayers, but our God. He is not saying that all public forms of prayer are shameful, but only that which draws admiration to the Great Man of Prayer and away from the Great God Who Answers. For if we have intentionally drawn praise from our fellowmen for our eloquent and elaborate prayers, Jesus says that we have received the reward due us already. We have received the fragile and fleeting praise of men. Oh, how just our reward!

     He goes on to say that we must not "heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words."  The phrase translated "do not heap up empty phrases," is in transliterated Greek, "me battologeo," which has a literal meaning something like, "do not babble" or "babble not." So there is a pointlessness to senseless prattling or any use of the tongue absent of thought for the syllables it is pronouncing.

     So then, how should we pray? Jesus says like this:

     "Our Father in heaven. . .:"  recognizing You intimately as a loving Father, yet as different from us as heaven is from the earth.
     ". . .hallowed be your name. . . " for Yours is the Name above all names. We worship and adore You, desiring Your glory, honor, and praise and standing in awe of Your holiness.

     ". . . Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth at is is in heaven. . . " Longing for the advent of Your Kingdom here on earth, we are ever yearning for that Day where Your perfect will holds sway in the hearts of all people just as it does among the "living creatures" who eternally praise You on Your throne (see Revelation 4:8).

     ". . .  Give us this day our daily bread. . . " For You are our Provider and our trust is fully and completely in You. We need food to nourish our bodies and the Bread of Life to nourish our souls, however we do not need to fret but rather we trust You to meet each need that we have as it arises. If our needs do not seem to be met, then we can be assured that either they are not needs after all or that You, our Father, are meeting some more substantial eternal need that our finite, physical minds will be unable to grasp until that Day when we finally see face to face (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

     ". . . and forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. . . "  Because of the overwhelming recognition that You have forgiven us a greater debt in our sins against You than any person could feasibly incur against us, we have forgiven everything that anyone has done against us absolutely, letting it go and eradicating any traces of resentment or bitterness.

     ". . . And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."  We know, Father, that without Your perfect wisdom and guidance, we will stray like so many careless sheep. We rely fully on You to guide us around the many snares and pitfalls the enemy of our souls has set against us, for we are simpleminded and easily taken in by his schemes. When we do take our eyes off You and wander from the narrow path You are leading us on, we need Your power to liberate us from the evil that is born of our own desires (see James 1:14-15).

     Jesus sums this all up by once again stressing the importance of forgiveness with a very clear and unmistakable warning. Talk about a sobering realization for a heart full of resentment!  We can hedge around and justify ourselves all we wish, but the words of Christ are very plain here. We can expect to be forgiven to the precise measure we offer forgiveness. There is no simpler way to put it. The fact that He mentions it twice indicates the importance of that particular point. He really means it, so let us choose to be engulfed by gratitude for His forgiveness and to cancel all debts against us in return.

     Ultimately, as His followers we have a choice. Take Him at his word and surrender everything within us to His will, or nurse our twisted little grievances and so dishonor the work He did as propitiation for us all. We either renounce our will for His, holding the Father as holy and concerning ourselves fully with the work of His kingdom and obedience as to our place in it, or we choose to remain in shameful nakedness, spurning the proffered mantle of righteousness in Christ. We trust Him for provision--even for the ability to forgive--or we choose to lean on our own brittle understanding. We accept His purely wise counsel and government, or we reject them and follow our depraved and deceitful hearts. We allow ourselves to be delivered from evil, or we allow ourselves to be consumed by it.

     God our Father, graciously You have offered freedom and a restored relationship with You, and for that we bow our hearts in worship and in thanksgiving. You are God and King, mighty in power and holy by nature. Cause our hearts to adore You above all things, and help us to let go of worldly pursuits and cling to You instead. May we not accept Your forgiveness and love merely to revel in it, but so that we may pour it out onto others as a thank offering to You. May Your will be done on earth beginning in our hearts and working outward from there as we learn complete obedience and utter surrender to You. Expand Your Kingdom and come quickly, Lord Jesus, that all of the earth may be freed from this bondage to corruption. Protect Your people from evil and so sanctify our hearts that temptation falls to the wayside because of our great love for our King. May we not fall back into depravity but rather stand firm in the freedom that You have already done Your great work to deliver us into. Let it be so, Lord, even to the weakest of us, Your children.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:1-4
     I find this to be a very humbling passage, for it exposes the depth of my pride. If I take these words of my King to heart just as He spoke them, than there can be no excuses, no justification, nor any way I can paint myself in a better light. For how often have I practiced my righteousness before other people? It is shameful to me to recall the many things I did under the banner of the Lord's name when all I truly wanted in my heart was to look like a "good little Christian" to others.
     Painful though it was for me to realize, I am glad to have this wretched thing dragged into the light so that I may recognize it--and avoid it--in the future. My heart's desire is changing, for more and more as I grow older I want to bring my Father glory and let my name lie in the dust where it properly belongs.

"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30

Father, glorify Your name in such a weak, selfish, and ungrateful child as I am. It is for You and You alone I live and breathe, and in You alone is there meaning and reason to live. Forgive my pride and help me to forget myself completely as I abandon all that I am in worship of You. May I no longer worry about what I look like on the outside to others, nor live for praise of men. May I instead be concerned only that You are honored and magnified. Mark me indelibly, that I may never forget to Whom I belong, and fix my gaze steadfastly on You.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.