Monday, December 23, 2013


Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-16

     This Advent season, I seem to see this image superimposed over every manger scene, every sweet and soft newborn baby Jesus. I am not sure why, but this year more than others, my thoughts are filled with the yet future Advent of my Lord and Savior; that glorious Day where He will come as a victorious King to reclaim His own. I love this picture of my Lord. It reminds me of His majesty and His sovereignty. It reminds me that, while He came once before in a lowly state to save, He will come again clothed in glorious power to conquer and overthrow. It reminds me not to take lightly the gift of salvation, not to trifle with the mercy of God. It reminds me that, while He is patient and compassionate, He is still the just and righteous Judge and it is only through His undeserved grace that I may approach His throne at all. 

     So this Christmas, let us take a moment to ponder this Jesus:  He was before all things and through Him all things were created. He is Life and Love and all that is right and good. His is one with the Father and yet, in some inexplicable way, also the Son surrendered to the will of the Father--a mystery that is profound and unknowable precisely because it is the creation's attempt to understand the Creator, a finite mind grasping feebly for the Infinite. He laid aside all glory and power to be born, not to a royal family, but to a poor carpenter and his young bride. He who created speech and physical ability learned to walk and talk and feed Himself. He grew and He endured all temptation, and yet He did not fall into sin but kept Himself unstained and pure; a perfect reflection of the Father in human flesh. 

     He went to school and surprised His teachers at the depth and intricacy of His knowledge and wisdom in the Scripture. He was baptized by John who recognized Him and would soon be sought after by multitudes who did not. He was tempted directly by Satan alone in the wilderness yet still remained without sin and blemish. He became a Rabbi and made a distinct breech with tradition by choosing His own followers. He preached, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand," and He healed the sick, the lame, the leprous, and cast out demons. He raised the dead. Everywhere He went, lives were changed and lines were drawn, for some hated and despised Him while others loved Him and followed Him. He forgave sin and in doing so enraged further the religious leaders of the day. He was not a rebel, however, for He obeyed the authorities and observed all the Law as given to Moses. In fact, He fulfilled it to the uttermost. He taught His 12 disciples diligently. He was accused of blaspheming, but He was not a blasphemer for He was, indeed, the Son of God. He was Emmanuel--God With Us. 

     At the proper time, according to the Scriptures, He submitted to arrest, torture, and even the shame of crucifixion. As the spotless Lamb of God, He refused to take up the authority that was His to wield and instead submitted to death as a ransom for our sins, as the once and forever perfect Passover sacrifice. He rose again on the third day. He appeared to many, and then He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. He sent His Holy Spirit--the Comforter--to be with His followers and to guide, to convict, to instruct, and to teach the people of God. Centuries later, He has followers, though many claim to love Him and yet do not seek His face or His will for their lives. Many more reject Him, and the times and the seasons grow darker and darker as the father of sin seems to have an unrelenting grip on this world. 

      And yet, the story is not over. One day, no one but the Father knows when, the Messiah will come again. By His death, He paid the price of the title deed to Earth and He will come to lay His claim once more. For now, the prince of the powers of the air freely wreaks havoc, but he is feverish in his attempts to destroy for he knows his time is limited. When the rightful King comes again, that will be the beginning of the end for the evil one. And He will come! He will come to the heralding trumpets and in authority, and the story will end in joy and victory for God and for all those who love His appointed King!

      This Christmas, I rejoice that my Lord and Savior is worthy of my worship, and that He has not left or forsaken His own but has given us His Spirit to keep us humble and steadfast and to help us remain faithful until the end. I see Him and I am ashamed and humbled, for I deserve not even a glimpse of his feet as He passes by while I lie with my face in the dust.  I see Him and I am filled with joy because He does not despise a broken and contrite heart and has lifted my head. Even now, He is sanctifying and preparing me and my brothers and sisters to meet Him on that Day. He is my Redeemer and He is my Ruler. He came as a babe but He is mighty beyond compare or imagining. This Christmas, I eagerly anticipate the future coming of the King!

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.. . " 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever... 
 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. 
Revelation 17:14, 22:1-5, 20-21

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Looking for the King

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." 
Luke 2:21-24

     This month in my little 2-year-old Sunday school class, we are looking at Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus into the temple to fulfill the requirements of the Law as given to Moses for Mary's purification. As I read and retold the story to my little people, there are two facets that stood out to me strongly. The first comes in the above passage: "...a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

     I don't know why it stood out to me this time over others, but I realized that not only was my King born in a stable with a bed of scratchy straw surrounded by the less-than-pleasing aromas of sheep and goats, but His earthly parents fulfilled the sacrifice of Mary's purification with the only thing they could afford: a couple of pigeons. If you look back into the Levitical law (found in Leviticus 12:6-8), you will find that the sacrifice of two birds is a provision for those who could not afford both a lamb and a bird. Joseph and Mary, then, were not well-off, for they could not even afford a lamb for her purification after the birth of the Lamb of God. Humble beginnings for the King of kings and the One through whom all things were created.

      The next point struck me even more so than the first. Let's continue to look at this Scripture:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:25-35
      Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of the trappings of royalty, this man, Simeon, recognized the King and praised God for Him. I wonder, do I recognize Him when He speaks subtly into my life? Do I hear His voice above all the clamor? Simeon was at the temple to worship, a point I can't help but note. It reminds me to be alert for the presence of God and not just caught up in good music or positive feelings. It reminds me to ask: Do I search for the King in His humility or am I wooed away from actual worship of Him by other distractions?  Particularly during the season of Advent, am I keeping my whole being in a state of eager anticipation of the arrival of the King as Simeon was? For at Advent, I am not only looking back to His first arrival on earth, but also forward to the great Day He will come and reclaim His own. May it be that He finds His Bride prepared and ready when He comes!

     As I ruminate on this, I fear sometimes that in our modern worship, we have allowed buildings or music or  programs or equipment or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools of modern worship to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King. Even more so at Christmastime when we are celebrating His birth, we are often more caught up in presents, tinsel,  gift cards, and baking rather than caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating. Don't get me wrong--I love worship services and music, and I love Christmas. It's just that every year I have to ask myself if I am seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities.  I sincerely hope that I am not found sitting in a place of worship or celebrating His birth,  yet overlook Him in the midst of it! I hope that I, like Simeon, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Godly Grief

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 
2 Corinthians 7:9-11
     Oh, how much time I have wasted in my past with worldly grief! At one point in my life, a point before Christ, I was consumed by it. I felt an enormous weight of guilt and shame for things I had done, but rather than driving me away from the deeds that perpetuated such feelings, I felt too powerless and too stained to escape from them. I had grief, but it was a hideously twisted thing that poisoned my days and stunted my reason.

     There is another aspect of the worldly grief that I have seen (and probably exhibited at times)--the false grief that says, "I'm sorry," and yet does not cease the action that prompted the somewhat automatic, empty response. This is not true grief, not brokenness, but just an expected reaction meant to soothe the one wronged without any genuine concern or desire for reconciliation. This is a worldly grief that is a smokescreen; a facade to hide something mean and ignoble behind.

     Then there is the Godly grief--the grief I experienced when I first truly began to understand the weight of what Jesus did. This is the grief that was heavier even than my crushing burden of shame and guilt--weightier because I finally understood that my worldly shame was self-directed (shame because I had shamed myself) whereas my new, Godly grief was due to the excruciating fact that I would treat so heinously the One who forgave the unforgivable in me.

    The full realization of this is tremendous, for it is paradoxically as simple as "Jesus died in my stead," and yet infinitely more grave and far-reaching. It embodies an understanding of His holiness; the power and glory He willingly laid aside; the fact that it was not our recalcitrance that prompted His great act of rescue, but rather our stubborn, self-willed refusal to obey--the fact that we were hopelessly doomed to die without intervention, so steeped were we in sin. How many of us will not only forgive someone who has hurt us willingly, but will go out of our way to recompense the damages made to ourselves on their behalf--paying for their crime and exonerating them of all guilt even as they continue to cause us injury? It is incredibly humbling for me to realize that is precisely what Jesus did for me. But not just for me. It is what He calls me to do for others.

     Through meditation and reflection on His goodness, holiness, and reality, He has produced within me a Godly grief--a grief that I would ever have chosen to sin against One who epitomizes grace, forgiveness, and selfless sacrifice. As I walk through this process of sanctification with Him, He is constantly exposing to me deeper and more subtle areas where I am not completely surrendered to Him. Today, I find myself sorrowful over the many times I have stopped serving someone because I felt that I was taken advantage of by them. Even if I have been taken advantage of and my sense of being used is legitimate, so what? Have I not taken abundant advantage of the totally undeserved grace and mercy that God extended to me through Christ? Why, then, do I think myself so important that I should not be taken advantage of? This revelation does produce a sorrow in me--not a dragging burden of guilt nor a lip-service expression of apology but a keen and true grief; grief not that I have slighted another but that I have been guilty as the indebted servant in Matthew 18:22-35. I have gratefully accepted the mercy of my Master, yet I have been stingy in extending such mercy to others. I am grieved that I would treat the gifts of such an honorable and compassionate King in such a detestable way. The grief is truly Godly grief, for it is grief that I would dare to esteem so lightly the inconceivable affections of the Ever-Existent One.

     This is merely one area in which God is working on me--one of many, I assure you, for Godly grief has began t
o permeate my life. I have experienced those things which Paul wrote about: the indignation, zeal, eagerness to clear myself, and I have felt the sting of punishment from which I have, in actuality, been spared--the sting that comes of knowing that One undeserving  has borne the lash in my stead. It is a spur that will not allow me to rest in sin once I am aware of it; a goad to prompt me to continue to press forward, for allowing Him to change me is the least I can do in return for His astonishing sacrifice. I can never earn it, but I can feel forever the depth of my debt and a passionate depth of gratitude that prompts me to an ever-increasing desire to do His will. I can never repay, but I can certainly live my life in such a way to honor His gift.

     This repentance-producing grief  is a grief, piercing and poignant, yet it is not the type of sorrow that weighs down and destroys. It is the pain of necessary surgery that ushers in a more complete healing, the ache of strenuous exercise which leads to greater fitness, the pangs of labor which leads to the exhilaration of birth. It is not a sorrow leading to death, but to an overflow of life and gladness. It is the bitter night before the the joyous dawn.

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. John 15:10-11

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not Too High

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. 
Psalms 131:1-3
      I admit it: These words are not often ones that would accurately describe my state of mind. Sometimes I find myself over my head in waters into which I never should have ventured. I wrestle with problems that are in actuality someone else's battle, or I feel unease over situations that I could not hope to influence even if given a chance. I worry. I fret. I feel dismay.

     At such times, my Father reminds me of His goodness and sovereignty... and of how little I really am, how myopic is my own understanding, how puny my wisdom. I am once again reminded that I am His child. I can almost feel His unyielding grasp lifting my chin and forcing my eyes away from the whirlwind problems that have held my attention, firmly and inexorably drawing my wayward focus back to the contemplation of His face. It is on Him alone that my energies should rightly be bent; in ruminating on His majesty and the endless wonders of His mercy.

      In humility, I have to confess there are far too many times where I have allowed my thoughts to drift away from gratitude for my Father's gifts to peevishness because I do not have things quite my way; far too many times that I have made that subtle mental shift from prayerful decision-making on how I should personally respond to unGodly cultural trends to fretful anxiety over the fact that these trends have wound tendrils into the very structure of the Church itself.

      Let me state for the record that I understand that this infiltration of the world into the Church is a tremendous problem. It is definitely not something that I need to embrace or accept or even overlook. However, while it is a considerable problem, it is not necessarily my problem. I am absolutely called to be alert to it and to pray diligently for the Church, to stand firm against the schemes of the devil when they rise in attempt to thwart my walk or that of my children. However, I am not personally responsible for the response of entire congregations. It is not my exclusive duty to keep the world out of the Church, nor would I succeed in such an endeavor if I do not begin by first keeping the world out of my heart.
     Here is epitomized the deadly subtlety of Satan's slippery schemes laid like mines along the Narrow Road: In looking at the encroachment of sin on one hand, I fall into a different sin by allowing acknowledgement of a problem to become agitation and distracting disquietude. It is a simple matter of focus, and quite simply my focus should be on the Lord and not the problems that eddy and swirl around me no matter how deep the water or strong the current. There will always be storms. He is ever and always the Master over the storms. Peering around me, I will never find rest. When I gaze upon His face, I am filled with peace for He is my Resting Place.

     It is often difficult to navigate this modern climate, this increasingly darkening path, this great societal push to relabel sin as "choice" or "personality trait" or "lifestyle" or "inclination." and thus attempt to avoid facing it. It is impossible if the whole of my focus is not firmly on my God, the God Who provides light for the step I am taking without illuminating the whole path so I am ever reminded of my need to stay near Him; the God Who is always right at my shoulder whispering, "This is the way; walk in it," when there is a fork in the path. It is difficult, too, to fight the internal battle between my will to put on a charade of seeming Godliness that is all about appearances and His will to submit fully and without reserve to Him no matter what it looks like to others. I must remind myself constantly that changing the label will not change the nature of the thing. . .  nor will it change the ultimate consequence.

     I can call my worry "reasonable concern," or I can recognize it as fear and failure to trust that God is in control and repent. I can continue to excuse my harsh words to my children as a result of fatigue or pain, or I can accept responsibility for my wrongs and turn my grumbling into gratitude and praise, even despite my feelings. I can try to redirect attention from selfish motives by clothing them as pious and spiritual actions, or I can beg God's forgiveness for trampling His courts and admit that the outward appearance can not fix the decay within and bow myself in genuine contrition. I can gloss over my sin, or I can agree with God on what it is, leave it behind me, and turn to Him for refuge, forgiveness, and strength.

     When I step back and look at it in those terms, it seems so childish of me to play pretend that such obvious offal is something elegant or appealing -- Like dressing up an orangutan as a dinner date! Neither one is a recipe for a peaceful, joyful time. Now that I've mulled it over, I think I'll keep my eyes lowered, my thoughts from pondering too long the ways of the world, and my heart fixed steadfastly on my great and merciful God. He is enough!
For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God--his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?-- the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great. You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. 
Psalms 18:27-36



Wednesday, November 6, 2013


I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 
Revelation 3:15-19

     With the modern church cry of, "Be authentic!" ringing in my ears, I have taken some time to search my heart and pray for God to help me to be authentically humble, honest about my sin, and genuine in my repentance. As I have done this, He has brought to my attention how easily I have often slid into the trap of focusing on my failures and weaknesses under the guise of authenticity rather than focusing on His power to redeem and deliver. I was ashamed of this realization and am in the ongoing process of repentance. It is where I hope to spend the remainder of my life on earth: prayerfully asking the Spirit of God to search my heart, expose my sin, and convict me to repent and turn to His glorious grace.

     These thoughts and experiences have led me to wonder. As the Church, when we talk of being authentic, what exactly do we mean? Do we try to manufacture "authenticity" by putting on a costume to reach young people or stylizing our sanctuaries to look more "real-life" than the traditional pews and pulpit (and when we do, is our money authentically used for Kingdom purpose or is it spent for fashion or strategy? And if the latter is the case, are hearts and lives changed through style?)

    Worse yet, I wonder if we are authentic but worldly, promoting not humility and repentance but smug acceptance of sin? Are we authentically accepting sin as a way of life, or are we authentically accepting the gift of Christ's atoning death as a way to die to ourselves and live to God, set free from the power of sin? Are we authentically zealous for, committed to, and humbled by the Holy Spirit? Are we authentically indulging in friendship with the world which James tells us is "enmity towards God," or are we authentically willing to let go of everything--our reputations, the acceptance of man, our comforts and conveniences-- for the sake of Christ, to live as if all else is rubbish but Him. Are we willing to authentically die to ourselves to follow Him?

     I don't know the answers. What I do know is that if our authenticity is mere worldliness couched in an edgy, modern-churchy package, we will not reach the world for Christ. We will not make genuine disciples if we are not, ourselves, genuine disciples. If we are not authentically standing firm on our convictions, willing to forsake any and even all things for the sake of the Kingdom of God should He require it of us, then we are not authentically denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Him. If we are not faithfully and truthfully responding to the "minor" convictions of the Holy Spirit, then all our proud words will find us incapable of being faithful when the greater tests stand in our way.

     As I search my own heart for what I am authentic about, I find that there have been times I have denied the genuine power of the Holy Spirit in my life; times God has convicted me of "small" sins such as negative speech about my children or complaining of health struggles or some such thing for the sake of appearing "authentic" to my friends. Rather than the genuine example of grace God wanted to do in me, changing my complaints into praise or my bitter words into words bringing life and healing, I actually quenched the movement of the Spirit within me for fear of appearing "inauthentic." Sadly, I was less authentic then, unleashing torrents of spite and bile about my various little complaints and remaining someone I did not wish to remain being. God abandoned me to this for a season, allowing me to experience for myself the proverb, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."  That fruit was authentically abhorrent.

     Today, I find am authentically grateful for a God who allows me to feel the weight of sin so that, when He exposes it, I will be ready to release it. I am authentically hopeful that when people look at me, they will see genuine and undeniable change; the true and limitless power of God which knows no social boundaries and follows no cultural trends. I am authentically willing to let my own preferences die for His sake. I am also authentically willing to change my patterns of speech, thought, and the very course of my life to bring Him greater glory, forsaking negative words or complaining even if it appears inauthentic to others and asking for forgiveness when I slip and indulge that pet iniquity of mine.  I will truthfully think of these things as sin when they appear in my life and no longer try to gloss them over as "venting" or "letting off steam."

     I will not worry about trying to look perfect, nor will I worry that I look too perfect to others to seem real. Instead, I long to be genuine in my devotion to my God, authentic in standing firm on what He has convicted me (even the little things), and true to the calling He has on my life. What I long to be and pray that He will give me the grace to become is a genuine disciple, dedicated in zeal to His purposes quite despite myself, my appearance to others, or my preferences. It is my prayer that God will lead me, as David penned, "on paths of righteousness for His name's sake..." and that I will diligently follow Him as He leads.

     It is also my prayer that we, the Church, would see less authentic embracing of worldly standards and more authentic humility, repentance, and honesty about our sin and our need for God. My heart's desire is to see genuine, heartfelt, and sweeping revival; to see a return of focus on and true worship of God. I am still not sure what this will look like, exactly. At the moment--and I could very well be wrong here--I am not entirely sure it has anything to do with engaging our culture, but rather that we need to be engaging our own hearts openly before the mighty Throne of Grace and willingly allowing God to define what is and is not good, what is and is not acceptable, what is and is not of Him. It will look less like a well-thought-out strategy for reaching those outside of church culture and more like brokenness, sorrow over sin, and repentance that leads to an unstoppable outpouring of worship. What we need is not to be authentically ourselves, but to feel an authentic longing for God that is keener and more consuming than physical hunger and thirst, to live authentically transformed lives that do not conform to this world. What we need are authentic disciples and lovers of God.

     Lord, please continue to shape me into a genuine disciple, never allowing me to be satisfied with status quo but always desiring to deepen my commitment to You, to genuinely confess my sin and turn away from it, to authentically be wholly devoted to You no matter the cost to me. Forgive me when I falter in this pursuit and increase my little faith. Light a fire in my heart that the world can neither contain nor smother, and may Your name be glorified by my life... or by my death. Light a fire in Your Church, too, and shake us and wake us up from our lethargy. Start with me: with my sins, making my heart authentically contrite and transforming my life into a life of authentic repentance. This I ask in the name of Jesus, my King, and for His eternal and unquenchable glory, amen. 
 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 
Psalms 51:1-4, 10-17


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Just Doing my Job

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 6:5-7
     These words sum up God's calling on my life, my primary ministry, and the reason for my current occupation. This was something He has whispered to me through the years, reminding me time and again what it is He wants me to do.Slow student that I am, it is only now--approximately half-way through my homeschool journey--that I am starting to truly see what it looks like lived out in my real life.

     As I look into this commission from the Lord, I see that my priorities have often been out of line with His. Often, I have thought of my  home school as another part of my job and not THE job. I have tried to keep up with the duties that have been mine since my husband and I first decided that I should stay home with the children, that is to say, the typical duties of a stay-at-home mom. For years, I also tried to keep up with ministry opportunities, particularly in helping other people by watching their children when needed.

     I have to stop here and say that I still do this, however, I have finally learned that I do not need to say "yes" every single time a person asks me. I need to go before God, Who is my employer, and ask Him what He would have me do. If His answer is "Yes," so is mine, but likewise if He replies, "No."  For some reason, this has not been easy for me. I suppose it is pride, really, if I have to name it. The greatest conflict for me, however, is probably the thing I am doing right now. I have felt called of God to continue writing, and every time I have entertained the idea of giving it up, He has reaffirmed His command and I find I cannot. Sometimes the two callings have seemed conflicting to me, at least until I finally sat down and listened to my Lord.

    You see, it is not what I do that has been the greatest problem. What God has revealed to me is that my heart attitudes have been incorrect. Often, instead of seeing every other task (including writing) as secondary to my primary job as a home-schooler, I have often looked at school as almost an interruption of my duties. I have even been known to try to write during school hours while the children were working independently, which is not wrong in itself, of course. My iniquity occurs when the kids need help and I would snap,"Just a second!" and finish my thought instead of dropping the thread to help them. Friends, could you imagine hearing that your child's teacher was irritated when she had to teach? It wasn't until I saw it that clearly that I was humbled enough to let God determine the whens as well as the whats of my schedule. There is nothing so important that I need to write--I am just hashing out my own spiritual journey and "thinking out loud," or at least digitally. However, for this season my kids do need me, and they need me available as a teacher. To balance both callings is not so hard, really. It is a matter of allowing God to prioritize my time and not trying to do it all.

     The real turnaround came for me when it finally dawned on me that I was not treating my job like a job. Because I was "just" homeschooling, I allowed myself to feel inadequate. I felt that I had to say, "Yes" to others because I wasn't "really" doing anything. However, this honestly dishonored my Employer. If I had a "real" job and worked outside the home for money, I would treat my work environment very differently.  What did that say about my understanding of my calling, then? I was sobered when I realized it said more about my belief in God than anything else. Worse, I realized that if I really loved Him with "all my heart and all my soul and all my might," obedience would be a no-brainer, for I would fall over myself to obey though I looked like a fool to all the world because of it. No, sadly, I was too aware of my own "rights" and my personal priority list to allow God's to take precedent. I wanted to serve Him, but I still wanted to put parameters on it. I had to truly humble my heart before Him and beg for greater love so that I could love Him more. Thankfully, His answer was a "yes."

     Needless to say, I am now learning to say, "no," when I need to and to let my other duties to take a backseat to school--even when each school day for our entire first quarter took up all the hours between 8:30 and 4:30 or later! My resolve was tested at the beginning of this year (and I am sure it will be again,) however praise be to God and by His mercy only, I managed to keep school the main focus--and I am seeing better attitudes about work from each of my kids because of it. What a joy!

    With the writing, I fight the same feeling. I am not doing it for a "real" reason. There is no payment, no reward for me. However, I am again reminded that reward is not the point of a calling; it is obedience. I am not called to write for accolades, nor for my glory, but for His. I can only hope I do honor that. Sometimes I am merely thinking through an issue, at other times I want to share strong personal convictions or how God has humbled my stubborn, proud heart on a matter. Sometimes it is something that I have learned from His Word that I passionately want to share with others. The process and the results, I admit, can be frustrating, and I often feel like a freak--or rather that my freakishness is out there for all the world to see if they wanted to look. Still, when I want to quit, He reminds me on this count as in my home school that I am not doing it for personal gain, nor am I doing it for comfort, nor for renown or even for self help. I am doing it because He told me to. Period.

     And this year so far, I am finding that that is reason enough. In simple obedience without extras, I have discovered tangible, vast, and indescribable joy. Did I say for no reward? Silly girl! There is nothing on earth greater than the undeserved Reward I have already been given!

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 
Psalms 73:21-26

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I Hate Halloween

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 
Philippians 4:8
  There are some holidays that I just can't get my head around. Halloween is one of these. Through the years, I have grappled with this autumn marketing nightmare of a manufactured holiday. I have researched the beginnings and found negligible and inconclusive references to the medieval Catholic custom of All Saint's Day on November first (of which the word "Hallowe'en" would be a contraction of All Hallow's Even referring to the evening before) and to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain.  In neither case--the end of summer feast nor the day of prayer for the martyrs of the Church--do I see anything resembling the harvest-time debacle celebrated today with haunted houses, costumes that have become more elaborate as I have grown older, and mountains of candy. All in all, I am not really sure why I dislike this holiday so much, but this year I have taken some time to ponder my reasons.

     Perhaps it is the simple fact that I sometimes get the feeling some forgotten economist in our nation's history sat around and cooked up holidays to stimulate the market in lagging months. I feel the same about Valentine's day quite despite the fact that the late-winter candyfest celebrates love rather than all things gruesome and rotting, though that is a rant for another day. Perhaps this is not the case, but I do know that what once was a relatively minor event in which moms would slap a worn sheet or a ten-cent set of plastic teeth and grandma's old faux fur coat on their kids and send them out to collect candy has now become a major merchandising spree with all stores sporting a variety of black and orange candies, dishes, and a dizzying display of costumes ranging from fairly simple to incredibly elaborate--and expensive.

     Then again, it may be my abhorrence of all things ghoulish. It's not that I think others are wrong for enjoying the ghastly and the macabre, but I personally do not find pleasure in them. To me, it is an annual reminder of pre-Christ fascinations for which I am now ashamed. You see, in my youth before I knew the Lord, I had an interest in the occult, I read about the wicca, I toyed with Ouija boards. I was genuinely innocent, not really believing in such things but I did have a sort of morbid interest in the possibility of a spiritual realm beyond what I could see. During these months, I had a handful of encounters that shook me, including one where a random man whom I had never met walked up to me with a knowing look in his eye and handed me the card of a wiccan high priest.He was gone when I looked up from reading the card. There were other occurrences that I would rather not bring up, but suffice to say that in those few but closely-timed events, the mask of this world slipped and I saw that there was a very real, very present spiritual element behind the shiny surface of the American dream.

     Fortunately, my naivete was so great that these things conspired not to draw me in but to cause me to reject the darkness vehemently and began the process that opened my eyes and heart to my Lord Christ. I cannot claim any merit of my own for this, only that the Lord had designs on my life and used my youthful interest to awaken me to a greater reality. This is why, when I finally came to Christ on my knees and broken that I had even entertained the thought of dabbling in things so vile, I had absolutely no trouble accepting the fact that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness..."  For me, this was not a poetic description but a gritty reality. I had seen those spiritual forces of wickedness, faces leering at me, smug in their certainty that I would come as they beckoned.

     The fact is, there is an actual evil stalking this world today. It can be seen murdering babies in the womb in the name of convenience and in the "you deserve it" mentality of self-gratification. It is found in children's programming that champions disrespectful and selfish attitudes and in adult programs that endorse negative thinking towards spouses or children. It is evident as abuse in the guise of disciplinary action and lurks behind the lack of any confrontation or discipline for wrong behavior or the refusal to accept responsibility for sin. It gnaws the face off a homeless man, and it quietly swindles elderly widows, sometimes even in the name of Jesus Christ. It is both brutal and subtle, shocking and silent. It displays itself brazenly in hideous, revolting ways and it dazzles and confounds with a slyly handsome facade.

     Evil is a reality, and I simply do not wish to parody or play with it in any way, nor do I wish my children to be desensitized to it in even a small degree. Halloween reminds me of the gruesome realities of the greater spiritual battle that we face each morning both out in the world and within our own hearts. It makes me sorrowful for all those who are yet deceived as I once was, lulled into complacency and unaware of the spiritual battle that rages around them. It reminds me that I am the chief of sinners, once rejecting and mocking the King who died as a substitute for me. I am humbled and grateful at the extent of His forgiveness, and because of it I have no wish to revisit in even the most playful or lighthearted way the darkness of my past.

     I want to be clear: I cast no judgement upon others who find enjoyment in haunted houses and zombie makeup. Perhaps it is simply that my faith is too small for me to enjoy these things. . . I am fine with admitting that, for I have not yet moved a mountain nor caused a tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. There is nothing in my life to point to a mighty or an earth-shaking faith, and I certainly do not think more highly of myself because I choose not to participate in the October 31 festivities. I simply do not enjoy them in the slightest, and this little rant is merely a partial summary of my reasons. I do not need reminders of the evil in this world. I am far too weak, and such things only trigger anxiety. Each year I have dreaded the day, and our family has done everything from participate in ministry outreaches such as "mugging" houses (giving candy and a mug instead of taking candy--one of my favorite Halloweens ever) to renting a hotel room and going swimming at the indoor pool. Whatever we end up doing each year, I do know that I would much prefer to avoid all that is fearsome and ghoulish and keep my mind fixed instead on all that is good and just and pure and holy--on the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Only enveloped in His presence do I find hope, joy, and peace. And that, my friends, is precisely where I want to be.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 
1 Timothy 1:12-17

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."
          Acts 2:37-40
       I wonder sometimes, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if we do not often mistake good music or even our own jubilant mood for the movement of the Holy Spirit. I say this only because I have heard words like, "I really felt the Spirit moving during worship today!" on a Sunday when the band or worship team was particularly well-tuned. I have also heard it said that, "I could never worship there--the music is terrible!" These are only two examples of a myriad that I have picked up in conversations here and there throughout the years, but all such statements have left me with a sense of disquiet.

     For I have to say, I have personally felt the joyous weight of the Holy Spirit in my life and these intense movements occur less often during a corporate worship gathering than some of these speakers might imagine. Even during corporate worship, the music or the preaching has little to do with the Spirit working within my heart--and often the work of the Spirit is intensely uncomfortable, driving me to repentance and sorrow that I have sinned against the Man who ransomed my life mingled with a joy that He would even take note of me at all, much less die for me. I think if we truly felt the Spirit moving, we would be different people altogether--changed utterly and lastingly and not a mere emotional high that fades with the music and the return of the hum-drum of daily living.
     Neither do I think the blame for the inability to worship lies in the laps of either the worship teams or the preachers. If I can only worship in certain conditions, it is a reflection of the state of my heart rather than a reflection on my environment, for true worship wells up within and spills out regardless of what is going on around on the outside. I have had the perfect worship environment and yet found my heart to be cold and listless. On the contrary, I have been in places where there was no music at all when worship spontaneously erupted from me. Such times include doing menial work around the house or yard, walking my dogs, praying or reading the Word, and even incongruously during times of deep sadness or heartache. I have also had very excellent times of worship in the traditional models of churches that many of my peers would deem "dead," as well as during liturgical services where I had been invited as someone's guest. True and genuine worship, I have found, has mostly to do with the focus of my mind and heart and less to do with the external trappings of church services. True worship goes on throughout the week and leaves me eager to find what God will say to me the next morning and the next... and even able to be patient when He seems silent for a time, anticipating with joy the next time He should choose to speak.

     As I  have read through Scripture, I have also noted that the movement of the Holy Spirit always brought two main things: repentance and joy. Genuine repentance brings joy, and true joy is borne out of a contrite heart. There are many other things that we see in the Word: Great power and boldness, healing and even spontaneous ability to speak in other languages so that foreigners could hear the Gospel preached. In all cases, however, these things brought about repentance and a renewing of passionate love and zeal for God, sometimes bringing in large numbers of people and at other times only a single person or family.  This is the sort of revival I long to see today--this revival that goes beyond discussion and head knowledge of the word to changed hearts and changed lifestyles all for the love of the glory of the Lord.

     I have been ruminating on both of these subjects recently, even more intensely since my last trek through the dark valleys that God used to bring about genuine revival in my own heart. It has weighed heavily upon me since then to plead for continued revival, not only of my heart but in the hearts of my children, my family, my church, and my nation. If you are reading this, I pray that God would revive your heart, too, beloved. I pray that You would see Him in all His splendor and glory--or as much as a finite mind can handle--and that you would see that He is worthy of any and all sacrifice. I pray that you will be unafraid to come to Him, unafraid to lay down every aspect of your life within and without and experience the wonder of His healing and the joy of serving Him. I pray that there is nothing you would hold back, for my friend, I promise you that there is nothing on this earth that compares with Christ. When you fall head over heels for Him, it will not seem that He is making you give up certain things you hold dear. Rather, you will forget all about them in the all-consuming wonder of His mercy and grace.

     Lord, bring about a true revival of Your people today and through those changed lives draw many more into Your glorious Presence to accept the salvation freely offered by Your Son. May we be willing and unafraid to change our lives completely as You guide us. Bring purity to bear in us, even to the most private of our thoughts or the most carefully guarded desires of our hearts. Be our focus, be our King, be our everything.Increase our love for You and Your Word until it overwhelms and colors every other aspect of our lives. We ask this in Your name and for Your glory, amen. 

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.' As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'" Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 
Hebrews 3:7-14

Friday, October 4, 2013

New Life

    A Psalm of David. Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge! Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble! And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant. Psalms 143:1-12

 Just days ago, I was afforded an opportunity to visit with an old and cherished friend whom I have not seen in a few years. What a store of memories were brought back by that simple visit! My wedding, the births of my daughters, the birth of her son, days of long talks and open schedules, trips to the zoo... These are the memories of a life just beginning, a focusing of my efforts and the efforts of my husband into one and of the beginning of our journey as a family.

     Not all the memories were happy ones, however, as both her life and mine have held their share of grief and pain, not the least of which is my friend's loss of her husband and the father of her handsome young son, a man I will call S.  It is a loss that brings sorrow, for he is still alive and yet he is lost in the truest sense of the word-- lost in a dark valley of pain. He is a captive in chains made from links forged by others during his childhood. The heaviest burdens he carries, however, are those links forged by his own hands; heavy cords of despair that have caused him to flee all he has known, even changing his name in an effort to escape his bonds. This makes me weep, for I, too, have felt that pain. I know what it is like to suffer under the weight of my own bad decisions, to feel trapped inside a prison of flesh from which there really is no acceptable method of escape.

      The loss of him pains my family, too, because he was my husband's best man and the one who gave my man a leg up in the business that now funds our homeschool and has provided me the ability to stay home and train my children as a full-time job. This man was a beloved friend, but we were young and at the time did not know the value of expressing love. His parting tore our hearts in addition to the fracturing of his family unit, but for years all of that emotion was swept aside in the business of raising and feeding our own family. Our friend, too, has been kept busy trying to provide for her son, working to raise and train him with the added burden of helping provide a relationship with his distant but interested father, and the years have crept silently up between us. It was good to reconnect; good to begin to sift those old memories.

      As I have reflected on all that has passed and all the time in between, my mind drifts to ruminations of my life before Christ. For when we lived next door to S., even before my dear friend came into our lives, I was a captive in chains of my own making. I was a prisoner of my own poor decisions. I was in a dark and lonesome valley of suffering, and for the most part I had walked blithely into that valley fully embracing the moral norms of today, the "try before you buy" philosophy for dating and marriage and the sound-seeming advice of  "follow your heart." The problem was that my heart was a mess, and so I was following an ever-fluctuating and fickle thread that led me unfailingly into deeper and deeper problems. It was here that I met S., pregnant and unwed and at the very bottom of the chasm into which my heart had led me.

     It was not long after I met my husband and S. that he met the woman I now know as a friend, a woman who was soon to take pictures at my wedding, bail me out of a couple of medical disasters, and stick with us through her own tumultuous marriage, childbirth, and divorce. Somewhere in the chaos of our two lives, I picked up and read the Bible for myself with my first heartfelt prayer on my lips: "God, if You are there, You will have to make me believe because I don't." He did, and in the course of reading that wonderful Book I found myself often in tears asking Him why He would do this or that until suddenly one day I realized I had been talking with Him. Belief was no longer an issue, and over time He revealed more to me than I could ever have dreamed. But that is another story for another time. My friend's life and mine took paths that would seldom cross over the next few years, but during one of those crossings I had the great joy of sharing my faith with her and of seeing her begin to walk with the Lord in her own life journey.

     Before I drop the thread of my past entirely, I would like to add an aside...  It is more than a little ironic that I, who once rejected God and "religion" as being for the weak and simple, now find that fact to be utterly true. It was in trying to prove my strength that I found how pitiful it was; in trying to prove my wisdom that I found it, too, to be wispy and frail. God is for the weak--that is precisely the beauty of Him, for all of mankind is weaker than they like to believe. It takes one natural disaster, one vehicle accident, one fell disease, one bout with cancer or the like to rip through the armor of our strength and wealth and expose the small and fearful being trembling inside. But He came to save the weak, downtrodden, and brokenhearted and so our weakness is good news indeed! He came to give us, not only a new life, but His life--the very essence of life, the very substance of love. It is true: on my own I am fragile and powerless. In Christ alone am I strong; not of my own merit but His power working within me, making me new.
     Today, as I look back,. my heart is full of fondness for my friend and for her young son and gratitude that, though several years slipped by in between visits, we can still come together as friends, and I look forward to the sharing and catching up that we will do in the future. I look forward to our children playing together and enjoying one another. And I pray... S. has recently reached out to my husband after a vast gulf of time during which we thought he had turned his back on us forever. Now my prayer is that my friend's patient compassion with him and his son's love for him will draw him. I pray that the tenuous and tentative contact he has made with my husband will develop into a renewal of friendship.  Most earnestly, however, I pray that this man will find, as I did, that he is helpless before the relentless crush of time. I pray that he can recognize his inability to change the passing days and in his weakness he will finally and truly cry out and find that there is One strong enough to rescue him, One whose light will illuminate the darkest corner, One whose sacrifice was enough to pay the ransom for the most grievous misdeeds. I pray that he will find forgiveness, healing, and a new life as I once did. For in Christ, one can truly cast off the stains and grime of the past forever, putting on a fully changed, pristine new life in its stead.

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope... 
Psalms 130:3-5

Sunday, September 22, 2013

No Greater Gift

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 
Hebrews 10:14-31
     Wow. That is a sobering thought. On one hand, I want to laugh and weep and shout for joy because the hefty cost of my sin has been paid; finally, fully, and for all time. I am not longer obliged to continually make sacrifice after sacrifice for my sins, for my staggering debt is canceled in Christ. As the hymn says, "Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe." It is a good thing to be forgiven; a freeing thing.

     However, when I spend a silent moment thinking back on all the times I have misused others or thought myself wise or nursed my own wounded feelings or innumerable other ways I have placed myself first before God and others, I am astonished that He would even bother to stain His purity to pay the debt of my stingy, crude, and self-serving soul. Even after I accepted His Lordship in my life, I have strayed--a fact which sickens me in my moments of clarity but which also seems oh, so reasonable in the heat of the emotion or the circumstance. In fact, the very meanness and pettiness of my emotions are exposed in the face of such noble compassion, and I find I want to sob with shame that at one time in my life, I rejected Him Who is so much more worthy of my love and devotion than I am of His. I am so grateful that He did not give up on me then.

     Even more sobering, however, is this thought: Now that I do know the truth, dare I be flippant with it? Do I dare to toy with sin, knowing the astonishing price that was paid on my behalf?  The more I walk with God, the more I see how deeply the sin nature is ingrained in me, the more I see that nearly every action, thought, and motive of my heart is dreadfully tainted and twisted with it. So seeing, I desperately cling to Him, pleading with Him to free me from the struggle between my dead flesh and my new found life in Christ. This is the other hand, the partner of the emotion I began with... the sobering reality of the cost, the understanding that a willful spurning of such a gift leaves no room for further mercy. This is the utter extent of mercy, the epitome of it. There is nothing else to give, no other sacrifice can be made. He has already given all. It would be a grave blunder to understand the extravagance of this gift and nonchalantly toss it aside.

     With these thoughts in mind, it is much easier to see how little this world and the things of this world really are. I write these things down in part because I know that, just like a child, I am prone to become distracted with what seems so real around me, prone to wander from my Father's side. Always, however, He reminds me that He is my greatest need, He is the fulfillment of all my desires, He is eternal and unchanging--indeed, He is everything. All the rest--the good and the bad, the beauty and the  pain, friend and family and enemy alike--all will pass away. But His words will never pass away. His love will never pass away. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ will never dim nor fade, its value will never diminish or its totality fail. It is enough. He is enough. And when I get to the end of all things, there really is nothing else, no other way by which I may be saved. Should I, or anyone, choose to shun His exorbitant grace, then that one rejects Life itself. All that is left for such a one is the pale shadow of a swiftly fading flower.

     Lord, may we not chase such fleeting fictions as this world offers, but may we instead be blissfully and joyfully beholden to You!

 Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Psalms 128:1-2

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Enduring Faithfulness

Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts. 
Psalms 119:89-94

     For some days now, my thoughts have turned to praise; my heart has been full of worship. I have had moments of just plain fatigue-born forgetfulness, but then suddenly this fierce joy comes welling up again. I am not a singer, but I sing. I find I am thankful for the hardships, thankful for friends, thankful for my work, thankful even for pain.

     It is a curious thing that brought me to this place. It was a weekend full of bone-crushing exhaustion coupled with my typical pre-migraine sense of spiritual void. It would be difficult to explain fully and so I will not try. It is enough to say that in the thick of it, I called upon the Lord for energy and clarity of mind the day before a task He had given me to do so I could prepare. He did not give it. Instead, that Monday I experienced a dramatic worsening of symptoms followed by a horrendous migraine that sent me to bed at 6:30 full of medication that did no more than polish the sharp edges. The sense of abandonment was heightened by so many other factors, many so personal that I cannot relate here, and I can only really share the barest glimpse of what went on inside my heart and mind. As it was, I felt utterly defeated and abandoned, and when the next day dawned I was angry and resentful of God.

     So silly, really. As I look back, I realize that I was simply and precisely committing the sin of unbelief, not to mention nursing my wounded pride. Apparently I allowed my feelings free reign and temporarily forgot Who was God and who was just the clay. While things did not go my way on that day, it certainly cannot be said they went badly. In fact, all was well and God did show up--in the nick of time--to give me the strength and resources I needed to do what He had told me to do. What a fool I was to doubt His faithfulness!

      At any rate, it is this experience that brought me to the edge of my faith and caused me to peer over to recall exactly what life was like before I knew my Lord. Before Christ, my life was empty; entirely, utterly empty. Oh, I had my family and I had my home and all of that, but on the day when I felt that God was not merely distant but had actually left me completely, I felt that I was bereft of a reason to go on. It is difficult to explain in words, for words do not do the experience justice. But words are what I have and so they must suffice. It was as if God, in His infinite wisdom, withdrew Himself from me completely so that I would be able to profoundly recall what it means to live in darkness without Him.

     It has heightened my passion for Him and for His word in ways I cannot express. I have joy unquenchable knowing that I have had my faith stripped to the very bones and found that it is built on Christ alone and not on feelings or circumstance. Without Him, there is truly nothing but death, darkness, decay. In Him I am alive, blessedly and fully alive. This gives me a much greater passion to shine His light into the dark and horrible places of the human experience, to share the wonder of no longer belonging to this ball of water and rock but to Someone immeasurably, infinitely greater.

      The experience was two-fold. He also allowed me to come to the very point of despair so that He could remind me how important my plans are to Him. They are just as important as a single grain of sand; as useful as wind to a motorboat. You see, I like to plan and to be prepared. God prefers me to rely on Him. While I am in no wise suggesting that planning is wrong or evil, I do know that in this one instance, He was clear on His purposes: He had called me to perform this task and He would give me exactly what I need to do it--just not my way.

     And so today I sit down to finish this post that my three most blessed interruptions prevented the finishing of yesterday, the threat of a migraine lurking and dulling my thoughts, and I cannot help but still feel wonder at the faithfulness of my God. I cannot help but feel awe that He has allowed me the privilege of approaching the Throne of Grace. I have such joy that, though I am helpless and entirely in His hands, I have no need to fear for His hands are hands of boundless love, inconceivable forbearance, and a steadfastness unchanged despite the tumult of human history. Whether I like how He does things are not, I know that I can trust Him implicitly--even when His ways are incomprehensible to me. He is good, and His word is good. How could I but love Him in return?

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. 
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: "The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!" I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. 
Psalms 118:6-9, 14-19


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Really Real

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 
Ephesians 3:14-21
     In today's world, the careful watcher might find a rapidly-accelerating decline of those who uphold the Word of God as true and infallible from cover to cover. It can be seen in high places and in low. A former pastor of ours recently wrote of an meeting in North Carolina in which a Dr. Kimball--a thoroughly degreed and educated leader in his denomination--stated that the Christian's claim that our understanding of salvation is the only way to absolute truth is inflicting global harm. Ironically, if others in his sphere of influence are led astray by his words, the harm he inflicts will be eternal. This makes me want to weep.

     Closer to home, I have had conversations with others who want to "be Jesus" to people by fighting for their rights even though the "rights" in question stand in opposition to God's commands and indeed against the very purity of His nature. Here, too, rather than "being Jesus," they are actually slighting His sacrifice as well as lending a hand in fastening the chains rather than leading others to the Truth that would set them free.  I have listened to dialog among churchgoers that could be considered witty, edgy, and bold if it were not merely exhibiting an "unhealthy craving for controversy" which Paul warned Timothy about in a letter so many years ago. It is unfortunate, however, that such dialog often ensnares the listener, especially those whose foundation is not rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. I fear for those caught in such a web.

     Too many times I have seen behind the scenes, so to speak, at church not passion for Christ bursting out in a public display of His love and grace, but just the show for the sake of the show, people turning on the churchy words, phrases, and even Scripture quotations in an ugly parody of true and humble devotion. This I find perhaps the saddest of all, for it is reminiscent of Jesus' discussion of whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside but inwardly full of death and decay.

      In all such cases, I find myself deeply grieved by people claiming the name of Christ who neither understand the gravity of sin nor the weight of Christ's sacrifice to atone for it. I am so sorrowful that these folks are either profoundly deceived or are deceivers themselves. I choose to hope for the former. Whatever the case, these things are merely drops in a storm-tossed sea teeming with misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and even outright mockery of what Christ has done. In all cases, I have come to think that the greatest problem is not so much a lack of intelligence or sound training, nor do I think the blame fully lies in allowing the culture to creep into the church (although that certainly is a part of it). The real culprit in this fiasco is unbelief, plain and simple.

     I honestly think that if these modern-day dabblers in philosophy truly, deeply, and passionately sought the face of God and found Him to be an actual fact and not an intellectualized ideology, their approach towards His Word would be quite different. If a mere hour was spent examining a patch of forest or grassland while speculating that a being powerful enough to make, not only this minuscule portion of teeming forest mulch, but an entire world of complex and inter-dependent ecosystems--to say nothing of the sun, moon, and stars that govern much of what passes on this semi-spherical ball of rock--well, then it would be difficult not to take a Creator like that seriously. If they believed He could do the fantastic things the Bible says He did, that would also give pause as well as lead to sincere worship!

     If there was a genuine understanding of the vastness and purity of God, of the "height and depth and length and breadth" of His power, His holiness, and forgiveness--and of Christ's humility and ultimate act of propitiation, it would only be too easy to take Him at His word. We would not bother wrangling about words but instead would devote ourselves to what His Word plainly says and live it. We would not only claim belief, we would live like we believed. His honor would be vital to us, more crucial even than our own. We would suffer when His name was mocked, hurt when His truth was doubted, feel joy when His truth was proclaimed and a reverent and awe-filled wonder when we looked into His Book or upon His creation. We would learn to love deeply and honestly, and we would learn what love means. We would find that love is more unyielding and uncompromising than stone and yet sweeter and more piquant once we have, ourselves, yielded. We would seek the face of God, and we would find Him beyond imagination and so holy we would find ourselves prostrate without even being conscious of our prostration.

      I find, also, that I long to live in those moments when I actually do see a glimpse of the Glory and can hardly breathe for the weight of it. I am passionately praying for my local church body and for the Church worldwide that we will all comprehend the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of Christ. I am praying for passion and purity, for absolute truth and absolute devotion. I am praying for eyes and hearts to be opened to the reality of God and for His light to shine into dark places, exposing what needs to be exposed so it can either be healed or cast out.
     And in the midst of my fervent and sometimes tearful prayers, I cannot help but break out in joyful worship! For I know that no matter how dark the hour seems, nor how firm a grip evil seems to have, the One within me is greater than the one who, for a little season, runs amok in the world. I invite you to join me in loving and serving this very real, very present, vast and unchanging God!

 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! 
Psalms 92:1-5


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Taking Every Thought Captive

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 
Psalms 73:1-3
     These are dark days we live in without a doubt. There is trouble within the church and without, a general acceptance of sin and a general ignorance of the Word of God. There is even a distaste for the Scripture, a belief that it is not relevant or that we have to, in some new way, make relevant ancient and unshakable principals that have existed long before pop culture was born and will stand long after its demise. This modern era boasts a short-sightedness and a hedonism that sometimes seems unprecedented until history is examined and it is found that such conditions often occurred in ancient empires before they fell. It sometimes seems that we humans, while preoccupied with obtaining wealth and privilege, do not actually handle the realization of it well. I wonder...

     These things are no surprise to the student of the Holy Writ. Jesus Himself taught that there would be wars, natural disasters, and conflict leading up to the last days, saying also that, "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." (Matthew 24:10-12).

     Paul warns Timothy that there will be "...times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." (2 Timothy 3:1-5)  He also talks of people surrounding themselves with teachers that say what they like to hear.

     It is not news to the humble student of God's Word that it often does not say what we like to hear! However, in it and through it all, we see the goodness, purity, and holiness of our great and mighty God, and so we love it even when it makes us uncomfortably aware of our own folly and failures. We love it because His love is greater.
     All this darkness, all the relentless and insidious attempts to chip away and diminish the Truth and to besmirch the character of my God can sometimes feel overwhelming. I have found that, in times of personal passionate resistance to the wrongs I see about me, my steps do almost slip. I feel envy that the arrogant and those who malign the Word of God seem to prosper and thrive. Turning my thoughts away from contemplation of my God, I find my feet quickly wander to a slippery slope of concern for the Church that quickly becomes worry, doubt, insecurity... any number of incorrect mental attitudes.
They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. 
Psalms 73:8-14

     How easily do I slip into this same mode of thinking that David writes of, this utterly ridiculous mode of self-pity!  And yet I do... I have a great passion for the Word and love for the Author of it, and I hold His truths to be absolute. Yet at times, I find that my focus shifts from Him onto the problems, the toils, the corruption, or innumerable other distractions. At times the storm seems to me greater than my God.
     But it is not.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 
Psalms 73:16-18
     Like David, sometimes I need to go into the sanctuary of God. For me, this is not a literal, physical place but an attitude of prayer and meditation on the goodness of my Lord -- a posture of humility, reflection, and prayer, if you will. Sometimes I need to refocus on the One who is greater than all His adversaries, mightier than any attack against His character, and powerful enough to still the most raging storm with nothing more than a word.  
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. 
Psalms 73:21-28
     It is so good to know that the strength I need is not found in my own faltering flesh, but that God is my strength and my portion. I have no need of  transient pleasures even though I may enjoy them, nor should I rely on prosperity that earthly or spiritual storms can easily sweep away. I have God; I have the seal of the Holy Spirit as a promise; I have an ever-growing love and appreciation for Jesus Christ my Lord. I need nothing more. When I can remember that, when I in my darkest and most gloomy ruminations can call back to mind the praise of my King, the greatness of my God, the unfathomable riches of His mercy and grace, and the bare and simple fact that no matter how wide and far the shadow may spread, the Light of Truth will dispel it in His time. In His time. 
     Refocusing and returning my steps back to the firm and ancient path, I find joy inexpressible. It is both sublimely simple and distressingly difficult for me to take every thought captive to obey Christ, to walk that fine line of "knowing them by their fruits," and "do not judge so that you will not be judged." However, when I do, when my whole heart, soul, and mind are fixated on honest and heartfelt worship of my King, I find something wonderful: The joy of the Lord is my strength!