Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Sobering State of the Union

     As I read through Jeremiah with my children, I see some absolutely chilling parallels to the King's City in that day and the state of our nation in ours. I am aware that last night was our country's annual State of the Union address. I don't know what the President said. I did not watch it and I do not care. I sincerely doubt that many of the words spoken by him were true--not because he is black and not because I disagree with a majority of his policies, but because I do not think any of the Presidents in my time have been completely open and honest about the state of this Union.

      Actually, it would be more accurate to say that they have probably all been entirely ignorant of the true state of the Union.

     Oh, I'm sure that such topics as war and education and healthcare and the deficit were touched upon. There are several matters that the state of the Union addresses, but most of these things are absolutely superficial, and in the face of eternity, unimportant. No matter what we like to think, this Union will not last forever. Like all great civilizations, it had a beginning and someday it will have an end. That is a fact. It may last until the Lord comes again, but it will not last forever.

     When we examine it in that light, what really matters is not the policies or procedures, not the sad lack of actual education nor the absolute disaster of a healthcare machine that we have implemented (and here I am not talking about Obamacare, but about the monster that we have created over decades of horrible eating, overdiagnosing, rampant lawsuits, and the desire to have a pill to cure everything from obesity to sadness--the desire to have someone else fix what we, ourselves, have broken.)

     No, what really matters in the state of this Union is its spiritual health. What does the average individual within it live for? Where is its moral compass and how humble are its leaders, how open to criticism and change? What are we teaching our children, what values are we instilling, what emphasis do we put on hard work? What are we rewarding in the next generation--mediocrity or sacrifice and commitment? What are we filling our own hearts and minds with? Do we seek God's will or do we place Him in a partition separate from our goals, our finances, our entertainment? Are we, in fact, concerned with eternity at all?

     If our nation's leaders saw the true state of the Union, there would be a wholesale return to God, massive repentance, fasting, and a stark and genuine change in the way things are done. If they really saw the state of the Union, red tape would be cast aside and the nation would turn, or at least begin to turn, because the true state of the Union is dire, and we have wasted enough time pretending that things might just somehow turn out all right in the end. But I am afraid that, as a nation, we have surrounded ourselves with teachers who tell us what we want to hear, just as Paul warned Timothy in his letter so many years ago. Look at what God said through Jeremiah:
But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.    Jeremiah 23:14
     Let's face it: we have, as a nation, embraced immorality. Adultery is rampant and marriages are being shredded like tissue paper in a waterfall. Most people marry to become "happy," and not for the sake of actual love (which is sacrificial and selfless) and commitment. Coupled with this is an absolute torrent of sexual temptation and enticements to further immorality. Divorce is accepted. The slaughter of babies for the sake of convenience or prosperity is accepted--a thing that we find unspeakable when we read about it in the Old Testament but we gloss over when we see it performed surgically in a sterile clinic. Extra-marital affairs are accepted. Even among professing Christians, these things are deemed acceptable, and sex outside the bounds of marriage is not frowned upon if the couple is in a "committed relationship." Folks, let me say this without any reservation: If you are not married and committed for better or worse 'til death do you part--no matter what--you are not in a committed relationship. You are just excusing sin for the sake of convenience.

     Now I am not saying an indiscretion or a mistake cannot be forgiven--we are promised forgiveness...if we are repentant. Yes, if we believe in Christ and accept Him, but how can we possibly do that without being repentant? If we truly believe that He is the Diety Incarnate who gave His life in our stead, how can we not be humbled and shamed by our own sin? How can we not experience the "Godly grief that produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret? (2 Corinthians 7:10)" Make no mistake: blowing off repentance because "Jesus died for me and so I am forgiven" and then continuing to embrace a worldly and sinful lifestyle is nothing less than trifling with the sacrifice of God's only Son, and I do not believe that shows a contrite heart that God will accept. As a matter of fact, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to place oneself under the Law than to treat lightly the incredible Gift God has given us in Christ....

     Let's look a verse down and see what else is said in Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you."
For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. 
Jeremiah 23:16-20

     Friends, enemies, and whoever else may read this, this is not a good picture. I am afraid that even many of our churches could be lumped in with those "prophets" of old that God condemns here. Let us not be that way anymore! As the Chruch, let us humble ourselves and turn back to God. Let us be willing to hear hard words about our own sinfulness. Let us reject immorality and worldliness and embrace repentance and Godliness. Let us turn wholesale back to God, each one of us. Even if it hurts, even if it is inconvenient, even if it requires extraordinary sacrifice, it will be worth it. Let's keep our bodies clean as the temple of God, not defiling them with excesses of any food or drink nor with sexual immorality. Let's protect our marriages and not allow selfishness to creep in and destroy the picture God Himself has given us of Christ and His church, remembering as we do that each marriage projects that image to the world. Marriage is not about our happiness: it is our solemn duty and responsibility to present a pure and unblemished portrait of our relationship to our Lord, of commitment, of sacrifice. In this and all other realms, we cannot take the parts of the Gospel that we like to hear and neglect all the uncomfortable bits about repentance and sacrifice and taking up our crosses. This is simply something we cannot afford to do.

     Let us live in such a way that our very lives proclaim that we truly believe Jesus is the Son of God, God incarnate, who lived a perfect life and died in our stead. Let our lives shout out that He is worth it--He is worth raising unwanted children or sticking through the hard times with our spouse. He is worth doing without luxuries so that we can commit to training our children or feed the hungry. He is worth the sacrifice of our Starbucks or our vacation to see His word spread and His will done. He is worth finding out what His specific will for each one of us is and doing it, whether I have listed it here or no.  He is worth total and uncompromising obedience.

     The state of our Union will not change without us, Christians. It will only change if we truly seek God with our whole heart, humbling ourselves, repenting, and living lives that are not identical nor even similar to the values of the world. As James said it, "Friendship with the world is enmity towards God." We cannot have both. The time has come to choose.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!" God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year." 
Genesis 17:18-21
     I cannot help but note here that, as far as His covenant goes, God squarely rejected Ishmael despite Abraham's plea. He did bless Ishmael and also promised that nations would come from him, though to be fair He also told Ishmael's mother that her son would live in conflict (cf Genesis 16:12). However, Ishmael was not to be the son of the promise, the son in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Why is this? I firmly believe that it is because Ishmael was the product of the flesh--Sarah and Abraham's attempt to "help" God fulfill His promise.

     I am challenged by this in a very personal way. How many times have I tried to help God... as if the Almighty could truly benefit from my clumsy effort?  Sometimes I may do it out of a fear that if He doesn't come through, God will lose face--a rather silly fear, really, when you think about whether or not the Almighty really needs the approval and admiration of mankind!  At other times, my helpful nudges are really thinly disguised impatience. Like Abram and Sarai, I find that God does not often work on my timetable, and if there is a promise, I become antsy to make it happen.

     There are a dozen or so other reasons, but when I look closely I find that underlying it all is my old arch-enemy: unbelief. If I really believed God, would I feel this pressure to try to make things happen? Of course not! And of course, when I try to fulfill God's promises with my efforts, I may do some wonderful things, but they are wonderful things that He ultimately rejects, though He may bless their outcome. He is far less interested in my careful efforts or my striving than He is in simple obedience. And obedience sometimes means, "Get a move on," but at other times it means wait.

     More than this, however, is the haunting realization that my efforts to help God along often cost much. In the case of Abram and Sarai, it caused conflict in their marriage, conflict between a woman and her servant, conflict between Abram's sons, and decades and decades of conflict in the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. Not much good was done, really, and a whole mess created. And in the end, despite it all, God still rejected Ishmael.

      This January I find that I am spending more time in reflection than in years past. In some ways, it is a pivotal year for me, though I will get into that in another post. Mostly, however, I am finding an increasing desire to get this Christian walk right. After all, if it is really the only thing that will outlast my physical body, should it not be the most critical item on my daily agenda? Though I have made many mistakes and failures and though I am not expecting perfection, I do believe that I can consider myself "dead to sin and alive to God in Christ," as Paul wrote--and that I can live that way. For years, I think I have focused on my foibles and failures, and while I probably still will pay them homage, I no longer want to stay fixed there. My desire is to live the rest of my life bringing attention away from me--whether I am in victory or defeat--to the One in Whom ultimate victory is achieved.

     It is, after all, a denial of His power when I stay stuck in my defeat as well as when I arrogantly try to assist Him in accomplishing His will using my own methods. I want to mention trials or failures only with the express purpose of exalting the One Who lives above them and draws me and all His followers ever onward, and I desire to honor Him as ever capable and faithful in His abilities. This means absolute surrender. This means total submission in such a way that I no longer either set my mind on the flesh nor acting according to flesh-borne ideologies, but instead I am simply and totally focused on and following the guidance of the Spirit of God.

     For I see that all the works of the flesh--whether well-intentioned or no--are rejected by God. I cannot help Him. I cannot even help myself. But He has done all that is needed to help me, and I firmly believe that I can walk a closer walk with Him with each passing day and year, walking further from my flesh and leaving it behind to become more one with the Spirit of God. Is that not the purpose of a journey--to draw closer to the destination? My destination and sole motivation is Him and Him alone.

      This really came home to me recently when I was talking with my son. He has tried so hard to be good, but he had not, at the time of our discussion, recognized his inherent inability to be good. Only God is good, and only in submitting to Him, abiding in Him, can we hope to produce fruit worthy of His Kingdom. It is actually His work in us producing it and nothing at all that we can accomplish though we expend every ounce of effort and exertion that exists in our flesh. I realized as I spoke that I, too, have spent many years and much effort in a struggle to be a good Christian. In the end, I find, my Father rejects my exertions and simply waits on me to come to Him, rest in Him, abide in Him, and obey. He will do the rest. It is only the efforts of His Son that are acceptable; it is only by abiding in His Son that I can produce any acceptable fruit. It will take setting both my mind and my will firmly on Him and then simply following. Obeying. Letting go of any pretense or belief that I can do these things in my own strength. For when I am weak, then He is strong.

 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 
Romans 8:6-9


Saturday, January 18, 2014


Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. 
Jeremiah 2:12-13
     We do not like to hear difficult news. It isn't much fun, I have to admit, especially when said news involves an uncomfortably close look at my own behavior. My pride does not enjoy the buffeting that comes from a confrontation of my sin. However, the longer I have walked with God, the more I see the absolute necessity of these moments. If I cannot humbly ask God to search my heart and know my thoughts, well... I am not drinking deep from the Fount of living water but trusting in the cracked and leaky vessel of my silly and rather vain human pride, either by trusting in my own effort or ability or by accepting a cultural standard that is man-made and fleeting. This brief passage has given me pause for both personal reflection and for a close look at my expectations as a part of the Church at large.

      Lately I have been wondering how much of our modern church services are driven by such cultural expectations and efforts. Have we allowed the show to upstage the Almighty? I love some stirring music as much as the next gal, but I do sometimes fear that what passes for "worship" in many churches today is not actually the simple and unadorned worship of the Father fueled by a hunger for His Word and His presence and marked by repentance and obedience, but something far inferior. I fear that it is nothing more and nothing less than emotional response. The plain fact is, we do not need music or color-coordination or conducive environments to worship. Worship just happens, and it happens from a recognition of the majesty and worthiness of God. Worship cannot be manufactured: it is the natural response to our mighty King.

      Just the other day as I read this passage to my kids, I pondered it in light of the current church trends. When we, the Church, allow human expectations to define our worship services, are we then trusting in the Fountain of Living Water? Or have we hewn out cisterns for ourselves, cisterns that we expend enormous energy trying vainly to fill only to watch our efforts drain away while we sit by, exhausted and helpless to stop the leak?  I do not claim to know the answers; it is just something I have been contemplating. I do know, however, that many people are out there searching, searching for just the right worship environment rather than simply seeking the limitless Fountain which will, without fail, well up to an overflow. I have seen that worship can happen in the midst of intense pain as well as in the midst of beautiful and stirring music. True worship is really a reflexive response to the work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be conjured by any amount of human effort or will. I hope to see a return to sincere worship in our churches in my lifetime. I pray for it in my own heart, as well.

    God has made me realize lately just how deeply I, too, have based my ideologies and standards upon these fractured and fragile, man-hewn cisterns. You see, I tend to view my life--my use of time and other resources, how busy I am, my assessment of my own spiritual condition--not by God's standards but by measuring them against my peers. This is an area in which God has been dealing with me lately, pointing to the leaks and flaws in the cisterns I am pouring my energy into and beckoning me to sit by His Fountain and be filled. I have spent years striving ceaselessly to keep my spiritual life "full," but for years I neglected to begin with humility, repentance and surrender. I have tried to be "good," but in the end my best efforts are no better than filthy rags. What I need is to abide--to be a part of the living Vine, to trust entirely in the Fountain of Living Water and allow His life, power, and love to suffuse every element of my being until I am utterly eclipsed by it. May He increase and I decrease.

     My prayer today, Father, is that I will no longer commit these two evils. Teach me to forsake my flawed human understanding and surrender entirely to Your perfect will. May Your Living Water well up within me to an overflow, for the glory of Your Kingdom and of Your name. Let it be Your power that others see in me--power over sin and over the cares of this world. I ask for Your forgiveness for my arrogance in carving out my own, leaky vessels. I pray, too, for Your forgiveness for our churches. I pray that we, as Your Bride, would humble ourselves completely and listen to Your will for us. Help us to let go of all expectations that we have created and heaped upon ourselves and open our hearts to pure and sincere worship of You, our King. 

Thus says the LORD: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls...  
Jeremiah 6:16

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Inhabiting Eternity

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. 
Isaiah 57:15

     As many of you probably have, I used the last few days of 2013 to do a little prayerful assessing of my life and activities. I am delayed in writing about it in part because I was busy doing it, and in the process I took a hiatus from computer usage. It was a good time, a time of rest in the Lord and rest from the clamor of the world, and it has left me with an unshakable impression. I have been very busy in the last few years, but busy doing what?
     Oh, much of it is good stuff, of course. I am teaching my children and there are a lot of activities that go in with that. We have tutorials, 4-H, schoolwork, the regular ebb and flow of life. However, as I took this time to rest in the Lord, He began to make me examine all my activity in the light of eternity. They are all good--that much is without question! But are they best? He also has convicted me of my tendency to compare what I am doing or capable of doing with what other families do. I have some friends who are able to keep part-time freelance jobs, work at multiple tutorials and have their kids involved in them all, keep active in their churches, and still get all of life done. I am amazed by those folks! However, the Spirit of God clearly spoke to me in the last weeks and reminded me: I am not answerable to other people, but to Him. And I put the pressure to do more upon myself. He says, "Take My yoke upon you...for My yoke is easy and my burden is light." All of those things may be light and easy for some, but for me the mere thought of them overwhelms me. It is not my job to try to measure myself, my kids, or my home school against the activity and ability of others. It is my job simply to listen to and obey the voice of my Guide.

     And I believe He is telling me to slow it down even further. To spend more time investing in eternity and in the sincere pursuit of personal holiness, because His name is Holy and He inhabits eternity. To focus my small energy on doing the work He has given me to do well, and to trust Him to show me each step of the way what those tasks are. I am not sure what this will look like yet, but I know that I am preparing myself to obey. I am praying that He will show me in His time, that He will give me clarity so that I know it is His voice I am responding to and to hear Him clearly through the clamor of noise this world has to offer.

     As I have gone through this, I have developed the nagging suspicion that I have overly complicated my walk with Him, and that many of the stresses and busy-ness I have added to my life is just that: stress and busy-ness. I have begun to suspect that it is not His will that I am frantically trying to piece my days together and keep up with a zillion tasks and schedules, but that I can go about creating order within my home and my school so that on those days when He causes interruptions, both my family and myself are centered in His will and ready to recognize and handle those situations. I am left with the very strong impression that my modern-American way of "simplifying" my life is still not the quiet simplicity that He desires. We live in a fast-paced and noisy world brimming with opportunities and wonderful activities and entertainments. However, when I examine the Scriptures for guidance, it is not frenetic activity that I see Him praising. It is Mary, sitting attentively at His feet. It is those who were not too busy to be available when He called, or who were willing to leave their business behind to follow Him.

     I have begun to really examine the things we do each day in the light of Eternity. Are they fulfilling our call to be holy as He is holy? Are they helping us to hear and obey His voice? Are they of eternal value, or will the benefit pass away within months or years? I don't have the answers just yet... but He does. What I do know is that He has told me in no uncertain terms that for the years to come, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

     Oh, Lord, help me to do just that! Keep me from distraction and keep me wholly focused on and fixed within Your will! May I live no longer for temporal comforts or good, but teach me to inhabit eternity with You. As Jehoshaphat prayed, so do I: Oh Lord, I do not know what to do, but my eyes are on You.