Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Silently

It’s strange how one little phrase of a song, touched with God’s grace, can open up a new understanding, almost on a subliminal level. I had an experience like that in church this morning.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift was given.”

As I sang those words, I had a vision. I was up in the sky above Bethlehem, looking down at a small stable, surrounded by the darkness of a quiet night. Then, suddenly, a feeble cry wafted up through the dark quietness. It came from an animal feeding trough.

Was it a feeble cry? Quite possibly. It makes sense, from God’s perspective. The perspective that is opposite of ours.

God became feeble, helpless, vulnerable. He became a small thing, for us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jesus

In the Daily Light devotional reading for this morning:

"Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid'."
Matthew 14:26

A comforting reassurance is at the beginning and the end of that simple statement, because in the middle is Jesus.

Any difficulty that comes to us is Jesus coming, in whatever form it takes. We can rest in whatever storms are confronting us today, because Jesus is in our midst.

"Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today."
Exodus 14:13

Monday, November 21, 2011

No But's

Janet, in her God With Us: Finding Joy post yesterday, reminded us that we need to listen to God. Charles Stanley says we need to come to God with expectancy--assuming that He will speak to us when we listen.

This morning I come expectantly to listen, asking Him what He wants to say to me. He says the same He always says: "I love you."

"Anything else?" I ask.

"No. That's all."

When God says "I love you," (and He's always saying it, constantly, over and over again), that's all He says. He never says, "I love you, but. . ."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hardheartedness

On Sunday our pastor taught us about Pharoah, his hardhearted refusal to bow to the will of the Creator. And about the Israelites, their hardheated refusal to trust that God would care for them, and lead them into the wealthy land He had promised to give them. And then he reminded us of the warning to all of us, in Hebrews, that we need to keep our hearts soft toward God.

Hard-heartedness can take different forms. We usually think of hardheartedness as being rebellion against God, a stubborn obstinacy, a refusal to submit. But for most of us Christians, hard-heartedness is simply an unwillingness--a seeming inability--to fully trust in God and abandon ourselves to Him.

All of Hebrews is a defense of the trust-truth, the fact that we can do nothing to save ourselves, and simply need to trust in all that Jesus did.

The Jewish people prided themselves in the law and their love for doing the right things. They were hard-hearted in their righteousness, and they believed they were God’s gift to the world. The writer of the Hebrews tells us there is nothing we can do to make ourselves worthy, or to produce deeds that are of eternal value.

Hebrews says we are totally dependent on God, and the writer challenges us to hold firmly to the realization of this truth.

This doesn’t mean we should do nothing good, or that we shouldn’t work to accomplish what God wants us to do. In fact, the truth that God is in control, and that He wants to work on our behalf, demands even more of us. If we trust God fully, He will call us to greater works than any we could attempt to accomplish on our own.

The hardness comes in the shape of our unwillingness to believe Him for larger things.

God says, “Do you believe my grace is sufficient to cover your sins—that I can forgive you and wash you clean?” “Do you believe I can take this terrible situation you are in and bring good out of it?” “Do you believe I have the power to defeat the evil one in your life—to release you from bondage to the sin that keeps you from the joy and freedom I want you to have?” “Do you believe I can give you the resources you need to do this eternally significant task I have put before you?”

Often our answer, in spite of our deep desire to believe, is “No.” We say, “I don’t feel forgiven, and blessings seem to come and go for no apparent reason. I cannot imagine it might be possible for you to do all these things.”

And as long as we persist in that hardheartedness, that refusal to believe, it will be true. God cannot do all these wonderful things for us unless we step out in faith to receive them from His hand.

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:15

The ultimate sin, the only unforgiveable one, is unbelief. But God is waiting eagerly to help us overcome that sinful hard-heartedness.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

He wants us to run to Him without hesitation, with abandon, even, no matter what our spiritual state. That's the characteristic of a soft heart--a heart that's willing to risk everything on the hope that God's love will always be there, unconditionally. And He will welcome us with open arms every time we take that risk.

God help us to pray this prayer of abandonment, with David Livingstone:

“God, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. And sever any tie in my heart except the tie that binds my heart to Yours.”

Monday, October 31, 2011

Seminal Truths

Just a quick post to pass on someone else's post.

If we followed Michael Hyatt's advice in "The Four Disciplines of the Heart," our lives would be truly successful by all important measures.

His ideas aren't original ones. Many popular writers today would agree with his general premise, including people like Eckhart Tolle. But what makes Hyatt's message worthwhile is the specific Judeo-Christian slant. The grounding of his suggestions in the truths of the Bible gives them power that Eckhart Tolle's words will never have.

It's the Truth behind, and around, Hyatt's instructions for life that make them doable and rewarding. The same instructions without the biblical basis would be empty and useless.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. Proverbs 9:10.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Four Things About God That Make Life So Much Easier

There are four things about God I wish I’d learned a lot earlier in life. Life became so much more fun when I finally discovered these truths.

Maybe it took so long because I had to grow in my willingness to be totally sold out to Him. These four truths are only useful to us if we’ve come to that place of total surrender and trust. I think I’ve gotten there, now, after all these years. At least I’ve gotten far enough down this road to discover how delightful it is to walk with God the way He always meant for me to.

Those four things are:

1.) God is prepared to take total responsibility for the life that is totally yielded to him.

If we choose to indenture ourselves to Him, we can relax about our ministry and let Him lead us here and there, moment by moment, year by year.

Jesus lived that way. He just walked, step by step with God, and trusted His Father to put Him where He was supposed to be.

At times He obviously had specific guidance—a “Word from the Lord,” you might say. He knew they needed to go through Samaria. He knew that they needed to get to Jerusalem. In those instances, He probably got that specific information during one of his midnight visits with His Father. Other than that, He didn’t worry about what He should be doing. He just trusted God was leading Him to the right place at the right time.

It’s so much easier when we don't have to take the ultimate responsibility for our lives. We take responsibility for being available to Him, and we choose, moment by moment, to be instantly obedient. That’s all.

2) God is never in a hurry.

When He acts, He might act quickly, but getting to that moment of instant action usually takes more time than we expect it should. Often it takes a lot more time. But that means if we are totally available and obedient to Him, we don’t need to worry about what time it is.

When we read about how Jesus walked on earth, we never see him rushing to get anywhere or do anything. Once, his slowing down cost a child her life. On his way to heal the deathly ill child, He stopped to minister to the woman with the issue of blood. By the time he got to the child’s home, she was dead. But it didn’t matter that He was “late.” He healed her anyway. God’s will was done.

It’s so much easier when we don’t have to look at the clock all the time.

3) God only has one place for me to be at a time, and He allows travel time.

If I give my day to Him, and obey Him instantly—If I get up when the alarm goes off instead of punching the snooze button! If I don’t load a bunch of stuff into my daily schedule that He doesn’t want there—I will always be right on time for whatever He wants me to do.

So if I get stuck in traffic on the way to a meeting, I assume I'm where He means me to be and He will take care of the meeting until I get there, ready to take over ;-)

It’s so much easier than trying to manipulate my schedule and make sure I get where I’m going, come hell or high water.

4) God gives us R&R when we need it.

He remembers we are dust, and He knows when we need a break. When we are sold out to Him, 24/7, He schedules in vacation time for us, and it turns out to be exactly when and where we need it.

He may have us very busy for a period of time, then an opportunity will come up for us to refresh and renew, and we know it’s from God. It’s not a vacation FROM Him, of course. It’s a vacation WITH Him. It might be doing a different kind of ministry; or it might be a time of spiritual retreat; or it might just simply be having fun doing something we like to do with Him. Sometimes it’s a time of doing nothing.

In any case, when we walk with the Lord, we come to recognize when God is giving us these times, and because He’s doing it, we can be totally free to enjoy the rest, with no feeling we should be “doing” something else.

Jesus did this too. He had fun at weddings. He spent time alone with His Father. He slept in the bottom of the boat so deeply and restfully He didn’t even notice a storm come up. He sat with children on His knee, ignoring the more demanding “ministry” his disciples thought He should be doing. He had important work to do, but He recognized times of rest His Father gave Him along the way, and He took them.

It’s so much more fun going on R&R with God when He arranges it for us.

Jesus was first and foremost just being what God wanted him to be. The doing, and the talking--the ministry--came out of his relationship with his Father very easily and naturally. He lived moment-by-moment in dependence on the Holy Spirit. In that respect, He was being a model for us.

Someone has said that “Power comes from just receiving God’s love. Not doing. Friendship with God has to come first.” When I remember to let the Holy Spirit guide my activities, set my pace, put me where He wants me to be, and give me rest when I need it, walking with God becomes a joy and a delight. Being totally His is so easy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Only Thing That Matters

Power comes from just receiving God's love.

What an amazing statement. Can it be true? I've been pondering this for a while, and something about it really resonates with me at a deep level.

It makes sense. Because He is an out-pouring God. Everything comes from Him. We can't give Him anything that hasn't come from Him. Everything comes out of His love.

Wayne Jacobsen says, in the wonderful book, He Loves Me, that "[God] is not interested in your service or sacrifice. He only wants you to know how much you are loved."

That doesn't mean we don't give service to Him, or ever sacrifice anything. Service and sacrifice come out of us as a natural response to knowing--really knowing, deep down--that we are loved, deeply and unconditionally, by Him.

I have decided that my relationship with God is not the most important thing in my life. It's the ONLY important thing. Everything else that matters flows naturally out of my walk with the Lord.

What an easy yoke it is!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Mystery of Free Forgiveness

After this morning's post, I continued doing the final proofread of my book manuscript, and I came across this scene. It seemed to fit with what I'd posted about, so I'll do another posting. Two in one day! Hmm. Maybe it will help with the not-posting-guilt thing.

Anyway, here's a conversation from my novel, Zinovy's Journey, between the main character and his spiritual counselor, on the topic of redemption.
________________________________________

“Zinovy, forgive my intrusion. I know your desire for privacy. If you tell me to leave, I will go. But I want, first, to let you know there is an escape from the darkness that enshrouds you.”

Elan waited. Zinovy felt his patient presence, soft as a quiet spring, gently expectant, like a dew-drenched meadow anticipating the coming of the morning sun. Gradually, only slightly against his will, Zinovy relaxed. He knew Elan would take his silence as consent, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to close this door.

“You can’t go back, Zinovy,” Elan said. “You can’t revise, or recreate the past, but it can be redeemed.”

Still Zinovy sat in silence—helpless, now, before the light that intruded into his soul. As he sat, his mind went back, once again, into his past. He saw his childhood—not just the pain, but his reactions to the pain. His anger. His hatred. His determined scrabbling for peace and pleasure at the expense of everything else—of everyone else in his life. His years in the military and beyond—his FSB activities—the heartless cruelty of his profession and the satisfaction it gave him to vent his spleen on human beings he didn’t know and didn’t care about. He saw the selfishness of his independence—his not caring—his lofty isolation from the rest of the world.

The light continued to probe—pressing into the dark places of his spirit, opening every sealed chamber, revealing, dispelling, then flooding each empty cavity with its warm brightness.

“How can this be?” Zinovy finally asked, his voice a whisper. “This redemption?”

“The gift of redemption was made possible at great cost, Zinovy. It is freely offered to us, but it cost God his life.”

“And it is free? It costs us nothing? That’s not right.”

Elan smiled. “It is free,” he repeated. “But to receive the gift you will have to give up everything.”

Zinovy gaped at Elan. “Then it’s not free.”

Elan threw his head back and laughed—a deep, rich, rolling laugh that hit Zinovy like a slap in the face. He stared at the bright one, open-mouthed.

Then Elan turned to him and his expression softened. “It’s a mystery, Zinovy—a mystery that you won’t understand until you decide to accept it.”

Zinovy gazed back into those eyes, still shimmering with the afterglow of his laughter, and wilted. It was impossible to understand this man’s philosophy.

Quietly, Elan went on. “Remember when I told your crew, in the beginning, that you needed to leave the place where you had landed? You asked me why, then, and I said I could not tell you. You had to make the choice to leave without knowing the whole. When you had made that choice, then you were ready to learn more.”

Elan waited until Zinovy nodded, half reluctantly, before he continued. “So it is with this mystery,” he said. “You have to choose to receive the gift before you can understand it. When you decide to do that, the mystery will become clear—not to your head, but to your heart.”

And once more he was gone.

A No-Guilt Relationship

Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money—everything’s free!
Isaiah 55:1 from The Message.

I’ve recently discovered a surprising truth. The truth is, God wants us to take His love for granted.

“Ah,” you say, “we can’t do that. Taking His love for granted is a sin. It’s ingratitude. We need to be thankful for His love.”

Well, you’re right. We should be thankful for His love. But the truth (again) is that He loves us regardless of whether or not we are thankful, and He always will, completely, joyfully, with no restrictions. He gives His love, and the blessings that come with it, extravagantly, without expecting anything in return, even our gratitude.

We cannot “pay” for our blessings with thanksgiving. Gratitude is not a penance. Everything good we receive from God’s hand—and it’s all good—is given freely, without a thought on God’s part of charging a thanksgiving fee.

God knows us so well. He knows we’re never going to be grateful to the extent we have been blessed by Him. We can’t be. He does things for us every day that we're totally oblivious of, and always will be. He doesn’t say, “They don’t even notice when I kill those cancer cells in their lungs before they have a chance to develop, so I’m going to quit doing it.” He just goes on loving and blessing, day after day, and will do so for eternity, without regret or second thoughts, or raised eyebrows over our oblivion to His love. Just because He loves us.

Now, that doesn’t mean He won’t withhold blessings sometimes for our good. If we aren’t thankful, we suffer, and His biggest blessing—the happiest one—is actually our awareness of His blessing. So, because He loves us, He may chasten us to bring us to a place where we can appreciate His love more fully. But NEVER does He do that because we aren’t paying our dues. He ALWAYS does it because He wants us to know the unique delight of living consciously in His love.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. Ephesians 2:8-10 from The Message

When we come to the place in our relationship with God where we realize our salvation is totally his business

—when we never worry about losing His favor

—when we throw ourselves GLEEFULLY on His mercy every day,

Then we are freed up to care about other things.

—important things

—things of the Kingdom.

We are able to focus on doing the good works we were created to do in Christ Jesus.

Now if I could just figure out how to quit feeling guilty for not posting more often. That’s my next project.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Count the Ways

I can’t sit down for a moment without my little granddaughter coming to me with a picture book in her hand.

It never occurs to her that I might have better things to do, or that I might be tired, or thinking about something important. She just assumes I’m there to read to her, and that I’m as interested as she is in the dog who is bigger than a house, or the cat that wears boots and a plumed hat, or the elephant who learns he can fly. I am sitting there purely for her pleasure, and she takes my availability as her right, every time.

I love that.

And of course I read to her. I don’t care about the content of the book. I just love the feel of her little body nestled in beside me, the smell of her hair after a day’s play in the sun, the feel of her breath on my cheek, the look of concentration in her eye as she digests the fact that the elephant’s mother has to stay in the prison car because she tried to protect her baby. The look of the dimples on her fingers as she finally turns the page almost brings tears to my eyes, and the way she pronounces the word “park” makes me smile behind my hand.

I could go on and on.

Today I got an e-mail message from a friend. She said,

I’ve loved God since the day I was born, and accepted him as my savior at nine years old. I will always love God, but, I have a really hard time believing that he loves me. My Grandma used to tell me that God loves everyone but me. Of course I believed her and it still sticks.

My heart aches for her. I can only imagine how much God’s heart aches. He longs to take her in His arms and comfort her. I’m praying He will do just that.

Does God love her? The very ache in her heart is proof that He does. It's the pull of his arms on her spirit. His death on the cross, and the place He's preparing in heaven for her, everything points to the fact that He loves her.

He loves every one of us.

So why is it hard to believe? Even for those of us who have walked with Him for years, received blessing upon blessing from His hand? It's certainly not for lack of evidence, even when hard things have come into our lives.

I believe it's often the Devil who gets in the way of the feeling we are loved by God. He hates that God loves us. He hates for us to believe it. Because believing God loves us, completely, unconditionally, and freely because of Jesus' death on the cross, empowers us. When we are able to rest in God's love, we are free to live in the light of eternity. We are able to bring God's Kingdom to the people who live around us. That kind of freedom and power scares the Devil. He will do everything in his power to keep us from having it.

God's heart swells with joy when we run to his arms, jump up onto his lap, and put our arms around His neck. He loves when we take his face in our hands, look Him in the eye, and say, “You have to love me. You promised.” Such "great faith" is a delight to Him, and He responds to it eagerly with answers to our prayers, and blessings in our lives.

We can take His love for granted. It is constant, unchanging, unfailing, unconditional. If we take hold of it by faith, because Jesus' death has cancelled anything in our lives that might separate us from Him, we can experience the joy and security He longs for us to know.

In countless ways.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Come

Sometimes one simple word will capture my heart and lead it along a quiet, contemplative path for days.

The other morning I read Revelation 22:17. This verse comes at the very end of the Bible, where God sums up the message of his written revelation to the people he has created and dearly loves.

To us.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”
And let those who hear say, “Come!”
Let those who are thirsty come;
and let all who wish take the free gift of the water of life.


The word “come” is used three times in this verse. Twice it is followed by an exclamation point—a rare occurrence in the Bible. And each time it comes from a slightly different direction.

The first “come” is an excited plea/command spoken by God’s Spirit and the Bride of Jesus—those who have accepted his offer of redemption and restoration into the family of God. They’re asking Jesus to return to earth a second time. They want him to fulfill the promise of the angels at his first coming—the promise that his coming would bring peace to the earth, in God’s time and in his way. This “come” is an invitation to Jesus.

The second “come” expresses a desire that people who have not yet become part of God’s family—people who hear this message—would join the rest of God’s people in the invitation to Jesus to return.

But the third “come” reverses the direction of the invitation. This time, Jesus is saying “Come.” He’s saying, “Before I come back to establish my Kingdom on earth, I want you to come to me. I want you to take the free gift of life I offer.”

We are invited to come to Him, so that He can come to us, in all the fullness of joy He wants to share with us in His glory at the end of the age.

On Sunday, in worship, we sang three songs with the word “come” in them. I couldn’t help but notice. Here are my favorite electronic versions of those songs.

Come Thou Fount

Come, Now is the Time to Worship

Come and Listen

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Sad Thing

A sad thing happened after all my blog-talk about listening for God’s voice. Things went well for a while. God and I were chatting every day.

Then I got busy and forgot to listen.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t had much to write about lately.

A few days ago I began to notice something was wrong, and I got lonesome. I decided to ask Him to speak to me, and made a decision, again, to listen for his response.

I don’t think He’s quit speaking. All the little serendipitous blessings—the coincidences of thought and circumstance that just “happen”—the inspiration and gentle nudges to do this or that activity—all these things point to His continued intimate involvement in my life. But it’s all happened so quietly I’ve failed to notice the source of the little miracles.

I’ve continued to walk the path of life, choosing directions at crossroads, negotiating the curves, and enjoying the beauty, as if I were alone. I’ve missed the joy of companionship. I’ve missed out on the best part.

His companionship means more to me than anything. So why is it so easy to forget Him?

I think there are at least three reasons. First, I’ve noticed that when I’m enjoying my visible world it’s much easier to get distracted, so that the reality of the invisible world fades into the background. When things are difficult in this visible world, it’s easier to turn to the invisible one for help.

Also, the visible world is so much more in-my-face. It's more demanding. Awareness of the spiritual realm, where God lives and moves and speaks, gets lost in the noisy business of living in the material world. I need to work at living in the light of His love, in the reality that is eternal.

Which brings me to the final reason I forget: I am lazy. I avoid working at anything that forces me to swim against the stream of the cultural whirlpool/cesspool I find myself dogpaddling around in. Asking Him to speak and listening for His voice needs to become a habit, so it happens without conscious decision on my part, and developing good habits always takes work.

The spiritual discipline of “practicing the Presence of God” is basic to the Christian walk. It should be the first one we develop when we start deliberately walking with God.

So here I go again, starting from the beginning.

And it’s not as hard as it might seem. The day after my new beginning, I went out early to a local river canyon looking for one more photoshoot spot, being careful to keep my ears open for more than the sound of the early morning birds.

For the novel I'm publishing, we need a scene by a river where Zinovy can kneel down and give his life to God. I found a spot that might work, but it wasn’t ideal. I turned to go back to the car, but the still, small Voice told me to continue farther down the path instead. So I turned again, and went farther down the trail, where I came out onto a wide, pebble beach along a stretch of the river that will work much better for our pictures.

When I turned back in response to His prompt, the picture at the top of this post is what I saw. And I’m sure I heard Him say, “I’m walking along this writing path, with you, remember?”

I do need to remember. That’s all I have to do, in fact. As long as I remember, consciously, every day, everything else will fall into place. I know that, by personal experience.

Prayer is a dialogue between two persons who love each other.

I just need to develop the habit of listening to His side of the conversation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture in the News

This past week The Rapture made headlines. All of North America was talking about it. And laughing about it. Christians joked about the idea that someone could actually predict when the Rapture would happen, or thought they could. People who don’t know Jesus scoffed at the idea that it would happen at all.

Many Christians were perturbed and embarrassed. Understandably so. They worried about the bad press the Rapture was getting, for Jesus’ sake. But I don’t think Jesus was perturbed.

God is never perturbed or embarrassed. He has no reason to be, even when we do silly things, or evil things, that reflect on Him. He’s used to getting bad press because of us, and He’s really good at taking our negative words and actions and turning them into something that brings good to us, and glory to Himself, where it belongs.

He did it when people scoffed at the prophets He sent in the Old Testament. He did it when people stood at the foot of the cross and mocked Him. He does it still, in these “last days,” when “scoffers will come.” (2 Peter 3:3)

He knew this silly man was going to make this silly mistake. He could have prevented it. But He chose not to.

So how can He bring good out of this fiasco?

Maybe He is using the publicity to wake people up.

Last week, the world learned a new vocabulary word. An important one. And in spite of all the silliness fluttering around the discussions, people were actually talking about Jesus’ return—and a day of reckoning.

Sure, they were scoffing, but underneath all the laughter ran a current of unease—almost awe. One radio announcer, in the midst of the banter back and forth between her and her partner, wondered if it were quite safe to joke about the Rapture. She had a point.

The talk about the rapture fuelled scoffing, but it also directed the world’s attention to the possibility of judgement. People laughed about being “left behind,” but behind the laughter was a hint of sobering fear.

What if?

The question will linger in the back of people’s minds, even after the joke has been lost in other news of the day.

Because of one man’s thoughtless blunder, everyone heard about the possibility that the world was coming to an end. He got the timing wrong, but the central idea is true. The world as we know it will end one day. Many of us think it will happen soon, though we don’t know exactly when. He will come quickly, when we least expect it.

The world needs to be ready. We Christians need to be ready.

What should we do about the end of the world as we know it? Peter tells us how to live:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy. (I Peter 1:13-16)

Holy living. Wise living. Incarnational living.

Living in quiet confidence that God is in control, no matter what happens, and being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that is in us.

I want Jesus to find me living this way when He comes back, or when He takes me home, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

God's Working, In and Around

This morning I’m pondering the great mystery of how God’s sovereignty works in and around our personal choices to fulfil His gracious plan in our lives and in the world.

This thought comes to me as I open my Bible and flip past the page that lists all the books that tell of Israel’s history.

Joshua, Judges, Ruth.
Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.

Stories rich with evidence of God’s compassionate determination to work salvation for us “in and around” our circumstances, our mistakes, our evil inclinations.

My heart swells with praise.

It occurs to me, as I prepare to write today, that more of those kinds of stories need to be told, so that others can come to know this wonderful Creator. I turn to the Psalms, with a sense that God will lead me to a passage that relates to the thoughts I suspect He has just placed in my mind.

My eyes fall on Psalm 77. It begins with lament. “I cried out to God for help, I cried out to God to hear me.”

The Psalmist then asks himself some really hard questions. You can hear the moan behind them.

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?


Through the moaning pain of Asaph, God leads us to the truth:

The Lord will never reject us.
He shows his favor, over and over and over again.
His love is unfailing. It cannot vanish. Ever.
His promises will be fulfilled—all of them, gloriously.
He will never forget to be merciful.
He will pour out his compassion on us forever.


I’m surprised this Psalm doesn’t talk about proclaiming His goodness to others. I’d half expected it to, considering the thoughts I’d had before reading it. I reach for the page, to turn back to the beginning, to read again, and Psalm 78 catches my eye.

I will open my mouth with a parable; I will teach you lessons from the past—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

So I begin my writing today, telling more of the Zinovy parable, trusting that Zinovy’s God will take my ideas and weave them into another story of His mercy and compassion. A story future generations will read. A story of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and the wonders he has done.

Yes, Zinovy's story is fiction, and it's set in the future, not the past, but it's full of truth about God's unfailing love. Zinovy's story demonstrates how God, in his sovereignty, works in and around our circumstances and our choices, to fulfil His loving purposes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

God's Splendid Obsession

This morning's reading in the Daily Light begins with Lamentations 3:40:

Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.

I've been going through difficulties this past week that have forced me to probe my ways, and I’ve been feeling a heavy weight of guilt for what I'm discovering. I can't find any sins that are terribly uncivilized, but I am finding spiritual sins--the sins of pride--the worst kind. Pride is the great sin of the Devil. The sin that says, "I am God."

The world doesn’t find pride sinful. This past week, in a mythology class, I had to teach high school students that the story of Adam and Eve is a story of the coming of age of human beings. God created them, then put a serpent in the garden to “tempt” them to grow up, to become adults, to leave the nest. Then God was angry, like a bad parent, when they chose to go their own way—to become their own persons.

This interpretation is a doctrine of the ancient religion of paganism. We now call that religion secular humanism. According to our evolved social mores, we should not “probe our ways and return to the Lord.” That would be like crawling back into the womb. And if we’re tempted to do that, it’s only because God’s anger has put a heavy burden of false guilt and shame on us.

So I was supposed to teach these students, by implication, that their task is to throw off this weight of guilt, to become fully human, to live their own lives to the fullest as seems best to them. Oh, and also, the book implied we are all to try to do a better job of parenting our children than God did His.

I taught the lesson, but I also told the students the other, more traditional interpretation of the myth of Adam and Eve. I said the story is also considered an explanation of how evil came into the world. I had to add that interpretation. It wasn't in the text. It’s interesting that modern mythology textbooks would teach a pagan interpretation for a Jewish myth, without any mention of the interpretation Jewish scholars have given it down through the years.

But I digress. My own guilt. I feel the weight of it. The guilt is real and justified. And it’s a hard thing to make myself recognize what I’m doing wrong and correct it.

Then I made a glorious discovery: though the guilt is justified, the weight doesn’t have to be there. I don’t have to work at realizing my guilt and repenting and confessing.

John G. Elliott's devotional reading for today has given me a whole new perspective on my malady. John speaks of God's refining fire.

It is God who does the work of refining. We don't have to do anything but surrender. To put ourselves in his hands. He does the rest. It’s a task He does very carefully, because He loves us so much.

John G. Elliott says:

To Him we are of infinite value - - - even in our raw condition. We are the ore that is largely composed of “earth” - - - the “world”. These anti-Kingdom motives, values and desires loom larger in us than we are aware. But He sees the gold deposited in the mix and undertakes a life-long process of “un-earthing” the ore where it is lodged deep within. The filtering process for a small amount of gold is time consuming and costly - - - for Him and for the disciple. But He has never doubted His objective. His love is determined concerning us- - - to the point of splendid obsession. It would seem that the more a disciple yields to this process the more times the furnace is heated up for yet another round of purification.

Ouch. Another round? Not fun. But it is such a relief to know He is responsible for the purification, not me. I will never be “adult” enough to do that task for myself, and I’m happy to leave Him to it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My New Year's Resolution--to Pedal

My New Year’s resolution for my walk (ride?) with the Lord in 2011 is to charge boldly into the new year, embracing the Gulp and Whee mentality I first discovered in the last part of 2010. (For a more detailed definition of "Gulp and Whee," see the post by that title in my writing blog.)

The G and W mentality is perfectly exemplified in this anonymously written poem that inspires me again every time I read it. I hope it challenges and encourages you in your own spiritual journey.

The Road of Life

At first I saw God as my observer, my judge,
Keeping track of the things I did wrong,
So as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognised His picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know Him.

But later on when I met Christ,
It seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
But it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was in the back,
Helping me pedal.

I don’t know when it was that He suggested we change places,
But life has not been the same since.

When I had control, I knew the way.
It was rather boring, but predictable. . .
It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains,
and through rocky places at breakneck speeds.
It was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, “Pedal!”

I worried and was anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?”
He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust.

I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure.
And when I’d say, “I’m scared,” He’d lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts I needed,
Gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy.
They gave me gifts to take on my journey,
My Lord’s and mine.

And we were off again.
He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage.
Too much weight.”
So I did, to people we met, and I found that in giving
I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him at first, in control of my life.
I thought He’d wreck it.
But He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
Knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
Knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places,
And I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze in my face
With my delightful, constant companion, Jesus Christ.

And when I’m sure I just can’t do any more
He just smiles and says. . . “Pedal!”

Author unknown

May the coming year be one of sweet, exciting surprises for you in your journey with the Lord.