Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Intriguing God

I love to think about Him.

He is as complex as a multi-faceted jewel and as simple as the word

He is ancient, without beginning, eternally existing,
yet He is as fresh as the dew in the morning.

He is all-powerful and gentle.

He is as fathomless as the far reaches of the universe,
but He stoops to speak into the hearts of children. 

He is the Author of life
who stepped from eternity into time to die a mortal's death,
for us.

White as snow, yet He reaches into the deepest cesspool of the human heart
to redeem and restore.

He is complete and whole in Himself, but He yearns for friendship with His creatures.

He is intensely and overwhelmingly awesome. 
People fall to the ground at His feet. 

Yet He loves laughter and light-hearted pleasure.

He created joy.

My heart floods with joy when I think about Him.

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  
Acts 2:28

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A First Step Toward Praying Deliberately

God acts, in and around us, whether we ask Him to or not.  He is a God who initiates.  He initiated all
of creation, and He initiates blessing upon blessing in our lives every day simply because He loves us.

But some of His blessings only come when we ask. James says, "You have not because you ask not." (James 4:3) This is an amazing truth.  Through prayer, we have been given the privilege of initiating blessings, for ourselves and for others. But we often (usually?) treat prayer so lightly that our prayers become ineffective.

The kinds of prayers that result in blessings are deliberate and intentional.  Too often my prayers are not that kind. I need to be constantly reminded that the great privilege He has given us in prayer calls for a consciously thoughtful approach to His throne.

When I come to God's throne deliberately and thoughtfully, He asks me questions that help me focus my prayers.  The first question He asks is, "To Whom are you praying?" Answering this question is the first step toward a more effective prayer time.

Praying With God-Awareness

The answer is obvious--so obvious that our awareness of the One we are coming to can get lost in our coming if we're not careful.  God--the reality of his presence and the beauty of his character--must be our focus in prayer.  

If I come to him with my mind full of the things I want to ask for, my head down, and my focus on myself, I'm not really praying. I'm just talking to myself.  Expecting Him to act on my requests is like expecting the caboose to push the train.  It just doesn't work.  Effective praying begins with an awareness of God's presence, His power, and His great compassion for us.

A focus on God does not come naturally.  It must be deliberately sought and deliberately maintained as we pray. Our visible surroundings will overwhelm invisible realities if we don't consciously remind ourselves of what matters when we pray, and what matters first and foremost is the One we are speaking with. 

I find praying on my knees helps to keep me focused on God.  It puts my body in the proper position before Him and it keeps me more aware of His presence.  When I'm on my knees, the rest of the world dissolves and I'm better able to visualize (in a proper way) the reality of His presence.

If you'd like an aid to becoming more God-aware in your prayers, here's a helpful one online.  Try listening to the first seven minutes of this video on Living Still.  Seven minutes is a long time!  It will be difficult to settle into this kind of listening.  But it will lead you into God's presence in a delightful way if you let it.

May we come to Him with a deliberate awareness of who He is.
May we be still, and know what it means to that He is God.
(Psalm 46:10)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Open Letter to President Barak Obama

Dear President Obama,

I read with interest the thoughtful, loving letter you wrote to your daughters when you were first elected. You wanted to introduce them to life in the White House.  I appreciate your desire to care for all children as you would your own.  You want “every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you(r) girls have.”  You say this is why you became president.

These are lofty goals and I’m glad you want to create a world in which all children can dream and grow and thrive.  But I’m puzzled about one thing.  I’m wondering why, in spite of your good intentions, some children do not appear to come under the nurturing, protective umbrella of your government.  Do all children count?  Or are you leaving some children behind?

What about children in the womb?  Do you want them to be able to dream and grow and thrive?  Do you want for them “every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment” and the advantages and privileges your own two beautiful girls have? 

Or do children have to survive until birth before they are allowed to thrive under your benevolent care?

What if, on the day of their conception, children are created?  What if, when they begin to grow and thrive in their mother’s womb, they are already significant human beings, vulnerable and helpless, totally dependent on the provision of other human beings, but deserving of our nurture and protection?  What if these children, in this vulnerable condition, are just as valuable as those who have had a chance to draw their first breath, or their second or third?

My heart cries for them—the ones who will not survive long enough to capture our hearts with their mischief and smiles.  The ones who will never know the joy of loving a puppy, because their lives are inconvenient for their parents, a drain on society, a burden on the welfare system.

Mr. President, you have great plans for this nation, and I pray you will be able to carry them out.  But if you do not extend your protective care over every child in this nation, you will have failed to carry out one of the most sacred duties God has charged your government to fulfil.  You will have failed to defend the rights of the most vulnerable and helpless of your citizens. 

By your own admission, the value of your life rests in the performance of your duties to the children of this nation.  My plea is that you consider performing those duties for all children in this nation—those who have been born and those, even more vulnerable, who are growing quietly in the womb.

Respectfully submitted,

Ginny Jaques

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Read "Jesus Calling"

Jesus calls us.  And He calls us gently.  Jesus Calling, is a gentle book.  It reflects Jesus' tender heart, especially to broken people, and it ministers in a particularly effective way to people who are hurting and need strong reassurance of God's love.

However, as I use this book in my personal time with the Lord, I feel called to read with caution. 

Sarah's journey toward a deeper intimacy with God, as described in her testimony at the beginning of the book, has obviously prepared her for a special ministry to hurting people.  The lessons she has learned in her faith walk are ones that we, in the North American church, could learn much from.  Our tendency to distrust the more charismatic elements of the faith has hindered our ability to minister effectively to the people around us.  We have too long been in denial about how broken our own society is, and a broken society needs the tender touch of Jesus for healing.

In fact, we are all broken people, and we can all benefit from the tender words of Jesus.  I don't want in any way to detract from the blessings readers will get from this book.  But I do want to suggest that, as with all devotional aids, we need to read the daily entries thoughtfully and prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment as we do.

Thoughtful, prayerful discernment is especially important when reading this particular devotional book because Sarah writes her thoughts as if Jesus is speaking them.  This literary technique is a powerful one.  Sarah acknowledges that her words don't carry the same weight as Scripture, but writing in the voice of Jesus creates an aura of authority that writing in her own voice would not convey, and the way she writes creates, subliminally, the sense that God's authority is behind what she says.

I agree with Sarah that Jesus does speak directly to us today.  He speaks to us through Scripture, for sure, but His Holy Spirit also speaks more specific truths to our inner spirits as we walk with Jesus from day to day.  But whenever we think we're hearing His voice, we need to be especially careful.  Thoughts that come into our minds are not always from Him, and things we believe we hear from him are not always true.  There are other voices that are able to speak into our spirits and we need to be very careful to discern who is speaking and whether or not what we hear is the truth.

If you're a committed Jesus Calling reader, I don't want to discourage you.  I believe the Holy Spirit uses many kinds of books to speak to people, and I know he uses this book.  I believe it contains truths that are helpful to us in our daily Christian walk. But I'd like to suggest four ways we should read the book in order to properly receive the blessings the Lord might have for us in it.

How to Read Jesus Calling:

1.  We need to remember, as we read, that Jesus Calling is not the authoritative Word of God.  We must constantly remind ourselves of this truth, because hearing the words spoken as if from the mouth of Jesus will affect us subconsciously.  We need to consistently separate out the method of writing from the message.  

2.  We need to consciously compare every statement in the book to Scripture. We should look up the Scriptures given at the end of each entry and study them in context, and we must carefully weigh every statement Sarah makes against the uniquely reliable authority of God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.  We should pay special attention to words like "most," "much," "all" or "always.  God makes these kinds of "all-ness" statements in His Word, but He's the only one who is wise enough to use them accurately every time.  Human writers need to use them cautiously, even when they feel inspired by God.

3.  We must remember that, while the words of this book may be true, they are only part of the truth.  Sarah's words are comforting, and we need God's comfort, for sure. But we need to be able and willing to hear everything God says to us, not just the comfortable truths. All truth that is necessary for us to know is revealed in the Bible. We should not allow any other book, no matter how comforting, to take the place of the Bible in our personal quiet times with Jesus. The Bible is harder to read.  It takes focus and thoughtful analysis.  But this kind of difficulty is necessary if we are to grow in our Christian life.  God does not necessarily make it easy to find Him.  We cannot be lazy in our pursuit of God. 

Which leads to my last point. . .

4.  Sarah's experience of hearing from God is not unique.  God wants to speak intimately and specifically to each one of us.  We can benefit best from Sarah's words if they inspire us to seek God's voice for ourselves. Yes, what He has said to Sarah is helpful for all of us. But we need no intermediary when approaching God, and Sarah's sharing of her experience of intimacy with God should make us hungry to hear what he wants to say to us directly, rather than through the words of others.

I thank God for giving His Body gifted and inspired writers.  Like Sarah's, my faith has grown greatly over the years through the ministry of good Christian books.  I know God uses inspired writers today.  But we need to practice the discipline of reading all books prayerfully and carefully, allowing God to speak directly, by His Holy Spirit, and trusting Him to guide us into all truth.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Mystery of Growth

When I pray about a problem or a struggle, too often I find myself expecting God to simply step in and fix things.  I expect the fixing to be immediate, and I expect it to be painless and effortless on my part.  I watch for a flash of lightning at the end of my prayer that either gives me the solution or whips me out of the situation I'm unhappy with.

This flash of lightning rarely comes.

I've been working in my garden this spring.  I don't know what I'm doing.  I've never had a green thumb.  But I figure since I have some space now and extra time on my hands I might as well see if I can do something constructive with it.

But it's discouraging. 

I planted nasturtium seeds, sweet peas, and marigolds, which I've heard keep out the garden pests, but none of them have sprouted. 

I put in three tomato plants two weeks ago and they haven't grown an inch.

Other people have zucchinis already and I only have wisps of green shoots just starting to push up through the cold soil. 

My rhubarb is spindly and my pumpkin plants have maybe three leaves each. 

Yesterday I got frustrated and went to the garden store.  I bought a hanging tomato plant loaded with blossoms, and a dozen or so potted flowers already lavishly adorned with pretty pink and purple flowers.  My deck looks lovely. 

I plunked eighteen pre-grown marigolds down in my vegetable garden, on top of the seeds that never sprouted and in the middle of a row of carrot seeds I'd forgotten my grandson had planted a week ago.   The garden looks better too.  At least there's some color now.

I'm not giving up on the seeds, mind you.  Every day I'll go out and check to see if they've come up.  But some of the enthusiasm has dampened.  I don't know if there will be enough left to motivate me to pull the weeds, which are flourishing, when they begin to smother the rows of chard and arugula.

But I suspect there's a lesson here. It has occurred to me that God's creation of the world, and of us, was not simply an event.  It was, and is, a progression of events.  Some of the events are so small and seemingly insignificant we don't even notice them.  These small events overlap and run together so mysteriously we can't fathom how they are working, and sometimes it looks like they aren't.  

But they are working.  Growth inevitably happens, in the soil and in our lives. 

It's another great and wondrous godly mystery.

Instead of whining that He's not answering my prayers when I see no immediate change or feel no instant relief, I need to choose to believe things are happening, even when I can't see them.  I need to look for the little rays of hope and light that He might be trying to give me in the process--the green shoots just beginning to poke their little heads through the soil.

And I need to act on the rays of light he gives--to participate with Him in the working out of the process.  I need to be willing to change, and to let the process run its course in me.

God, please help me with the green thumb business.  Help me to trust in the mystery of growth, to remember to water the garden, and be motivated to pull the weeds.  And help me to remember where my grandkids have planted their little seeds so I don't mess up the process of their learning about growing things.

The Never Ending Mystery

Here are more good thoughts on the mystery that is God, quoted from Open Doors, June 30, 2014.

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ…   Ephesians 1:9
     Human beings always want to know “why?” and “why not now?” But it’s precisely because we are human we cannot know. That’s why mystery is so important to understand. The entire book of Job is all about the “why” of suffering and in the end God invites Job to see a bigger picture than even his suffering.

     Creation is a mistake if all you see is your suffering. But if you lift your eyes wider and let your gaze roam over the whole universe with God, you can also see that creation has even more beauty and grace.

     So we are to value mystery because it enables us to feel God’s love…love that was fully revealed in Christ.

     Sometimes we get to see “why?” and “why not now?” (one of the good aspects of growing older). Often we don’t because we are the players of life in the universe, not the playwright.

    Christine Mallouhi in her excellent book, Waging Peace on Islam, makes this significant conclusion:

     The victorious and triumphant Christian life does not conjure up pictures of suffering and death and feelings of abandonment. But this was all part of God's victory in Christ. If this was the path the Master trod why should it be any different for the servants? Jesus cried out "why?" and "where are you?" to God when circumstances were crushing him. God is always greater than our understanding of him and there will always be mystery about him that causes us to fall down in awe and worship. This mystery, which we want to tidily categorise, keeps causing struggles in our life. Every time we get God tidied up like a ball of rubber bands, another end bursts out and the struggle begins over again, until we learn to live in faith with untidy ends. If everything is clear then faith is irrelevant. We are not called to solve the mystery, but enter it.[1]
Today I will value mystery because it enables me to feel God’s love.
Thank You Lord that though the world around us if full of suffering, it is more full of beauty and grace. Help me to trust You and value mystery.

[1] Christine Mallouhi, Waging Peace on Islam (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), p.52.

Open Doors is an organization that ministers to persecuted Christians in all countries where it is dangerous to be a believer.  It's a great resource for learning about true faith among our brothers and sisters around the world.  You can sign up to get encouraging e-mails from this organization on a regular basis.  You can also pray and give to their ministry. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Like the Wind

Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.  
Psalm 119: 89-90

I don't believe in "magic," but something a little like magic sometimes seems to happen to me when I meditate on passages in the Bible. 

I say "sometimes" because it doesn't always happen.  Many times when I read the Bible I don't "feel" the "magic." 

And I say "seems" to happen because what happens is so subtle, so internal, so apparently outside of the realm of reason that I'm never quite sure where it comes from or even what it's doing.  

As I write those words, I'm reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit: "The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

What if it's the sweet wind of the Spirit that's wafting through my heart when I "feel" that "magic" while reading God's Word?

Psalm 119 works this kind of magic on my spirit.  When I take the time to meditate on this worship song, the sense that my mind is untwisting and my heart is re-orienting toward God is so strong it's almost tangible.  Without fail, when I go to this Psalm, I come away with a renewed sense of what is right and a deeper longing to share the Psalmist's love for his God.

This experience is something so subjective I find it hard to write about.   I'd like to give a specific example of a particular verse and explain just how it affects me, but I can't.  I guess some things of God are so deep--so spiritual--that they're beyond verbal description.

Sometimes I think it would be nice if I could capture the Spirit of God, put Him in a box, or pin Him down to a display board where I could study Him at my leisure, make notes, and write up a research report on "the topic." 

But, no, that wouldn't be so nice.  If I could do that, I would be God and He would not be.  And that would be a tragedy beyond imagining.

Some of my favorite verses in Psalm 119

I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you. (vs. 11)
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. (vs. 18)
I run in the path of your commands, 
    for you have set my heart free. (vs. 32)

Am I alone in my experience of this spiritual phenomenon?  
Have you experienced anything like it? 
What are your favorite verses in this Psalm?

I'd love to hear your comments on this topic.

Matthew Henry's commentary on Psalm 119 makes for a good study of the Psalm. 

In researching for this post, I also found a great site on Bible study in general.  
Check out Got Questions?