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Friday, July 8, 2016

heart surgery

Tension.  Dumbfounded confusion.  Injustice…I sit and watch it in full pixel color and I sense a stirring of attitudes and beliefs I thought only resided in history books. Surely I’m not the only one who feels like people are not speaking the same language.  They are using words with letters and syllables that sound similar, but the core understanding of those words is different.  Reminds me of the people long ago who built a tower--one of self-exaltation, pride, and rebellion--and the result was division and confusion.  

That’s what sin does, doesn’t it? It impairs understanding, separates, and exalts one person over another…when sin enters the picture, confusion is right there with it.  In our fallen world there is only One that can mend the brokenness we see on TV or feel in our own hearts.  Political correctness can’t change the heart; shoulds and shouldn’ts can’t change the heart; rules, programs, and knowledge can’t even change the heart.  The only One that brings the change we so long for is Jesus Himself.  

He is the only cure for a tower-loving, self-exalting people. 

The only thing that changes these deeply embedded prejudices, intolerances, and indifferences is the cutting away of the flesh by the Savior Himself.   Whether hatred or indifference, both are evidence of our own personal need of this life-altering heart surgery.  The gospel of Christ that tells us His death did what we couldn't do and His resurrection gives new life that we didn't deserve is our only hope.

 When God shines His light on sinners’ hearts, He exposes truth for truth and lies for lies; He exposes the vast difference between what we say and what we actually hold to be true.  And when those embarrassing attitudes are made visible, maybe only to me, I must bring them to the cross—the only thing that crucifies sin.  I can no longer glaze over what He’s revealed in me with a shiny coat of political correctness or knowledge of what I should think or feel.  He has uncovered and laid bare this sin He died for and declares I must pluck it out, waging war on my own hypocrisy and prejudice before I can expect something different from others, moving us from mere tolerance of others to active love and care for others.  If God Himself  "rises to show compassion," (Is. 30:18) surely I can walk across the room to do the same. 
This requires courage, tenderness, and compassion. It requires me to have empathy for others and a desire to understand before I can seek to be understood.  No longer can we give pride or defensiveness a seat at the table.  

Brokenness and humility precede healing and wholeness.

I must engage in the story that is playing out in front of me.  I am forfeiting God’s grace to me as an individual and to us as people if I am not applying His cross and, praise God, His resurrection to the story.
And if others wrong me, I know that they are people for whom my Savior died—their attitudes that offend me are no more offensive than the attitudes He has exposed in me.
We are a broken people in full need of a Savior to shine His light, expose our dross, and burn it away.  I must be willing to see what He sees and be willing to let Him do the heart surgery on me before I begin to pray for real change in others.

Oh Lord, shine the light of your Spirit on us—burning away all that is not of You and illuminating all that is. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Give us courage. Give us humility. Give us compassion.  Give us You.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Whatever

I am no longer my own but Yours. 
Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. 
Put me to doing, put me to suffering. 
Let me be employed for You or laid aside for You,        
exalted for You or brought low for You.
Let me be full, let me be empty. 
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am Your’s.  So be it.  And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.

John Wesley


Whatever You want, Lord.  This is the phrase the Lord has been teaching me to pray lately.  To want His will and not my own is my heart's deepest longing and need.  This is a hard lesson to learn though.  I have fought Him, struggled with Him, questioned Him...been angry, confused, and indignant.  My pride has been hurt, dismantled, and exposed.  

Whatever You want, Lord.  When I pray these words it is less a disclaimer of mature faith and more  a desperate plea for Him to align my heart with His.  I am hoping that as my mouth utters the words, my heart hears and follows suit.  I want to love Him with all my heart, I want to want His will above all else, I want this heart of flesh to be transformed. 

Whatever You want, Lord. He has not treated me as my sins deserved; He has not counted my sins against me.  Instead, He has lovingly drawn me close, whispering "wait, be still...My ways are not your ways...rejoice in Me and My love for you, not in yourself, your accomplishments, not in anything you can see...everything is a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Me."  Knowing Him.  In His goodness and mercy He has made a way for us to come, not when we finally love Him enough, but in the midst of half-hearted devotion.   

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Message for the Suffering

My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You…  Job 42:5

These artful words have lingered in my soul for years.  Spoken by a man long ago, they tell of one who moved from one type of knowing to another…from hearing about to seeing…from knowing facts to experiencing. 

This is the reason I read the book of Job. 

From the beginning of the book, when God Himself describes Job as “a good man,” to the end where Job repents and acknowledges this new intimacy with the Lord, what was one thing that caused this deepening of faith?

Suffering.

Because in spite of the questions the book raises, in spite of my fears that God is preparing me for suffering if I read it, and in spite of my desire to only read joyful words from God, I can’t get over what happened inside of Job when everything outside of Job went to crap. 

The thing about suffering that we’re afraid to voice in some circles is suffering sucks.  In a world that chases comfort and thrill, talking about suffering and loss is avoided and seems extremely out of date.  Suffering is painful and inconvenient—it stops us in our tracks and often there is not one thing we can do about it. 

 Suffering is not relative.  When in distress or pain, I can’t look to someone in worse pain and think, “ok, nevermind, I feel ok now.”  Looking at fellow sufferers, I often commiserate: “yep, you and me both, sister” or I let the guilt-inducing “shoulds” take over: “I should be happy, I should have faith big enough to get over it…”   

The root word of suffering means “to bear from below.” So how do we “bear” what oftentimes feels like the world’s weight, what helps us bear the suffering?  

Knowing who God is and clinging to His truth that is still true even when the feelings are absent.

Knowing that it’s temporary.  This may mean that it is a short-lived burden or that it is only short-lived in light of eternity. 

Knowing that it’s purposeful—God uses suffering to draw us near, to humble, to expose, and to bring Himself glory.

Knowing that my struggle has an eternal significance and is an opportunity to glorify God.   
Knowing that my strength and peace will run out sooner than I expect but that the strength and peace that God supplies will not.  This is one of the beautiful and painful lessons of suffering: the practical “how to” of leaning on the Lord and not on ourselves. 

Knowing that it’s necessary—there are truths about God and about ourselves that we only learn when we suffer.  While we’re in physical or emotional pain or distress we may feel alone, but if we lean in, we’ll experience a nearness to God that satisfies even our deepest longing.  

And yet, we suffer on. And we love a God who allows suffering.  And we follow a Savior who suffered...not so we would never suffer, but so our suffering would be temporary and so we would know Him who redeems all things, yes even me.

Job’s intimacy with God was not the original purpose given at the beginning of the book.  The purpose of his suffering was the glory of God.  God’s honor was at stake and intimacy with Him was a result. 

When God’s glory is the goal and focus, intimacy follows.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Psalms

Pour out.  Pour it all out.  This is the lesson of the Psalms.  These written words, these songs--these questions, laments, celebrations--all urge us to do the same.  

Nestled deep into this inspired book, we read:
pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge.

Pour it out because He is our refuge.  He is a safe place to leave the contents of our hearts and minds, AND He is the one who can answer and transform you.  It doesn’t say “pour out your heart because God will make your life comfortable, say yes to your every wish, or help you live your best life now.” 

We pour because He can be trusted. 

His thoughts toward us don’t shift depending on what we tell Him; His love doesn’t wane.  When He sees our unattractive attitudes or motives, He doesn’t love us less or more because of what we pray.  He doesn’t get uncomfortable when we “overshare.”  His love for us has already been decided and determined, and guess what, it has nothing to do with our personality, actions, family history, or dignified prayers, but has everything to do with our belief and trust in Him.  Those embarrassing or shameful parts of us?  
He already knew the depth of them. 

When we read that the heart is deceitful above all things, who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9), it doesn’t mean that our hearts deceive Him, but that they deceive us.  It is in the pouring that we are given a glimpse at what He already knew.  We can’t repent or ask for Spirit-enabled change for something that we are blind to. 
When we continue to forsake time in prayer, we can begin to think that we're ok, that we've gotten this holiness thing down.  

But then.  When we see below the surface, we're appalled at what we find—jealousy? self-righteousness? Prejudice? Hatred? Materialism? Bitterness?  He gives us a knowing look--this God before whom our secret thoughts are exposed (1 Corinthians 14:25)…before whom nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13) says yes.

The Psalms are the pen and paper version of the pouring.  Among the countless prayers, there is also a lot of self-talk.  David doesn’t shy away from difficulty, but instead puts it on paper allowing us to watch as God molds his heart.  Sometimes God intervened and changed the situation but sometimes He changed David’s focus, reminding him of the truth and of God’s past faithfulness.  

The Psalms vividly show how God lifts His children’s heads.  The struggling Psalms are no less impactful than the praising Psalms--the struggle is relatable and beautiful, showing God for God and man for man—there is no confusion who the faithful, powerful, omniscient One is. 

When it feels like everything else is dried up, we look to find that God’s love remains.  His love and care for His own does not dissipate, but endures. When we are tired and only have words of complaint or fearful ramblings—God wants it all.  

It is in the pouring out that we bring our authentic selves to Him—not a calculated fa├žade.  He works in vulnerability, molding the heart, the motives, the thoughts, and even the desires.  Many hours are spent in prayer devoid of real heart-to-heart connection with our Maker because we are presenting who we think we should be, while our Maker knows who we really are, even when we ourselves are unaware. 

Imagine a child wanting a piece of clay to become something more but withholding it from the potter.  In prayer, we are holding our clay to The Potter, because He is the only One who knows what to do with it. Time spent in prayer is not only time to speak with God, but also time to avail ourselves to the One who redeems all things and changes us to reflect His image.


So today, pour it out, pour it all out, before your loving Father.  And don’t be surprised when you notice a change in the contents of what you pour out…He is changing you; He is making you; He is remaking you.  Your God who makes all things new will transform you from the inside out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

promises kept


2 Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.   

This verse has always seemed mysterious to me.  It was one of those that I loved and, at the same time, knew it meant more than my current understanding.  Saying "yes" to promises?  Great!  Glory?  Yes, please.  But what else?--I knew there was more...

There are many places in Scripture like this that I've read and prayed, Lord, what does this mean?  And then waited until He gave the understanding.  When God does shine a light on a truth, the understanding is so sweet and life-altering. 

Let's start with a few questions as we look closer. 

2 Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.   

Who makes the promises? 
           
          ...for no matter how many promise God has made

          God Himself has given us very great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4) 

Who fulfills these promises? 
            
          ...they are Yes in Christ

          He has accomplished these promises in Christ, or put another way, His life, death, and resurrection has accomplished and fulfilled what was promised; promises are kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  While God will fulfill every single promise He has made, it is only IN CHRIST that He fulfills the personal declarations.
What’s our role in the promise process?    

           ...and so through Him the Amen is spoken by us

         We simply say amenAmen is one of the most universal words in human language and it literally means, “truly, so be it, yes, I agree.”  When we say Amen, we are saying, Yes, Lord.  May it be so according to Your will.                   
Who gets the glory? 

          ...the Amen is spoken by us to the glory of God

        God is glorified when His people desire His will above their own.  Believing His word, trusting His way and living in agreement with Him brings Him glory and 
brings us peace.


Here’s an example:  In Deuteronomy 31:6 God says to His children:  I will never leave you, nor forsake you.  God has made this promise to us; He will never leave us.  

He has accomplished this through His Son--through Jesus Christ we have been brought into His family, into His presence, and we have received His Holy Spirit.  Remember what His very name means?  Immanuel, which means God with us (Matthew 1:23).  Jesus has accomplished this promise and now we dwell in Christ and His Spirit dwells in us until we are physically in His presence forever. 
And we say, Amen  
Mary said something similar in Luke 1:38 when her response to Gabriel’s announcement about Jesus was, I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.  

By saying Amen, we are agreeing with His promises and purposes, asking for them to be done in our lives, and we are proclaiming to the world that Yes, God is faithful and can be trusted.  ...the amen is spoken by us to the glory of God.
Jesus accomplishes the promises that God has made and our role and response is, 

Yes, Lord, whatever You want, whatever Your will, may it be to me as you have promised.  

We ask God, we agree with God, we give God control and He is glorified through our lives.  How would praying these simple words change every day of our life?   

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

stuck

A cross-stitched phrase hung on the narrow wall between the kitchen and dining room when I was a child.  

When God closes a door, He opens a window, 

the threads proclaimed in country blue.  Above the words, sat a sweet little bird looking out the window. 
I’ve thought about that short phrase a lot over the last few years.
Doors close a lot in life.  When we are the one initiating the closing, the change of a new direction can be exciting, but when it is a God-initiated closed door we might spend quite some time fumbling around for a window or even a light switch.    
It gets real when we feel that we're on the wrong side of a closed door--caught in between the shutting of the door and the opening of the window.  Stuck.

Like the time I chased my sister outside with not so great timing--the screen door latching closed behind me at the same time my sister slammed the front door, causing me to be what we call in the South “stuck between a rock and a hard place”…or more fittingly, “stuck between two shut doors.” The space was so tight that I couldn’t move my arms to open either unlocked door. Stuck.

Now before you ask if this was possible, I should add that it was before twinkies and kool-aid became the staples of my adolescent diet.

For years, I assumed when God closed a door, He already had a window, or preferably another door, wide open, waiting on us.  

Surely He wouldn’t cause us to slow down and be still; surely “be still” means to still your mind in chaos, not your actual body or life or calendar; surely He would want us to go from one activity, ministry, or commitment to the next.  He’s not the God of long pauses but of blazing forward, right?

Oh goodness, what kool-aid was I drinking?  While there are times when God seamlessly leads us from one thing to another, the busyness that comes from activity, especially good activity, can lead us to function on autopilot.   

We confuse the world we see, which tells that growth, even spiritual growth, means bigger and better—like climbing a ladder and at the top:“ta da…look at what I’ve become…look at this shiny life of significance that God has blessed me with,” with the kingdom that is often unseen—that there is no ladder in the Kingdom of God and if there is, it is either to climb down or lay on its side as a bridge.   Phrases like, He must become greater, I must become less, become sweet sentiments.   Becoming less is replaced with increasing your influence.  

When we feel stuck, there is a great deal of wrestling that takes place.  We wrestle with accepting our circumstances.  We wrestle with God and His will because it is so different than ours. We wrestle with our own inner sin and weakness that was easily ignored during busy seasons but is glaring when life is still. It's understandable why we often avoid these pauses like strep throat. 

But when we are stuck, God shows that walking with Him is more about the walking with Him and less about a glittery arrival, as Brennan Manning called it.

When we are stuck, we learn more about His character and His heart toward our broken world and  toward us, His children.  When our hands are empty and not full of activity or accomplishment, when the “with-ness” of God becomes the one remaining thing, when we feel we have nothing to “offer” or hold up for his approval, we are left with the truth that His acceptance, love, and presence depend entirely upon our Jesus and not even a tad on us. 


 I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  Psalm 131:2  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Creation's Chorus


The mountains declare the glory of God. 

The majesty, the grandeur, the beauty, the incomparable, infinite, incomprehensible—all on display for the looking eye.

The flowers, those 3D color wheels, remind that beauty is God’s design. 
Every hue of yellow, orange, blue and purple proclaim, look at me, look at me,
reminding us of the Author of Beauty, look at Him, look at Him. 
Every stem and petal exhibit the intricate attention of the Master Artist. 
 




The trees, the singing birds, each living thing works together to exhale, glory, glory, glory.


 
  The rocks, the grass, the streams, all say, our God is strong, our God is lush and vibrant.

The riches of His beauty declare, you are loved.

All details of His creation sing in unison, look at the work of His hands. 
He has made all things for His glory, lifting gazes to Him, the exalted one.

What about you, believer?  What do you proclaim? 

What is your contribution to this glory-chorus of creation? 

Join the proclamation of all creation.  This is what you were made to do--it is your purpose and your joy.