Saturday, December 27, 2008

Need a Song?

Our children attend public schools, so it has been a treat to have them home on break for the last week. Perhaps it's because we live in the country and have no immediate neighbors or perhaps it's because we limit our children's electronic time daily, in either case we have been blessed by a daughter who spends hours of each day singing hymns. She sits at the piano and plays hymns--new hymns, old hymns, familiar hymns, little-known hymns. She generally sings the alto and tenor lines, working each phrase over and over, leaving us all with bits of a melody that carry us from one "practice session" to the next.

In reading the book of Hosea, God shares His personal, intimate plan for His people. He sees her desire to take the good things He has given her and spend it on that which makes a mockery of Him. He watches as she pursues those things which destroy and draw away life, desiring to reveal Himself to her and lavish her with good things.

Like Gomer, Hosea's wife, many of us seek our own pleasure, using the gifts God has given. He would have us recycle our gifts in ways that reveal Him; too often we use those gifts in selfish, idolatrous ways that distort His character and ways.

But as the story continues, God arranges circumstances to woo His own. Following Paul and Peter's examples, we can apply these same principles to ourselves (Rom. 9:25, 1 Peter 2:10).

God uses all things--even difficult things--to draw us and bless us. He covenants us to Himself (Hosea 2:14-18). This unusual covenant is not a dual agreement in which each side brings something to the table, for God Himself covers the cost of His erring wife/people (v. 18--"I will also make a covenant for them...." emphasis added). God then provides righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion, and faithfulness (v. 19-20).

And what does He desire in return? Simply that I will sing as in the days of my youth (v. 15), that I will know the Lord (v. 20), and acknowledge Him as my God (v. 23). What a natural response to the goodness of God! How could we do otherwise? If He has given all, can I not--will I not--acknowledge Him with songs of praise and thanksgiving?

Thanks to our daughter, I have many songs in my head and heart today. Thanks to this reminder from the Lord through Hosea, my heart is lightened to sing "as in the days of my youth."

Verse: "I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they will say, 'You are my God!'" Hosea 2:23

Challenge: Turn off your radio, television, ipod, etc. and ask the Lord to put a song in your heart. Be sensitive to the words that come to mind and offer them back as a prayer to the Lord.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sheath Splitting

My friend, Emily, had radical surgery this fall. Some of us got to see pictures. When I asked, she gave me the high-school facebook explanation. Later, I asked her dad. "Emily's surgery is very new. In the past, athletes with her condition would push until the sheath that encases the calf muscles split from force. Now they can diagnose the condition before the actual injury and release the muscles surgically."

Wow. Almost more than I needed to know, but fascinating.

As I have been reading the book of Galatians, I am struck by Paul's radical call to faith. It is much like splitting the sheath of our hearts. Not only in the New Testament Jewish population, but even in our churches today, there is a belief that being a good Christian means doing the right things. We belie this with our words: "You catch 'em, Christ cleans em," but even this underscores the "work" of the Christian. Who catches them? You do. So much of the Christian life is about the "worker," that the faith part, the God part, gets short-changed.

Open the sheath of faith, and works expand. When we live by faith, waiting on God's provision, God's guidance, God's revealed purpose, our lives explode with His goodness. We are no longer restrained by our own efforts, our limited perception, our sense of obligation. As we rely on the the work of Christ for us.... we are set free to serve and please Him in a way that brings Him honor and glory.

Passage: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Galatians 3:13-14 NASB

Thought: Will I deliberately choose to live by faith today instead of self-effort?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Christmas Control Freak

Christmas is a frightening time to spend with a control freak. Or maybe it would be better to say that the weeks leading up to Christmas are hell on earth (in a very real sense--strife, anger, isolation, unmet expectations). What is the driving force?

In my many musings about myself and others who are involved in church/Christian activities, Christmas is the apex of the year. It has become the apex not simply because it is the celebration of Christ's birth (although that is the declared "reason for the season"); it is not even because of the many opportunities for service that abound this time of year. Boiled down to its essence, the control and stress issues of Christmas are appearance and performance: me.

Christmas in the church has become--has often been, in my experience--a stage. It is not the fault of the pastor, or the leaders, or the congregation. In fact, it is not a stage in the heart and mind of many who worship there. But in the mind and heart of some it has become the time and place to "put on the Ritz." The cards are sent in great quantities and with flair, the children are decked out in holiday ribbons and polished shoes, the neighbors and teachers and bus drivers are lauded with wondrous, beautiful confections.

Conflict is rife as there are glitches in the mailing process, children don't do as they're told (or expected), Christmas cookies flop, and time runs short. Frustration mounts. Anger hovers just below the surface. And, as my loving husband would comment, "Why?... Why are you doing this?"

My initial response is, "because it's part of Christmas, it just has to be done." The (often-hidden) heart response is, "because my reputation is on the line, how would it look if I didn't _______?!" And this is the center of heart worship: my reputation, if I....

When will we understand that "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6)? God doesn't care how wonderfully or completely or beautifully I perform. He does not hold me to a standard of doing. That's why Jesus came--because our doing was not enough. There is no way to please God by keeping the law, by keeping more than the law. We cannot do enough, well enough, to qualify.

Loving, serving, and pleasing God is all about who He is. It is coming by faith and depending on Him for the doing. My control freakish attitude changes when I begin to pray, "Lord, if it is Your will, help me express gratitude to those who serve our family throughout the year." "Lord how would You desire me to serve?" "God, give me the wisdom to order my day according to Your priorities, in loving service to my family first and foremost."

When I walk through the Christmas season by faith, there is room for human failure. There is grace for myself and others--because it's not about me anymore. It's not about appearance or pride or glitz or show. It's about dependence. And in that dependence on God, my focus changes from doing to being--being loving, kind, patient, joyful, peaceful, self-controlled, good, and gentle. In essence, celebrating Christmas by faith. This is the perfect Christmas. This is the gift the Christ child desires. What gift will I give today? When the reins of life are in my hand, the cart is lost. When the reins are in the hand of the Master, the destination is reached.

Whether you yourself or someone you love is a Christmas control freak, may you find yourself depending on a loving heavenly Father as you enjoy the festivities of Christ's birth.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

God's Gifted and Talented

It's Sunday morning and many believers will be attending church today. There will be teaching, special music, and countless opportunities to interact. In the book of Acts, many believers not only met in homes, but also attended the synagogue or temple on the Sabbath. One of these believers was Apollos.

Apollos must have been an incredibly gifted individual. Acts describes him as "an eloquent man," "mighty in the Scriptures," "speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus." When Apollos spoke, people listened. God had equipped and enabled him to engage the Jewish population (Acts 18:28).

But the notable part of his ministry wasn't his teaching. The most memorable part of his ministry was his service. He felt called go to a new location "and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). God put him where He did, gifted him as He had to serve, to help, to minister to the needs of those who had believed.

My goal, my purpose, cannot be to sharpen my spiritual gift(s) or to be passionate about excelling in giftedness. My drive and passion, when it is Christ-centered, is to serve the Body of Christ in any and every way possible and to be His instrument in introducing Christ to the world.

To be Christlike is not to be efficient or specialized. To be Christlike is to be touchable, to be hungry, tired, and desperately needy for the Father. To be Christlike is to serve others when no one is looking, to love others when no one is loving me. To be Christlike is to be content in the Father's purpose and provision; "to greatly help those who have believed through grace."

Application: As I minister to those God put in my path today will they see Christ or will they see me?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Compost and the Chicken Pot

One of the most commonly used receptacles in our house is the infamous "chicken pot." It's the small aluminum stock pot that sits on our kitchen counter collecting vegetable peelings, apple cores, etc. When the pot is full, the child who has that chore for the day takes it outside and dumps its contents onto the compost pile--where our free-range chickens generally clean it up. Needless to say, we have very little real compost by the time the chickens are done.

This pot was a loving gift from Aunt Helen who picked it up at an auction in the Midwest. We think of her fondly often, due to our constant use of the chicken pot.

The apostle Paul speaks of such a pot in 2 Timothy when he writes, "Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor." Paul goes on to compare believers to these vessels. "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work."

Our chicken pot has to be empty to be useful. At times it nearly overflows--and there simply isn't room to put anything more in. It has to be emptied first. We are the same. In order for us to be useful to the Master, we must be empty first. We must take time to empty and wash out that which is hindering our usefulness.

It is also interesting to note that the very word, compost, has overtones of humility. It has been noted that "humus," decayed organic matter, shares the same root word as "humility." To be fully used of God is to be empty of self, to be broken down, decomposed, full of those elements that are useful in aiding the growth others.

Hmmm... the chicken pot. It would behoove each of us to stop and reflect from time to time, "Is my life a vessel of usefulness to the Master, a fond gift, empty of self, useful for building others up according to their need?" What kind of pot am I, anyway?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Too Tight!

Last year I was able to shed forty pounds! It was an absolute blessing from the hand of God. Did it require effort? Yes. Was it difficult at times? Absolutely. But the crux of the matter is that it was God's gift. He is the One who provided the motivation and means to make my dream come true--for His honor and glory. It was all His doing. Even so, it is easy to become complacent, and I have rediscovered some unwanted weight the last few months. I'm still wearing the same clothes, but they've gotten a bit uncomfortable.

This was in the back of my mind as I sat down to read about Philip's interaction with the Ethiopian. As Philip went about his daily business, he remained sensitive to the Spirit of the Lord. He obeyed immediately and completely (Acts 8:29-30). His obedience not only put him in the physical proximity for further obedience, it also placed him in spiritual proximity for continued obedience (Acts 8:35-38).

When I am obedient in personal choices, in what God has openly revealed through His word, I am much more prepared to share the gospel. My mind is already stayed on Him by His Word. I am actively seeking to do His will, and I am much quicker in my response to outside influences as God gives opportunity. It is much like getting dressed for a special occasion.

If I have been eating right, exercising regularly, and caring for my physical being it is much easier--even enjoyable--to slip into special clothes and get dolled-up for an important occasion. But when I have eaten impulsively and failed to exercise or care for myself, it is a chore to get dressed. The clothes that I wear less often and that have special significance are tight and uncomfortable--revealing bulges I try to keep hidden.

To share the good news of Christ is a special occasion, a joyous, momentous event regardless of how often it happens. But if we are honest, too many times we have failed to obey in the small, daily events of life--and it shows in our presentation of Christ. We are uncomfortable with the consequences of our disobedience. Our bulges are evident, and our unrepentant choices mar the image of His testimony. It is a painful, awkward task to share that which we are unprepared.

Oh, to be obedient in the small, daily callings so that we will be ready to obey immediately and completely, in a God-honoring way, to the larger calling of God. May we evidence the image of His Son as we clothe ourselves with Christ (Romans 13:14). Praise God that Philip was willing and ready, a sensitive servant.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Say the Name

In the work-a-day, everyday world, life somehow gets skewed. We set out with a plan, an agenda, and gauge our success for the day based on whether or not the plan was accomplished. In the book of Acts, the apostles didn't have a plan as much as they had a Person.

Over and over, these men and women did great things, crazy things, in the Name of Jesus. It wasn't that they used the Name of Jesus as a magic charm or a mantra before throwing themselves into the temple with wild abandon. It was quite the opposite. The Person of Christ compelled them to do what they did, to say what they said. It is because of who Jesus Christ is that they taught about Him, healed in His Name, underwent rebukes and physical beatings. They recognized that Jesus is the center of the message, the center of life, the center of salvation; the power is in the gospel (Romans 1:18).

How often do I forfeit the power of God because I fail to acknowledge the Person of God, namely Christ? Just to acknowledge His Name would work a miracle in my own life. It would change the way I think. It would change what I do. "I am eating this doughnut in Jesus' Name." Preposterous! "I am watching this movie in Jesus' Name" (albeit many actors perform "in Jesus' Name" but not in His Person and power--this is where we fail). Until we are living in submission to the Word of God, through the Person of Christ, and by His Spirit, we will fail to understand the weight of His Name.

Will His Name change your life today? It's already changed mine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Glory Hoarder

In our world, success if often measured by association. If you want to sell your product, associate it with the right name or profile and people will buy it based simply on association. If you hope to acquire a new job or position, simply access an association with a name or set of names, and you have a greater chance of acquiring your dream career.

As I read Acts chapter 3 this morning, I was caught by Peter's reply to an amazed people. The lame man (whom Jesus had undoubtedly passed countless times as He entered the Beautiful Gate--another story for another time), was healed and Peter launched into an exposition on Jesus. As I read his response to the people's amazement, I wondered how he suddenly linked the death of Jesus to these people. How did he so suddenly have an "in" to the gospel?

There are times I want to redirect a conversation or a person to Jesus and His work, but I'm at a loss. Last night, for instance, I had the opportunity to accompany our local high school choir concert. Afterwards there were words of praise and appreciation, and even as God's enabling came to mind, I struggled with how to honor Him without a false appearance.

Peter and John were able to lead the people directly to Christ because that is how they declared their work to begin with. In verse six, the healing was done in Jesus' Name. So when all marveled at the result, the simply directed the people to Jesus Himself.

How often do I fail to honor and praise God with my life because the work was never done in His Name and strength to begin with! If my life is going to lead and direct others to God, not myself, it must begin with God--with a clear, open declaration, an association with Christ, to myself and others.

Why do I fail? Here are some of the reasons:
1) I excuse the mention of God because I doubt the outcome will glorify Him. What if I "put His Name on it" and it fails?
2) I fear the reaction of others. I don't want to be labeled a "fanatic."
3) Put simply, I don't think I need God's help. I can handle most of life on my own, but will call on Him when I need supernatural power.
4) I don't trust God with the outcome. I want what I want, and I don't trust God with the final result.

It would take more time and space than is here to address each of the above, but it boils down to one thing: I am a glory-hoarder. On the whole, we don't honor and glorify God because we are vain, selfish little creatures who hoard self-adulation and glory. But my God is so big, so strong, and so mighty He can even unclasp these tightfisted, grappling hands as I ask for His help and desire to honor and please Him.

Number one is a lie. My efforts will never achieve an end outside of the hand of God. By putting His Name on my life and living in dependence on Him, I am free from the outcome. My sense of peace and contentment in Almighty God is His fingerprint on my life.

Number two is pride; plain and simple.

Number three is another lie. How do you define the word "nothing" in John 15:5 when Jesus said, "apart from Me you can do nothing?"

Number four is based on "my way." Isaiah 53:6 We all like sheep have turned astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way....

Monday, October 20, 2008

Comfort in 3-Letters

Bible prophecy is a vast, mysterious sea. In reading the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, I got bogged down yesterday with the first half of chapter eleven. My goal is not to know how facts and people in the Bible fit together, although that is a by-product of Bible reading. My goal is to know who God is behind all that the Bible has to say.
If I believe what God says, then "All Scripture is….profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). This means that even prophecy will teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me. Prophecy is there to equip me, not necessarily by charts and graphs that could be composed, but by something more. What was I missing?
After reading the first 28 verses I sat back, perplexed. (This, I might add, is what takes most of my daily reading time. I read and wonder. And pray. And think, asking questions. And read again. ) What one thought was God communicating? If I was going to journal on something, then the end of verse 27 seemed to sum up the passage: "but it will not succeed, for the end is still to come at the appointed time."
I wrote and ended my reading time with prayer, confident that God will accomplish His purpose, when I heard the three-letter-word echoing as I remembered parts of the passage. "Yada, yada, yada, but….," "Yada, yada, yada, but…." I began to read backward through the passage and there it was, over and over, the word, "but" or "yet." The people would make plans, those with influence and finances and power would endeavor to reach an end, but it never happened. At every turn, at every point of near achievement, God intervened. The hand of God reveals itself in the "but’s" of life.
The greatest intervention is in Ephesians 2:4 which follows the status of our dead, rotting lives and our deserved punishment of wrath—"But God…."
I can make plans, I can desire to serve others, I can foresee great opportunities, but without God’s intervention, there will be no success. "Without me, you can do nothing." Today, I am encouraged by two three-letter words of comfort that save, redeem, and sanctify: but God.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I went shopping Wendesday night for the church hayrack ride and bonfire. As I tootled through various stores collecting supplies, I took joy in purchasing items and in the thought of others enjoying the hot dogs and s’mores, an open fire and a wagon ride through the fields. There was a sense of satisfaction in providing for the pleasure of others. In some respects it was a secret mission as I was alone, with my own thoughts. There was no conflict. The attitude of my heart was open, free, unhindered. Content with the booty that filled the trunk of our car, I returned to pick up our children from their evening activity at church.
Then, as the sanctuary was nearly empty, an unfamiliar young lady began playing the piano. Large, loud chords filled the room followed by flowing arpeggios that rang from one end of the piano to the other. The contrasts of dynamics, melody, and harmony were no less than heaven sent. On and on she played. Close on the heels of amazement, however, was jealousy; that which listened for a mistake, for a slip, for some kind of error; the ooze of green steam which escapes the human heart and rises upward to cloud our thinking. As her playing came to a close, I found myself drawn to the piano and others who were with the young player.
Struggling to put self aside and find air through the green haze, I asked her name, her plans, sought to extend grace and appreciation. It was a gift, her playing, and it brought great blessing to the spirit even while the heart waged war.
Then—betrayal—I began to delve into my self. Not God’s name, not God’s ministry, not God’s provision, but my own. Oh, the shame. The loss of reward. The vanity which strips away joy, generosity, and peace. The shackles that come with attaching my efforts to a work of God, when I could choose the freedom of honoring and glorifying Him with my words rather than directing others’ thoughts toward myself.
This morning I am reminded that in "exercising godliness," failure is inherent. To exercise it to exert effort. To fail. To try again. And, little by little, to move closer to the goal. In service to our God and King, the goal is to honor and glorify Him. When my heart and words are self-focused, I have betrayed the One I serve. A heart of service is a humble heart. And humility is a part of being, not doing. It is a decision of the will forcing the heart to submission despite its ungainly emotions. It is a response of gratitude and service, not self-accolade. It is quiet and accepting. Humility is service that glorifies our God the King.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Not Nice!

It took me a long time to learn that being nice is not synonymous with being Christlike. I grew up thinking it was important to be nice.

And then, one day as I read the gospels I realized: Jesus was not nice. It isn't that, as the exact representation of God, He is not loving, compassionate, and kind. He is sacrificial to the point of death. But love, true love, is not about being nice. And Christlikeness is centered in God, not in others.

Being nice is about pleasing others: saying what they want to hear, dressing in a pleasing way, doing what they want you to do. That is when people will say you're "nice." When we serve others, we are putting the other person ahead of ourselves and this is a nice thing to do.

In Daniel chapter 5, however, Daniel is called to serve the king and the message he brings is not nice. It is asked for, it is necessary, and he is the only one able to translate God's message, but it is a message of death. It is not what the king, or the people, want to hear. It is not about "fixing" other people's problems or giving false reassurance. It's about allegiance to God in the face of difficulty.

I need to be a person of integrity despite the circumstances. This does not mean that I stand in self-righteous judgement or condemnation--and I have at times--for this is sin. This does not mean that I bow to the desires of others, but that I realize there will be times when serving others requires a boldness and steadfastness that is "not nice."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Serving the Enemy

My morning reading today was in Daniel. We have a discipleship class at our church called "Growing Deeper Roots" which is a three-year curriculum focused on intentional disciple-making. Our women's group is completing its third year of study (we were short-changed last March and will draw to a close soon). For the period of time we meet, we synchronize our daily Bible readings.

I came to the end of Daniel chapter one with a new realization: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah gave up the king's food and applied themselves to a grueling three years training, only to be the most suited young men to serve their enemy: "The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; so they entered the king's personal service" (Daniel 1:19).

They would not overthrow this government that had laid siege to their homeland and families, that had taken them captive and physically mutilated them. They would not work covertly to undermine the integrity of this new world leader. They would not corroborate to free prisoners or support efforts at home. They gave themselves fully to the service of the king. An ungodly king, an ungodly king of a wicked nation, an ungodly king of a wicked nation that practiced evil and sought to take over the world.

Their calling was to love the Lord, their God, with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. God's purpose included rescue and release, but not for seventy years. Within that time, God had plans and purposes that He would make known through His word and these servants. But until then, these young men were to serve their enemy to the best of their God-given abilities with the strength that God provided.

When I believe that God controls circumstances (Lamentations 2:17) and that He directs the heart of the king (Proverbs 21:1), then I can apply myself to fully living out my devotion to Him despite my circumstances. My concern does not rest on changing what is happening around me, but in serving God wholly, trusting that He will use my service (regardless of its object) to glorify Himself and accomplish His will.

Am I mindful of world events? Certainly. Am I fearful of future calamity? At times. Should this affect my service? Not if my trust is in the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth. My submission to those in authority is not based on their merit, but on God's mandate and my devotion to Him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Working the Harvest

Today's post is going to be a little different than the rest--this blog is generally where I collect thoughts on service to Christ, service to His Body, service to others. Maybe this experience fits better than I think....

This last Saturday our community hosted a Children's Festival. This may be the eighth year the street has been blocked off and booths that celebrate children and provide activities has been set up. The "empty lot" that now sports a permanent stage and landscaped walkways hosted puppet shows, dance troupes, and magicians. Music flooded the street and local businesses and organizations handed out crafts, books, and decorated cupcakes. I was privileged to work alongside my friend, Sandy, in presenting the good news of Jesus Christ.

We set up our canopy for Good News Club, hung our banner, and prepared to make bookmarks that presented the gospel with five simple colors and shapes: the black heart (all have sinned, Rom. 3:23), the red cross (Jesus died for our sin and rose again, 1 Cor. 15:3-4), the white heart (God's forgiveness when we agree, 1 John 1:9), the green tree (growth in friendship with God and Christlikeness, Rom. 8:29), and the gold crown (our destiny is eternal, Rev. 21: 12, 15). With each child that came to our canopy, we offered to make a bookmark--each child was guided through the process of using a paper punch and colored paper to add shape and color to their otherwise bland cardstock of words and Scripture references.

When we got home that night, 100 bookmarks were gone! In 5 hours, Sandy and I had the opportunity to present the gospel to nearly 100 children--and send it home with a children's tract from Child Evangelism Fellowship and an invitation to join our Good News Clubs in the school or to join the Mailbox Club (where lessons are sent and feedback is provided). How exciting!!

Even this morning, God burdened me to pray for the police officer who came to our booth before the event began and asked, "So what's the good news?"; for the family from Chicago with tattoos, ear plugs, and what initially appeared a scoffing attitude only to leave having shared first names and heard the news of Jesus' love; for the little girl who wandered near our canopy three times before her parents would let her stop. We continue to pray for those children who have attended AWANA and vacation Bible school with us, who have heard the message, and "just don't get it." Sandy reminds me that it is God's work. We are to remain faithful and present the good news of God's love--even if the children hear it only once each year. We covet your prayers for the work of God in our community and in the lives of those He continues to draw and save in our small corner of the world--and around the globe.

Monday, September 22, 2008

One of the Wait Staff

How often do we equate waiting with Christian service? We wait in line at the grocery store, at the bank, at a traffic light. We wait for our next paycheck, for our children to grow to that next stage, for the end of the day. We wait for God to provide that "one" thing that will satisfy us, to change a spouse, to change circumstances. We wait, and wait, and wait. But not patiently.

Psalm 123:2 says, "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us." These people were waiting--but their waiting on God was active, not passive.

Faith is waiting. It is the act of waiting on God to fulfill my needs instead of seeking to meet them myself. Faith is confidence that God knows my needs and will supply them in glorious measure through Christ (Phil 4:19). The action of the servant is directed at the master. The "eyes of servants," "the eyes of a maid" look to the one who is being served. This does not stop their service, or hinder their service--the service continues uninterrupted because the heart of the servant is intent on the Master.

The Master, our God, is kind, good, and gracious. Do I truly believe this? For this is faith, this is the mechanism that fuels any true service. We cannot please our Master until we believe His existence and believe that He will reward those who faithfully serve Him (Heb 11:6). Service that comes from a heart of fear or obligation is sporadic, incomplete, and futile. But service that is intent on the Master is a lifestyle, a way of being, that results from a heart of faith.

In what area(s) of life am I seeking to meet my own needs, fulfill my own desires? God's Word reveals His heart: that my investment in His kingdom, in His Person would overshadow my own needs--real or imagined (Matthew 6:33). A life as His servant does not require more time at church (although that may be a by-product) or flailing myself for past wrongs, but actively, devotedly listening to His voice and walking in obedience to His Word, believing His grace is sufficient.

"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32).

Will I choose to live a faith-fully or self-fully today?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Prosperous Life Part II

How does dependence on God take place? What does it look like? How does one become God-dependent instead of in-dependent?

Reading further in the book of Psalms, I came across this familiar verse, "Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker" (Psalm 95:6). As noted in the previous blog, there are those that would serve all their lives, but never truly in the court of God. Tragically, there are those who spend time regularly reading God's Word and attending worship who are not prospering. What makes the difference?

The difference is found not in what is said or done as much as in what occurs in the privacy of one's heart in response to God's Word. A heart that excuses behavior, justifies it, or chooses only comfortable passages will not experience God's peace or blessing. But to worship and bow down, to kneel before God is to openly trust that what He says is true and right. It is the most basic confession, agreeing with God. When I am unable or unwilling to bow my heart in submission to His goodness, I fail to confess Him as Lord. My mouth can say what it will, but the rest of my life stands in opposition to the lovingkindness and grace of God.

Few of us have thought of confession as lifestyle. For years, decades perhaps, we have thought of 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But rarely do we consider time in God's Word as confession--and it won't be until we can accept God at His Word, trusting that He is right and true.

How would God have me bow the knee today? In obedience. In prayer when self-denial fails me, in prayer when love runs too short, in prayer when the easy choice seems the best choice.... Confession is the means of dependence for the prosperous follower of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Prosperous Life

If you were to render a sketch of your spiritual life--right now, today--what would it look like? A solitary island sporting an asymmetrical palm tree? A series of rivers and tributaries converging in one fluid, rolling force? Perhaps a blown and tumbled corn stalk struggling to regain its strength?

After weeks, months, even years of service within the local church, many of us resemble the solitary island or tumbled corn stalk more than we'd like to admit. There seems a sort of disillusionment that takes place, a realization that others will take more than they give, that appreciation is never equal to the task, that sacrificing family, marriage, even basic needs is never enough. There comes a point of evaluation that reveals the emptiness and vanity of all we have to give and we wonder at the driving force. Why did we feel compelled to push so hard? Was it really worth it? Where do we go from here?

How then, can we reconcile this with the psalmist's words, "The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Psalm 92:12-15).

Little by little I am learning the beauty of dependence. The righteous flourish because they are tended by the Master Gardener. They are planted in His courtyard, not their own. The fruit, the greenery, and the health of the tree is a product of God's work, God's care, not the tree's. The tree is an ornament of the Maker. It does nothing of its own, nor does it suffer self-inflicted thirst or harsh treatment. How like that tree I long to be! Not the beaten, bitter tree that stands alone; not the short-lived flowering bush that quickly perishes; not the petrified pine that withstood wind and time but bore no fruit. I long to be lush and full, prosperous and strong--to love life and laugh at worry.

And this will only happen in my Father's house, under His care, directed and pruned by His hands. So I asked myself this morning, "What directs the my life flow?" Am I learning to know Him daily and responding to His prompting or seeking to meet the needs of others based on my perception? Am I more motivated by pride or humility? Am I just as content waiting as I am working? Finally, who does this tree honor? The tree that is fed and prospers at the hand of God honors and glorifies Him alone. The glory of the tree is in the proclamation, the message; its health, beauty, prosperity, and usefulness is a work of the Master.

How would you envision your spiritual life? It is the hand of Master, and dependence on Him, that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whose in Charge?

Our family is reading Ecclesiastes for daily devotions this summer. As I sat down to today's reading (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16), I struggled with application. The passage speaks of a poor, young man usurping a foolish old king. And, to follow the theme of the book, "this too is meaningless, a chasing after wind." How would I apply this to my own life--or to our children?

Questions (and the Holy Spirit) led me to 1 Kings 11-12 where Solomon--the foolish, old king--was reprimanded by God for turning aside from His commands. God continued to inform Solomon that his kingdom would be given to his servant (the poor young man--1 Kings 11:11). Ecclesiastes tells us that people would throng to the side of this young man, but "there is no end to all the people...who...will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity, a striving after wind" (Ecc. 4:16).

What, then, is the take-away? A leader's worth, importance, and influence is not determined by popularity. It is God who sets up and establishes all authority (Romans 13:1-2). If I desire a place of influence to receive glory, power, the admiration of others--it is for nothing, it is absolute folly. People are fickle and any series of unpopular decisions will lose their favor, regardless of the wisdom of those decisions. To regard others as my audience is vanity and foolishness (Jeroboam's downfall, 1 Kings 12:27). But to serve with humility and dependence on God--this is effective leadership. Serving God first and foremost brings blessing, longevity, and favor with God (1 Kings 11:38).

The servant's heart will serve God, not people. In serving God, I will minister more effectively to the needs of others. Only God knows their true need and is able to move me toward meeting something more than a perceived need. Will I depend solely on the words and actions of others to determine my service? Or will I serve God first and foremost, living out an obedience and worship that blesses others?

(For a more in depth look at the traps of pleasing people vs. pleasing God, I highly recommend Lou Priolo's book, Pleasing People: How not to be an "approval junkie.")

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bad Form

When we begin preparations for vacation Bible school each summer, one of the things our church Body enjoys is making posters together. Overhead transparencies are made with pictures of this year's clip art, posterboard is taped to the wall, and people of all ages trace and color the myriad of posters that will be used throughout the building.
In the poster-making frenzy a couple of weeks ago, two young men took it into their heads to "get fired." Apparently they were drafted for the job and considered themselves too manly for the task.
I was reminded of the prophet, Samuel, who began service in the tabernacle at a young age. He, too, was drafted for a work that was not his own. And yet, even as a newly weaned little boy, "Samuel was ministering before the LORD, as a boy wearing a linen ephod" (1 Samuel 2:18). He didn't minister to Eli, though he served under him. He didn't minister to the people, though they profited from his example and service. He didn't minister to his family, though they came to visit and brought gifts. Samuel's ministry was to God Himself, and no other. From such a young age, Samuel was aware of God's presence, God's worth, God's provision and position.
What is my form of service? It flows from the object of worship within myself. When God is that object, my service is for Him, to Him, and through Him. When that object is self, all I end up with is a bad poster no one wants and empty hands that lack purpose and direction.
May I, like Samuel, minister before the Lord today....

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Weight has always been an issue for me. Until recently, I joked about my five years of "body bliss" between the ages of 17-22. Then, relaxing into life, I became complacent about body stewardship and the numbers on the scale increased again. The last two years, God has been teaching me obedience and contentment as it relates to body care. And I have found that contentment is often unaddressed in the Christian environment--especially in America.

We eat the wrong food because we are discontent with the right foods. We amass more and more possessions because we are discontent with the ones we have. We fill the courts desiring more money, a different spouse, a sense of justice, discontent with the provision of God. If "the LORD is my portion," (Lamentations 3:24), why am I filling my bowl with so many other, useless things?

Even in the Church, our service is tainted by discontent. Some long to enlarge their boundaries, others desire a better gift. Some, in discontent and envy, refuse to serve at all. Yet "one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). And should we wonder if Paul might have mistakenly attributed our specific giftings to God, he says later in the same passage, "But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (1 Cor. 11:18).

What is your gift or mode of service? If God has given it to you, specifically, to meet the needs of His Body, why are you discontent? What is that bowl in your figurative hands full of?

"Therefore I have hope in Him." (Lamentations 3:24)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Cease striving and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46:10)

A life with God, a life of service, a life of Godliness is not a life of striving. In the church culture, there is a drive to strive. The 20% who do 80% of the work are exposing their families to a drug culture--where they are drug to church every time the doors are open. We meet, greet, teach, clean, sing, and serve 10-20 hours a week in our local churches. Our families, personal schedules, even our work schedules revolve around the priority of service to our local church. I am a part of that culture. And, yet, I am learning something new. The outside may appear the same, but the inward motivation and thinking are changing.

I have come to realize that a life of service is a life of rest. It is, simply, walk by by faith one day, one hour, at a time. It is depending on God not only to see what needs to be done, but with the confidence that He will empower and equip me for His work. The only work, then, is an exertion that is directed, empowered, and undergirded by God Himself. How hard can it be? It is impossible.

In all honesty, I like to strive. Striving may bring failure, but it also brings achievement, honor, recognition. To lay aside striving is to lay aside my personal means to recognition and achievement. To stop seeking self-gain and depend wholly on the Master is a God-sized task. Only God can replace my desire to strive. I cannot. It is too much a part of who I am.

To surrender my plans and desires requires a renewing of my mind. Jim Berg (Changed Into His Image) tells us it is spending time in God's Word to get a dose of reality. Jim's book explains from the Bible how to apply the principles of putting off my self, renewing my mind, and putting on Godliness.

Once the desire has been replaced (repeatedly, and only on a short-term basis, again and again), God's empowering and enabling is a constant process. I must continue to complete the tasks set before me in faith that God has custom-designed each task and set of circumstances. When I know the objective--the be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-31)--the task before me is simply a vehicle, not an outcome. The goal is to depend on God, by His Spirit, to respond in a way that is loving, kind, and joyful, maintaining peace, gentleness, and faithfulness even as my Savior did (and does).

Cease striving and God will show Himself. He is not glorified or magnified by my self effort. He alone is God. How can I serve, honor, and magnify Him? By resting, waiting, and depending on Him to accomplish His will. By being a conduit of His love and grace. By remaining transparent, invisible, so others will see the Creator in place of the image He created. Service is not striving, it is resting--knowing He is God.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Today I escorted a large group of high school students to and from a nearby church. As we were arriving back at the high school, I began a silly conversation with a group of them. One student made a guffawing remark and I responded. Three sets into our guffaw match, she took the Lord's Name in vain. With a tactfully short remark, our guffawing ended and other students asked "Who needs God anyway?" "Doesn't Jesus need God?"

The conversation spun in a very serious, reflective arc. And what an opportunity to walk along the way speaking truth! There was no emotional charge, no breath-stopping clutching; simply a moment to share and drop. Draw a handful of seeds and discharge them in automatic pilot. How God has prepared the way with our own children as we cook, swim, walk, work, rest, travel! It has so become a part of life that the words are no different to young people who are not my own than from those who are. The sense of learning, of curiosity, of thinking and reflecting are powerful engines creatively designed in the heart and mind of each of us.

The sharing itself, the ease and comfort of it, brought great joy. To simply be used is a great blessing. "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:16) Walking today provided the blessing of sharing Jesus Christ. How's your walk?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Profitable Service

How much is your life worth? The media portrays human life along all points in the spectrum: from dispensable to indispensable, from burdensome to winsome. In my reading of Psalm 30 today, the psalmist interestingly pleads with God for his life, "What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?"(v.9).
The psalmist's life declared its value by the Manufacturer's stamp. God, the Manufacturer, had placed his stamp on each day of the psalmist's life. His words declared his Maker, his choices declared His Maker, his daily intentions declared his Maker. His label was read, much like Pierre Cardin or Armani, not because he wore it tacked to his outer lapel, but because of the style his life portrayed.
As I meditated on the psalmist's words, I wondered how my life would be different if I had the same argument as the psalmist? How would my life look today if I could say, "God, You can take me now, today, but my life is a living testimony of your grace. Give me just one more day to praise you, one more day to proclaim your goodness. God, for love of Yourself and Your glory, extend my life that it may make a difference for one more lost, condemned soul. Once I reach eternity, my chances of declaring you to the ungodly will have ended. Make today count, dear Lord, make it Yours."
This then, is a life worth living, a life that openly declares the stamp of the Manufacturer, a life that extends itself in profitable service to God in meeting the needs of others. How will I allow God to change me today that I might profit Him?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

True Service

Most of us who live in the world of Christian service would agree that service is the act of taking that which I have (time, money, abilities, effort) and using it to edify, or build up, others. We serve God and others through financial giving, corporate worship, teaching truths, or even painting the church nursery. Christian service may take the form of delivering a much-needed meal, offering free childcare, or making an encouraging phone call. Christian service, indeed human service, is limited only by the needs and creativity of those involved. In looking for a handbook or guide to Christian service, I found little beyond biographies of Mother Theresa and liturgy for weddings and funerals (Christian services).

As I considered the act of giving this week, I came across the passage: "...there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:1c-3). As a young person, I arrogantly assumed the psalmist simply didn't know anyone like me--or he wouldn't have written this! Then again, maybe God was overstating the case to motivate us to a higher good. It is only as I have studied God's Word more closely and He has revealed my true heart that I can agree with the psalmist. (Check out for a closer look into this topic.) I do not do good. I do not seek after Him. He alone is good. He alone has sought me out.

How can I agree that I don't do that which is good? When someone does something kind for me, I put it in the category of "good." My husband bought me a dozen red roses when he returned home from a business trip last week. That was very good! Is it possible that God's definition of good is not the same as my definition of good? When I give to others, or to Him, that which has value, is it a good thing?

Too often we put God in our box, examining Him and observing Him through our limitations. Too seldom we look at ourselves through the lens of His Word--and His lens is not one of deeds, but one of faith.

"The just shall live by faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, Galatians 3:11);

"For without faith it is impossible to please God...." (Hebrew 11:6);

"We live by faith, not by sight"(2 Corinthians 9:7);

"I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (Galatians 3:2-3).

If, in service, we desire to do that which is good, there is only one answer: our service must be done as an act of faith. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, that we are reconciled with God. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, that we are sealed with God the Spirit. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, that we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. It is through faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, that there is any good thing.

The apostle Paul rebuked the Galatians for expecting God's approval for things they did themselves--those spiritual acts they did to earn God's favor. Service done to earn God's favor is not an act of faith, it is a work of man, therefore it is corrupt. Service done to earn the approval of others is not an act of faith, it is a work of man, therefore it is corrupt. Service done out of obligation is not an act of faith, it is a work of man, therefore it is corrupt. Service done to appease my conscience is not an act of faith, it is a work of man, therefore it, too, is corrupt.

If the only service God sees is that which is offered through faith in Jesus Christ, how much of my service is without blemish or spot? If God only sees His Son, how much of that which I offer reaches the foot of His throne? What have I done today that was so dependent on His mercy that it glorified no one but Himself? Service redefined is faith--not giving, not sacrifice, not duty--but Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Service: True? or False?

This thought process was brought about as a result of last week's Sunday evening service, "The Just Shall Live by Faith" by Pastor Tim Waldron and listening to Dr. Harold M. Best (the author of Music Through the Eyes of Faith) on Moody's Open Line April 16, 2008 (

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How Much is Too Much?

I had a very serious conversation with a six-year-old yesterday. "I just don't think we can be friends anymore, " she confessed.
"What seems to be the problem? Why can't you be her friend?" I expected an answer along the lines of being influenced toward bad behavior, or a betrayal of some kind.
Instead she answered, "She always wants me to do what she wants to do and I don't want to keep doing her things."
What a great opportunity to share the principle of limits and love! God loves all of us, but the thing that separates us is our desire to do our own thing. The more I understand about Who God is, the more aware I become of the difference between His way and my way. Just like this little friend, I have an expectation that God will do what I want Him to. How very arrogant! God is separate, He is a being apart from all He has created--and yet He has reached down to me!
At the same time, God has limits and cannot, will not, overlook wrong. There is a way to approach Him, but not on my terms. The only way to approach God is on His terms: "Then Jesus said to Him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.'" (John 14:6).
It is only through humility, a confession of my sin, and dependence on His Son, Jesus (Who paid my sin-debt), that I can enter that relationship with God the Father.
Now we all know this little six-year-old does not stand in the place of God, nor should she express a sinful arrogance, but there is a time and place to lovingly serve and a time and place to lovingly confront. I don't know which path she chose--which path have you chosen? The one that leads toward God, or the one that lead away?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Power of Service

Yesterday I visited with a young lady who claims to be "the only atheist" at her church. She was very open about her personal views. "And who is this Jesus anyway? I don't know even one person who really loves Him. They say 'God is love,' and 'Jesus loves everyone,' but what do they really mean?"

"Well, now you know one," I answered. "I love Him very much. I love Him enough to get up and spend time with Him early every morning. Loving Jesus is about listening to Him and talking to Him just like a real person; it's about living to please Him because I want to."

As we visited, I admitted that I cannot do what God wants me to do. Left to myself, I am selfish, proud, impatient, unkind. The only way I can serve others and put them ahead of myself is to ask Him to remove my will, my desires, my plans. "If I have put you ahead of myself in any way this last week, you can be sure it wasn't me, but God. When God uses me, I become anonymous--I am invisible." To remember the service and forget the person is an act of God. What a powerful opportunity to present God's grace through Jesus and His example of loving service on my behalf!

The power of our Invisible God is displayed in the life of a transparent person. How invisible are you?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The One Thing...

In reading through the book of 2 Kings, this phrase keeps recurring: "He did right in the sight of the Lord...only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places" (2 Kings 14:3-4). In other words, this particular king--and each king of Judah for whom this was written--made choices that pleased God, but he failed to do the one thing that would have pleased God most. What was that one thing? To replace man's worship with God's worship. The people of Judah chose to worship God in the places they chose, the high places rather than Jerusalem, before two golden calves. It became so routine that even Godly kings did not question the practice.

I was struck with how easy it is for me to justify a "lesser" worship because it is more convenient, it seems to meet God's basic requirements, because it is the way God's people around me worship, because, because, because.... And yet, what is that one thing that God desires of me? What is that practice that is more important to Him than any other thing I do, or give up, or change? In my life, in the practice of the American church at large, perhaps around the world, is it not that I worship at the altar of self, the altar of man, rather than the altar of God? I am more concerned about what other think of my apparel, of my personal sacrifice, of my singing voice (or lack thereof), of my possessions or influence than in coming broken, contrite, and empty before a holy, thundering, righteous God.

To my shame there are times God receives nothing at all from my worship, because the focus is nowhere near His throne--it is centered on a high place removed from His place of residence--offering sacrifices to a dumb, mute object of self-importance. Not only in corporate worship, but in personal worship, there must be a break from self, a break from others, and I must make the trek to His temple.

Making that trek means leaving things behind. It requires commitment. It takes time and effort. It may even be costly. But as God calls me to His throne, which is itself a breathtaking invitation, is any price too high? The journey is one borne out of dependence on a God who does not ask what He will not provide. And knowing that His Son, Jesus, is my means of entry, I make that trek, abandoning self. Then, as I enter His presence, I am reminded of His awesome comeliness, of His very Self that cannot be seen, of His Self-sustaining nature and there is room for nothing on my part but humility, awe, and poverty. I would trade a high place for this? Only then do I realize the inadequacy, the filth, of that one thing I treasured for so long. And it is then that I am filled, that worship is what is was always intended to be: the heart and will of an imperfect creature bent at the throne of the Almighty Creator Sustainer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Heart of Service

I just received an e-mail from a dear servant and friend who was disheartened by an offertory she played for our worship service. She was discouraged with her performance and disappointed by the overall response of the congregation. I have felt the same. How many times have I planned, prepared for, and executed an act of service only to face disillusionment. Elijah experienced it, too, after slaying the prophets of Baal.

Which brings me to questions for you, the reader: If you are serving the Lord, why are your serving? What is your desired outcome? And how does this affect your preparation and your act of service? Please tell me, I'm anxious to know how and why the Body of Christ is working in and around the world.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


This is the first of what I hope will be many opportunities for thought-provoking interaction and discoveries. The term Heart Quencher follows my mind's predecessor, Famished Heart. There was a time I suffered from a famished heart and longed for refreshment, cool aid, and comfort. In the time since I have held on to the desire to extend grace to those who experience that same drought; the tight, searing pain that clutches itself, creating rifts and cracks that separate rather than unite. There is a hopelessness there; a loss of purpose, of joy, and of dignity. And so, rather than dwell on the haggard, gaunt emptiness of the heart's eye, I have chosen to offer words of salve and refreshment, words of coolness in rushing rivulets, words of peaceful surrender and indescribable joy.

Having made such a flowery, ambiguous introduction, the next words that come to mind are, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:18). Regardless of my presentation, it is true that there is no hope, no joy, no good thing I have to offer in and of myself. The only truth and hope is found in Jesus Christ, God's only Son. And our realization of our need precedes even our comprehension of His goodness.

If you find yourself in despair, in need of refreshment, in need of quenching, know that you are very near the One you seek. For it is "in dying that we are born to eternal life." If you are at the end, know that God offers an incredible beginning. The death St. Francis speaks of is not one of physical cessation, but a death to self-striving, self-glorification, to having my own way. It is only when I come to the end of myself that I am able to look up and see Jesus, the One who purposefully paid the penalty for my disobedience and rebellion before a holy, almighty God. In all things, at all times, I deserve nothing less than to be separated from such a God. But in love, He made provision for forgiveness--and that is where true refreshment begins.

To be renewed, refreshed, is to know that I have no value outside of God Himself--and yet He loves me completely, eternally, totally, without reservation. His love for me is undeserved, without obligation, and absolutely free. He smothers me with love, with grace, with peace, with kindness and gentleness. And I am new. What is it about God that refreshes you? How do you find that renewal and peace when your circumstances are empty, toilsome?