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.