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.