Sunday, November 22, 2009

Parade of Homes

Do you enjoy glimpses of people in their homes lit by evening light? I do. Home decor and layouts fascinate me. There is something comforting and intriguing about seeing others move and work in an environment so much the same as--but different than--my own. A private confession: I love our home.

As a SAHM, I spend a lot of time here. We used to move often. To make resale easier, every room was painted the same color. All the carpet was the same. We were ready to sell at a moment's notice. Until we moved twelve years ago. Now we hope to stay. Not too long ago my husband stood in the dining room, looking at the rooms on either side of him, and had an epiphany. "Hey," he called, "have you ever noticed that none of our rooms look the same?" "Yes, Dear," I answered, "I planned it that way."

Of the time I spend at home, some of it is spent cleaning, dusting, decorating, and doing basic home-maintenance. Most of the time, however, I am simply doing other tasks and enjoying my surroundings because they are comfortable, they are mine and, honestly, because I delight in them. They fit my taste.

Perhaps abiding in Christ is much the same. To abide in Christ and His commands is to study them, know them. Then to arrange them in my life where they belong; to polish and straighten them. But most of the time, I simply live out the tasks of life, enjoying the blessings and the comfort of His commands. They have become the structure within which I move. They are chairs in which I rest. There is a kitchen from which I serve and meet the needs of others. In the living room I relax or spend time with others, getting to know them and sharing from the abundance God has given me.

If, however, I were to view the teachings of Christ as harsh, rustic, and rigid, I don't think I would enjoy my domicile at all. My life with Christ would be sparsely furnished. I might simply have a one-room soddie with a stiff, uncomfortable chair and faded linens. As I sat in my chair, my back would be ramrod straight, my feet planted firmly on the floor. Yet, when I would visit the homes of others, they might tell me of the authentic one-of-kind memento they recently acquired in their walk with Christ. I would be jealous. Angry. How could they have such beautiful objet d'art while my life was one of barrenness and self-pity?

May I suggest that the God of both homes is the same? The teachings of Christ are the same. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3).

It is my perception of and response to God that makes the difference. It is the moving of His Spirit that brings life and freedom. When I submit to His Spirit, and take God at His Word, I find that He is loving...good...kind...gentle... patient...lavishing good things, beautiful things, on His children. Perhaps you, too, have found that the artifacts in an exquisitely decorated home are often reminders of great pain and loss. The stained glass window may represent the provision and sufficiency of God after the loss of a child. The dried flowers in the hand-blown vase may be a reminder of a gift given at a time of financial hardship.

The difference? The one who lives with a good God, who submits to His will and way, relying on Him, finds a beauty, solace, and comfort that can be found no where else. The one who views God and His commands as burdensome and weighty captures only the fleeting treasures the world has to offer while her heart stores up criticism, resentment, bitterness. Life is hard. Life lacks comfort. Life lacks refinement and grace.

Today, where am I living? What does my abode look like? Am I using it and enjoying it in a way that honors and pleases God? Am I sharing it with others--even sending them out the door with gifts and reminders of the grace of God? Am I abiding in the teachings of Christ? (2 John 9).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When the I Am Says There You Are

Have you ever had one of those incredible realizations that the thing you've struggled with for months, even years, has a name? And, suddenly, without Hollywood music or drama, the name creeps into your thoughts. It swirls around until it makes its way to your tongue and you speak it aloud. And now, now that your ears have heard what your heart has spoken, there is a sense of freedom though nothing, nothing at all, has changed.

I had one of those moments the other day. In keeping up the suspense--which I'm afraid will be utterly shattered once I tell you my secret--it is something that has followed me for decades. I remember where I was when I confessed this struggle to God during a half-day of personal prayer and retreat, but I didn't have a name. I didn't know what it was or why it was, only that it accompanied me day in and day out, haunting my thoughts, affecting my words and actions.

Now it has a name and I can begin to address the heart issue (although I am confident it will be with me until the moment I die). The name my heart whispered to my mind was, "here I am." As I moved into my day, heart pounding, brain whirring, I whispered, "here I am." That's it. You may be disappointed in the revelation, but only because you don't understand. "Here I am" had become my daily, hourly cry.

When my prayer request went unanswered, my voiceless cry echoed, "here I am." When my husband worked overtime in the fields, my muted actions called, "here I am." When my children complained and whined about the unfairness of life, I wanted to respond, "here I am." But I didn't know how. I didn't understand my frustration, my anger, my resentment or bitterness.

Now that it has a name, God has stepped in. God has whispered, "There you are." With all that He has and is, He daily ministers, "there you are." When the people and things in life disappoint, His Spirit speaks, "I am here."

In His gracious, abundant, sacrificial gift of His Son, I see the sin--the pride and arrogance--of my heart. As His child, the one He has redeemed, the one who is in Christ, I am now called to be a "there you are" person as well. In my sinfulness, life is all about me: my prayer request, my husband, my children. Do you see it? But when I have encountered the "I AM," all claims of "here I am" are nullified. The request has been met. It is satisfied. My continuous cry is no longer justified. I have been seen. I have been heard. I have been ministered to. I am complete.

So now, as my 8-year-old daughter awakens and sits on my lap while I write, I can respond, "there you are." I can put aside my agenda, my importance, and focus on others.

A friend reminded me this last week that when I open myself to the grace of God, I am able to extend that grace to others. If all I experience is the judgment and condemnation of God, that is all I have to give others. What is your relationship with God? Are you drinking in and meditating on the fact that He is? Are you delighting in the love He has for you? Are you relishing the "there you are" He would shower upon you? Or are you wallowing in the "here I am's" of life?

"He who confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world." (1 John 4:15-17)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rebellious Faith

My heart was pounding. Each breath echoed in my ears, throbbing with each pulse. My parent's voices called from far away; nearer, then further. As I hid in the rocks with my brother and cousins, my heart twisted with guilt. The plan was to go to Mt. Rushmore and watch the evening film. We had decided not to go, so we hid. Our parents, of course, wouldn't leave.  Eventually we gave ourselves up.

As I read the story of Jonah this week, I was reminded of that willful disobedience; of the heart that pounds with terror in its rebellion. Jonah disobeyed because he believed God. In his own words, "I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity" (4:2). It was Jonah's faith in God's mercy that caused him to disobey.

As I thought about Jonah's disobedience ("he rose up to flee...from the presence of the LORD" (1:3 (2 times!), 1:10), I was questioned my own reaction to God's commands. When, through the voice of a Bible teacher, a friend, or God's Word, I hear the voice of God, how do I respond? The worst case scenario would be apathy; not to respond at all. Jonah's rebellion--a selfish, sinful response--at least carried an element of faith. He knew God, he believed God, and wanted no part of it.

How often do we fail to respond because we really don't know God, we really don't believe God, we really don't care? That is ever so much more frightening. That, I believe, is a sign of spiritual death. We cannot process the word of God, we cannot respond to the word of God, because there is no Spirit of God to empower His word. Much like an electric circuit, without a conductor (Jesus Christ, "abide in me and I in you" (John 15:4), we cannot respond to God. We are dead (Ephesians 2:5, "we were dead in our transgressions") outside of repentance and a relationship with God.

If you find that you are drawn to God, but do not know Him personally, check out the post on this site from April 2008, "How Much is Too Much?" And, if you find yourself fleeing from the presence of the LORD today, consider the God from whom you are fleeing. What is it you believe about Him? Search out the Scriptures on your own or with a trusted friend and find that Good Shepherd who longs to give you abundant life. After all, He is "...a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity" (4:2).