Wednesday, August 28, 2013

That's Insane!

Insanity: life based on what isn't there; an alternate reality.

If you're like me, you've brushed elbows with people who "aren't all there." The things you and I see, touch and feel aren't as obvious to these individuals. The circumstances of life and rules of society bend and bow as they stagger to stay inside moving lines.

Reading the book of Romans has reminded me that a life of faith is based on a reality that is not what we see, feel, hear and touch. How different life would be if I lived according to the reality of God's Word.

For example, Romans 4:19-21 says, "Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, yet, with respect to the promise of God he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform."

Abraham’s life and faith did not depend on what God gave Him--what he felt, saw, touched--but on who God was and what He promised. Abraham is know for his faith, for acting on what he did not, could not, see. Without the promised goods in hand, Abraham lived as if he had already, or absolutely would, receive them.

Often, too often, I expect an answer before making a commitment. That’s not faith. Sometimes, I live as if God must prove Himself. Only then will I yield allegiance. That is not faith. That is limited, human life and expectation—earth-bound living.

But faith? Faith is living out the promise before it's consummation. Faith is living on a partial return—making decisions and choices as if the total is in pocket. Faith in anything is not faith, it's foolishness. Faith in the promises of God is wisdom.

It is living as if my sin is forgiven—gone, without penalty. It is living as a member of heaven, praising God, leaving worry behind, rejoicing in victories won, sharing battle wounds and stories of God’s provision. It is living as if God has righted all wrongs, the debt is not mine to collect, the grudge is not mine to hold.

How would life change if my sin was done, gone, paid for? If I walked as I will in heaven? If I lived knowing all wrong against me is paid for, settled? What would life look like if we really, truly, lived by faith? Would we not be insane, living an alternate reality—here, but not all here? But by faith, we have the confidence and assurance that it is just the opposite. We live out an unseen reality; and life without faith is a fa├žade; a tunnel of carnival mirrors that distorts and deceives. The free, Spirit-filled life is anchored in the reality of Christ, His death and resurrection. It is upheld by the promise of a future in the presence of our all-loving, all-knowing God and Father.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

"Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:3-23)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

When God Pulls the Plunger

It's easier to be nice than real. Being real means I say weird things and get funny looks. Being real means other people see my bias, my unkindness and lack of compassion. Being real means I don't look like a professional Christian. Being real means "my sin is ever before me." 

When God pulls the plunger of "being nice" and living to please others, that's when yucky, nasty, goopy sin rises and spills over the edges of my cup. Other people see it. Other people get hurt. Other people don't like me. I don't like myself.

But how will the cup get clean without sorrow? Without confession and repentance? There is no cleansing if sin lies dark, dank and hidden in the bottom of the cup.

Praise God when He reveals our sin! Praise Him for His mercy, His lovingkindness and grace! Praise Him for forgiveness, for the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus and the resurrection power He supplies.

As words and attitudes and actions spill from my life and I learn to love, to live authentically and sincerely, God is glorified. I am not. And that's life the way it was meant to be.

When all my labors and trials are o’er,
And I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore,
Will through the ages be glory for me.

Oh, that will be glory for me,
Glory for me, glory for me,
When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me.

When, by the gift of His infinite grace,
I am accorded in heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face,
Will through the ages be glory for me.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.... Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:1, 8-11)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Prayer Fuel

When I opened Faceboook tonight this topped the list:
Question: How do you build up a prayer life? There is power in prayer, and I have seen it. But how do I get to the point of praying without feeling like it might be wasting my time or that it is boring?

And it sat. Empty. Hours later. And I wanted to respond, but in many ways I couldn't. How many times have I tried the prayer pie, evangelism list, church list, homemade spreadsheet and failed? How many scraps of paper and missionary photos shout out prayer as they fall from my over-stuffed Bible?

Admittedly, each day has scheduled prayer, but to determine to pray--and stay praying--for an extended time? That's hard. I sat convicted. I need more. I need more of God's focus and character. And I was convicted by how easily I move into busy-ness and to-do lists instead of lingering and waiting and listening...just because. Because God is that awesome. Because I need Him. Because He is worthy.

And that is the greatest answer to the question, "how do I get to the point of praying without feeling like it might be wasting my time or that it is boring?" Prayer grows with my knowledge of God. The better I know Him--personally, intimately--and believe He knows me, the more I pray. Making prayer a priority means I love Him more than I love myself; I am willing to give up my agenda for His. And the more I know Him, the more I need Him; the more I need Him, the more I pray--until I realize I can't move or go or do or step out into life without the umbilical cord of prayer running between us. Without Him there is no purpose, no love, no hope, no joy, no peace. No life to step into.

And that is what I wanted to write--that prayer is breathing. Prayer is walking through the day talking with God in the garden of my heart. Prayer is crying out in distress, bursting forth with joy, questioning in confusion. Prayer is seeking and waiting and longing and finding. Prayer is knowing who Jesus really is and connecting with the fact that "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" and knowing that some of those things come from sorrow. Many are impossible. Experiencing life with or without all thing requires truth and patience and grace. But He is: the man of sorrows; the God of the impossible, full of truth and grace. And He is enough. That's where prayer ends... and begins. Every time. He is enough.

He is enough when I wake from the dew of slumber. He is enough when rain pours through the roof. He is enough when babies arrive blue and grandmothers fly to His arms. He is enough when supper burns and children hurt; when life is cruel and mothers melt. He is enough when meteors fall and moons rise. And that is what fuels prayer: knowing I cannot take another step, move another inch, enjoy another moment of grace apart from His intermingling presence of power and grace.

And to think He gave us the privilege of prayer through the cross. What a God!

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

William M. Scriven, 1855

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Got Joy?

Laughter is infectious. Beautiful. When we hear laughter, we want to join. We want to be happy. We want to enjoy good things. Laughter means life is good.

But when life is hard when everything's not okay, when laughter is absent and darkness surrounds, can life truly be good? Our women just finished studying the book of Philippians--the book of joy, the book written from prison, by a man in shackles, in need, without status, without means...and the most significant word, over and over, is joy.
Each week we addressed our natural reactions to difficult situations: fear, hopelessness, pessimism, self-pity, complaining, selfishness, loneliness, boasting, strife, anxiety, clutching and clinging. Paul had every right, in our way of thinking, to fall into each of these, but he refutes each with a simple truth: faith.
Because God is wise enough and big enough to use everyone and everything for His purpose, Paul didn't resent the chains or attached guards (Phil. 1:12-13). He didn't suggest that those who preached Christ as a means of harming him be silenced, he encouraged the proclamation of Jesus (Phil. 1:18)--and rejoiced (1:18).
Because God is sovereign over both today and eternity, Paul trusted God with his death...and life (Phil. 1:21) which would bring more rejoicing (2:25-26).
Because Christ is at work in all believers, he entrusted them with one another in his absence (Phil. 2:3-5)--and rejoiced (2:2).
Because God took care of Jesus at all times, including His crucifixion, Paul did not complain in his own sufferings (Phil. 1:29-30, 2:17), but rejoiced (2:18).
Because God uses Christians to minister to one another, Paul sent away a dear friend, knowing God would use him to serve and bring joy to others (Phil. 2:28), resulting in the joy of many (2:28).
Because God doesn't measure success apart from faith in Christ, Paul each one to press on regardless of what lay behind (Phil. 3:14-15). What cause for joy! (3:1, 3).
Because the Lord is near, truly near, we can have peace in the most difficult situations (Phil. 4:5-6). Paul didn't worry or fret, he prayed and rejoiced (4:4, 7).
Because God met his every need, Paul chose to wait on God in want and in plenty (Phil. 4:12). Either way, God's faithfulness was a reason to rejoice (4:10).
The Christian life is full of joy, can be full of joy, despite the mundane, the cloudy, the difficult. What we believe about God is evident in our attitudes, choices--and joy (or lack of it) which means joy is not the result of circumstances, but What we believe is betrayed by how we live.
Need joy? Ask God to increase your His Word (faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God). Then live it.