Monday, March 27, 2017

When I'm Up Against the Wall

Have you ever noticed that having a lot of something--time, money, energy--gives you a sense of control and lack of concern? At least it would appear that way. Multi-millionaires don't make a fuss over tossing their card across the counter to purchase tickets, a meal (or five or ten) at a 4-start restaurant, or the door man's tip. For some of us, it costs something. Everything we buy means something we don't. The object is the same, but because of limitations, we value it differently.

God is God--not a man--but have you ever thought about how much time means to Him? The eternal, uncreated, self-sustaining God rules from eternity past to eternity future. He created time. For Him, it is not limited. He is not hurried. There is no deadline, due date or expiration. That means my crisis is not a crisis. He was there yesterday. He is in tomorrow. The future is the past.

When He wants to move nations and create leaders, He does. When He chooses to use a man, or change a man, He moves heaven and earth to accomplish His purpose.

Sometimes I get discouraged that life isn't happening according to my plan or I'm not changing as quickly as I'd like or in the areas where I struggle. That's when I'm reminded of the great men of the Bible--flawed, failing men--and God's patient, good use of trials and difficult circumstances. Pick one --Abraham, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, Paul. Pick any one of these men and plot his life. God patiently worked people and circumstances to change them and bring them to a place of giftedness and dependence. Getting to the "other side" was not the goal, change was. God used time as an instrument, a tool, a mechanism, to accomplish His good purpose and use each one for His glory.

The take away for me this morning? Stop. Slow down. Look up. Let go. Time is not the enemy--is never the enemy--but hanging on to it tightly is.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
    by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!

(Psalm 90 A Psalm of Moses)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When the I Am Says There You Are

Saturday, November 21, 2009 
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)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Keeping in Line

We spent last week in a country where driving happens on the left side of the road--and David was brave enough to rent a car. He did an amazing job and, to his credit, was open to the family's backseat driving. A couple of times he was so intent on staying on his side of the road that he didn't notice people and rubbish bins along the curb. The more he tried to avoid obstacles to the far left, the more difficult it became.

Sin is like that. We try to stay in the lines, with God at the center and avoiding sin on the left. Somehow we get sucked in. We weave back and forth between God and self. The harder we try to avoid what we know is wrong, the more unstable our thinking and Christian walk becomes. Instead of growing in faith and steadfastness, we live like drunken sailors drifting in and out of one and the other.

The answer--as David determined--is to keep our eyes on the center line. The more focused he was on the center line, the less often he strayed to the left. The closer you and I stay to Jesus--the more aware we are of making Him the focus--the less sin will deter us. To walk is to move whatever pace God allows, with our goal and ambition being the Lord Jesus Christ, by His grace and for His glory.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:8-14)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Never Say Never

During a recent airline flight things kept falling apart. I left my phone in security, madly dashed down one hallway, terminal, and people-mover after another; I even bought (!) food on the plane. Those aren't particularly bad things, but they're things I criticized others for. "If you'd been on time, you wouldn't have to run." "If you were responsible, you wouldn't forget your phone in security." "If you planned ahead you wouldn't have to buy overpriced food on the plane."

But there I sat--and I had reasonably good excuses. "Today," I said, "I am that person." Sin or no sin; my fault or not, things were out of control. Each missed flight put us one day (yes, a whole day) behind. Yes, I forgot my phone. With 30 minutes to get our family from the ticket counter to a far-off gate in Chicago's O'Hare Int'l Airport, we also lost a passport and laptop temporarily. And when your last meal was emptying-the-fridge-before-leaving 12 hours ago, you buy whatever they have--even the box with green olives and pate.

All that to say that when I'm critical of others, I am more like myself and less like Christ. In my backpack was the book, Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges. I read:

"Grace is not only to be received by us, it is, in a sense, to be extended to others. I say 'in a sense' because our relationship with other people is different than God's relationship with us. He is the infinitely superior Judge and moral Governor of the universe. We are all sinners and are on an equal plane with one another. So we cannot exercise grace as God does, but we can relate to one another as those who have received grace and who wish to operate on the principles of grace." (p. 50)

"God is generous beyond all measure or comparison. The Scripture says, 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son'; and Paul spoke of this as God's 'indescribable gift' (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15, emphasis added). God's inexpressible generosity, however, does not stop at saving us; it provides for all our needs and blessings throughout our entire lives." (p. 51)

After arriving at our destination and enjoying a wonderful time, rereading these same passages was even more meaningful. When I'm tempted to be critical or harsh--even in my thoughts--I need to examine my heart and ask God to turn it around. Awareness of my sin and His great grace will result in humility and gratitude. His gift of love can change my heart from grumbling to prayer and grace for others... even in the airport terminal.

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? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:32-39)


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Even if I'm Right...

In my sinful heart, I get frustrated when others don't understand what I'm trying to say. Maybe I say it another way. Or repeat it. Or say it louder. But the truth is that when I'm unsuccessful, for whatever reason, I tend to get frustrated. Why?

As I finished the book of John, I was convicted by Jesus' loving, thoughtful response to Thomas. Thomas missed Jesus' first appearance to the other disciples after the resurrection. He didn't run to the tomb to check things out. Maybe he was like Eeyore: "If it is a good morning, which I doubt." He knew Jesus died and that was that. He didn't expect change. And he wasn't going to take anyone else's word for it.

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:24-25)

Instead of chiding or correcting him--"Didn't you hear me say I would rise again? What did you think I meant when I said..."--Jesus met him in his doubt.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-28)
And I hear my voice--the frustration, the condescension--then I look at Jesus' example. He knew Thomas' struggle. He was s-l-o-w; sensitive, kind, patient, and he didn't wait for Thomas to ask, He willingly offered the only proof Thomas would accept. Jesus wasn't threatened by Thomas' doubt. His focus wasn't Himself, it was Thomas. And that's where I get it wrong. I think I have to prove myself...or prove my point, or get it done now, or get it done my way--and the focus is clearly on me and my plan. How dare they question my intentions, my words, my idea, etc., etc.? What I need to do is, like Christ, trust God with what is best, give up my agenda, and love others selflessly.

The only truths to hold fast to are God's--and He doesn't need my help protecting them. In fact, an argumentative attitude does more harm to God's reputation than a gentle, loving response. So I must examine my heart as I think about how to respond when others question or misunderstand....and love them instead of convincing them I'm right (and they're wrong).

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)