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)