Sunday, January 31, 2010

Talk about honest!

There are certain things that you can say to certain people: it all depends on what you need to say and the person to whom you are saying it. There are levels of honesty in our communication with others. Perhaps honesty is not the best word, perhaps the word would be transparency. In my experience the degree of one’s opaqueness is connected to the depth of the relationship. When there is an offense both the strength of the relationship and the desire for it to continue will determine if there is a clearing of the air, if it immediately ends, or if it’s the beginning of a steady drift apart.

We know from the Psalms of David’s relationship with God but I’ve recently discovered what Jeremiah had to say to God and it’s pretty shocking…

“Lord, you always give me justice when I bring a case before you. So let me bring you this complaint: why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are the evil people so happy?” Jeremiah 12:1

It’s a question we’ve all asked but then Jeremiah got personal, really personal -

“Your words are what sustain me. They bring me great joy and are my heart’s delight, for I bear your name O Lord God Almighty. I never joined the people in their merry feasts. (God has told Jeremiah as a witness to the people he was prophesying to that he should never marry and bear children or to go to parties) I sat alone because your hand was on me. I burst with indignation at their sins. Why does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook. It is like a spring that has gone dry.” Jeremiah 15:15- 18

Did he just tell God that He was unfaithful? Not dependable? Unloving toward his servant? And fickle?

He did.

Do you hear his tone here? It is kind of whiny perhaps but honest, vulnerable, and transparent. Jeremiah had questions. He’d been God’s faithful servant since he’d been young and everyone hated him; from the general populace to his peers in the temple to the king on the throne. He was single, unpopular and a social outcast and now he felt that even God had abandoned him when the whole reason he’d been deserted by everyone else was because he’d been doing what God had asked him to do! Why has God left me here to suffer?

If I were writing an inspirational book all the stories would be positive. Everyone would be strong and no matter what the problem it would end “happily ever after.” I would not have included an incident like this – God’s servant despairing of God’s attention and calling Him out on it. It doesn’t go well with the idea that all is well for those who follow God…

Ah, but it does show something much more important; this passage reveals to us the depth of the relationship one can have with Almighty God and that God does not reject his children when they are so transparent with Him. The heart of Jeremiah was not one of defiance but despair and so he turned to God with his questions and God replied. “They will fight against you like an attacking army but I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze. They will not conquer you, for I am with you to protect and rescue you.” Jeremiah 15:20

How honest can you be with God?
I think the answer is up to us; it’s up to us to decide what we want from our relationship with Him. Do we care enough about its continuation to ask the really hard questions? Those questions that gnaw away at our souls but seem like something you should never say out loud and certainly not to God… surely no good Christian would say that to God…

God’s given us the answer in this story.
Is there anything you need to ask?

Friday, January 22, 2010

When it all comes crashing down...

What is the reason when it all comes crashing down? When what was stable is gone and "normal" no longer is? Where is God when what seemed to be good and right and pleasing to Him is destroyed in your life?

Let me answer with a quick history lesson. The people of Israel, as we know from the Old Testament, are God's chosen people. However, because of their sin, God let them be taken into captivity in two groups, in 722 BC and in 586 BC. At this point there was no longer a nation of Israel, as its people had been scattered across the face of the earth and the Temple lay in ruins in Jerusalem. Even a casual acquaintance with the OT shows how important the Temple was to the Jews. It was here they offered their sacrifices to God, and gathered to celebrate their feasts and holidays, but now they were far from home; how would they worship God now? And should they even continue to worship God? After all, He'd let them be conquered, captured, and lead away and His house had been destroyed. Why should they worship but if so, how?

Because of all this turmoil the synagogues became very important. The synagogue was not the Temple; it was merely a gathering place in which Scripture was read to the people, and any man could stand up and read from the scrolls as there was no appointed priest as there were in the temples. The scattered Jews could not offer sacrifices to God as captives in a foreign land so worshipping God became more about seeking Him with their hearts than serving Him with their hands. The very thing God has rebuked them for throughout Scripture, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." Isaiah 29:13, has now been made right in their captivity.

The scattering of the people and the destruction of the Temple lead the people to a place where God began to do a new thing. Because of the synagogues all the people were well versed in the scriptures something that was not true in the days of the Temple. Worshipping God became more a matter of the heart than of rote attention to ceremonial practices; all of this paving the way so that when Jesus appeared on the scene the stage had been set for His ministry and the spread of the Gospel!

I share this because in my own world the “temple” had crashed and I was feeling a bit exiled. A new pastor came to my church and it was quickly evident this was not a man I agreed with doctrinally or could follow. I was busy about the Lord’s work in numerous ways in the church; singing and teaching, leading and organizing. If I were to leave, my entire “ministry” would end. How could that be a good thing? How could the cessation of sacrifices to God be what God would want? Surely it must be better to be doing some good than no good at all? To have some place to speak truth than to be without a church home and have no voice for the Kingdom?

I don’t all have the answers yet, or as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”, but I look at this history and realize that God is so often busy doing something bigger than we can even fathom. Like He was in the story of Joseph in Genesis when Joseph has been sold into slavery and ends up being the ruler that rescues his family from starvation. At the end of the story Joseph stands before his brothers and says, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day” Genesis 50:20

If we are seeking Him; if we want to honor Him with our lives (Philippians 1:20) God does not stop working when everything else around us has.

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:50) I do not know what this “new” thing will be but I do know that historically what God creates “it (is) very good.” (Genesis 1:31) be His creating out of nothing or molding something new for us out of broken pieces.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Are We There Yet?"

This just might be one of the most common questions of all time; no doubt you've both asked and answered it many times...
Unfortunately the very fact that the question is being asked means the answer is "No" and then there's the subsequent complaining from the back seat...

Are we there yet?

I wonder if the author of said sentiment was Abraham. He was the ultimate person on a journey not knowing if he'd yet arrived at his destination. In Genesis 12 God says to Abraham "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you.". So he does. Abraham packs up his family, his livestock, his tents, and all his wealth and hits the road. He leaves from Haran and finally arrived in Canaan and stops near Shechem. A quick check of the map in the back of my Bible tells me that's around 400 miles. I don't know how quickly they traveled but I do know that the wagon trains heading West in the pioneer days averaged about ten miles a day...

Imagine how it would feel to have all your worldly possessions in the back of a U-Haul and you're driving cross country and every day your family asks, "Are we there yet?" And you don't know, because you don't know where "there" is and so how in the world would you know how long it will take to get "there"?

Abraham however is not the only pioneer.
In numerous areas of our own lives we are on a journey.
From grief to healing.
From addiction to independence.
From distraction to single mindedness.
From injury to health.
From temptation to victory.
From being conformed to this world to being transformed into His image.

And the question echoes in the chambers of our hearts "Am I there yet?"
"How long until I no longer suffer and struggle? When will I arrive?
When will I go a day without grieving, or sinning, or failing?
Will I ever scale this mountain?
When will things get better? When will I be better?
When will I be all I was created to be?
Are we there yet?"

There are some journeys in your life that have been completed. There are mountains that have been scaled, strongholds torn down, and healing that has taken place. But since we're always on a journey, of one sort or another, the question will remain.

Although we're not sure where "there" is we do know these things;

"I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow." Isaiah 48:17

"The Lord says, ' I will guide you along the best pathway for your life I will advise and watch over you.'" Psalms 32:8

"He guides me along right paths bringing honor to His name." Psalm 23:3

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." Philippians 1:6

We do not journey alone for we travel with the One who has the map, knows the destination and will make sure we arrive, even though we are not there yet.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Familiar

Familiar — the word itself conjures up warmth and security, doesn't it?
Something familiar is something we understand and are comfortable with because we know how it works. It is something with which we are closely intimate or well acquainted.

We get a sense of familiar in the routines of our days—
That morning coffee ...
The road to work, so well known that if your car were a horse you could sleep at the wheel ...
Those welcoming sheets at night.

We have a sense of the familiar when we engage in something we know from hours of experience, like —
Riding a bike ...
Playing an instrument ...
Working with a hobby ...
Hearing a friend's voice on the phone.

And then there is the sense of the familiar in our possessions —
When you discover a memento from your past,
Or when you pull out the same Christmas ornaments to hang on the tree every year.

Familiarity also comes through less tangible ways, like —
Hearing a song you haven't heard in a long time ...
Or reconnecting with a long-ago friend ...
Or experiencing something that reminds you of another place or time ...
Or rediscovering a lost passion or idealism.
Familiar feels like coming home, a place of comfort, acceptance, and happiness.

I snatched up my Bible on the way out the door Sunday.
It felt so familiar in my hand
and in its words
and with its God...

How "at home" are you with the Almighty —
Not by rote or routine, or with a cavalier attitude, but how comfortable you are with Him?
When you start to talk to Him, do you have that sense you've been here before?
When you hear His voice, can you recognize it as you do a friend's on the phone? (John 10:27)

We become familiar with something from prolonged experience, and the amazing thing is that even when it's been a long time since we've heard that song, seen that friend, or ridden that bike, things that are familiar come back to us like no time has passed at all.

God calls us to that place. He calls us home whether the last time we were there was last night, last week, or many poor choices ago. He is the Shepherd of Luke 15, leaving the ninety-nine who are securely in the fold and searching for the one sheep who's wandered away. Paul observed that where sin abounds, grace abounds more. (Romans 5:20) because He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
No matter where you are, what you've done, or how far you've gone, God calls you home. He calls you to come and live in His house, eat at His table, and to be, again, in that well acquainted place with Him.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rescue me from my rebellion...

I was stopped this morning by this phrase in Psalms 39:3(NLT): "Rescue me from my rebellion..."

Rebellion.

It was a popular word when I was a teen. It was all about being—or being entreated not to be—rebellious, but surely that doesn’t apply now. I don't know any of my peer group who are out lighting up cigarettes behind the bleachers, dyeing their hair green, (although perhaps they dye it brown to cover the gray), sneaking out at night, or railing against authority.

And then I read this in Psalms 32: 6 (NLT): "Let all the godly confess their rebellion to you while there is time ..." which seems like an oxymoron—people who are godly and rebellious?

Surely these verses have nothing to do with me.

Rebellion is a negative response to being asked to do something that we don't want to do.
It's going up against the expected, the rules, the precedents, and principles.
It's an attitude of "I don't want to, I don't have to, and I'm not going to!" It's thinking

I am better than the rules.
I am above the expected.
I am greater than the consequences.
I know better.

Hmm ... maybe rebellion isn't limited to a particular generation, as I've seen these attitudes in my own thoughts.

It all boils down to pride: it's the sin of Lucifer in thinking himself better than God, and of Eve in thinking she could outwit the consequences of her disobedience. When I elevate myself above the way God has said to live my life, I am rebelling—with or without the cigarette.

This then is really a prayer here and elsewhere, as in Psalms 19:13: "Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression," a prayer that God will give me a heart of humility, one that acknowledges that He is God and I am not. It is a prayer that God will grant to me a patient, longsuffering spirit that will continue in the way He's prescribed, because I believe that He knows best for my life and that He'll accomplish what He says He will and reward me as promised.

It's all about trusting God and His word when I'd rather trust myself and my opinions, however that looks at any age.

To love when I'd rather hold a grudge.
To reply with a soft answer when venomous words are filling my mind.
To give when my fists are clenched shut.
To do it the right way when the shortcut is so appealing.
To walk another mile when I resented having to go the first.
To forgive, yet again.

It is believing that when "The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you,'" (Psalms 32:8), that it's true, even if I don't understand or agree.

Rescue me Lord, from my rebellion.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I...uh....well....maybe....okay...

I was reading about Gideon today, and I found a bunch of details I'd missed before that I thought were really interesting. Let me recap the story for you.

Once upon a time there was a man named Gideon, whose country was under siege by the Midianites. He was so afraid of the occupying force that he stayed hidden in a wine press crushing grain to make flour, hoping the Midianites wouldn't see him.
An angel of the Lord came to him and called him a "mighty man." He looked around and said, "You talkin' to me?!"
The angel told him to go in his strength and rescue Israel from their oppressors. Gideon responded, "Uh, you don't know who you're talking to, because I am the weakest and the least of my family, much less anyone else's family." The angel then told him that God would be with him.
Gideon asked the angel to wait, then went home and made a meal and brought it back. The angel put it on a rock, and fire came and consumed the whole thing. Wow.

Gideon was then told to tear down the altar to Ba'al that stood in the middle of town. He obeyed, but he was fearful about the whole thing so he snuck out at night and did it. The next morning the people figured out it was Gideon, and they came after him. Gideon's dad, who was actually the keeper of the altar, defended him and said if this has offended Ba'al then let Ba'al come after him. The people agreed and decided to start calling him Jerubbal which means "Let Ba'al defend himself."

Gideon then issued a call to arms, and 32,000 warriors responded. Every man who was summoned, came! Surrounded by these willing men, Gideon then went to God and said, "Are you sure about this? If you are, make this fleece I'm leaving out here on the floor overnight full of dew and the ground dry." And then he went to bed and I'm sure tossed and turned the entire night. Sure enough, the next morning the wool was so wet he wrung out a bowl full of water. But... Gideon still wasn't convinced; even though he had seen the angel, the fire, the conversion of his own father, the mass of men who came to fight, and the fleece filled with water, he wasn't convinced. So he asked God to do it again, only backwards—a dry fleece and wet ground—and an amazingly patient God did.

Now Gideon was ready to proceed, but God thought there were too many guys, so He told Gideon to ask all those who'd rather not participate to go home. And 22,000 men did. 9 out of 10 warriors walked away!! There was a paltry (comparatively) 3,000 left, and God still thought that was too many, so there was another winnowing of the troops and Gideon had only 300 remaining, less than 1% of the original force.

Then God came and said, "Get up! Go down into the Midianite camp for I have given you victory over them! But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack." Judges 7: 9-11 NLT

So Gideon and his servant snuck down just in time (remarkable their timing, don't you think?) to hear a man telling his friend about a dream: "'I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!' His friend said, 'Your dream can mean only one thing. God has given Gideon, son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over all the armies united with Midian!'" Judges 7:13,14 NLT

So Gideon was encouraged, thanked God, and proceeded with his 300 warriors to surround the enemy in the valley. They broke clay pots with lights in them, shouted, and blew their trumpets, and the enemy was so confused (after all, it was midnight) they started fighting among themselves. Before long the Midianite armies retreated as Gideon and the Israelites watched without raising a sword or aiming an arrow.

So my question is this: How much encouragement does one man need to do what God has called him to do? Gideon saw an angel and witnessed several miracles and several stunning successes, but still he hesitated. Right up to the battle he was afraid, he was not so sure about all this...

The hero in the story of course is God, and the significance of the story is that "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." (Psalms 103:13,14 NIV)
God met Gideon, where he was in his faith and in his fear, every step of the way. While one miracle may have been enough affirmation for someone else, Gideon apparently had short term memory problems.

I have those same problems. So quickly I forget the things God has done on my behalf in the past when I'm facing something difficult in the present, and I find, as did Gideon, that time and again, God steps in with encouragement just when I need it, not discounting my fear but acknowledging it and encouraging me. Just like He did today in a blog I read by Roy Lessin:
Is God calling you to take a new step in the year ahead, even though you are weak and fearful? When God calls you, He sends you; when He sends you He goes with you; when He goes with you, He equips you; when He equips you, you have everything you need.

I have everything I need, and so do you.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up! Psalms 68:19 ESV

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy "New" Year!

So here we are, a new blank year stretching out before us like verdant rolling hills although now blanketed with pristine snow. This day begins a year’s worth of days in which things will be different because it is a “NEW” year.

I’ve done remarkably well in this New Year with all the resolutions I subconsciously make and consciously don’t admit. So far I’ve both eaten and acted well! Although the only exercise I’ve engaged in is the current jumping (sounds aerobic doesn’t it?) of my fingers on the laptop keys as I’ve been awake all of five minutes and am still in bed, covers up to my chin…Every year I think about how ludicrous it is to start a new year after an indulgent and late night celebration of the ending of the old; especially as I am one who is barely coherent after ten p.m.(seriously, ask anyone who’s trying to converse with me after that magic hour, it’s quite comical I’m told!)

We love “NEW”.
Packaged with everything "NEW" is a measure of hope that with the “NEW” will come “IMPROVED”; that this “NEW” thing will make the current things better. We know this in an over the top way from the Billy May’s style infomercial but it’s a hope we quietly hold every time we acquire something. That this new hair cut will make me look better, or this new gadget will improve the prep time in the kitchen, or clean up time throughout the house or the quality of the sound system or my organizational systems so that now I will be able to find my keys…

And now look at us; here we are with a whole NEW YEAR! (and without any shipping and handling costs!) Will this year be improved? Will it be better? Will it live up to the conscious and unconscious expectations we have for it or will it be as disappointing as some of those impulsive late night TV watching purchases, that once unwrapped, turn out to be not at all what was expected?

We won’t know those answers until 364 days from now but what we do know is that God is in the business of “NEW”.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Psalms 51:10

And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5

How is this possible?
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there any thing too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27

Can this then be our response?
“'Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” Jeremiah 32:17

A new year is too large of a chunk of time for me to take in all at once. So I will simply remember this, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22, 23

However "New and Improved" I manage to be today (after I get out of bed) is still yet to be determined, however there is a day’s worth of God’s love just waiting to help me through it, and it will also be there tomorrow, and the day after that, and...so with that in mind, Happy New Year!