November 25, 2010
Though this verse is pulled from a context far removed from ours, does it not describe every child of God, chosen from before the foundation of the world to be God's very own holy and blameless possession?!
In its original context the ark of God, "which is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim", has just been brought back to town (Jerusalem!) after a long exile in the land of the Philistines. It had been delayed in coming when the first parade home ended in the death of the man driving the cart that carried it. After a temporary home-stay with Obed-edom whose whole household was blessed because of God's presence, the Ark was properly brought up to Jerusalem on the shoulders of the Levites. A great celebration of thanksgiving was had, complete with raisin cakes and meat and bread for all! Now at last installed in its tent in Jerusalem, this symbol of God's presence was again residing with His people. When the party was over a chosen set of men stayed at the tabernacle along with the priests, among them were Heman and Jeduthun with their trumpets and cymbals to make 'sacred song'. The celebration wasn't over because God's love wasn't over. It endures forever. There's always a reason for sacred songs of thanks! [See: I Chron.16]
I'm thinking that's partly why I write--to make note of God-sightings, evidences of His love in my life. I find the more intentional I am about looking the more I see.
This week I've been thinking how thanks makes a fitting mantra for every saint because God's steadfast love endures forever. A constant mouthing of thanks is a relevant part of 'praying without ceasing'. If we are not to be anxious in any situation but to present our requests with thanksgiving doesn't that mean we'll be brimming over with thanksgiving all day long? For as much of the day as there is apparent cause for concern there is room for thanksgiving. Our God, the One 'who sits enthroned above the cherubim' , the One who is 'mighty to save', the One who has the very hairs of our head numbered, this God, who is with us, for us, and living in us... He's got us covered. Thanks is always apropos.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that he tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (I Pet.1:3-8)
I wish for you and yours a sweet celebration of thanksgiving today and all through the coming days as you make thanks your mantra to the God whose love endures forever.
And as you sight His acts of lovingkindness, be sure to share them with a friend--"Sing to him; sing praise to Him; tell of all His wondrous works."
Thanks for stopping by!
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." I Thess. 5:18
November 18, 2010
Jesus came to make all things new. Do I wonder at His mercies all the day through?
--Because a child is wired to receive. He’s not embarrassed to be held, not ashamed to say, ‘I’m hungry.’ These are the cries of his needy little soul. He is utterly dependent on his mommy’s tender care and lost without her love. He expresses it with every cry of “Up, Mommy.” We grown-ups may discount the needy and aspire to independence and self-sufficiency. But God says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:3) “Up, Daddy” may be just what God waits to hear from us.
"But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God..."(Jn.1:12)
--Because a child is ready to believe—anything. He trusts his parents. Believes what they say. And lives with exuberant expectancy of good things from their hands.
We adults might call such people ‘gullible’. We fear being taken advantage of, deceived, hurt. Jesus says, ‘whoever believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' (John 11:25) Without faith it is impossible to please God for who’s going to come close to God without first believing He’s there, and that He rewards the one who pursues Him? (Hebrews 11:6)
--Because a child is eager to imitate, to be taught, to learn. Make a face, he will copy it. Applaud and he will too. Laugh a lot and expect him to join you, even if he doesn’t know what’s so funny.
Daddy is his hero, the man he lives to copy, just like Jesus who said of Himself, “Whatever the Father does, the Son does too.” Jn. 5:19 This is built-in humility. No smug knowing it all, no demand to ‘do it my way’. We might call such a one unoriginal-- a copy cat. But Jesus invites us to take His yoke and copy Him because He Himself is gentle and humble in heart. (Matt.11:28) David had such a heart: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Ps.25:4,5 Am I so willing to be shown how to live?
And so a child demonstrates to his love-struck Grandmom the way to greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven… “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt.19:14)
“…and a little child shall lead them”
"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are." (I Jn.3:1)
November 11, 2010
I've had an interesting challenge this week. I've been helping Rachel learn to write Book Reviews, only to discover for myself how difficult this can be! The best way to teach a thing is to first do it yourself. So I set out to review Gary Thomas' book, Authentic Faith. The catch for me was that though I loved the first three chapters and they were absolutely a God-send for me because they addressed a stage I found myself in, this enthusiasm waned significantly as I read further. Then it turned to apathy and finally to actual resistance and resentment toward the author. Yikes! So I was bracing for a harsh review in response to what I felt was a harsh message. Hmm.... As I prayed about these reactions God led me through a little review of things to consider such as...
"Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." Rom. 4:14
"Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. " James 5:9
"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Rom. 15:7
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." I Pet.4:8
So this process of doing a simple book review got a little more complicated as I submitted my reactions to the Law of Love, at least so far as I can see at present, considering the debris in my own eyes!.... God is gracious. I submit to you my review for your consideration...And if you get the chance, do read the book and let me know how it blesses you!
Authentic Faith by Gary Thomas
A book review by Linda Skelton
Gary Thomas has done the modern-day church a huge service in bringing to us voices from the past. I have long believed that reading history gives a perspective on our own times that is indispensable to living a balanced life. The trends and fads of one’s time can seem all-important and we can easily stray into unrecognized pitfalls if we don’t step back and consider the wisdom of the past.
In Authentic Faith Gary Thomas takes on the question: “Are we in the Christian faith for what it gives us, or is our chief purpose to glorify God? “ He organizes his response around ten ‘disciplines’ that he proposes are signposts to authentic faith. They are refreshingly different than much popular teaching, but uncomfortably pointed if you’re looking for a faith designed to make you feel good, live longer and be happy in the process!
The disciplines Thomas emphasizes are: selflessness, waiting, suffering, persecution, social mercy, forgiveness, mourning, contentment, sacrifice, and hope/fear regarding coming judgment. He says these are the disciplines that will mark a maturing friendship with God and give us what he terms ‘defiant beauty’. They differ from the traditional disciplines of fasting, meditation, prayer and the like in that they are not primarily actions we initiate. They ‘turn us away from human effort—from men and women seeking the face of God—and…toward God seeking the face of men and women.’(p.14) Thomas says these are God-ordained and God directed disciplines that will produce a spirituality dependent on God. It will be good to keep this opening thesis in mind as the book progresses. For disciplines like these become a heavy lot to manage the instant we take on responsibility for making them ‘happen’. As long as this perspective is kept in view this book will be a valuable guide in helping believers appreciate and respond to these disciplines as we face them in our lives.
Each chapter focuses on one of these ten ‘authentic disciplines’-- defining, describing, and illustrating with examples from the author’s own life or the life of saints in the past and always including quotations and explanations from the ancient church classics, such as Augustine, Ambrose, De Sales and St. John of the Cross. In my opinion, these references to wise Christians of the past are the most valuable contribution of this book. These are the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that surround us (Heb.12:1). From them we can gain wisdom and encouragement for the running of our own race. In their witness we can more readily see the errors of our times and not be caught in foolish trends.
While this book offers valuable aid in embracing different seasons of growth, it can also become a source of condemnation. The wise reader will focus on the areas where God is already leading him to make changes, and will beware of taking on more than he is ready to ‘chew’. This is a book that does not need to be read in its entirety all in one season! Consider it like the various medicines in your cabinet. Beneficial, but only as symptoms dictate. The first three chapters are excellent and foundational to healthy growth. Chapter One introduces the concept of seasons in our growth, while Two and Three consider selflessness and waiting which are inherent to any process of Christlikeness. After that the chapters do not have to be read consecutively.
Any application of ‘disciplines’ will readily become negative and burdensome when attempted by sheer ‘will power’. Our growth has seasons that are directed by God. Regrettably, though the author makes this observation in his introductory chapter, he seems to lose sight of it when it comes to areas of weakness and immaturity in the church that particularly peeve him. Though love for the Body may be his reason for writing, a tone of condemnation slips in. This want of grace seriously detracts from the book’s effectiveness. Sharp criticism must be tempered by love and grace if it is to bring about heart change. Otherwise there is a risk of only hardening the heart of the reader. Reader beware. But don’t miss the wealth of practical time-tested wisdom here, thanks to Gary’s impassioned research. Take it and let God apply it in season as you walk out an authentic faith with the God who seeks our friendship.
November 5, 2010
Fresh Joy-- I love those words. Fresh--like doughnuts fresh-baked first thing in the morning, after working an all-night shift... [thanks to my son for that word picture]. Or if you prefer, fresh home-baked bread hot from the oven...Fresh! I have found fresh joy repeatedly this week and each time it has come upon me rather unexpectedly. Joy is like that I think--like a butterfly that eludes capture but then when you least expect it may come to light on your shoulder. A curious sparrow came flitting up to me just that way as I was having a quiet sit in the sunshine one day this week. Unexpected. And just as quickly it flitted away when I reacted to it startling me! Joy is not so flighty thankfully but it does take me by surprise sometimes.
OK, so having recognized that the best growth happens in a context of restful faith, (see "Calmed and Quieted"), I set out to rest this week--not to stress about my state (or that of those I feel responsible for)...but to trust that God has it all under control. Nearly fell on my face Day 1...overwhelmed, discouraged by a tutorial on a skill I'm trying to learn. I read too far, too fast and my new-found hope and confidence that 'I can' was quickly eroded. A little pilot project became a daunting thing. I was paralyzed into spending an evening opening and closing instruction books, getting out papers, prototype pictures, paints, putting them away and finally making some messy doodles that confirmed my worst fears: "I can't"... Bedtime found me journaling to myself (This is a writer's form of talking to oneself, only it doesn't make you look as crazy, if 'looks' count!). And the Spirit seemed to blow in gently, thoughts that balanced and stabilized my own. Practical, hopeful ideas. And I fell asleep at peace...
Next morning I was mulling over this process of growth that seems to be a coupling of intentional practices with the provision of Divine interventions. I am, in fact, working my way through two books right now that complement each other on this very topic. Authentic Faith majors on what Thomas terms the 'authentic disciplines'--things God brings into our lives to grow us. And Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice (Willard) puts its focus on the means we can use to make growth intentional. (One day when I have digested both, maybe I'll have more to say on the mysterious 'mechanics' of growth.) But one thing stood out as I considered this-- the necessity of faith as a starting point. When I view myself (or my 'charges') as my responsibility to 'fix' through some application of 'discipline' it takes me right out of that 'calmed and quieted' state. I must do 'something', anything, at least keep anxious watch, sit on the alert growling...And suddenly the focus is all wrong. Who am I watching? Who am I trusting?
One day I sat reading the incident of Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14). He was fine until his focus turned to himself and the impossibility of this thing he was called to do: "Come." Initially He believed and walked on water. Then he looked around in disbelief and started sinking. Jesus' words cut right to my heart: "Why did you doubt?", as though he was waiting for my answer. And I knew. It was, "because I looked at me out here and thought, 'Who am I to be doing this?! What am I doing out here in this?!'"
Who am I? Wrong question. Dangerous focus. Meanwhile, the disciples back in the boat were fixated on Jesus and had quite another reaction. "They worshiped Him", saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." As long as I am self-conscious and feel responsible, there will be no rest, no joy, no faith. (I think one of the greatest joys of heaven will be self-forgetfulness!) But when I look at who He is and trust In Him it's a whole 'nother story: "For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name." (Ps.33) Quiet joy entered in the knowing.
"Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!" (I Chronicles 16:10)
I was re-reading Abraham's story in Romans 4 and noticed another possible reaction to this looking-at-myself business. It was said of Abraham that "he did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead... " Now remember, he's been waiting for literally YEARS for God to make His promise good and give him a son. But he looks at himself and actually grows stronger in faith. How's that?! It says, "no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as He gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised." --Rom.4:19,20 Abraham's faith wasn't hindered in considering his own weakness because it only served to highlight the incredibleness of God's promise! Can my weakness do that? Can I consider who I am in all my limitations and let it fuel praise to my amazing God? Yes, I fall short of His glory and yet "I am justified by His grace as a gift...to be received through faith." (Rom.3:23-24) And I am now clothed in His righteousness. "He made Him who knew no sin to be made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (IICor.5:21) I came away from meditating on these things with an old song dancing through my heart, fresh joy springing up. I haven't heard it in YEARS. If you know it sing along:
A Friend I have, called Jesus, Whose love is strong and true,[Now the wind-up for the lilting, joyful chorus...wish you could hear it sung this way...I only managed to find a you-tube piano accompaniment that is rather staid and a little slow. It lacks the lilt of a robust hymn sing, but the words and tune are here. You can sing along and add the 'spark' yourself!
And never fails howe'er tis tried, No matter what I do;
I've sinned against this love of His, But when I knelt to pray,
Confessing all my guilt to Him, The sin-clouds rolled away.
It's just like Jesus to roll the clouds away,Let me give you one more verse:
It's just like Jesus to keep me day by day,
It's just like Jesus all along the way,
It's just like His great love.
Sometimes the clouds of trouble Bedim the sky above,I love that! Fresh joy!
I cannot see my Saviour's face, I doubt His wondrous love;
But He, from Heaven's mercy seat, Beholding my despair,
In pity bursts the clouds between, And shows me He is there.*
Hurrying through my Bible study lesson on contentment another afternoon this week, I turned to Isaiah 29 and found this gem: "The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord." The meek. This is the one that gets in His yoke (as per Matt.11:28-30), watches Jesus demonstrate what Kingdom living is like, and walks confidently with Him while He takes me there . There's joy here as well as rest.
As I sit leafing through the pages of my week I am so impressed at God's quiet interventions--through His Word mostly, bringing to life the thoughts I need to hear, injecting faith and inspiring fresh joy. It's really quite amazing how He walks with us so gently and yet so strongly. It's not the Garden, but it's a foretaste. We live in the presence of a Living God who really and truly wants to live with us, to dwell with us, to be our God and have us as His own precious possessions... I saw this again in His words in Exodus: "I brought them out of Egypt that I might dwell among them." (Ex.29:46) He actually wants to live with us, to walk with us, to talk with us... "In His presence is fullness of joy." I've mostly thought of this as a future reality but really, He is with us now, and as we learn to believe it and walk accordingly there will be fresh joy for the taking!
Care for a slice of bread hot from the oven? Call ahead and we'll share some fresh.
*"It's Just Like His Great Love" --Words by: Edna Worrell, Music by: Clarence Strouse, 19th century.