December 23, 2010

Joy to the World!

Joy is the province of the believer.  Though we have not seen Jesus we love Him.  Though we do not see Him now yet we believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.  And the outcome of such faith?--the salvation of our souls.  (Can I cite this verse here without being derided for holding such a silly faith that has no evidence to support it?  What a relief.)  What a joy!  And enough of it to share with the whole wide world. 

Joy to the world!  The Lord has come.  Let earth receive her King.

But alas, Jesus came to His own and His own did not receive Him.  
But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. 


I have a new appreciation for my faith these days.  It has become a precious commodity in a forum of people who find it not merely an enigma, but a maddening (un)reality.  Their world knows no sin, no Saviour, and no Good News.  They resent certainty, faith, and I suppose, Joy.

I am ready for a holiday, a holy holiday to celebrate the real live birth of my real live Hero into a world that needs Him more than we know!  

Joy to the World, our King has come.  

Wishing you and yours a joy-filled holy holiday!!!


"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!"
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, for He that comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."

Quotations and almost quotations are taken from the following:
I Peter 1:8,9; John 1:11,12; Luke 2:14; Heb.11:6

December 17, 2010

Joyful, joyful we adore Thee



“Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?  And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come and have shown me future generations, O LORD God!

For your servant’s sake, O LORD, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things.  There is none like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears…”
I Chr. 17:16-20

It’s been twenty-seven years today since we stood side by side saying our vows before  Reverend Bradford, my grandpa.  It was the week before Christmas.  The familiar chapel was bright with poinsettias.  We were young and in love.  The season only added to our wonder. 

The organ swelled with Beethoven’s music as all joined to sing: “Joyful, joyful we adore Thee”.
Joyful, joyful we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee,
Praising Thee their sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

My wedding band is engraved with a reference I have to remove my glasses and squint to read now. Psalm 118:23,24-- “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  We knew it then.  We know it now.  Our relationship is His conniving.  Its continuity is by His grace. And we can only marvel at His doings all along the way--Six children and one grandson—love that continues to grow between us-- He has made us rich.

These many years later, our anniversary celebration still gets squeezed into this busy but festive time of year.  The sun is shining for us today.  We will have a drive and maybe a kiss or two, and we will relish the joy that is ours in each other and in the Lord that has bonded and kept us all these years for His glory. 


December 11, 2010

“Like precious faith”

“To them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ..."
[continuing remarks on dialoging with non-believers about faith…]

Heady stuff this business of dialoging about faith and the lack thereof. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of railing accusations, unfounded allegations and inflammatory speech laced with insinuation… I’ve had to step back, get into the Word and remind myself that this is a mission field.  The calling is to be salt and light, not fuel!!!  How am I to ‘give an answer’ to a skeptic anyway?  I can take my directives from God’s Word, or learn the hard way by trial and error.  I’ve done some of each this week.
Peter says always to be ready to give an answer for the hope you claim to have, but to do it with ‘gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.’ (I Pet. 3:15,16) This kind of gentle response is not a natural way of reacting to "irreverant and silly myths" (I Tim.4:7) —and they really are ‘out there’.  Did you realize some believe that the Christian God is none other than the Jupiter of Roman myth?  Really.  And they can give you ‘chapter and verse’ form ‘ancient’ writings…but I digress.   Neither will a gentle, repectful response naturally flow from my offended sensibilities when I’m slandered.  I guess you might say I learned that the hard way this week. I had to eat ‘humble pie’ a time or two when my words were not carefully chosen and came across with an accusatory tone.  I learned that “religion bashers” don’t care to be referred to this way. And I learned that it’s ok to apologize and that it very effectively ‘turns away wrath’.   I was struck with how offense is allowable one direction but never in return.  And it’s my calling to be the offended one but not the offender…I am not authorized to  respond in ‘like kind’. 
Jesus’ conversations with his opponents have taken on new relevance this week.  He knew all about choosing words carefully and knowing when and how to answer.  Sometimes he even refused to answer until they gave an answer to His question.  I read just this morning how the Pharisees ‘went and plotted how to entangle Him in his words’.  But instead Jesus left His audience marveling,  ‘astonished at His teaching’, and finally not daring to ask Him any more questions! (Mt.22)
I have also been warned that there is such a thing as an ‘unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words’ that has the effect of ‘creating constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth’ (I Tim 6:4).  This sort of thing is said to do no good but only ruin the hearers! and ‘spread like gangrene’. (II Tim.2)  That is certainly not my calling!  I want my presence on this forum to be like salt and light, not more rottenness.  I was reading Paul’s advice to Timothy.  His goal was God’s approval, and his job – to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’, avoiding ‘irreverant babble’ which not only spreads with use but is able to undermine the faith of some. (II Tim.2:14-18)  Ooooo but there is a temptation to concoct some clever verbal bit of badgering with which to stem the flow of skeptic rhetoric. BUT then I read this: “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.” (II Tim.2:24-26)
Ah yes, and of course that is right.  So I choose to pause before I read their words, and pray before I compose my own and then re-read them from Another point of view before I press the ‘Submit’ button.
But perhaps the most significant thing I’ve been reminded of this week is that underlying all the words and rationale is an unseen world of spiritual warfare.  Our struggles are not with flesh and blood, (or words and arguments). There is in fact a spiritual battle being waged over each and every unbeliever, whether or not they even believe in things unseen. (The ones I’m talking to generally don’t.) With God’s perfect timing II Cor. 10 was the text for this Sunday’s sermon: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”(II Cor.10:4,5) No bit of superior reasoning is capable of winning victories in this arena!  The people I’m reasoning with are blinded and held captive by the “prince of the power of the air” even if they don’t believe he exists.  Their vehement denial of the historicity and/or deity of Jesus Christ and forceful dismissal of the Bible as myth point to this deeper struggle.  They are unwitting pawns, demanding evidence but quite mired in unbelief.
What a precious commodity faith is.  I went back to Ephesians 2 to see again the glory of the story of our own rescue from this captor—saved by grace through faith, and this is itself a gift of God.  Faith so rankles the unbeliever.  Drives them crazy.  How can we believe ‘without evidence’.  They think us as ignorant, foolish, crazy, and even (and this is a rising tide in their thinking--) dangerous!  All because of faith.  I really think there is an element of jealousy in this resentment.  It was put in words this week when Will said that noone has a right to live in a ‘comfort zone’ free from a 'groping uncertainty about the truth.'  According to him every honest person will admit to living in this state.  He has turned his back on ‘church’ and taken up a rational case of atheism.  But his moral beliefs in certain areas are inconsistent with his purported unbelief.  We dialog a little and he politely refers to  me as a ‘quiet evangelist’.
But when I shut down my computer and leave this world of dialog behind I see my own world differently.  Last night we had our annual Christmas get-together with a few friends.  The conversation among believers inevitably turns to matters of faith, our like precious faith.  By it we are bonded.  In it we live and move and have hope for the future.  We can have fun together and be at ease because we agree on the most important things… But even as we talked I was reflecting on these other ‘friends’ online that see the world so differently, who see what we most cherish as a scourge to be wiped off the face of the earth [ as per Sam Harris, The End of Faith] .  And it makes my faith all the more precious.
So I gird on my sword, “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God” ,and my one recourse, “praying at all times in the Spirit”, and I hope to follow Paul’s example in my conversations this week (“We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” II Cor.4:2 ) in hopes that God may perhaps grant even one repentance and they may come to share my precious faith.
"...Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.” (II Pet.1:1,2)

December 3, 2010

Yea! for LIGHTS!!!

Out for a walk the other day I passed a man putting up his Christmas lights and in an effort to be friendly I called out "Yea for lights!" As I powered on up the hill I thought Yes! that's exactly what I mean. Not only do I love seeing all the lights at this time of year, but I am particularly grateful this week for one particular light I found in a dark place.

I've been itching to get into some serious reading, stuff you have to chew on to digest. I thought this would be much more enjoyable and profitable (and likely to happen!)  with a group, so I got to looking for possibilities... Where I ended up was an online book discussion forum that was not exactly what I had in mind to begin with. I was thinking Christian authors, or at least coming at good literature from a Christian worldview... Where I landed was a club whose most prominent members are pretty staunch and intellectually oriented atheists and whose preferred books are by leading atheists. It wasn’t where I intended to go and yet, I had a sense of being called to it somehow, called to be a ‘light’.

I suppose I don't think much about being a light most of the time. How significant is a candle in a lighted room?  My little light sits under its bushel basket, here in its cozy little home...or hangs out with other flickering lights.  Nothing dramatic about that.  But take a lone candle to a dark room and ahhhh…It stands out

Anyway, so I found myself at this forum. I looked around, listened in on conversations, and began to interact.  I was warmly welcomed despite my enthusiastic recommendation of a scholarly book by a religious writer....  Responses  were courteous, but increasingly came to have a sharp edge as anything remotely connected to truth claims based on the Word of God arose. Now mind you, I was at this point only attempting to bring a balancing perspective to conversations they had started.  But balance is not the point.  Being able to find truth by ‘evidence’ with reason alone is.  Things got hot when I made mention of the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom. But do you know what I found?  Just as the conversation was getting charged beyond reason another light showed up, and with wise and carefully chosen words defended and expanded on the truth I had only touched on.  Bless him!  I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find another believer in this place of darkened intellect.   

A candle that’s been overlooked all summer long becomes a precious commodity when winter days get long and cheerless.  It’s a welcome presence in a dark place, and easy to spot!  I had in fact spotted this faithful flame early on in reading through some threads of conversation.  His were the consistently wise and tactful responses, though not above wry humor. This is no easy place to show “gentleness and respect” as you “give an answer for the hope that is in you”. (I Pet.3:15)  It’s easier to respond ‘in like kind’ than to ‘overcome evil with good’.   I was challenged! I’m not used to being told I’m ‘flat our wrong’ or that I believe ‘silly things’ without a shred of evidence… and obviously have little ability to think critically.  [I don’t want to represent all these skeptics as rude and insulting.  They have been, for the most part, quite respectful even when completely disagreeing.  I do get the sense that they are being intentionally careful in conversations with me, not being yet sure if I can be ‘won’ to their point of view.  They have dropped this reserve with the man I call “Mr. Pilgrim”. (I call him this  because I don’t know his real name, and because he recommended we read Pilgrim’s Progress!)] But this man has been at it for years discussing and defending his faith with the same core of skeptics. He’s committed to being a light and wrote me a private note not to be discouraged but to keep on, hoping eventually to increase the candlepower (my words) here.  He says Christians come by this forum every so often but are always chased away. He’s chosen to stay in hopes of winning someone.  He considers these guys friends assuring me their bark is worse than their bite in many cases. He says he’s learned to ignore their insults except when it comes to slandering Jesus.  His heart is evident in his words.  He shines.

I want to learn to shine like that and am so grateful for his example.  I’ve been reading and re-reading my instruction manual:
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col.4: 5,6) 
That’s Paul talking, but do you know what he says just before that?  Here’s where you come in:
 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.  At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ...that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”(v.2-4) 

Not only are we are all lights in our respective places but we can brighten each others’ flames as we pray for one another. I love that!. 

So as you’re digging out those dusty candles to brighten the season, give thanks for every opportunity to shine and say a prayer for all the ‘candles’ you know that are lending their light to our world. 

His light has shone in our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor.4:6)

‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!!’(2 Cor.9:15)

November 25, 2010

My Mantra

"...chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for His steadfast love endures forever." (I Chron. 16:41)

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

Like a Child

Q: Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?
A: “And calling to Him a child, [Jesus] put him in the midst of them and said: Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt.18:2,3

In my new role as Grandmom I had a chance this week to meditate on these verses with the help of a real live object lesson…

Why must I become like a child?

--Because a child is full of wonder.  All is new, fascinating, delightful-- be it snow falling or water splashing,  a button to push, a switch to flip, words, peculiar noises, music…everything is wonder-full.
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

In Review

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!

“The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord.” Is.29:19

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 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,
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.
[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!
It's just like Jesus to roll the clouds away,
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.
Let me give you one more verse:
Sometimes the clouds of trouble Bedim the sky above,
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.*
I love that!  Fresh joy!

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.

October 28, 2010

Calmed and Quieted

Chewing this week on contentment...inner contentment.  So much of my life has been energized by its opposite.  I find fault with you. I find fault with me.  I'm poised like a watchdog to sniff out error, to bark an alert (or at least to growl) when I find it.  I feel compelled to be different, to be better, to be something I am not... I struggle in the Potter's hand with 'why did you make me like this?' I've too often confused this with being 'spiritual'.   You know, aren't we to be restless pilgrims always seeking 'Higher Ground', gaining new heights every day? 

Growing up in a spiritual climate where a second distinct work of grace was pre-requisite to being really spiritual no doubt contributed to my propensity toward discontent.  It did seem there was more striving than rest, more working to look holy than to exude it from within.  We were a bunch of tee-totallers seeking the land of 'corn and wine'* earnestly.  But in that searching I learned to foster discontent as a valid motivation for growth.  Is it?
I've been challenged to re-think this (again) lately.  I came upon a sage perspective in Authentic Faith**:
“The Christian classics talk about a ‘soul sadness’ or ‘inquietude’ that comes about when we proudly demand a state of character development that we do not yet possess.  Though pursuing holiness seems to be—and, in fact, is—a noble aim, and wanting to experience greater depth in holiness appears to be—and, in fact, is—a godly pursuit, it’s possible that our desire for increased growth may be fueled by pride, ambition, and self-interest—and our attitude as we wait is often the best indicator of what our true motivation is.
Hmm... He continues:
“True holiness is pursued with ‘patience, meekness, humility, and tranquility". [ I am reminded of Jesus' own words in inviting me to come to Him in Matthew 11:28, 'for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.']  Without these qualities in our quest we risk ‘fatiguing’ our souls, "landing us in a season of great distress and spiritual anguish.” (DeSales)
 Yes, I'm all ears at this point...
An overzealous pursuit of character transformation can actually work against us rather than for us.” Our uneasiness and agitation “proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil which we feel, or of  acquiring the good which we desire: and yet there is nothing which tends more to increase evil, and to prevent the enjoyment of good, than an unquiet mind.”(Thomas,44 quoting Francis DeSales' Introduction to the Devout Life,307)

Thomas concludes by saying:
"In general, our pursuit of holiness should be a patient pursuit.  We grow best living in a pool of spiritual serenity.  Instead of a frantic and desperate clutching, we should adopt a patient waiting and a hopeful expectation: ‘Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ (Jude 21)”(Thomas,45)
We're given the example of the farmer who "waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains." (James 5:7)  There's no rushing this process. I think too of St Francis' prayer:
"Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Serenity will remain illusive if my focus is on things I cannot change.  Changing the things I can will require faith and wisdom to tell the two apart.

But best of all, I'm meditating on these enticing words of David: "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Ps.131:2) And I am drawn again to this elusive rest that is my birthright. (Heb.4:9) It starts with trust (Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!), trusting God at His Word-- that He is indeed at work in me to make me both willing and able to do his pleasure.  "For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him." (Phil.2:13 NLT)

Will I put aside my introspective 'temperature-taking' and rest in His care, His timing, and His methods to bring me to Christlikeness?  Today he beckons: "If you hear His voice do not harden your hearts." (Heb.4:7) 'Strive to enter that rest'...'with confidence draw near to the throne of grace for mercy and grace to help in time of need'...(Heb.4:7,11,16) "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil.1:6)

And my soul answers YES! By faith I will trust my Shepherd to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Ps.23).

And in response He whispers, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (Ex.33:14)
I just love that about God's Word.  Not only do we serve a living God but His Word is living and active. He speaks still.  And I am encouraged again to trust, calmed and quiet beside Him.

Blessings to you as you make your own pilgrimage. Thanks for walking along with me.  May God grant you grace and glory along the way... "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,...equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen! (Heb.13:20,21)


*See the hymn: "Beulah Land" by Edgar Stites
**Authentic Faith is by Gary Thomas, 2002

October 22, 2010

In it FOR HIM...

Thanks to a perceptive friend I have a note to add to last week’s words, a softer note.  She encouraged me to look at the stages of development in a child and compare them to our maturing process as children of God. Each stage is normal and necessary…
***A child is helpless and hungry and desperately in need of loving nurture.
--So we come to God and He pours His love on us and His lavish blessings.  We begin to know we are loved. This knowledge is foundational to healthy growth—absolutely essential.

***Then we are toddlers, curious and playful but also needing instruction, guidance and correction.  
--We begin to know love as more than a good feeling, or a lot of good things.  Love disciplines us for our future wellbeing.  Our behavior has consequences.  We are beginning to grow up.

***As we near adulthood we begin to look for our life purpose and take responsibility for others.  We begin to sacrifice our own desires for the next generation.  And we find that we can know our parents as real people, not just authority figures.  (This comes as a sweet surprise for the parent too!)
–-How much more must God delight to see us growing to maturity and beginning to share His passions. This is what we are made for—to really know Him, even as we are known and from this to derive a life purpose that mirrors His own.

What is that purpose?
Where do we go next in figuring out what it means that we exist FOR GOD?
I bumped into Authentic Faith* this week and I quote:

“The new groundwork that needs to be laid is an authentic faith that is based on a God-centered life.  Rather than the believer being the sun around whom God, the church, and the world revolve in order to create a happy, easy, and prosperous life, God becomes the sun around which the believer revolves, a believer who is willing to suffer—even to be persecuted—and lay down his or her life to build God’s kingdom and to serve God’s church.  This is a radical shift—indeed, the most radical (and freeing) shift known in human experience—and it leads to a deep friendship with God.”(Gary Thomas,11)
There is an implication here that runs counter to our independence-loving culture.  Pursuing God’s Kingdom is all about living for His Church, His bride, of which we are a part, not the whole.  Ouch.  Does this make you as uncomfortable as it does me?  You mean, we can’t fulfill God’s purposes in isolation?!  Some solitary prayer, some Bible reading, some reflecting—maybe some ‘blogging’?

Peter says we’re  
‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession’, all corporate words, Body words.  Chosen for what?  --to corporately ‘declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.’ (IPet.2:9) Clearly, we’re in this thing of being ‘for Him’ together.

Paul alludes to an eternal purpose here far beyond us: "that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places!" And he clearly believed it!  If we follow his lead look at the 'ride' we're in for--definitely not about personal comfort or advantage:
         “We… are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”(IICor.4:11)
“it is all for your sake…”(IICor.4:15) 
“For the love of Christ controls us…We have concluded this: that one has died for all…that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”(IICor.5:15) 
And if that doesn’t convince me, Paul provides credentials that he is truly God’s servant, which include every sort of endurance from sleepless nights to calamities, poverty, slander, hunger  and ‘having nothing!’ (IICor.6:4ff).  He talks about wanting to share Christ’s sufferings and become like Him in his death (Phil 3:10).  What is that about?!  I have to admit, I have always shied away from that concept.  I don’t like pain. It scares me.  So what is this journey to KNOW God about?

You’ll have to excuse me if this starts to read more like a travel brochure than a journal.  This is mostly uncharted territory for me.  But I feel the draw, the invitation “to join our Lord in living for the glory of the Father instead of for our own reputation, and …to give ourselves over to the salvation and sanctification of Christ’s bride, the church, rather than to be consumed by our own welfare (gulp).  This holy self-forgetfulness is the most genuine mark of true faith, the evidence of God’s merciful grace in our lives.”(Thomas,23)

And for sure it will have to be by His grace.  Self-forgetful?  Definitely not there yet.  Sounds a little like Matthew 16:25: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  I’m constantly intrigued and challenged by this principle.  Being introspective by nature I’m always rummaging around to figure out what makes me tick… looking to ‘find myself’.  Hmmm…  “Death to self” is a related theme I’m confronted with.  Living FOR GOD means dying to ME.  Is that it?

I find here an illuminating quote from C.S. Lewis (Beyond Personality):
The principle runs through all life from top to bottom.  Give up yourself, and you’ll find your real self.  Lose your life and you’ll save it.  Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life.  Keep NOTHING back.  Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Wow.  So this is what living for Him is about?!
How do we do this?  This transition from self-centered babes to selfless adults who exist for God’s glory?  Or maybe it’s not about what we do…(?)

I’d love to do some thinking about this with you (since we're on this journey together!) What does living for Him mean to you? What do you see as means to growth and how does the Body around you fit into that?
Drop a comment in the box or send off a snippet of e-mail, whichever you prefer, and thanks for your time--I know this was long.

*I ran across Authentic Faith this week while reviewing church library donations.  I love the way God drops truth into my life via books--His Word, first and foremost, but so often also the voices of assorted teachers in the Body via the books they have written.  It broadens my view of the Church to include all believers worldwide exercising their gifts for the common good.  Don’t miss this aspect of the Body.  Open a worthy book today!  (and expect to hear more from Gary Thomas' book!)

October 20, 2010

He's FOR US (an addendum)

Before I move on to the promised post on what it means to exist FOR GOD,  I have to sort out some observations on what it does and does not mean to say that God is 'for us'.  Drawn from my understanding of Scripture here are my thoughts:

What it does not mean…
    --God has my happiness at the top of His agenda.
    --God will never let me suffer or face deep disappointment or failure.
    --God wants me always healthy, financially secure and relationally satisfied (and He guarantees my children the same!)

What it does mean…
    --God has my best interest in view and arranges every circumstance to work for my good.
    --God is committed to making me like Christ and will see this project through to the finish.
    --God’s love for me will never falter, fade, or fail no matter what circumstances I find myself in.

These are things I know from Scripture, but they still sound very me oriented… I’m reading an author this week who calls this the ‘infatuated’ stage of my relationship with Jesus.  It is largely self-centered and tends to be all about me—my victories over sin, my joy, my growth—in short, all the good things Christianity has done for me.  "I love you for how you make me feel" is classic infatuation.  It’s a beginning but we’re called to more…

The honeymoon is over but the best is yet to come!

To be continued in Friday's post...

October 15, 2010

If God is for me...

“Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help us.”

(Gulp.) I was arrested by that statement. It followed in the wake of a related question that’s been on my mind lately. Namely, Does God exist for me--to bless me, help me, answer all my questions, provide all my needs (and wants and longings and dreams…)—or in fact, do I exist for Him?! Yikes.

Do you ever wonder how much you are affected by living in a narcissistic culture—a culture that encourages you to find yourself, take care of yourself, pursue your dreams, and be happy! Has this message seeped into my life? Am I jarred at how it clashes with Jesus’ words on how to really find life…

--“He who loves his life will lose it. He who loses it for the sake of the Kingdom of God will find it”. That’s pretty counter-cultural.
--“Take no thought what you will eat, drink, wear…” Wait a minute, what about going ‘organic’, drinking vitamin water just case I missed anything or at least buying filtered, and wearing bamboo?
--“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” pretty much puts any self-centered dreams on hold! and
--‘Be happy’ is not a command I recall finding in the Bible. “Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” is more like it…

So what am I saying? I’m wondering if it’s possible to be a frog warming in a frying pan and not know it. Water feels warm, nice, think I’ll just sit here and be cozy… Narcissism is a pretty comfortable state for the ‘old man’ in each of us.

And as for whether God exists for me, well, His word declares He is ‘for us’ doesn’t it?! He didn’t spare even His only Son but gave Him up for us all. How much more freely will He not give us all things?! And He has. We are incredibly blessed in this culture. Even the poorest of us live in comparative wealth. But I think this is precisely where the trouble begins. We begin to mistake material gain for spiritual blessing. Yes, God has blessed me incredibly with a family, a home, even a car and a dog... And every day He ‘loadeth me with benefits’. But have all these material benefits actually duped me into thinking these are God’s primary blessings in my life?! Or that He exists for my benefit? How has this affected my expectations of Him? (What does my ‘wish list’ look like?) Does your family grab the ‘wishbone’ when you gobble a turkey and make a wish before you pull? What do you wish for?

Have I begun to think God is obligated to provide for my comfort? In fact, He wants me happy and that’s why He’s there inviting me to ask for whatever I want. I can begin to be deluded that God is there for me. And my ‘spiritual’ life can begin to be all about me. Even pursuing Christlikeness can be self-gratifying. After all, who doesn’t want perfect peace, joy and fellowship? I will be happier when I am like Jesus, right? And besides, when I’m like Jesus, my kids will see Him and want to be like Him more and that too will make me happy! It’s all about me.

OK, so this is beginning to be a little confusing. Am I thinking too hard here? There’s more to say about the other half of the picture—that I’m here FOR HIM. But first, let me know if you’re following this train of thought at all…
I’ll leave you for this week with another quote from the man who made the opening one.

“God being God offends human pride. If God is running the universe and has first claim on our lives, guess who isn’t running the universe and does not get to have things as they please?”


Eager for your thoughts on the matter,


Quotes from: Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice (Willard & Johnson), p.41,37

October 8, 2010

Wind and Spirit...

Got out for the last sail of the summer season yesterday as a Southeaster was blowing up!  The sun was shining, it's true,  but the wind was doing a pretty good job of clarifying that summer is indeed gone!
So with sails fully reefed,  one hand on the tiller, one set to release the sheets if need be (so as not to capsize!) my skipper was in his glory as we skimmed across the sea. Where was I?  Below deck lending my body as ballast to the high side of the boat, wedged into place so as not to fall from my 'roost'--reflecting on a friend's casual question: "Linda, do you like wind?"

She does. But I wanted to retort at the time, "Have you ever sailed in a Southeaster? ... shielded yourself from a dustdevil?...watched a tornado form listening to the car radio far from home or shelter...or fought a headwind while cycling?!"  No, I don't generally like wind.  I don't like the cold of it or the lonely eerie whine of it in the sails....

But there is another perspective.  The seagulls out my wee windows are wheeling freely in it, gliding just above the water's surface.  They don't seem frazzled at all.

"It's beautiful!" comes the voice of my mate, in awe of the wind's power to carry us effortlessly across the water.  "It's amazing!" he says, peeking down  the hatch to see what shape I'm in.

Just last night a conversation with some ladies came up about wind and tall trees-- to one they are scary and should be cut down. Another loves the sound of the wind in her giant fir trees.

So wedged in my little nook I contemplate what makes the difference.  Why do we love wind or fear it?  I think of the Holy Spirit being likened to wind.
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) [Later I find out the same word is used in the Greek to mean both wind and spirit!]
I think of the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters at Creation.  Here is order being brought to a formless void.  This is no random gust of terrifying force.  Perhaps it is the unpredictable force of wind I do not like, the destructive potential, the sheer power rendering me helpless...

But I am proud of myself today.  I have not always been so calmly contemplative under sail! There was a time when I would scream, "We're tipping!!"  There have been tense, cringing, praying-for-this-to-be-over  sails.  What has made the difference?  I trust my skipper and my boat now.  We have been through windy seas together and both inspire confidence.  And I think of this as I measure the answer to that question: "Do you like wind?" and I have to qualify my answer.  When I am cozied in wool and windbreaker with warm dry feet,  a brisk wind in my face is scintillating--a delicious token of changing seasons.  When I am warm and safe the wind in the trees or even lashing rain at my window only serves to heighten my sense of coziness.

And what of the Spirit / wind analogy? Is there another question I could ask myself?  Do I welcome God's Wind to will and to do His good pleasure in my life? Am I at ease with my Skipper to sail me through stormy seas,  trimming the sails to maximize the power of the Wind.  Am I eager to recognize 'the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [I] may know Him better... that [I] may know his incomparably great power for us who believe' (Eph.1:17-19)

Where there is wind there is power.  Where the Spirit is at liberty there is power--"We all, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image--for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (IICor.3:18,17)

What will be my response to the promise of incomparable power unleashed in my life.  I read the story of the Gadarene villagers and their demon-possessed pig herd this morning (Mt.8:28-34)  They recognized Jesus had uncanny power, able to free a man from a horde of fierce demons.  And what did they do in the face of such power?  Terrified, they begged him to leave their town.

In the storm at sea the terrified disciples depaired that they were gonna' die and marveled when Jesus rebuked the  wind and waves.  They were censured for their little faith, and could only marvel,  "What sort of man is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?" (Mt.8:27)

And that's the key isn't it? --knowing this God of ours.  I guess we would all do well to pray Paul's prayer in Eph.1:17-19 (above).  Do I perceive what great power He holds on my behalf, what great power resides in my heart through His Spirit? 

What situations can I carry to Him like the two blind men who came crying, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." (Mt.9:27-31) How did Jesus respond?  A question:"Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  And to their, "Yes, Lord." came His response: a touch to open their eyes and a promise: "According to your faith be it done to you."

So, come wind and weather, as surely they will come,  we would do well to remember the Wind in our sails is bent on our good.  Its power is incomparable but we are in Good Hands.  God's got a Hand on the tiller and one on the sheets and  He's taking us to Glory!!


 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.."'--the sons of Korah

"And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us!"
--Martin Luther

September 30, 2010


Last week I was ranting a little about trends in ‘worship’ that seem to me to be unhealthy.  In the words we sing we petition (that feels better than ‘invoke’) God to please show up in power.  And we keep singing. And singing… while we wait for something to happen that will make us feel… well, feel something!

We sing words like:
“God of Heaven come down. Just to know that you are near is enough [but is it really?] God of heaven come down...” which (as much as I do like the rest of the song) does sound rather bossy, and contradictory besides). 

Or we tell God to “Arise, take your place, be enthroned on our praise, arise”, as if He is obligated, because we are singing, to make Himself known to us in some mysterious way.

This feels backwards to me and here’s why:

I can tell my dog to ‘Come!’ and once-upon-a-time I trained my toddler(s) to come when I called because I’m the boss and they’d better or else. A child should not be giving orders to his parents anymore than a soldier would his captain.  Remember the Roman centurion? (Mt.8)  He desperately wanted his servant to be healed but he approached Jesus with utmost respect—“I am not worthy that you should come to my house”.  He understood the way authority works and he knew that in His Position Jesus could do anything, even from a distance.  Jesus marveled at his faith (and didn’t hesitate to meet his need).

God is no reluctant judge doling out justice only in the face of abject and incessant pleading.  He delights for us to know Him; after all, it was His design in the very beginning!  And ever since the Cross, we are invited to ‘draw near’ to His throne, to come right in to where He is and present our requests.  Then why the need to ‘coax’ Him to do our bidding?  I think of wide-eyed Peter out in the storm at sea, hanging on to the edge of the boat looking out at Jesus (‘could it really be Him?’)  and I love his words “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” (Mt.14:28) Other versions say, ‘command’ me to come.  And of course Jesus said, COME!.  Now that’s the command going the right direction…Other instances that come to mind are:

‘Come to me all who are weary; I will give you rest’ (Mt.11:28)

‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.’ (Ja.4:8)

‘Come follow me. I’ll make you fishers of men.’ (Mt.4:19)

Jesus is clearly in the position of authority.  He invites us to come to Him. That seems straightforward to me.

How does this apply to worship then?  Well, if He is our God and we are His people—actually His wild and crazy, not too brilliant, sheep—our position is one of humble sheephood.  We don’t need anything He’s not glad to supply.  Our posture need not be one of  bleating pitifulness (ple-e-e-ease bless us; pet us; hold us; love us).  If we’re not satisfied with some aspect of His care, it’s not His doings.  Maybe we’re the ones that have wondered off into a bramble bush thinking the berries looked mighty tasty…In which case there’s a little something to say to our Shepherd before we start bleating our self-centered, conditional praises and “please’s”’, something I see as a missing prerequisite to worship.  This is “something” even the E-how writer seemed to know about.  His third step for ‘praying to invoke the Holy Spirit’ was:

Confess wrongdoing in order to become a humble vessel. Those who are too proud and not meek in their hearts can not be told differently than what they believe. Confessing your sins to the creator will allow you to step into his presence with a clean heart. When you ask for forgiveness, you are also admitting guilt and imperfection. This can be a tool to humble and signals that you at least acknowledge that you are not the omnipresent deity.

If God seems far-away, who moved?  (And who needs to ‘Come’)  [Hint: He is the Omnipresent one, and the Omnipotent One…]

I wonder if we get so caught up in begging, pleading and trying to manipulate God to meet our perceived needs as we ‘worship’ that we fail to recognize He is standing at our heart’s door, knocking and asking, “Can I come in?” (Rev.3:20) This verse is not about salvation but repentance. “Those whom I love I rebuke.” It’s about God at my door wanting to come in and share a candlelit dinner with me!  That’s possible only as I agree with Him about the state of my ‘room’ and invite Him to take charge. “Yes, Lord, you’re right. I’m wrong…” and now I can appropriately say, ‘Come in! make yourself at home, You are welcome here!’ It’s no longer about demanding Him to meet me where I’m at with no questions asked, but about coming His direction with a heart confessing His Lordship, worshiping Him from a whole and satisfied heart.

“Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise…”

Oooo—this is where I want to be in my heart.  Let it not be said of me: “this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth and honoreth me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” (Matt.15:8,9)

There’s no denying the God of Heaven will come down.  Jesus said: “Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done…blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city…” Rev.22:12

And we rightfully respond, “Even so come Lord Jesus”.  But let it be with joyful, faith-filled singing,  not discontented pleading.  For we know that He is not slow regarding His promise but  patient with us, and not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance…(IIPet.3:9)

“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation…”(IIPet.3:14)

Let’s be found worshiping, not whining.  Adoring, not begging. Let our worship be about Him, not us.  He is worthy.



If you have made it through to here I thank-you for trying to follow my thoughts.  And if any ring true in your situation I would be really tickled to know—via ‘comment’ or a quick e-mail.

If you’re interested in more (and better) reading on this topic may I point you to Timothy Ralston’s well thought out article examining the Holy Spirit’s primary importance in worship entitled:
The Spirit's Role in Corporate Worship

And for the really determined here is an article from a different denominational point of view than I am but one well worth examining.  It is dotted with brilliant gems of insight and a well-constructed discussion of many aspects relating to the way we worship.  Read with a highlighter in hand!  To peak your interest here’s one of my highlights:

“Waiting for the Mediator to return from the heavenly summit, we fashion golden calves of our experience to assuage our impatience.”
from the article:
Heaven Came Down: The Mission of Christ
by Michael S. Horton

September 24, 2010

Worship--what are we doing?!

I am seeing a disconcerting trend in ‘worship’ songs lately.  In fact I’m struggling not to let this become a ‘rant’!  So let me just say, I’m not here to ‘blast’ any particular song writers, though I may make mention of particular songs.  My concern is with a growing number of songs that put the worshiper in a stance of attempting to invoke the Holy Sprit. 

I know invoke sounds a little harsh—all sorts of folks out there are into ‘invoking’ spirits and wondering if there’s anything different about what they see as the ‘Christian’ version.  I had my education on that via an online discussion thread titled: 'How is invoking the holy spirit substantially different from invoking Pagan deities?'  Disturbing conclusion: no difference.  And I was surprised to find there’s even a 5-step E-how on ‘Praying to Invoke the Holy Spirit’.  Not exactly an authoritative source--the contributor of this article also offers instruction on ‘How to Throw a Halloween Party for Teenagers’ and ‘How to Dance Really Well in a Club’.  But even he recognizes there’s more to it than praise and worship… But I digress.  I’ll get back to that later, maybe….

Let me explain my objection.  Picture this…the music is playing, smooth and mesmerizing.  And we begin the refrain: —“Holy Spirit come…” or “Come, Lord Jesus, come” with its requisite repeats.  A certain mystical mood has been created and we are all expecting something… but what?!  Are we prepared for our wish were granted? We sing, “Holy Spirit rain down…”  Is He not already here?  Are we not gathered in Jesus’ name?  Does the Holy Spirit not indwell each and every follower of Christ?

Of course I’ve heard it explained (as if the worship leader were reading my mind) that yes, God is present with us but we are asking for Him to show us He’s here, to touch us in some way.  We want more of Him.  My mind darts off to Jesus’ rebuke of those who demanded signs and wonders in order to believe God was in fact among them.  And do we really need something more if we have been blessed already with ‘every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (Eph.1:3)?  What is it we’re really after and why does God not seem to be showing up?!  After all, here we are singing our hearts out.  We’ve made the effort to come.  Now it’s His turn.

A recent chorus goes so far as to beg God to open the sky and fall down on us like rain, and not only that but like fire!  In fact we aren’t going to be content with anything at all ordinary!  What on earth?  I think the sense of the songwriter is that we’re desperate for a ‘move of God’, sick of the status quo, sick of life as we know it, and in this case even fed up with God’s blessings.  Now we just want the real commodity—God Himself.  Wow.  What do you do with a song like that?  And what about this habitual beckoning to God to come do something spectacular.  Does it honor Him, or is it pure self-centered worship?

The way I see it, we’ve got things backwards… But I’ll save that thought for next time.  I’d really like to know how you see it?  What are we after when we worship?  and what needs to be corrected?  Or perhaps where you are things are different.  I’d love to hear what you’re learning about worship.  Please tuck in a comment or send off a little e-mail.  I’ll leave you with the concluding remarks of an excellent article I hope to say more about next time:

Emphasizing the experience of the worshiper as the evidence of the Spirit depreciates his more significant functions, often leading to misunderstanding, pragmatism, narcissism and an idolatry of self rather than the worship of God.
                                                                    --Timothy Ralston