Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Our God Who Exonerates

Okay, I'm still doing the alphabetical worship thing--spending a few weeks going through the alphabet discovering who God is. And I'm on the letter X. Oh dear. I think God is going to allow me some leeway here and so I want to talk about God as an exonerator. It's an incredibly freeing concept not only for our own walks with God, but also our interactions with other people. Exonerate defined is "to clear, as of an accusation; free from guilt or blame." The moment Christ gave His life on the cross exoneration occurred in the most tangible and practical way we will ever experience. In His own words, Christ said "It is finished." And with those three simple words, the guilt, blame responsibility and shame of every sinful act we will ever commit was taken from us and laid upon the shoulders of Jesus. In that moment, we were exonerated for all time. Just a couple of months ago, Jeff and I went out to eat dinner. We are careful with our budget and don't go out all the time, so it's always special when we do. I enjoyed eggplant parmesagn (which was almost as good as my moma's) and Nathan ordered an entire pizza just for himself! We relished our lavish choices and enjoyed the meal completely. When we went to leave, the owners came out and said, "There was a gentelman in earlier and he paid for your entire meal!" Are you kidding me? The four of us had eaten our fill! We had ordered everything we wanted without any thought to who was paying. Someone else happily, joyfully and willingly paid for our indulgences. It is the same with Christ--He picked up the tab of our lives and left us to walk on free of charge. But many of us are still trying to pay for things, make things right. And worse still, many of us are still holding others accountable for tabs Christ has already paid. I'll be straight up--I tend to go glassy-eyed when people start talking about the incredible feelings of joy and relief they experienced at the moment of salvation--the moment when they realized they were forgiven. Christ's forgiveness is somewhat a cliche among Christians and their songs. I'm not minimizing it--definitely not! But for those who grew up in church (the group to which I belong) forgiveness is often something we've heard so much we no longer appreciate it's meaning. Where forgiveness tends to get flavorful for me again is when I consider it amidst my current day to day life. There are areas in my life where I struggle--areas that no matter what book I read or what prayer I pray I still find weakness. Some might call them a thorn in my flesh. Paul talked about it when he said in frustration "the good that I would, I don't do..." Paul and I share that in common. In those areas of repeated sin I am abundantly grateful for exoneration and overwhelmed at the reality that over and over and over again, Christ's death is sufficient. When I stand before God and say, "Yep, that was me. I did it again." And He says, "It is still finished, Sarah. I forgive you. In fact, I knew the moment I was giving my life that you would do this again and I willingly paid back then. It's finished." Then, in those moments, I know grace and I thank God for it's abundance. Let me ask you though, are you like me? Are you like me in that I sometimes take that very grace and refuse to grant it to others? Just the other day I met an individual who was representing an organization. I found the person to be far less than professional, even unprepared. I walked away from the interaction thinking about how I would avoid this person in the future. In essence, after ten minutes, I had written this person off for life. (I'm not proud to admit that) I didn't really even realize the finality of my conclusions until the Holy Spirit nudged my heart and grabbed my attention. I haven't written them off, Sarah. They were less than perfect, but can you extend them some grace? You have plenty. I've given you an endless supply. Ouch. How humbling for me to stop and consider the number of times I hold people accountable for things that Christ has already paid for. What if the restaurant owners had told us we still needed to pay them for our meal--that the other guy's money wasn't good enough? Within our day to day routines, I think we often harbor unforgiveness and don't even realize it. Just like that tiny interaction--some would say there was nothing wrong with what I surmised. But here's the thing, God calls us to forgive. Over and over. His Word says others will know we are His followers by "our love for one another." He also says "if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt. 6:14) We tend to think about forgiveness in terms of the big things: forgiving an abuser, forgiving a cheating spouse, forgiving a co-worker for cheating us. What about the tiny stuff? Forgiveness, as Christ told Peter is not a luxury we can choose to spend or withhold. It is a literal act of worship. Every time we withhold forgiveness we are in effect saying "Christ's death on the cross was not sufficient to cover this wrong." Emotions have very little to do with forgiveness and they also have everything to do with it. We get confused because we think we should feel forgiveness. We will rarely feel great forgiveness--we choose it. We choose as Christ did to exonerate people for their shortcomings--to say it's okay because Christ picked up the tab. It is true that emotions have a great deal to do with forgiveness in that usually when we are wronged we feel the pain of that wrong. But that pain is something that Christ alone can heal. He alone fixes hurt within us. Not others. When we hold the debt of another over them by withholding forgiveness we are usually doing so in hopes of some form of recompense. Man will never be able to make amends for the wrongs they commit against us--whether great or small. That wasn't how God designed it. Sure, they can say they are sorry and even correct something they've done. They can improve. They can change, but only God can heal our hearts. Only God. When we forgive we say "God's got you covered. What you did or didn't do is already taken care of by the God of the universe." Exoneration--freedom. Freedom to forgive others. And freedom to receive God's forgiveness in our lives. To walk on with our heads held high. This is something we should hold close to our hearts and keep fresh in our minds as we interact with others. When I forgive particularly painful hurts, I will often say "I release you from the responsibility or this debt to God's capable hands." In effect, I am saying "This hurt. I forgive you because Jesus has already paid for it and I have no right to hold you accounatable any longer." It's what God says to us every single time we confess our sins to Him. "I release you from the responsibility of that sin because Jesus already paid." To be exonerate leaves us with only one logical choice--to exonerate others. May we make it in every single area where forgiveness can be granted--both big and small. II Cor. 2:5-10, Eph. 1:7, Col. 3:13, Heb. 10:18, Mark 11:25

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Destined for Greatness

"A lot of people are born into greatness, but being great is really a choice." The minister of worship made this statement recently during a Sunday School class and I've been chewing on it all week. Destined for greatness. What a phrase! Look at Moses, Abraham, Esther--all heroes of the faith--all destined for greatness. Yet in each of their lives, they were confronted with the life-changing, history-making, be great or be forgotten choice that ultimately allowed them to fulfill their destiny. Moses had to choose to confront Pharaoh, Abraham had to lay his son down before God on an alter of sacrifice and Esther went before her King at the risk of personal death. They chose to be great. Of course there are others--ones who's destiny was also one of greatness, but, their choices prevented the fullness of their destiny from materializing. Lot's wife opted to look back when greatness lay before her. Saul's legacy as the first King is overshadowed by his multiple attempts to kill David out of fear and jealousy. Even Moses was prevented from entering the very land he helped bring the Israelites upon proving one can be great and have been greater still. What really resonates with me is that generally it's not the big moments that bring us to greatness. Greatness is a series of stair step little decisions that bring us to the next level in our lives. Had Moses of maintained his faith in God instead of repeatedly questioning and doubting, He would have entered the promised land. Despite his overall obedience, in day to day living, he chose to doubt God's worth. Every single choice we make is determining who we become and too often we are so busy that we don't even realize the significance of the small choices we make. Now before you start to think I'm wanting to write motivational articles for a living let me tell you what I think. The idea that we are all destined for greatness can be somewhat misleading because of it's various connotations. It might be more clear to say we were all destined for worship. And a life lived in a steady state of worship will inevitably be characterized as a great one. I've always heard that our singular purpose on earth is to bring God glory and I have believed it. Lately though, I've been mulling over this idea and God has been helping me to flesh out the concept of worship being as natural as taking in air. Louie Giglio in his book The Air I Breathe writes "Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God--for who He is! and what He has done! expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live." It's a mouthful, I know, but powerful stuff. Since my memory is about as good as a plugged toilet I had to simplify Giglio's masterful definition into something a little less gourmet. Simply put, worship is acknowledging God's WORTH-SHIP. In every single area of my life, every conversation, every step of action, every choice, every thought I will either worship God or worship something else. But make no mistake, worship will take place. In that, I have no choice. We were made to prioritize. We will always put something on the thrown of our lives. Giglio opens his book with these words, "You, my friend...are a worshiper! There, I said it. Every day, all day long, everywhere you go, you worship. It's what you do. It's who you are." And in truth, that is the very crux of greatness. Who and what we worship will determine the measure of our greatness both in this life and more importantly in eternity. Let me offer some very practical scenarios to put a little flesh on the bones of this idea. Last Sunday morning before church a few things happened (isn't this always the case on Sundays) that left me more than a little frustrated. When my husband came into the room and offered an apology I had a choice--right then and there, before church ever began. Would I worship God or my anger? Is God worth more to me than my silly grudge? If so, then I've worshipped Him. If not, then I've still worshiped by exalting my own anger above my Heavenly Father. A couple months ago we had company and put on a movie. Not two minutes into the movie it was clear the content was completely inappropriate. I was ready to turn it off and normally we would have immediately, but we had company. What would they think? Would they be offended--think us holy-rolling, Bible-thumping, boring duds? Who did we worship? The opinion of our friends? Or would we acknowledge loud and clear that the very God who died to pay for those things portrayed in that movie is worth far more to us than the opinions of man? What about the food I eat? With every bite I put into my mouth, I worship. What about the music I listen to? With every note that rings, I worship. What about the words I speak? With every sound that takes flight off my lips, I worship. The thing is that as I make the conscious choice to worship God I become great. I don't mean great in a prideful sense. But God's will and plan for our lives is for our absolute best and when we choose daily in the little things to worship God, we take steps to greatness. Every single time I obey God's Word, I proclaim with greater volume than any worship chorus the worthiness of God. I lift Him up. I place God in the forefront of my life, my priorities. And in that place, there is protection and safety. When He receives my surrendered choices, God is free to work through me. He is free to renovate and restore my less than perfect life and He is glorified. This is true greatness. There is not more in this life that I could hope for. Paul already talked about all this in Romans 12:1. "Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices--this is your spiritual act of worship." Every time I choose to sacrifice my priorities, my desires, my plans for God's desire, I have worshipped. What God seems to continually be reminding me is that when I'm disobedient I'm no longer worshipping Him. Living a life of Godward worship is as simple as obeying what He has clearly shown me in His word. Don't hold grudges. Be patient. Be gentle. Be self-controlled. Forgive. Forgive again. And Again. Love. Love people. Love unlovable people. Of course these things can be summed up in passages like "Love the Lord you God with all your heart soul and strength and love your neighbor..." but that can be vague. I need to know that when I speak in anger to one of my children I have ceased to worship God. I need to know that while "Oh God you are my God, and I will ever praise you" sings its way through my car's stereo system and I honk my horn at the slow-poke in front me I have ceased to worship God. I need to know that when it's midnight and I'm not hungry but I eat anyway, I've ceased to worship God. Do you follow me? Worshipping God is constantly choosing over and over again in every little area of our lives to say God you and you alone are worth more to me than anything else. That simple. That simple. Paul goes on in the third verse of Romans 12 to say "For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment..." My life will tell the story of who I thought most highly of--God or me. The decisions I make daily will tell long before I ever speak a word myself. It's no wonder Jesus said in Luke whoever is least among you --he is the greatest. In Isaiah we read, "These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Every time I read those words my heart is pricked with the reality of its contents. How often is my heart so far from God though I would proudly proclaim to the world I am a worshipper? How often would the decisions of my day whisper like Peter the night he denied Christ, "I don't know the man." Perfection isn't what I'm talking about, but what I am saying is that a heart that is near God, a heart that loves Him will reveal itself daily without the mouth ever uttering a word. Paul said later on in chapter 12 of Romans "Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good." True love cannot be a hypocrite. If I love God, the world will know it. And if I love God, I'll choose daily to worship Him. And if I choose daily to worship Him, then greatness is inevitable. Not the kind of greatness that brings me glory, but the kind of greatness that says, "I'm a worshipper. Everything I do is because of Him. Everything I do is enabled by Him. Every aspect of my love is sheltered by Him. Everything good that I've experienced has come through Him. God. God. God. It is He who I praise. He who I proclaim is worthy-- worthy of all of my trust, all of my affection. King of kings and Rock of the Ages. God is worthy." Before the instruments have been tuned, before the microphones have been turned on, before my lips have parted, may mine be a life that sings the tune of God's worthiness. There could be nothing greater. Nothing greater. Listen: Heart of Worship How Great is our God This is the Air I Breath

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The God who is Qualified

There is only one job I've ever had where I truly felt I was in every single way unqualified. Sure, there have been jobs with high learning curves and difficult odds, but only one left me shaking in my boots, well flip flops. Parenting. That's the one. When Jeff and I found out God had decided it was time to start our family we were elated, but in my heart, I was petrified. According to my plan, we would be married about ten years--plenty of time to work out all the kinks and do some real parenting research--before beginning to procreate. But God had a different route in mind. And why shouldn't he? He knew after all that it would be Him empowering us as parents to fulfill the stewardship of children in our lives. And He was and remains abundantly qualified. In life, we so often get confused and think that somehow things depend on us. The truth is that "It is God who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) What depends on us is mere obedience. But power, wisdom, strength--those things find their source in a very qualified and able God. David knew the qualifications of God, the complete capability of the Almighty to accomplish the things that concerned his life. He wrote, "God springs into action! His enemies scatter; his adversaries run from him." I love the idea of God springing into action regarding our lives. I have four sisters. Have you ever seen a family with sisters get together and have a meal? Stand clear of the kitchen because when those gals spring into action, you know you are gonna eat good! That's God. When He moves, seas part, waves are stilled, rains cease unless of course you need them in which case get your umbrella, food falls from the sky, mountains melt, blindness sees and giants go down. Our qualification for doing life comes from being covered by a qualified God--a God who promises to grant wisdom, to grant peace, and who promises that "His divine power has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness." (I Pet. 1:3) So, let us join David and "Exalt the one who rides on the clouds! For the Lord is his name! Rejoice before him!" (Ps. 68:4)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Patience, just a little bit of Patience

Those of us born in the 70's will remember well Guns and Roses and their hit song Patience. How could you forget that classic? The boys and I have several projects on the go right now. All of them involve patience. First there are the starter seeds we've planted. A few of the seed coats have broken apart allowing tiny green shoots to begin their skyward climb. Another is a tadpole pond we've created thanks to a generous friend who shared her tadpoles with us. Patience. Now why in the world did God have to make that a fruit of the spirit? The expression a watched pot never boils, (i.e. be patient!!) is lost on me. When living in Ontario I was known to go outside and take inventory of my gardens five, maybe six times each day. I knew when those plants breathed. I knew every shoot and weed and blossom and their exact arrival time. I'm so impatient when it comes to waiting for growth. Already I've found myself habitually wandering over to the tadpole pond to see which of their tails is shorter and who might have evidence of leg nubs. The kids laugh because I am more concerned with the growth of our little projects than they are. It's natural to want to see results...to see fruit...to see growth. Those are human tendencies. Listen to Peter's exhortation. "Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you..." (II Peter 3:8,9) Peter was specifically referring to the timing of Christ's return here, but the point I want to make is about how God views time and the fact that God is patient, period. I am so thankful that God's patience extends to Christ's return thereby allowing more to come to know of His saving power. But I have to be honest with you, I am also extremely grateful that His character is patient period. When I view my life and the lives of those I love I can get bogged down in frustration or disappointment when I fail. Why did I struggle with that sin again? Why can't I just be more gracious? Why am I discouraged? Why can't I be more gentle? But you know what? These are questions that I ask through the lens of temporal life. It's easy to think, I will live a certain amount of time and if the Lord does not return, I will die. So, I may have 50-80 years to get it all together. In that time, I need to have begun to arrive spiritually. God must just laugh. He transcends time. He is the great I AM. He has all the time not just in the world, but in eternity. Literally twelve of our average lifetimes is but a single day in God's economy. I know these aren't new thoughts, but sometimes it's worth reminding ourselves that God knows our frame. He knows we are made from dust and He is far more concerned with the intent of our hearts than he is with how far we think we've come in our walks with him. We serve and love a heavenly Father who's patience finds its source in the reality that time is of no consequence to him. You know how a long summer day can stretch out before you like a cornfield in Ontario? Have you ever spent a day with your children when you had no appointments, no one coming for dinner, no laundry to wash, no floors to mop? That's what God has with us every single day. He has forever, and His only rush is to grip our heart. Incidentally may I just add that I am learning the gripping of my children's hearts is far more important than their conformation to any ideal I may have for them. Daily I am reminded how far from perfect I am, but one thing I know for certain, God's got my heart. And when God's got your heart, growth occurs, my friends. Growth always occurs. Be faithful. Plant God's word in your hearts regularly. Water it. Don't neglect the gardens of your souls, but leave the growth to God. After all, time is in His hands. Perhaps patience isn't so much about having a mild response to every situation and person that comes into our lives. Maybe patience is really about understanding that God has eternity to work out every concern that comes our way. Lord, may we trust our lives to you. Grip us God. Let us be so in love with you that we're entirely willing to allow you to work in our hearts. Help us to be faithful, Lord, and help us to remember that fruit will come as we continue to abide in You. Amen. Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. Psalm 103:14, 17 For He knows what we are made of, he realizes we are made of clay. But the lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers, and is faithful to their descendants.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

There's No Place Too Far

We had exciting news yesterday. Finally, after 1 year and nine months of living here in Georgia, we are buying land! Until now we have lived in a two bedroom cabin and then my mom's basement. We have loved both places and God has given us all that we have needed in both of these homes, but we've been like birds in a nest not our own. Most of our belongings have been quietly waiting on us in storage units as the days slipped by like yellow butterflies in a forever field of green grass. Finally, we are going to begin the process of building our own home. You know how it is for mothers--we crave our cave. A hunger for the place that with God's help I'll form into a haven for our family is so deeply embedded in my heart. There have been times when consumed with that very hunger, I had to confess to God that it was becoming more important to me than Him. He has patiently proven His sufficiency to me over and over and we have grown, even thrived despite not having a patch of earth attached to our name. So, with this news, you would think that elation would spew from me like hot lava or at least I'd be squealing like my mom's tea kettle when it's come to a boil. You would think. And yet if I'm honest (which you know me...I can't help but be) I stand before this change in our lives with fear, trembling and a little nausea in the pit of my stomach. The economy here has been uncertain in the last two years and many are losing their homes. Of course we have prayed and sought God's heart and plan for our lives regarding this decision. We never come to choices like this lightly and we've sought advice of others regarding whether we should build, buy or rent. Still, I get petrified when it comes to big choices like this. But just yesterday before we even found out about the land and when my mind was on other things, God really impressed on my heart the desire to memorize this verse. At the time, I didn't make any connection. "And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we profess, for the One who made the promise is trustworthy." (Hebrews 10:23) Later when we got the call that the land deal was going to fly I found myself whispering a prayer to God. Lord, will you give me a verse to cling to throughout this process. Now, I can tend to be a little slow, so I'm sure He was thinking...Ahh, yeah, I already did that; you memorized it this morning. Later that evening, He finally broke through the thousands of thoughts picnicking in my mind and reminded me of that passage of scripture I had committed to memory earlier in the day. You know when the crocus poke through the last bits of snow in early spring? The thought of that passage was like the first purple crocus in my flower gardens back in Ontario. In that moment, I realized, the God who I say that I believe in and count on had already gone before me and given me what I would need for the these upcoming days. "...the One who made the promise is trustworthy." How incredible is it when you realize the vastness, the greatness of our Heavenly Father? He is present in the future and knows what we will need. And He always provides. We have only to trust that He is in fact trustworthy. I've always loved the various attributes of God--omniscient, omnipotent, and today, I celebrate His omnipresence. Not only does God exist across the oceans where my sister and brother-in-laws serve as missionaries and in Ontario where my mother and father-in-law make their home, but His presence transcends time as we know it. He is present yesterday, today and tomorrow. Just thinking about His omnipresence washes me in relief and peace. Those things that can cause my heart to be anxious are in God's presence. My children's future, my husband's job, the local economy--these are all things that are beyond me. Though I anticipate them, plan for them and at times worry over them, they are not future concerns to God. They are simply part of what to God is a finished picture of my life. He knows the entire thing and is present for every single part of it. I can't know what tomorrow holds, but I know the God who is already present in my tomorrows. Psalm 139:7 says "Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence?" There is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. And listen to God's words in Jeremiah. "Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?" the Lord asks. "Do you really think anyone can hide himself where I cannot see him?" the Lord asks. "Do you not know that am everywhere?" the Lord asks. Isn't that beautiful? How often do I take God and limit him to one spot on a map? How often do we hear people pray, "Lord, please be with Susie in Mexico..." That's like me asking my son Nathan to be my son. He already is my son--that will never change. It's the same with God. He already is in Mexico, and Guinea and Papua and on the job site where my husband works. He is omnipresent. Everywhere. He is literally everywhere. I would never say I believe God only to be some local deity and yet so often my life reveals the true convictions of my heart. Today though, I choose to believe that the God who promises to "never leave thee nor forsake thee" is omnipresent. I choose to believe that the very God who made that promise is trustworthy. He is worthy of my belief and trust. God promised in Exodus 33;14 "My presence will go with you and I will give you rest." What an incredible foundation on which I have to stand. So, bring on the house plans...because we're diving in! Lord, may we all believe you are present. Your word says that in your presence there is fullness of joy--may we experience the joy that gives us strength as we practise living in your presence. Lord, thank you that you are trustworthy and that you have given me the promise of your presence.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Let There Be Light

I've always been fascinated by the natives of the polar region. Their resourcefulness birthed out of the need for survival proved fodder for many homeschool discussions with my boys this past winter. Not many people here would be excited about whale blubber or seal fat after all. But, these people take those precious commodities and among other things, they use them for their lamps. This fat keeps a lamp burning during the long hours of darkness in the months when the sun's light seems to have drowned somewhere beneath the hardened surface of the frozen ice flows. The commodity of light--manufacturable light--has always been precious and remains precious still in many parts of the world. As a young child, my parents too used wick-lamps for light. I remember the puffs of charcoal smoke climbing toward the ceiling before dissipating into the night. These were the kerosene lamps they used before upgrading to electricity. God was big on light too. (Hippies. Need I say more?) He actually instructs the Israelites to hang onto their olives for oil so they too could have lighted lamps. This morning as I sit in a lighted room though, God has pointed me to the light far greater than manmade light, far greater even that His created light--the sun. This morning, I am reminded that "In Him was life and that life was the light of mankind." (John 1:4) "I am the way, the truth and the light..." (John 14:6) Not a new thought. I know. But before you go to sleep on me, look at this verse with me. "The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne." (I Kings. 3:21) This story has always sucked me in like a vaccum cleaner. Do you remember it? It's the one about the two women who had given birth to baby boys. One of the ladies' son died and she actually swapped out her dead baby with the other woman's live baby. Can you imagine the horror of the other woman when she lifts the infant into her arms to breastfeed and discovers it's cold arms and legs? But then, as she looks closer in the morning light the blue/grey skin covers a babe not her own. She sees that this is not her child. In the light of day all things were made clear. Light changed everything didn't it? It can make a world of difference in our lives too. But frankly, sometimes I don't want to see what God's light might reveal. John 1:10 says of the Light of the World, " He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him." We usually consider this verse when we talk about people who have not accepted Christ as their Savior, but what about those of us who have? Could it be possible that we are clinging to lifeless, dead ways because we refuse to recognize the light of God? Sorry for such a graphic illustration, but it gripped my heart this morning that I could be blind to the light of God in my life or at least refusing to let it shine into my life. And if I were to simply flick the switch and allow God to shine in every nook and cranny of my heart, what kinds of dead ways would he find? It really is horrific to think that we as Christians literally have the Light of the World living within us and yet many of us are stumbling through life. Like blind men and women we grope in a darkness not Creator imposed, but self-imposed. We choose to close our eyes when the Bible says "God gives light to our eyes..." (Ezra 9:8) Consider this passage in Job. "There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths." Now this is really a lot for me to wrap my mind around. I want to be so open to God's work in my life than I'm willing to admit that there could be rooms within my heart where I'm rebelling against God's light. And if that is the case then I need to realize that the things to which I may be clinging or the ways I may still be living are ways of death. They, like that lifeless infant are things that will bring me only grief and heartache. Do you follow me? I asked God, "Lord, just show me if this is true. Show me the areas where I am still living in the dark." And I'm not proud to tell you it only took me a few hours to give Him the chance to do just that. I was chatting on the phone with my sister--which those of you who have sisters know happens at least once a day--when God's light like a lamp barely lit, started to shine. "Well," I was saying to her "you aren't going to believe what he said...can you believe that? He's always like that..." Gossip. Just like that, God's light was on and there was a dead way just waiting to be discovered. Man was I busted. I couldn't even make an excuse before God. I knew I had allowed an old way to infiltrate my day. I had to confess that God was right and ask His forgiveness. Most of you are probably like me in that you aren't stealing from your boss or cheating on your spouse or commiting murder, but are you also like me in that sometimes it's the little things that I don't even stop long enough to consider? It's like this old shed in my mom's backyard. She's planning to put her house up for sale this spring and we've been helping her to get things ready. That shed--once white--has been on the property since we moved here when I was little. Somehow, we had all stopped noticing it. But anyone looking at the house would immediately notice it and want it removed. It's an eyesore and that's putting it graciously. Sometimes, things have been in our lives so long that unless we allow God's light to shine anew, we don't even realize they are there. None of us wants to find a corpse in our bed when we waken. But how many of us are lying with more than one? Morning Star, may your light gently show me the dead ways in my life. Lord, I'm so sorry for the areas that are still here after all these years. Forgive me for closing my eyes to things that you wanted to remove. Lord, help me to submit to your light in my life. Help me to see it as a catalyst for growth and warmth. Thank you for being faithful--for never stopping your renovation process in my heart. Amen.

John 3:19-21

"I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness." Ecc. 2:13

"The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." Psalm 119:130

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." II Cor. 4:6


Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord

Saturday, April 12, 2008

He is Keeper

We all have them. In this I am not unique. Within each of us there are those certain few things to which we and we alone can fully tend. You know them--for some it's their children--no one can care for and protect them the way we can. For some it's their retirement--can't trust anyone with that but ourselves--and we work to create a perfect investment portfolio. For others it's more vague--our future. We're not all worriers by nature, but intrinsic within all of us is the urge to keep certain facets of our lives to ourselves, especially where God is concerned. God you can have my tithe, but I'll keep the rest and invest it as I see fit. God you can have my kids on Sunday, but I'm not letting them go to Mexico on a mission trip--that's too far. God you can have my overall lifestyle--I won't swear or hurt others, but don't expect Sundays. Sunday is my day off. You get the picture. The point is that we tend to keep things separated--compartmentalize. We put God in one box with things that are meant for Him and everything else is carefully arranged in our own box. The contents of the boxes generally boil down to what we trust ourselves with and those things with which we think we can trust God. Recently I was talking to a beautiful woman of God who told me she was for the first time sending her children to public high school. They'd never attended a public school and she had planned to school them at home for the duration until God whispered into her heart and she realized she was keeping her children when He was more than able to look after their needs. And so she removed her children from her box and placed them into God's...and His box she discovered she needed to enlarge His box. For me, it's always about finances. I can trust God with my marriage and those kinds of things, but when it comes to finances, I get all riled up and hot and bothered. When our family moved from Ontario to Georgia we left more than beloved friends and family, we left a stable job with benefits, investments and a good health insurance plan. What we came to was an uncertain economy, self-employment and no health care for my husband and I. Yikes. Please don't misunderstand me--I will never advocate mismanagement or irresponsibility among Chrisitians under the flimsy veil of trusting God. What I do want to make clear though is that in my heart, more often then not, I get things mixed up. My actions are a reflection of what I believe and my actions often indicate that I believe it is up to my husband and I to keep finances in our box. And you know, I'm way off base there--it is up to us to be responsible but God and God alone is our keeper. We only rob ourselves by keeping the God stuff in this tiny little box. Keeping everything in our box limits the power of God in our lives. We tend to the details of our lives without ever really consulting God. We consult parenting books, educational philosophy books, political articles, newspapers, CNN, our parents, our friends and our direct line to God goes unused. Sometimes we give him a perfunctory call " Lord give us wisdom to get through the day." But the truth is, we don't even want that wisdom. We have access to enough of our own here on earth. And we are missing the boat entirely. It's God's desire though that our "faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God." (I Cor. 2:5) The power of God. Now that's a thought. I love the worship chorus Chris Tomlin sings: How Great Is Our God? My life will answer that question far louder than my lips ever will. If I believe He is truely great, I'll freely surrender all those things that I feel only I am able to care for to The Keeper. Who am I kidding anyway? It is God who formed my very frame within my mother's womb. It is God who holds the planets in orbit and it is God who causes the very grass to grow, the flowers to bloom, the sun to shine. How great is our God? How great? Far greater than the cares of this little Georgia girl's heart. Far Greater. "Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling..." (Jude 1:24) Lord, help me today to reflect your infinite capabilities. When I am tempted to worry, to insist I can plan my future better than you, will you remind me that it is You and You alone who is my keeper. You are able to do exceeding abundantly above all I could ever hope, Lord. Please don't let me rob you of your glory by insisting on doing things myself. You are able. Help me to keep enlarging your box until mine is empty. Amen. Job 38 4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? 8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, 9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'? 12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, 13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Listen Nicole C. Mullen--Redeemer Chris Tomlin--How Great is Our God?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Joy Unspeakable

Joy eludes me; always has. Of all the words one could use to describe me--bubbly, gregarious, funny, grumpy, passionate, serious, --trust me, joyful wouldn't be one of them. It's not that I'm a sad or unhappy individual. I'm aware that joyfulness is not synonymous with happiness, but there is a countenance that seems to resonate with people who maintain a sense of joy. And that countenance, I'm sorry to say is not one that you'll always find when it's my face you view. Recently however one of the pastor's at chuch encouraged us to embark on a thirty day alphabetical worship journey. Our job, he instructed, is simply to ask God to give us a new word for who He is each day. So far God has given me: I AM: Able Believable Comforter Deliverer Enough Future Good Intentional J... You guessed it. Today I am on the letter J and God said, "Sarah, I am joy. I want to be your joy." And immediately I tried to think of other words."No, God, what about just or judge or..." Joy. God led me to read Psalm 51. Listen to the angst in David's plea "Restore unto me the joy of my salvation..." and I thought how joy is something that was lost for all mankind in the garden of Eden. And it is lost each time we allow sin to separate ourselves from God still today. David must have intimately known the portals of joy because he could have asked God to restore so many things--the freedom of his salvation, the forgiveness of his salvation, the peace of his salvation. Yet his request was for the restoration of the joy he once knew. I think I've always felt at a loss here because God's Word also says "The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Neh. 8:10) It's one thing to be lacking in joy, but for me it's entirely different to be lacking in strength. Now strength is something I can't go without. So, I avoid the whole joy topic and focus on other more pertinent things like trust, obedience, peace. After all, peace is mentioned 251 times in the Bible and joy only 217 times. Surely God's more concerned with my peace then my joy. Yet here I am at the letter J and God says, "joy." "Okay, God, joy it is." There's this song our choir sings that goes: "maybe you can tell it by the smile on my face, I've got joy." And the guy that sings it always has one of those lopsided, messy hamburger, kinds of grins that tells you without question he most certainly does have joy. How do you get to that point? The point where life's circumstances--good or bad--don't remove the grin, not so much the one on your face, but the one in your heart? This morning what God showed me is that if I've got God, I've got joy because He is joy. God is joy and therefore He is the source of joy. As a follower of Christ, I've got it then. The question is where does it hide when the floors are screaming to be swept and supper is waiting to be made and my youngest son is crying and my oldest is talking, talking, talking? I Chr. 16:27 says "Splendor and majesty are before him, strength and joy in his dwelling place." Simply put, joy is in God's dwelling place. Joy in God's dwelling place. Well, He dwells in my heart. I am indwelt by His Spirit and Galatians 5:22 says that joy is also a fruit of the Spirit who resides within me. So, here I am, indwelt with the source of joy and yet it still eludes me. Perhaps the real issue here isn't that I don't have joy but that I don't allow myself to experience it because I'm too busy experiencing the life that is in front of me instead of The Life that is within me. The infamous tyrany of the urgent rings true in my life as a task oriented, slightly anal perfectionist. There is always more to be cleaned, finished, washed and planned for. But in those moments when I am quiet and still before God I'm usually able to regain the equilibrium that allows joy to flow freely. I think the joy for which David so ravenously hungered wasn't so much the lopsided grin that often characterizes a joyful individual on the outside, but more the internal flow of joy from God's Spirit. After all, he David did plead "take not thy Spirit from me." He must have desperately wanted the return of that central knowledge that God 's favor was upon him--that nothing, not even his great fall with Bathsheba could change God's love toward him. Is it possible that as a New Testament believer I take for granted my security in Christ? Could it be that I don't even stop often enough to consider the incredible ramifications of a God who insists He will never leave us nor forsake us? The very fact that He will never leave me means joy will never leave me. No matter what I face--death, illness, financial disaster, disobedient children, marriage problems, exhaustion--no matter what, God is present and He is able. I know that to be true because I have in fact faced all of those things and lived to see the goodness and faithfulness of God. He is able to accomplish every single thing I face and moreover, there is nothing, not one single thing I will ever face that hasn't first been filtered through THE source of joy--my loving heavenly Father. Perhaps joy doesn't so much elude me as I just don't stop long enough to choose to walk daily in the truth that I've got God and so, I've got joy. Here's to the letter "J" and the lopsided grin that comes from knowing the God who is joy. There is nothing, no one, no circumstance, nothing that can take Joy from me. It is there for eternity. May I walk in it. Lord, "You have filled my heart with greater joy" (Ps. 4:6) and I am so thankful for the security of knowing that in your dwelling place I have fullness of joy. Teach me to live aware of that truth daily. Amen.