Friday, June 27, 2008

Kept and Tended

I interrupted this blog to make a phone call. Checking on an overdue invoice that has yet to be paid seemed important enough to distract me. I figured I'd do best to check on it and then resume writing. No answer. That's when I heard the still, small voice in my spirit. "Sarah, check on it with me." Hmmmm. "Call me, Sarah. I'll look into it for you." And once again, God gently reminds me that He is tending the garden of my life. Maybe you are like me in that I don't always think to call on God first. Generally, I handle things and it isn't until there seems to be a definite problem that I go to God. It's not that I view God as a last resort, it's more that it doesn't occur to me that God is literally interested in every single aspect of my life at all times. More importantly, it doesn't occur to me that God is sovereign in every aspect of my life and by not going to Him, I'm actually skipping the most important step. Isaiah 26:12 says, "O Lord, you make us secure, for even all we have accomplished you have done for us." It is so easy to forget that the contents of our lives have first come through the seive of our loving Father and that our accomplishments small or great are a clear testimony of the active involvement of that very Father. If someone were to cartoon me as a tree in God's garden, they'd have to add arms and legs to my branches because I'd be stretching my lanky limbs out towards the watering hose and I'd be hunching my trunk over attempting to pull weeds up around the base of my roots. I'd be completely contorted and not looking very beautiful as I attempted to tend to my own needs. Then, they'd need to draw God as the gardener, watering can in weathered hand standing back watching me--waiting patiently for me to realize He is ready and willing to keep the garden of my life. Isaiah 26:3 says, "You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith, for they trust in you." (NET) That verse is also translated, "You will keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is stayed on thee..." The idea of complete safety was appealing to me when I read this passage so I dug a little deeper. The word keep is a Hebrew word that is used to express the idea of tending, maintaining, paying attention to or nurturing. It's a perfect gardening term--it's what the loving gardener does with all his plants. God uses the same word in Isaiah 27:3 when He says, "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every monment, lest any hurt it I will keep it night and day." That my friends is the kind of keeping to which God refers when He promises to keep us in perfect peace. The word also expresses the intent to blockade or guard from danger. Several years ago some precious members of our church had their house broken into while they were at home. They of course dialed 911 immediately and proceeded to go through a terrifying experience while they awaited help. I've often thought of the events that unfolded in that families' life that evening and thanked God for protecting them physically. What if they had never bothered to call 911? What if they had heard the sounds of an intruder and then seen the telephone on the bedside table and turned, gathered their children and huddled in the closet? Help would never have come. The question would not have been if help was there or available it would have been why didn't they call? It's the same with us. So often as believers we ask the wrong questions. Where is God when I'm going through something? Will God work in this situation? Those are the wrong questions. The right question is, "Why aren't you calling out to Him?" Home Depot's slogan current slogan is: You can do it, we can help. That's the world we live in--a world where we do for ourselves. My husband and I are lifetime do-it-yourselfers. Right now we are in the process of building our own house. We've repaired our own cars, made our families' wedding cakes, put in our own patios and on and on. If it can be done solo, we'll try it. That's the way we work. But that is so contrary to the heart of God. If God were to have a slogan it might be, I can do it, you can watch. Or perhaps, I can do it, you can be amazed. Or, I can do it, you can relax. You get the idea. God's clear desire for us is to tend to us, to pay attention to every single tiny aspect of our overflowing lives--the unpaid invoices, the annoying neighbor, the angry teenager, the ailing spouse, the marriage in distress, the burnt cookies, the overgrown lawn, the vehicle with more miles than life left, the crick's in our necks and the aches in our backs too. God knows. Quit trying to pick at your own weeds and garden pests. Quit trying to water yourself and drink from His watering can. You are kept whether you realize it or not. And kept by the God who fashioned and formed every single piece of your life--He knows. It was Him who allowed the contents of your life and He is able to fashion and manicure them into a masterpiece, but we must be what He created us to be--a display of his glory. We were not meant to keep ourselves and when we try we don't reflect our Father's face we become a mangled mess. A plant is most glorious when it is reaching heavenward toward the sun, and we would do well to do the same--seek the Son. We are a kept people. We are a people not abandoned, not forsaken or forgotten. We are a people whose God is present and attending. May we live in the peace that comes from a life at rest. Listen with me: Natalie Grant: Held Read with me: John 4:14, Psalm 1:3

Monday, June 23, 2008

Preemptive Praise

I'd heard of the capabilities of the kitchen aid. After all, what self-respecting novice chef has not heard of and longed for, perhaps dare I say even lusted after the sleek yet sturdy design of the kitchen aid free-standing mixer? Though my own fingers had never personally touched one and I'd never turned out any culinary confection thanks to one, I was confident that with one I could do far greater things than without. I began what can only be called a kitchen-aid campaign and I waged it on my very new and very green husband. At the time two-hundred and ninety-nine dollars seemed like an awful lot to spend on a kitchen appliance--especially one that would take up three quarters of the counter space in our second floor Victorian apartment. My approach was to sing the kitchen-aid praises until Jeff was convinced as was I that without the stainless and white mixer our lives would somehow be inadequate. I praised it's ability to make bread, to make cookies, to puree baby food, (though babies were not in our plan for ten years) and most of all, I praised it's ability to work alone, while I focused on other tasks. In effect, I launched a preemptive praise attack declaring the worth and ability of this appliance before I had ever experienced the evidence to ratify my beliefs. And, it worked. Ten years later that beautiful baby we call Betsy is still turning out triple batches of chocolate chip cookies each week while I happily listen to her buzz and twirl around. I was preemptive in my praise of her and she's never let me down--not once. This idea of preemptive praise has kept me thinking. The notion that I praise before I experience is somewhat foreign when it comes to God. With Betsy (my mixer) I was confident because other people had told me all about the kitchen aid's great performance history. With God the Bible says we are surrounded by "a great cloud of witnesses" --those who have gone before and banked on His goodness without wavering and yet I hesitate to pre-praise Him because in any given circumstance I'm not sure what He will do. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen." The NET translation puts it this way: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see." When we praise God before the answer, solution or resolution comes it's like we are placing our situation like a seed into prepared soil. When a gardener tills, pulls roots, adds nutrients and fertilizers to soil before he places a seed into the ground he is declaring to the world that he knows full well what's fixing to happen. He's going to plant that seed into the ground and within a short period of time the buds of new life will appear and it won't be long before he's enjoying fresh produce. Preparing the soil actually produces the best results. When we praise God before He acts, we are fertilizing our hearts--making them soft and supple, ready to receive whatever fruit he desires to produce in our lives. This past spring the boys and I put some potatoes into the ground in the back yard. We didn't do any prep work--just dug holes and tossed the buds into the red clay. We got a real bad cold snap that killed just about everything people had put in the ground and we figured those potatoes were rotting under the soil. We gave up on them and completely forgot about them. We weren't overly disappointed or concerned because we hadn't really counted on much anyway. But just this past week Corton announced, "Momma, our potatoes are coming up!" I was shocked and went to check out his story. Sure enough, there, amidst the rocky, red clay were potato plants almost a foot tall. I couldn't believe it. We hadn't even watered them because we figured they were a lost cause--hopeless; yet here they were growing despite our lack of faith. Now that's the difference between being the kind of person who lives a preemptive praise lifestyle and the kind of person who loses faith, gives up and writes things off as hopeless. Corty had remembered what we planted and had continued to keep an eye on the dry cracked earth waiting for life to appear. I had turned to other pursuits and figured I could buy potatoes from the grocery store if we needed them. Had it not been for a little man of faith I would have missed the life God brought from the terra cotta earth. How often in our lives do we completely miss God's answers, His power, His work in our little worlds because we have long ago given up hope? It is possible for believers to live in a garden filled with lush, ripe fruit of God and see only desert sandstorms--sort of a reverse mirage. On the other hand when I choose to preemptively praise God in every area of my life, I will look at the veins of a cracked and dry ground and say, "I know the God who will bring forth life here and I can't wait to see it." Preemptive praise gives me hope when I tearfully bring my beautiful family member whose life has been drained by drugs and men who refuse to love her but happily take from her before God's thrown of grace. Of course I plead with God to intervene and beg Him to act quickly, but I also spend time praising Him for what I know He can do--soften hearts, minister healing, restore that which was taken. Preemptive praise is evidence of faith in our lives. We won't always see evidence that God is working, but "what is visible has its origin in the invisible." (Hebrews.11:3b) I campaigned for a kitchen aid because I believed in it's reputation. I need to campaign for God's work in my life because I believe what is said of Him in His Word to be true. When we choose to believe God's Word, choose to stand on it, base our lives on it, the quality will be starkly different and the outcomes will be different too. Remember the famous words of the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." For followers of Christ there are truths that are self-evident. We serve a good God. We love a faithful God. We hope in an able God. We seek an ever present God. We count on a powerful God. We believe in a loving God. God's word says, "Without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews. 11:6) He exists. That's evident because of creation. He rewards those who seek him. That's evident because of Noah and Abraham and David and Jabez. Listen to His words of promise, "You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith, for they trust in you..." (Isaiah 26:3) Completely safe. Wow! This is the God we are praising so, "let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings...and let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy..." (Hebrews10;22a, 23) We don't praise a God who drowned the Israelites in the Red Sea because of their selfish whining. We don't praise a God who drowned Noah and his family in a flood because of a leaky boat. We don't praise a God who drowned Jonah in the Sea because of his weakness and fear. We serve the God who parts Red Seas, builds sound vessels and provides giant fish to carry us through our doubts, fears and rebellion to the shore of His promises. May it be said of us all that we lived a life of faith, that though we did not always see the fruition of our faith, we held unwaveringly to the hope we had in a good and faithful God. Lord, today, I praise you because I know you are working in the circumstances in our life. I know you are working beneath the soil now where I cannot see, but I am watching, Lord, expectantly. I'll be ready when the first shoots sprout forth to shout to the world, Look! My Father is acting! He's working! He's making a way in the desert. Lord, may this be so because of your name's sake. Amen. Read with me: Psalm 16:8,9 Psalm 34:1-4, 10, 37:3-5, 7a, Psalm 150:2, Isaiah 26:3-4, Jeremiah 32:27,

Friday, June 20, 2008

Let's Just Walk Through Some Scripture

Read With Me: Psalm 134:1a,2 Attention! Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord...Lift your hands toward the sanctuary and praise the Lord! Psalm 138:2 I will give you thanks with all my heart; before the heavenly assembly I will sing praises to you. I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name, because of your loyal love and faithfulness, for you have exalted your promise above the entire sky. When I cried out for help, you answered me. You made me bold and energized me. Before the answer has arrived to my earthly eyes I choose to praise my God who will send it. Before the rains will dance on dry ground baked by weeks of sun, I choose to praise the God who will pour it down. Before my lost family member returns to the safety and shelter of God, I choose to praise the God who will "snatch them away from our enemies" (Ps. 136:24) Before rest comes to a weary body, I will praise the God who energizes us until our heads hit the pillow. Preemptive praise allows us to walk in the victories God will bring before they ever arrive. What if complaining about the ache in their stomachs, the Israelites had begun singing the praises of the God they knew would feed them? How much more incredible would it have been for them to see that manna floating to the ground after they had already insisted He would provide? Instead of having to admit their doubt and lack of faith they would have been able to dance and run and rejoice in the evidence they had not seen before but chosen to believe. Psalm 111 (This is a passage that always removes my feet from the quicksand of doubt and firmly cements them in truth--a perfect platform for praise) "Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the godly and the congregation. The Lord's deeds are great, eagerly awaited by all who desire them." (notice the deeds are great before they've been received--the author counts on the greatness of God even while He is eagerly awaiting it in his life) "His work is majestic and glorious, and his faithfulness endures forever." (Remember his reputation is on the line here... He'll do things for the sake of His glory) "He does amazing things that will be remembered, the Lord is merciful and compassionate. He gives food to his faithful followers;" (Are you hungry? Some here in our area of literally hungry and need work simply to provide food for their families, but there are still others whose hearts have become emaciated with hunger for the truths of God in their lives) "He always remembers His covenant." (Always. Count on it. Bank on it. Pre-praise Him for it. He has NOT forgotten.) "He announced that He would do mighty deeds for His people, giving them a land that belonged to other nations." "His acts are characterized by faithfulness and justice; all His precepts are reliable." (Do you live like you know this to be true in your life? Do you live like you have been adopted by a Father who is known for His faithfulness and reliability?) "They are forever firm and should be faithfully and properly carried out. He delivered His people; He ordained that his covenant be observed forever. His name is holy and awesome." (When you call on the name of Jesus you are calling on a name above every other name--set apart--different than anyone else you could call on. He will never leave, never forsake. Believe it. Stand tall and firm knowing you are crying out to a God who hears and a God who moves and acts.) To obey the Lord is the fundamental principle for wise living; all who carry out his precepts acquire good moral insight. He will receive praise forever." (The old hymn Trust and Obey comes to mind because this is the basic framework in our relationship with God. Trust His character to be what He says it will be and then obey--live your life like you know you can count on the God who has given you operational instructions. Obedience always follows trust, and blessing follows obedience. Before any of it, may we begin with praise for all that we know to be true--the evidence always follows.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Freeze--part 2

Last night we were playing dark hide and seek outside with our children. This game happens to be a personal favorite of mine. Corty, our youngest is an incredible hide and seek player himself, but playing under the cover of darkness is frightening for him. Last night he said to me as we were huddled into a corner, "Mommy, we have to be still as statues." Yes, we do--or we are found out. Corton was willing to be still as a statue as long as he was cradled in my arms, but had I put him down, he would have gone running as fast as he could for what he was most comfortable with--the light of the house. He chose to trust me though and loved every moment of our game. Choosing to trust God when obeying Him doesn't fit what we want or what we see as the most sensible choice is an act of faith--acting on evidence not seen or emotions not felt. The result of choosing to trust will always be blessing, but let's be honest, the courage to make that choice is sometimes very difficult to muster. When it comes to trust I tend to struggle with two different veins--trusting God with our past and trusting God with present circumstances that go against what common sense would dictate. My husband and I often reflect on the decisions of our past and wonder "what if" we had done this or that. In those moments we have a choice to make--do we trust the sovereignty of God even in decisions that appear to have been wrong and claim the truth of Romans 9 that He does indeed work all things together for our good or do we wallow in frustration over outcomes in life of which we aren't certain? When it comes to the present circumstances in which we often find ourselves, it is challenging for me to stare down a situation and then look at God and say without hesitation, your ways are better. Today, I'd like to discuss trusting God with present circumstances and Lord willing tomorrow I'll discuss trusting God with our past. Yesterday I wrote about the freeze-tag games of the heart--how Jehoshaphat guided his people to victory by fasting, prayer and then a willingness to obey God and be still while God fought the battle they faced. I just know if I had been there I would have created dissension among the ranks of the people. "Guys, I think our king has really lost perspective. He's not being responsible. We need to be prepared. Let's at least arm ourselves and hide our women and children. Don't you think that's the most prudent decision? Our children are a stewardship from God--we need to take them to a cave somewhere and put guards out front. Then we can go to the place of battle." Can't you hear me saying that? Apparently though, the people just obeyed God without question. Nowhere in this account does scripture mention even one individual who disagrees or dares to argue with the direction the nation takes. God spoke. They trusted and obeyed. Walk with me through the scriptural path of this story beginning in verse 18 of II Chronicles chapter 20. God had just told Jehoshaphat and his people tomorrow you will go out to battle and you won't fight, but you'll win. At this point, I would have said, 'wait a minute. we need to check our reception. I don't think we heard Him right.' But Jehoshaphat "bowed down with his face toward the ground, and all the people of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord and worshipped him." In our families, we can set the ball rolling when it comes to the act of trusting God. When we get down on our faces before God and worship--declare to God His worthiness to be trusted--we are laying the footwork for blessing. Obedience precedes blessing every single time in scripture. I hesitate to say that because I never want anyone to misunderstand me and think I am saying that God will give us red convertibles and fancy houses if we obey Him. I hope you know my heart when I say that God cannot give us the abundance His word promises unless we place ourselves in a position ready to receive His outpouring. We must be on our knees in submission, surrender and worship in order to receive from God. As a mother, I realize that often I set the tone for response to circumstances in our home. When uncomfortable things happen it's me who needs to immediately acknowledge God in that circumstance--the children will follow suit just as the people of Judah followed Jehoshaphat's lead. Mommy's are so good at putting children to sleep. We cradle them in our arms, whisper "shhhhh, shhhhh, close your eyes" into the lobes of their soft ears and we sing quiet songs of peace as they drift off to a place where they are completely safe. This is in effect what we do when we guide our family to the feet of God. "Shh, close your eyes. You are safe. Let's go to our heavenly Father. Shhh." We need to practise the art of lulling our family to peaceful slumber in the arms of A Mighty God. Right after they fell on their faces before God, some Levites got up and the Bible says they "loudly" praised the Lord. (19) The concept of pre-praise seems presumptuous to me. I'd sure hate to be made a fool of. Remember Y2K? All those sincere individuals who insisted the world was coming to an end and we needed to be prepared? Members of my family gathered kerosene heaters and barrels of fuel and filled closets with canned goods. They were prepared. In the end we found ourselves celebrating with friends toasting in the new year as the clock struck twelve and nothing happened but the sound of clanking glasses and blissful wishes for a new year. Wouldn't it be so embarrassing to start praising the goodness of God in a situation only to have him refuse to exercise His power? It would be, yes. But, God's not an abandoner--He doesn't hang us out to dry. He is faithful to His Word and we need to become pre-praisers so confident in the abilities of our Heavenly Father that with boldness we say to our friends and family, "God is good and we know He will make a way in this situation." We can't know what way He will make--only God knows the plans He has for us--but we can know they are good. The next morning scripture says they marched out and Jehoshaphat reassured them with a tender address. "Oh in the Lord your God and you will be safe!" (20b) He understood there must have been a few Sarah's in the group just shaking in their boots. Have you ever said to your children at bedtime when they are feeling frightened and alone, "Oh, Johny, you are safe little one." If you were here with me and we were sitting knee to knee and face to face, I'd look into your eyes and speak the same to you and whatever situation you or your loved ones are facing. "Dear friends, trust in the Lord your loving Father and you will be safe. You will be okay." We need to hear those words. We need to speak those words and we need to believe them. Then Jehoshaphat made the conscious choice to appoint people to make music of praise to God declaring His splendor. Remember, he did this before the battle had been won. And they sang, "Give thanks to the Lord, for his loyal love endures." (21b) Sometimes the thing that gets my faith really moving is good praise music. I can turn a CD on and the Spirit of God can gently massage the fear from my heart like a masseuse rubs the tension and kinks out of a weary back. We need to be intentional about choosing praise before we've found resolution in the events of life. I firmly believe there is a direct correlation between the choice to praise and the movement of God. Verse 22 says, "When they began to shout and praise, The Lord suddenly attacked." They may have been afraid, they may not have agreed or even understood how this battle was going to be won, but they trusted the goodness and power of God, they obeyed His clear directions, and they praised His loyalty and faithfulness before He ever moved one finger against their enemy. And as the sound waves of their praise rose to the heavens like the fragrance of a burning sacrifice the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God came down and obliterated every single breath from their enemy. Hebrews 13:15 says, "...let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name. And do not neglect to do good..." Oh, how we need to choose the sacrifice of praise and then simply obey. I told you yesterday that God has allowed two situations in our life recently that call for a freezing of my spirit as I stand steady and still awaiting the moving of God. Those situations also call for pre-praise. Today, I am choosing to declare the goodness, the faithfulness, the ableness of God in these areas. He will move. I have no idea how He will act--what He will do, but He is good and His loyal love endures forever. Of that I am as confident as I am of the air I breath. I am waiting to see a display of God's heavenly fireworks and I know they will be spectacular!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Freeze Part 1

I'm frozen--not moving, that is--and it's the most powerful position I've ever been in. A few weeks back my brother and sister in law sent out an email telling us that the passports they were supposed to be receiving in a foreign country were not coming through. She's expecting and they need the passports for travelling home to North America. Things are always sticky in these countries and it seems nothing is ever cut and dry. Apparently people can be denied several times before they ever receive proper documents. But then, they sent another email informing us they had heard from someone that their passports were going to come through after all. He said in this email: we did nothing but pray. It was unexplainable because they had not called and tried to get someone to pull some strings, they had not made any move at all--just prayed. That sentence--we did nothing but pray--just wedged itself into my heart and wiggled around until there was enough room for it to take root. I loved it. I thought about it. I mulled over it. Well known for making a few calls and getting things done, this is slightly contrary to my nature. In a similar situation about ten years ago when my husband and I were fast approaching our wedding with a fiancee visa application languishing amidst the red tape of immigration services, I was found on the phone to the president's office. Before all was said and done the president's personal secretary and I were on a first name basis. Ironically, we didn't get that paperwork--not even the president of the United States can help you when God is not fighting the battle. The difference between what happened with my brother and sister-in-law and what happened to my husband and I many years prior is simple--one battle was God's and the other was not. When God has a purpose there is nothing and no one who can thwart, change, alter or effect His intentions. We weren't trying to go against God--we just didn't have His master plan and weren't aware of what He would accomplish. We had prayed for His direction and He faithfully gave it to us through a closed door. What I want to talk about though is that sometimes God calls us to freeze in order to move mightily on our behalf. As a little girl I loved to play freeze tag outside our churchyard after Sunday evening services. The air would be thick like sweet tea and lightning bugs would join in our game dodging our lanky legs and arms as we chased each other down. We'd run from the bigger kids and inevitably they'd tag us. Then, we'd freeze. Only in the frozen moments would we catch our breath for the rest of the game. We couldn't move until someone else freed us from that position--all we could do was breath. And breath we did--we'd been running our little hearts out and we'd suck oxygen in like a thick milk shake until we were ready to run again. At some point, someone would come along and touch us and off we'd run again into the night. That was a childhood game, but in life sometimes the most powerful position we can ever be in is the frozen one. It's there that we catch our breath, gain perspective on what's happening around us and it's in that position that someone else is doing the running while we wait to be freed. This week two major things came up that set my feet to moving--I was ready to deal with both of them right away. Before the phone call that delivered the first news had ended I had a mental list of how I'd alter my day to accomplish the resolution of this situation. But that sentence from my brother-in-law's email came to me, special delivery from the Holy Spirit I'm sure. And I paused. Pray, Sarah. Just pray. Freeze. So, pray I did. Again and again. And then of course I did what any sane girl with four sisters would do--I called one of them. I love the phone a friend feature in life, don't you? Besides, that wasn't doing anything...that was just talking. (I know I still have much to learn) My sister said to me point blank, "Sarah, if it were me, I'd just wait. You don't need to do anything right now. Just wait and pray. Be ready, but wait." Well, when I'm in doing mood see if I call her again. Truly though, I thank God for godly family. Obviously God was speaking to me. I've been tagged and now I'm frozen. Jehoshaphat received a rather shocking bit of news himself during his reign over Judah. Some messengers arrived and informed him that a "huge army is attacking you from the other side of the Dead Sea..." (II Chr. 20:2b) Scripture says "Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he decided to seek the Lord's advice. He decreed that all Judah should observe a fast." (II Chr. 20:3) I love that. Here they are facing an impending attack and he tells them, "Don't eat. We're gonna stop and get advice from God." Hello? What about a Hollywood moment when on a horse reared to the heavens he shouts out, "An army's coming! Ready yourselves! Hide the women and children. Gather the men from your villages. Get your swords! We're going into battle!" None of that. In fact the Bible says, "All the men of Judah were standing before the Lord, along with their infants, wives and children." (II Chr. 20:13) Not only did they not prepare their families for the worst, they actually took the time to gather their families and stand still before the Lord. The most incredible thing we can do as a family in the midst of crisis is get on our knees before God and seek His face. But so often one of us runs to email our friend, another grabs their cell phone to call someone and another gets on google to research a solution. Meanwhile like our rusting landlines, the direct line to God remains unused. How we must grieve His heart to see us darting about in an effort to fight a battle that is not in our hands. When we fight with our man made weapons ignoring the face of God we swing imaginary swords at imaginary enemies because our battle is not against flesh and blood. It's as though God must want to whisper, "Sarah, you missed him. Sarah, that's not your enemy. He's up here. I got him. Sarah, you are fighting against air. Are you tired yet? Lay down your weapons and pray, Sarah. I'll handle it from here." The Israelites were right on the money this time around. They got before God and they prayed a prayer that recounted God's power, acknowledged that He rules over the earth and the heavens, declared His unstoppable strength and in humility they said, "we will cry out to you for help in our distress, so that you will hear and deliver us. We don't know what we should do; we look to you for help." (II Chr. 20:9, 12) I love that they didn't say, "Please, if it's your will deliver us." They were confident that their God would move. And He says to them, "Don't be afraid and don't panic because of this huge army! For the battle is not yours, but God's." I don't think the army was huge to God, but isn't it neat that He acknowledged that to them it was massive. Sometimes the things we face seem so impossible, so insurmountable to our human eyes and yet to God, they are but a vapor. When in God's hands, with a simple flick of his finger or a puff of breath from his lips, they are annhialated, oblitereated, eradicated from our lives. What we need to get is that when the circumstances we face involve in the purposes of God in our lives or the lives of those we love, the battle is not ours. God told the Israelite people, "You will not fight in this battle. Take your positions, stand, and watch the Lord deliver you...don't be afraid and don't panic! Tomorrow march out toward them; the Lord is with you!" (II Chr. 20:17) It was simple. In the end, when the men of Judah arrived on the battle scene, "they saw dead bodies on the ground; there were no survivors!" (II Chr. 20:25) God defeated their enemy before they even arrived. That's the power of God at work accomplishing His purposes for all eternity and He desires to do the very same thing in our lives today. The process was relatively straight forward. The people received bad news of impending battle. They gathered together with their families and fasted and prayed. They acknowledged their dependence on God and His power to act. And then, they stood and watched. God will work in the circumstances of our lives, but we need to get down on our faces before Him and beseech Him to do so. We need to cry out to the God of heaven and earth and declare His strength and ability and claim His power in our lives. We need not panic and begin a frenzy of activity in attempts to resolve situations and shape circumstances to our advantage. I'm not advocating inaction when God calls us to move. God told the Israelites to walk across the Red Sea and they obeyed Him, but what I am saying is that before we run we need to freeze--freeze before our loving and merciful God Almighty and wait for Him to free us to move. God's resolutions are always superior to anything we can accomplish. You know the Bible says it took three entire days for the people to haul off all the plunder--supplies, clothing and valuable items--that they took from the battle they never fought! And when the resolution has come from God, there will be peace. "Jehoshaphat's kingdom enjoyed peace; his God made him secure on every side." (II Chr. 20:30) I'm not promising extreme wealth and perfect harmony from a human standpoint, but I can promise without hesitation that the plunder of a spirit filled with the fruit of a heart committed to God will be more than we can eat in this lifetime. And I know that the peace God will give will be the kind of peace that stands before the armies of our lives and says, "My God is with me and He will give me the victory because this battle is His." So, here I stand, frozen until God chooses to free me. My spirit is in prayer and fasting right now as I expectantly await God's movement. And I know that in this position, I am more powerful than if I were on the phone with the president's secretary and though I don't know the outcome, there is peace on every side. Amen.

Monday, June 2, 2008

God's Not Like That

I heard him when I was walking out of the building supply store in town--a gentleman who attends the same church as me. I had politely waved hello on my way in, but he was on his cell phone so I didn't stop to talk. As the door clanged shut behind me I heard the yelling and a chain of four letter words that clanged into my ears and fell like rocks into my gut. It was him--the friendly man I see every Sunday letting somebody have it like they'd never gotten it before. Nausea climbed the walls of my stomach like biscuit dough rising; I was stunned. "Please God," I mumbled. "Let that be someone else I'm hearing." But it wasn't someone else. The very man who praises Jesus with the best of them on Sunday was cursing another human on Friday. And I couldn't shake it. Of course there is hypocrisy in the church. Of course there are sinners in the church. If there weren't sinners we wouldn't need church in the first place and we certainly wouldn't need God. And frankly, most days, I feel like Paul did--chief among them. But never, in my thirty-one years have I actually come face to face with a person who lived two different lives. I've got no problem with someone struggling and being real about it. I can relate to that--I struggle too, daily. And I've got no problem with somebody spouting out some four letter words like a faucet that drips. None of us are one hundred percent sanctified--we're all works in progress and God's love is not conditional upon our perfection. These aren't things I question, but I've never met somebody who flat out pretends to be one thing and then is something else entirely. So when that reality stared me down, it knocked the wind right out of me. I wanted to forgive him immediately. Maybe it was just a really bad day, but the words he said weren't strange to him--they were as familiar as my cup of half-caff coffee first thing in the morning. I prayed and asked God to help me to see how I am no different. In God's eyes, speaking venomous words is no different than being judgmental of another Christian. I knew God's will for me was to love this Christian struggling on his journey and let God have room to work in his life. This man needed only grace and the truth is that if someone were to catch me in a weak moment I would plead the same from them. There are days when I wish I could just wear a t-shirt that says, "I'm not perfect. In fact, I'm horribly flawed, but look inside my heart and I promise you'll see I am as sincere as I can be in my desire to obey God and love Him." So forgiveness of this man was not in question--I forgave him and prayed for him, his marriage, his business and his family. But the words he said ran through my mind over and over and over and over for the next two days. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I was genuinely disappointed. When it came to mind I prayed about it. Judging this man was not my intention, but I just couldn't shake the shocking difference between what this guy claimed and what he really was. It wasn't until Sunday at church when we were singing that God spoke to my spirit. We were singing the words "Holy Holy Holy..." and it was like God whispered into my heart, "Sarah, that's why you sing about my holiness--because I really am what I say I am. You're upset because this guy wasn't what you thought him to be, but I am without question everything I claim to be." In that moment I realized something for the first time on a very practical level. Of course I've known it intellectually, but God used this man to visually show me the difference between God and humanity. There is not one single claim that God makes about Himself that we will ever find untrue. God's holiness is sort of a sacred topic. I always get pictures of stained glass and cathedrals when the word holy comes up. To me, God's being holy is sort of like having pate when His being a friend is more like cheese whiz for me. One's just a little more familiar and comfortable than the other. But here's the thing--God's holiness is really one of the most down to earth concepts we'll ever chew on in our Christian walk. Holiness literally means "set apart." God's different. He's not the same as what we know in human terms. Every single negative human interaction we've ever had could be bagged up like lawn clippings and left. God's not like those experiences. He's different. It's that simple. He's holy--different--unique--unlike what we know. On the other hand, you could take every single positive experience you've ever had and bag that up too. When compared to God--He's still just way different. You see video of children in third world countries content to play with a jagged tin can because they've never known the luxury and joy of toys that westerners know. All of our greatest human experiences are like that tin can compared to what we'll know when we interact with God. He's still just better--not like anything or anyone else. Exodus 15:11 says, "Who is like you, O Lord among the gods? Who is like you? Majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders?" Did you know that the word holy appears almost three times to every one time the word faith appears in scripture? Obviously God's holiness is crucial for the follower of Christ to grasp. The reason this is so important is because ultimately it's in Him we put our faith, our hope, our needs, our hurts, our dreams, our desires, our most intimate thoughts. We trust Him with the precious contents of our lives--our children, our marriages, our finances, our parents, our siblings, our illnesses--and we need to know that we know that we know that He is WAY different than anybody else. When he says, "I'm good." Count on it. He's good. And when He says, "I will be with you always." Bank on it. He's not leaving. And when He claims that He can bind the broken hearted and set captives free. Go ahead and bring Him the pieces of your heart and drag those chains to His feet. He'll heal. He'll free. He'll restore. He'll help. He'll love. He'll be patient. He'll be long suffering. He'll love. He'll love more. And He'll love even after you've done unforgivable, unforgettable things. Because He's not like us--He always forgives. He always throws our sins as far as the east from the west. He's holy and that is the foundation on which we must recognize we are standing. You and I, my friend, stand on the back of a God who will not let us down, will not disappoint us, will not waver, will not change. Jesus said, "In this world, you'll have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) We are inevitably going to deal with other broken, sinful humans. There's not a one of us that couldn't have a day like the guy at the building store. If we look around at the people that surround us we will always be disappointed. It may take someone a while before you find a crack and with others, you'll see or experience gaping chasms right away, but count on it like the sun rising--people will let you down. But Jesus overcame this world--he already did the human thing and defied it by rising from death. If our faith is hinged upon our fellow Christian's infallibility, we're in big trouble. But when our faith is firmly planted in our holy heavenly Father, we are rooted like a six by six in cement. What I saw that day at the building store was a picture of the things that God is not. But what must grieve God's heart so desperately is that so often we treat Him as if He is like that man. We had a stray dog show up to our house a few years ago. Every time my husband went near him, he'd cower and tuck his tail in as though bracing himself for a blow. We wanted so desperately for that poor dog to know we'd never hit him--that we weren't like what he had previously known. It's the same way with God. So often we cower before him bracing ourselves for disappointment or worse yet, we stray away like that dog had done because we figure that when things get difficult He'll hurt us. We never give Him the chance to prove His holiness and we never experience the peace of dwelling in the shelter of His character. The ironic thing is that the nearer we come to God the more we will mirror His image. The closer we are to a God who is holy the more we will convey His holiness to a world desperately needing to experience the relief of knowing the God who will never let them down. If we embrace God from a distance--a Sunday only kind of relationship--we'll never know intimately the thrill of a relationship based on complete truth. I cling to God's holiness when I'm not sure how to raise my children--God's not like employers I've had who've given me jobs and not given me the training to complete the task. I stand on God's holiness when the economy is falling apart and peers are losing their homes--God wasn't just blowing smoke when He promised to "supply all your needs according to his glorious riches..." I praise the holiness of God when again I've fallen or failed in some area because He and He alone forgives unceasingly. His promise of being "faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness..." wasn't just a bunch of pretty words. He is what He says He is, He does what He says He'll do, He provides what He promises to provide, He helps, He saves, He redeems, He shelters, and He will not go back on anything in His Word. For every moment you are tempted to question, to doubt, to worry, to wonder, to give up, to quit, may you remember that you are loved with an everlasting love by a God who will not change because He's just not like that. He's holy. Worth reading: Psalm 99, Psalm 103 Listen: Holy is the Lord--Chris Tomlin You Are Holy--Michael W. Smith has a good version Holy--Nicole Nordeman