Archive for May, 2008

OK, so it’s a really long title. Oh well.

After finishing the previous blog, “A Longing for Holiness,” I went “blog surfing.” (Is that a term? I think I just made it up! Of course, maybe there’s already a term in use and I’m showing myself to be the newbie that I am. Oh well.)

But I digress. I went blog surfing. I “discovered” Answer Bearer. The author has a great blog titled “Normal Christianity.” Take a look at it. I love that she heard God speak to her through every day situations, and I love that she challenges herself and others to keep Jesus as the standard, not “life-as-we-know-it.”

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“Holiness is what I long for; holiness is what I need; holiness is what You ask of me.”

Nice song. Nice words. Now it’s time to sit down and listen to the pastor’s teaching.

Wait a minute! We just sang “Holiness is what I long for?” Did we mean it? Did I mean it when I sang that I longed for holiness? Did you?

The Random House College Dictionary defines “long” as “to have an earnest or strong desire; yearn.” Nothing unexpected there; but I wonder if I water down the word in my mind when I sing that song.

Think about the concept with me. What things do you long for? There are days when I just long for them to be over. I long for some of the hopes and dreams I have for my life to come to pass. I long for my mother to be restored to health. Perhaps even more than the longing for her to be restored to health is the longing for her be able to meet God where she is. Sometimes I long for a cold glass of water or a hot cup of tea. Sometimes I long for God to comfort me or encourage me. I’m not sure all of my longings show me to be the Godly woman I want to be, but I’m pretty sure they show me to be fallible and human.

But do I long to become holy? Frequently, I’m afraid, I do not. Frequently I find, that I’d rather be mediocre in my holiness. You know, the “I’m not as good as some, but better than most” attitude. Hmmmm. Sounds like I’ve heard a sermon or two on this subject…something about the degree of pharisee that exists in me. I hate it when I get hit with old sermons!

I’m also reminded of the Mary and Martha story, where Jesus said to Martha “Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). Do I choose what is better or do I choose what is easy. A longing for holiness would lead me to choose the better part.

Let’s see:

  • Sleep or devotions? Devotions is the better part; I frequently choose sleep.
  • TV or extended prayer time? Chilling out in front of the TV can be pretty attractive, but prayer is the better part.
  • Relaxing in my chair after a hard day of work or participating in a small group Bible study? The small group Bible study holds significantly more opportunity for God to speak to me and to use me and others in the group to minister to the needs of a friend.
  • Joining in a pick-up game of volleyball in the park or helping my neighbor paint her garage? The neighbor needs to know Jesus, but the volleyball game sure would be fun. And I haven’t played volleyball in so long. The neighbor needs to know Jesus; that’s the better part.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. The question is “does my lifestyle illustrate or demonstrate that I mean the words I sing ‘Holiness is what I long for’?” It is not my desire to strengthen your sense of legalism, because “the letter [of the law] kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6). You don’t need me to develop your list of “ought to’s”. There will be times when God says, “yes, you should sleep longer today,” or “yes, I want to meet with just you this evening, so stay home from church or Bible study”. The issue is your lifestyle. Which choices do you usually make? I find that more often than I’d like to admit, my choices reveal that I don’t really long for holiness, I’m pretty happy where I am.

But I don’t want to be that person. We’re studying The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer with a small group. Great book. Lots and lots about why we don’t apprehend the God who longs to meet us face to face. And a lot of it comes down to being satisfied with mediocre.

Lord, remove mediocrity from my life! I don’t want it. Let Christ reign over any tendency toward mediocrity in my life.

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If left to my own devices, I’m a late sleeper. Even when I go to bed early, I can sleep late. I am also a heavy sleeper. I frequently don’t hear the alarm clock no matter how loud it’s set. And since every other day of the week I have a reason for being up early, I have always treasured Saturday morning as the day I get to sleep a little later. Not as late as I’d like, mind you, but until a respectable 9am or so.

About a year ago, God began to wake me up early on Saturday mornings. I admit it…for quite a long time, I resented this. Saturday morning is my only morning to sleep late, I like to sleep late, I’m still tired, but I’m lying here in bed awake. What’s with that? No matter how late I go to bed on Friday night, I’m awake early on Saturday morning. If I don’t get out of bed, I just lay there staring into space. I rarely fall back asleep.

Eventually I remembered that when things aren’t as they normally are, when things seem out of place, always look for the hand of God. Since I had spent my life sleeping in on Saturday mornings and now that seemed an impossibility, I realized that it was God who was waking me up.

And Saturday  mornings have become such a special time with God. I don’t do anything significantly differently from what I do most mornings, but on Saturdays (because I’m awake and getting an earlier start), there is less pressure from the things that have to be done later in the day. The house is quieter, the spirit more peaceful. God seems more accessible.

Now the truth is there’s nothing different about the house on Saturdays than on Wednesdays or Fridays and God isn’t any more accessible on Saturday than He is on Wednesdays or Fridays. The truth is that I’m different. I’m more relaxed and looking forward to hearing from God on these early Saturday mornings than on other days. Because I’m up earlier than I need to be, I can enjoy Him without other distractions. And our time together is longer than other days of the week. I worship Him longer, I read more, I listen more, I write more.

The very cool thing is that this was all God’s idea. He initiated it. I’m so thankful that we serve a God who initiates a relationship with us. As A.W. Tozer writes in The Pursuit of God, God is always previous. He always reaches out to us first. He goes before us in everything we do, arriving where we are before we get there. He is always previous.

So God and I have an appointment that He helps me to keep every Saturday morning. Actually, we have an appointment every morning, but Saturday’s appointment is more like a date.

I bet God would like to have a date with you, too. I’m praying that He would begin to awaken readers of this blog early one day next week. Just so you and He can spend more time together.

Let me know how it goes.

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My mom was rushed by ambulance yesterday from her residence at a local nursing home to the local hospital. She’s made the trip many times, but this was the first time they used the sirens, she told me later.

It turns out that she had a mild heart attack and has a significant infection. She’s now in CCU. But she is alert and otherwise “normal.”

The backstory is that mom had a major stroke ten years ago and has been largely paralyzed since then. Yet her spirits remain high, despite the extreme challenges she has faced. She’s been in and out of the hospital many, many times over the past ten years. I have been convinced that she would died almost every year for during this time. Yet her will to live is strong and she’s still with us. And for that I am very thankful.

But it feels different this time. So much so that my sister and brother are coming in from out of state.

So as I got up and dressed this morning, my thoughts have been occupied with the potential need to make plans. A few minutes ago, though, as I began to feel myself sinking, I realized the error of my thinking. A song came to mind — “Today” by Brian Doerkson. Based on Joshua 24:15 (“…choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”), the first line of the song is “Today I choose to follow You. Today I choose to give my best to You.”

Today, I choose to worship God, not the worry over what may or may not happen with my mom. Today I choose to bless Him.

Those of you who have read my other blogs on grieving know that I am a firm believer that grieving is an important process. It shouldn’t be ignored.

Neither should it be allowed to grow bigger than it is. And it’s not time for grieving today. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, NIV)

Only God knows. And He can be trusted more than doctors and feelings. Because He is good. Very good.

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“Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he had been waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.”                         Luke 23:50-51 (NLT)

“He had been waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.” It is so easy for us to get caught up in the day to day responsibilities of life and lose our sense of anticipation for the Kingdom of God. It’s so easy to lose our grasp on the reality of the unseen.

But Joseph got it right. He was a member of the high council that sentenced Jesus to death. But He didn’t get caught up in the emotionalism of it all, in the mob mentality that overpowers reason in reasonable people. Scripture says he was “waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.” And it steadied him past the horrendous decision made by the council and the subsequent crucifixion of Christ.

When our focus isn’t on the Kingdom of God, it shifts to things of this world. And when that happens, we are at great risk of putting other things before Christ. The Pharisees put their position in life, their pride, their religion before the coming Messiah. They so had their eyes on the earthly requirements of their religion that they lost their anticipation of the Kingdom of God that was to come.

The word translated “waiting” is the Greek word prosdechomai and it means waiting “with confidence or patience” or “looking for.” It has a sense of anticipation in it.

Think about the last time you went on vacation – a vacation that you were really looking forward to. As it grew nearer, it always occupied your mind to some extent. You were waiting for it, much like Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for the Kingdom of God.

It’s a strong mindset. It’s not a lazy hope, something that occupies your mind for a short time then disappears when life gets busy. It requires a vigilance that consistently brings your mind back to the unseen reality of the Kingdom of God.

Think about the last time you were significantly worried about something. The issue held your attention no matter what you were doing. That’s the negative version of waiting with anticipation. Don’t get caught up in it; choose to “worry” about the Kingdom of God, keeping it in the front of your mind. It will protect you from the emotionalism of the moment. I don’t know about you, but I sure need that!

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 41But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry. 42“I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from you. 43Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. 44They will crush you to the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you.”  Luke 19:41-44, NLT

What struck me at first when I read this Scripture during my daily devotions was the last verse about rejecting the opportunity God offered, or missing His visitation. That was the subject of yesterday’s blog (Rejecting God’s Opportunities, Missing His Visitation). But after finishing the blog I went back and re-read the passage. What struck me then were Jesus’ first words – “I wish that you would find the way of peace…Before long, your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. They will crush you to the ground.” 

I know that Jesus is talking about Jerusalem and that my hermeneutics professor would blanche at the extension I’m about to make, but doesn’t this sound a lot like how you feel when you are over-extended, when you have allowed yourself to become too busy? Peace alludes you. As your commitments snowball, they slam against you and encircle you and close in on you. You feel as if you will be crushed by them. That has certainly described my life at times.

My friends, that is clearly not what God wants. I am convinced to the core of my being that one of the greatest maladies infecting Americans today is over-busyness — lives jam-packed with activities that leave little or no time for God. Often the little time we have for God is the “left over” time — time at the end of the day when we are too “used up” to hear Him or receive from Him the grace He longs to impart. 

There are periods when circumstances dictate a busier than desired life, but that should not be the norm. When over-busyness has become a lifestyle, making significant changes can be difficult — and sometimes requires radical surgery! I use the word surgery purposefully, because what must happen is that the scalpel must be taken to our schedule (and our spouse’s schedule and our children’s schedule). Over-busyness is a disease that affects the whole family. Parents who feel obligated to be involved in more activities than is humanly possible breed children who feel obligated to be overextended. But it is possible to restrict one’s activities. It’s not only possible, it’s desirable. 

A Simple Exercise
First, identify a time during the next couple of days when you can sit with God for about an hour. Yep! A whole hour to begin to allow Him to set your priorities and enable you to gain a measure of control in your life. To prepare for that time, create a calendar that lists every day of the week and identifies the hours from 6am until 10pm. Those are the hours you have available. Many of you may already be thinking this is impossible because right now you’re only sleeping from 1am until 6am. Not enough time, my friend. But that’s the subject for another blog some day. 

When you meet with God, first pray. Confess that you have allowed your life to become out of control. Confess your desire to live a life based on His leading. Thank Him in advance for the adventure He’s leading you in to.

Then begin the more practical elements of the exercise. If you feel anxious, be sure to stop and pray throughout the process. And remember, no decisions are unchangeable and we’re initially just looking at the coming week, not your whole life!

Block off on your calendar the daily requirements such as eating and working. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, blocking out your “work” time is a little more challenging, but block off time each day when you’re committed to having your children as your sole focus, whether for play, meals, home-schooling or whatever.

OK, the time that’s still available is for all other activities. And guess what! All the activities you’d LIKE to be involved in can’t fit in those available hours! That means you must choose between what is good and what is better. Be a Mary, not a Martha. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chose the “better part.” The first question to ask then is this: When during the week am I scheduling in my “God Time?” Asking this question first ensures that we don’t so overfill our calendars that the only God Time we have is taken out of the time we should be sleeping. This neither honors God nor our families nor ourselves. 

The next question to ask is: What is God’s top priority for me this week? Put that on your calendar. (Note that I said top priority, not top priorities!) It doesn’t have to be super-spiritual. For example, the top priority for me this week might be to visit my mom or to eat healthier. Both activities require blocking out 4 or 5 hours in my calendar this week.

Now make sure that your calendar has family time built into it. If it wasn’t your top priority (it isn’t always and that’s OK), add that time into your calendar now. Do you stay connected with your spouse by spending a half hour every day talking? If so, block that time out in your calendar. Do you spend the first half hour after school gets out listening to your kids talk about their day? Put it in your calendar.

By now your calendar might be getting full and you don’t have any of your activities in yet. That’s the point. Your activities ought to be scheduled for the time you have available for them. They should not be allowed to usurp (and I use that word purposefully) the time that should be given to God, your family, or your own sleep.

But Life Isn’t So Simple
Yes, I know. This exercise was very simple. But I think it’s an important one. It visually demonstrates the need to control our schedules according to God’s priorities, instead of allowing other people or the whims of our emotions to control our schedules. My emotions encourage me to sign up for way more activities than I can reasonably (or even unreasonably) accomplish. I repeat: That is not honoring to God, or to our families, or to ourselves.

Getting From Here to There
Now I recognize that most people will find their calendars over-scheduled and will be at a loss as to how to bring them into some semblance of peace. You can take two approaches: Radical surgery to remove what is undesireable, or gradual healing that comes through pursuing a balanced diet over a long period of time. Both may be required. Neither should be attempted without bathing the whole process in prayer. 

Radical surgery would immediately end all over-commitments, even to the point of renigging on some previously accepted commitments. This is a serious approach, but sometimes appropriate. 

A more measured approach is to weed out current activities by allowing them to come to a natural conclusion and then being firm about not replacing those activities with other busyness. For example, you might be leading a 12-week study in your small group. You might finish leading the study, then simply participate in the small group but not lead it. You may be coaching your son’s baseball team. At the end of the season when that commitment ends, don’t automatically replace it with coaching his soccer team. Pray over your calendar and ask God if that commitment is one that is “good” or one that is “better.”

There’s nothing cut and dry about managing our lives, and I don’t mean to imply that the task is simple. But we are called by God to be good stewards over all that He has given us, and our time is one of the most precious commodities we have. We can choose to spend it or we can choose to invest it. Managing our lives with this simple time management approach, when applied consistently, can bring great change. The consequences of allowing life to manage us can be too severe. I don’t want my life to lack peace or for all my commitments to close in on me and crush me to the ground. I’d much rather recognize the opportunities God has offered me and trust Him to “cover” all those things I don’t participate in. I’ve never believed the claim that you can “have it all.” I don’t even think that God wants us to have it all. He wants us to have what is better. Don’t let the good keep you from the better.

A Final Word
I can hear so many friends saying “but I can’t…” or “I have to…” Yes, you can, and no you don’t have to. It’s amazing how freeing it is to recognize that we are not required to do everything others think (or we think others think) we “ought” to do. Our commitment is to God first and it is clearly not His will that we be harried, hassled, and always in a hurry. With God ALL things are possible — even managing our own schedules.

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41But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry. 42“I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from you. 43Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. 44They will crush you to the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you.”  Luke 19: 41-44, NLT

“Because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you.” The NRSV says it this way: “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Our God is such a gracious God. One who is not slow to act, but gives ample time for people to repent. And yet a time comes when the window of opportunity closes, when the visitation from God leaves. Lord, I don’t want to miss that opportunity. I don’t want to allow that visitation to go unrecognized.

The things that might cause me to do so are largely summed up in the busyness of life. Lord, help me to get away with You. Lord, thank you for helping me keep our weekly appointment.

The more busy I get, the less I am able to truly hear those around me, let alone God. Think about it…when was the last time you misunderstood your child or husband or friend simply because you were too busy to hear the whole story, both what was said and what was left unsaid?

Lord, save me from the self-absorption that comes with busyness.

A friend sent me an e-mail recently. You know, one of those that is passed around to everyone and many people find a blessing while others only find it annoying. (I fall somewhere in-between, depending on how busy I am!) Anyway, this one included a quote that I thought was worth saving and it relates here: “God whispers in your soul and speaks to your mind. Sometimes when you don’t have time to listen, He has to throw a brick at you. It’s your choice: Listen to the whisper or wait for the brick.”

Listening for the whisper is listening for God’s visitation, watching for His opportunities. Lord, open my ears and my eyes to hear and see You in my world today.

Watch for tomorrow’s blog for more from this passage.

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  One of the things on my prayer list is “what God wants from my life.” I added it one day when I was seeking God about what I should be doing to serve Him. It’s been on the list for a long time. As I was praying the other day, I came to that item and what screamed in my brain was “to love Him.” What God wants from my life is for me to love Him. (Micah 6:8 comes to mind here.)

As I thought about it further, I realized that He’s satisfied with that (i.e., loving Him), but I’m not…and that took me back to the blog of a few weeks ago (Are You Satisfied?)…when God asked me if I was satisfied with Him. Not with serving Him, but with Him. Am I satisfied with Him if it’s all I have or all I do?

I’m a “do-er.” I’m a “get-involved” kind of person. I’m a “let’s throw out some ideas, pray about them, then do something” kind of girl. (And I’m ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I forget about the “pray about it” part.)

So being satisfied with God and God alone is hard. It’s difficult for me to be “satisfied” if I don’t experience accomplishment. And accomplishment has always come from action. I don’t know yet how to connect the positiveness I get inside from experiencing accomplishment with being satisfied with God alone.

My gut reaction is to say “OK, my new goal is to develop a plan for being satisfied with God. That will (1) lead to being satisfied with God, and (2) give me a sense of accomplishment.” Somehow, I don’t think that gets me where I want to go.

But God made me the way I am and He loves me the way I am – a planner and a do-er and a lover of God. How do I reconcile the three? Do they need to be reconciled? I don’t know. But I do know that both God and I want me to be more satisfied with Him and Him alone and have less of a need to experience a sense of accomplishment. (While not becoming lazy in the process… because quite frankly it’s really easy for me to get lazy.)

I think spiritual disciplines like meditation are called for! So my new goal is practice meditation? Oops, there that goal reflex again.

I also think that worship transcends this argument. I am fully satisfied with God in times of intimate worship. No need for accomplishment. Just being with Him satisfies. But then I get back to my “real life” and my achievement orientation kicks in.

Please don’t think I’m dissing achievement. I’m not. Achievement is good and we were created to do the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10 — it’s one of my favorite verses!).  

 I’m still working on this issue. No real answers in this blog, just some ruminating…

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“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.'” Luke 16:31 (NLT)

The story of Lazarus and the rich man – you all know it – Lazarus, a diseased beggar, lays at the gate of the rich man’s home “longing for scraps” from his table. He is given none. Lazarus dies and is carried to “be with Abraham.” Lazarus dies and “his soul went to the place of the dead.” The rich man is in torment and can see Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Abraham reminds him of his life and does not send Lazarus. The rich man begs that Lazarus be sent to his brothers who are still alive, to warn them to change their ways. Abraham declines, saying that the rich man’s brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them. “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins.'”  (Luke 16:30, NLT)

And that brings us to our key verse: “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.'” Luke 16:31 (NLT)

The kicker is that Jesus is the One telling the story. How heartbreaking it must have been for Jesus to utter those words knowing that his death and resurrection were imminent…that He was giving His life for people who wouldn’t listen. And yet He didn’t give in to the heartbreak, to the feeling of defeat that must have hit Him at times. Jesus was fully human and Scripture teaches that He was tempted to sin in all ways (Hebrews 4:15). That, and this story, help me to know that Jesus understands the sense of defeat I feel sometimes.

And knowing that helps me just a little, but it doesn’t take me over the mountain of defeatism when I find myself in the foothills. Getting over the mountain of defeatism requires climbing shoes. Christ was able to conquer the mountain consistently despite His knowledge of the many who would reject Him. Let’s look at two Hebrews passages for help:

From Hebrews 2: 17For this reason he [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

From Hebrews 4: 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Christ is our merciful and faithful high priest, able to atone for our sins. He understands our suffering and our temptations. We do not serve a God who does not understand our disappointments, discouragements and defeats. He understands. He has gone before us and He now sits at the right hand of God. Because of that, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence – confidence! – in the midst of our defeat.

Why approach the throne? “So that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Want to understand the Truth of the situation? Go to the throne and ask. Want to lose the defeatist attitude? Go to the throne with confidence and receive what God wants to give you to make it through the situation.

Why confidence? Because He understands, because He has demonstrated His love to us and has promised His love to us, and because it’s a throne of grace!

The question is: Where do you go when you are defeated? Do you practice escapism (television, sports, computer games, novels, etc.)? Do you get angry and lash out at others? Do you have a “take my ball and go home” attitude? Or do you go to the One who understands, sits at the right hand of God, and has grace -abundant grace – to pour out in your time of need? He’s ready and waiting. It’s your move.

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“Herod was furious when he learned that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, because the wise men had told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier.”   Matthew 1: 16

I hadn’t realized that the reason Herod killed all the boys under 2 years old was because the wise men hod told him the star first appeared to them about two years earlier. What a planner God is! He put the star in the sky for others to see and take action “about 2 years” before Jesus was born!

It is so easy for us to take the short view of history. But God takes the long view.

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