Category Archives: Relationship with God

Finding Security in God

For the LORD has abandoned his people, the descendants of Jacob, because they have filled their land with practices from the East and with fortune-tellers like the Philistines. They have made alliances with pagans.  Isa 2:6

It is so scary to think of God leaving his people, even rejecting them, as some translations say in this passage.  I was praying through a bad mood yesterday, and it was so comforting to me to remember that God promised to always be with me.  It would be horrible to not have this.

It was horrible for King Saul.  Our Sunday school lesson for the kids this coming week is going to be how the Lord left King Saul.  As a result, Saul went mad.  He had fits of rage.  They brought David in to play the harp for him and sooth him.

And, I think of Jesus on the cross.  I think one of the hardest things for Jesus wasn’t the physical torment he endured, but that he felt abandoned.  He cried, “My God, My God.  Why have you forsaken me?”  It could be that he felt that way because he was bearing our sins, and was separated from God as a result.

I’m not worried about going in and out of my salvation, having God with me when I think I am doing good, and having God abandon me when I sin.  I do feel space between myself and God when I think I’ve messed up.  Some of that is my own difficulty in forgiving myself.  But I know believe that it is true that “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 8:1)

I do think that if I continued to sin over a long period of time, I could fall away.  “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”  Heb 10:26  But I take much comfort in the scripture, “His mercies are new every morning.” (Lam 3:23)  God’s grace is sufficient.  It is an spring that bubbles up day after day, washing me clean.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (II Cor 5:21)

Yet I think this passage teaches me that I must have a great soberness about the polluting effects of the world.  I am surrounded by all kinds of terrible influences, and I’m so used to them, and I don’t even notice them anymore.

What does God condemn his people for?  Filling their land with practices from the east.  When I researched this, I found that it refers to this passage: “Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the pattern of the altar and its model, according to all its workmanship.”  (II Kings 16:10)

The King of Judah built a foreign altar, not worshiping as God prescribed.

I am really convicted that another translation for Is. 2:6  includes the phrasing, “Because they be replenished from the east.”  The word used there does mean “filled,” but when I see the word “replenished,” it reminds me that we can feel empty, and we can find the wrong things to assuage that emptiness.  It’s so easy to do.

Here is what I find myself doing.  I keep surrounding myself with order and perfection.  I want everything to go well.  Then I feel safe and secure.  The other day, I got really grumpy at church because a couple of things went a little wonky.

This desire for perfection is a false altar.  My security and well being can only come from God.  I can’t only be happy when things are going as I think they should.  I need to be able to trust God when things are wonky!  And of course, there is much more to trust God about right now in my life than a couple of worship service items.

I have to remember the thing we stressed in last week’s Sunday School lesson, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”  (I Sam 6:17)  God doesn’t care about things looking perfect.  That is a “practice of the east.”  It is what the world does.  Let me show you this post that I recently saw on Facebook.39811111_10106277147143671_6227426464342474752_n

Poor mothers today don’t know what to do.  They feel the pressure to be perfect, but everyone has a different idea of what perfect is!  We all need to get our security from God, not how we fit in to the world.

Yes, God does want us to give him our best, and serve him with excellent.  But he wants this to come from a place of wholehearted devotion to him.  “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  (II Chron 16:9)

This morning I was having trouble sleeping, and I remembered the words of a song I wrote years ago:

Let me worship you with my whole heart today

All of my mind, strength and soul I pray.

May the distractions leave my mind.

All of the worries left behind.

‘Til in you a peace I find.

So ready, so ready, to worship you.

Let’s shake off the influences of the world and be wholly devoted to God, knowing only he will meet our needs.

It is in our seeking replenishment elsewhere that we begin to leave him.  But he will not abandon us.  Let draw closer to him instead.

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Light Bulbs, Answers and Walking with God

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.  Is 2:5

I have been doing a study of Isaiah, and I thought I would share what I am learning.

This is one of the first places in the Bible where we see the imagery of God as light.  We know that God’s appearance was radiant.  When Moses went up on the mountain to be with God and he came back down, his face was shining.

But we don’t see the analogy that walking with God is being in the light, or that God is bringing light into the world.  These are themes introduced in Isaiah.  Here are a couple of other verses about light in Isaiah.

  • The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. Isa 9  (This verse was quoted in Matthew 4:16)
  • Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.  Isa 60:1

There is a theme of darkness, and of light coming out of darkness in the early books of the Old Testament.

  • God created the universe out of darkness, and said, “Let there be light.
  • God gave the plague of darkness to the Israelites, and the Egyptians had no light for three days.  The Lord said it was, “darkness that can be felt.”  But the Israelites had light in their homes.

We do see that the word of God is seen as giving illumination.

  • Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  Ps 119:105

Of course, light is a huge theme in the New Testament.  We are familiar with verses such as these:

  • And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you: God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  I John 1:5
  • . . . the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.  Luke 1:79

God sees people as living in the darkness of sin, and that Christ came to bring the light of salvation to them.

  • This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  John 3:19

So what do we do with all of this?

I think that when God spoke these words In Isaiah 2:5 about walking in the light, he was referring back to the passage that precedes it about the mountain of the Lord coming and and how many nations would come to it, saying, “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”  Is 2:3

God was saying that it was time to start walking with the Lord, and learning his ways. I think it also means that the age was coming when God would help us to know him in a greater way.

Today, we are living out these prophesies of light.  But how much do we know God?  How much do we understand his ways?

This morning, I got a text from a Chinese friend.  I studied the Bible with her 6 or so years ago.  We got very close, but she never was able to get the story of Christ to come together for her enough in her head that she could make a commitment to him.  She kept going to church for several years, even as she moved to different locations, but it didn’t click.  Two years ago, she quit going.

But now she has started seeking God again, and this time, the light bulb is going off!  Things are making sense!

Her text said, “Every time I helped people, something changed inside of me.”

It reminds me of the verse, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31

My friend was finding out the truth that when you walk with God and his ways, you start to see the light.

What you can do this week to walk more closely with the Lord in his ways?

Because the answer to almost anything can be found by walking closer to the Lord.  We’re all confused.  We’re all stumbling around.  We need more of the illumination that is found in God!

So I want to draw closer to him, spend more time with him, “remain in him,” ask him questions, listen to his whispers.

And I want to bring the light to others more, so they can learn of God’s ways.  This is something I’ve been slacking off in, yet it is my greatest dream.

“Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  Father God, may you help us to do this more.

You must pay close attention to what [the prophets] wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place–until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.  II Peter 1:19

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Breaking My Addiction to Order

control-freak-quote

I’ve recently realized that I am addicted to order.  I so badly want things to be neat, tidy, and under control.  There’s nothing I hate so much as the feeling of chaos, that I am just bouncing around in life like a pinball; the feeling that I am powerless over a downward spiral of negative events .

Order Or Chaos Directions On A Signpost

And when I experience these feelings, what do I often do?  I turn my fear and anger inward.  I inflict hatred upon myself.

Creating order is my way of coping.  If something goes wrong, I immediately start asking myself, “What can I do?  How can I batten down that thing that’s flapping in the wind?” I want to be like the  Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike.  I so strongly believe that I need to do something to stave off chaos.

dutch-boy

It doesn’t seem like a bad plan.  But it only works until the next thing goes wrong.  It makes me angry at myself, because I can’t fix things to create the order I crave.  It places my confidence in my own efforts, and not in God.

I’ve come to realize that this pattern of thinking is a stronghold of Satan in my heart.

So I’m deciding to break down this stronghold.  It’s a familiar battle.  I’ve known for years that something is wrong, and I’ve tried to address it.   I’ve seen Christian professionals who taught me more healthy ways of thinking.  I’ve taken medications that made things not bother me so much.  I’ve learned may truths as a Christian that have been effective, and have given me peace.

But I haven’t been able to correct the root of the problem.  And that is what I am battling now.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am reading this great book, “Spiritual Discovery,” and it is helping me more than anything  ever has to identify what attitudes in me are causing the dysfunction.  I feel like I am rooting out Satan where he has been hunkered down in a slimy pit of lies, a fortified hidey hole that I haven’t been able to uncover.

In Psalms 51:6 David says to God, “Behold,  you desire truth in the inmost parts.”

This verse that resonates with me.  I’ve got to root out what I’m feeling and identify the lies.  I have to find truths that combat the deeply seated false beliefs.

What lies am I discovering?

The lie that the world should be orderly.  I live in a fallen world, full of sin and weakness.  I can’t expect it to be otherwise.

The lie that God is not in control, or that he doesn’t care enough about me to do something in my life.

The lie that everything is in a downward spiral.

The lie that chaos has the upper hand, and that God isn’t working his good and perfect will on the earth.

The lie that what seems to be failure couldn’t be a part of God’s plan.

The lie that I need perfection and order.  It’s the same thing as craving material things.  Orderliness never lasts.  It’s a terrible thing to need, because I can never be satisfied for long.

And now that I’ve identified the lies, the next step is to pinpoint the truths will be effective weapons against these untruths.

The truth that God is vastly good.

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  John 1:5b

The truth that there is hope.  God is holding my hand through the raging waters.  He will not let go because He is committed to me, because He dotes on me. He is my lifeline. He is my helper. And by His strength He will drag me out of the suction of the currents.

grip8

“he pulled me from the surging water. . .He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.” (Ps 18:16b, 19)

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Ps 139:10)

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire” (Ps 40:2)

The truth that God’s whole direction here on earth for all time was and is to reach out to me, to sacrifice for me, to make a way for me to come into his arms.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. Eph 1:4-5

The truth that there will be a heaven that is order and perfection.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  Rev 21:4

The truth that weakness can actually work in my favor.  That I actually need weakness to empty me of myself so I can be filled with HIM and transformed.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  II Cor 4:16-17

For when I am weak, then I am strong.  II Cor 12:10

I’m telling you, these truths are hard to remember sometimes!  But I want to learn to listen to God and the truths he’s trying to tell me.  I want to hear his song.

The song Joseph heard when he told his brothers, “you meant it for harm, but God meant it for good.”  The song Joshua heard when he knew he could take the promise land.  The song David heard when he faced Goliath.  The song Jesus heard in the Garden that carried him forward.

The song I begin to recognize when I’m thankful.

The song that sings, “Trust.  You are in my loving arms.  I will keep you from harm.  My hand holds you tight through the waters that sweep.  My goodness surrounds you.  My army is there.  Sshhhh, my beloved.  Be quiet.  Know that I am weaving the thread of my will through your life.”

Ah, that’s the key — finding that thread of his will in my life.   But as I said, it’s so tough to do.   The other day Ken and I were driving back from Atlanta and I was trying to find the Auburn football game on the radio.  I painstakingly switched through static, oldies, commercials, sports talk, whiny country music, pulsing R&B.   I finally found a broadcast of the game, but after 30 minutes, we got out of range.

radio-dial

That’s what it feels like to me when I try to tune into God’s will.  I have to be patient and still and sift through a lot of voices in my head until I can hear his voice.  And then through the course of the day the voice gets obscured, and I have to wrestle all over again to hear it.

But when I do, it’s so powerful.   I feel like am a part of something huge and beautiful and meaningful.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Ps 139:16

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Eph 2:10

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  Acts 17:26-27

I’m learning that faith isn’t just believing.  It’s hearing God’s voice.  It’s knowing God.  It’s tuning into his will.  It’s a deep and vibrant connection to God’s very heart.

I’m learning that the cure for my addiction to order is to find God’s better order.

And now, as my day draws to a close and the recollection of challenges I faced are like specters tormenting me,  and I feel engulfed by worry and fear and emotion, I force myself to stop and listen. I remember who God is.  I remember hope.  I remember the heroes of faith.  I remember the love that’s like a waterfall.  I remember that HIS will will carry me along and sustain me through the scariest times.

And I feel better.

When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!  Ps 142:3a

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.  Isa 42:61

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Becoming a Land of Delight

Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.  Mal 3:12

God declares here his desire to bless the Hebrew nation and make it abundantly fruitful.  This encourages me so much, because I believe he has the same dreams for us.  He wants to rain down goodness upon us so we will flourish.

But there’s a caveat.  We have to give him the fullness of our lives in order for us to experience the fullness of his goodness.  The Jews in this passage were urged to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.

I wish so deeply for people to commit more to God.  But many don’t.   They come to church services here and there.  They follow Jesus some.  And then they complain because life somehow isn’t working.  They long for a life that is really a life, but they can’t be convinced that they need to completely let go to get there.  And I want to plead with them, “Give it all to God.  Believe!  When you lose your life, you really do save your life.  You get so much more!”

Of course, this is true for disciples too.  We need to keep letting go.  We tend to start getting comfortable.  We hoard our efforts and energies.  Then we begin to feel that malaise again, not realizing that we’ve got to go back out on that limb for God.

It’s a consistent message throughout the Bible:  “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land–your grain, new wine and olive oil–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.” (Deut 7:12-13)

But people think it sounds hard and unpleasant.

I so much want to stress that pouring yourself out to God is a joyful thing, not a painful one!!  Once you make that decision to take the plunge, it feels GREAT to give your all to the Almighty, merciful God who IS love and light and all goodness.

One thing I love about Malachi 3:12 is that God says that his people, themselves, will  be a “land of delight,” not just that their land will be fruitful, although that would certainly be true.  As I wrote at the beginning of the blog, God planned for his people to be bounteously fruitful.

It reminds me of John 15, where Jesus promised his followers, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.”

And that brings me to the second thing that’s necessary to experience the fullness of God’s blessings.  Once we give our all to him, we need to remain close to him.

I love how Leviticus 26 expresses that fruitfulness is associated with obedience and God’s nearness: “Do not make idols. . . If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands. . . I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.  I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  Lev. 26

The Hebrews had a time when God’s presence was with them in a tabernacle or temple.  Today, it is so amazing that we as disciples can come into the very presence of God, the presence that in times past only the high priest could enter once a year. As the writer of Hebrews declares, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19)

But are we utilizing this great resource?  Are we appreciating the closeness of God?  Do we drink it in?  “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.”  (Heb 6:7)

I listened to a great lesson this week by Robert Carillo.  He talked about the importance of connecting with God, not just learning about him.  The Hebrew word for knowing, “yada,” doesn’t mean intellectual knowledge.  It means knowing through experience, like you do when you have a relationship with someone.

That’s how we need to know God.

Do we reach out and connect with him throughout our day?  Because the more we do, the more we will naturally grow into the glorious creation God made us to be.  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”  II Cor 3:18

Our souls are hardwired to be fertile soil, and God can supply all we need to produce a wonderful crop.

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This is my peach tree.  It is FULL of peaches this year!  And this picture was taken after we picked a bunch!

But my tree didn’t just automatically get full of fat sweet peaches.  There are some things that helped it to happen.  We pruned it back last year.  Our neighbor cut down their huge Bradford Pear tree that stole our tree’s sunshine.  We didn’t have a late frost this year.  I thinned the peaches while they were small, so the ones that remain will grow larger and sweeter.

It’s the same for us.  God has designed us to be fruitful.  But there are some things that need to happen.  We need to do our part.

We need to get rid of the things that keep us from giving our all and being close to God.  I think of my daughter, Celeste, who rearranged her life so she would have more time for church and personal devotionals.  I think of my friends, Markeya and Antoinette, who shared at midweek service about how they are using the scripture to battle negative thoughts and attitudes.  I think of my friend Paulette, who was so joyful and radiant this week.  She’s been off of work and spending a lot of time in the Bible, and you can SEE the difference it makes.  (I’m not advocating for people to quit their jobs.  I’m just pointing out that making time for God pays off!)

We need to die to self more completely, and in doing so, plant seeds that will receive his spark of life.  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  (John 12:24-25)

We need to stay connected with him.

And one more thing, which has helped me a lot this week.  We need to TRUST in his goodness. 

I have felt discouraged sometimes this week.   I’ve also been in a situation that is like a rock in my shoe.  It constantly chaffs me.

And the source of strength and encouragement for me through this has been my belief that God is good.  When I remember that, it is like water that invigorates a wilting plant.

My empowering verse for this week has been: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  I Peter 2:23

It is so amazing that Jesus could be in a situation where it seems like everything is going wrong, yet he completely gives himself into God’s hands.  He trusts entirely that God will take care of it.  In the moment it doesn’t LOOK at all like God is good, but Jesus still KNOWS it is true.

That is what we do when things don’t seen to go as they should.  We put our faith in God’s goodness, even though we don’t see it.  Look at these verses:

  • Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD will be renewed. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and won’t become weary. They will walk and won’t grow tired.  Isa 40:31
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Heb 11:1

These verses don’t speak of God’s tangible blessings.  No, it is in the midst of our scarcity that we are to hope with confidence.  And that energizes us.

We believe in the promise of Malachi 3:12, which is also expressed in so many other verses.  We believe that he wants us to thrive and be radiant.  And thus we give our little spindly sprout of a life to him, and in his time, he fulfills his promise of bloom and bounty.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.” Isa 62:4

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Filed under Discipleship, Faith, Malachi, Relationship with God, Surrender

Peace in the Striving to Give Our Best

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 1:6-9

What does it mean to give our best to God?  This passage paints a very emphatic picture of the importance of giving our first fruits, and how it is seriously wrong it is to offer less than our best to God.

My problem is that passages like these can be a guilt trap for me, a snare of legalism. I can start thinking that I need to be giving more to God. And it is true. We really do need to make every effort to enter through the narrow door.  We need to work as if working for the Lord.

But we can’t get on the performance roller coaster, and feel up or down, or that we’re doing well or poorly, because of how we are giving to the Lord at that particular time.

So how can we be motivated to be excellent, and still find peace? How do we find contentment if we are constantly striving to do better?

Maybe one way is to simply accept our lot as servants.

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’  Luke 17:10

There’s something beautiful and fulfilling about pouring ourselves out for the one we love. As the hymn says, “His service is our sweetest delight.”

Another way is to just focus on loving God. If I direct my thoughts and heart to loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, a wonderful feeling washes over me, and I cease my unrest.

But what I want to talk about most here is the peace that God supplies.  To address this subject, I want to remind everyone that God’s heart for  his people is one of “hesed:” which means “covenant loyalties.” In the Old Testament, we can see how the Lord stuck with His people over and over again, acting on their account, having patience with them, meting out consequences for their stubborn waywardness, but then bringing them back to Him once again.

So Malachi reflects one of God’s last prophetic expression of hesed.  He is basically saying, “I’ve been committed to you, but have you been committed to me?”  After a history of rescuing them, God has now  brought his people out of Babylonian captivity, back to Jerusalem. They should be overflowing with thanks, ready to serve Him wholeheartedly.  But instead, they bring Him diseased offerings.

Doesn’t this sound like all of us? God has done so very much for us.  But we can’t seem to reciprocate in kind.

This quote by Douglas Coupland really resonates with me: “Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

I relate to this quote because I also reach the point where I can’t do the things I want to do.

It’s such an irony. We must give our best to God, our first fruits. Yet we are like the Israelites, who continually sink back into blind selfishness and only give a pittance.

And then we need God to help us give.

I want to share a story from this past weekend. Ken and I went down to visit an old high school friend who was having a hard time and needed some encouragement.  Many years ago, Ken baptized this friend, but after a short time, the friend left the Lord. We hoped to be able to rekindle some spark of this friend’s faith.

I wanted so much to be a light for this friend, to show Christ by my life.  But instead I felt like a rusty sputtering machine, like all my gears weren’t working, and my spirituality just wasn’t flowing.

We had this awesome church in mind where we wanted to take our friend Sunday morning.  But it didn’t work out for us to go there, and we had to settle for taking him some place else.  And on Sunday morning, as I was feeling uneasy about the way things were going, I felt in the Spirit that it would be great for our friend to hear the story of the Prodigal Son, and I prayed  that the sermon message would be on the Prodigal Son.

Lo and behold, the message WAS on the Prodigal Son!  It gave Ken and I a great springboard to share with our friend, and talk to him about his faith.

You see, the point of all this is that when our offering to the Lord seems paltry, God steps in and makes up the rest.  He makes it clear to us that He is bigger than our efforts, and we can trust His working.

The Malachi passage above would be feel hopeless to me, except for one little verse, “Now plead with the Lord to be gracious to us.”  In our insufficiency, we can always petition for the sufficiency of His grace.

So in conclusion, we really DO need to strive to give God our best.  The prophet Malachi makes it very clear.  Every day we must renew the determination in our heart to be excellent. We must remind ourselves that He has been lovingly committed to us, and reciprocate.

But we must also remember that every day we will fall short.

And because God loves us dearly and fiercely, He’s not letting go of us when fall short. Instead, He expands His goodness to cover our lack.

We find peace in the realization that God fills in the gaps between our inadequacies.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Filed under Grace, Make Every Effort, Malachi, Peace, Relationship with God, Uncategorized

Being Centered

vine and branches

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.  Mark 12:28-34.

What’s the most important thing to do?  We ask ourselves that every day.   Is it the housework, the job, bringing in more money, preparing for retirement, doing community service, taking care of our family, getting our children to do well?  Our competing priorities whirl in our heads, and we just go forward, putting out the next fire.

Jesus says here that what is most important is to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor.

But what does that look like, practically?  Being regular in church attendance?  Trying to live a good life? Reading our Bible? Remembering to touch base with a friend? Having a neighbor over for dinner?  Volunteering at the food bank?

And how do we fit that into our lives when we have a demanding job, a family to raise, classwork to complete, a house to take care of, errands to run . . . not to mention a body to keep in shape!

I think the answer is in learning to be centered in God.

I’ve been reading John 15.  It basically states the same concept, that the most important things are to love God and our neighbor.  But Jesus words it here like this:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you” and “Love each other as I have loved you.” (v. 4, 12)

Remaining is being centered.  See how Jesus describes it:

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. . .

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. . . . .

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .

This is my command: Love each other.” 

When we are centered in Christ,  it’s our lifeblood to be connected to Him.  And then we are LOVED, and we LOVE.  It’s all bound up together.

Being centered is  like breathing.  We inhale Him as our sustenance. We exhale into meaningful action.

And when we are not centered, all our efforts, all the things we accomplish, are for nothing.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Being centered is fruitful.  It is life giving.

I read a great article on the Sabbath by John Mark Comer on how the Sabbath was created to center and revive us:

“The Sabbath has a life-giving ability to procreate — to fill the world up with life. No matter how much you love your job or fine-tune your work/ life balance, by the end of the week, you’re tired. Your fuel cells are on empty. But rest refills us — with energy, creativity, vision, strength, optimism, buoyancy, clarity, and hope.”

This is a great concept.  But I would take it one step further.  Having a relationship with God, having unity with Christ, having fellowship with the Spirit, brings rest, and can refill us continuously throughout the day.

We remember God.  We make space for Him in our heart.  And in that place, the Spirit bubbles up in us.  We are refreshed.  We are inspired.

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John 7:37

So here are a few practical ways I’ve found to be centered:

  • Take a deep breath and remember Christ is in your heart.  Hold him close and dear.  Do this many times a day.
  • Pray for strength and guidance often.  It’s amazing how often I try to gut it out, instead of doing this.
  • Spend time on your knees.  Be quiet before Him.  After awhile, everything will fall into perspective.
  • Read through Bible verses, or recall verses you’ve memorized.  It feels like the scales are falling off of your eyes.  You remember what is good and true.
  • Go out into nature, smell the flowers.  You will see God’s face.
  • Listen to music that moves you spiritually.  It communicates deep truths.
  • Express your thanks to God in specific ways.  It’s amazing to me how helpful it is to keep a gratitude list and add to it daily.
  • Slow down and focus on each person as if they are the most important thing in the world.

This past weekend I wasn’t feeling well.   When I awoke Sunday morning in lowness of spirit, I went outside to lift my heart to God.   It was so comforting to stand in the back yard, listening to the hushed rush of the wind among the trees, feeling the damp cool air of fall, and thank God for what He has given me.  I didn’t want to petition Him for anything.  I just wanted to think of each person I love, each blessing I’ve received, and thank God for them.

I went back inside and read John 15.

And then I went to church.  This time, instead of  darting from person to person and thing to thing, I  immersed myself in the importance of each person.  And I felt the solid truth of it.  This was more vital than any “burnt offering,” than any of the busy tasks I could set myself to do to serve God.

I felt energy well up within me.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  John 15:11

Being centered brings joy and life on the inside.  It replenishes us in the places we’ve been depleted.

It is something we can do all through the day, no matter how busy we are.

It is how we live out what is most important.

It is the way we were designed, to be connected to God, and fruitful through Him.

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Filed under Mark, Peace, Relationship with God

Mind boggling!! Faithful in Relationships (Part 3)

God is committed to us.  We’ve been studying it, and it is rock solid true.

I can’t stop talking of it, and finding examples.  Chris Lucy did communion on Sunday and talked about Hosea.  What a fantastic illustration of God’s commitment to his people!  God told Hosea to marry an adulterous woman as a symbol of how God will be faithful to the adulterous nation, Israel.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

That is just amazing.  Anyone would think that Hosea should dump his wife for good, and yet he takes her back after she has been unfaithful over and over again.  The Israelites sinned against God time and time again, yet He was faithful to His relationship with them.

This is how He was faithful:  He PROVIDED a way for the relationship to endure.

As it says in Isaiah 59:16 about God,  “…he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him.

Through Jesus, God himself rescued Israel when she was mired in squalid unfaithfulness.

And at the same time He made available a rescue for all of us.  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Because that is who God is.  Look at Ps 40:1-3  I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He pulled me out of a horrible pit, out of the mud and clay. He set my feet on a rock and made my steps secure. He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

God hears.  He is moved to the depths of his heart.  He cannot but act.

“I called on the LORD in my distress. I cried to my God for help. He heard my voice from his temple, and my cry for help reached his ears.  Then the earth shook and quaked. Even the foundations of the mountains trembled. They shook violently because he was angry. . . He reached down from high above and took hold of me. He pulled me out of the raging water.” (Ps 18)

You know, everyone loves Jeremiah 29 because of the passage, I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.”

But do we see this passage as a picture of God’s faithfulness in relationships?  Even though He would allow Israel to go into captivity, He would bring his people out again and shower them with abundant prosperity. “This is what the LORD says: When Babylon’s 70 years are over, I will come to you. I will keep my promise to you and bring you back to this place.”  Jer 29:10

And then it would be as Zephaniah prophesied: The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph  3:17)

Like the father of the prodigal son, God can’t wait to CELEBRATE his relationship with us. That relationship means everything to Him.

God is RIGHTEOUS. He won’t let us down.  He sticks to us like glue.  He will rescue us, even when we don’t deserve it.  He will answer our prayers.

Just let the immensity of that, and what it means for you, sink in for a moment.

And let it change your outlook, and your day.

 

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Relationship with God, Righteousness