Category Archives: Surrender

Not Ashamed!

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”  Mark 8:38

We tend to think about this verse when we’re in a position to share with someone.  We tell ourselves that if we don’t open our mouth, we’re ashamed of Christ.

And that’s good.  But if we read this verse in context, it means much more.  First of all, Peter had just rebuked Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer and die.  So Jesus was telling his disciples that they shouldn’t be ashamed that he was going to take the way of disgrace and weakness.

Second, Jesus had just told his disciples that they should deny themselves and take up their cross.  So Jesus was also telling his disciples that they, themselves, shouldn’t be ashamed of taking the way of disgrace and weakness.

A few years ago I studied the Bible with a Chinese student, Lin, who became a dear friend to me.

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Lin with our friend Jack.

Lin loved God.  We had so many good times reading the Bible together and talking.

But Lin had a hard time with Jesus.  She literally said he was “weak.”

We forget what the cross looks like to an outsider.  To her, someone strong wouldn’t have died.  It wasn’t a example she wanted to follow.

What example are we not willing to follow?  Being mistreated and wronged?  Having people think badly of us?

Or maybe it’s more subtle.  Maybe it’s hard to follow Christ when things don’t feel right, or don’t make sense.  Think again of Peter.  He gave up everything to follow Christ.  But then he was queasy about the whole cross thing.  Don’t we get queasy too?  We start saying in our heart, “That isn’t the way it is supposed to go.”  We draw lines, “Following Jesus doesn’t mean going that far.”  Or we do follow, but we do it on our own terms.  Or we follow, but inside, we’re grumbling and resisting.

Isn’t that also being ashamed?  We’re not putting our heart behind Jesus and his mission.

I’m really convicted by the way Jesus followed God in “weakness.”

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Jesus followed God in submission.  He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:19)  And also, “I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49)

Jesus told us, “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matt 11:29)

Wow. Do you think of Jesus being so submissive to God that he likened it to wearing a yoke?   I haven’t ever led a team of oxen, but I have been on a horse.  A bridle on is similar to a yoke.  They both involve someone else being in control.

When I’ve ridden horses, I notice that they don’t like someone being in control of them.   One time, when I was young, I was riding a little pony named Sweet Tarts.  Sweet Tarts decided he didn’t like where I was going.  He wanted to go back to the barn.  He ran away with me and rode me straight into a chest high line of barbed wire.  I grabbed onto the wire and slid off the back of the horse.  I still have a tiny scar on my hand.

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Don’t have a picture of me on Sweet Tarts, but here is me getting my first taste of riding!

Well, like the saying goes, if you fall off a horse, you get right back on.  I rode many times after that and stayed in better control.  But the horses still fought me at times.

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Riding with my daughter. Sorry it’s from behind!

But isn’t that what we’re like?  We submit to God and let him be in control, but sometimes we buck a bit, or want to go in a different direction.

I asked my aunt, who has lived all of her on a ranch with horses, if she had horses that didn’t fight her.  She said she most certainly did.  They key was that she worked with them regularly. Then they came to a point where they wanted to please and do as she asked.

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My Aunt Ruth preparing to ride her horse in a parade.

Spending time with the master makes all the difference!  The more we spend time with God, the more we will trust him and want to follow.

Do you know why I think Jesus said his yoke was easy?  Because he didn’t fight God.  He trusted God with his whole heart, and let God do the directing.

Let that be a lesson for us.  We know the one who is holding the reins.  He is a good master.  He has taken care of us and shown his love in so many ways.  We can relax, even through he is leading us in the valley of death.  We can take the way of weakness and disgrace.  We can stay the path, even when  it feels wrong.

One more thing here.  My aunt did tell me that there were some horses that never quit fighting her.  “I just got rid of them and got another one,” she told me.

Yikes.  Does that say something about God, if we keep being hard headed?

I want to close with a story of my friend Misha.

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Misha’s dream is to coach softball.  But it’s hard to find that kind of position.  She started substitute teaching to make ends meet.  This led to a wonderful thing.  The school system hired her to work part time teaching coding to middle schoolers, and then to be an assistant coach for their high school softball team.  It was a dream come true!  It was even more a dream come true when the school system created a full time position with benefits for her the following year.

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Misha coaching the Phenix City High School softball team.

But the dream came with challenges.  Misha was teaching 300 students a day, a different class every 30 minutes.  She felt like she was drowning.  She asked herself, “Is there a way I can do this and not grumble, but find joy?”

Misha wrestled with this, and found spiritual strength through her Bible and her relationships.  She continued to be a light to her students, giving to them and encouraging them, and the administrators took notice.  She was named the Teacher of the Month for October.  They voted for her to receive the “I Make a Difference Award.”  And then they awarded her with STEM Teacher of the Year.

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Misha receiving the “Lets Make A Difference” Award.

“I am now content with where God wants me to be,” said Misha.  “Seeing these kids strive to do good things, being able to make an impact, that makes it worth it,” she said.  “Now I can see God’s plan a lot better.  I’m grateful God has allowed me to go through all of that.”  (If you’d like to read the complete version of Misha’s story, click HERE.)

Misha is a great example of someone who fought to follow God wholeheartedly.

Let’s wrestle to not be ashamed of Jesus on any level.  Let’s take the way of weakness and disgrace without grumbling.  And let’s learn to be joyfully submissive.

May the words of the old hymn, Blessed Assurance, inspire us:

Perfect submission, all is at rest; 

I in my Savior am happy and blessed

Watching and waiting, looking above;

Filled with his goodness, lost in his love. (From Blessed Assurance)

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But I’m Trying So Hard!

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 

He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’  . . .  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  Mark 7:1-2, 5-7, 9

I’m the “Pharisee” in our family.   I feel like you have to go by the rules.  For example, when I bike, I always wear a helmet and stop at the stop signs.

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Biking in Albuquerque

When Ken and I bike around Auburn, there’s this one place where you are not supposed to make a left turn, but instead make a long detour.  That might be fine if you’re in a car, but it’s a drag when you’re riding a bike.  I’ve seen bicyclists make the left turn anyway.  But I’m so legalistic, I have to stop, and walk my bike across the intersection to make sure I’m not disobeying the sign.

What were the real Pharisees like? They were the party of Jews who ministered to the common people.  Their thing was keeping a set of oral laws in addition to keeping the written laws.  They believed that Moses gave oral laws that told people how to apply the written law.  These oral laws were handed down from generation to generation, and were just as binding as the laws of the Old Testament.

And one of the oral laws was that you had to wash your hands in a prescribed way before you ate.  According to my research, if you were going to eat the ceremonial offering, you were supposed to wash your hands all the way up to your elbow.  If you ate with an individual, you would wash your fingers.

This went much further than the written law, which only listed one short verse about the washing of hands: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  (Lev. 15:11)

But it does seem like a good idea.  Modern science tells us that it is certainly hygienic.  And the Pharisees were trying to be zealous.  They were trying to ensure that everyone would be sure to be obedient to the scriptures.  You would think God would like people to expend all this effort to try and please him.

Instead, Jesus let us know that God was highly displeased.  Something had gone way wrong.  His people had gotten to the point where their focus was on following on their traditions instead of following the commands of God.

Isn’t this what can happen with all of us, that our focus gets off of God and onto man?

We think we are serving God in a better way, but our gaze subtly changes to our own efforts and plans.

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Ultimately, we can get so wrapped up in seeking to DO things for God that we don’t seek to KNOW God.

Last weekend I hosted my daughter and a young woman who was one of her best friends while she was growing up.

 

It was a wonderful visit.  We shared a lot of memories, and it reminded me of the highs and lows of raising children.

You know, I thought I could do all of the right things and my kids would make the right choices.   I came up with all of these plans and implemented them.

But in their teen years, things still went south.

I confess, I was angry and discouraged.  I had tried so hard to do the right things.  Why didn’t that work?

But then I felt like the Spirit taught me that God didn’t want me to rely on my plans, even though they included many good things. If I did, I would think that success was due to following the plans.  God wanted me to, instead, completely rely on him, and know that success would only come from that.

God wanted me to seek to KNOW him.  And that is what I started doing.  I stopped thinking that I knew what I should be doing, and instead, like a desperate beggar, prayed, each day, that he would give me the wisdom and insight to know what I should do that day.   I lived by the verse, “Your grace is sufficient.

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And every day his grace was sufficient.  He supplied what I needed to raise my teens.  (By the way, my kids are awesome!)  I’m still learning to apply this today.

What is a Pharisee?  Let me tell you about something scatterbrained I did last week.  I vacuumed the whole house, and I was so intent on watching where the vacuum needed to go that I didn’t notice that the canister was missing.  I hadn’t replaced it after I emptied it.  I vacuumed everything, but all the dust went right back into the air!

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That’s what being a Pharisee is like.  We get so intent on doing things for God that we forget the component that makes it all work.

That component is understanding God.  It’s learning, day by day, to have his heart.

We’re trying so hard!  Let’s make sure our efforts are taking us closer to God, and not further away.

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  Jer 9:23-24

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Psalm 35 — Learning to be Needy

“Contend, LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.”

That’s how David started Psalms 35.  It’s so encouraging to think that we have a god who will get personally involved in our struggles.  We NEVER have to fight alone.  If we ask, God will be right there at our side, fighting with us.

And that means a lot to me, because I can feel alone as I struggle with depression, health challenges, insecurities and concern for loved ones.

The dictionary definition of fight reads: “to take part in a violent struggle involving the exchange of physical blows or the use of weapons.”

That was certainly what David was involved in, and wanted of God in Ps 35 —

Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. . .

May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away . . .

may ruin overtake them by surprise– may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.

But it doesn’t sound like my life.  I have trials, but I’m not in a smack down.

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And then again, I am.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms..” (Eph 6:10)

There’s a grueling battle going on that Satan wants me to ignore. Behind the scenes, he is constantly plotting, constantly working destruction.

And I tend to coast through life, oblivious.  I mean, I know I’m going through some challenges, but I  forget that I’m under attack at the heart level.

I don’t see the lies and deceptions, which are Satan’s main weapons.

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I don’t see the way Satan warps my desires and thinking.

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  II Peter 2:11

It’s easy to see some of the desires I shouldn’t have.  I know not to be selfish, like this:

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But other things are harder to identify.  Like this:

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These are some of the harmful desires that trick me:  wanting personal glory, to be in control, to please people, to be comfortable, to avoid conflict, and to be perfect.  Ack!  I think I’m doing good, until I take a magnifying glass to my heart and realize how much these desires are tangled in my motivations, taking me in the wrong direction.

So I’m trying to focus on good desires instead:  wanting God to be glorified, his will to be done, to love him and make him smile.

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Another good desire is the desire to see and hear God.  That’s what David asked for in verse 3, “Say to me, ‘I am your salvation.’”

David knew God had his back, but sometimes he needed reassurance.  We’re all that way.  Wouldn’t it be great if, right now, God put a hand on either side of our face, looked us in the eye and told us straight out, “I am your salvation.  Calm down.  I’ve got this.”

But we don’t see or hear that reassurance as often as we’d like.  Because, just like Satan, God often works behind the scenes.

I read a great story recently on Facebook.  A sister in Brazil named Taraneh Matos shared that when she became a disciple, her father was very much against it.  He cut her off, and it was heartbreaking.  She prayed for their relationship to be restored.  One day she was looking through some old photographs, and saw a picture of her dad running in a race.  Running next to him was a man in a HOPE worldwide tee shirt. (HOPE is an organization associated with our fellowship of churches.)

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Taraneh cried, and was tremendously encouraged.  She related why in her post, “Often God is working on things even before we ask- we are just not there to take a picture of all those moments.

How many times is the same true for us?  How many times is God working on things, but we’re not there to take a picture? How many times is God running alongside us, or alongside a loved one? I would say a lot!! (Taraneh’s father did come around, and their relationship is better.  Yay!)

God is with us, working and fighting on our behalf, and we really want to know this.  Because we start to see that we’re in over our heads.  David knew that, in the physical battle he was fighting, he couldn’t overcome by himself.  The same is true for us in the spiritual battle.

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:19, 24)

We have to realize how wretched and desperate we are.  Look at what David said in Ps. 35 that he would do when victory came:

My whole being will exclaim,

“Who is like you, Lord?

You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,

the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

David had been anointed king.  He was a war hero.  Yet he identified himself as poor and needy.

Should we not be the same way?  Look at what Jesus said in Revelation 3:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  Rev 3:17

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So this is what I’ve been working on this week.  I’m reminding myself that I am poor in spirit.  I don’t have to pressure myself to be strong.  I just come to God as a beggar, admitting my weakness, and asking him for strength.

I’m realizing that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I need God for so much more than strength and overcoming temptation.  I need his guidance and direction.  I need his Spirit to fill me with love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.  I need his wisdom. I need forgiveness.  I need connection with him.  I need him to provide for my physical needs.  I need him to watch over my loved ones.

Others need him, but they don’t realize it, so I need him to help me pray for them, reach them, and serve them. I need him to work in the world to bring justice and peace, to help the sick, the poor and the oppressed.  I need his will to be done.

The cool thing is that becoming poor in spirit is helping me to do things with a better motivation.  Because serving God had become about performance, and that meant it was about ME and my efforts.

Now it’s more about God, looking to him always.

I have a long way to go.  I forget often.

And, or course, that’s what Satan wants.  He wants us to forget how much we need God.  He wants us to forget about the invisible smack down.  He wants us to forget that God is with us, and will fight for us.

Let’s help one another to remember!

Let’s increase our neediness.

Because the more we need HIM and not SELF, the more we get out of the way, the more God can work and fight on our behalf.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6

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Psalm 54 – Self Reliant or God Reliant?

Appreciating Psalm 54 is all about knowing what was happening when it was written.  The notes for the psalm explain that it was written, “When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”

So we have to read about David’s encounter with the Ziphites.  This story is in the last part of I Samuel 23, but we can get an even better picture of what’s going on by reading the whole exciting chapter!  I know, I know.  You’re short on time.  I’ll summarize it for you.

David at this point is with a group of about 600 men who have thrown in their lot with him.  They are playing a deadly game of hide and seek with Saul and his army.  And then David hears that the Philistines are raiding one of the Jewish border towns, Keilah,and stealing their grain.

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Man from Kielah entreating David to help.

David has such an awesome heart.  He wants to take his band of men and rescue the people of Kielah.  But his guys are like, “What?  We’re quaking in our boots because Saul’s army is breathing down our necks, and you want to take on the whole Philistine army?”  So David consults the Lord, twice, and the Lord assures him that he will totally win.

Thus they engage in a skirmish with the Philistines.  David’s forces pound them and free the town of Kileah. Yay!

Of course, just as his men feared, this puts David on Saul’s radar.  Saul’s rubbing his hands together with glee, thinking, “Ha!  I have David in a walled in city now.  Now I can finally get him!”

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Walled in city

Saul sends his army in that direction.  David realizes Saul is coming, and knows this will put the people of Kielah in a dicey situation.  Will they stand with him, or give him over to their king?  He asks the Lord, and the Lord lets him know it’s time to cut and run.  So David and his men manage to slip away before Saul’s army arrives.  They hightail it to the hill country of Ziph.

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The hills of Ziph — a pretty hostile environment!

Foiled, Saul’s army keeps looking for David to no avail, because God is helping David out.  But then the residents of Ziph betray David, and clue Saul in to David’s location.  Armed with this new information, Saul closes in on David.  He’s on one side of the mountain and David’s on the other.  It seems like it’s all over.  David will finally be captured.  And then, just in the nick of time, Saul gets an urgent message that he has to go fight the Philistines.  So he and his army exit the area.  Whew!

Here’s the first half of the psalm David wrote when he was going through all of this:

Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!

Defend me with your might.

Listen to my prayer, O God.

Pay attention to my plea.

For strangers are attacking me;

violent people are trying to kill me.

They care nothing for God.

Can’t you just pictures the situation from what David says here?  He’s like, “Please help me, God.  And I’m going to need you to bring the big guns because I’m in this barren desert place, and it’s not just Saul and his army who are after me, now the local bad guys, who don’t even know me, are against me!”

Psalms 54 goes on:

Surely God is my help;

the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Let evil recoil on those who slander me;

in your faithfulness destroy them.

I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;

I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.

You have delivered me from all my troubles,

and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes

Notice how proactive David believes God will be.  God is the one who will help him, defend him, deliver him, sustain him, and destroy the enemy.  Not once does David ask God for the ability to do these things himself.  He believes God will do them.

In the end David says his eyes have looked in triumph on his foes. He could have been remembering past victories given by God.  But I like to think David wrote this at the end of the present story.  I envision his scouts coming and reporting, “We can’t figure it out, but Saul’s army is headed the other way.  They’re leaving.”

David does a fist pump. “Yes! Praise God!” And he turns and shouts to the hills, as if the people of Ziph can hear him, “Hey, chumps.  You thought you were going to mess with me, but you were messing with the Lord!  You picked the wrong side!”

It’s fun to think about, but whatever happened, we know that David gave God the total glory.   He attributed victory to the Lord, and exalted him.

So here are four things we can take away from this story and psalm:

Pray before taking action.  When we’re making decisions about which way to go, we need to remember to first pray about it and ask God for guidance.

Be God reliant, not self reliant.  David didn’t depend on his own wisdom or power.  He put all his eggs in God’s basket.  God was his resource for guidance.  God was his strategy.  God was his weapon. God was his solution.

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me. . . (Jeremiah 9:23-24a)

Deliverance often comes when things seem at their worst. David wasn’t rescued until the 11th hour.   It’s often the same for us.  I was just thinking over my life, and remembering some of the most encouraging ways God acted.  Some of the greatest things from God came on the heels of my greatest times of trial.

I have an illustration I want to share.  Last year we had some tremendous blessings in our church, but there were also some challenging times.  In the fall, several of our members who were dear friends and hard workers moved away or quit coming.  And then another church started meeting at the same hotel where we had been meeting for the past eight years.  We were happy to share our space.  But this church took up the common areas, and played loud music that invaded our services.  Loud bass was vibrating while we were trying to take communion.

It was a low point.  We saw the writing on the wall — we would have to find a new place to meet.  We prayed that we could somehow find a location that would be cheap, close to the interstate, and amenable to us bringing food for fellowships. This was a tall order!

And then, out of the blue, our women’s leader, Marge, was getting a rental car and happened to see the VFW building next door.  “I wonder if we could rent that?”  she said to  herself.  It took a lot of tracking down to find the right person to talk to, but when we did, they said they were looking for renters!

So two weeks ago we had our first service in our new location, and we loved it!

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It was warm and homey.  We had coffee and snacks as we fellowshipped.   What had seemed like a setback had turned into a new start.  Our hearts were full of gratitude to God.

And that brings me to my last point about Psalms 54 —

Give total glory to God.  When things work out, let David be our inspiration.  Let’s break out into wholehearted praise!  How can we give the credit to anyone or anything but the Lord?  It is God who gives us the victory. He will continue to do so, as we completely rely on him.  And when he does, we will lift up his name with thanksgiving.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  II Cor 2:14a

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Filed under Faith, Glory Above All, Gratitude, Psalms, Surrender

Psalm 57 — Finding Refuge

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me . . .

This is how Psalm 57 starts, which is the next psalm in the  series I’m writing on the Psalms in chronological order.  Psalm 57 was written by David when he was holed up a cave, hiding from Saul’s soldiers.

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I imagine it was real downer to be there, stuck in the dark, cut off from the world.

So as David started praying to God there, what did he pray first? Did he catalog all the ways that God should work?  No, he begged, “Have mercy on me.” He wanted this so much, he said it twice.

This challenges me!  I’ve been going nonstop since before Thanksgiving.  I have a backlog of unprocessed emotional baggage; feelings screaming for attention.  I want to whine and fill God’s ear with requests.

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But instead, what I need to do is get on my knees, put my face to the ground and remember who I am before the Lord.  The only real thing I can ask for is mercy.

Let this illustration burn into me, the one Jesus gave about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to pray:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:13-14

I am such a Pharisee!!  It’s so much about me.  I am so preoccupied with trying to  do the right thing so I can feel good about myself.  More than that, I am so focused on praying for what I think should happen.  I exude pride, not humility.

David goes on to write, “for in you I take refuge,” And then says, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

Oh, this is what my heart craves, a refuge.  But even though I know that it can be found in God, it doesn’t click.  So I’m trying to understand how David could so completely and confidently find a safe place in God.

And as I meditate on it,  I’m realizing that David wasn’t just seeing God as a haven.  He was putting his trust in the God who had a solid history of always protecting and caring for his people. Look at this passage in Deuteronomy 32 and how it describes God’s actions towards the Israelite nation:

He (God) found him (Israel) out in the wilderness,
        in an empty, windswept wasteland.
    He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him,
        guarding him as the apple of his eye.
    He was like an eagle hovering over its nest,
        overshadowing its young,
    Then spreading its wings, lifting them into the air,
        teaching them to fly.
    God alone led him;
        there was not a foreign god in sight.
    God lifted him onto the hilltops,
        so he could feast on the crops in the fields.
    He fed him honey from the rock,
        oil from granite crags . .

God is like a bird that shelters its young. That bird would also be committed to feeding its young and fiercely protecting them.

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So David knew that God felt a loving responsibility and obligation toward him.  He knew God would be there for him.  THAT is how he took refuge in God.

And that is how I can take refuge in God as well.  By learning to believe that God is faithful to me.

As the psalm goes on, it helps me to realize this.  Here is what David says next.  I’m listing several translations of this verse:

I call upon the God Most High; to the God who completes what he began in me. ISV

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. NLT

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who vindicates me. NIV

I will cry to God Most High, To God who accomplishes all things for me.  ASV

No matter which translation is correct, they all say that God would act on David’s behalf.  I love this thought.  God’s not going to just sit in heaven.  He’s going to get up and do something for his people.

What really helps my heart is knowing that it is God who is doing the work, not me.  When I work, I make a mess of things. How wonderful it is that I can come to God and know that he WILL work his good purpose in spite of my mucking about!

It reminds me of this verse:  “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6

But the thing is, for God to work, I have to first humble myself, as David did.  I have to stop thinking I know how things should be done.

I have to vacate my own refuge, my own way of trying to control and make the world safe, and make God my refuge in every way.

It’s sort of like the story of the three pigs.  I need to leave my house of sticks and go to the house of bricks!

three-little-pigs

I tend to be overwhelmed.  I think about all that’s going wrong, all that needs to change, all that needs to be done.  On one hand, I come up with plans to fix it, and on the other, I despair because my efforts seem to have bungled things.

How much I need peace!  The irony is that I need a refuge because I haven’t made God my refuge.

When will I learn that true peace comes from humility, not performance?  It comes from surrender, emptying myself before God, and having faith that he will work.

“And that is what we should seek for — to go on our faces before God until our hearts learn to believe that the everlasting God Himself will come in to turn out what is wrong, to conquer what is evil, and to work what is well-pleasing in His blessed sight.”  (Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender)

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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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Being Refined, Part II

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  Mal 3:3

My last blog was on being refined.  But there’s so much good stuff I’ve been learning.  I can’t stop with just one post!

So for this blog, I investigated how silver was refined in the olden days.    I found out it was a pretty arduous process of putting the silver ore over a blazing hot fire and keeping it there until the impurities have separated and burned away.

refining2

If that is a metaphor for how God purifies his people, it doesn’t sound like fun!

Does God refine the all of us like this, or was it just the Levites at that time in history?

In I Peter 1, Peter talked about the many “grievous trials” the first Christians endured, “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It sounds like the refining of faith through testing is a process God likes to use for Christians.

Rats.  I wish I was like James, thinking it’s great when there are challenges!  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

But more often I want to avoid the unpleasantness.  I haven’t been blogging partly because I had several bouts of depression.  When I’m depressed, I feel like a failure.   The voices of self-accusation are so loud!  It is very hard to feel like I am pleasing God.

And I’ve also been ADD.  My mind has been like a bee flitting from flower to flower, and not able to land in one place for long.   Plus, I’ve been working through the emotional fallout from some situations that upset me.

Is this refining?  It’s been making me feel like I’m becoming more unspiritual, not more spiritual!

It’s funny to me — last night we were talking at house church about the widow who gave two mites, and I saw how ironic it was that Jesus commended this woman who probably didn’t look sharp or well put together, and derided the teachers of the law who did look sharp and well put together. (Mark 12:38-44)

In my own life, I tend to think I need to feel and look like I have everything under control.  But maybe that’s not what God is seeking.

We can see what God is seeking by looking at the process of refining metal.  If God purifies us like silver, the following things are going to happen:

  1. We’re going to feel the heat! Refinement can’t happen if the temperature is just pleasantly warm.  In the same way, we’re not going to progress if it’s too easy and comfortable.  God’s going to put us right over the fire!!  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  II Cor 1:9
  2. We’re going to think it never ends. Refinement isn’t an instant chemical reaction.  It takes a good while for all of the impurities to burn away.  So we can’t expect to learn what we need to learn in a quick trial.  God works through processes.  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4
  3. We’re going to be in a controlled situation. A silversmith has to keep a constant eye on the refining process to see when the impurities are burned off, and when he needs turn off the heat.  If he exposes it to fire too long, the silver can oxygenate too much and it will be unworkable.  In the same way, God doesn’t just expose us to heat and go off and do other things, like we do with a pot on the stove.  He monitors and protects us.  He gets us through at just the right time.  “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  I Cor 10:13
  4. We’re going to get radiant!! The end product, purified silver, is so shiny, it’s like a mirror. In Ephesians 5:29 it says that Jesus gave his life so the church could be radiant. So what does it mean to be radiant?  It means we’ve quit our whining and bellyaching and started trusting God completely!  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure …Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phil 2:14-15

The upshot of this is that we start trusting God completely because the trials have made us realize the worthlessness of our own efforts and of the unspiritual things we’ve been relying on.

We’re studying the Bible right now with a woman who’s been through some really harrowing stuff in her life.  At this point in time she sees clearly that all of the things she’s been chasing are empty.  She told us that she is so sick of it all that she is ready to throw in the towel and give her life to God.

She’s going to God as the source.  That’s what I’m learning to do as well.  When I’m feeling weak, I’m seeing that I’ve got to rely more on the Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13

When I’m feeling down, I’m remembering that His grace is sufficient, and that will get me through.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” II Cor 12:9

When I have a sticky situation, instead of wracking my brain, I praying more, expecting God to help me work it out.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.  Ps 5:3

Instead of freaking out at a challenge, I’m taking a deep breath, accepting it, and asking God what he is trying to teach me.

He wakens my ear to listen like those who are being taught.  Isa 50:4

It’s true, I do feel a bit haggard and worn lately – a little like a widow with two mites myself!  But I’m learning to find peace.

I’m learning that God is the god of the broken, of those who are travel-stained and stumbling on the road.   I’m learning that God doesn’t want us to always look impressive, and be able to pat ourselves on the back.

This statement resonates with me, “We miss the gospel of God:  the good news that although the holy and all-powerful God knows we are but dust, He still stoops to breath into us the power of life – to bring to our wounds the balm of acceptance and love.” (Rich Mullins)

The gospel is that we who are dust, who feel the burden of our failings, can be healed, refined, made radiant.  It’s counter intuitive, but it is pure joy to undergo the grueling process of trials, because the end is so wonderful.

Still, the end product may not look like we think — us looking all sharp and well put together.  Instead, we become joyful beggars, exchanging our dross for riches with a loving savior who is happy to provide.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich. Rev. 3:18

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed . . . 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 4:8-9, 16-17

Good things come to those who persevere!  Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

Good things come to those who persevere! Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

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