Category Archives: Surrender

Losing the Crown, Finding Jesus

“You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” (John 5:29)

This red letter passage paints a picture of people who are very diligent in their efforts to live righteously.  I see them approaching scriptural reading like they’re doing a doctoral study, devoting much time, memorizing large swatches of it, pondering and debating, seeking to learn.

Yet when Jesus comes, they miss him.  It’s so crazy.  It’s like when you’re looking for something all over the house,and someone says, “There it is, right there,” and you barely look, and insist, “Naw, that’s not it,” and keep searching.

It’s stupefying that the Jews couldn’t see the very thing they were looking for.  How did this happen?  Jesus gave this answer, “How can you believe if you accept glory from one another, yet do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” 

The Jews wanted the wrong kind of glory.  They wanted to look good, and feel good about themselves.  And this blinded them, because their eyes were on one another and themselves, instead of God.  

How can we avoid the same mistake? How do we seek the glory that comes from God?  I love this verse in Romans, “A man is a Jew because he is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise does not come from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:29)

We seek the right kind of glory when we make the daily decision to circumcise our hearts to God.  We don’t try to figure out how we can straddle the world and our faith.  We completely devote ourselves to him.  

How can we tell if we’re seeking glory from men or from God?  By looking at our inner fuel tank.  Self glorification depletes us.  It never works for long.  We have to keep finding ways to give ourselves props.  We get tired, discouraged and burned out.

I see this when I look at myself.  I journaled what I was feeling at the beginning of this week: “Why try?  It’s going to fail.  It’s useless.”

I’m haven’t been completely down.  I just have this sense of gloom and doom that manifests from time to time. It’s kind of like the hitchhiking ghosts at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyworld.  You’re going along, and all of a sudden you see there’s a ghoul riding with you.  And it’s not endearing like the picture below!

But I think one reason I’m gloomy and depleted is because I’m trying to get everything to measure up to my own expectations.  And then it’s about me.  I’m just like the Jews.  I’m having these great devotional times every day.  But I’m missing it. 

I’m wrestling with life, instead of finding the life that’s in Jesus.

You know, when we’re completely devoted to God, we have the mindset of a doting servant.  It makes our hearts happy to give ourselves to him in service, because he is everything.  It’s not about us, and our efforts. 

It’s about his glory.

It’s so crazy.  We miss the jaw-dropping splendor of God, because we’re too busy trying to put our own sparkle on. 

Our job is to put God’s sparkle on.  Period.  The only way we are to shine is as God’s creation, and as Christ shines through us.

And I have one more thing to say about having a heart that’s devoted to God.  The literal translation of the word, “inwardly” in Romans 2:29 is “secretly.”  We’re to be devoted to God in a hidden way, not in a way to be seen by others.  It’s a special intimacy, just between God and us.

That’s not that we’re to keep our mouth closed about our faith.  The Bible is clear that we must speak out the truth, and be bold.  

But it has to start with something that feels like a private worship closet experience, free from distractions and temptations, so we can SEE Jesus better. 

We find Jesus when we take our eyes off of ourselves.

Here’s my prayer for today:  Father, I am your servant.  I go to the hidden place and worship, where it’s just me bowing at your feet. I take off every bit of the crown I’ve been creating for myself.  Instead, I want my actions to polish your beautiful crown.  Let all my joy be in loving you and serving you.  Let me hear Christ’s voice, and not the other loud insistant voices.  Let me find the power of the resurrection life that can transform the impossible situations.  Let me have hope, instead of gloom and doom. Thank you for every way you have blessed me, guided me, and taught me all through my life.  In Jesus name, Amen.

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Filed under John, Red Letter, Servanthood, Surrender

Thirsty

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.”  John 4:13

Yesterday, I got in a terrible funk.  A couple of things happened that filled my heart with sadness, and once I was in the emotional swamp, it just got worse and worse.  I began to feel like everything was failing, or was going to fail.  I couldn’t get on top of it.

My natural instinct was to try to control the world around me more.  So I tried to think of things I could change, so I could get some positive momentum going.  But nothing was working.  Everything felt overwhelming.  Ugh!

I was drinking the wrong water.  The water of being in control.

I just finished reading the story of the Israelites and the golden calf.  Moses stayed up on the mountain for so long, they weren’t sure that he was going to come back.  So they said to Aaron, “Come, make us gods who will go before us.”  And Aaron created an idol and they all had a festival and worshipped this idol. (Exodus 32)

This all seems pretty reprehensible, and even ludicrous.  After all God had done, how could they just worship something that was so obviously man made?

But then I remember how I was thinking yesterday.  “I’ll feel better , if I can just tweak my schedule.  If I can just do this right.  If I can just keep all the balls in the air.” I most certainly was trying to fashion an idol, something that I could create that would meet my needs.

So today, I cry out, “God, meet my needs for connection.  Meet my needs to have quality time with family.  Meet my needs to be productive.  Meet my need to do something worthwhile with my time, and not just spin my wheels.  Meet my need for self worth.”

I am so thirsty.  And I’ve been drinking from the wrong place.

Today, let me stay a in kneeling position at the pool of water that satisfies.  Let me admit my deep needs, and not try to meet them myself.

As I write this, I’m looking outside at my sprinkler, which is scattering drops of water that sparkle in the sun onto my new grass.  The birds are flitting in to pick morsels from my bird feeder.  My heart is happy watching this.

Surely, God’s heart delights in taking care of me in the same way.

watering

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” Isa 55:1-2

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:19

 

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Filed under John, Red Letter, Strength in God, Surrender

Clearing Out Self

When the Jewish Passover was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts He found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and money changers seated at their tables.  So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those selling doves He said, Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.(John 2:13-17)

Here’s a model of what Jerusalem looked like in Jesus’s time.  The temple is in the foreground.

temple

I can picture how excited someone would be who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  I can see them anticipating being physically close to God, because back then, the Lord resided in the Most Holy Place at the temple.  As they approached, they would see the temple gleaming the sunlight, high up on a hill.  How their hearts would thrill!

Contrast this with what Jesus found.  As he entered the temple, the courts were teaming with vendors and money changers who were clamoring for attention.  There wasn’t a sense of reverence and communion, but instead, of profiteering.  The sacred act of worship had become a transaction.

Jesus saw greed.  He would preach later, “No one can serve two masters. . . you cannot serve both God and money.”  (Matt 6:24)  People were serving the master of money.  Idolatry was thriving in the very temple where people went to be with God!

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

Here are some practicals we can take away from this red-letter statement by Jesus.

Make church about God, not about us.   Not long ago, my small group read Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Churches.  In it he talked about how churches are now structured around a consumer model. “We are actually ruining people by making them consumers,” Chan said in an interview.  “Because you’re supposed to be turning them into servants.  We don’t come to be served.  We serve and give our lives as a ransom for many. It’s at the core of what we understand it means to follow Jesus Christ.  And we’ve twisted it and it’s evil.”

Do we make church about us, and our needs?  Or do we come with a pure motivation, seeking to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and giving ourselves as a living sacrifice?

Make our private devotionals a time of reverence and communion.  Today, we are the temple where the Holy Spirit resides. (I Cor 6:19)  The question is, are we coming to the temple in the same way the worshippers of old would come to the temple? Are we excited to connect with the seed of God that is within us, which helps us connect with the God who cannot be contained? Do we realize how amazing it is that we can be close to the Holy One who created and sustains the whole universe? Do we make sure our time with him is devoted to him only, and free from distractions?  Or is our temple crowded, and noisy with other things vying for our attention?

This song illustrates what the attitude of worship should be.  I’ve included a video and some of the lyrics.

Who else commands all the hosts of heaven
Who else could make every king bow down
Who else can whisper and darkness trembles
Only a Holy God

What other beauty demands such praises
What other splendour outshines the sun
What other majesty rules with justice
Only a Holy God

Come and behold Him
The One and the Only
Cry out, sing holy
Forever a Holy God
Come and worship the Holy God

We so need to meet with God, and bow down to him, and pour out our hearts as we are overwhelmed with the utter realization of how awesome and holy he is.

Yesterday, I had a one-on-one phone call with my life coaching teacher to evaluate the final for my class.  For the final, I coached someone, and my teacher listened and transcribed the session.  So in our evaluation conversation, we discussed in detail how my coaching was, what I did well, and what I could improve.

I was discouraged that my instructor told me that I’m still trying too hard to be in control of my coaching sessions.  The goal is to let the client steer the sessions.  I keep trying to take the wheel, and direct them.

It was sobering that she told me this, because I know I do this, and I was trying not to.  It’s so hard to change!

But at least it gives me a very clear picture of how I need to be with God.  I need to completely let him steer, instead of trying to grab the wheel.  This morning, while I was praying, I pictured a stage on which God was the only player.  I cleared the stage of everyone else, especially me!  And I thought, “This is what my days have to be.  God has to be the one on stage, not me.”

My youngest daughter got me a new journal for Mother’s Day, and I’m using it to keep a list of what I see God doing.  I’m trying to live out the words of Jesus, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.”  I’m taking note of what God is doing, and tooling my actions to match his.

God is teaching me in so many ways to clear out self.

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

There’s so much we need to clear out so we can worship God.  We need to deal with our materialism, our love of self, the desire to control.

Idols don’t belong in the temple.  They ruin what it was meant to be.  And what it was meant to be is amazing.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Phil 3:7-8a)

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Filed under Glory Above All, Holiness, Humility, John, Red Letter, Surrender

Feeling Useless, Becoming Useful

Now six stone water jars had been set there for the Jewish rites of purification. Each could hold from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”

So they filled them to the brim.

“Now draw some out,” He said, “and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine  (John 2:6b-9a)

One thing that strikes me about this is that Jesus can work with what’s there.  It’s like he says, “Hmmm, there’s no wine.  Let’s see.  What around here could I use?  Oh look, there are some big purification water jars.  That’ll work.  I’ll have them filled with water, and change that into wine.”

Jesus doesn’t have to have the perfect resources in front of him.  He can use what he has.  I think this is a good point, because we so often look at the limitations.  For instance, today, I don’t have a car.  I want to say that I can’t make it to my hair appointment.  But then I remember that I have a bike, and the salon is not far away.  There’s something I can work with.

Jesus finds what he can work with, in a much bigger way. And then he uses it.

The trouble is that the fixing we need Jesus to do is often tougher than manipulating molecules.  We need him to move the hearts of people.  Ok, let’s be real.  We need him to move our own grumpy, self-loving, comfort-seeking, faithless hearts!

Can Jesus work with the contents of our soul, like the contents of a jar?

He can, if we’ll get super intentional about being humble.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  I P 5:5

God works with us and through us when we’re meek and lowly, not when we think we have things figured out, or when we rely on our own wisdom and strength.  We have to see him as the resource we need in every instance.

And to do this, we need to empty ourselves.  We have to daily become nothing, as Jesus did.

  • John 5:19 – “The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”
  • John 6:38 – “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
  • John 7:16 – “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.”
  • John 8:28 — “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
  • John 8:42 – “For I have not come of myself, but he sent me.”
  • John 8:50 – “I am not seeking glory for myself.”

Let’s model humility, and encourage others to seek it, so that God can work with the impossible situations we need changed.  Satan is having a field day.  Negative self-talk and emotional baggage reign.  Fears and bitterness control us.  Pride directs us.  These things are destroying us and our relationships.

Let’s embrace the blessings of being poor in spirit.

A couple of days ago, I spoke with a friend who was at the end of her rope, and I told her, in a sense, “This is a good place to be.   You’re desperate.  You’ve run out of ideas and motivation. You have nowhere to go but God.”

We don’t like feeling desperate and out of control.  We’re ashamed because we think we should be able to do better.  But that’s a good place to be, because then we are most aware of our need for God.  We’re finally at the place of nothingness.

And then Jesus can change our water into wine.  We’re a resource he can use for his purposes.

Last night, a sister who has been going through tremendous challenges brought two visitors to Bible talk.  The visitors got so much out of the evening.  They were very grateful that she brought them.  Isn’t that the way God works sometimes?  This sister thought she was going crazy with stress, but she stayed focused on God, and that’s when he used her.

Somehow, it’s when we feel the most useless, that we are at a point when we can be most used.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil 2:12-13)

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.  (I Cor 15:10)

Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also those of wood and clay; some for honorable use and some for dishonorable.  Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  (II Tim 2:20-21)

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Filed under Humility, John, Surrender

The Counterintuitive Law of Productivity

Then I asked,

“How long, O Lord?”

And He replied,

“Until cities lie in ruins

without an inhabitant,

until the houses are left unoccupied,

and the land is desolate and ravaged,

until the LORD has driven men far away,

and the land is utterly forsaken.

And though a tenth remains in the land,

it will be burned again.

As the terebinth and oak leave stumps when felled,

so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.” (Is 6:11-13)

The thing that catches my attention about this prophesy is that it is focuses on the land, more than the people.  I put the word “land” in bold so you can see the emphasis.

Strange.  Why would God care about something inanimate?

But it’s not so strange if we look at Leviticus.  Check out the warning God gave the Israelites at the time of Moses:

But if in spite of all this you do not obey Me, . . . I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out a sword after you as your land becomes desolate . . . . As long as it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not receive during the Sabbaths when you lived in it.  (Lev. 26:27, 33, 35)

God actually wanted the land to have rest.

This is totally interesting.  It reminds us that God set down very specific laws regarding how his people were to treat the land they received.

Then the LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land I am giving you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  For six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather its crops. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land—a Sabbath to the LORD. ” Leviticus 25:2-4

What’s so cool about this is that today we have tons of technology that shows us that soil does indeed need a rest.  Farmers often allow their fields to fallow over a season.  And our government pays over a billion dollars to farmers for letting portions of their land lie dormant.  The USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program website says that doing this improves water quality, reduces soil erosion, and increases habitat for endangered and threatened species.

God knows best.

But the Israelites couldn’t wrap their heads around this.  Evidently, they had to be busy.  They had to produce.  They had to be hands on, in control.  They couldn’t slow down.

Does this remind us of something?  Oh yes, we can be that way!

Isaiah 57 defines the problem well:  “Though you tired yourself out by running after idols, you refused to stop. Your desires were so strong that they kept you going.” Is 57:10

We’re frazzled and worn out, but we can’t get ourselves to stop.   We stay up too late.  We pack out our schedules.  We’re driven by our desires, not our faith.

And God wants us to rest, just like he wants the land to rest.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

It’s so counterintuitive to us.  Doesn’t God want us to work hard, be productive and fruitful, and do the most with what he has given us?

So what is this rest thing?  Busier is better!  Let’s get things accomplished!

We have to get it through our heads that God structured his creation to require both work and a time of replenishment.

We can’t keep depleting ourselves, like Israelites depleted the land.

If we continue to do so, God may take steps to put us in the proper order.

He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful. . .  Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

God wants us to find the source of true replenishment, which is him and Christ.  We have to learn to connect, and stay connected to him.

Rest in God alone, O my soul, for my hope comes from Him. Ps 62:5 

Again, we find this counterintuitive principle.  In pruning, a farmer limits productivity to create productivity.  God limits our productivity at times, so a productivity in him can be achieved.

God teaches us to be still, and drink from the spring that will truly quench our thirst.  (John 4:14)

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul .  . . Ps 23:2-3a

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.  Ex 14:14

Will we still our efforts, and find rest and replenishment in the Lord?

Will we still not only our constant striving, but our constant fretting?

I’m totally guilty of this.  My thoughts can be as busy as my schedule.  My mind whirls with fears and “shoulds.”   I micromanage.  I spin.  I edit.  I keep devising ways for everything to work out.

And the irony is that the only thing that’s going to work out is the thing I put in God’s hands. Because he is the source.

I’m so afraid of a lack of productivity.  I need to work and plan, so things will go right!

Yet I come back to this passage.  God made the land desolate. It seemed like the end.  But he left a “holy seed” that would be a  “stump in the land.”  This is how he achieved his purpose.

You know, growth is so crazy.  I have plants in my yard that look dead all winter, but with the spring, they are leafy and blooming again.  I have trees I’ve cut down, and you would think that would be the end of them.  But before long, shoots grow out of the cut wood.

And the last verse of Isaiah 6 foretells this kind of growth — a seed planted in a ravaged land, a hewn tree that still has life in it.

God specializes in the circle of life.  The season of inactivity leads to a season of abundance.  It isn’t the end.  It is, in fact, necessary.

God wants the land to rest, so it will be more productive.  God wants us to rest in him, so we will be more productive.

Will we listen to him, or will we be like the Israelites, endlessly toiling?

It’s counterintuitive.  Everything in us screams to stay in control, to make things happen.

But the efforts that are fruitful spring from the seed that sits quietly in the soil and connects to the nutrients.

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Filed under Isaiah, Strength in God, Surrender, Uncategorized

On Cleaning, and Staying Centered

house-cleaning

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. Isa 4:3

A week ago my company left.  It’s taken me days to get my house back in order.  I mopped the sun porch where the cat stayed, washed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed up a ton of debris.  When I was done, it was like my head was clean, too.  Looking around at the spotless floor and furniture gave me a sense of clarity and peace.

There’s something about getting things in order that strikes a chord with me, and I think it dovetails nicely with today’s devotional.

Isiaiah 4:3 says that God’s people left in Jerusaelm would be called holy.  It was always the Lord’s intention for his people to be holy.  He said in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Of course, through history, Gods’s people were often anything but holy.  So God instituted a plan to shake his people up and refine them. That’s what Isaiah 4:3 is about.  Earlier, in Isaiah 3 we read about the destruction that would overtake the Hebrews.  “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isa 3:9

But then in Isaiah 4, God promised a restoration.  A remnant would remain, and this remnant would be purified.  The cool thing is this action was only a part of God’s amazing master plan to enable everyone to be his holy people.  Look at these later verses of Isaiah:

  • And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it, only those who walk in that Way–and fools will not stray onto it. Isa 35:8
  • Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: See, your Savior comes! Look, His reward is with Him, and His recompense goes before Him.” And they will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of The LORD; and you will be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. Isa 62:12

God intended to make his people holy through a divine removal of their unholiness. Isaiah 4 goes on to read, “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem.”

Of course, we know this was untimately fulfilled with Jesus, and the incredible salvation we have through him!   “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  I Cor 6:11

Wow.  Do we remember that we are holy? That’s how the early Christians saw themselves.  They were even called “saints,” which is the Greek word, “hagios,” that can also be translated, “holy.”

  • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (I Cor 1:2)  (You can find other instances of Christians being called saints in Acts 9:32, 9:41, 26:10, Romans 1:7, 8:27, 12:13, 15:25, and the list goes on.)

So back to my analogy about cleaning.  I’m not like a German house frau.  My home isn’t always spotless.  But when my house goes on the market, that’s a different story.  Then I am wiping things down and vacumming every day!  My goal is not as much to clean, but to maintain the cleanliness.

So the way this all ties in is that we repent, and God makes us clean and holy, like when we do a deep cleaning on our house.  But just like I maintain the domestic tidiness when my house is for sale, it’s also up to us to maintain the holiness of our heart.  (Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but work with me.)

And the verse that is powerful for me and I’ve been using lately is, “Remain in me, and I also will remain in you.” (John 15:4)  If I stay centered in God, it keeps me from cluttering up my heart with all kinds of other things.  It keeps me dealing with my sin.  It reminds me of what is important.

Here is a video I got from my life coaching studies that actually helps me with this.  It’s an exercise in staying focused.  When I do it, I think of being focused on God, not this guy’s face!  I think of myself choosing to think of God instead of the million other things that distract me. I picture myself settling into Jesus and staying in him.

Oh, how troubled and distracted we can be!  Our insides can feel like our house after a toddler play date!

God has made us holy, and when we center in him, we can maintain this holiness and feel clarity and peace.

Ahhh.  Do some belly breaths, and inhale God’s goodness.  It’s going to be okay.

 

 

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Filed under Holiness, Isaiah, Peace, Surrender, Uncategorized

The Value in Learning

Tell the righteous it will be well with them,

for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.

Woe to the wicked!

Disaster is upon them!

They will be paid back

for what their hands have done. (Isa 3:10-11)

Here’s what I am learning today:  What appears to be harsh may not necessarily be so.

It sounded like the Jews of Judah would be utterly destroyed forever.

But the same God who said they would be “paid back,” also said later in Isaiah,

For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

In a surge of anger

I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting kindness

I will have compassion on you,”

says the Lord your Redeemer. (Isa 54:7-8)

God didn’t permanently reject his people.  But he did allow them to experience the consequences of their choices.  They were his beloved children who had strayed away, but he intended for them to come back to him and be gathered into his arms and blessed like never before.

You know, the book of James says, “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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Our trials feel harsh.  But James says to be joyful in them, because they are actually for the good.

I was talking with a friend recently, and she told me how she’s the “fixer” in her family.  But she’s beginning to realize that sometimes it’s better to not fix things for her family members, that there’s value in letting them learn from their mistakes.

And that is what God wants.  He wants us to learn from our mistakes.  More than that, he wants us to realize that there’s learning to be had in any situation.  Our agenda is to pray and ask him to fix our life right away.  But if he did, we would miss the growth.  We would miss the lesson of perseverance.

I really think God wants me to get this in my head.  After I started writing this blog, I was in my life coaching class telling my instructor how I was trying to help one of my clients come to a solution.  My teacher told me that helping the client figure out a solution isn’t always the point.  The point is also to help them see that there is value in learning from their struggles.  Ack!  There it was again!  It’s hard for me because, like my friend, I always want to help people fix things!

But even Jesus learned from his struggles.  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

And how did Jesus learn?  By wrestling in prayer. The Book of Hebrews explains, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

This verse has to refer to the time when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemene, pouring out his heart to God and begging that the “cup” would be taken away. As Jesus did so, he strengthened his conviction that no matter what, he would do God’s will, not his own.

What if Jesus hadn’t gone to the garden to pray?  He wouldn’t have been able to go through with God’s plan.  It seemed like a horrible plan, that he would have to be tortured and executed.  But we all are the beneficiaries of the plan.

Which brings us back to the original point.  What seems harsh may not necessarily be so.  There’s value in the learning we can have from the situation.  And what seems horrible can lead to good . . . IF we wrestle to submit and have a victory in the testing of our faith.

Oh, how we want to be able to have this victory!  And we will, if we remember that the God of Isaiah 3:11 is also the God of Isaiah 54:7-8.

That he’s the God of everlasting kindness.

That he wants to bless us like never before.

That he’s committed to us in love and faithfulness because we are his family.

For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name.  (Isa 54:6a)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  (I John 3:1)

 

 

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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.”

lamb to slaugher

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.

prideful woman

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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