Saturday, February 3, 2018

When We Try to Hide But God Can Still See

It was barely 5 am when a furry face nudged mine. I roused slightly and snuggled deeper into the covers. I was almost asleep again when a rough little tongue licked my face. Still not willing to get up, I pulled the covers over my head. 

When Maggie began to pat me repeatedly with her paw, despite the covers pulled snug, an odd thought floated through my mind. 

We don't have any more success in hiding from God than I do in hiding from my dogs.

That odd phrase echoed in my head as I shuffled downstairs to let the dogs out for their morning business. Do we try to hide from God? Yes. I believe we do.

We may not call it hiding, but we certainly try to evade His persistent call. We've all had those moments when life slams us in the face and we find it agonizingly hard to bear. 

Betrayal that requires forgiveness.
The call to service that requires obedience.
A stonghold that needs to be shattered.
Habits that need to be broken.
Desires that must be surrendered.

God's call is to freedom, wholeness, healing. Sometimes, though, the cost of achieving His lofty goals seems far too high. We're willing to settle for less to avoid the price. 

Instead of offering forgiveness, we take our seat in church, paste on a smile, and hold our anger tight, as if God can't see what we've hidden.

Instead of hard service, we choose the easier path and pretend an unending string of good deeds offsets the call to deeper obedience.

Instead of allowing God access to our strongholds, we hold them close and call them unbreakable. We take "I can't" as our mantra, and ignore the fact that God can.

Instead of allowing God to help us break our unhealthy, unwise habits, we pretend they're harmless and that we "deserve" them. 

Instead of surrendering our ungodly desires, we grab them and hold on tight, as if God's desires for us weren't higher, better, more deeply satisfying.

Why do we choose something less than God's best for us? Because we don't believe what He offers is better than what we want. 

That's a hard word, isn't it?

We hide from the true and perfect light of God, which (according to John 1) enlightens every man, including us. We're comfortable in a little darkness, and we want to stay there. Staying comfortable in the dimness just out of the God-light might even require us to progress past disobedience into denial. 

If we say there is no God, we don't have to worry about Him anymore, right? Wrong. Our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God is not thwarted by our words or our claims.

He is.

Hagar in the desert learned, even there, the God who sees could still see her. (Genesis 16)

David spent years running for his life from a crazed king who was determined to kill him, yet, no matter where he ran, God was still with him. (Psalm 139)

His words attest to the truth we often want to ignore. 

"Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there...Even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will take hold of me..." Psalm 139:7,8,10 

Why do we kid ourselves into thinking we can deceive this God Who is where we are? Who sees all? 

He knows all, and we can't hide a thing. Not our sin, our unforgiveness, or our chains. 

What's amazing to me is that He still loves me, despite my failed hide-and-seek. He still loves us anyway, and He has a plan that's good.

Today, let's examine our own hearts and look for that which we have tried to hide, if only from ourselves. Let's allow God to clean us out and break our chains. 

Embrace His plan, even when hard, and hang on, for the adventure of a lifetime waits for our surrender. We can have God's plan, if we will, but we must abandon our own for His first. 

Is it worth the price? Yes, it is, so let go and embrace our Father who loves us, and receive all He has for us.

"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11
In case you missed it, here's the link to the most recent post: When Your Plan Isn't Working and World Won't Cooperate

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Thursday, February 1, 2018

When Your Plan Isn't Working and the World Won't Cooperate

Are you ever overwhelmed by the inability to get everything on your to-do list finished in the time you've set for it? That's where I am right now, and it's stressing me. A lot.

There's clutter in my house to clean out, organization to restore, the new James e-book launch to plan, reviewers to solicit, the new website to be completed, blog posts to write, books my editor recommended to study, EDITS TO COMPLETE AND A PROPOSAL TO WRITE! If it looks like I'm shouting, it's because that's how I feel.

I had a perfect plan. Every task was scheduled and, had it happened as I expected, it would all be completed by now. I'd take today off to celebrate and, finally, to have that manicure I meant to have last month. Not so in my real world. Two different cornea problems, prolonged ice, snow, and temperatures in the single digits whacked chunks of time out of my schedule. Broken fence repairs took another big chunk of time, as well as most of my fingernails. On and on and on.

Life happens, but God is still in charge.

I might have forgotten that truth for a little while. My inability to get everything done has left me with an odd sense of foreboding, as if something terrible would result from my failure. I'm at that point where panic seems more comfortable than digging in and getting done. 

Have you been in this crazy place before?

My friend sent me a verse this morning that stopped me in my tracks and made me take a closer look at my perceived problem.

"But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread..." Psalm 53:5 niv

That's me. Overwhelmed with dread because I'm late, when there's nothing to dread. Nothing at all. What's the worst that can happen? I've seriously considered that question this morning and have arrived at a startling conclusion.

The worst thing that can happen from my current dilemma is a change in my plan. That's it. No threat to national or personal security looms. No catastrophe to property, finances, or (more important) those I love is likely as a result. I simply need to readjust my plan.

 It's time to invite some perspective into my situation. 

My stress is from a self-imposed, and unrealistic, schedule of tasks that do not have to be done in any certain order. The only deadline is mine. 

If we're honest, I'm not alone with this problem, am I? There's a tendency to think our plan is best, assume our deadline is the right one, and our plan should be followed perfectly by all who have a part. As much as I hate to admit it, that's nothing but self-centered pride in action.  

This morning, I've recognized something vital. My plan isn't working and, I'm sorry to say, that may be it's because I'm not operating on God's timetable. I've repented again and surrendered my will to His, because God's way is always best. I've decided to re-order the to-do list and put the most important at the top, where it belongs. Everything else will fall into place, or it won't. 

Are we overwhelmed by life? Is our "plan" faltering? Failing? Does it feel as if the world won't cooperate? Maybe it's time to take a fresh look at our hearts and our plans and surrender our will to His. Again.

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." Proverbs 16:9 niv

In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Proper Prayer Begins By Taming the Tongue

Photo by Adri├ín Tormo on Unsplash

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Proper Prayer Begins by Taming the Tongue

Our small group started the Priscilla Shirer study, Can We Talk?, last night. The six-week course is designed to encourage a more effective prayer life. The first week's lessons are about the tongue and how we use our mouths. 

I've taught on prayer for years, but beginning with the tongue was a little unexpected. It's a great starting point, though. Two verses in James explain why:

"But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;" James 3:8,9 nasb

The mouth is all I can see of the animal in the photo. My first thought was "llama," then "donkey," and, finally, "horse in the winter with long hair." The mouth captures my attention in a way it wouldn't if closed. It's so unattractive that I can't tell if the rest of the horse is beautiful or not.

My mouth, too, has all too often dominated how I seem to people over the years. I've spoken without thinking or, worse, spoken what I thought without caring about the consequences. As someone I love once said, I used my mouth like a weapon. I was good at it, too, if slashing the hearts and confidence of others with your words is a skill to be admired. 

What came out of my mouth, in the past and more recently than I'd like to admit, had more to do with pride on my part than a desire to impart truth. I believed "my" way was best, what I wanted was what should be done. 

It didn't take me long to learn the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the loudest voice is the one we hear, she who persists the longest often gets her way. I've known this, and lived it, most of my life. All those adages may be true, but they don't tell us about the hurt those loud, squeaky voices and those arrogant words leave behind.

I'm sorry for the arrogance with which I've spoken over the years and, if I could take those words back, I would. Words once spoken, however, can never be recalled. 

That, my friends, is why James describes the tongue as a consuming fire and why he says no one can tame it. Only God can extinguish the fire and bring balm to our mouths. 

If we want a right relationship with God, we need more than clean hearts and hands. We need clean tongues, as well. 

Let's think about our words for a moment, if we can stand it. How have we spoken in the last week, the last month, the last year? Have our words been a fountain of life or a spewing fountain of poison? Have we blessed God and cursed our neighbor? Have we spoken words that demean and hurt or build up and encourage?

If we want to please God, to have a sweet and intimate relationship with Him, we must allow Him to tame our tongues. 

The choice is ours. Will we surrender this tiny bit of our anatomy to His control? Will we allow our words to bless, encourage, flow with kindness like a river of love washing over those who most need it? 

I choose surrender, repentance, cleansing, change. I want my mouth to be a source of blessing to all I meet. What about you? 

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." Proverbs 18:21kjv
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's link: Living in the Shadow of the Cross and Loving our Enemies

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Living in the Shadow of the Cross and Loving Our Enemies

It's hard to tell this story without going into the specifics, but there's no need to dredge the past up again, so please bear with me. 

More than a decade ago, I went through a terrible time. Two people, in particular, plus a third who helped in the gouging of my heart, had the greatest role in that awfulness and, for a time, I considered them all my enemies. 

What does the Bible say about enemies? 

...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you..." Luke 6:27-28 nasb

"repay evil with blessing..." 1 Peter 3:9 

" your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 5:44

Those passages are perfectly clear. When we, disciples of Jesus, have an "enemy," we are to pray, bless, and love them. This behavior is not optional. It's what disciples of Christ are supposed to do, so I did it. There was nothing amazing or saintly in my decision to obey. It was simple Christian living.

Not to love my enemies, or bless them, or pray for them would've been disobedience to the command of Jesus. It would've been sin, whether I felt justified in my anger or not. 

Disobedience to a hard command is sin. We don't like to hear those words, but they're true. 

In the first few hours of that devastating darkness, I sank to my face on my prayer room floor and spoke words of blessing toward all involved. I didn't feel it, and both God and I knew it, but I did it as an act of surrender and obedience.  I prayed that same prayer over and over again. It took a long time to "mean it" when I prayed, but that effort in persevering prayer changed everything.

The situation didn't resolve in the way I'd hoped, but God did a work in my relationship with one of the people, and, over the years, with another one of them.

Yesterday, I was in a business meeting with one of the three former-enemy people, who's doing some work for me. I had to call another person in the trio about the outcome of the meeting. 

"What's up with this? Is he helping you?" the second person asked.

"Yeah. He's a great guy."

"Are you kidding me? He was against you."

I laughed. "Yeah, well, look at all you did, but I forgave you. I'm big on forgiveness, you know. We forgave each other and we love each other now. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him, and nothing he wouldn't do for me." 

My former enemy was aghast. "Really?"

"Yep. This is what forgiving and loving your enemies look like. They become your friends. This is how I treat you, isn't it?"

"Well, yeah..."

There is no way to communicate how horrible the situation was. I was absolutely devastated by it. More than a decade later, though, I can look back and laugh. God did a powerful work in me, and in the other people involved, as well. 

I've never even met the third person in the trio, and I don't particularly want to, but I'd be fine if I did. That's how a healed wound works. It doesn't hurt anymore.

All that blessing and praying and loving was worth it, even though I didn't want to do it at the time. 

When we live in the shadow of the cross, we must allow it to determine how we live, how we respond to trouble, how we treat our enemies. Jesus set an example we are to follow. 

What about loving our enemies is optional? Nothing.

Why love our enemies when the world says don't? Because Jesus commanded love. 

When I was face down on the prayer room floor, my reality was pain, hurt, fear, anger. I couldn't imagine the future we all have today, but Jesus could. I didn't have to envision it, plan for it, or anticipate such a glorious outcome. All that was required to gain the love we share today was one tiny act of obedience at all time. 

If we're reeling from the betrayal or hurt of another person, we have two options. Respond as the world responds or respond as Jesus said. Only one of those choices brings blessing. Only one brings the healing that turns enemies into dear, much-loved friends somewhere in the future. 

Which will we choose? It's a decision that can change the future is ways we cannot begin to imagine, so let's choose obedience. Choose love, blessings, prayer, and let God use our efforts to do a work only He can do. 

Loving as Christ loves is always the right decision. 
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: When I Couldn't Tell if I'd Achieved My Goal or Not

Monday, January 29, 2018

When I Couldn't Tell If I'd Achieved My Goal or Not

Friends arrive today from abroad for an extended stay. I decided to prepare a welcome meal for tomorrow. The goal was to cook food that seemed familiar, a little touch of home. The problem, of course, was that I didn't know how to cook the way they cook "back home." I don't have their knack with spices or the exact flavor combinations in my skill set.

Nevertheless, I assumed a Google search would be sufficient, and plunged ahead.

Yesterday, I prepped two eggplants to make baba gahnoush, a smooth, creamy eggplant dip. I'd eaten this dish numerous times, but I'd never prepared it before. No problem, I thought. I bought two eggplants and some tahini sauce and downloaded a recipe.

Just to be sure of my goal, I bought a small container of baba gahnoush from the grocery. It tasted like bad Ranch dressing. Mislabeled, I decided, discarded it, and went to work.

I sliced the eggplants, put them cut-side down in my cast iron skillet, and stuck them under the broiler until the skin bubbled up and started to turn black. As the recipe said, I removed them from the skillet and set them aside to cool. 

Perfect progress, it seemed, as I peeled the skin off. That's when things started to get interesting. The recipe clearly stated that the eggplant should be mashed with a fork, which seemed crazy because it was so stringy. 

I put it in the bowl of my stand mixer, instead. I'm not saying the stand mixer was the problem, just that it's the place my path and the recipe parted ways. First, my recipe called for one eggplant. I used two, so I doubled all the ingredients, but forgot the salt, mainly because I'm on a low-salt diet. I wasn't sure what to do with the eggplant seeds, so I left them. I mixed the glob of goo with the paddle until it was mostly smooth. 

It was a gray mess, which made me think of gray matter in the brain, and pretty much grossed me out. I tasted it with trepidation, the thought of eating brain still in my head. It tasted terrible. That's when I started improvising. 

I added some salt, extra cumin, more lemon juice. Nothing helped. I gathered a variety of recipes and pulled from all of them. One listed red pepper in the ingredients, so I gave the cayenne a hearty shake. 

I wasn't sure about the texture. I couldn't decide what taste I needed to achieve. Finally, I gave the concoction another whirl with the mixer, called it baba gahnoush, and put it in a container.

I don't know if I made baba gahnoush or not.

The problem wasn't my enthusiasm for the task, nor my dedication. The problem was an uncertain goal. I wanted baba gahnoush, but my culinary memory didn't extend far enough for me to know how it looked nor how it tasted. I needed an experienced guide.

As I've pondered that bowl of eggplant dip (which may or may not be baba gahnoush), I've realized the life of a disciple is a lot like my cooking efforts. Living like Jesus intended is impossible if we don't know what it's supposed to look like, to feel like, to be like.

That's what the authors of the New Testament hoped to show us through their words and lives. When Paul said, "do what I do," it wasn't pride talking.  He wanted his readers to understand one truth. "This is how the Christian life looks. Do it this way." 

I don't want his shipwrecks, prison bars, or chains, but I'd sure like to have the power Paul had. His writings are filled with absolute abandon and reckless surrender. He was all-in for Christ, no matter the cost.

Paul wasn't a pew-sitter. He was a world-changer, and THAT is our pattern. He told everyone who would listen about the One who changed his life. He pressed on, no matter what happened. He lived what he taught.

If we want the power of God that Paul had, we'll have to walk the path Paul walked, all-in, faith-filled, perseverance. That's how we know we've achieved the life of a disciple.

Today, let's ask ourselves if we're living a life that's intended to be that of a disciple or if we're living the disciple life the first century writers tried to show us. Which do we want? Which does Jesus want us to have? 

If we need to make changes whether in priority, in thoughts, or in actions, let's look to Scripture for direction and do what it says. It's that easy. It's that hard. It's worth it.

"however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us...For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eager wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;" Philippians 3:16-17, 20 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Blood-of-Jesus Family Reunion

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Blood-of-Jesus Family Reunion

I can't remember why one of my small groups fell apart. I'm pretty sure it was my fault. We met in my home, but travel, ministry, and busyness got in the way. I was tired all the time. It was too much. We should meet somewhere else, I thought. 

We didn't.

Last night, we finally gathered around my living room again, and it was as if we'd never been apart. We laughed, shared stories of answered prayers, confessed our needs, worshipped and prayed together. After a pot-luck meal, one young man played his guitar and shared the songs he'd been learning. Some sang along, others listened.  

We're family even though we're not blood-kin. The thought crossed my mind, but instantly, I realized we're about as blood-kin as it gets, for the blood of Jesus unites us. 

Last night, after everyone left, I climbed into bed and savored the laughter, the tears, the joy, the love. Had I really been too busy for this sweetness?

Our time together caused me to examine my priorities and I've found them sadly askew again. I'm left wondering... what was more important than the people I love? What was accomplished during our time apart? Why didn't I realize how much I need these precious people in my life? How much we need each other?

Am I the only one with tunnel vision that focuses on the task, the need before my eyes, but neglects the bigger picture of friends and extended family? Is this a problem for us all?

If so, let's stop the busyness and begin to embrace relationship, the way Jesus did. He didn't send his disciples home at the end of a busy day. He spent time with the people He loved, ate with them, laughed, wept, and prayed together. He invested in the lives of others in a way that had eternal significance, and we should, too. 

The body of Christ is bigger than we realize. More important. More powerful. This morning, I'm left wondering what would happen in our world if we, the people of Christ, began to live the unity for which Jesus prayed, to live it fully. 

Into whose life are we investing? With whom do we "do life?" For whom do we bear burdens and share joys outside our immediate family? If the truth is "no one," we need a new reality. 

Today, let's reach out, invite in, embrace the family Christ purchased with His blood. Serve, live, and love as one, just as Jesus intended. 

"From Him, the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:16
In case you missed it, here's yesterday's link: When We're Finally Sick of Our Sin and Decide to Let it Go
You might also enjoy this post: When Your Prayers Need a Little Help From Your Friends