Archives for the month of: October, 2013

Beth Moore gave an illustration that has helped me immensely in understanding my responses to people who threaten my “sunny disposition” and make my life difficult.  She said that a pure glass of water cannot spill poison no matter how rudely it is knocked over.  What comes out of a spill…or a heart….is what was there to begin with.  Circumstances that brought it out may have been unexpected or unjust or irrational, but what comes out shows what was inside to begin with.

When angry, hurtful words come out of my mouth, it shows that anger and hurt are stored in my heart.  The person I have conflict with doesn’t put that hurt and anger inside me; they just give me the opportunity to vent it.  When I don’t purify what’s in my heart, eventually that poison will spill all over the people in my path.

Eph 4:26 says “In your anger, do not sin.”  Anger is not the problem.  What we do with our anger can be.

My kitchen has a pantry where I keep foods that I may need.  I intentionally put items there.  Some of them are healthy; some are comfort foods that nourish my psyche, rather than offering good nutrition.  I do not store what I do not want in my pantry, but often I do store it in my heart.  When I take hurt and anger and cruelty and disrespect to heart, when I allow them to fester through unforgiveness or self-righteousness, I end up serving them to people who are thoughtless or unkind to me.  I take their thoughtlessness or meanness to me and make it my sin.

May we intentionally fill ourselves with the Spirit of God until there is no room for the poison that hurts those around us, intensifies conflict, and damages our testimony.  May we purify our hearts until we are so full of God’s love and mercy that they spill all over those who wound us.

Every once in a while, a detail in the Bible jumps out at me.  As I studied the life of Moses, I was fascinated by the focus on Moses’ staff.  Moses would have used this staff to help him climb rocky or steep terrain; he would also have used it to defend himself – wolves, snakes, etc. I suspect that this staff was worn off smooth from years of Moses’ grip and sweat. Personal property was rare in that culture.  I suspect that his boys may not have been allowed to play with it.  If Moses said to his boys, “Go get my staff”, they knew exactly which specific one he was talking about.  

Moses is minding his sheep and his own business when he turns aside to see the burning bush. It is there that God gives him the long range plan and his new job description.  When Moses expresses concern about his capability and believability, God rocks his world with a huge test of his faith.

 Exodus 4:2  Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

 When God asks for Moses’ staff, it is his first step inside Moses’ life and stuff.  God took what had brought Moses protection and help, and turned it into something he feared.  Notice that Moses ran from the snake.  Was he unusually afraid of snakes in general, or was this a really bad poisonous snake?  You don’t spend 40 years in the desert and not know a poisonous snake when you see one.  He wouldn’t run from something he wasn’t afraid of.  I think God also uses this as specific symbolism….he took control over the serpent in Eden and still has it.  He then tells Moses to pick it up by the tail.  Why?  This is a defining moment for Moses. This is his crisis of belief.   Either he’s going to obey this Yahweh as God, or he’s going to pretend to be in charge of his own life.  If the snake bites him, he’ll probably die.  If he doesn’t pick up the snake by the tail, he clearly subordinates God’s authority to his own and has more confidence in his own judgment than in God’s control over his circumstances. 

 I would love to see the video on this.  How long did Moses hesitate before he decided to obey?  Did he do a “snatch and grab” on the tail, or did he try to sneak up on it?  No matter how he did it, he chose to obey, despite the fact that he couldn’t imagine a happy ending to this scene.  He trusted God more than he trusted himself.  His response to God’s question determined the rest of his life.  That moment began an awesome relationship with his creator and one of the most incredible journeys of faith recorded in the Bible.

 Moses got his staff back, but he had a whole new perspective on it.  It changed from being the tool he used to be a shepherd of sheep, to being the tool he used to shepherd God’s people.  It turned the Nile to blood, brought the locusts to Egypt, and brought water from a rock. It became something different when he gave it to God, and he became someone different when he trusted God with it.

 Much of what we have – talents, strengths, passions, abilities – will never reach their full potential until we give them to God.  I have limited control over what is “in my hand”, but when I give it to God, I have no clue what he’ll do with it….or what that will require of me.  What God accomplishes in the lives of his servants never depends on their capabilities; it depends on their obedience.  When God asks for what we hold in our hand, he is offering us for a front row seat to what he wants to accomplish in us and through us.  May we always trust him enough to throw it down….and pick it up by the tail…so that we can see him at work in our lives and our world.

I sometimes grow weary of praying for God’s will.  In some cases it seems like I’ve done it so long and see so little progress.  One of the burdens God laid on my heart years ago is to pray for him to raise up godly people to speak truth and point to God in our government, our media, and in our seminaries.  I pray that God will give them the passion and opportunity to speak his truth in our culture, that it will impact the hearts of our culture, and that God will give his protection to those who dare to serve him and not the world.  This week Rand Paul gave a speech on the rising international war against Christianity.  In it he summarized many of the injustices that rankle my heart, and I wonder if God has heard my prayers and why he doesn’t do what I’ve asked.

And then every once in a while, he gives me insight into the fact that he has heard and he is raising up just the people I’ve asked for and prayed for.  A few weeks ago on CBS This Morning I heard Tyler Perry, a very successful TV and motion picture star, read a letter to his younger self where he acknowledged that the voice he heard as a child telling him he was loved and that he would overcome all the pain in his life was God speaking to him.  Kirk Cameron has chosen to obey God’s call for purity in his life that has cost him power and wealth, but given him a powerful testimony.   Tim Tebow has made his relationship with God, not his football career, the focal point of his life.  Mike Huckabee, a preacher who is also a politician, consistently acknowledges the need for God’s law in our culture.  Ben Carson, a renowned pediatric brain surgeon, makes no secret that he is a Christian and believes our country should return to Christian principles.  Whatever you think of these men politically or athletically, they are men who have been unashamed to stand up and speak difficult truth and associate themselves with God. 

So much our entertainment is centered around immorality and violence.  I’ve seen TV shows and movies, read books, and seen stage plays where there was not one person in it that I could respect, when there was no redeeming theme or choice that inspired me.  Our heroes seem to be less and less authentic, and seldom demonstrate integrity. The media celebrates these characters and shows and declares them to be artistic masterpieces. 

And then I began to recognize that the public is drawn to entertainment that honors God.  The financial success of “The Passion of the Christ” was overwhelming.  “Veggie Tales” is a huge TV and video influence for our children.  TV shows that distanced themselves from the consistent immorality started to emerge.  “Blue Blood” shows a Catholic family praying around their dinner table in every episode.  Every episode of “Duck Dynasty” shows the quirks and stresses of everyday family life and work, but focuses on loyalty to family and marriage and ends every show with the family praying together, thanking God for his blessings and acknowledging their dependence on Jesus.  How many more have the opportunity to speak truth and stand up for God but hesitate to do so for fear of rejection or financial loss? 

And then, in a moment of incredible awareness of God’s grace, I realized that during my years of praying for godly examples and leaders in our culture, when I saw no evidence of progress, God was laying powerful foundation that is only now becoming apparent.  While I prayed, a young Tyler Perry heard and believed God’s voice, and God established his career in TV and movies.  While I prayed, God revealed himself to others and gave them the courage to take unpopular stands that gave a powerful testimony.  While I prayed, God raised up writers and producers that would bring the name of Jesus and their personal testimony to my TV screen.

I can’t tell you my prayers were the reason, or that God wouldn’t have done the same thing if I hadn’t prayed.  But I can tell you that Jesus saw prayer as a powerful discipline, not an optional last resort.  He prayed in the face of evil, and he defeated it.  If I hadn’t had that burden to pray, I would not have recognized God’s hand in my culture, and I might have despaired at the power of the evil I see.

There is a new movie coming out in the spring – “God’s Not Dead”.  I would encourage you to begin now to pray for all that is involved in this project: that truth would be spoken in it, that truth would take root in all who see it, and that God would give his presence and protection to all who are working to bring it to the public.  I honestly can’t say how much I think that the success of this movie depends on your prayers, but I can say that when you pray for God’s will, he gives you deeper access to the awareness of his power and presence.  And that awareness gives us, not only joy and peace, but understanding of him who has overcome this world.

God created everything; all of heaven and earth belong to him.  There is nothing he needs, and I have nothing that he lacks.  His plan is not dependent on my input, and he can always find someone with better access, better skill, more time, and more money than I can provide.  So why does God require each of us to give back 1/10th  of our “first fruits”?  Why does he recommend love offerings on top of that?

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a story about a man who was going away for a time.  Before he left, he gave each of his servants different talents.  That word talent can refer to a weight of silver.  It also can mean capabilities.  Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for each of us.  While we wait for his return, we are responsible for the talents God gave us.  Each of us has relationships, opportunities, skills, gifts, money and time that he expects us to use for the sake of his kingdom and his people. What God has given me is different from what he’s given you.  I have sung duets with some of the biggest names in the Christian music industry….all alone in my car where no one but God could hear.  A beautiful solo singing voice is not a gift God gave me. Some of you got one. I did not. (I would like to point out here that Psalm 66:1 says “Make a joyful noise to the Lord” – no mention of pitch or tone quality required!) God has given each of us unique, wonderful gifts, and he wants us to combine our gifts into a perfect whole in our service to each other.  We can hide them, use them to serve ourselves, or we can invest them in his kingdom, but he will hold us accountable for what we do with those gifts. 

The parable of the talents reminds us that whatever we have is entrusted to us for a time, and then we will have to answer for how we used what God gave us.  God specifically tells us to return 10% to him.  When we obey that command to give 10%, it doesn’t put God in our debt or earn us heaven, but it will remind us that he is the source of everything good that we are and have.

He is God and we are not.  We are not capable of outgiving God.  We do not worship a selfish God who is waiting to punish us when we don’t please him. We worship a holy God who withheld nothing from us, not even his son, in order to give us unfettered access to his presence, both now on earth and for eternity in heave.  God is so generous with us.  He gives us color when black and white would have worked; he gives us variety and beauty in his creation that are completely unnecessary; he gives us forgiveness and second chances that we do not deserve, he made each one of us completely unique – and he will hold us accountable for how we’ve spent our money, how we’ve invested our time, how we’ve used our talents. Luke 6:38 gives us a promise from the lips of Jesus.

 “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

God will take what you give back to him and use it, not only to bless others, but to return the blessing to you.  When Jesus returns, he will hold each of us accountable for what we did with our “talents”.  May we be generous with each talent, each dollar, each moment that he has given us, and may our generosity give us deeper insight into the character and love of God who has been so generous with us.

She tossed my last bag of groceries in the car and mumbled “I hope you have a good day” as she walked away from me.  She didn’t even look at me as she said it, and she gave no indication that she really cared what kind of a day I had.  She was going through the motions of customer service, and she said what she was told to say without meaning a word of it.  In that moment I realized how hungry I am for authenticity in the people around me, and how uncommon it is for us to be totally truthful.

Truth is hard to come by in our society.  We have politicians, lawyers, media, marketing, and “self-help” experts that are far more likely to tell us what will advance their agenda or product than what is the unvarnished truth.  Spin and bias have become so commonplace we expect them from our news sources.  There are psychologists who make a living reading the differences between what people say and what their body language indicates they believe.  Politically correct has trumped honest, and we make emotional, moral, political, and financial decisions based on portions of truth, or absence of truth because we don’t know or won’t bother to learn the whole truth.

Treasury agents who specialize in counterfeit money do not begin their training by examining the methods of counterfeiters; they study the real thing until they know it so well that any deviation from authentic currency is obvious to them.  Counterfeiters, lawyers, politicians, and advertisers have a personal stake in making us believe them.  They spin the facts for their personal gain and present half truths and outright lies to us as the whole truth to serve their benefit, not ours.  

Truth matters to God.  He requires it from us, and he gives it to us.  John identified Jesus as the “word made flesh” (John 1:14), and Jesus identified himself as “truth” (John 14:1).  Jesus doesn’t manipulate us for his personal gain with a selective version of the facts; he tells us outright that he wants us to know the truth because it will “set us free” (John 8:32).  Jesus identified Satan as the Father of lies (John 8:44).  By my count there are 29 times in both the gospel of Matthew and John when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth…”  He also frequently told the people, “You have heard….but I say…” when he tried to make them understand the difference between what they’d been taught and what God had actually said.  John 16:13 says, “…when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”  Paul warns Timothy to “present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (II Tim 2:15)

I am consistently disappointed when I seek truth in a world that refuses to be guided by it.  God is truth and speaks truth.  I pray that my understanding of his character and heart will always lead me to the truth about my circumstances, and that my character and heart will provide a place of genuine authenticity to all those I meet.

 

Psalm 40:11 … O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect me.

Daddy and Brian

Today would have been my Daddy’s 81st birthday.  The “sweet” of knowing him and being his daughter is worth every bit of the “bitter” of losing him long before I was ready to let him go.  He’s been gone almost 10 years.  In some ways it seems like no time has passed, yet other times, it seems like forever ago.  Maybe that’s just a glimpse of what David (Ps 90:4) and Peter  (II Pet 3:8) meant when they said  to God a thousand years seem like a day. 

Our family has learned to live around the hole his passing left.  We have continued with old traditions and made some new ones.  We have a new seating arrangement at the dinner table, and keep old pictures out to help us remember.  We have new stories, but still find joy in repeating the old ones. 

Rev 21:4 promises that when all of us get to heaven at last, we will never again have to live around the holes that grief and pain have left in our lives.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  The new order will be better than we can ask or imagine.  And we will all be able to share it together. 

Parents today seem to be consumed with controlling their children’s environment and choices, protecting them from every potential threat, monitoring their every move so that they can be ready to step in and handle whatever that child faces.  I heard on the radio yesterday that there are now knee pads available to protect children learning to crawl and schools allowing only nerf balls at recess.  Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I can’t even count the times I’ve known my decision mattered eminently, and having no clue what the right decision was.  But I also know that most of my most powerful learning and growth occurred when I had the full responsibility for the results of my choices.  Most of my most powerful lessons came from learning the “hard” way: testing the boundaries to see if they were firm, exploring the forbidden to find it well named, trusting myself when I was not qualified. 

 My understanding of God is much the same.  I have learned about God, not by showing up for Sunday School or Bible study and believing what I was told, but by seeking him for himself – in his word and in my life.  I don’t have a relationship with him because of someone else’s stories with him; I have a relationship with him because of my own successes and failures as I test the boundaries of his love and power, being wounded by the things he warned me against, and finding my own power and wisdom to be insufficient. 

 God is not the kind of parent who forces me to know and love and obey him.  He always knows my location, and I can’t even count the times he’s protected me from myself, but he also knows that the lessons that will most impact my heart and maturity are those that I learn for myself.   God calls us his children, not his robots.  He gives us free will so that we will learn to make better choices and seek relationship with him, rather than just avoid unpleasant consequences.  He gives me the freedom to find out that the “far country” will break my heart.  That ignoring his law will never work out well.  That his ways are wiser and better than mine.  He wants me to know him, and he’s patient enough to walk with me until I learn to seek him.  He wants me to choose to know him and love him.

 God will not fit into a small, neat, preconceived box. He is who he is, not who we try to force him to be, and he wants desperately for us know him as he is. Even a cursory look at God’s history with his people clearly shows that he wants his people to know him. No matter how his people behaved, God kept showing up – in Eden and the wilderness, in the Tabernacle and the Temple, in Bethlehem, at Pentecost….wherever they were, he went, and he displayed his power on their behalf. When they got themselves into trouble, he rescued them – from enemies, lions, whales, storms, slavery, bad choices, and evil kings.    

 What do you know about God?  How did you learn it?  May you walk so closely with him that you find your own story with him to share.  May your story with God become an inspiration to those around you to seek to know God better and find stories of their own.