Archives for posts with tag: relationship

promised land 2

What if the “Promised Land” is literally the territory that becomes Israel in the Bible…AND figuratively the blessings of God on the obedience of His people? What if our study of Old Testament history is meant to lead us to deeper understanding of both God’s will for all his people, and God’s will for us individually? I believe God set aside a geographic place, but I also believe God prepares a “promised land” that is unique for each of His children. It may be a geographic place. It may be a relationship or a ministry or a front row seat to see God at work…it was all those for the ancient Hebrews. There are some things that were true about the promised land God gave to his people back then that are also true for each of us as we seek God’s will for us right now.

 We have to separate themselves from what has been and allow God to do a new thing. God required that Abraham leave Ur and that the Hebrews leave Egypt in order to inhabit a different place. They could not have become the people God intended them to be if they had refused to obey God’s instructions. For us, that may not necessarily mean physical relocation, but it will mean that we have to let go of things that keep us bound to the past, or prevent us from seeing new things about ourselves and about God.

 Getting from where we are to the promised land God calls us to is not a magic miracle; it is a journey. There will be times in the wilderness. The journey to possess our promised lands may be fraught with tests and tribulations intended to make us strong enough to overcome the “giants” that already live there. Dwelling in our promised land will require that we trust God more than we fear those who oppose us, that we want what God chooses for us more than we want what we’ve chosen for ourselves.

 Promised lands are not a one-time gift; they have to be defended. Satan is threatened by those who obey God’s call on their lives and inhabit the promised lands God gives them. But when we stand firm in what we know is God’s call on our lives, God fights the battles for us, just as He fought for the ancient Hebrews as they moved forward into Canaan to possess their land.

 God led those ancient peoples each step of the way. They walked across the Red Sea on dry land as they left Egypt; they walked across the Jordan River on dry land as they arrived in their promised land. And in between, they saw some of the most magnificent miracles recorded in the Bible.

 God still leads those who will follow. May we let go of the things that prevent us from knowing the full measure of His blessing on our lives, and may that process let us see His glory and allow us to fully trust Him for our next step forward.

 

solitary 2
We seem to have dedicated ourselves to avoiding them, often just because we don’t want to be alone with ourselves or with God. Even when we are forced to be alone, we bring our portable screens that can keep us in constant communication with our contact lists, breaking news stories, or whatever is trending on face book or google. We want to feel like we are constantly available and in the know. We turn on radios in the car and TVs at home to “keep us company”. We listen to whatever will entertain us or keep us from thinking too deeply.

Do you fear quiet and solitude or do you seek them? When is the last time you were comfortable enough with yourself to honestly evaluate your choices or courageous enough to dream big dreams? When is the last time you made sure your thoughts couldn’t be interrupted? When is the last time you made yourself unavailable to anyone but God?

There is a story about Martin Luther that I think explains much about the strength and power of this remarkable man. He typically spent the first 3 hours of his day in prayer. His assistant chided him one morning to skip his prayer time and dive right in to his tasks for the day because they were so important. Martin Luther explained that the significance of his day required that alone time in prayer. That time with God gave him the perspective and wisdom he needed for what should be done.

If the only communication I have with someone is a quick text or occasional tweet, we don’t have much of a relationship. If I am trying to have personal conversation with someone who is constantly returning a text or taking another phone call or ignoring me to talk to someone else, it becomes very clear that I am not valued by that person. How often do we treat God like that? How often do we ask God for direction but miss his answer in our busyness? What would happen if we listened to God more than we talked? What would he say if we put ourselves in a solitary place with no distractions and dedicated that time to hearing from him?

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

If the Son of God himself needed that time, how much more do we? Jesus only had three years to train the disciples and prepare them to live without him. But he needed time with his Father in a solitary place in order to accomplish all he needed to do. Somehow, solitary time with God makes the rest of our day more efficient and more intentional.

The older I get, the more I seem to need alone, quiet time. I can’t process the difficult or make peace with the unknown when I’m immersed in deadlines or trying to accomplish more than I have time for. I’ve found that multitasking may take me to the end of my “to do list”, but it doesn’t benefit my soul or my relationships. Mindless activity doesn’t strengthen me. My insight and my perspective, my understanding of the “big picture” and my peace with God’s power over my present and my future come only from the times when I am separated from distractions and see my life from his point of view.

This day, may you find a solitary place where you can know and delight in the presence of God. May you see yourself as his beloved child and find rest in the knowledge that he watches over you always.

Church

Lots of people never go. Lots more go only rarely. Many claim to have a “good” relationship with God outside the church, but very few actually find spiritual growth or strength in that kind of isolation. Most want the church to somehow be involved when they get married or die, but don’t see a real need for it during the rest of their lives. They want the freedom to call on God to rescue them when they’re in trouble, and the freedom to ignore him when life is going their way.

The world accuses the church of being full of hypocrites and says that only weak people need the church as a “crutch”. As I looked around the sanctuary of my church last Sunday, I saw no hypocrites. I saw ordinary people facing the good and bad of real life. Everyone in that room had a load of sorrow or pain or frustration or disappointment. I saw one couple in their 80’s still holding hands after 60 years of marriage. There was another man there, attending for the first time since he buried his wife. One newly divorced woman had come trying to make a new start. There was a high school senior devastated that she did not get into the college of her choice. One proud grandma was flashing pictures of her new grandson. A new college graduate facing the uncertain job market sat next to a woman who is desperately looking for a job so she won’t lose her house. Another learned this week that she’d been promoted in her job. One is facing a terminal illness; another was back at church after a long confinement due to illness. All ages and stages of life gathered together to worship God and find fellowship with his people.

Church is not about “fire insurance” to keep us out of hell or doing enough good things to earn God’s blessing or avoid his punishment. Church is where we find fellowship and relationship with other people who are struggling to make sense of this life and learn about our eternal one. Church is for people who are more interested in doing the right thing than in protecting their politically correct image. Church is for people who are willing to admit they don’t have all the answers.

Some want just enough of God to stay out of hell. Some want to be spoon fed some positive thoughts, but they certainly don’t want to become involved or be inconvenienced by needy people. Some hope their good intentions will earn them God’s favor, but aren’t really interested in agreeing with him about their sin. I’ve found that the more I learn about God, the more time I want to be in his presence. I’ve found that the more time I spend learning the stories of the people in my church, the easier they are to love and understand. We’ve all got stories, and God wants to be a part of the story of the rest of our lives. Our need for relationship, with God and with each other, is what the church is all about.

Christians are not perfect, but neither is the rest of the world. The Church, with all its imperfections and imperfect people, is precious to God. If you do not have a church home, I encourage you to ask God to help you find the right place to belong and share your gifts. If you do have a church home, encourage others to share in the sense of belonging that you have found there.

Called to Love: Bluebird or Dog?

Sometimes we don’t seem to have enough words. I love chocolate, French onion dip, and tomatoes. I love my husband, my children, my family, and my friends. I love my home and my church. I love sunsets, the sound of waves on the shore, and the utter silence of walking in falling snow. I love beautiful music and the sound of a baby laughing. The love I have for each of those is totally different than the love I have for the others, but English only gives us one word to express all those concepts.

Every morning when I wake up, I get a cup of coffee, put out mealworms for the bluebirds, and settle down on the couch with my dog and my Bible. I love watching the bluebirds. They bring me joy, but they don’t know me. I haven’t named them; I can’t even tell them apart. They watch me warily through the window as they come and go from the feeder. If I move too suddenly or in their direction, they quickly fly away. They’re not grateful that I feed them; they just know where to go to find what they want. I provide; they take…no relationship, just routine.

My dog brings me joy as well. But the big difference is that I have a relationship with my dog. He is eager to follow me to the coffee machine and couch. He will settle himself in such a way that he can feel my touch as he falls back to sleep. He celebrates (by dancing!) each time I return home. He chooses to be with me. He responds to my call and my command. He knows my routine, and he is a precious part of my life and our family. My home is not complete without him. His presence brings me joy. You may not think he is the smartest or the most beautiful dog (though I would disagree!), but I love him utterly, not because of what he looks like or what he can do, but because he is mine. He doesn’t make my life easier; he is part of what makes the struggles of my days worth the effort.

The theme of the Ten Commandments and of Jesus’ teaching is that we are to love. Jesus made clear that the laws weren’t the goal….the relationship was. Jesus said that the entire law could be summed up with the word love. But I fear that too often we settle for “bluebird love” when what God wants is “dog love”. We may perch on the outskirts of religion in order to get just enough to survive another day. We show up when we need God’s provision, but we don’t allow ourselves to get close enough to know his love. We keep one eye on what we want and one eye on him to make sure he doesn’t get too close, and we fly quickly away if we sense his presence. We see him as a threat.

What God wants for us and from us is “dog” love. It is the desire of his heart to dwell with his people and share their lives. He came to us because he wants us to come to him. He wants us to understand that he will provide all that we need. He delights in us and wants us to find that same delight in him. He wants us to know his voice and find fullness and peace in his presence. And once we have, he wants us to share that love with others.

It is so much easier to do the right thing than it is to love. That requires so much more personal investment. I can guarantee an outcome or a finished product with far less risk and effort than a relationship requires. I can write a check or show my support and be done. I finish a checklist of requirements and obligations and never put my heart on the line. When God calls us to love him and others, what he wants is for us to stop going through the motions and just trying to survive; he wants us to love with everything in us: heart, soul, strength and mind.

In I Corinthians 13 Paul succinctly stated that behavior without love is worthless. God doesn’t ask us to behave in a way that looks like love. He doesn’t want us to go through the motions or check off a list to show that we’ve completed the demands of love. He wants us to believe and follow and know him until his presence is where we choose to be. He wants us to love him back and let the love he has for us spill over into the lives of those in our path.

God loved us before we knew him, and God’s love is higher, wider, deeper and more profound that any love we’ve experienced on this earth. Our deep down, “dog” love will put us in relationship that “bluebird” love will never know. Don’t cheat yourself. God loves you. The only two things he requires is that you love him and love others, not out of obligation or fear of hell, but because that relationship is what you were created for. Loving God won’t necessarily make your life easier; loving him and his people will make your life worth the struggle of this life.

Luke 10:27 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

What do you know?

Luke 2:9-14 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

I have to admit that I was disappointed when someone pointed out to me that the verb in this passage is “say”, not “sing”. One of the things I want to do in heaven is to hear the angel choir. I expect there will be clarity and harmony far superior to any we hear on earth. I suspect on that night, their voices were easily distinguishable from human voices. But it is what they said that makes all the difference.

They did not recount biblical history or give in depth analysis of God’s character or plan. They did not present the plan of salvation or explain how this event would expand modern theology. There was no sermon, no grand presentation of complicated doctrine. There wasn’t even a command! One angel came and made a simple announcement, and then suddenly a bunch of other angels appeared and praised God.

I wonder if the angels were there all along, but just let Gabriel make the announcement before they showed themselves. I wonder what the voices of the angels sounded like. When they left the shepherds where did they go? Back to heaven? Back to the manger? Did they watch over the shepherds as they traveled? Whatever the angels did next is not part of the story. Their job that night was simply to tell the facts to people who needed to choose for themselves how they would respond. They shared information and an invitation that glorified God and brought joy to his people.

We are not the same as angels, but God commands the same sharing from us. Too often we refuse to tell what we know about God because we think we’re not smart enough or that we might make the person we’re talking to uncomfortable. We keep what we know to ourselves out of fear of rejection or self-doubt or laziness.

We live in a world that is lost. Each of us knows people that are hopeless, desperate, sad, despairing. If you were dying and I had the medicine to heal you in my pocket, but refused to give it to you, I would be cruel and heartless and evil. There is something innate in humans that requires us to share what would improve the lot of others.

What do you know about God? What have you learned about him? Who in your life needs to hear what you know? God may not call you to be a great preacher or teacher or healer, but he does command that each of us go to a world that does not know him and tell what we do know about him. God’s word is more precious to me with each passing day. I love its stories, but those stories are not my story. I learn about myself from its stories, but it is my story that gives me passion. It is my story that I can share with authority. It is my story that has given the faith to trust God for the next step. I’m not a great preacher like Billy Graham or a merciful caregiver like Mother Theresa. God has given me a different story. In the Bible stories and in my stories the awesome moments when God shows himself are those times when his people are incapable of saving themselves. In those moments where we have no power or control, we see God in action.

It is inconceivable to me that God would send angels to find shepherds to invite to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is equally inconceivable that God seeks us individually to teach us about himself. When he makes himself known to us, our only obedient response is to share what we’ve learned about him.

God wants us to have a story with him. That’s what happens in relationship. Sharing life and fellowship gives you a common history and understanding of that person. Your testimony about God doesn’t have to explain or preach. The angels just told what they knew to be true. Your response should be the same. May your willingness to tell what you know about God lead others to seek him and cause them to praise him.

I have a very special friend that I’ve been close to for over 40 years.  We were in each other’s weddings, raised our babies together, celebrated, grieved, and laughed often.  But imagine what our “friendship” would be like if I’d chosen 40 years ago to just know about her, rather than share her life.  Suppose I got daily intel reports on her:  her grades when she was in school, her job evaluations when she got out, the mileage on her car.  Suppose, I had hired someone to go through her trash and see exactly what she throws away or to interview all her other friends to see what they said about her.  This person would also provide me with updated pictures of her shopping or working so I could see her style of dress or how she’s aged.  What if I learned all about her history and habits: where and when she goes to church, the competence of her dog groomer or nail tech.  What would our friendship be like if that was our history?  It wouldn’t be friendship at all.  She would be someone I know about, not someone I’ve shared my life with.

Gratefully, forty years ago, I chose a friend, not a topic of study.  I have a precious relationship, not just an accumulation of information.  God created us for relationship like that, with each other and with him.

Gods knows all the information about us, but he also knows our hearts.  He has counted the number of hairs on your head.  He has seen every tear you’ve ever cried.  He knows the people who have hurt you, and the people you have hurt.  He has seen you struggle; he knows your exhaustion and your pain, your frustration and your disappointment.  He knows what you’re going to say before it comes out of your mouth.  He knows when you get up and when you go to bed.  There is no where you can go that you are out of his reach or presence.

But the problem is, we don’t know him like that.  When Christians show up for church without meeting God there, we don’t know him.  When we learn about God’s relationship with others in Bible study without seeking his presence in prayer, we don’t know him.  Showing up and learning about is not the same as relationship. 

To some extent we can’t know him like that because he’s infinite, and we’re not.  He is so much bigger and holier and powerful than we are, we are incapable of grasping all of who he is.  But every one of us could know him a lot better than we do.  Because he is God and we are not, we have to study his behavior and responses and law in the Bible. But if all we do is study the stories of his interaction with other people, we will only know about him; we won’t know him ourselves.

He wants us to know him….and that requires quiet time alone in his presence, so that we can know more than just “about” him.   Paul talks about this in I Cor 13 when he says, “Now we see but through a glass darkly; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  What needs to change for you to know God better?