Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Filled With a Cloud...

In 2 Chronicles 5, we see the story of Solomon completing the preparations for the temple of God in Jerusalem. King David was not allowed to build the temple because he was a man of war and had shed blood. So he made the preparations and gave the charge to his son, Solomon, to complete the task.

As he makes the elaborate preparations and time comes to dedicate the temple, Solomon has the priests consecrated. He has the Levitical singers robed and carrying cymbals, harps and lyres and he has 120 priests blowing trumpets. One by one, the trumpeters and singers joined together to raise their voices accompanied by the instruments in praise to the Lord singing...

"For He is good; His faithful love endures forever."

The Bible then says, "The temple, the Lord's temple, was filled with a cloud. And because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled God's temple." (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).

The New Testament teaches us that our bodies are the temple of God. Have you ever experienced the filling of "the cloud" of God's presence in a way that the world would see the glory of the Lord filling it? Wouldn't it be something if we could die to self daily in a way that would allow the life, the cloud of God's glory to shine through us radically affecting every life we came in contact with?

Meister Eckhart says, "If we are wholly surrounded by God, enveloped by God, clothed with God - such a man no one can touch except he touch God also."

Would it be that people would be touched by our lives and come away saying...

"The Lord is in His Holy temple; Let all the earth keep silent..."


Monday, August 29, 2011

Remembering the Good (and God) Things...

In 1 Chronicles chapters 15 and 16, we have the story of King David settling in his new kingdom city, Jerusalem. He builds houses for himself and he prepares, albeit temporary, a place for the Ark of the Covenant to rest. After a botched attempt, David, the priests and his men, bring the Ark to Jerusalem and there is great thanksgiving. Most of chapter 16 is devoted to David's famous Psalm of Thanksgiving where he sings,...

"Give thanks to the Lord; call on His name; proclaim His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him; sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!"

David then goes on, in the rest of the Psalm, to recount the good things that God has done for him and for Israel.

Mind you, there are a lot of bad things in David's life he could have remembered. He was unjustly persecuted by Saul. He was driven away from his home and country. He had to submit to his sworn enemies to even survive. At one point, he had to become like a madman in appearance so that he would not be put to death. Along the way, he had experienced the loss of all his possessions, his dignity and even his self worth.

One thing he never lost, however, was his faith and his confidence in God.

In our lives, there are a number of negative things that we all could dwell on. But like King David, wouldn't it better for us and the body of Christ if we could commit ourselves to focus on the positive? I am not encouraging us to live a "Pollyanna" type of life that doesn't feel grief or sadness over losses and trials. But there is something to say for the life that lives in faith and trust, like King David, and continues to focus on the goodness of God even in the shadow of the valley of trials and death.

Paul said, "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8) Peter says, "...make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love..." (2 Peter 1:5-7).

I think today you and I would be better people if we could join King David in saying, no matter what comes our way, no matter how people treat us, no matter what life throws at us...

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever..." (1 Chronicles 16:34)

May it be so...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Chronicle of Relationships...

The first twelve chapters of 1 Chronicles reads like a "who's who" in the early life of Israel as a nation. Most of it (chapters 3 to 12) are devoted to the relationships that were established by King David. While reading it through, one is tempted to be bored and skip over the details to get to the stories that start in Chapter 13. However, there are some interesting insights from reading the list of David's descendants, relatives and his mighty men.

For one, there are those listed who lay down their lives for David: Jashobeam, Eleazar and Abishai - the three mighty men. One time when David was thirsty, they risked everything and broke through the armed guard of the Philistine camp to draw water from the well at the gates of Bethlehem for David to drink.

There were the honored thirty, who were revered for their fighting skills and victories. Many of them were from his own clan but others were not even Israelites. Mighty fighting men from all of the tribes came over to David until, "there was a great army, like and army of God." (1 Chronicles 12:22)

But in that list, there were those who were murderers and betrayers of David. Also, there were some in that list that David himself betrayed (such as Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba). There were even 3,000 from the line of Saul, the king that preceded David after Saul had died for his unfaithfulness.

One thing stands out. In the mix of all of David's relationships, there were those who were loyal to the end. There were also those who would betray him (such as his son Absalom). There were even those David himself would betray.

In our world of relationships today, I wonder if we are any better than King David or any more blessed? I think, if the truth be told, there are those relationships and people who bring us utter joy. But at the same time there are those who can cause deep pain - even those we love the most.

As King David, we have to become people after the heart of God. We have to celebrate and enjoy those relationship that God gives us but we also must remember that we cannot put our trust in those relationships if we are to find fulfillment. Our relationship to God has to be first and foremost in all of our relationships and when that relationship is where it should be, He gives us the grace and wisdom to live with others.

Our relationships with others will give us pure joy. Some will cause deep pain. However, if we keep the primary relationship with God in focus, He will help us keep our eyes fixed on Him no matter what comes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No Matter What, No Regrets...

One of the last kings of Judah was a good king named Josiah. During his lifetime, he initiated a reformation for the whole nation. The Bible says, "He did what was right in the Lord's sight and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn to the right or the left." (2 Kings 22:2)

Judah as a nation was breathing its last breath. They were on an irreversible path to death and punishment. Judgement had already been passed. And no matter what good things Josiah brought about, no matter what spiritual renewal he instigated, no matter how much he honored God in all that he did, his people were doomed to God's wrath. The writer of 2 Kings says, "In spite of all that (the good things done by Josiah), the Lord did not turn from the fury of His great burning anger, which burned against Judah..." (2 Kings 23:26)

I wonder if Josiah knew that in spite of all his best efforts the inevitable was going to happen? And if he did, would he have still given it his best efforts?

I like to think that he would have.

I like to also think that I, no matter what is on the horizon, will continue to give God my best. No matter what happens. No matter what tragedy befalls. No matter what...period.

I choose to live my life wholly for God. No regrets. Whether He pours blessings of mercy and grace on me, I will live for Him. Whether He chooses to pour suffering and hardship out on me, I still choose to follow.

To a large degree, I cannot choose or control many of the circumstances in my life. However, I can choose to follow Him...no regrets!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You Are What You Worship...

In 2 Kings chapter 17, we read the chronicler's account of why the northern Kingdom, Israel, fell. He lists a long string of reasons including...

* Sinning against the Lord their God who had brought them out of Egypt
* Worshipping other gods
* Living according to the customs of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites and the customs the kings of Israel had introduced
* Secretly doing things that weren't right
* Setting up sacred pillars and Asherah poles on every high hill
* Burning incense to and serving idols

He then summarizing by saying, "...they became obstinate like their ancestors who did not believe the Lord their God. They rejected His statutes and His covenant He had made with their ancestors and the decrees he had given them..."

He then makes this frightening conclusion. "They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves..."

Many of us grew up probably hearing the old saying, "You are what you eat." What the writer here is saying, "You are what you worship."

What are the things that we worship today besides God? What is it that we fix our eyes and even our hearts on that serves as our modern day idols? What are the worthless things that we revere that cause us to become like them, worthless?

I think this is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, "...lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2). It is also why Paul exhorts us in saying, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things." (Galatians 4:8)

Transformation and conformation to the image of Jesus is truly a gift from God. It comes from us constantly gazing at and seeking Him. From glory to glory and slowly but slowly He changes us to be like Himself but we must keep our eyes and our hearts fixed upon Him and not the worthless things.

So here's my question. What will you worship today?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Live Well by Listening Well...

In 2 Kings, chapter 12, we find the story of Joash the boy king. He came to power at seven years of age in a tumultuous time in Judah's history. At the death of his father, Ahaziah, his grandmother, Athaliah took advantage of the vacant throne and had all the sons of Ahaziah (her own grandchildren) put to death in order for her to claim the throne. She ruled six years while the remaining heir, Joash, was hidden in the temple and raised/protected by his aunt and the priests.

When Joash was publicly revealed and Athalia overthrown, he began his rule. At the beginning of his rule, he was instructed and led by Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada instructed and guided Joash in the ways of God and the Bible says that Joash, "did what was right in the Lord's sight."

Many good things happened in his early years. The kingdom was strengthened. The temple was repaired. The nation regained its prominence. Everything went well as long as Joash listened to the word of the Lord through Jehoiada.

However, Jehoiada grew old and died. With Jehoiada gone, Joash began to fall away from God. He abandoned the temple of God and began serving the Asherah poles and idols. God's wrath returned to Jerusalem and God sent the prophet Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, to call Joash and the people back to God. Then the Bible tells us, "King Joash didn't remember the kindness that Zechariah's father Jehoiada had extended to him, but killed his son..." (2 Chronicles 25:22). In the end, Joash, in an untimely way, is wounded in battle and then assassinated by his own 'loyal' servants. Sad.

I have often experienced that I tend to live better when I listen better. God places wise guides in my life from people to His inspired Word, the Bible. When I spend time listening to God through their counsel, I find myself walking God's path instead of one contrived in my own power.

I also find that cultivating the art of listening for God has its practical rewards in life as well. Foster says that, "We are to live in a perpetual inward, listening silence so that God is the source of our words and actions. If we are accustomed to carrying out the business of our lives in human strength and wisdom, we will do the same in worship..." We also will tend to not trust in the Lord and we will tend to lean towards our own understanding.

I pray today that I will not run ahead or run behind God but take time in every moment to listen for His wise counsel and His Word for my life. I pray then that I will have the wisdom and courage to follow whatever His prompting.

To hear...to obey...

It could be an interesting day!

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's for Lunch? Cole Slaw...

Yesterday morning, as per my usual routine, before I left out the door for the office, I opened the refrigerator door and peered into the great abyss. I do this every work day excited to find what leftovers are available to take to work as my lunch of the day. If I'm lucky, it will be one of Regina's famous dishes. If the refrigerator is bare, well it's whatever is available.

Now, I could make a sandwich if I wasn't so lazy (or in a rush to get going). Or I could even buy my lunch (if I wasn't so cheap). But the truth is that I really do enjoy taking bits and pieces of things - leftovers - and making that my noon meal of the day. However, yesterday was different.

All that was in the refrigerator was cole slaw. To make matters worse, it was mayonnaise slaw and not vinegar slaw which I am more partial to. It was what was left of the "penny item" that Regina gets as a promo from a local supermarket and it had been in there a few days because no one in our family particularly likes mayonnaise based cole slaw. Even worse, there was lots of it.

So...because I'm lazy, cheap and in a hurry, I have a tub of mayonnaise slaw for lunch. Please don't get me wrong, I am not a cole slaw basher and I have nothing against folks who love cole slaw (even mayonnaise based). Its just that when I pulled my lunch out at noon and saw the tub of slaw I thought, "Really? I settled for this?"

In our spiritual lives, we tend to do the same thing if we are truly honest with ourselves. We tend to "settle" for good enough when God has even better for us. Maybe it takes too much effort or maybe we're just in a hurry to get somewhere. Maybe it just costs too much to quit striving and receive what God really has planned for us. In many respects, I settle for spiritual "cole slaw" when God really has something much more tasty and filling in store for me.

I look at the Old Testament and am constantly amazed that the nation of Israel seemed to always settle for something else besides God. "Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Ps 34:8), urges King David. And yet constantly after tasting the goodness of the Lord, the people immediately go back to the gods of the land and settle for "cole slaw."

I don't know about you, but today, I choose not to eat cole slaw...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened Yesterday...

Late yesterday afternoon, Regina and I went to run some errands. On the way to the car, she picked up the mail and we took off.

Looking through the mail, we saw that we received a sample of a new type of granola bar in the mail (we sign up for all those special promos) and being late afternoon and a bit hungry, I encouraged her to open it and eat it together. It was one of those really good kind with a chocolate coating (read 'healthy') but the only problem is that it was quite melted. No worries. We ate it anyway. Me driving while she stuffed my half (or three quarters) into my mouth.

Our first stop was at our bank. Regina remained in the car while I went in to make a quick transaction. Lucky me! No one was in the bank! There were four lady tellers all ready and eager to wait on me. And as I drew closer to the counter, they all were smiling and looking right at me. I thought, boy, what a friendly bank. And then, or course because of my vanity, I thought, I must still look pretty good at my age to have four women looking at me and all smiling.

Feeling smug, I completed my transactions. The smiles only increased even to the point of a bit of a chuckle. I quickly returned to the car, jumped in and Regina looked at me and broke out laughing. My face (mainly my lips) were coated in chocolate from the melted granola bar!

Regina promises she didn't send me in the bank knowing that my face was covered in chocolate. I believe her (for the most part) but I'm kind of glad it happened. It reminded me of two valuable lessons...

1. When people smile at you it may be because you have something all over your face, not that you are a good looking guy/girl.
2. Sometimes our own sins that are so hidden to us are obvious to others. They are especially known to God.

I think of the stories in the Bible where people tried to cover up their sins. Achan and devoted things taken from conquered Jericho. Saul who defeats the Amalekites and keeps the best of the spoils. David, who as supreme commander of God's army and all of Israel, steals and murders to claim the wife of one of his most trusted warriors, Uriah the Hittite.

The message? Be sure that your sins will find you out.

I resolve to do better today. I resolve to see myself in God's eyes; to let Him expose every area of my life to His loving mercy and grace.

Oh, another lesson...I resolve never to eat a melted chocolate granola bar and go out in public.

Granola bar anyone?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Obituary...

The early classical Christian writers talked of a spiritual discipline known as "looking" or "peering into the abyss." As strange as it might sound, it is a discipline one uses to contemplate ones own mortality. It was used as a tool of personal transformation to help the practitioner come to a sober judgment of his/her life and to put things in perspective such as the things eternal versus temporal.

Foster says, "In our day of runaway narcissism it is a practice we would do well to revive. What would happen if you were to die today? If I were to die today? One of the most sobering insights from such a meditation is the realisation (sic) that life would continue right on without us - and quite well for that matter. The sun would come up the next day. People would go about their normal duties. Nothing of substance would be changed. This is a hard reality for us who carry the illusion that the world revolves around our decisions..."

So, with that in mind, I want to take this opportunity to write my obituary or at least outline some major points. Like Momma said, you can never be too prepared! Or was that my Scout leader?

Anyway, here are some things that I would like to be said or written about me when I'm gone...

* He loved God and he loved people
* He was a most fortunate man who knew the love and companionship of one woman and three excellent children
* He served his King well
* He had a passion for the lost and for the least
* He is more alive now than he has ever been...Rejoice!

The helpful thing about writing ones own obituary is that you can look at it and ask, "Is this the life I am now living?" And if not, what do I need to change and get right with God in order to make my life what I want to be remembered for?

Help me today, Lord, to keep in perspective that I am mortal and at best, in the process of dying. May my physical dying day by day be an outward sign of my daily spiritual death to self and conformation to the image of your Son, Jesus.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arrows From Unexpected Places...

In their book, "The Sacred Romance", Brent Curtis and John Eldredge talk about arrows in our heart that cause pain and are a part of our journey of growing into the people we are. An arrow of an abusive parent that sometimes shapes a young child into an abusive adult. The arrows of withheld love that tells a teenager that he or she will never be good enough and so they look for fulfillment in worldly avenues. There are even arrows we inflict on ourselves; arrows of poor self image or low self esteem that constantly finds ourselves pitting and comparing our lives to others who seem to have it all together.

Of all the arrows that pierce the deepest are the arrows that come from the ones we love the closest. I think of King David in the Bible in relation to his son Absalom. David loved Absalom with a father's heart. Even when Absalom brutally murdered his brother Adonijah, David's love for Absalom stayed true. When David fully restated Absalom to his place of sonship, Absalom took advantage and leveraged everything he had to dethrone and even have his father murdered. David's love for Absalom was only equalled by Absalom's deep craving for power and taking by force everything that belonged to his father. Yet, even when it was all over the the young man Absalom lay dead, David cried out, "My son Absalom!...If only I had died instead of you..."

It is easy to recognize the "arrows" that come from our enemies. David could tell the difference between a Philistine and an Amorite arrow, I am sure. What trips us up is when the arrows come from those we love the most. An unkind word. A betrayal. An intentional plot to take us down.

Fortunately, for the most part, few of us have to experience the deep arrow of betrayal such as an Absalom with his father David. But even the smaller arrows can be hurtful and cause deep wounds that may take years to heal.

* A colleague who puts us down in some way in order to build himself/herself up in the eyes of others
* A confidence shared with a friend broadcast for the world to see
* A word of criticism from a loved one when a word of encouragement is what is needed

These seem like small things and maybe they are but when these particular arrows come from those who are supposed to be watching our backs, it can be discouraging and even crippling.

What are some of the arrows of affliction that God is bringing to your mind right now? How do we allow Him to take those arrows of pain and turn them into something good like a life-lesson? How do those arrows become building blocks for us to become more conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus?

I am tempted to think that all of the arrows in my heart are "about" me. Sometimes I need to realize that they might just be "for" me in order to make me more like Jesus.

Monday, August 15, 2011

If Life Were Only a Series of Recipes...

I marvel at my wife. She is undoubtedly one of the best cooks on the planet. Yesterday, she whipped up a batch of her amazing brownies to go with our homemade vanilla ice cream. She took a recipe that she had marked as one of her favorites, placed it on the counter and began following the steps that she had followed many times resulting in perfect brownies. The recipe, if followed correctly, works every time.

Sometimes, I wish life were like this: a simple recipe. We do the things that are "right", follow what God asks us to do, write it down and pull it out and follow the steps every time we need it. However, I have found that a life that is called to follow God is never as simple as following a recipe. There is no cookie cutter philosophy in cross-filled living. I wish there were but my experience and the Bible proves otherwise.

Yes, there are general Biblical principles that we all should strive to live by. Yes, there are some practical spiritual disciplines that we all should seek to cultivate. But over and over I am amazed at those who seek to follow God with all their heart and in all their practices and decisions can arrive at very different destinations. There is no guarantee that if we "do the right things", life will be all that we expect it to be.

* Consider the parents who raise their children according to God's word. One turns out a lover of God and the other turns out a prodigal.
* What about a young mother who lives according to God's laws and ways and wakes up one more to find that she will soon die of cancer leaving too soon a family behind.
* Or the father who does everything right to the best of his knowledge and ability who loses his job and self-esteem and cannot provide for his family anymore.

It just seems unfair. At least from a worldly standard.

The truth is, we live in a world that God loves but it is a fallen world. A world that was meant to be something else and is becoming something else. It is a world that brings, at times, unspeakable joy and happiness but at the same time sin, death, suffering and pain.

We are created with a purpose to learn to love God and keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Him. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves or our loved ones in, our call is to constantly seek the face of God and Jesus, focusing on Him and His perfection and not our present trials.

In my perfect world, "A" plus "B" plus "C" would equal "D". That makes sense to me. In God's world, add the same things together and you might come up with "Z". The truth is that there are no failsafe recipes to make life here turn out the way that we all desire.

And this should not be discouraging. Rather, it should be liberating to know that no matter what the outcome of this life, no matter what results in the final equation of life, our eyes should be fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith because it is in Him we move, breathe and have our life.

The prize is not our expectations of what should turn out when we get the recipe right. It should be God Himself and His Son Jesus.

Friday, August 12, 2011

But, Let Me Explain Myself...

We all have those times when we are misunderstood or something we did or said was misinterpreted. At least we say we were misunderstood. But maybe we really meant that action or that particular word but find ourselves having to come back and do damage control or worse, image adjustment. The simple fact is that this worldly flesh prompts us to want to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others.

I am at time my own worst image consultant. I am at times addicted to others' approval. I don't really want to, but I find myself time after time trying to explain things in a way that put me in the best light of others. It's a deep flaw and it is a deep addiction.

David, before he was King, could have fallen prey to this malady. He was a very winsome person to both men who would follow him and ladies who would more than once glance his way. He had a natural way in which people just fell in love with him. And yet early on, and throughout much of his latter years, he was the recipient of some of the most unjust accusations and character assassinations than any one person ought to have to bear.

His response? He constantly went to God. He refused to lift his hand against the Lord's anointed. He bore the loss of most every convenience and every right he had and responded mostly in silence, allowing God to be his justifier before others. Radical.

Richard Foster says, "The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image...If we are silent, who will take control?..."

Today, I determine to live my life without having to excuse or justify myself to others. I pledge to let God be my justifier. I choose to let my "self" image be immersed in a "God" image and let Him be my identity to a world so in need of Him.

I vow today not to have to use the phrase, "But, let me explain myself..."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Understand a Cross Death, but a Cross Life?...

In the story of David in the Bible, young David does everything he can to support King Saul and his family. He fights and slays the giant Goliath even though he is a youth. He fights for Israel in the name of God and becomes its most famous general. He serves Saul with all his heart and supports whatever his king commands.

His reward? The king throws a spear at him trying to pin him to the wall. He is persecuted and hunted. He is driven out of his home and even his country to live like a madman at times. He is surrounded by a group of malcontents and misfits who look to him as their model and leader.

Life, at times, just doesn't seem fair. We give and give, we serve and serve, we even obey to the best of our abilities, and the world, instead of applauding, throws a spear at us.

Jesus experienced this and in a much greater way than any of us can begin to understand. We celebrate His "cross-death" for us, but rarely stop to thank Him for HIs "cross-life".

Richard Foster says, "The most radical social teaching of Jesus was his total reversal of the contemporary notion of greatness. Leadership is found in becoming the servant of all. Power is discovered in submission....Christ not only died a 'cross-death', he lived a 'cross-life'...Jesus called his followers to live the cross-life. 'If any man would come after me,...' 'If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'...The cross-life is the life of voluntary submission. The cross-life is the life of freely accepted servanthood."

A couple of thousand years before God came to earth in the form of Jesus, David showed us the way of the cross-life. He was obedient to his king, never even thinking about raising his hand against God's anointed. He had every opportunity to do so. He had the hearts of the people who would have followed him. But you see, David was a man after God's own heart and he chose God's way even though it meant becoming the spear-throwing target of a madman.

I am often willing (at least ideally in my mind) to think that I can accept the cross-death...to be a martyr if needed. What I struggle to do is to be able to live the cross-life. I am finding that the cross-life is far more difficult to choose than the cross-death.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Strength; God's Strength...

The stories of the Old Testament always seem to speak to me simple and obvious truths. Where I find myself struggling is trying to apply those truths practically to my own life and in most cases, it is a struggle with my will and pride.

Take the story of Gideon and how one day, God leads him to select an army to fight against Midian. The Midianites were as numerous as a swarm of locust. They had oppressed Israel for several years and had so laid waste to the land that Israel, "became poverty stricken...and cried out to the Lord."

God calls out Gideon to lead Israel against Midian. Gideon puts together an impressive army. Then, the Lord tells Gideon, "You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you..."

Gideon had amassed 32,000 warriors and God said that this was too many to fight a people who were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. God instructs Gideon to give a "go home free" card to those afraid of battle. Twenty-two thousand left leaving 10,000. God said, "There are still too many people." So God had them separated by the way they drank water. He instructed Gideon to choose only 300. God took what looked like an impressive army and whittled it down to 300 to face the Midianite hordes. And He did it all because, "...or else Israel might brag: I did it myself."

There is no math, no military strategy, no earthly reasoning that would say 300 is better than 32,000 when it comes to war. It is only in God's economy and in God's plan does this even begin to make a little sense.

Relinquishing our plans and our strategies to God and His way is no easy task. I do find it easy to champion "God's will" and even to fight passionately for it when it conveniently aligns with my interpretations. But when God's will becomes perpendicular to mine, that's when I struggle with, "Not my will but Yours..."

I think Gideon had to experience doubts when God left him with 300 men. I admire his willingness to follow God's way no matter how counterintuitive it was to all of his natural inclinations.

Foster says that through His prayer in Gethsemane, "Jesus shows us a more excellent way. The way of helplessness. The way of abandonment. The way of relinquishment. 'My will be done' is conquered by 'Not my will.'"

Lord, today and forevermore, may it be, "Not my will, but Yours."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Am I Afraid to Go to God?

In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, there is a loving father waiting anxiously for the son to return home.

This is how I picture God looking and even longing for us day in and day out. Standing with eager anticipation of His children returning to Him with a broken and contrite heart. And even though I know deep down that God never turns away a broken and contrite heart, I constantly find it hard to next to impossible to make that first step back towards the Father when I have strayed.

I don't know about you, but I constantly fail and constantly stray much like the prodigal. It may not be as dramatic and it may not be as visible to the world, but my heart has a tendency to wander.

Oftentimes it wanders into busy-ness and good deeds. I can get so busy for God that I forget that He wants my heart and my companionship above all service.

Sometimes it wanders into complacency and boredom. The 'same old, same old' becomes the standard of the day and I go through the motions looking good on the outside but dry and barren on the inside.

More often, it wanders into pride and self-sufficiency when my heart tells me to trust in my own understanding and abilities.

So how do we continually walk in a way that we carry this broken and contrite heart? Richard Foster says,...

"We begin by asking. I wish that did not sound so trite, for it is the deepest truth we can ever know about our turning towards God. We simply cannot make heart repentance happen. It is not something that we cause to come about by creating a certain kind of mood with a certain kind of atmosphere and a certain kind of music. It is a gift from God, pure and simple. But it is a gift that God loves to bestow upon all who ask."

Lord, please grant to me today a broken and contrite heart. May all of my senses be in tune with You. And may I have the courage to take the first step back home to you like the prodigal that I am.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I Wish I Were Better at Praying...

Reading the Bible fervently? No problem. Reading good devotional material? A snap. Service to others? It's one of my gifts. Preaching and proclaiming? I can do that.

These are the things that come fairly natural after years of being in love with and serving King Jesus. And while there are many, many areas in need of improvement (including those listed above), the one area I constantly struggle with prayer. I try. I determinedly set my mind to do it. I set aside time. I try spontaneous prayer. But I always seem, to myself, to come up short for what I think is a dynamic, vibrant prayer life.

I recently re-read a statement made by Richard Foster on prayer where he says...

"The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives - altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it."

I long to be that person who "prays without ceasing." But maybe I have to learn to accept that my attempts at prayer are always going to be messy, short of my ideals, and just not perfect.

I pray that I give myself, like Christ has given me, the grace to pray. He does receive us with "all our mixture."


Saturday, August 6, 2011

There But For the Grace of God Go I...

As I continue to read through the Bible two times per year as one of my spiritual disciplines, today I am finishing up time in Joshua and moving into Judges. As I reflect back on Exodus, Deuteronomy and Joshua, one of the things that jumps out at me is the continual encouragement from God that He is on the side of the Israelites.

As they were coming out of Egypt and being pursued by Pharaoh and his army, God told them, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord's salvation. He will fight for you today."

In Deuteronomy, over and over, the Israelites are reminded and continually being taught that it is the Lord who is their helper and He is with them, goes before them and will deal with their enemies. (Deuteronomy 1:29; 7:18; 20:1; 31:26). And in Joshua, when the Israelites were setting about conquering the tribes in the promised land, the Lord says to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them, for I will cause all of them to be killed before Israel..."

When I look at these wonderful promises from God, I often think, "How could the Israelites see such provisions from God and in one or two generations be totally rebellious to Him who has provided so much for them?" He took them out of captivity. He provided for them throughout the wilderness experience. He took them to a land promised to their forefathers. He went with them and even prepared the way before them by taking care of their enemies. How could they in a few short years forget about God's goodness and provisions for them?

And then I think, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

How often to I let the problems of my life cloud my ability to see God's goodness and grace? How many times do I take my eyes off God and focus on my problems or either rely on my abilities and wisdom to address the issues in my life? How frequently do I forget to acknowledge that our God is awesome, powerful and has His best intentions for my life? In short, like the Israelites, He is constantly fighting for me.

It is easy to judge others' actions and reactions. It is hard to acknowledge that we are not much different than the things we judge in others.

My prayer for today is that I will not be afraid. I will stand firm and see the Lord's salvation. And I will rest in the comfort, knowledge, and assurance that God will fight for me today.