Monday, December 17, 2012

Mourning Devotions

Psalm 42

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
         So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
         When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
         While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
         For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
         With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
         And why have you become disturbed within me?
         Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
         For the help of His presence.

O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
         Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
         And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
         All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.

The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
         And His song will be with me in the night,
         A prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me?
         Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
         While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
         And why have you become disturbed within me?
         Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
         The help of my countenance and my God.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Morning Devotions

Philippians 3:7-11

But whatever things were gain to me, (from an earthly perspective - my good works, my family upbringing, my education, my accomplishments, my personal righteousness, my effort to please the Lord to earn salvation)

those things I have counted as loss of the sake of Christ.  (my righteousness was in the gain column, but now I have assessed them in light of the cross and placed them in the loss column - effort is in vain, my righteousnesses...worthless...even loss)

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing (exceeding, greater than) value of knowing (intimate, relationship) Christ Jesus my Lord, (there is no greater treasure, no greater possession, no greater relationship than Jesus Christ, therefore all things are loss in comparison - anything that takes my attention away from Him is loss, anything that I pursue away from Him is valueless, anything that competes with my affections for Him is worthless)

for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, (my hope and faith cannot be in my works - I must reject the notion that goodness can save me and recognize that there is nothing good in me but Jesus - poor in spirit, mourning over sin rather than bringing my works as part of the payment - it is only then that I may gain Jesus)

not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, (my righteousness comes from believing that Jesus is Lord, that He exchanged identities with me, trusting that His work is sufficient to meet the wrath of His Father)

the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (and this righteousness - my ability to believe - is not even from within me but a gift from God - His gift of faith - the ability to believe the Word of God and act on it)

that I may know Him (intimate, relationship)

and the power of His resurrection (there is no power in the Law - it cannot save me - there is no power in my good works - when I die, I die eternally - the only true power is in Jesus, revealed in His resurrection - power over physical and spiritual death - when I put aside my effort, focus my eyes on Jesus, I can see the power of His resurrection - it reveals His character, His authority and His promises)

and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; (Jesus died so that we might live - we are called to die to self for the cause of Christ - deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him for the purpose of furthering His kingdom - He willingly died to bring sinners to Himself - am I willing to identify with His suffering in order that others would come to know Him?)

in order that I might attain to the resurrection from the dead. (herein lies the eternal perspective - we have a goal, we have a prize - setting our eyes on Jesus, knowing that through His power we will also have the resurrection both physical and spiritual that is promised through the resurrection of Jesus Christ - the knowledge of this future event is motivation for me to walk by faith, share in His sufferings and conform to His death - this is the great hope of the church)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Tree Joys

Thanksgiving was early this year, wasn't it?  Here we are, November 26th, and Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are over, and Cyber-Monday is coming to a close (of course I heard they were extending it to a week this year).  I really had no intention of doing holiday decorating but then suddenly I got this panicked feeling that if I didn't do it this week, then some may fear I was a grinch this year.

So completely out of a sense of people pleasing, plus the fact that the best two little Christmas decoration helpers in the world were home on Saturday, we got 90% of the decorating done.  For all of you who heard on Sunday my husband's lament about hearing the two words he dreads this time of year (Christmas decorations), he went to the office while my buddies and I decorated...

So now we get to Monday morning and the big tree needs to be put up.  I have experimented with all sorts of trees over the years - tall trees, fat trees, frozen trees who don't reveal if they are fat or skinny until completely thawed which at that point is too late to do anything about, fake trees, real trees, trees that aren't supposed to dry out and trees that become a fire hazard three hours into plugging in your lights.

I have a few issues with real trees in my house:
  1. Getting them up to the second floor where my great room is proves to be tough no matter what shape it comes in
  2. Anything shorter than a 14-footer looks miniature in my great room
  3. Removing the tree on January 2nd proves even more difficult, as the needles tend to end up EVERYWHERE but on the tree by the time I lift through the living room, over my island in the kitchen, make the bend to the back door, through the back door and over the side of the deck
  4. I'm still picking needles out of crevasses from a few years back...
So I have resorted to a massive fake tree and evergreen candles.  The effect is wonderful.  Two years ago I brought a brand new tree after Christmas was over (can you spell S-A-L-E?) and was expecting to be able to throw it up, plug it in and have a very merry Christmas Decorating Day last year.  But alas, when the pre-lit branches wouldn't turn on, it became my nemesis for the day but I survived.

Fast forward to November 26, 2012 (today).  I knew the tree was a stinker but we had a new problem.  The top of the tree, which is only about an 18 inch section, is as wiggly and wobbly as me on ice skates and trying to attach either of my tree toppers proved to be impossible.  Now if the tree had looked as cool as this one to the left I'd be happy.  But instead it just looks ridiculous.

That being said, I've decided there are worse things in life.  I could be lost in my sin, living for myself, denying the truth of God and running on that broad road that leads to destruction.  I could be on this earth without heavenly Father to love and care for me.  I could be working hard to earn His pleasure, hoping that when I die I will have done enough.  I could be spending every last penny I have to buy gold leaf to rub on the belly of the nearest Buddha or hoping that some nice Mormon man chooses to marry me so I could go to heaven.  Or I could even be that person who is offended by the mere thought of a Christmas tree, because using that terminology seems too exclusive to me.

But instead of these things, I am a child of the King.  I know God.  I know Who He is, where He is and what He's doing.  I understand the Christmas story, because I'm a part of it.  I also understand that there is nothing good enough in me to earn the pardon of the one true Holy God, so I choose to hide myself in the person of Jesus Christ.  Yes, we've traded identities, but I'm to the point now that I don't even want people to recognize me.  I want to act so much like Him that people accuse me of being a copy cat.

So I guess it's just a matter of perspective.  I can choose to be ticked about my droopy tree top or I can rejoice in the precious gift of salvation that gives me the reason to live.  Granted, I'll have to deal with every smart-aleck's comment about my crooked tree and I'll have to watch my bitties as they clamor to pull ornaments off the lower branches to make sure the top doesn't topple down on their heads.  But I'll still take a crooked tree over a lost eternity, wouldn't you?

So I'm thinking I might have to hang something heavy on the tip and get this gal's effect - what do you think? Talk about making lemonade...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Meditation for the Day

Okay, so this is one way to meditate on God's Word - write a verse on your arm and it will be with you all day...

Friday night we discussed how to enhance (or even get started with) your spiritual disciplines, so this morning, I have a passage for you to meditate on:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, 
and to make you stand in the presence of His glory 
blameless with great joy,
 to the only God our Savior, 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, 
before all time and now and forever. 
Jude 1:24,25

There are great, great truths in these 51 words!  Here are a few of my thoughts to get you going:
  • God is able to keep me from stumbling - am I able or is it Him?  Do I walk in His power or in my own strength?  If that resource is available to me, why don't I use it more often?
  • He makes me stand in His presence - are you telling me I didn't choose to do this?  Oh, yeah - it's His work of trading identities, dying in my place, paying the price for my sin - this is what MAKES me stand in His presence
  • What does standing in the presence of HIS GLORY really mean? What does that look like?
  • He makes me stand blameless - do you mean there is no finger pointing in God's presence?  Do I stand with my head up or do I fall prostrate because of my sin?  It says I stand...
  • I stand with great joy - perhaps it is when I come face to face with Jesus that I will finally realized exactly what was taken away from me and what was given to me - do I have to wait until faith becomes sight, or can I stand in His presence today, blameless and with GREAT JOY?  God wants my life to have joy...
  • The ONLY God - there's not two or three or thousands, but ONLY ONE
  • Our access to this ONLY GOD is through Jesus Christ - truth
  • Our LORD - is He LORD of my life?
  • What is laid at His feet?  Glory, majesty, dominion and authority - wow...what in the world does all that mean?  (Not enough space to write my thoughts on those four words...)
  • Before creation, presently and forever - all the glory belongs to God

That's just to get you going - take this verse with you today - this week, mull it over, pray through it, be thankful for the truth it hold and let it change your life!

Have a great day...

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Bride of Christ

Yesterday at church Dave interviewed a couple who is going through the dark valley of cancer and all that comes with that trial.  The wife is the one who is ill and the husband is left in the unenviable position of helplessness, watching his wife suffer physically and not being able to relieve it or protect her from it.  They testified of the joy of the presence of the Lord through this trial, giving Him the glory for all they were going through.

The husband spoke of two things he has relied upon through this battle - the first was sacrificial love for his wife, putting her needs before all else - agape.  The second was the power of prayer as the sustaining force in his life.

But what pricked my ears was another statement he made and I want to share it with you this morning.  One of the first things he said of their battle was this:

"You give up a lot of yourself to serve your bride in the crisis."

It's just a matter of fact.  It's true of anyone who walks through an illness with a spouse.

It's also true of the Christian walk.  We were given to each other as the body of Christ to encourage, edify, uplift, support, love on, challenge, exhort, correct and "do life together."  We were not created as an island, but as a community.  And if the imagery of the church being the bride of Christ is accurate in scripture (II Cor. 11:2; Matthew 9:15; Matthew 25:1-12; Mark 2:19-20; John 3:25-30), then the statement above is also true - as believers, we are called to give up a lot of ourselves to serve the bride in the crisis.

And crisis abounds in the church, doesn't it?  There is much sorrow and despair - over the consequences of sin, over the circumstances of life.  And our role is not to pat people on the back and tell them how sorry we are for them, but to roll up our sleeves and become part of the solution. Sometimes that comes in the form of fervent prayer, other times it means extended bible study and counsel. It might even mean supplying a need or giving up valued free time.  

But we are not called to do anything Christ wouldn't do, right?  So what is the example He set before us?

Philippians 2

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, 
if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 
make my joy complete by being of the same mind, 
maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, 
but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 
do not merely look out for your own personal interests, 
but also for the interests of others.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 
who, although He existed in the form of God, 
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, 
and being made in the likeness of men. 
Being found in appearance as a man, 
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, 
even death on a cross. 
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, 
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, 
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, 
not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, 
work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 
so that you will [i]prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, 
children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, 
among whom you appear as lights in the world,  
holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ 
I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.  
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice 
and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 
 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Good Morning

Good morning, friends.

Yes, it is a good morning and here's why - every day is a new opportunity to please and glorify our heavenly Father.  Hours full of opportunities - running errands, loving our families, cleaning our homes, working our jobs, discussing events online, mulling our thoughts. Every day is filled with 24 hours worth of opportunities to praise the Lord.

Each minute we can choose to be pleasing or we can choose to be selfish.

I love how the Father provides for me guidance just before I need it.  He lays it out in front of me, I begin to pick at it with my fork and then life throws a curve ball into the middle of my fine dining and I have a choice - eat and be filled with the goodness and truth of the Word, or leave the table, still hungry and frustrated, and even rebellious.

Here's what He has been emphasizing in my life recently (really, since this summer):

  • anger equates to murder
  • we need to see all people as image bearers of God and give them respect because of that
  • honesty should flow through our veins like blood
  • we need to go overboard in absorbing the angst and hatred of others
  • we do not need to retaliate but rather we must love sacrificially
  • we need to pray for our enemies
All of these instructions are realities because of Jesus Christ.  He modeled this for us, not because of the sin of others but because of MY sin. He enables us to be successful through His Spirit, who convicts us and empowers us to goodness. It's really important for me to recognize where I'm at and where I need to be.

So how did I do yesterday?  How did you do yesterday?
  • Did I spend the evening murdering people in my heart?
  • Did I defame image bearers of my Father?
  • Did I seek truth or believe lies?
  • Did I cringe at the thought of the onslaught of angst that would come my way?
  • Did I prepare rash responses?
  • Did I pray for my enemies?
Well, let's just say that because God had so clearly told me what His follower would do in a situation like last night, my choices were different than what my flesh wanted.  Jesus ends Matthew 5 saying, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." I was far from perfect, but closer than ever because of the powerful, life-changing Word of God, and for that I am thankful this morning.

So let's commit to less self and more Jesus!  It's a much better way to live and will have a much greater impact in the end...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

(Kind of a gross picture, isn't it?)

Murder.  Adultery.  Divorce. (Matthew 5:21-32)

It was another difficult morning at Bible study yesterday because the topics were so personal.  But Jesus doesn't tend to pull punches - He lays it on the line and forces us to respond.  So here was the basic teaching:

  • God wants to get to the heart of the matter.
  • God considers sinful anger against another human as murder. All men are image bearers of God and only God is the judge of men, therefore we are to reconcile relationships as far as it is up to us so that our worship is not hindered and so that we aren't found guilty of murder.
  • God also considers lust to be adultery.  Therefore, radical amputation is sometimes necessary to remove the temptation, but it pales in comparison to the punishment that comes from not dealing with sin.
  • And finally, God views divorce and remarriage as adultery with the exception for unfaithfulness in a marriage. We also concluded that remarriage is allowed to a believing spouse whose unbelieving partner refuses to stay in the marriage.  This was particularly hard teaching because bad marriages and divorces abound in the church...abound.  I mean it, they abound.
The holiness of God should become more apparent as you study the word of God.  It should make Him much bigger and reduce you to your proper size.  The hindrance to this happening is our pride. We don't want to view ourselves in light of scripture, but rather we tend to justify ourselves by saying our sin isn't really that bad.  

If lust in your heart is considered adultery, then sin is pretty damning.

If anger towards someone is considered murder, is really underrated.

As for divorce, I think that sexual impurity also abounds today, which makes most divorces "biblical" per se, but that hardly justifies doing something God hates - both the immorality and divorce are abhorrent to Him.

So yes, sin really stinks and after a study like yesterday, once again I find myself poor in spirit and mourning over my sinfulness.  God wants to get to our hearts, my friends.  And when I say hearts, I am not talking about our feelings but to the core of our minds - where our beliefs are born and where we form understanding that drives our actions.  He wants us to see sin as He sees it.

Why is Jesus making this so hard on His audience?  Why is He shining a light on their sin, rather than building them up and encouraging them?  Again, this is our pride asking this.  We must understand that in shedding light on the enormity of our need, Jesus is being more gracious and loving than we deserve.  For without us recognizing our sin, we will never repent of it, we will never see our need for a Savior, we will never beg for forgiveness and we'll never fully receive His mercy and grace, which He freely and abundantly bestows on us.

We need to marinate in this teaching for a few days, then own it, repent and determine to put off sin and put on righteousness.  God is forgiving and He's also extremely powerful and helpful when it comes to victory over sin.  He knows what is best for us - He knows what pure hearts produces in the lives of His children. Therefore, let's not embrace our sin only because then we will have to endure the consequences, but let's not embrace our sin because we see God more clearly and want to please Him more than indulge ourselves.

If you are not convinced that letting Christ rule in your life is a better way to live, then you will never release your kung fu grip on sin.

Not I, but Christ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lesson Summary

Good morning, friends!

After the hard lesson yesterday, my friend who watches online in Washington, sent me this summary of the lesson.  I thought she got the main points and decided to post them here for you:

The law of God has three parts:
  • the moral law
  • the judicial law
  • the ceremonial law
All of it reveals the character of God.  The law flows out of God's character and gives us the heart of God, what He cares about and what we are to care about.

The law shows us Jesus - it's a picture of Jesus.  The law and the prophets point to Jesus.  

The Pharisees had taken the heart of God out of the law, leaving legalism - they were trying to please God with only action, not heart, when God wants our hearts. They had changed the call from internal holiness (having an attitude like God) to living external rules.  They thought even with a dirty heart, if you had the right actions you could please God. (No wonder they hated Jesus and were legalistic, not seeing Jesus as God because as God, Jesus is the heart of God!)

We see the tender compassion of God in the law from how the Israelites were to treat the animals of their enemies. 

God wants our hearts and minds (Hosea 6:6). The Mishnah shows how far the Pharisees had strayed from the heart of God.  

Jesus came to fulfill the law, since it was a picture of Him.  He lived the law out.  (Parts of the ceremonial law will not be fulfilled until His second coming.)  Because the law is Jesus, to annul the law or to abolish the law is to do away with Jesus.  The Word of God (including the law) is permanent. Jesus was establishing the permanence of His Word.  The law of God does not change because the character of God and the heart of God does not change. (The penalty phase of the law will be the day of the Lord - I loved that truth.)

We don't have to live according to the law for righteousness, Jesus did that for us.  We live according to the law because it is His heart and we want to please Him.  The judicial law - this was for Israel, as a nation under God's leadership. When Israel rejected Jesus as their king, they rejected the judicial law and so it has been set aside for them.  The judicial law will be back in place during the millennium for Israel!  

We do not observe the ceremonial law because Jesus fulfilled it.  Before salvation, the law reveals our sin - after salvation, the law reveals righteousness.  The law now give us joy, because we have the ability to keep it.  When we live by the moral law, it increases our joy because it shows we are after the heart of God!

In the story of the prodigal son, the father had the second son's actions, but not his heart. The Father wants our hearts! 

What about the Sabbath? Why don't we keep the Sabbath part of the moral law?  Nine of the moral laws are restated in the teaching of the New Testament, but not the Sabbath.  The Sabbath (and there were more than one) were days set aside for rest. The law was a huge burden and a Sabbath was to rest from this burden.  Jesus is our Sabbath, our rest!  The Sabbath was also a call to holiness.  Jesus is also our holiness and every day is a call to holiness for us.  This is why we don't observe the Sabbath, because Jesus is keeping it for us, as our holiness.

The final point I would make about the Sabbath is this - we do not find our rest in a day.  We find our rest in Jesus.  This is why every day is now a sabbath of sorts - a call to holiness in Jesus Christ.  The early church met on the Lord's day, which was the first day of the week - not as a day of rest, but as a day of celebration - to remember the resurrection and to celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ...

Okay, time to start looking at what is coming next week...have a great week!

Monday, October 15, 2012

In the same way...

This week at my women's study we will be looking at Jesus' teaching that if you are persecuted, you are blessed.  Having just returned from a formerly communist country, Romania, this subject of persecution has been greatly on my mind, but probably not how you would think.

Persecution historically has been unable to extinguish the church. As a matter of fact, in most places it strengthened the church and caused revival.  How can that be?  When your life is on the line, why would people choose to die?  The believers who gave their lives for Christ understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain.  In A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir, Collin Hanson and John Woodbridge say this:

“Persecution doesn’t always . . . sow the seeds of revival.  When the persecution is sufficiently systematic, severe, and sustained, as it was centuries ago in places such as modern-day Libya and Saudi Arabia, the church disperses and disappears.  The persecution in Kenya and Uganda, however, failed to stamp out the flames of faith fanned by revival.  A church already broken by its own sin and desperate need for a Savior is better positioned to withstand attack.  Revival reaches Christians who recognize and admit that God is their only hope."

This confirms Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, as He explains that the citizens of His kingdom come completely broken over their sin, with mourning and sorrow - they recognize their beggarly state.  Understanding what they have been saved from produces a willingness to lay their life down for the Savior and whether it's revival or not, persecution becomes validation of their loyalty to Christ.

Fast forward to today - there is still physical persecution in the world.  Christians are losing their livelihoods or lives for the sake of Christ.  Men, women and children are beaten for the cause of Christ, they have had their hands cut off, they are thrown out of their families, their homes and businesses are burned and in many cases their lives are taken from them.  They are ridiculed and mocked, considered weak and rejected.  And yet the church survives.

But this is not the persecution seen in many places today.  In Romania, the persecution of the church mainly comes from within the church.  Churches within the same denomination are vile and wicked toward each other - spreading lies and gossip to destroy other believers.  The ridicule and mocking still accompany the threats, and lines are quickly drawn for believers to choose with whom they align.  From music to clothing, preaching styles to head coverings, leadership organization to women's roles - the legalism is weighty on the shoulders of the believers and the controversy is not simply difference of opinions but all out hatred against brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sadly, this is the type of persecution experienced today in America.  While the nation as a whole is testing the waters of freedom of religion, currently the in-fighting within the body of Christ is the main source of harassment in the church.  Churches have become social engagements, seeking membership more than discipleship - straying from the call to preach the Word, deal with sin and love one another. Sin has separated family members as well as church members, all who are covered by the blood of Christ. 

As I have prepared for this lesson on persecution, I couldn't help but wonder if the in-fighting in the church was included in the persecution Jesus was teaching about. So this morning, I was reading through the passage again and this phrase stuck out to me:

"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you..."

Insults and false, evil gossip are exactly what is flowing through the churches today, and Jesus' reference to the rejection of the prophets who were rejected by whom? The people they were called to preach to - the chosen children of God - these words confirmed in my heart that Jesus included persecution within the church in His teaching.  He knew exactly what was going to happen and He gave words of comfort to hold on to in times of struggle.

The key is the three words, "because of Me."  If we want to embrace and rejoice in our persecutions, we have to be sure that it is because of Jesus that we are being harassed and rejected, even within the church. We have to check our motives and what we stand on - are we being mocked and ridiculed because of our love for Jesus, or because of our own sinful tendencies?  This is a high mark that forces us to examine ourselves before crying "foul!" before the Lord.

Father, forgive our petty differences.  Forgive our in-fighting.  Forgive our selfish, sinful attack on other believers.  May we love each other in the name of Your Son.  May we be unified in Your Word. The fields are massive and the workers need to quit fighting and join ranks for the glory of Your name. May our church be a beacon of light to a dying world, rather than the object of harassment or the source of persecution of other children of God.  Strengthen Your church in Your Word and give endurance to those who are experiencing the false, evil gossip within the church.  Specifically strengthen our brothers and sisters in Romania who are battling to establish the biblical model of church within a nation crushed by communism and legalism.  We love You, Lord - You are our God. There is none like You.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The First Place

The Garden of Eden.

Have you ever spent any time trying to imagine what it was like?  What image comes into your mind?  Is it lush greenery, heavy-laden fruit trees, wild flowers and a peaceful river?

I think that's what most of us try to imagine - a perfect environment.  The smells, the sounds, the quietness, the sun shining through the glistening leaves of the enormous trees, the tastes, the colors - I think we call it Utopia, right?

More often than I can testify to, God takes the elements of my life and converges them to a single point of concentration.  Let me explain.  I am teaching Genesis with the middle schoolers at church and we are just getting ready for Genesis 3, which means we've been hanging out in the Garden of Eden for a few weeks.

In addition to that, we are studying the Sermon on the Mount in ladies study and in the Beatitudes we've been mulling over the characteristics of citizens of the Kingdom.  Though for now, we citizens live in a fallen world, a day is coming when that kingdom will be restored and the stewardship that I experience now will be drastically changed.

And finally, this weekend is our women's fall conference. The theme is The First Place, taken from Colossians 1, where in a lengthy description of Jesus, it ends with the phrase - "and He will come to have first place in everything."  We desire to see Jesus at the forefront of every aspect of our lives today, but a day is coming when His rightful position will be returned and we won't wrestle with our flesh to have Him there.

So here's the point of the convergence - the garden of Eden, while peaceful and beautiful beyond my imagination, had the presence of Jesus Christ in the center of it, completely unhindered by sin.

Pure and perfect fellowship.

The Kingdom is all about restoring God's creation to its original intent.

Pure and perfect fellowship.

Jesus having first place in all things is the restoration of that kingdom.

Pure and perfect fellowship.

That's the end game, friends.  That's where our focus needs to be.  Do you long for pure, unhindered and perfect fellowship with Jesus?  Does your heart ache to see His face and hear His voice? Are you weary of the daily battle with the enemy?  Does your heart feel the pull of eternity?

When you think of Eden, don't worry about trying to imagine the garden.  We'll get to see it someday, because the Lord will create a new heavens and a new earth. He'll restore the earth to its original beauty and we'll have the opportunity and privilege to steward His creation unhindered by sin once again. So don't worry - you'll get to see it.

But when you think of Eden, let your heart long for that pure and perfect fellowship that Adam and Eve had before sin. Imagine meeting with Jesus and walking through the garden. What does He want to talk with you about?  What does His voice sound like?  What will you ask Him?

There will be no fear - fear of His judgment or fear of disappointing Him.  There will be no sin - no self-centered requests or need for repentance.  Though we have restored fellowship and a restored kingdom today, it's still going to be different then. Sin will be destroyed. Done. Gone. Over. We will all be changed.

Spend some time imagining that today and let your heart soar with joy and wonder, as you set your mind on the things above...Jesus' unhindered presence, Jesus restoring His kingdom, Jesus in the first place...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remember Your Right Standing

It is a true statement that all believers are blessed.  It's what brings us into the kingdom.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we now have a right standing before the Father, which brings a deep joy despite our earthly circumstances. That's what it means to be blessed.

So why aren't kingdom citizens more joyful?  It's because they have separated their spiritual life from their physical life.  They live vertically in their spiritual life and horizontally in their physical life.  Here's what that looks like:

  • They wake to an alarm that feels all too early and their first thought is what lies ahead - problems at work that need to be ironed out, battles with children who won't listen, coldness with a spouse because of an unresolved argument, that inevitable phone call from an overbearing relative that you know is coming today, what to make for dinner, when to get the laundry done, questioning if you can put off organizing that closet just one more day...they hit the snooze and long to fall back into that deep sleep where reality is much gentler and interesting
  • Up, dressed, coffee in hand, praise music in the car on the way to work or while taking children to school and they get a glimpse of hope - this day might not be so bad.  The music is uplifting and for a brief moment they raise their eyes towards heaven and thank the Lord that He is with them
  • The day moves on and the weight of the world returns - back stabbing at work, impatient and selfish co-workers, clients that won't return calls, children calling from school - they forgot their lunch, toddlers that need to be fed and changed, bathroom tub is draining slow again, can't get the stain out of the carpet from the spilled coke, laundry never ends - just like the call from that relative, grocery bill pushed their budget into the red, $60 to fill your gas tank, no call from their spouse which will make dinner even more awkward, homework, AYSO practices, quick dinners, baths and bedtime for children - they glance over at their small group devotional and think that maybe tomorrow they'll have time to get to it
  • Slipping into bed, the quietness of the darkness wraps around them and sleep is at the door.  Once again, their thoughts lift to the heavens, where they pray for their children and ask forgiveness for their sins and drift off to sleep, only to start it all over again tomorrow
Ugh.  I know I have exaggerated it a bit, but I think there is a lot of reality to this description.  Life is busy. Life is hard. And it's very horizontal - we look ahead to the finish line of the day, we check over our shoulder to make sure we're ahead of the game and when we occasionally look up at the Lord, it's a fleeting, emotional thought and then back to real life.

Friends, let me encourage you to connect your spiritual life with your physical life - your spiritual life is actually what drives your physical life.  Let me give you a few suggestions of what this looks like;
  • Start each day at the foot of the cross - before your feet ever touch the ground, lift your heart towards heaven and greet your heavenly Father, ask Him to guide you and thank Him for His wonderful gifts He has given you - the life of His Son and the presence of His Spirit
  • Sing praise to your Creator in the shower - it sounds so good in there and it will lift your spirits, even if you have a hard day ahead
  • Work on memorizing a bible verse while you brush your teeth or put on make up - choose one that will encourage you and strengthen you in times of need - pick one that focuses on the love of God, or a description of Jesus
  • Pray over your children's day and your spouse's day at breakfast - grab your Bible and read a verse to your children while they eat breakfast - ask them what they think it means...
  • At work, or the grocery store, or in the laundry room, or while cleaning the house, ask the Lord for patience - ask Him how you can be His hands and His voice today to someone who is hurting - because God has opened up the gates to His throne room through the death of His Son, you are able to enter any time and talk to your Father
  • While driving in the car, make that call to your spouse and ask forgiveness for being selfish and work out your issue - do it before you get back together at the end of the day - humble yourself and reach out for restoration - don't let the coldness turn into ice...
  • Find time over lunch to do your small group homework - soak in the word, think through the questions, meditate on the Word - and watch your time!  If you really get into it, the minutes will get away from you!
  • Sing in your head all day, remember your memory verses, talk to the Father, ask for wisdom when you make your grocery list and know what you can cut out so that you don't overshoot your budget allowance
  • Have a grateful heart for all things - remember, no matter what you face today, it is far less difficult than hell and heaven is going to be far greater - keep your eyes on Christ and remember that because He loves you, you have right standing before the Father - because after all, you are blessed!
Let me encourage you to start your day with Jesus and end it with Him - this is not a one-week fix, but a lifetime of growing, stretching and learning complete dependence on the only One that truly matters in life.  As citizens of the Kingdom, we cannot go through life forgetting the King we serve.  Remember your right standing - remember just how blessed you are!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kingdom of Heaven

(Painting by E. Thor Carlson)

Kingdom of Heaven - have you been pondering on this statement this week?  On Tuesday, we began our fall study of Matthew 5-7, which is known as the Sermon on the Mount. I spent a significant amount of time trying to define what the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is and when we were done we had a definition:  the rule and reign of Jesus Christ over all creation.

We discussed whether this was a future event or a current event and concluded that Jesus Christ rules and reigns in the hearts of believers today, so the Kingdom of Heaven is alive and well today, in the lives of the children of God.  Yes, there is a future fulfillment, but the Sermon on the Mount is not a description of the future, but a reality today.

I wanted to give you one more reason that the Sermon on the Mount is for today - if you read through the Beatitudes, it becomes crystal clear - Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted - in those descriptors we find things that will not be in the future Kingdom of Heaven:
  • There are no tears or mourning
  • I doubt there will be a lot of persecution, right?
  • Who would we have to show mercy to?
  • What would we be mourning?
  • Who would we be making peace between?
  • Yes, pure in heart and gentle are definitely righteous character traits that will be seen in heaven, but they can also be for today
Do you get my point?  The teaching does not say, "Blessed are those who were poor in spirit when they were on earth, because now they will live in the Kingdom of Heaven."  No, it is taught in a present tense - "Blessed are the poor in spirit (right now), for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."  Can you see the difference?

Yes, the Kingdom is right now.  Did you wake this morning and remember that you are a stranger in a foreign land?  Do you stick out like an American in a different country?  Are you fired up to gather with the citizens on Sunday morning and worship your heart out to the King of our Kingdom?

Keep it in the forefront of your mind - you are not of this world. Don't be conformed to it. Don't buy into Satan's lies.  Rejoice at the opportunity to gather with citizens of the Kingdom, for you are a new creation - the old has passed away and behold, you are a child of the King!  (Doesn't that make your heart soar???)

And plan on coming Tuesday to learn what it means to be poor in spirit...

(Pretty cool painting, don't you think?  Have you figured it out?)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Campaign Season - A Study from the Garden

There are less than sixty days to the election and I can hardly take it anymore. And I know I'm not alone. I think we're all tired of the campaign trail being blazed through the center of our living rooms day in and day out.

It's not that we don't want to be informed. I want to understand the candidate's positions just as much as the next guy.  What I'm tired of is the blame game and the finger pointing.  The candidates spend more time pointing the finger and complaining about their foe, than telling us what they will do if elected or re-elected President.  Whose fault is the economy today?  Bush's? The Republicans?  The Democrats?  Obama's?  I really don't know - I can hardly keep up with who I am supposed to blame today.

The candidates also don't have time to go into the specifics because they are too busy pointing out that the President miscounted how many words were in his sentence when he said, "Three proud words:  Made in the USA,"  or the fact that Paul Ryan ran a four-hour marathon, rather than a three-hour marathon when he was twenty.  Do either of these facts have anything to do with the future of America?

I heard today that both candidates were relieved that the final debate is a few weeks before the actual election - that way, if they have any gaffes, there is time for the hoopla to die down and they can still regroup.  Why is our system set up to nitpick the ridiculous to the point that it could cost an election?

Granted, we want honest politicians, if at all possible. So I am all about fact-checking.  But when a politician misspeaks, is it really front page news?  I wish that just one candidate would make the choice to rise above the name calling and the finger pointing, and just stick with his solutions to the issues that are plaguing our nation.

However, there is always a silver lining, per se.  You see, all this finger-pointing, all this blaming - it is a wonderful opportunity for believers to share the gospel.  We know where this blaming comes from - it's not surprising to us that during the very first act of rebellion toward God, blaming and finger-pointing made an appearance.

I can see it now - Adam, fidgeting in his itchy fig leaf, being called out by God (since he was the man and the God-appointed leader of his family).  God asked him what he had done and immediately one hand flew in the direction of Eve and the other was raised above his head, fingers pointing at the two nearest objects - "The woman, who You gave me, gave me the fruit and I ate it!"  It's not Adam's fault - it's Eve's and God's - can you see it?

If you don't believe that finger pointing and blaming is second nature to fallen humanity, test yourself. The next time someone criticizes you, what is your first response?  I'll bet it's to shift the blame - someone or something had an affect on you that caused this outcome...test yourself.

So when you're chatting with the check out gal at the grocery store, or talking over your lunch with a co-worker, and they tell you that they are sick and tired of all the blaming and finger pointing, just say to them, "Now you know how God must feel."  Then they'll ask you what you mean, and you can proceed into the origins of blaming and finger pointing.  Start in the garden and end up at the cross - it will be time well spent and who knows, maybe politics will produce something good after all...

Rant done for the day...