Monday, November 30, 2009

about a word

I have never been crazy about the abbreviation for the word devotion used by high schoolers and college students. They call it "devos," and I think there is something telling about that shortening of the word. I am not sure how you can abbreviate the word and maintain the integrity of the word.

The word devotion has the sense of having "feelings of ardent love" or "commitment to some purpose." Furthermore there is an element of zealous in that commitment by the one who is devoted, a passion for the object of the devotion. To be devoted to something means to be dedicated exclusively to a purpose or use or person, for instance a "life devoted to poetry." It carries with it a passionate affection for its object.

But we do it anyway. We call it devos, and we give God five or fifteen minutes. Or maybe we don't even give God the time; we depersonalize Him and give his words a few minutes to be read. We certainly cannot say we have given them much devotion when we quickly read a passage or devotional guide and then run through our prayer list.

E.M.Bounds says "the root of devotion is to devote to a sacred use...Prayer promotes the spirit of devotion while devotion is favorable to the best praying....God dwells where the spirit of devotion resides...True worship finds congeniality in the atmosphere made by the spirit of devotion."

In simple language, he is reminding us that it costs us time to meet God, to really enter into fellowship and intimacy with God. You won't have much of a relationship with a friend or demonstrate much devotion to that friend if you only read their old letters for a few minutes a day. God calls us to spend time with Him. True devotion calls us to stillness. To recognize the value of that relationship. Devotion is about dedication of oneself to another, and it can be measured by how much the person doing the dedicating is influenced by his or her affection for the object of the devotion.

Too many Christians call a few minutes spent praying or reading the Bible or studying it as our devotions. I think our devotion might rather be measured by what our life looks like. Is there clear evidence of becoming, becoming daily more and more like Christ, loving God and loving others more than loving self?

I think there is a place in the believer's life for Bible study, and prayer, and meditation and just simple Bible reading; I'm just not sure that "devos" is a good name for it. Perhaps that is why some call it their "quiet time." I guess I kind of like that better. Somehow either one lends itself to putting God into a time allotment, some kind of box rather than demonstrating a passion for intimacy with God.  I'm not sure what to do about it all except cultivate a sense of his presence always.  And, yes, giving some time to prayer and Bible reading and study, but a whole lot more time to stillness and meditation, to enjoying Him. 

Now, there's a thought.  Enjoying Him.  I think the longer we are still before Him, the more pleasure we will find in His company.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Giving it up

Funny all the difference two little letters can make: the difference between giving up and giving it up.  God calls us to give it all up, our will to him.  In Luke 22:42, Christ modeled this for us, this yielding of his will to the Father's, all the more notable because, though he was here the incarnated Christ, he was still God.

Now I don't fully understand that, but it's OK.  He's God, how could I, a human, expect here to understand God? but I do believe it, that Jesus, though fully God assumed humanity, so that he could pay my sin debt. 
That's what faith is: believing what we do not have physical evidence for, taking someone, here God, at his word.

'Yet, I want your will, not mine."  Those are the words Christ prayed to the Father, and think about it, Jesus knew what he was saying.  He knew the nightmare yet to come - the humiliation, the trial, the cross, and he said "It's Ok with me.  I want whatever you want for me.  I trust you, regardless of what that means."

So the constant challenge for me is to pray that prayer, to give it all up to Him.  Sometimes that is really hard.  As a parent, there have been many times when I prayed asking God for specific things for each of my children and grandchildren. Then came the decision, am I really able or even wanting to say, "Not my will, but your will, because I trust that you know better than I do."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I was in third grade when the doctor proclaimed me "near-sighted" and fitted me for my first pair of glasses, cheap ones with clear kind of pink frames.  One day I couldn't see the black board and had to sit in the first row.  I had to sit so close to the TV to see Saturday morning cartoons that I can still hear my mother's words, "Don't sit so close, you'll ruin your eyes."  Over the years, I have run through a lot of glasses, a decade or two of contacts, and now I'm back to glasses, and so grateful to still be able to see and to read.

Thia morning I was reading about the tax collector who bowed his head and cried out, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  The notes written by N.T. Wright says this about those words, now known as the Jesus prayer, "Praying for mercy doesn't just mean 'I've done something wrong, so please forgive me.'  It's a much wider petition asking that God send is merciful presence and help in a thousand and one situations, despite the fact that we do't deserve such aid and never could."

As I thought this through, it came to me how spiritually near-sighted we are, at least I am.  Wright says the prayer is asking that God send his presence.  But for me, the issue is not that God will send his presence, but that I will see it.  The writer in Hebrews 13: 5 quotes words from Psalms 118:6 - perhaps words said initially to David since we believe David wrote many of  the Psalms, " I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you." 

God is already here; John  14 gives us Jesus' words on the matter, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that he may be with you forever.  That is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not behold him or know him, but you know him because he abides with you and will be in you. (16-17)  Then Jesus goes on to say, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."  And in Acts 2 we have a record of the receipt of that gift of the Holy Spirit to us.

Now to the near-sightedness, I think I am too often not able or willing to see beyond my own nose to see the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, who never leaves me.  Instead I am ovewhelmed by mere earthly circumstances, my own desires for the moment, my fears, my memory loss - forgetting how God has worked in my life, protecting and rescuing and answering prayer and blessing me.  It is as though I have dark glasses on in the night, and I just can't see that God is present with me right now.

He loves me and he will never forsake me.  He will bring to my mind everything I need to deal with the day, if I will just shut up and listen and own the reality of his nearness.  I don't need to ask for his presence. I have that. I need to acknowledge his presence. His merciful presence.  Life could have gone is such different ways for me, and for you.  But, in God's mercy, he revealed himself to us so that we could know him and his love, so that we would never be alone. 

Thank you God that you are here in this office with me, that you will go with me every step of the day.  You will so guard me that nothing will be allowed into my life that You and I cannot handle.  Help me to see you today, to practice your presence, to do nothing that would create separation between us -that separation of my own making, I know.  Thank you for your endless mercies in my life.  Thank you, especially, that they are new every morning

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Protection and Rescue

I don't know about others, but sometime I find that certain portions of Scripture have become so familiar that I hardly hear them.  I have a superficial picture or idea of what they mean, read them again, ad think, Yeah, I know that, those words, and I move right on.

In the case of some biblical prayers, I might even use those familiar words as part of a prayer, but the familiarity of them sucks meaning and passion from them.  I'm just being upfront and transparent here.  Then something happens, the Holy Spirit maybe, and you see that passage a whole new way.

That happened this morning when I read the following words in the day's entry from A Daybook of Prayer:

I need forgiveness for myself--from sin, from debt, from every weight around my neck--and I intend
to live with forgiveness in my heart in my own dealings with others...And because I live in the real world, where evil is still powerful, I need protecting and rescuing. ( taken from N.T. Wright's book Simply Christian)

Couple thoughts:  I know I am forgiven through faith, my sin debt removed at the cross, but daily confession is not to get rid of the sin, but to get rid of the wall of separation that comes between God and me, of my own making, that fruit of guilt.

So I do need to ask for forgiveness - I need to do the work of saying the same thing about my sin that God does, that as it grieves him to see me on a path that would ultimately separate me from him and his influence, in that same way, it grieves me.  Sin offends God, not just because he is sinless and holy, but because he loves us and knows sin leads to destruction and pain and ugliness in our lives, and loneliness - as the distance created by sin pulls us further and further from the reality of his love.

So, in this model prayer, Christ teaches us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness...and every weight around our neck.... As I thought about what this might mean, because I think it is more than our own sin that weighs on us, I wonder if it could mean the sin that is done to us, and our response to it.

Sin done to us can become a source for, or an excuse for, or justification for -  bitterness, for resentment, for anger, for revenge, and all of those things weigh on us like burdens.  They eat at us; they make us ugly to ourselves and to others. They keep us from knowing the peace of God, and because Satan is the master liar, they keep us from even recognizing how these things and their weight keep us from God.  No longer is the one who abused or hurt us the issue, but we are, our choice to stray from the fold of peace and beauty into the weedy field of burdensome anger and bitterness. 

And Christ reminds us of the value of confession - seeing our behavior, all of it, from the perspective of God's eyes and heart. Hanging onto an unforgiving spirit does not hurt the offender; it only continues to hurt us.  (side note - forgiveness does not mean that what the abuser did was alright; it means that you trust God to balance the books.)

Th final rewording of this part of the Lord's prayer struck me as well.  Wright paraphrases the Deliver us from evil part by putting it very graphically in terms that struck me with its truth: praying about being delivered from evil does mean that I can get into the place where evil dwells, and I need rescuing from that storm, that dangerous place where I can fall over the cliff into destruction....or at least big-time damage and failure. 

Rescue - what a powerful word bringing with it visions of flashing red and blue lights and emergency vehicles and hospitals and doctors and policemen; well, you get the picture.  Someone is in danger of losing their lives and others are coming to rescue them or get them out of danger.  Sin is like that.  Temptation is like that.  Dangerous, and I need rescue from it.  I need God's intervention to help  me see the danger, the allure, the excitement, as he sees it - a road paved with destruction and pain, my own.  So I must pray for rescue, for an awareness of his presence, not just to rescue me, but to remind me to whom I belong, and to whom I matter, and to whom belong the keys of real love and peace and joy.

All of that said, and I am reminded of the value of reading the Word in a translation or paraphrase different from the one I am most at home in, to escape the hazard of familiarity.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I used to avoid thinking about heaven - I knew too little, and heaven meant death mostly - mine to get there unless Christ did return.  And the reality of Christ's imminent return pressed on me as a young person; we were reminded of it often, or at least it seemed that way.  Maybe that was because I was learning everything for the first time (we do need to relearn many things because we don't really get it all the first time, but that's another issue), and it was all so new that it made a big impression on me.  So, I lived for many years with the idea that Christ might come that day....then people stopped talking about it and the idea and much thought about heaven kind of slid into the background.

That said, recently I have been thinking more about heaven.  I always thought that when I died, or Christ returned, His brilliance would be so great that I would fall on my knees and cover my face.  After all how could I possibly look at the face...?

And that was pretty much more thoughts.  Well, almost no more thoughts.  From time-to-time, when a loved one was threatened by death or a friend died or the parent or grandparent of a student died, I would think about heaven and their relief from this world and its pain.  Certainly we would miss them, but wishing them back was all too selfish.  How could I want them back here with all of the pain in this world, when they could be safe in Jesus presence - no more pain?  And I always thought about physical pain.

But heaven is more than a relief from physical or emotional pain.  Lately, I've been thinking about how heaven is relief from all evil, from temptation, from what Paul calls "that sin which dwells in my flesh."  I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to continue life, glorified life, without ever being tempted.  That part of me that responds to sinful impulses, like everything from envy or covetouness of someone else's goods or place in life, to hatred of those who hurt me or those I love, or jealousy, or a desire for revenge, or dissatisfaction, that desire for more....of anything.  It will all be gone.

Think of it.  We will wake up in that place where no sin dwells, where that burden, that inclination to be tempted no longer exists for us.  When I think of that for very long, I feel like, with that weight gone I will truly be able to fly.  I will finally know what pure joy and pleasure is.  I will be able to enjoy all people and all situations.  I will not have regret or sorrow controlling me.  I will be able to sing without worrying about what anyone thinks because with our minds free from sin, we will all want only to worship and glorify and serve God unconditionally.  It is then and there that I will understand and appreciate true beauty.

So, I've been thinking about and anticipating heaven in a way never before.

Then I am drawing to Galatians and the fruit of the Spirit and what is possible for us even in this world...but that's for another day,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better...As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it...

The rule for doing this is simple but demanding.  It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God...Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and promises of God.  It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God as a means of communion with God.

from Knowing God by J.I Packer

Powerful, isn't it this tool of meditation, and simple?  So powerful that the evil one keeps us too busy doing what would appear to be good and profitable things like church work and jobs and relationships that we think we cannot afford time to meditate, to be still before God, to listen as His Spirit might bring things to our mind to encourage or comfort or edify or challenge us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

from I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy t-shirt by Vince Antonucci

P. 34 
"So when we pray to God about our relationship with him, I imagine God saying, "Did you really just say that?  I mean, yes, I guess it is a relationship, but you did catch the part where I said I want us to live inside each other, right?  You want to call that a relationship?  You can call it what you want, but I'm inviting you into much mroe than a relationship.  I'm offering to be the womb you exist within, and theblood that flows though you veins.  I want to be the umbilical cord that brings you the fluids that sustain you, and I want to be those fluids that sustain you.  I want to be the breath that enters your lungs when you're born, and I want to be your lungs.  What I want is for you to get lost inside of me, and I want to be lost inside of you.  My desire is for us to be one."

my words:
Every time I read this I am rendered speechless. 

Online recources for spiritual growth

A week ago, I prepared this material for a workshop for pastors' wives. Too often, pastors' families are one computer families and mom gets on last...and she has too little time to do much more than the essentials, so I thought it might be helpful if she had some resources to work from. The following are sites I found useful...a variety of devotionals for all tastes, and time constraints, and a load of Bible study resources. I hope you find them helpful.

Devotional Resources write your own and use resources or responses to the text there tips on doing devotions ...Literary Study Bible where you can listen to Scripture

Bible Study Tools


Our aim is to offer the freshest and most compelling biblically-based content to Christians who take seriously their relationship with Christ. Bible Study Tools gives Christians of any age and at any stage the opportunity to read, study, understand, and apply the Bible to their lives 1&type=bible&translation=niv calls itself " the largest free online Bible website for verse search and in-depth studies. This is probably the one I use the most. You can read a passage in a variety of translations, Strong's word links and definitions are readily available as are both old and new commentaries.

Misc. Resources

Wander around and look at the amazing resources available. I think these tools can be especially useful with younger women, those who grew up with a laptop literally in their laps. They are comfortable reading the Bible or any text that way, perhaps way more comfortable than women of my generation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Walking in the Spirit

Galatians 5:16...25

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the desires of the flesh, for these are opposed to each other......25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

This was the key passage I was teaching for a workshop for our Growing Leaders Conference at BBC this week. The point was that to walk in the Spirit we must practice the presence of God, the person of the Holy Spirit. I talked about how the Spirit of God never leaves us and that when we cultivate an awareness of his presence, all of our life is changed. All of our decision-making is changed. All ofour behavior and choices are changed because we know He knows, and we want to make him smile.

I talked about the danger of leading or walking alone, that we can do it alone for a while, we can fake it for a while, but eventually we will hit the wall. Bottom line, God made us to be in community, with him and other believers.

So, how can we be fearful of anything when we are aware that the same God who breathed all of creation into existence is the same God who loved us so much that he made provision for our sin debt? How can we be fearful when he says ""I will never leave you nor forsake you." Heb. 13:5 How can we fall into depression when we rehearse the reality that God loves us, that he sought us out and revealed himself to us, when we rehearse the reality that he never leaves us alone but has made provision for our every need?

Now there's a conunudrum! He has made provision for our every need. But he who is omniscient gets to define our need, and that's a good thing. Most times, what I define as need is very temporal and earthy, but God sees the big picture. He has long vision and can see what I need to be prepared for eternity.

Anyway, back to my topic. Walking in the Spirit. This was a tough week. An assault from the evil one and an assault from the flesh. People that I care about making bad decisions - the kind that I can see will end in destruction, and they refuse my counsel. Heartache. Hmmm, guess I make God feel that way too often. Too much to do in too little time - perhaps some of my own bad decision making. Technology that fails.

So by the end of the week, I was fearfully close to tears too often. I had gotten off the walk...filling my time with people, and work, and stuff and noise and no stillness. That's the point. You have to have stillness to practice the presence of God. You have to make a space quiet enough that you can think, that you can rehearse just who you are and who he is in relation to you. Funny how it seems like we would prefer to wallow in self-pity than to walk courageously in the Spirit, or is that a work of the flesh? That wallowing in self-pity, that self-isolation?

I think I will stop writing and go sit upstairs for a while in the quiet. I will imagine Him sitting in the recliner, there where he can see out the window on the deck, and we will watch the stars together.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And why the name?

We lived in the middle of a war zone and had traveled from our home to the hospital station in hopes it might be a safer place to wait out what looked like a clash of armies in the village where we lived.

I heard another missionary say, "You don't know what they would do to our little girls," and frankly fear took over.

I got onto the bed in the guesthouse, pulled the moustiquaire around me, opened my Bible, and begged God to help me. I confessed that I knew my fear was sin, that by allowing fear to control me I was saying God was not enough, that I did not believe He could help me.

As I searched for something from God, I leafed through the Psalms and came across a passage I had underlined.

Psalm 40:1-4a I waited patiently for the ord; and he inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; and he set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm. And he put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord. Happy is the man who has made the Lord his trust...

I knew that was for me, and as I relaxed into the Lord's welcoming arms, he took my fear and my feet from the miry clay, and set me upon a Rock, my Rock and my Redeemer and my Very Present Help in trouble.

So, that's the name of my blog, a testimony of what God did for me, an what he wants to do for you.