Monday, January 25, 2010

Heaven - think it will be boring?

I can remember not being all that excited about heaven. I mean I sure didn't want to go to hell, but heaven just seemed kind of boring. What would there be to do? I know there would be all these great people to see, but I knew I wouldn't even get close to the really cool people. Then, you can only say"Hello," and "I'm really glad your here," just so long before that gets boring. With all of eternity ahead, I just couldn't figure out what I would do.  So, I kind of stopped thinking about it. Is that OK to confess?

Then it occurred to me that in heaven I would have no sin dwelling in my flesh, so all of my perspectives about everything would be different. Sin and boredom wouldn't be an issue because I wouldn't be able to sin; that part of me would be gone.  I thought about that for a while, then kind of stopped thinking about heaven for a while again.

Then, yesterday, in church, we had what was to me the most wonderful time of worship in song...not new songs, but perhaps it was the sequence, the grouping of these particular worship songs.

We sang Father, Spirit, Jesus. Here are the words:

Lord, the worship we bring
Is more than songs that we sing
It’s a reflection of our ever-changing lives
The best we have to offer

We don’t just lift up our hands
Lord, we lift up our lives
For we know that You are worthy of our praise
To You our lifesongs raise

Rescued from darkness
We are walking in marvelous light
For we are children of the King!

You are worthy of all honor
Glory, praise and power
King of the nations
You are holy God almighty
Clothed in brilliant majesty
Father, Spirit, Jesus

Then we sang Glory to God Forever. It goes like this:

Before the world was made
before you spoke it to be
You were the King of Kings
yeah you were, yeah you were

And now you’re reigning still
enthroned above all things
Angels and saints cry out
we join them as we sing

Glory to God, Glory to God
Glory to God, Forever

Verse 2
Creator God you gave
me breath so I could praise
Your great and matchless name
all my days, all my days
So let my whole life be
a blazing offering
A life that shouts and sings
the greatness of the King

Take my life and let it be
All for you and for your glory
Take my life and let it be yours

The beautiful worship continued as we sang Spirit of the Living God and finished with O, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.

O the Deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread His praise from shore to shore,
How His love is never-ending,
And it changes nevermore;
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He’s interceding,
Watching o’er them from the throne.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Love of ev’ry love the best:
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing,

As I was singing, all I could think of was this: Heaven, I think heaven will be like this. I felt such a sweetness, such a love flowing from my heart to God's...all I wanted to do was to honor him, and the lyrics of these songs seemed to be the words that best expressed my heart.

When that part of the service was over, I almost had the sense of not wanting anything else. I had tasted heaven in those moments of sharing in the worship through singing with my community of believers.

So, now when I think of heaven, it is not with dread, nor thoughts or fear of boredom, it is with appetite. I will get to be part of the heavenly choir praising my God, and I will never tire of that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Falling Seven Times

Right now our pastor is going through a series on “Modern Questions: Ancient Wisdom” focusing on applications in the book of Proverbs. We have also been challenged to read through Proverbs this month – the appropriate chapter for the day. All that to say, I read Proverb 24 today, and though all of it had value, verse 16 struck a chord for me today.
Proverbs 24:16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked stumble in the time of calamity.

A righteous man falls seven times, hmmm. A righteous man falls. A righteous man falls.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who questioned her righteousness, her value or usefulness to God since she had just made a series of poor choices, sinful choices, and had fallen over and over again. I encouraged her with reminders of a number of people in Scripture who had fallen, yet who had been used by God.

I’m sure David comes to your mind as readily as he did mine – called a man after God’s own heart, he had also fallen into adultery, conspired to bring about a man’s death, and in general, failed as a leader. And Peter, he denied Christ three times, and we could talk about Paul, who was a follower of God, as he knew him, and brought about great persecution of believers before he met God face-to-face along a dirt road .

It would be one thing if these men had fallen and stayed down, wallowing in discouragement and guilt. As some have, they could have figured that since they had already failed, their identity was sealed, and they might as well live the life of the unredeemed prodigal enjoying their sin. But they didn’t. They got up and tried it again.

I wonder if this verse gives us the test of whether a man or woman is righteous, whether his or her faith is real. Not does he fail? Because this verse assumes that the righteous man will fall or fail, but does he or she get up again? Every time? The proverb describes a righteous man having fallen seven times getting up again each time. The implication is that every time, the righteous man attempts to get it right, to live a holy life. The righteous man is not a quitter.

The latter part of the verse says that the wicked stumble in calamity. When the wicked or unredeemed or lost person falls into an unpleasantness, mischief or evil situation, he stumbles, falls down, and the key here is the missing words: he doesn’t rise again.

Oh God, I thank you that you don’t count me out when I fall, but that you extend your hand of mercy and forgiveness, and you lift me up. I reflect on all the times that I have fallen, and instead of wallowing in self-pity, I am overwhelmed with your mercy and kindness. I am encouraged and rejoice in that blessed hope of one more chance.

Friday, January 22, 2010

So, maybe here's my confession, a confession

I'm reading my way through a pile of books to get prepared for a conference I am going to in April.  One of those books is Lit by Mary Karr.

Mary Karr had a nightmarish childhood: sexual, physical, verbal and mental abuse – she knew it all. Her mother, though brilliant, struggled with mental illness and did not appear have much of any capacity for parenting. Her father roved in and out of her life but remained in many ways her hero, saulty though he was. Mary Karr herself had a brilliant mind that her early years of debauchery failed to destroy. Then she appeared to marry well and build an enviable, to other writers and educators, life.

But she drank. She was addicted to alcohol. She was ruled by alcohol. Alcohol owned her and, for a time, had such a claim on her life, she was willing to risk everything else to hold a glass, a bottle of any alcoholic beverage in her hand, believing as she drank it, her life would be better, if only for a moment. Finally, after more than one effort, she began the journey toward sobriety that she would discover would require an honesty more painful than she imagined, would introduce her to real, and community, would lead her into a relationship with God, the one with a capital G.

And she jerked my chain, well, her words did. She wrote about the power alcohol had in her life, even when she knew it would or could cost her everything. She wrote about the ugliness she saw in the lives of other alcoholics, yet she persisted, continuing in what she could acknowledge was self-destructive behavior.

I read a newspaper article many years ago that talked about how some alcoholics are truly addicted to carbohydrates, and how some people who struggle with obesity could have as easily become alcoholics. And today, as I finished Lit, I wondered how closely am I to alcoholism or carbohydrate addiction.

I lose weight. I have lost weight, 40 pounds at a clip, swearing I will never have to do it again, swearing that I will be in control, and in too few years, I stand at the abyss again looking across 40 or 50 pounds again.

Here I sit, looking at those pounds, this time more than 40, but knowing I would be happy with the 40. And I look through the looking glass and see my alcoholic father, the one I loved to hate and wonder how thin the line is between us. His addiction was public; mine secret, but I choose to eat the chocolate bar (Kit Kats a favorite), the cookie, the French fries with as much momentary passion as he approached the glass of liquor, as mindlessly as he did. And probably, I have come to hate myself and my weakness as he did, from time-to-time, because I do remember periods of his sobriety, when he would say he wasn’t an alcoholic because he could go without drinking. And I use the word probably because I don’t want to admit the reality of my own self-hate.

Am I so different? I can go months without eating a piece of chocolate, but when I fall off the wagon, the fall feels so complete and so impossible to stop that I find myself not even knowing how many pieces of forbidden carbs I have injested,

Mary Karr knew her life style could lead her to the streets. My father knew his alcohol consumption could cost him his family, if not his life. My addiction to carbs, because that is what it is, could cost the respect of my children and grandchildren, my own health….my own self-respect. And that is not say what it does really to my relationship with God. How can I hate what he loves? How can I give control to anything but his Spirit, and that is what I do to carbs, when I allow myself to come under their spell?

Just as Mary Karr found excuses to refuse help, so do I find excuses to do it alone – to rationalize my way out of exercise groups, weightwatcher meetings or Bible studies that focus on life modification.

And I must face the reality that I haven’t hit bottom yet, and what, I wonder, would that look like, and would I survive it? And do I need to hit bottom? Is today bottom? In God's mercy, is today the day that I say, with God's help, with the help of the Body, I will aspire toward Spirit control - not carb- control? Is today the day that I will humble myself and post this knowing what this transparency might mean? Accountability? Embarrassing comments or offers of help? Or maybe, an undergirding of prayer from those I love?  Well, here we go...I'm leaping into the abyss.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Confession, for me?

There is nothing like confession to resolve conflict or to break down barriers. Once we have cleared the air, so to speak, we can communicate with clarity.  Max Lucado puts in this way: Confession does for the soul what preparing the land does for the field....(gets it ready for the planting and growth)

When I was much, much, younger, I used to think the Catholic Church had it right - one day for confession and get it taken care of for the week... However, the closer I grew to God, and the more I understood that we are called to holiness, the more I knew that would never work. I couldn't keep track of my sins in one day, much less one week.

Then first, there is that issue of holiness - of measuring my value system against God's value system. I remember remonstrating a friend when I heard him say he had done something stupid when what he had done was sin against God and the other person. Calling it stupid somehow made it seem less....

And there is also the issue of what on earth confession means - in reference to sin and God, it means saying the same thing about our sin that God does.  As I think that through, it means also admitting that I have offended God's holiness, and that my failure here grieves him.  He loves me and wants only what is good for me, and sin sure isn't good for me.  It always ends up costing sooner or later.  And God grieves for what it will  cost me just as I have grieved over the cost of the sins of my children.

So, I fear we feel good about ourselves that we don't go to confession once a week like the Catholics do, but I fear also that we don't go to confession at all. And I wonder what that does to our relationship with God and with others.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Honor/Pride or Affirmation?

This morning I was reading the Proverb of the day and came cross this verse: Pr. 18:12, "Before his down fall a man's heart is proud, but before honor comes humility."

It brought up all kinds of memories related to pride - like the first time I remember telling my sister that I was proud of her when she sang a solo in church.  Man, did she ever give me a scolding about pride, that it is a bad thing, and we all should be willing to serve God in any way that we could and never be proud of ourselves because he gifted us a certain way, and I know that is a run-on sentence, but that is the way it all rushed out of her.

And I sat in stunned silence, not knowing what to do with it.  I was just trying to do, to say something nice to her, not that it wasn't true, that she sang well.  Now, I must say here that we were both fairly young Christians, only a few years, and I was about 11 so she would have been 22...both of us three-year-old Christians. So it was in her earnestness to do right that she scolded me.

Anyway, ever since then I have struggled with this issue - is it wrong to want or give affirmation, to want someone to tell you that you did something well or right?  This has weighed on me for years, and this morning, in my other devotional reading, the writer quoted a couple of verses from one of my favorite Psalms...139:23-24  "Search me O God and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." 

I learned that Psalm at about the same time as a I learned a song in church and have loved and been challenged by it ever since.  This is partially because, also at that same time, I was challenged that to sing a song was to pray its words.  Singing the song was praying the words, and I could never lightly sing that melody or ask God to search me and know my heart.

So, back to the thought I started with, is it sin or pride to want to be affirmed, to have someone tell you that you have done something well?   I have come to the conclusion that I do not think it is wrong to give some- one affirmative words, to tell them they have done something right or well because how on earth do we learn?  How do we know what works, what honors God, what we should and shouldn't do if no one ever tells us so?  Certainly, someone could allow these words of affirmation to become occasions for pride, but I don't think that is reason to withhold them.

I think it is a kindness, a gift we give someone to tell him or her that we have been blessed by that ministry or that they have done something well.  Isn't this part of loving someone or part of encouraging them?
That before honor comes humility thing: isn't that the part we give to God - we allow him to work in the hearts of those around us....and as they are humble before him, it is his business to honor them in whatever way he chooses....and sometimes that is through us here and sometimes, I think, it will be in the future, perhaps in eternity.

Friday, January 15, 2010

God: concerned about my life?

Isn't it amazing how we ignore the reality of God as a friend, as someone who has and does love us sacrificially and unconditionally and, even more amazing, personally?  Oh, we know those things intellectually and as theological facts, but as a personal reality?

This morning in my reading I came across these words written by Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy: "Prayer is a matter of explicitly sharing  with God my concerns about what he too is concerned about in my life."  The bold emphasis is mine.

I don't know why, but those words stopped me cold - making me think or rehearse what God might be concerned about in my life.  Well, he is probably concerned with how easily I am distracted from the daily reading of his word and prayer time.  I confess, I have great intentions, but it only takes a change in my schedule to throw those things off.  It is not that he cares about me rigidly adhering to a schedule, but he is concerned about our daily fellowship.  I think has is as concerned about our communication as I am about communication with my children, and moreso.

I think he is concerned about my priorities - what do I allow to have a higher priority than representing him, than being his ambassador? Than loving him back?  Where does he rank in my decision making?  In how I think about spending my money or time or possessions?

I am concerned today about my brother's health, about my baby grandson's health, about my grandchildren's decisons about college for this next year.  I am concerned about the wife of a graduate who is in a coma and the bother of a student who is in a coma.  I am concerned about three students we disciplined this week - not about their response - all of that went well, but about other repercussions from the situation.  I am concerned about when I am going toget my next class written and what to do with some other manuscripts I have. 

Well, you see only a few things that I am concerned about, and God is concerned about them as well because he is concerned about my life and loves me.  He is concerned about how I deal with these concerns.  Do I take them to him and trust him with them?  Do I worry myself sick about them?  Do I try to handle them or manipulate any of these circumstances myself, not consulting him? 

Thinking about the reality that he is concerned about me makes me think how really personal a relationship is possible with him, how really personal he wants it to be.

Oh God, help me to bless you today, not add to the weight of your concern for me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Friendship: with God?

Billy Graham said, "It's not only to resolve our problems that we should pray, but to share in the strength of God's friendship."

I don't know about you but the idea that we could be friends with God is astonishing.  And the  very idea made me wonder what Scripture said about the topic.

Did you know that Job mentioned friendship with God?  In Job 29: 4 we find Job speaking these words: As I was in the prime of my days, when the friendship of God was over my tent." 

I looked up the word friendship here and it has the sense of company of a friend, and by implication - intimacy and counsel.  What an amazing experience Job has personally with God; Job was aware of this relationship, this intimacy with God, the presence of God close over  him, in protection, at close hand for counsel.

Then in John, we find Christ speaking to the disciples and by extension to us, again offering us the possibility of friendship, of his close counsel and presence and intimacy in John 15:13 and 14:  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you....
And what did Jesus command them?  To love him and to love one another!!!
Let me quote from verses 16 and 17.... I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit....This I command you, that you love one another.

So, Jesus, God, wants friendship with me, and you.  He wants us to know that he is right here, ready with counsel for us when we need it.  He is the friend who will never betray us, the friend who will always understand and will be patient with us as we try to get it right.  He is the friend who is quick to forgive when we mess up.  He is the friend who always waits with open arms when we get off track, giving ourselves to false friends.  He is ready with bandages and caresses and kisses, to make us feel better when we hurt, whether we have brought the pain on ourselves or it has been inflicted by another.

How beautiful are the words of Job, words we can own: the friendship of God is over my dwelling place.  What a place of strength is my prayer time in that dwelling place (wherever I am - he is in that place, that dwelling place).  That intimate conversation with my friend Jesus, and with that reminder of his friendship, oh sweet presence of God, what on earth do I have to fear?!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Your appointments

Have you ever thought something or even told people something, and then felt the least bit insecure because you had never heard anyone else say that? Well, I have.  On a regular basis, I tell students that God is waiting to hear from them.  I tell them to remember that he is their Abba Father, and that they are his children.  Like any father, he loves to hear from his children, to listen to them, to talk to them and to do for them.

Now I have to say that all fathers are not like that; it is true that some children never know that kind of a father, but that is who our heavenly father is and what he is like.

When I talk to students about prayer, I encourage them to consider that their loving father is just waiting to hear from them, and if they are having trouble establishing meaningful prayer time, there is a solution.  They need to make appointments with God, to put it on their schedule and respect that appointment as if it is with the president or some other person they highly respect and would never ignore, never be late for an appointment with that person.  Because it is all true, what I have been saying:  God loves them that much and wants to hear from them; in fact, he is waiting to hear from them.

Now to the collateral support for all of that: Billy Graham put it this way, "Prayer is really a place; a place where you meet God in genuine conversation." 

Imagine, because it is real, God is waiting to hear from you, to enjoy fellowship with you, and he is waiting at the corner of prayer and affection.  He is waiting to hear your voice, whether you pray out loud or silently, in your mind, he is waiting, just as you might wait for someone in your office or living room, someone you care deeply for, someone you love and long to minister to.

So I do think that prayer is a place, that it is can be an appointment, but it is more.  God wants it to be more, and ever and ongoing communion between two who love each other.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Fear of the Lord

Have you ever struggled with “the fear of the Lord?” I mean we are told God is loving and good and kind and compassionate, yet we are to fear him. I struggled with this conundrum for many years. How could he be everything good, and I am still to be afraid of him, because to me, that is what fear meant.

I just wrote a memoir of the first twenty years of my life and gave it to my children and siblings for Christmas. My oldest and youngest both commented on the thread of fear through it, though my oldest said the fear did not stop me. She’s right, you know. Growing up does offer many fear-producing moments, and by nature of being me and the times in which I grew up, yes the fifties and sixties, there were ample opportunities to be afraid. And there were a few more opportunities to be afraid simply because of a variety of events that occurred in my home…so, to fear someone meant, to me, to be afraid of, to avoid, because you just never knew what the outcome might be. Mostly, fear was something bad.

Then, today in church, our pastor was speaking from Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” As he talked about fear and what it meant, he referenced Andy Stanley’s definition from his book The Best Question Ever: the fear of the Lord is the recognition and reverence that leads to submission, or it is to recognize that God is God and respond accordingly – in surrender.

Now, in the past, I have said the fear of the Lord had to do with reverencing God, revering him, but I confess, I said that without a sense of security that I was right. I wanted someone who really knew what he was talking about to say that as well. So, I was happy this morning.

Then, I had to think about the last part of the definition, the submission thing. If I truly recognize and revere God as God, then I am acknowledging that he has the right to complete authority in all of my decisions. And I have to confess, that I have made some decisions that clearly were not made under his influence.

I am grateful that God’s mercies are new every morning; that also means every year. And as this new year begins, I long to live a life that shows that I do recognize his authority in my life, a life that shows I hold him in the utmost of reverence. So, I guess I need to pray that specifically…Oh God, Most High, help me to remember who you are – loving and good and kind, but the One to whom I must surrender completely. Help me to slow down this year, to listen to you, to be intentional about bringing my will always into conformity with your revealed will. May I be your ambassador in all things.