Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011 Who's in Charge?

Eph. 5:18-20 Don't be drunk with wine because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you. Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Eph. 6: 18 Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I love the illustration and the way Paul uses it in Ephesians 5:18 because it is so clear. There are few people who have not seen someone under the influence or control of some kind of alcohol. That individual no longer has any restraints; it is though there is a disconnect between the brain and the body - a message of do whatever is before you to do without regard to the consequences is now in control.

Paul then talks about the Spirit's control, having shown us what control looks like. Wine controls and leads the individual to one end; the Spirit of God leads in the opposite direction. When wine is in control, we draw attention to and make fools of ourselves. When the Spirit of God is in control, we draw attention to God and glorify Him through our behavior.

The singing of psalms and hymns, and even choruses today, will be the natural by-product of intimacy with the Spirit. The awareness of the goodness and kindness and mercy of God will so rule our lives, that we will naturally be a people of thanksgiving.

Paul goes on to talk further of the Spirit, encouraging us to pray in the power of the Spirit always. I love the way Cheri Fuller puts it in Praying Through the Bible. Our eternal destiny is to corporately and individually be the place where the Spirit dwells and through which he intercedes. God is using every circumstance to help us grasp this truth and to learn to let the "rivers of living water" flow through us."

The challenge for me today is to make room for the Spirit to lead; that means getting out of his way. I can either control my life or allow him to, and honestly, it takes time to allow him to control me.   It requires me to get off the merry-go-round or the roller coaster of my own will which takes me thoughtlessly wherever, and own the presence of God. I must indeed "be still and know that He is God" and invite his control.

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011 What do they hear?

Eph. 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a words as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. v 20 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Definition of UNWHOLESOME 1 : detrimental to physical, mental, or moral well-being : UNHEALTHY 2 a : CORRUPT, UNSOUND b : offensive to the senses : LOATHSOME Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

Boy, the word unwholesome covers a lot of territory, doesn't it? Detrimental to the body, the mind and the morals or ethics! Paul is here encouraging or admonishing the Ephesians, and by extension us, to be careful about what we say, how we use words. And as I read this, I noticed something - it says "that it may give grace to those who hear."

Did you ever notice the difference between hearing and listening? I didn't until I was learning French and the words ecouter and etendre. One means to hear - like to hear a sound. The other has the sense of paying attention to the sound - listen, more than just noticing a noise.

Have you ever heard something you were not listening for or to? Perhaps it was a parent, shall we say, communicating with a child at the grocery store, and the child communicating back. Maybe it was someone sitting behind you in church, or near you in a store, even in a waiting room somewhere. You heard words that, though not meant for your ears, still offended or hurt or discouraged you. That's what this verse is talking about.

We are to speak in such a way that we not only grace the person who is listening to us, to whom we speak, but those who may hear our words, even accidentally. The ones who hear words out of context, but who nonetheless are affected by them.

All of these makes me think of the "private jokes" we participate in where some are not included in the inside story, and feel left out, and are thus hurt or offended. Or the times when we indulge ourselves and say out loud what we are thinking without thinking about how it might affect those around us.

Words are powerful, to encourage and to discourage, and God expects only the first from us. We cannot forget the words that follow the admonition to use our words wisely, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit." God notices what we do with our words, and not only can we hurt or offend other people, but we sadden God when He sees us act so thoughtlessly, misrepresenting who He is and who we His children.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23, 2011 Just how big?

September 23, 2011 Just how big?

Ephesians 3:17-19 May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully experience it.

Every time I read this passage I see a cube - a mile high, a mile wide, and a mile deep, and I picture an ant nearby. That ant cannot even crook his neck enough to see how tall that cube is much less imagine how really big it is. Then I think of me, as a mere human being in the middle of the floor of such a cube, only I don't know its dimensions - how high, and deep and wide it is because I cannot see the ends of any of the lines delimiting it. All if can do is feel the warm and safe love of God.

When I think of the word long in the verse, I think of how long the love of God endures. It is endless. God's love has no beginning and no ending because He is eternal. He loves me. Wow!! God loves me, and He loves you.

Think now about being in the middle of that cube: Then think about putting down roots; they just go further and further down into His love, love which flows back up though those roots into you - comforting and strengthening you, empowering you to not only resist the evil one, but to live a victorious and holy life.

I love this image - the golden cube. Can you see the lighter area? The triangle? Makes me think of the Trinity - God my Father, Jesus Christ, my Savior, and Holy Spirit, my Comforter, all in the measureless cube of my God. and His love.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 21, 2011 HOw deep does my taproot go?

Gal. 5:22-23 When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. New Living Translation

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. NASB

The Spirit however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control—and no law exists against any of them. Phillips

In Africa, where we lived, we had a mango tree in our yard. It bore wonderfully juicy mangoes near the end of dry season, after we had gone six to seven months without rain. The tree was able to do that because it had a tap root that went up to 1/4 of a mile deep into the earth to a water source. Rooted in that water source, the tree bore a thick foliage of brilliant green leaves and heavy peach colored fruit when all the trees around it were either barren or hung with dried out palm fronds.

The mango tree is a good picture of what it looks like to be rooted in the Holy Spirit or controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is true that you don't eat the fruit we bear, but life would not be fruitful or pleasing or satisfactory without this fruit - love, joy, peace, patience...and well, you can read the rest.

The mango tree cannot remove its roots from the water source, but if it could, it certainly would neither bear fruit nor even survive. I don't think, we as believers, are much different. When we pull back from giving the Holy Spirit control of our lives, when we refuse to allow the Spirit to nourish our lives, we are no more useful nor pleasant to be around than those leafless and fruitless trees in Africa or anywhere else.

As I reflected on the fruit available to us, I wondered how the deeper we go with the Holy Spirit, the more yielded we are to Him, impacts us. I wondered if self-control or temperance is such a battle for most of us because we pull our roots out of the water, out of the Spirit's control. And I wondered what it would take for me to get those roots completely immersed in the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 20, 2011 Is it out of style: to be quiet?

Isaiah 30: 15 For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength, and ye would not.

I Thess. 4:11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business and to work with your own hands as we commanded you.

I Tim. 2:1-2 I exhort therefore that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

A couple of things come to mind today, both having to do with quiet.

Did you ever notice how hard it is to find quiet? Every store, even the elevators have piped in noise. Runners, walkers, drivers all live dangerously, shutting out the warning noises of nearby traffic, for the sake of noise piped straight in to their brain via ear buds. Homes and offices hum with the buzz and burr of a dozen pieces of technology, and it grows harder and harder to even find a place of piece outside.

But God calls us to be quiet. He meets us in the quiet; we can hear Him in the quiet. We can hear ourselves and the Spirit within in the quiet, so it should be no surprise that the evil one makes noise ubiquitous, uses even "good" music to keep us from the best - the voice of God.

Quiet seems to make people so uncomfortable that they immediately find some way to fill up the space, rather than listen...for anything. But it is in the quiet that the Holy Spirit works, that He can bring back to us truths that undergird our faith, that strengthen us for the challenges of the day, that bring joy in the place the evil one would fill with stress and anxiety and pain.

The second thing I notice as I look at this theme of quiet is its relationship to prayer - for all men. God, through Paul, calls us to prayer - to engage in conversation with God in behalf of others, for ALL men and in particular leaders, those in authority over us. The outcome of that ministry in prayer is personal peace and quiet and godliness. Instead, we fill up the space with noise and whine and complain and undermine our leadership.

Scarcely a day goes by that I do not hear Christians say hurtful or hateful things about our president....and I think that if it grieves me, how much more it must grieve our Lord.

So He tells us the importance of quiet, the value of quiet and how to obtain a quiet and peaceable life, and we ignore His counsel.

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16, 2011 A Day of Distress

Psalm 59:16 As for me, I will sing about your power. I will shout with joy each morning because of your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety in the day of distress.

For the last two weeks or so, I have been in many days of distress, not because I personally have lost much or been hurt, but because destruction surrounds me, visible smelly destruction and pain. Yesterday I had an opportunity to be part of a 400 person contingent from BBC (all classes canceled and offices closed) going to Wyoming County to help with relief efforts, finally, a way to do something about all the distress I was feeling.

Our group, or the smaller groups within the larger one, shoveled mud out of homes, tore out sheetrock and carpets and cupboards, threw out sofas and mattresses and dishes and clothes, cleaned out grocery stores and hardware stores and barber shops and all kinds of businesses. Well, you get the picture! We all participated in a massive effort to erase the massive damage of a hurricane and devastating flood.

And God is a God of unfailing love! How do we make sense of this? I wanted the students who worked with us yesterday to have an opportunity to debrief last night, but I think I need that same opportunity...and more than the time or place to rehearse what we saw and did. I need to come to an understanding of how my God who is my refuge and safe place in distress could allow or cause all the pain we saw.

OK, God cannot be tempted nor does he tempt any one to sin. Got that! God is sovereign; the Lord Almighty. But how do we put it together - devastation and unfailing love?

Love hopeth all things. I guess I start there for me. I have a future expectation that I will understand. Today God asks me to live by faith, and that means not having all the answers. "All things happen for good to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose." I must have faith that this is more than a cliche, that God is at work in all this for the good of those who love him. Is the good what we saw yesterday as we were an encouragement? Perhaps we were the answer to an unspoken or unuttered prayer. Perhaps we were able to be Christ's ambassadors to people who would never have listened or cared two weeks ago. Maybe our students, maybe we adults were challenged to look again at our life in a different perspective - to think through what really matters.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 12, 2011 How final is it?

John 11:11-13 ...Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death; but they thought he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

Funny the words we use to describe what happens when someone dies because we work hard at not saying that anyone is dead. . Someone recently wrote that my nephew John, only 13, passed away. I couldn't help thinking that there was something wrong with that expression. Pass away seems so final, like dust we sweep up and discard. But when Christians leave this life, it's so much more than a passing away. It is truly only part of a natural journey...for some, we think the parting is too soon...but that's from our earthly perspective.

When I think of John, I think what he did was pass on, pass on ahead of us, like in a line for lunch. We will see him again out at the lunch tables. And I have only to close my eyes right now, and I can see him walking around with that shy smile, sometimes a knowing smile, kind of in-on-the-joke smile. John is real to me...not the body that lies in the ground, but the living John who has eternal life. He left his shell behind, but that's all.

And more than a memory, I know I will see him again. He has gone ahead of me to meet Jesus.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 9 I am not surprised!!

II Corinthians 11:14 I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as angel of light.

Funny how we think we cannot be surprised at what life tosses us, but I'm here to tell you, it still happens. I guess I wasn't surprised that we would have flooding this last week; what did surprise me was how deeply I was moved by it. I'm not sure if it is my age, that I have a sense of what it means to be displaced from your home ( we were flooded out years ago), or that I have family affected by it, or that it is so close - my home town, my husband's home town, the town I shop in, are all under water, but the choking pain of it all will not leave me.

And maybe that is the way it should be. Many years ago, I remember sitting in church in Africa, and reading the passage in Matthew 9:36 where the writer talks about Jesus, about how he saw the multitudes and was moved with compassion because of their pain and discouragement, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus set the model for us; he hurt for them, and we are to feel with the hurting.

The second commandment in the New Testament is to love one another, and it seems to me that you cannot love someone without hurting when they hurt. So, I was surprised by the pain that filled my heart this week. It made me think about the day I noticed I must have grown up - it was Christmas and I was making a list of the gifts I wanted to buy for other people, not one of suggestions of things they could buy me. Is this pain now evidence of the work of the Spirit in my life, love the way it should be - the kind of love that pushes you to do more than say you care about others, but to actually do for others?

I don't know what God is doing in my life, but I want to be a handy and useful tool.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sept 7 Cleaning up after the storm

Psalm 51: 1-2 Be gracious to me O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according to the greatness of thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

Psalm 51:12-13 Restore to me the joy of my salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors thy ways and sinners will be converted to thee.

This has been some storm season, and winter has not yet dropped her first snow flake. Still, branches and leaves and all manner of debris cover roads and sidewalks, and my deck, and fill rain gutters and ditches. And the storm is not over until it is cleaned up, rather like life.

David asks for God's help in restoration after the storm of his failure, for God's cleansing (forgiveness) and for a restoration of his first passion, the joy of his salvation.

This made me think of the day I came to Christ. I was so excited and happy, I practically jumped out of my skin - the joy of my salvation...and I tell you, I wanted to tell everyone about Christ - teaching transgressors about the hope they could have.

I wonder if we need some anniversary celebrations - celebrating the end of our personal storm and remembering the joy of our salvation!!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September 6 So many words!

Ecclesiastes 5:7 and 6:11 There is ruin in a flood of words. Fear God instead...The more words you speak, the less they mean. So why over do it?

Proverbs 22: 17-19 Listen to the words of the wise, apply your heart to my instruction. For it is good to keep these sayings deep within yourself, always ready on your lips. I am teaching you today - yes, you - so you will trust in the Lord.

Now I am an admitted bibliophile - I love books! and the words in them...filled with story. And I like words used beautifully and carefully; that's one of the elements of great writing. And with all that said, I have been guilty of filling the space between another person and myself up with words, sometimes to avoid the unsaid.

God speaks to that issue - we should be a people of fewer words and more meaningful ones. The flip side of that is that we should, instead of being a people of many words willing to share them all, God is calling us to be listeners. And I think listening means more than hearing. That's why there are two words to describe what happens when the vibrations of spoken words penetrate our ears and then minds. One word, hear means simply that the mechanics work - our ears do pick up the noise. The other means that we receive the sound with interest. God is calling us to hear with interest the words others speak, and that's tough to do when we are focusing on our own words.

Then in Proverbs, we are told who to listen to - the wise, not just he words spoken into the air of the wise, but the ones recorded. In many cultures the aged people are revered because of their wisdom. I fear that in our culture, the aged people are an embarrassment to us. We chuckle over their lack of being au courant or up to date with the latest technology or jargon, and we seldom think of asking them about the old days and what they learned living through so many years.

Similarly, I wonder how often we read the words of the writers of Scripture with the idea that we are mining them for gold, for wisdom, that will help us learn how to live. And I mean the kind of mining that causes us to be so excited we are quick to share the words and the relationship with God they help-s us to have with others. Instead I fear, too often we fear doing just that because people might think there is something wrong with us if we go all "Bibley" on them.

I love A.W. Tozer's words on that subject: The sacred page is not meant to be the end, but only the means toward the end, which is knowing God Himself.

Well, I've rambled- stream of consciousness, they call it I think - all to say that words are important. We should be careful about the ones we use, use fewer of them in general, and pay attention to the words of others, especially of the wise, whether they are spoken or written down as God's Word.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September 2 Earthquakes and Hurricanes and Tornadoes

Psalm 46: 1-2 God is our refuge and strength, our very present help in trouble, Therefore we will not be afraid though the earth trembles (earthquakes) and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas , though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil.

I love what looks like coincidences, knowing there are no coincidences, only divine appointments. In the last week or so, our region has experienced an earthquake, tornado warnings, a hurricane, and floods. Yesterday California experienced an earthquake, and this morning at 6:30, Alaskans woke up to an earthquake and tsunami warning.

And I woke up to this beautiful passage in Psalms putting it all into perspective. Then I had opportunity to use it to encourage a student, reassuring her that in the face of challenges, all we have to do is crawl up into God's lap. I love that image of God's lap as our refuge because it is true.

Isn't it amazing, that God is our refuge, whatever refuge looks like to you. I think of how a little child runs to his or her daddy or mommy, and the comfort is there. Then again, there are people for whom that is not true, whether it be they had dysfunctional parents or lost their parents or their experience of refuge looks somehow different. The point is, we understand what God is saying here by relating it to our own experience of refuge.

I'm not sure how old I was, but I remember running up the dirt road after school to my house, seeing my mother sitting in the front yard, (it was September ) and burying my head in her lap, tears flowing freely. I cannot remember what the issue was, but she was my refuge. Maybe that is why when I think of God being my refuge, the concept of a safe lap becomes so powerful.

Well, here we are in an era of natural disasters, financial upheaval, and regular threats to our peaceful existence, but God! He is our refuge. It is in owning His strength, not our own, that we can endure whatever life brings our way. It is sadly interesting that too often we would rather hang around in our own weakness look for pity and sympathy than live in the victorious place of God's love and power.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1 A New Month, A New Day, A New Slate

Lamentations 3:20-22 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

II Cor. 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come...20. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ's behalf, "Be reconciled to God." 21 He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,

Yesterday I heard about a student who used a very negative term, a demeaning term, to refer to herself, as though it was somehow virtuous to minimize who she was, even as a child of God. I struggled on and off all day with how I felt about what she said. I had a distinct sense that it was not right, that it was almost a kind of pride - an "I am nothing," almost like it got her off the hook from doing something for God.

This morning, and I love how God made our brains to work things through, to continue to process them in our sleep, this verse in Lamentations came to mind and the verse in II Cor. 5:17 was in my Bible reading. I love how they come together as a response to my struggle yesterday.

It is true, apart from the work of God our righteousness is as filthy rags. BUT, (capital letters intentional) as believers, we are new creations, a beautiful work of God, clothed with Christ's beautiful and holy and pure righteousness. We must remember God does not make junk!! And though we mess up regularly, though I mess up regularly, I am so grateful that every day, I get a new slate. I don't have to carry around the burden of my sin, my sin debt. On the cross through Christ, that debt, all my sin, was erased. Today, this morning, I am a new creation, draped in God's mercies, charged with being His ambassador, His representative.

How exciting is that? I'm no worm, no sinner, no piece of dirt. I am cleansed through Christ, renewed through His Spirit and His Word, and charged this day with being the me He made me to be in such a way that He is glorified.

PS. I know that believers still sin, but identity is no longer as sinner, but as holy one, as child or God, as friend of God.