Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011 Making a Resolution

Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

For about ten years I was considered by a certain magazine to be a freelance writer, but I worked for them almost as a staffer, every issue churning out an assignment of one kind or another. Then I got an assignment to write a feature for the winter issue, focusing on New Year’s resolutions.  Ah, there’s the rub.

If there is one part of writing nonfiction that I love, it’s the research, whether its Bible study or researching the historical or social matters related to the article. I love it and tend to go way overboard, spending many more hours that are really necessary to get the needed information.

When I worked on that article about New Year’s resolutions, I struggled, because the more research I did, the more it appeared they did not have a place in God’s plan. At least resolutions as they are commonly understood, a person articulating a change he or she is going to make in life, and generally God does not have a place in the resolution.

I’ll skip to the end of this story. I wrote the piece; they paid me for it, but they did not publish it. It appeared that I did not come to the conclusion they wanted. Still I do not regret all that work, and I came to a couple of conclusions. God wants our word to mean something. He wants our yes to mean yes, our no to mean no, not maybe or if things work out that way. He wants us to be people of integrity.

Then, He wants to be a part of every decision we make. He wants to matter always, not just sometimes. There is nothing wrong with saying, “With God’s help, and as it pleases and glorifies Him, I want to honor Him by eating more healthily this year.” If you want to call that a resolution, go ahead.

 As I thought about this concept this morning, God brought these verses in Matthew to mind, and I really believe they cover it all.  If we are love God with our heart, soul and mind, then every aspect of our lives will be submitted to Him. Furthermore, if we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will be creating an environment where God will be glorified and His message made more credible.

 So, don’t ask me if I made any resolutions this year. However, you can ask me if there’s anything in particular that I am praying about. It is this, that God will help me to be aware of my desire to love Him and others, and to help me choose behaviors that are consistently loving:  to God first, and then to all those He has placed in my life.

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23, 2011 Lord, You are All I Want

Psalm 142: 5  I pray to you, O Lord, I say, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.”

We sing, well at least some of remember singing, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, my two front teeth …” Well it goes on from there, and so do we.
I must have been six when I remember singing that in front of the tree, all the while knowing it really wasn’t true.  I don’t remember what I did want, but it probably included a doll because I remember the doll I got that Christmas. Her name was Roxanne, and she was beeyouteeful!  I have no idea what else I got, and thankfully, that was before the days of the Sears catalog. I remember the Christmases after that, when our mother had us write our names on the things we wanted in the catalog….things we did not even know existed before that catalog.

Then came TV and newspapers, and magazines and billboard ads along the road all promising that if we just got this one thing, happiness would be ours. The problem is, they all lied. Over the years I did get one or maybe a few of those gifts, the ones that promise happiness, and all they did was make the list of possibilities one item shorter.  I have lived a lot of years, and I can promise you, no one thing made me happy for very long.
Now, I am not saying I am an unhappy person.  What I am saying is that no person or thing can give you true fulfillment and happiness.  That happiness place inside you remains leaky, like a balloon with a tiny whole, letting the air out, even if it is slowly.

People fail; after all, they are flawed human beings, just like me.   Stuff wears out, breaks or goes out of style, or we do.  God alone never fails.
I remember the summer God came into my life – over fifty years ago. By anyone’s clock, that’s a long time ago. Over the years, I have unwrapped a whole lot of gifts, but only that gift of a Savior remains to bring satisfaction and joy. If you know me, you know I love books. I have piles of them all around me, about everywhere I go. But no book brings me more joy than the Bible, God’s love letter to me.   

As I reflect on all the stuff of Christmas this year, I can honestly say, it can all go away.  Just give me Jesus.  Now I am not saying I don’t love or want the people close to me in my life. I am not tempting God. Well, he cannot be tempted anyway. But I can pray, “God, help me to remember this moment when all the promises of the world threaten to drown out the truth, that there is no gift more precious nor satisfying than your love.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011 He loved me anyway!! And you!

Psalm 139:16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

I love the French word chargee`. It has the sense of being too busy, pressed, overwhelmed; think charged. When I think of this book with every day, every event of my life recorded, I think chargee,every space filled in, with tiny writing between the lines recording even the thoughts nobody else knew.

Then I think of the temptation to blame God for all the junk in there, the bad choices that mar, probably every page. The verse does say that every moment was laid out before it happened, so because God is sovereign, it must be his fault.

But the Holy Spirit won't let me get away with that. He reminds me that I made those bad decisions on my own. Nobody made me do it, whether I like it or not. I admit this is a conundrum, my will and God's sovereignty, but it is real....the my will part.

Finally , I am challenged. God knew it all. He knew all of my junk, all the bad thoughts and deeds, and He still loved me, still chose me to make me His own. This is what Christmas is about, the birth of the one whose life and death marked paid in full over all my sin debts recorded in those pages.

Thank you God, Most High, for your gift....the greatest gift of all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011 Our Prayers, our Christmas gift?

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of the harps and gold vials full of odors which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 8: 3-4 Another angel with gold incense came and stood at the altar. And a great quantity of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God's people, to be offered on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of the saints, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out.

I wonder if the prayers of the saints come out as one big puzzle - like a puzzle box spilled out, or whether they are spilled out one person at a time...the prayers of each person exposed to all the onlookers.

That line, incense given to him to mix with the prayers of God's people - I wonder if some of the prayers need help to make them palatable to God - the demanding ones, the prescriptive ones where we tell God what He should do, the selfish ones...words hammering on God's door as if there was no one else on the porch. I wonder how much incense must be added to my prayers to make them a worthwhile offering.

Consider then, that somehow our prayers are preserved, because this says they are, and made into something beautiful. I wonder if that thing of beauty, my offering, which my prayers will make looks unfinished, like the afghan where the creator ran out of yarn, and the corner or the center is missing.

It is the time of giving, shopping and wrapping, presents , to pile up beneath the Christmas tree, offerings for our loved ones. It all makes me think about what kind of offerings I have wrapped up for God.

Friday, December 16, 2011

December16, 2011 So Simple

Micah 6:8 No, O people, the Lord has already told you what is good,and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

I have been using Cheri Fuller's One year Book of Praying Through the Bible, this year, and part of the entry today was so to the point that I wanted to share it with you, and preserve it for me.

"Though the requirements may sound simple, they are an important key to pleasing God:
  • First, do what is right; this means not only rendering just decisions but also discovering our particular work and doing it faithfully.
  • Second, love mercy. God expects us to practice steadfast love, pursue and value kindness,and act mercifully toward others, from the greatest to the least.
  • Third, walk in obedience and humility with the Jesus, he gave us the ultimate  model of how to live."
It is the end of the year, and campus is quiet, except for the wind whistling cold around my window.  A time for reflection, this is not always a time of joy.  I think of three students in particular:  one I know lied to me.  I am grieved for her because I know I am not the only one she lies to, and because I know her lies also separate her from God, or are a symbol of her separation from God.  I have tried to render a just decision for her, even though the real consequences of her sin have yet to be seen.

Another student rejected my offer of mercy, saying to me, "I don't want your second chances, your mercy.  I guess I won't be back." She left my office telling others I kicked her out, though I hadn't.  She told me she would not live as other students were required to so she would not be back. It's funny because she even asked me to kick her out, and I told her I was not going to do that. I wanted to extend mercy to her and she must choose, accept the mercy and live within BBC standards or choose otherwise.  And mercy rejected, I grieve for what must follow for her.

A third student has lied and practiced deceit, and then has pleaded ignorance and innocence.  In reality, she is neither ignorant nor innocent.  She will not be permitted to return, a choice she made by disregarding the conditions earlier discipline required. And I grieve for her...all the advantages and mercy and kindness given her, hurled back at us.

Walk in obedience and humility, the latter being the more difficult right now. I want to right my name. I want to be respected, not disparaged in front of other students, their friends and families.  I write these things here, knowing none of those people will read this. But here I confess my own weakness: humility can be a struggle. Oh, I have no trouble knowing that God has  called me and equipped me and enables me daily for this, but I think it is a human thing, to want others to think well of you.

As I review the year, I am challenged in regard to my own desire for respect, my grief for these students who have made such costly choices, and further challenged by the temptations they all face.

A friend just reminded me that we all learn many of our most valuable lessons as the consequence to our own wrong choices, but as I said to him, that idea brings us little comfort when we love people, when we long for them to be at peace with God...and we know by experience the pain of those wrong choices.

So, I guess my reflection today must drive me to my knees, to remember these students, and others on my mind, to, in complete humility, trust God that He does know what is best and is able to place others in their lives to bring them along.

Friday, December 9, 2011

December 9 Repentance and Vision Casting

Joel 2:12-13 Therefore also now, saith the Lord, Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting and weeping and with mourning, and rend yoiur garments and turn unto the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness and repenteth him of the evil.

Proverbs 29:18  Where there is not vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

These two verses were part of my morning reading, and in some ways they seemed like bookends to me, beautiful bookends. 

God loves us so much that not only did He provide Himself through Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to redeem us from our sin, but He wants us to live a joyful and productive life, and He tells us how. 

He calls us to turn to Him with all of our heart, and then He tells us what that might look like; a real turning to God will involve emotion and action, a passionate expression of the kind of emotion that would demonstrate we mean what we say.  As I meditate on that, I wonder if there are people who struggle with the reality of their salvation because it has become all about the rational, about believing and receiving, not about getting heart-involved.

When we are in a relationship with a human being, a real love relationship - even a like relationship, it matters to us.  We feel things - we cry and sometimes yell, and we are moved to a variety of actions or behaviors because it is that real and important to us.

Somehow, it seems to me, we look down on emotion, at least in our circles, as it relates to God.  It is almost as if an economic transaction has taken place - our belief that Jesus paid the our sin debt, so there. I wonder how different our lives would be, our churches would be, if at least personally, we allowed ourselves to feel - the amazing joy of being redeemed, the overwhelming awe of being in a relationship with God who, though He is gracious and merciful and kind, really does want our attention, as any lover would. 

The difference between God and any lover is that He is pure and good; His motives are pure and good, and as we obey Him, we will be blessed beyond our comprehension.

And as we begin to feel and understand what we have in Him, a vision and passion must be generated, to share all that we have with others.  I remember the day I believed.  I ran home and poured it all out to my parents, shaking my Daddy's arm, begging him to believe, "in case it was true."

How sad it is that we become placid, stagnant, even asleep, in our blessedness, forgetting what we have and Who we have, so sound asleep that we cannot be moved into action with a vision for the lost.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Healing! December 8, 2011

Hosea 11:3-4a I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.

I find it hard to imagine it has been a month since I wrote here, even though it has been a challenging month - recovery and therapy from my knee surgery, Thanksgiving, and then a cold that settled in my throat and, like every one else with a cold, took a toll on my energy level.  But here I am, attempting to get on paper a bit of what God has been doing in my life.

 I had been doing some teaching on the work of the Spirit, that God the Spirit loves us and wants to engage with us in this life.  Then a couple of days ago, as I got out of bed, the Spirit of God laid a particular student on my heart, and I believe God was saying, "Give him some money." I remember thinking, "Hmmm, now how is that going to happen?" but I was game.   I got in to work, and guess who showed up at a neighboring counter within a very few minutes?  Do you think God was hinting?

I cannot tell you what fun it was to go out and tuck the money in his hand.  He asked me why and I said "Cuz God told me, and when God tells me to do something I really do try to do it."
He walked away muttering, but it was so worth it.

Then today's reading: it was part of a read through the Bible thing, and it so blessed my heart, especially as one who has been healing physically that I wanted to share it with you.  I love the "they knew not that I healed them" part.  It would be normal to say that Dr. Henzes fixed my knee, or it healed because I did sweat through all that physical therapy - ending each session with two or three 5 minute miles on the Exercycle, but I know better.

Just as  God heals us physically, sometimes using doctors and exercise, He heals us spiritually. Yes, I did have to  have surgery and I did have to  do PT, but God did the knitting together of my body. And God does the knitting together of our soul if we do our PT, meaning prayer therapy, and CT, communication therapy - made up of listening to Him communicate through His whole Word and OT - occupational therapy, where we put feet to His commands.

When I was especially miserable and a bit "drug befuddled" post surgery, I satisfied myself with a verse or two and reading a meditation.  As I got more clear-headed, and made time to really read chunks of Scripture, my heart healed - not just to being satisfied, but to be filled with praise and real joy.

Well, that's all a bit rambling, but I just wanted to share what God's been doing in my life.