Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Hush now. Be Still.

Sometimes when we come before God  in a moment of crisis or confusion or uncertainty, when we lift our face to him in supplication seeking his guidance, some sort of answer or direction, instead we get something unexpected. Sometimes there are no great insights, no grand visions or prophecies, no “word from the Lord.” Sometimes, it’s just….”Shhhh. Hush now. Be still.

How many times as a parent have you had a child rush up to you full of hurt or anger or confusion, and they climb up in your lap and pour out their thoughts or fears with such intensity, sometimes with tears in their eyes, and you realize that the first and best thing they need is simply…comfort.  “Shhhhh.., “you whisper. “Hush.” You rock them a little, you wipe away some tears, you smooth their hair, and sometimes all you do is just hold them against your chest, let them cry, and you whisper softly, over and over, “Shhhh, now. It’s okay. I’ve got you. Shhhhh...”

Sometimes people need comfort more than they need answers. And sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes it’s just enough to know that there’s a place we can go, a lap we can crawl up into, a comforting hand for our forehead and gentle fingers to wipe away our tears. Sometimes it’s just enough to be loved.

God is a good one for giving us what we need, more than what we think we want. And sometimes all we really need…is to know that He is there.

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Reclaiming Lost Ground

In my last post, I talked about surrendering to God. Surrendering can mean many things; sometimes it means letting go of something, but sometimes it can mean NOT letting go!

In surrendering ourselves to God, we agree, we resolve, we commit to opposing everything in our life that is un-Godly. Or at least to try. To work at it. To make it a priority. BUT! If I stop resisting something, if I allow myself to become complacent, to just give up and accept it as part of my daily definition of “normal,” then I will have surrendered to it and not to God.

It can be as something as simple as a hardness of the heart that I’ve learned to accept, an area of unforgiveness, resentment, or anger – however justified in my mind – that I have ceased to oppose or worked to resolve. I just accept it as “the way things are.”

In doing so, I accept defeat. In effect, saying, in THIS area, God is not sovereign. In this, I “cannot win”…or don’t want to. In holding on to that anger, in nursing that grudge, in accepting that addictive behavior, I show where have I given ground over to the Enemy.

But the more you give him, the more he will try to take. Each step backward is a foothold for the enemy to advance further into your life.

Victory in Christ means not accepting defeat in your life. Find every piece of ground where the enemy has gained a foothold, and renew the offensive to reclaim it! Turn to God, acknowledge it to Him, then seek and accept his equipping to oppose and defeat it.

Challenge: Lord, show me daily, minute by minute, which battles I’m not fighting that I should be.  What footholds has the Enemy gained, what areas of my life do I need to reclaim? Teach me to live daily in the victory you have secured for me on the Cross.

 

Thoughts from my Quiet Time: Sometimes, It’s Really Not About You.

Going through my Oswald Chambers for today and he takes on the concept of “suffering” in terms of God and the Bible, referring to 1st Peter Chapt. 4 &5. Reading through all that really got me to thinking.

God repeatedly speaks of suffering as though it is a good thing!? That is not only inevitable but desirable?!  Why it this?

Because if we understand that it is inevitable, we will have a different attitude about it. We will be better equipped to face it rather than surprised by it.  And more importantly perhaps, we will have the awareness and foresight to look beyond our immediate circumstance and our own condition, and begin to look for the purposes of God in what we are enduring.  Why has he led me here? What purposes are being served?

This trial, this suffering may not even be about me. I may have been placed here to minister to someone else, or accomplish a mission, purpose or goal far beyond my own narrow vision.  And if I am only looking at myself, focused so completely on the depths of my own personal inconvenience, I may miss that opportunity entirely!

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NASB)

Challenge: Am I so focused on my own condition that I may be missing the work God is doing around and through me? Lord, help me to daily remember that even in times of sorrow, suffering or persecution, you are there. Help me be open to your will, no matter the circumstance.

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Trinkets vs. Treasure

Here’s a thought. It might fly in the face of a great deal of theology and conventional wisdom, but I think it tracks. So here goes.

Don’t seek the kingdom. Don’t seek the blessings. Don’t seek the gifts.

Seek the person.

Strive to know only Christ until everything else falls away. Your desire should be for Him, not for what He can give you, not for what he can do for you. But for who He is to you.

The strange truth is that even if God never answered a single prayer, never performed a single miracle in your life, you should still be striving to know Him more fully and completely in every moment.

Not to ask, “where is God?!” when things go sideways on you, but instead, “who is God in this moment? And who am I in Him?”

It is not about rewards, or circumstances, or plans for the future. It is about merely abiding in His presence and that being more than enough.

That said, there are abundant gifts and blessings in store for those who give their life to Him, for those who abide in Him; but they are trinkets compared to the treasure of the simple, consuming love we can and will share. The pearl of great price.

Our hope is not in the promise of blessings in this life, but being more fully in His presence in the next. And so our abiding is manifest in our prayer, and in our seeking to know the person of God…not just clamoring for His stuff!

Challenge: Today, am I going to hunger for more of God’s love, for more knowledge of him? Or will I let myself become too focused on what I do or don’t have, what did or didn’t happen to me? Lord, help me seek you and find you in every situation today!

You Get To Have The Good Stuff!

Wait, that can’t be right, can it?  I get to have the good stuff?  What about that whole “first must be last” thing, and forsaking the flesh, and…and…

Well, I guess it all depends on how you define, “The Good Stuff.”goodstuff1

There is an unfortunate tendency among far too many Christians to continue to live under the condemnation of sin, to hold on to this notion that we are somehow not just unworthy…but worthless as well.  We believe the lies the world tells us, we listen to the lies the Enemy whispers in our ears; that we are less than, that we are forgettable, that somehow God must have turned away from us because of what we’ve done, or what we haven’t done.

‘Cept that, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We hear that a lot, but what does it mean?  It means that God loves us despite what we are, not because of what we are.  It’s called “unconditional love” and it’s a concept most of us really struggle with, because we see so little of it in the world around us.

Or, to put it another way, God can’t be disillusioned with us…because He never had any illusions about us!

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Which of your sins didn’t Jesus forgive, which of your sins, your errors, your misjudgments or your failures didn’t He atone for when He died on the cross…2000 years before you were even born?

I first found Christ when I was six years old. So, was I:  a) forgiven only of those first six years of my life? Or: b) was I truly made a new creation, washed clean for all eternity by the blood of Christ, my life fundamentally transformed from that moment forward? Let me give you a hint:  The answer is: b).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2nd Cor. 5:17)

And that’s where we get back to that definition of, “The Good Stuff.”

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

What does that mean?  What is an “abundant life?”

It means you’re allowed to enjoy the good stuff.  You are allowed to be happy, to do things and experience things that bring you happiness.  That you weren’t put here to suffer, but to come to know an abundant life lived under the redemption of Christ.  Don’t live in fear.  Don’t live in recrimination and doubt.  Set aside the insecurities that rob you of your birthright, and chose to truly believe that God means what He says…that He loves you and wants you to know true happiness.

So…do the things that bring you joy! Putter. Sew. Sing. Paint. Draw. Not for anyone else. Just for yourself. The only person it has to be good enough for is you.

Let yourself giggle as you enjoy the delightfully decadent joy of some wonderful bit of bakery fluff coated with some hoity-toity almond butter slide down your throat accompanied by some far-eastern Darjeeling you bought from that quaint little shop in Pike’s Place Market.  And just savor it. Enjoy it.

Walk in your yard and enjoy the blossoms without noticing or caring about the weeds.

Buy that wonderful hand-knit scarf at the street fair, even though you just really shouldn’t, I know, it’s really just too much, and I’ll probably never have anywhere to wear it, and….do it anyway.  Then make a pretty throw with it for the couch instead.

blow-bubblesMake a bunch of silly scribbles in a sketchbook that doesn’t look like anything, but you really like the way the colors go together.  Then stick it on the front of the fridge with a magnet and smile every time you look at it.

Play the piano, just because you know how.  And sing to yourself as loud as you want, and who cares if the neighbors hear you and think you’re weird.  Draw silly faces on the mirror in dry-erase marker and stick your tongue out at them every morning.

It’s called “rejoicing,” and you can do it a lot more often than just standing in a pew on Sunday with a hymnal in your hands!

I think that sometimes, even as even the most devout of Christians, it’s still hard for us to really, truly believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy, especially after some of the things He’s let us endure. But that’s the lesson I’m trying to learn now, to really take to heart….I get to be happy.  It’s okay for me to be happy!  What a concept, huh?  I think maybe we miss out on a lot of blessings and don’t experience more happiness in our life because we don’t believe it.  We don’t look for it, don’t let it in, don’t recognize it when it shows up.  We play this karma game.  We take a worldly look at God’s work and figure He’s just waiting…waiting….waiting with the ruler poised over our knuckles for us to give Him another excuse to drop the hammer.

So, please, also try to take this to heart.  You get to be happy.  And you don’t have to feel guilty or unworthy about it.  Try to get to the place, someday, somehow, where you can really believe that it really is okay for you to be happy.  I’m trying to let go of all the things in my past that are holding me back, bogging me down, things the Enemy takes such joy in using against me.

I hope and pray that you, too, will find a way to let go of all the things that were born out of tragedy or sorrow or abandonment or trials…and just let it be the past. Like an alcoholic who’s quit drinking, a drug abuser who’s quit using and gotten clean…don’t let your past define you.  You don’t have to fix it, maybe don’t even have to “heal” it…maybe you just…let it all go.

Give yourself permission for that.  Forgive yourself for all of that past, for all of those things.  God doesn’t require any sort of penance from you for it — He’s already paid your penance for you, and more! I am choosing to not let myself be defined by my past.  Make that choice for yourself as well.

Be free!  Be emancipated from all that. The door to your jail cell is open, and has been for a while.  You just need to walk through it and accept (and experience) true freedom.   “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;”  That is the true essence of God’s forgiveness.

See what kind of a life living in true freedom can bring. It’s called “joy.”  Live that life for yourself; live a life fully in the forgiveness of Christ, free from the burdens of the past.

~ Steve

Sometimes Love Isn’t Easy…

In one of the Apostle Paul’s Epistles, he’s carefully to caveat what he’s about to say with words to the effect of, “I don’t have a word from the Lord on this, BUT…” (1 Corinthians 7:25) That’s kind of where I am right now.  Nothing that has jumped out at me from Scripture, but really just more my general sense of things, so take it for what it’s worth.

God has a strange way of dealing with us sometimes.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think He’s intentionally designed the system to mess with our collective heads.

That said, if there is one thing I have learned in my years of chasing after this thing called “servanthood to God,” it’s that just as sure as I think I’ve got things all figured out, God will step in and let me know — in no uncertain terms — that His ways, His plans are sometimes far deeper and more complex than my simple human mind can comprehend.

That’s where this “faith” thing tends to come in. Right now I’m going through a confusing and chaotic time in my life.  It would be so easy for me to begin to question God, to shake my impotent fist at the sky and wonder, “Why!?

Every other time in my life when I’ve felt like asking that question, the answer has always been (eventually), “because I have something even  better in store for you.”

Sometimes in the midst of our turmoil, our confusion, our sorrow or our strife, it’s too easy to want to blame God for our circumstances.

But…if we truly believe what we say we believe, if we truly believe that God holds us in His hands, that He truly loves us and has a plan for us, then YES, truly we SHOULD blame Him for our circumstances, for He has either brought it to pass or allowed it to happen!

And if there is one thing I HAVE learned in this crazy, mixed up life I’ve led so far, it’s that GOD ALWAYS HAS A PLAN.

We may not be able to see it right now. Heck, we may not even be able to see or understand it until we stand with Him one day in Heaven and listen as He shows us all the ways He cared for us, guided us, how He put those stumbling blocks in our path and why, that we’ll ever truly understand it all.

In the meantime it falls to us to trust in the love of our Father, to believe…even when we can’t see it right now…that He loves us, cares for us, and has a plan for our life that is so much better than anything we could conjure up on our own.

The scary truth of it is that God sometimes brings us into these times of turmoil, of doubt, of questioning and confusion for the sole and simple purpose of teaching us to trust more fully in Him.

As hard as that may be to take some time, it really is at the core of what we, as Christians, need to understand and believe.

God really does love us; but sometimes that love will take forms that we don’t understand. The challenge we face every day is to love Him back, through it all, and remain faithful to His calling no matter what.

Because sometimes love isn’t easy.  Sometimes love takes us right to the edge of what we think we can do…and pushes us over the edge into what we have to rely on God to do for us instead.

For some people, the absolute hardest thing to do is let go of control.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what truly Biblical faith is all about.

When God Calls…Do You Let It Go To Voicemail?

Are you screening your calls?

answering-machines1---message-screen_s600x600As I fast approach my 47th year in this world, I find myself taking a hard look back over my life, and evaluating a lot of the decisions I’ve made, sifting and sorting through the many milestones and events and turns-left-instead-of-right that have led me to my current station in life.  Several of those junctions, several key “forks in the road” really begin stand out to me.  Invariably, they are the points where I had to make a decision whether to follow where God was leading…or to pursue my own path chasing after my own desires.  Sadly, more often than I care to admit I’ve made the wrong choice.

It makes me wonder why we struggle so hard against what we see as the “demands” of Christ’s Kingdom? I think sometimes we tend to think only about all the things we’ll have to give up, of all the sacrifices we’ll have to make.  Maybe we picture a life of monastic austerity, kind of like a kid trapped inside on a summer day while he watches through the window as the other kids get to go out and play.  A life spent serving God is seen as something all those “saintly” people do, but really, isn’t that a bit much to ask of the average joe?

BUT.  If we truly believe that we are created by God, if we truly believe that He has gifted and equipped and will call each of us to serve Him in a way uniquely suited to who and what we are, why do we still hesitate to answer this call?

For far too many of us, it’s not enough to just be what God has created us to be.   We want and demand that we become more, or maybe something just more to our liking, something that fits a little better into what and who we think we ought to be; you know, something more! We treat a life lived in service to God as “Plan B.”  Maybe something to get around to once we’ve finished doing all the other stuff WE want to do.  In other words, we put ourselves first.  We put our desires and our goals ahead of what God has laid out for us.

This is THE VERY SAME SIN that doomed mankind from the start. The first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden was not the sin of disobedience. The disobedience was a RESULT of an earlier sin; the first sin of Man was the sin of pride.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,  she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Gen. 3:3-6

Seduced by the smooth and persuasive words of the Serpent, Adam and Eve felt the first stirrings of the desire to be MORE. They were created in God’s own image. They were quite possibly either immortal, or incredibly long-lived. They knew no shame, hurt, fear or want. They were given a position of unique and important responsibility in caring for God’s creation. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t enough. God’s given call on their lives, his intended purpose, no longer sufficed. They wanted more. They wanted to be “as God.” They wanted to “know,” to have their eyes opened, to take on an aspect other than that for which they were created. And this desire led them into death. It led them into separation from God. It shattered a bond, a faith, a unique trust between them and their Creator. In effect, they chose the words of the Serpent over the words of God. They said, in their hearts, “Father, what you have given us is not enough. We see what you are apparently denying us, and now we want MORE!

Be careful what you ask for. Especially when you ask in ignorance, without faith, in disobedience.

In how many ways do we see this same sin, this same legacy born out day after day in our own lives? God calls and equips us for a certain work, and in our pride we decide that it’s not “good enough.” We see all the things we think God could provide us, and isn’t, and we decide that God can’t possibly be calling me to teach third graders. I’m meant to be a church planter! How come I’m stuck cleaning up after the youth group, when I should be leading the worship team up on stage?! God must be punishing me for something; otherwise I’d have a much more (glamorous, visible, better-paying, more influential, etc) position.

Even the early Disciples struggle with this same pride, this same desire to be something MORE.  In Mark Chapt. 9:33-35, we here them jostling for position amongst one another:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The mission, the purpose for which God has called each of us as Believers, and equipped us (if even for just a season) is too often considered “beneath” us. Not important enough. Not worth “our” time. And so we refuse to fulfill that calling, that role. We disobey. We let ourselves be seduced by the allure of all those bright, shiny things seemingly held just beyond our reach, instead of focusing on the anointing God has already placed on our lives. We become discontented, impatient and selfish, not content to merely serve in humility.  We become so focused on our position, on our status, even among other Christians, that we lose site of what “servanthood” really means.

And too often, what happens next? Well, from hard-won personal experience, let me tell you.

We decide that if that’s all God has for us, if that’s all the more famous we’re going to get, well then, no thanks. We turn away. We stop serving the Kingdom altogether. It’s too hard, too embarrassing, too boring, too this, too that.  We find 101 reasons why this really just isn’t working out for us.  Maybe we storm off in a huff, or maybe we just step away from the plow. Maybe we storm up the stairs and slam our bedroom door, or just quietly unplug the phone and turn out the lights.  Whatever it looks like, we turn away from the words of God and trust in our own wisdom as to what is best. And so the Serpent wins. Again.

The Enemy wants nothing more than to keep us so distracted by shiny things, things that are a “delight to the eyes,” so focused on our “felt needs” and our earthly desires and the praise of man that when the phone rings and we realize that it’s God calling, we’ll just let it go to voicemail.

Whether through fear, or pride, inattention, laziness, or just plain unbelief, we can sometimes let ourselves miss a calling that promises so much more for our life than anything we can scrounge up ourselves.  So the next time you think you might be hearing God’s call on your life, hearing Him call you out of where you are to where He wants you to be…

PICK UP THE PHONE!

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit”

November, 2011.  That’s the last time I posted to this “blog.”  Six months of quiet inactivity.  Six months of silence.  Six months of sitting on my spiritual gifts, and finding reasons to do just about anything else but be with God in His word.

Six months of letting the Enemy win.  Of getting beat up, and beating myself up, and just generally slipping further and further away from were I should be. 

It stops today.  Today, I take up my cross, anew.  I will stumble, I will succeed and I will fail. I will do it imperfectly.  But, by the grace of God, I WILL DO IT. 

Looking at the book of John, Chapter 15, we see a pretty clear and unequivocal declaration that it is not enough to just “get saved.”  Claiming to be a Christian is not enough. Professing the name of Christ is not enough.  Sitting in a church once a week is not enough.

It’s about your HEART.  It’s about following after God, hungering after His word, and wanting what HE wants more than what WE want.  About transforming what He wants INTO what we want.  It’s about fighting that fight every day.  Not waiting for tomorrow, or the next day, or the next week.

Or six months.

Jesus warns us that those “vines” which do not abide in Him, those which bear no fruit, will be cast away, destroyed in the fire, while those that DO bear fruit will be pruned and shaped to produce even more.  And this fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, is how we will be known as followers of Christ.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  John 15:8

And so, I find myself asking, how much fruit am I bearing? Am I a lush, growing tree, bearing fruit, bringing shade and comfort and sustenance, or am I a dry, withered scrub bush with brittle branches and thorny brambles?

Am I trying to do things in my own strength and failing, or, abiding in Him, seeking after His will, and then shaping my efforts accordingly?  Honestly? Lately, it’s been a lot more of the former, rather than the latter.  So today, that changes.

There’s an old, favorite Sunday School song, which declares, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”  Well, with God’s help, guidance, and equipping, I hope to let my light shine a whole lot brighter than it has been of late. 

Sometimes the hardest thing about doing God’s work is just showing up at the job site.

Well, I’m done taking sick days.

~ Steve

A Fierce and Dangerous Faith

Some think Faith foolish,
To boldly tread where there is no bridge or path.
They consider it the height of prudence,
To require each step laid out in advance.

Others find Faith too awful,
A fearful and trembling place of danger.
Without first knowing the script, the plot, the final scene,
They step not upon the stage.

Some find Faith as a soothing balm,
A warm cup of tea that comforts a dark night.
It abides in the quiet moments of trust,
Strength for the simple task of facing each day.

Then there is the Faith with wild, unkempt hair,
Locusts and honey, facing giants with a stone.
It calls us to step across a river, into a land unknown,
And instead of fear, we know only fierce anticipation!

This is the Faith which moves mountains,
Which calls to the fiery tempest in our souls,
It is the burning bush, the pillar of fire,
The restless call upon our hearts to follow God’s call.

Today I want to trade my timid Faith,
For one more unsettled and unbound,
I want to feel the rush of God’s wind through my hair,
Feel the heat of His furnace upon my face.

For in those wild, incautious moments,
When I abandon rational hope and empirical surety,
To step instead along the path God has set before me,
That is where Life truly begins!

Lord, today give me the strength,
To step out of the boat, and meet you amongst the waves.
Let the wild winds blow, and tempest waters broil,
And I will cry out, not in fear, but in exultation.

Lord, in Faith, take me to the unsafe places,
The rugged, ragged edges of life where others fear to tread.
Renew in me a heart eager for adventure,
With the dusty sandals and calloused hands that say…

TODAY, I SERVED THE LORD!