October 31, 2012

Because I Cling So Very Tightly to the Wrong Things

Thoughts were woven together in my head and heart today.  Ideas for a post from this morning collided with an experience later in the day and now I get to write.  Yay!

Maybe you've taken a child to a park sometime and they've climbed up a ladder or other structure. Beginning with confidence, suddenly fear envelops them when they realize the heights they've reached.  Little by little they work their way down until they are not that far from the ground.  But they can't get their foot to touch.  So despite your encouraging, they are unwilling - toes 3 inches from the ground! - to let go.

Unwilling to let go.

Somehow they prefer to cling tightly to the metal bar in that uncomfortable place, rather than trust your word: they are not far from safety, solid ground, freedom from fear.

I am that child at the playground.  The Heavenly Father is my  caretaker.  I climb a little too high, beyond my capabilities, qualifications, and strength.  Working my way down, I never seem to reach the ground.  Gently the Good Shepherd tells me to let go, the ground is just below my toes.  Or, He'll catch me.  But I cling to the cool metal bar of my idol-of-the-moment, my pride, my self-sufficiency, my non-negotiable desires.

Unwilling to let go.

But, man, that place is so full of discomfort, discontent, and distress!
Rest, relief, and redemption are found only when I let go.

*     *     *

Over the last month or so, now that Katherine is an older infant and life is more predictable and I have more energy, I've been working harder at keeping house, engaging more with my family, tackling long-ignored projects, and fighting my lazy tendencies.  There are rewarding moments, when something is done.  But the truth?  It's not fulfilling me as I must have hoped it would; there is ALWAYS [more] work to do and much of the tasks I do are repeated daily or weekly.  This week I have been discouraged and wanted to throw in the (dirty dish) towel.

I've been clinging to a bar, toes *just* above the ground, unwilling to let go.

A hymn came to mind this afternoon as I herded another bundle of warm, clean clothes from the dryer into the basket: I Surrender All.*  Even the work I do, no matter how many times I do it, must also be surrendered unto the Lord.  The work is not an end, it's a means.  A means by which I'm molded and shaped by my Father, a means by which I can look to His hand for all I need to complete the task at hand.  I can keep working because I can let go and work to His glory.

*     *     *

I wonder where this might apply in your life today?  What bar are you clinging to, white knuckled and stubborn today, unwilling to let go?

Let's let go together on 1 ... 2 ... 3!

Heavenly Father, thank you for making a plan to save our souls.  Sweet Jesus, thank you for never letting us go.  Holy Spirit, thank you for your whispers and screams of truth, even in the mundane.  Or, especially in the mundane?

Change our hearts.

*I Surrender All

1. All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

2. All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.

3. All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.

4. All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power;
let thy blessing fall on me.

5. All to Jesus I surrender;
now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!

October 29, 2012

Got Baggage? Unload It Here.

I'm in the middle of Jeremiah at the moment and I've really been enjoying reading this book of the Bible.  Jeremiah had the difficult task of prophesying the exile into Babylon and he was often mistreated by the people, his own people.  God is having him share of destruction and sorrow, but what has struck me most are all of the undertones and sometimes overtones of grace and mercy.  They're going into exile, God is using pagan nations to destroy Jerusalem, but after those seventy years God already has the plan for wiping out the pagan nations and gathering His people back to their land.

In chapter 31 today I was reading about God's plan to bring Israel and Judah back into the land to be His people and Him their God, and God speaks of a new covenant He'll make with them, where He'll write His law on their hearts and they'll know Him.  He concludes that little declaration with these words (31:34b)

"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

Of late, God is trying to impress upon me that His love for me is real, that His grace is no joke, that I belong to Him and my sin is no obstacle for His mercy.  Reading Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the epistles has been hammering home this truth.

And joy of joys!  This truth is for all people who would turn to God, ask Him to forgive their sin, and turn their lives over to Him.

According to these verses, when God forgives our wickedness, He remembers it no more!  All of those regrets and all that shame I hold on to?  Yeah, God's not doing that, so why should I?  He really forgives our sin.  I don't forgive that way, so perhaps that is why believing God does is so difficult.

If you're one of God's children and He is your God, he has flung your sin as far as the east is from the west.  He really does not remember, because Jesus' perfection and glory is the lens through which He looks at you. You.  Are.  Forgiven.

That means you are free!

If you do not yet believe this good news, it is a gift for you to take.  Nothing you've done or left undone is beyond the reach of God's grace.  Jesus died for our sin so we don't have to and so we could have new life, a new life with the God who made us, both here and now and through eternity.

You, too, can be free!

As you begin this week, I share this word with you again:

"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."

October 14, 2012

Because Sometimes We Don't Want to Go to Church

Do you ever wake up surly on Sunday morning?  Or you are fine when you wake up, but by the time you're walking out the door and something (or some people) are holding things up, and crankiness and anger well up within you?

There is so much to celebrate on the Lord's Day!  We've been brought from death to life because of what God has done for us in Christ.  We have an inheritance that will never spoil, perish, or fade.  God has placed His Spirit in us to guide, convict, and encourage.  Being a child of God is amazing.  Nothing short of amazing.

But there are grumpy Sunday mornings, aren't there?

You arrive at church to all those beautifully dressed people with their smiling faces and you hope they don't realize what a jerk you are, how much you don't want to be there.  You slump into your seat, hoping the sermon is short so you can get home and into clothes that better express your mood (sweats and slippers!)

But you know what, grumpy one?  You're in exactly the right place: with the people of God in the presence of God.

Worship takes our eyes off of ourselves - our troubles (petty and real) and our mood (good or bad) - and focuses us on God.  The One who saves, because without that we have no hope.  The One who is majestic and holy and beautiful, and calls us His own children through Christ.

Grace melts the hardness within.

I do hope you're not feeling grumpy this morning!  If you are, however, you're in good company.  I venture to guess that I've sinned big time most Sundays before getting to church - even when I'm in a good mood!

Thankfully God does not change like our moods.  His love is steadfast, His salvation sure, His forgiveness real, His desire to change us relentless.

God bless you as you enter the sanctuary this morning.

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise Him,
my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:4-5

October 3, 2012

He Will!

A verse, that fits will with my last couple of blosts, jumped off of the page at me this morning.  Paul is telling the Philippians that he thanks God for them and prays for them, then finishes the sentence with,

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6
God finishes what He starts.  You were intentionally chosen and are a beautiful work in progress!  May this word encourage you as you look forward to what today holds, remembering that He holds you.

October 1, 2012

It's Gotta Get Worse to Get Better? Well, Kinda. (part 2)

Yesterday I was telling you about a much-delayed home organization project that I was working on this weekend, organizing the books on our bookshelves.  In the middle of the project it hit me that while the room was messier and it sure felt like there was zero progress being made, I was actually closer to the final organizational goal than when I began.  That caused me to question the validity of the phase, It's gotta get worse, to get better.  You better believe there's a Spiritual application for this!  That is what I'd like to share with you today.

Not much different from being in the throws of a home renovation, we can find ourselves in the midst of a heart renovation with the Lord.  He begins showing you things about yourself that He wants to change, and it's painful - painful to face and painful to walk through the transformation.  You might begin to wonder if you really are a Christian, with all that nastiness being revealed.  Or worse, have you ever been a Christian if that is still part of who you are?!

As I worked on those bookshelves, all I could see were the books in disarray on the floor, not the handful of shelves that were already beautifully arranged.

As God works in our hearts, we sometimes see more ugly than beauty.

Like the bookshelves, you were probably okay as you were, but the Lord has something even greater in mind.  You're rolling along just-fine-thank-you-very-much, until there's a twinge in your conscience, followed by a desire to do and be better, chased by a sense that there might not be any hope for someone as awful as you. You and your sin, in a stare-down.  Who will look away first?

The fact of the matter is that, no matter how much you've matured or how long you've been walking with the Lord, you have not attained His level of holiness.  There's always going to be another level to which He wants to draw you.  A related fact of the matter?  You're far worse and more desperate than you think you are, but His grace is always enough to bridge that gap.  And that grace becomes increasingly more amazing as we move along and He draws us into sharing more in His holiness.  (Yes, check that link, the Bible says that God wants us to share in His holiness!  Can you believe it?!  It leaves me speechless when I think about it.)

God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.

Last week, our books were on our bookshelves.  Practically speaking, they did not have to be rearranged.  But for months it's been bugging me because, while functional, it wasn't what it could be!  I knew those books could be sorted out by topic to make items easier to find.  I knew we didn't need all of them on those selves, so we could have space for other items.  I knew it did not look nice but could, if the books were arranged by height.

I imagine the Lord looks at me in love and thinks, Alright, the time has come.  It's gonna be a little painful for her, she's gonna have to take a look at things in her heart that displease me and are keeping her from growing.  But it. is. time.  Spirit, start nudging, because we can't let her alone any longer.  We've got something much better for her.

So as I lamented the mess I'd made on the floor of our school room that we needed to use in 36 hours, I was comforted by the fact that it was not worse than before.  Yes, the floor was messier, but a couple of shelves already looked like this:

Oh the joy!  All stories and novels lined up by size.  Be still my heart!

If that's how I feel about two shelves put right,
imagine how the Father rejoices to take us through a little bit of mess,
to set something right in our hearts!

I have not come up with a catchy alternative to it's gotta get worse to get better.  But I do pray that somehow, from this jumble of text, you're taking away some hope.  When we walk with the Lord, He's going to take us through some "reorganization" at times, involving repentance, self-examination, and discomfort.  But oh, the cross of Jesus, and how it sees us through so we don't despair, but can trust that the mess we're in is not things getting worse.  Oh no!  Because you're not going backward.  You are NOT going backward.  The mess is part of the movement forward to "the better", which for the Christian is sharing another little bit in God's holiness.


Oh praise you, Father, for taking us through messy places so we can move into better places!  Help us, Holy Spirit, to be strong and courageous; remind us of Jesus and the cross, and bring us faithfully through.  Amen.

*     *     *

For the curious, the project is not done (books need to be donated, Colin has to decide about some of his things, and I need to consider how to best use the freed-up shelves.)  But here's where we are; I do so wish I'd taken a 'before' picture!

I don't know that I'll be able to look at these shelves from now on, without thinking of the verses I linked to above, Hebrews 12:10-11.

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.