Thursday, December 23, 2010
Only today do I have a glimmer of the "Christmas spirit." I finally quieted myself to read this:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Is. 9:6-7)
Set aside the sometimes-loneliness, the busyness, and the stress of celebrating Christmas. What is left still brightly gleaming after thousands of years is that a light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand. Isaiah foretold the coming of the Prince of Peace in the middle of a prophecy about terrible battle. Christmas is about a revolution heralding a Kingdom that will never end. It's about a King walking with blood-stained robes, breaking the yoke of oppression off of His people, loosing captives and bringing justice. Christmas is about a Kingdom.
God's heart has always been about His Kingdom established on earth--Emmanuel...God WITH us. The child in the manger was not His first time to walk on earth with men; instead, it was His progression toward restoring that Kingdom. When wrapping yet another Christmas tie, mug, or picture frame, we should keep in mind that the gifts He ever seeks to cultivate in us are prophecy, healing, tongues, miracles, the discerning of spirits, words of wisdom and words of knowledge. Perhaps, instead of looking for that perfect Christmas present we should concentrate our efforts on giving the gift of sight to the blind, joy to the depressed, hope to the despondant. Perhaps, instead of wishing each other "Merry Christmas" we should greet each other saying, "He shall reign!"
May this weekend remind you of a coming Kingdom, whose humble King daily bears your burdens.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
“GOD speaks my love language.”
The thought came crashing through my mind while four sets of arms reached to fold me in an embrace. Soul-wrenching sobs had swollen my eyes shut to the degree that I could barely see the man of God humbly sitting before me, much less know which friends were holding me; but I felt their love as the Lord communicated His healing to deep places in my heart through their touch.
The two years leading up to that night had been marked with hills of faith-stands and deep pockets of depression. The “God, where are You?” question gave way to a, “God, You don’t have to prove Yourself to me” statement that I believed at least occasionally. When I was honest with myself, however, I realized that a great source of pain was in the fact that I would sometimes go for weeks without any physical contact with another human.
In his book, “The Five Love Languages,” Dr. Gary Chapman explores the beautiful variety that God placed in individuals and the way we communicate. Some of us place more value on tokens of appreciation, while others look for kind and thoughtful actions. In me, God placed a deep-seated desire to express affection through hugs, pats on the back, a hand on the shoulder, etc.
Jesus demonstrated His understanding of the need for physical touch when He touched the lepers that He healed. To men and women who had lived their lives with a debilitating and ostracizing disease, that first touch was something they would always remember. However, knowing His compassion to others when He was physically on earth was a cold comfort when I returned to a silent apartment at night. I prayed so often, “God, I know You’re there, but I just can’t feel You.” I never heard a voice speaking back to me; I simply had to remind myself that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that He heard me, even when it felt like He did not.
The night that the Lord set me free had been atypical in so many ways. Some dear friends and I were at a December conference in Missouri. We had been in a powerful service that night, and the Lord had moved in a beautiful way both in us and through us.
Midnight found our group in our customary location—munching on ham, cheese, or peanut butter sandwiches on the second floor lobby of our hotel, right in front of the elevators. We were sharing our experiences from the evening when the doors to the elevators opened and a group of Korean Christians also there for the conference walked out.
The director of our group noticed how they eyed our band of sandwich-eaters with wide grins, and smiled her typical, golden smile. “Won’t you have a sandwich? We have plenty.”
All but one politely declined her offer; he asked if he could come back in just a few minutes, and she assured him we would still be there. The group rounded the corner to disperse into their respective hotel rooms, and we continued discussing the beauty of the Lord and His goodness to us at the conference.
Mr. Lee returned just around the time that I had forgotten he had ever walked by us in the first place. He sat on one of the large ottomans where we had set up camp and asked us what we thought of the conference so far. Conversation flowed as easily as if we had been dear friends for decades, and a chummy camaraderie fell among us.
Before much time had elapsed, Mr. Lee had steered the conversation toward his passion—the nation of Israel. He began speaking with authority on the Jewish people and God’s desire for their nation, and we soon exchanged our physical food for the privilege to crowd around and listen with rapt attention to the words the Lord was speaking to us through him.
Midnight passed into early morning but we gave no thought to bed, convinced that the Lord had orchestrated a divine appointment for us that evening. When Mr. Lee began to show signs that he was about to excuse himself, our director asked him to pray over us as a group. When he concluded praying, a young woman with us knelt before him and asked that he pray over her individually, and in that instant, the entire tone of the evening changed. The heavy presence of the Holy Spirit descended, and we began to physically react to Him manifesting in our midst. In me, this surfaced as an uncontrollable laughter.
I have never laughed the way I laughed that night. In truth, I had always somewhat questioned those who claimed to manifest the Holy Spirit through laughter, deciding privately (I must confess) that it was simply silliness of the flesh coming out. The sobriety of 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 appealed to me more than the thought of being perceived drunk on the Spirit as the disciples were in Acts 2:25. However, I began to shake with laughter in a manner that I knew was not normal for me, and began realizing that God was beginning to target years of grief with the restoration of His joy.
After at least ten minutes of violent laughter, I was able to regain control of my emotions and sit in the comfortable haze of His presence. I was unsure at that moment of what the Holy Spirit had done in my life, but I knew that I would later mark the evening as the night that everything changed for me.
Then another young woman in our group suggested that Mr. Lee pray over me.
When I walked to kneel before the dear brother in the Lord, I had no expectation to receive anything that could compete with what God had already worked in me. I knew that He had already encountered my heart, and did not believe that Mr. Lee could communicate anything to me that would compare. Thankfully, the Lord ignored my pride and spoke to me through His servant anyway.
The first words from Mr. Lee’s mouth turned the laughter from earlier that night into tears that shook me with just as much intensity.
“The Lord says to you, daughter, you are accepted.”
The room vanished from my awareness as this man who had heard me speak no more than four sentences in the hour since he’d met me began to minister God’s healing to me. In a calm, quiet voice, he began breaking off of me the bondage to fear of man and my striving for acceptance and love. In his prayer, he began countering the sting of countless rejections with the passionate love of God for me. He repented to me on behalf of the men who had abused me, broke off the yoke of others’ expectations and accusations, and blessed me to be free of word curses that others had spoken over me. The entire time he prayed, I heaved with sobs as if I was vomiting something.
When he had finished praying over me and proclaiming the word of the Lord to me, I straightened from the fetal position in which I had curled on the floor and began to back away so that someone else could step forward for him to pray over them. As I was leaning away, Mr. Lee asked, “Could we—could we just hug her for a minute?”
In that moment, I heard the Lord reference every, “God, I can’t feel You!” prayer I had prayed and speak very clearly: I heard you. The God who placed in me the need to be touched honored the faith I had placed in Him when there was no one else around to hug me by surrounding me with love that night in the manner my heart most understood it.
After my friends released me from the hug, I moved back to allow someone else the opportunity to receive from the Lord through Mr. Lee. I leaned back—exhausted—and immediately a shoulder was there to catch me. Although I didn’t realize who it was at first, I finally became aware that I was leaning against JD. In that moment, the Lord spoke to my heart: This is where he’s always been, Chrystal. Loving you. Supporting you. Waiting to catch you when you needed someone.
That was the moment things changed for me. God supernaturally set me free to love again and then put love in my heart for this man who had offered me solid, steady friendship for months. We had a conversation three nights later about the change that had come, but did not officially declare our relationship until we could receive my father’s blessing.
Those first few months of quiet relationship remain precious to me. We were able to get to know one another without worrying about others’ opinions. Our parents knew the deepening that had come in our friendship, but we all also knew that my dad would have the final say on whether or not we could continue to pursue a relationship. He remains an excellent judge of character, and has never been wrong about the men who have come into my life. The fact that he gave an unqualified blessing on our desire to date in March, 2010 brought great peace to my heart–a peace that has marked our relationship. I see so much of him in JD.
That’s pretty much the end of “our story” (though I didn’t tell about the beautiful Christmas present he made for me last year–it involved sneaking all of my pictures off of my computer and putting together a poster-sized collage), with one notable exception: the story of him asking me to marry him last week will come soon =)
Friday, November 19, 2010
"God, can I have her?"
From what he's told me, JD asked the question one day at work without really expecting an answer. Although both he and his mother had been praying for and about me for several weeks, he had grown accustomed to inscrutable silence on this particular subject. One of the things I have had to learn to trust about JD is that he genuinely hears from the Lord when he says he does; he makes it seem so easy--shutting himself in another room to pray and then coming back within ten minutes with a peace in his heart. I have a tendency to feel more like if I don't wrestle with God until daybreak, I have no business claiming to have heard His voice. Granted, most of the time I'm simply wrestling with my own doubts instead of being obedient.
However, despite JD's apparent ease at hearing from God, the Lord had remained silent on the subject of dating me; which was why on this particular day when He chose to answer JD's question, he had a hard time believing it.
"Can I have her, God?"
"Yes. But you're going to have to follow me with it."
The first thing God told him to do was give all of his savings to missions. Within a week of his obedience, someone who did not know him very well (and did not know of his offering) began commenting to me on how generous he was, bringing yet another facet of his personality that I found attractive to my attention.
He used to call me late at night from his parents' home when he would visit them. We would talk for hours. Physical fatigue would cause me to become less guarded and less analytical about what I was saying to him; I was also less insistent that we talk about him instead of me. JD could hear the change come in my voice, and would sometimes ask me if my walls were finally down. If I said they were, he would gently steer the conversation to asking about me--finding out my hopes and dreams, favorite things, failures, successes, heartbreaks, and joys. Half of the time, I would have a very limited or no memory of the conversation the next day. He learned a lot about me during those late-night chats, including my favorite movie ("The Princess Bride"--a love story about Buttercup and Westley).
He was armed with this knowledge and the conviction that God was leading him to pursue me when we had our first "we won't be more than friends" conversation in September. That week while he was out of town on business and we were not in communication, he found "The Princess Bride" on youtube and watched it in 10 minute installments, taking notes along the way.
The movie's plot involves a gap period in which Westley and Buttercup do not see each other for several years. When JD returned home, he wrote a story based on these notes about what happened to Westley during that gap period. He typed it with an old-fashioned font, printed it on legal paper, burned the edges of the paper and rolled the whole thing up as a scroll that he tied with string. I found it later that afternoon nestled among the plants outside my front door. My generous, God-fearing, strong, kind friend also had a thoughtful, tender side--and I just couldn't seem to pull away from him.
In the weeks that followed, I began finding other things waiting for me when I came home from work--lilies (my favorite flower), chocolate, other installments to the story.
One night, he and a friend were driving back from a road trip and he convinced his friend to stop by my apartment on the way home so that he could give me a potted parade rose. It had been a rough day, and the thing that meant the most to me about that night was the hug he gave with the rose. How I needed someone to lean on that night.
The night I realized my heart was starting to open to him was the last Wednesday night in October, 2009. A prophetic evangelist had come to minister to the house of prayer I attend, and we were having special meetings in homes every night that week. JD had started coming to the house of prayer meetings a few weeks prior, but had to be out of town on business again that week (planning to drive home on Wednesday). I told him about the special meeting Wednesday night, but did not think he would come to it because of a prior commitment to the church we both attended. However, he felt like he needed to be with our prayer group Wednesday night, and drove four hours to make it that night.
When he walked in, one of my mentors immediately stood up with a smile on her face and ran across the room to give him a hug. Suddenly, it felt like my life came into focus as I realized how much the friends I had learned to trust respected him. He wasn't some strange guy I couldn't push away despite almost rude behavior on my part (he seemed genuinely surprised later in conversations where I referenced how rude I thought I'd been to him); he was my equal. I fell asleep that night with a smile on my face, thankful for my friend and for the way he made me feel.
God allowed the final cord to my past to sever two days later. The "Isaac" I had laid on the altar two years prior had been sickly at best, but I thank God that he moved JD into my life as a support before I had to accept the "other way" that for so long I had believed was coming would never appear. My heart closed again to love and to trust.
That Sunday afternoon, JD showed up on my doorstep after church claiming to be the visitation committee because I hadn't been there that morning (my house of prayer had a ministry opportunity that afternoon and I had asked to be excused from my responsibilities that morning to prepare for the afternoon). He came in and we made awkward smalltalk until he finally said, "This is going to sound strange to you, but God told me to do it." He then asked for a bowl of water and a towel. When I brought them to him, he led me to sit on the couch.
Kneeling on the floor before me, he cradled my right foot in his hand and began to gently wash my feet. The tears began falling faster than I could wipe them away, but he simply nodded and said, "it's okay." His humble act of service touched a spot in my heart that had hurt for a long time. Together we did a quick cleanout of a box of memories that needed to be shredded and then left to join our house of prayer friends in ministry.
The flowers, chocolates, and Scripture verses on my doorstep began coming again. JD was ever empathetic to the process God through which God was leading me, but he was also convinced that--now that my heart was free--it was only logical we would begin dating soon; which is why when I sat him down near the end of November and told him (more forcefully than ever before) to "Back. Off." My ultimatum: We would either be friends or we would not speak again.
<--back to part 4 on to part 6-->
<--back to the beginning
Monday, November 15, 2010
JD and I finally unofficially/officially met late one weeknight in 2009 at church. The leadership at the church had decided to construct a new platform, which required tearing out the old one and some closets on either side. Although we spent most of the night working in the same vicinity, we still did not address one another directly. During a dust-filled, exhausting evening, I learned two things about him–his name, and the fact that he was very strong.
Shortly afterwards, his face appeared in a “friends suggestions” box on Facebook. By this time, the Lord had instilled in me a love of networking. I was beginning to come out of my shy phase and to learn to appreciate making new friends and introducing them to my old. This was especially true for people who I didn’t see in the regular rotation of church activities, perhaps because I had spent so many years as the new face in churches and automatically assumed others had as hard of a time getting connected as I had. At any rate, God’s working in me gave me the boldness to send him a friend request; an uncharacteristic action for a girl who had always been the one to sit back and let the man initiate any form of friendship.
When JD accepted my friend request on June 22, 2009, he combined it with a short “hello” message thanking me for adding him and asking how I was. Over the next three days, we exchanged about ten messages centered mainly around Bible study, Jewish tradition, prophecy, and learning Hebrew. By the time he sent me his phone number on Day 3 (he was going out-of-town and did not know how much internet access he would have), I felt like we had always been friends.
I texted him my number on the way to the wedding rehearsal of a dear friend of mine. We texted back and forth throughout the evening, and I discovered that in addition to our love of diving into the Word, we also shared a similar sense of humor. After an extended season of God refining me as gold in the fire, it felt so good to laugh.
JD invited me to attend a Bible study at his house on the first Monday in July. Although I was afraid it would be somewhat awkward (I did not know any of the regular attendees very well), I agreed to go, and again found that he was a humble leader with a wonderful grasp of Scripture. I came away from the evening challenged, inspired–and slightly confused because he and his roommate had exited rapidly at the end of the study carrying a baseball bat and a hammer (I later learned that they had thought someone was trying to break into the roommate’s mother’s house). We had yet to actually talk in person, and I felt an odd mix of disappointment and relief when the night ended without a face to face conversation.
As the days continued to progress, JD and I continued exchanging texts and occasionally talking at Bible study or church. The timeline of those first few months we knew each other has blurred together in my mind like a frame bordering a few shining moments: the Wednesday night late in July when he and some friends spent a night ministering on the streets of New Orleans and the Lord sent me to lock myself in the church and pray for several hours; the following Monday when he returned from a beach trip with his family and dropped a bag of seashells he had collected for me in my lap at Bible study; the sudden pang of shyness I felt upon meeting his sister for the first time that Thursday night; the disconcerting camaraderie I felt later that night when he and I together began ministering to a mutual friend. I was wholly unprepared for the rush of emotions I felt while singing (and thus observing) on the platform the night the Lord filled him with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. My unexpected friend was slowly proving himself to be an equal partner, and it made me nervous and wildly happy all at once.
To my credit, I was very blunt with him about my desire for us to just be friends. I knew that he was beginning to look at me as more than just his friend, and while I loved talking to him and his interest flattered me, my heart was not free. I later learned that he had already spoken to his mother about me and she was praying for both of us; however, at the time he was merely another name on a list of almost two-dozen men the Lord had allowed to walk through my life in a two-year period.
We had our first “we will never be more than friends” conversation mid-September, just before he had to go out of town for several days with his job. For almost a week, we did not communicate at all–and I missed him terribly, but was resolved. For almost two years, I had been Abraham offering my Isaac and longing for the Lord to finally provide another way. I was determined to hold fast to faith. Meanwhile, the Lord was slowly making me Rebekah instead.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I first saw JD at the church I was attending late in 2008. From my vantage point on the platform I only knew him as the guy on the back row who always came late, always left early, and never smiled. There was something about him I found instantly attractive, so I responded in my usual way--I avoided all contact with him whatsoever.
Let me digress here for a moment. God has planted in women an innate longing to be pursued, largely because He is the ultimate pursuer and loves to overwhelm our hearts. The natural bend pushed to the extreme after the fall when God told Eve that from that moment on, her desire would be for her husband and he would rule over her. What God had created to be a beautiful gift to a woman became a driving force to feel incomplete without a man.
In an oracle concerning the Day of the Lord, Isaiah 4:1 says: “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, “We will eat our own food and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by your name, to take away our reproach.” The prophet Isaiah was foreseeing a time when the amount of violence in Jerusalem will make the ratio of marriageable women to men seven to one, and it will drive women to desperation if they have not allowed the power of the Holy Spirit to set them free from the curse of Genesis 3:16.
Relationships have always fascinated me, but I have also always had solid convictions on gender roles in the process. Genesis 2:24 puts the burden of pursuit on the man. God’s way is for a man to cleave to his wife. The Hebrew word for cleave is dabaq (Strongs H1692), which translates “stick with, follow closely, join to, overtake, catch.” [my emphasis added] Wife here is the word ishshah (Strongs H802) which the King James’ also translates as “woman” 324 times in the Old Testament. The point is that God’s version of relationships is for the man to pursue the woman, whether she is his wife or the one he is dating.
Granted, just because God calls the man to pursue does not give the woman the right to manipulate or take advantage of his pursuit. Relationships are not games, and women who play with men’s hearts are absolutely in the wrong. Song of Solomon shows that when the relationship is established, part of the beauty in the relationship is the woman with an overtaken heart running as hard toward her beloved as he is pursuing her. The same is true of our relationship with God--we chase the One who is pursuing us. However, in most cases the “liberation of woman” has merely resulted in passive-aggressive, emasculated men too afraid of rejection to pursue and in broken women masking a longing to be pursued.
Most of the reason that I always avoided men I found “interesting” (which was my word of choice when talking things over with the Lord later) was because I was intimidated—which is to say, I was more selfishly focused on wondering what they would think about me than I was interested in showing the love of Christ as a sister and a friend. However, part of my avoidance was simply to see if any would bother to chase me.
In the case of JD, it was not really that hard to do. He was almost always in and out before I left the platform, and all other times he seemed to be as intent on avoiding me as I was on avoiding him. Conversations years later, during the giddy rush of discovering, "I noticed you when..." would show that both he and I had been nursing broken hearts when he began coming to the church.
Furthermore, despite finding him “interesting,” I firmly believed the Lord had other plans for me, and I was not interested in giving JD the wrong ideas. At least, this is what I told myself. The Lord was processing me into deliverance from rejection, intimidation (which I always called “shyness”), and fearing man more than I honored Him. JD and I continued in this pattern of seeing each other but not speaking for almost a year. In fact, he had been in the fringes of my life for over six months before I even knew his name.
<--back to part 2 on to part 4-->
<--back to the beginning
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
It was the fall of my senior year in high school in Asia. I was seventeen years old, all arms and eyebrows, and convinced I was invisible. My best friends both vowed I was terrified of men—mostly, I was terrified of trusting people. I had no concept of guarding my heart, and no paradigm of what it meant to casually date. I was more accustomed to sitting in a corner with a book while my parents talked to visitors from the U.S. than socially interacting with anyone.
A few years before, I had returned to the United States and home-schooled, living with various aunts and grandmothers while my parents continued their ministry work. I often would spend the night with a cousin a year-and-a-half younger than I was, and would try to fall asleep listening to her on the other side of the bed talking on the phone to the latest boy clamoring for her attention. Most of the time, however, she would fall asleep first and I would stare into the dark and wonder what it would be like to be her. For as long as I could remember—even during the self-avowed “boys are creepy” season—my biggest dream was to find my best friend. Moving as many times as we had, and living among friends whose addresses were as subject to frequent change as ours was, I had grown accustomed to saying goodbye.
The Lord and I talked about relationships frequently—or rather I talked. For the most part, He seemed to stay distant. Obviously, the truth of God’s intimate concern over our weaknesses and fears had not become reality to me at that point. So when He chose to answer me on this particular day, it took me by surprise.
A few months earlier, I had gotten my first personal email address and had subscribed to a Scripture-of-the-day email service. Many times I did not even read what the verse was before deleting the message, but I opened this one and felt the Lord’s tender words washing over me:
“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to
persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he
has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and
will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back
will not be pleased with him’.” (Heb. 10:35-38)
I made verse 35 the screensaver on my computer, and turned my attention onto other things. Context or no context, I was comforted for the moment in the belief that after I had done God’s will, He was going to send me the right man. Hebrews 10:35-38 became my life-verse. At the time, though, I had no paradigm to fully understand God’s heart behind this promise.
To what confidence is the writer of Hebrews referring in chapter 10? Simply this—we have confidence in our right to enter the Most Holy Place (total intimacy with God) by the blood of Jesus. God desired—and still desires—intimacy with us, but that intimacy could only come at the cost of His only Son’s life. We run to relationship because we see the depth of His love for us.
Can you imagine how it must have been to live in Israel during their 40 years in the desert? How would it feel to know that God Himself was separated from you only by a couple of curtains? God—the passionate, crazy-in-love-with-you, I-want-you-so-much-I’d-rather-die-than-live-without-you Father; the One who made all those rules only because He wanted some way to let us be near Him; the One who took the burden of making things right on Himself even though we were the ones who messed it all up—tangibly, visibly just a breath away. And then I think of Adam, and remember that curtains weren’t in the original design.
The push that begins growing in my spirit when I start thinking about how closely with us God wants to walk often lasts for days. Nevertheless, apathy is a formidable enemy. It is often easier to remain passionate about walking with God when faced with persecution than when faced with ease. The writer of Hebrews exhorted his Christian brothers and sisters to remember the persecution they had faced in the beginning, and to cling to their passion for intimacy in light of the joy in which they suffered. In this mindset they were to hold fast to their confidence that God desires relationship, even when we don’t feel we need Him as much. “Don’t fall back into legalistic doctrine” (Hebrews 10:1). “Don’t stop going to church” (Hebrews 10:18). “Be unswerving, full of love, and as zealous as you always were.”
In His kindness, God allowed the pastor of JD’s family church touch briefly on Hebrews 10:35 the weekend I met his parents. I sat between JD and his mother, already overwhelmed by the kindness and genuine love I had experienced the entire weekend. When I heard my favorite verse from the pulpit, tears sprang into my eyes; it was as if God had whispered a little secret only He and I would get at that moment. It was the crowning glory on a perfect weekend, and yet another confirmation for me that He was actively involved in bringing JD and me together (more on that coming in future installments).
However, I am grateful that my appreciation for Hebrews 10:35 is not bound up in JD. It remains my life verse because it remains a challenge to me to daily deny tradition and trade spiritual “comfortableness” for active relationship. God really, really, really, really likes us—it’s not just a matter of love by obligation. He likes being with us and He likes it when we chase after Him. He sends His love and His mercy to follow you all of the days of your life if you walk in relationship with Him. May you pursue Him with the same abandon.
Tires crunched on gravel as JD pulled off the main highway onto the road that led to his family home and I exhaled slowly. He chuckled. “Nervous much?”
I flashed him a quick smile and shook my head, even though both of us knew I was lying.
“I told you, they’re gonna love you.” He had been telling me that almost once a week for the past couple of months; and then almost once every half hour during the four-hour car trip.
“So you said.” I ran my fingers through my hair one more time, inwardly groaning at the stringy, limp mass hanging by my face. I should have washed it this morning.
I followed him to the garage door, trying to match the spring in his step. He was home, but I was wishing we could both return to the car and just keep driving for another few hours. “My dad just closed the refrigerator door,” he observed, peering through the bay window into the kitchen. I barely registered the comment, my eyes sliding over the front porch that showcased a large sign advertising his father’s photography business. Brilliant yellow flowers bloomed in front of the house; and a sturdy playhouse invited attention to my right.
I had seen all of these things already—months before when I secretly clicked through pictures of JD and his family over the years. The one of JD sitting on the playhouse slide and “acting cool” had made me laugh many times; and I often felt a sense of yearning when I looked at group shots of their family wearing matching black-and-denim. It had been a long time since I had felt like I was part of a unit like that. Seeing the setting in which JD’s father had taken many of the photos I had seen gave a strange sense of familiar and unfamiliar all at once.
Sometimes I wonder if the Lord’s return to the earth or our first step into Heaven will feel like a “meet-the-parents.” Jesus said that He was going to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house, following the Jewish custom that when a man pledged to marry a woman, he would return to his father’s home and build a room for them to live there. His ascension after the Spirit of God raised Him from the dead carried a two-fold promise: He would prepare a place for us to join Him, and He would send the Holy Spirit to comfort us in the meantime.
We tend to fall into a mindset of “someday,” relegating the promise of His return to a heightened spiritual “somewhere out there” and neglecting to realize that the coming kingdom is more reality than the breath of time we have on the earth as we know it. The truth is that the God who is coming to earth will usher in a reality lasting far longer and making more sense than the hazy day-to-day of life now. Paul recognized this when he said, “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
How will it feel to finally see what we now have to believe blindly? Will it be a jarring clash of familiar and unfamiliar as we realize that we pictured a few things right and a lot of things wrong? What will we think when we meet the Father face-to-face?
The beautiful kindness of the Lord is that we have the opportunity now to prepare for what is to come. Often we fall into the deception that our current life has no bearing upon our future existence in the New Jerusalem other than that Jesus will reward us for our good deeds. Fortunately, this simply is not true. The character we build in our lives today will be the character that guides us in good decision making when we rule with Christ during the Millennial Kingdom. Notice again what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13—we will know fully, even as we are fully known. When we take on a glorified body upon the return of Jesus to the earth, we do not become entirely different people; our personalities, though refined and purified, will remain largely the same. Our friends and families will know us for who we are. And we will recognize and know them too.
When we believe that our work on earth carries over into the person we will become, then we also must believe that the time we spend learning the personality of the Lord will stay with us when we see Him. Therefore, the more we invest ourselves in discovering the fullness of who He is now, the easier our transition into His home. We do not seek to be led by the Spirit on earth simply for the power, signs, and wonders that come with a Spirit-led life. Jesus promised that these things would follow those who believed, but that cannot be our ultimate goal. Instead, we seek the Spirit’s leadership in our lives to become one with the heart of the Father.
When Jesus rebuked Satan speaking through Peter in Matthew 16, He made a distinction between the thoughts of God and those of men. “Out of my sight, Satan!” He said. “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt. 16:23). We must long to develop a hunger for the thoughts of God, to seek to know Him in a greater measure, praying like the man whom Jesus healed from blindness, “Who is he, sir? Tell me that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). The Holy Spirit comes to facilitate a divine romance, revealing to us the heart and thoughts of a God who passionately loves us. Our role is to seek Him even as He seeks us, knowing: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your hearts” (Jer. 29:13).
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
For the most part, the Lord seems to like to take His time bringing things about in my life. I still have so many dreams as yet unfulfilled. However, when the time came for me to purchase my first home, He provided the money, led me to the house, and whisked me through the closing process at a dizzying speed. I signed closing papers on my home within three weeks to the day I started looking at houses.
I believe most new homeowners will attest there is a season of adjustment that comes with moving from a shoebox apartment to a multi-bedroom house. Over the first few weeks, the house and I circled warily to determine our thoughts on the other. I won some battles–the tiny worm I obliterated with a hammer in my living room was markedly a victory; however, the house continues to be a noteworthy opponent. The first night that the ice maker decided to dump at 3:00 in the morning, I shot up in bed, convinced that Al Capone was conducting business in my freezer. Oh, and for the record, nothing is more humiliating than seeing out of the corner of your eye something furry dart across the counter, shrieking in terror–and then realizing you are panicking over a glimpse of your hair in the bathroom mirror.
One night within the first few days of home-ownership, JD and I sat in chummy silence, basking in some “together” time before he had to go home. My parents had been over that night to drop off a used washer and dryer that some dear family friends had given to me–my first set of laundry equipment to own in my life. Much sweat, tears, and almost-blood (the dryer squished my hand in the door) went into situating the machines in my laundry room, and I was ecstatic at not having to use laundromats any more or encroach upon the kindness of friends.
My dad had instructed me to let the washing machine run through at least one cycle without putting any laundry in it so that the machine could settle and I would know it was clean inside. Unable to put off the excitement, I turned on the machine around 11:30 that night after everyone but JD left. The sounds of whirring permeated the house, making JD’s head begin to bob in slow rhythm. He was falling asleep between sentences.
Suddenly, the sound of insistent hissing filled both of our ears. I waited for a moment, thinking it was just a by-product of the rinse cycle, but then turned and prodded JD with my elbow.
“Huh?” He jolted awake.
“Is that water?”
I jumped up and ran to investigate, only to discover my washing machine had emptied out all over the laundry room floor and water was streaming across the tile of the eat-in kitchen. I hadn’t seen so much water on tile since the day my brother and I decided to turn our parents’ front porch into a slip-’n-slide and slid around until we were so bruised we couldn’t move to go to church the next day. JD (who had followed close behind me) stopped and gaped in the doorway as if I’d flung him bodily from a speeding train into knee-deep quick-setting cement.
“Yes. Stand there. That’ll stop the water.” I hate to admit, my tone was rather sharp. He squinted at me with bloodshot eyes and mumbled something unintelligible. It was probably for the best, as I would have resented any efforts on his part to be reasonable.
For the next fifteen minutes, we employed mop, bucket, rug, broom, and dustpan to dry up the lake that had formed in my laundry room and kitchen. I learned:
1) that you can sweep up water when there’s enough of it.
2) that washing machines contain enough water to supply an entire city for a week.
3) that my washing machine has a particularly snarky sense of humor. I believe the entire point of this evening was to see JD and me stumble around in a sleep-deprived haze. After that one time, it has behaved itself.
4) that there are new things about Bible stories that I wish they would have told. For instance, I wonder if Peter found walking on water as slippery as walking on wet tile….
Unfortunately, there’s more to this story. Second installment coming soon.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Aslan replies, “If you were any braver, you’d be a lioness,” and a smile dawns across her face.
When we next see Lucy, she’s walking alone to face the iron-clad Telmarine army on a bridge they constructed to cross the river. She approaches one side of the bridge, and the army stops abruptly on the other, stunned to see this little girl standing to block their way. With a small smile, Lucy draws a tiny dagger and half-heartedly waves it at them. Then we see Aslan pace with deliberate steps to walk behind her, and we realize the power behind her.
It was at this point that I burst into tears the last time I watched this movie. Like many of you, I feel like Lucy tottering on the edge of a river, thrusting my tiny dagger towards an army waving enormous swords.
I wish I were braver. I wish I were stronger. I wish I were more grateful; quicker to forgive; less selfish. I wish I were.
I wish I trusted more and tried to control less. I wish I had more faith. I wish I learned from experience and didn’t panic at the little stuff. I wish I had more patience.
I wish I had more to give. I wish I prioritized and time-managed better.
I wish I remembered to pray in the Spirit more. I wish I didn’t have to fight daily not to care about what people think of me. I wish witnessed more. I wish I judged less.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling
down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. [2 Cor. 10:4-6, my emphasis added]
It’s not about the strength of the sword in your hand–it’s about the Lion of Judah standing behind you.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Definition of “A Beans Day”
It had been a high stress day at work; I came home exhausted and had a raging headache. JD decided to be kind and start dinner for me–minestrone soup, at my suggestion. Every recipe I found online suggested that the ingredients list was flexible, so JD decided to build our meal off of a bag of dry 5-bean soup beans.
After they had been boiling for an hour, I walked into the kitchen to discover most of the water in the pan had boiled away, the bottom layer of beans had burned to the pan, and the top layer of beans sported a chalky, powdery substance previously undiscovered by man. I made the executive decision that the time had come to start from scratch. Down the disposal went the beans, and out came another pan.
Just before we sat down to what turned out to be a delicious dinner, JD discovered that water was backing up into my kitchen sink. He retrieved a half-filled bottle of liquid plumber from the laundry room and sent it to work its magic while we ate.
Upon clearing the table from dinner, we discovered the sink still was not draining. I went to round up a second half-full bottle of liquid plumber from my bathroom. Down poured the contents of the yellow bottle; up glooped more slightly bubbling drain water. I sent DJ for the plunger.
We alternately worked on the sink with the dedication of trained EMTs performing CPR. In the back of my mind, I vowed to thoroughly disinfect the sink once we took care of this little drain problem.
An hour after we discovered the plumbing clog, we made a trip to WalMart to purchase more drain cleaner (the expensive kind) and some water-proof adhesive to seal a leak in the pipes our vigorous plunging had exacerbated. We were in the plumbing department when we saw it, housed ominously in its oversized plastic bag: the Liquid Lightning Drain Opener — sulfuric acid guaranteed to eat through anything organic in 20 minutes.
“We are so getting this,” JD said to me. And we did–to use as a last resort after another bottle of drain gel.
Dark was rapidly descending and I was puttering in the yard when JD came flying out the back door and doubled over coughing on the carport. I threw down my watering can and ran to his side. “What happened?!?”
“Are you okay?”
“Don’t go in there!”
“It–the smell–I–” Cough, cough, cough.
My house. My rules. “Stay here,” I told him, and I pulled my t-shirt up over my nose and ran inside. Neither of us are good at following directions, it seems, because he was right behind me as I crossed the threshold.
It smelled like a thousand pool filters had spontaneously combusted in the center of my kitchen. One tiny bottle of chemical had transformed my sink drain into the mouth of hell. I could almost see the smoke wafting into the living room.
My eyes were stinging while I ran around shutting off the air conditioning, turning on every fan, and throwing open the windows. JD dazedly followed every footstep, sporadically coughing every few minutes. I began wondering if we needed to rush him to the emergency room.
We shut ourselves in one of the back rooms of the house and sat in the dark (I had turned off all the lights to cut down on the heat), waiting for twenty minutes to pass. JD could only manage a few words, mostly about an erupting green liquid that squirted up past the pan he’d put in place to cover the drain. To this day I only have a vague understanding of what exactly happened. It sounds like Slimer took up residence in my plumbing.
At around 9:45, we tiptoed through the house (as if walking normally would somehow set off another chemical reaction). Drain vomit had crusted over my sink with brown and green goop. A good sign, I thought. Nothing could live through that!
JD turned on the water, and it bubbled along for a few seconds. I grabbed a steel-wool scrubbing pad, concerned that the residue on the sink wasn’t washing off fast enough. By the time the water began backing up into the sink again I had realized that the stain wasn’t coming off. I sent JD home to call a plumber and get some sleep, and returned to my room trying to force images of greasy water, dirty dishes, and chemical haze from my mind.
A phone call from the plumbing company the next morning informed me they wouldn’t be able to come out until early next day. JD washed my dirty dishes in a drink cooler in the back yard. We went out for dinner that night, reminding each other that in a year, this experience would be funny.
One over-$300 visit from the plumber Saturday morning brought the following conclusions:
1) JD and I are both in the wrong line of work. At $350 an hour, we could both retire within twenty years.
2) Sulfuric acid will eat through the bottom of garbage disposals.
3) Sulfuric acid takes the finish off of brand new stainless-steel sinks. “Safe for pipes,” my eye!
5) Sulfuric acid is rendered powerless in the face of 5-bean soup mix. Beans are indestructible. All paving companies should take note.
The wonderful thing is that God is always there with us, even in the middle of a “beans” kind of day. He protected JD and me from possible chemical fallout, and the entire situation lasted a relatively short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. JD and I have laughed about the experience with our friends multiple times already, and it has been much less than a year. How grateful I am to share my life with a man who laughs with me.
I’m praying that the plumber felt the Holy Spirit in my home on Saturday morning as he worked. Is reaching a human life worth $350? I have to say, “it is.”
“For we know all things work together for the good…”
Thursday, July 15, 2010
What is so encouraging is that she is regularly contending for healing in her own life. She has been asking the Lord to heal her ears for as long as I’ve known her; and while I might have given up by now and felt that God had no desire to heal me (or worse, that He no longer heals), Sara is relentless in her pursuit of the healing that the Lord promised her.
Last Saturday afternoon in our prayer set, Sara felt led to invite anyone in the room who needed healing in their body to come to the front for a time of prayer. The Holy Spirit had blessed us with His Presence, and she felt His prompting to ask for His touch. I will admit, at the time I felt reluctant simply because she’d asked one of the two other singers on the line to come and pray with her. The other singer had momentarily excused himself shortly before, so I was left alone singing and “didn’t feel inspired.” To be honest, I don’t even remember what words came out of me at this point. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit does not bind Himself to my emotions.
Sara and Nicole began walking down the row of people who had come up for prayer, laying hands on them and quietly praying 60-90 second prayers over each before moving to the next person. The entire process ended after about five minutes; then the other singers returned to their places on the line and we transitioned into another song. Well, that’s that, I thought.
I had forgotten about the entire process at the end of the set when I introduced myself to one of the ladies who had come up for prayer. We shared the usual pleasantries and then she said, “I just wanted to let you know I have a testimony.”
I leaned closer to hear her through the hubbub of laughter and small-talk around me.
She said, “I came in here earlier today and had a blockage in my right ear–I couldn’t hear well out of it. Well, when that lady prayed for me, it popped open and I’ve been able to hear perfectly ever since!”
We have all rejoiced in the kindness of the Lord and for Sara’s obedience in praying for healings. However, what has been the most interesting to me is that God used Sara to bring healing to a lady struggling with the same ailment as Sara. Furthermore, Sara’s genuine joy over God’s goodness has been a delight to witness–she has not asked, “why didn’t God do that for me instead?” She has rejoiced in His faithfulness to His word with an open, unselfish heart.
While reading in Isaiah earlier this week, I felt the Lord highlight this passage to me:
As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O LORD. We have been with child, we have been in pain; we have, as it were, brought forth wind; we have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen. (Is. 26:17-18)Isaiah’s statement encompasses the required posture of an intercessor. Those who partner with God’s purposes know the baptism of pain that marks close communion with His heart. A woman in the middle of childbirth endures the pain because of the promise of holding a new life in her arms. An intercessor partnering with the Holy Spirit clings through emotional valleys to bring deliverance to the earth.
God can trust the weak with His power. We give Him most glory when we face the stark reality that there was no way we could have brought about deliverance ourselves. He uses us most in the areas where we feel that we fail the most–where we have to rely on Him because we have reached the end of ourselves.
I believe that God gives us authority in our areas of greatest weakness. Paul understood this when he struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” and the Lord told him:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)The process of God’s training is never easy, and sometimes the losses feel they are too great; however, if we truly desire to be a “these-signs-shall-follow” generation, we must allow God to lead us through some valleys. Although the process often involves crushing, the purpose always ends in Christlike-ness. We must not be so consumed by the process that we forget His purposes.
May He give you grace in persevering.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
This is especially true in the church, where we swing on a pendulum between cheap grace and legalism. We either leap head-first into exciting our senses with the mindset of, “well, to the pure all things are pure” or we give each other a list of requirements tacked on to salvation that burden us more than what Jesus intended when He established a new covenant.
My point is not to make anyone feel bad; all of us have fallen short of the mark many times; I am simply trying to lay the foundation that most if not all of us have no real concept of “forever.” Instead, many of us exchange God’s version forever for Disney’s promise of a “happily-ever-after,” and wonder why life does not meet our expectations.
Without understanding that God’s “forever” is without reservation, without a pre-nup or safety escape clause, we cannot understand His heart in Psalm 4:3:
But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; the LORD will hear when I call to Him.
The phrase “set apart” here means “distinct, marked out, be separated, be distinguished” (Strongs H6395). God forever marks those who belong to Him. He knows them. They look different, not because of what they do in their own strength, but because He makes them look different.
Many of us have forgotten what it feels like to have someone jealously guard us (or, in turn, to guard jealously). While we do not want to hold others in a suffocating grip, sometimes our “open hand” is so open that we let our loved ones fall through the cracks.
This is not God’s way. He reserves us as a private garden belonging exclusively to Him. We are set apart, peculiar, reserved, guarded, distinguished, separated…His. Forever. We are pledged in marriage to a Lamb who will never back out on His covenant. He will always pursue, always guard, always love. He is never going to get tired of the chase, never going to give up, never going to get bored with us, never going to bewail the loss of “the mystery” that society screams women must keep alive to keep men interested. He’s never going to cheat on the relationship, and each new day will always be a new adventure.
This is His “forever.” When He said it, He meant it. He knows those who belong to Him, and He has been waiting patiently for His bride for thousands of years.
Have you said “yes” to Him?
Thursday, May 27, 2010
…this saddens me…Men are commanded by God to “agape” their wives, (a complete and excellent love, as represented by the Father’s love for His Son). I hear very little of this and do not see it as a primary focus among Christian men. So many, satisfied with career success and academic achievement will see those pursuits burn up as wood, hay and stubble as they stand before the judgement seat of Christ.
Before you wonder why her statement brought me joy, let me explain that I smiled because God has truly blessed me with a man who daily shows me how much Jesus loves us through his maturity and wisdom when it comes to loving people. This week marks an anniversary of sorts–five months to the night when Jesus supernaturally placed love for him in my heart and set me free to embark on the most peaceful, joy-filled, sweetest year I can remember having. If you’re interested on a more theological study of God’s love, you might find this post from the archives a more interesting read. However, if you’re interested in spying on an open letter to an exceptional, God-fearing man (who may take weeks to find this…which is part of the fun!) read on. =)
Love is patient….like the way you wait for me to exhaust a seemingly limitless supply of adjectives to describe a situation about which you are already aware. Have I told you how much I appreciate the way you just sit there and listen until I am finished? It means so much that you never interrupt me, even when you are probably tired of hearing details about a situation that isn’t really that crucial to begin with. And how about those six months you kept coming back and offering me unconditional friendship when I kept trying to drive you away?
Love is kind….like how you look for little things to do that communicate support. Case in point, how I came home yesterday and found all the magnolia leaves raked up in my back yard, and that beautiful orchid waiting on my doorstep. Or the way you have made it your business to track down the absolute best bug-deterring chemical there is to save me from spiders. Even beyond your delightful eye for romance, you love through serving and it blesses me constantly.
Love doesn’t envy…like how you have become my number one cheerleader. I know that when you offer a suggestion, you truly have my best interests at heart. You are such an example of how Jesus is a foundation of support for us with your quiet strength in my life. You encourage (and sometimes push) me to write and to spend even more time in prayer, and rejoice at the small conquests.
Love doesn’t boast…like how you are constantly giving to people and leaving me to find out from someone else. It has almost become a game to find out what beautiful, generous thing you have done for someone each week.
Love isn’t proud…like how you constantly point to the Lord in all achievements and endeavors. You don’t try to laugh off what you do with false humility; you answer with a quiet “thank you” and then go on to enumerate how the Lord has blessed and helped you in the process. You find greater value in hand-made gifts with sentiment than in expensive gadgets. You work harder than most people I know, and sometimes go underappreciated for all that you do because you don’t demand recognition or credit for your acts of service.
Love isn’t rude…like how I never hear you yelling at other vehicles on the highway or blistering someone with scorn for perceived stupidity. Like how you always say I am beautiful, even on those “self-doubting” days (especially on those days, come to think of it). Like how you never chastise me for how I feel, even when we both know I am going to decide my thinking is wrong within twenty-four hours. Like how you challenge me with soft-spoken questions instead of harsh reprimands.
Love isn’t self-seeking…like how you are quick to pray for anyone, whether you know them or not, without demanding that they know your name. The other day, I mentioned to you about some friends of mine who had lost their jobs, and your immediate response was, “I’m praying for them.” You live to serve, and I respect you so much because of that.
Love isn’t easily angered…like how you listen and respond calmly when we disagree. You have never insulted me as a person, never indicated that I was an idiot for believing something, never called me selfish or insecure, even if and when I probably deserve it.
Love keeps no record of wrongs…like how I never worry that you are going to throw some mistake from the past back at me. Ever.
Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth…like how you are quick to recognize an enemy attack and use your spiritual authority as head of our relationship to pray over me. You have zero tolerance for Satan’s efforts at deception, and are quick to counter his lies with the Word.
Love always protects…like how you have arranged to have the locks on all my doors changed. Like how you came over that night my outside light was mysteriously on (and the night I discovered I had left the front door unlocked all weekend) and walked through all rooms and closets. Like how you went to WalMart and bought new windshield wipers for my car and installed them without me even knowing you were there because I told you about how one fell off while I was driving down the road. Like how you make me walk on the inside of the sidewalk, how you filter things you have heard and don’t tell me things that could hurt me, how you apply yourself to think of ways to carry hurts for me. You have demonstrated this one over and over again.
Love always trusts…like how you never question my relationships with other people and you never demand to read my emails or text messages. And because of that, I delight in opening my life to you. When I can’t tell you something because it was shared to me in confidence, you respect my commitment to keeping my mouth shut and don’t pressure me to know. What freedom you give me.
Love always hopes…and our relationship is golden with hopes and dreams. Every day is a brand new adventure. Every morning I wake up and wonder what the first thing you will say will be.
Love always perseveres… Even when I told you (on numerous occasions) “we” would never be, that I didn’t “feel that way” about you, that I didn’t even want to “feel that way,” you never gave up hope. You didn’t pressure me and you gave me space, but you were always there supporting, cheering, dreaming, loving, waiting.
So I say again to you what I said the first time you told me that you loved me (and I wasn’t ready to say it back yet)…
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The Pharisees did not appreciate His words, because they loved money; they mocked Jesus for suggesting that giving away was shrewder than hoarding away treasures in expectation of an economic crisis. It is at this point that Jesus turned to them and said (verse 15):
And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The word that arrested my attention in this verse was "abomination." Surely that was a little strong, wasn't it?
I went into the original Greek and discovered that this word was bdelygma, and is the same word to describe what Daniel called the "abomination of desolation" (Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14). Furthermore, the word translates as "a foul and detestable thing," and more interestingly (to me, anyway), "of idols and things pertaining to idolatry."
Furthermore, the word that we translated "highly esteemed" is hypsēlos in the Greek; it means "exalted in honor" and refers to "to set the mind on, to seek, high things (as honours and riches), to be aspiring." So, Jesus said that that God sees the things we in our unregenerate state prize most highly on the same level as idolatry.
The Lord made this assertion in the context of man endeavoring to justify himself in the eyes of others. Although He specifically was referring to seeking financial honor, we often seek to justify ourselves in other ways. I've mentioned before that the hardest lesson for me is often keeping my mouth shut when someone has said something untrue or unkind about me. We also try to prove our "good person" status by seeking out opportunities to do works of charity for show, or even talking about a divine encounter with the Lord in a way that brings attention to ourselves. For example:
"Oh just let me tell you--God healed my foot this morning."
"Why, that's wonderful! Did I ever tell you He caused my leg to grow back three inches?"
"No, you didn't. But did you hear about the time He re-set the bones in my arm?"
...and so on. We seek to share in His glory, as if seeing the most miracles has anything to do with our own righteousness.
The devil tried to get Jesus to justify Himself in Matthew 4, saying again and again, "If you are the Son of God..." It's interesting that the last temptation he offered Jesus was on an exceedingly high mountain overlooking all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8). That word "high" is again hypsēlos to which we just referred as "highly esteemed." Satan took Jesus to a physical high place and offered to give Him a spiritual high place in exchange for His worship; Jesus, however, knew that to worship the devil in that place was bdelygma--abominable idolatry in the face of God.
The secret of being content in all circumstances (of which Paul speaks in Philippians 4:11) is two-fold; it involves being enthralled in the greatness of God on one hand, and losing all care for man's esteem on the other. The more I try to justify myself before other people (whether in arguing my position, gaining possessions, surrounding myself with "yes"-men rather than those who speak what I need to hear) the more offensive I smell to God; it shows that I care more about my reputation than I do about His glory.
Let's continue to make it all about Him.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Who are You, really? Who is the I AM who is so wrapped up with us that He would indulgently allow our self-absorbed lives to move about in uncaring oblivion of Your greatness? "i am....i am....i am" we insist, when, if we listen carefully, the hearbeat of creation is, "I AM....I AM.....I AM."
Recently You reminded me that we only know who we are when we see who You are. Too often, though, I spend my attention on myself in the vain effort to eclipse Your Son. You will not share Your glory (Stephen Venable's teaching blessed me so much this week--click here).
So let's make it about You today....one moment at a time.
Great is Your Name above all of creation. Holy and righteous, faithful and true, unchallenged in all of Your decisions, unequaled in all of Your splendor, You alone reign. Justice marks Your throne. Mercy is Your scepter. Love is the center of all You are.
You are He who is and who was; You were at the beginning, and You are beyond the end. From everlasting to everlasting You are established, King over the earth, sovereign majesty enthroned in glory.
Lion of Judah, Lamb who was slain, Morning Star, Root of David, Word who became flesh, meek and lowly One, Firstborn of the dead, You radiate splendor. You are the singing, dancing, laughing, shouting God. You never change. You never lie. You never sleep. You never fail.
You stand alone.
In You is all wisdom. You have inherited the greatest Name. Yahweh. Prince of peace. Lord of all. You have all authority, dominion, honor. You are without blemish. You are victorious in all You do.
You make the clouds Your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind. You thunder from heaven. You are good, gracious, compassionate--slow to anger, abounding in love. You are all that is holy, all that is kind, all that is beautiful.
You alone are God.
Monday, April 26, 2010
"You're such a doofus!"
"Did you see that jerk just cut me off?"
"Why are you being so stupid?"
"Ugh--he's so annoying!"
The pastor of the church I visited this past Sunday spoke on the tripartite nature of man. In the course of his sermon, he reminded us that everything we learn in life about the world, we receive through our five senses; everything we learn about God, He communicates to us through our spirit.
In the middle of it all, our souls seek identity, trapping our spirits in the fabric of self-consciousness. No longer are we totally God conscious, centered on His will (as Adam was in the beginning); instead, we are a product of the "I-will" oriented nature of Lucifer in Isaiah 14, which he passed along to Adam and Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The sense of self that was absent in Genesis 2:25 suddenly surfaced in Genesis 3:7, and we have been running around seeking identity ever since.
There are two identities competing to imprint themselves on our souls. There is an identity we receive through our physical senses from the world (reading magazines, watching television, listening to people around us), and the identity that God tries to communicate to our spirits. Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is the only thing that can cut through the self-focused nature of the soul to the spirit of man so that God can communicate from Spirit to spirit. What we read in the Word is truth.
Pastor Sino's message deeply resonated with something the Lord has been working in my heart for several months regarding identity. Revelation 2:17 promises that the one who overcomes will receive a new name from Jesus; and Revelation 3:12 promises the same man or woman that Jesus will give to him/her His new name. We thus exchange our identity for the one He gives to us, just like a woman who marries accepts a new identity by adopting her husband's name. People view her through the lens of her husband's name, for better and for worse.
The law of patents makes it clear that only the originator has the right to name the creation. We see this at work in numerous ways throughout daily life, from building names to virus strains and vaccinations. The same principal holds true in a spiritual sense. Only one time in scripture do we see that God relinquished His right to name all things; He gave this right to a man who was completely God-centered and God-focused before sin entered the Garden of Eden.
Therefore, when we take it upon ourselves to tell someone who they are without hearing the Lord's thoughts about them, we are presumptuously setting ourselves up in the place of God in their lives. The Lord uses people to communicate His heart and thoughts to other people, but we must always speak in line with His thoughts and His words about them. Just as a bridegroom does not take kindly to anyone insulting his bride, so the Lord will rage against those who deal with His Bride in any manner that is not tenderly loving.
This is why our words should heal, not hurt--why gossip is so dangerous to those who abuse others in the church (even behind closed doors); they invite the judgment of God on their lives for maligning the Bride He passionately desires. This is doubly true of those who dare to speak against His Jewish people (and since Jewish blood runs through the veins of many without their awareness of that fact, it's best to keep that in mind when talking about anyone).
With that in mind, I've started compiling a (by no means exhaustive) list of what God calls us. I welcome and request your input! I'll be updating as I discover more names... =) Bless you all!
Who does God say I am?
1. Daughter (Matthew 5:9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.)
2. Blessed (Matthew 5:3-10: the beatitudes)
3. Beloved (Deuteronomy 33:12: "Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.")
4. Accepted (Ephesians 1:5-6: having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.)
5. Desired (Song of Songs 4:9: You have ravished my heart, My sister, my spouse; You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace.)
6. Precious (Psalm 72:14: He will redeem their life from oppression and violence; and precious shall be their blood in His sight.)
7. Beautiful (Song of Songs 4:1: How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead.)
8. Lovely (Song of Songs 2:14: My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.)
9. Unique and perfect (Song of Songs 6:9: but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her.)
10. Fearless (Psalm 91:5-6: You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.)
11. Satisfied (Psalm 17:15: And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.)
12. Friend (John 15:15: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.)
13. New creation (2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!)
14. Free (John 8:32: "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.")
15. Loved by God (John 16:27: No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.)
16. Spotless (2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.)
17. Chosen (1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen people...; Ephesians 1:4: just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love; John 15:19: If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.) -- [I may be blogging about being chosen here in the next few weeks...]
18. Royal (1 Peter 2:9: ...a royal priesthood...)
19. Holy (1 Peter 2:9: ...a holy nation...)
20. Called out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9: ...who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.)
21. King and priest (Revelation 5:10: "And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”)
22. Enlisted soldier (2 Timothy 2:4: No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.)
23. Fruitful (John 15:16: You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.).....and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.)
24. Dead to sin (Galatians 5:24: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.)
25. More than a conqueror (Romans 8:37: ...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.)
26. In covenant and remembered (Genesis 9:15-16: I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.")
27. Blessed, especially when I bless Israel (Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.")
more to come....
Friday, April 23, 2010
It shocked me a little to discover that such small flames could cause such billowing clouds of smoke. The accident hadn't taken place too long before I rounded the bend--a barely perceptible increase in temperature, worried yells of men calling to each other, a brief downshift in speed and then I was rolling past, all carnage behind and open road before me. The overhanging smoke was the only sign that anything had happened.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the glory of God. The heavens declare His glory, the same glory that led the children of Israel like a pillar of cloud by day and a burning pillar of fire by night. The Lord has said that He will reveal His glory so that all mankind will see it; it will hang over the people like a canopy. This same glory so filled His tabernacle that Moses and the elders could not enter it; this glory passed before Moses when God hid him in the rocks so that he would not see God's face; this glory was so great that it killed the high priests if they did not offer enough incense to shield them from His greatness--this is what is coming to the earth.
The statement the Lord has been turning in my spirit this week is this: "It is not a matter of whether or not you will see My glory; the question is, will you be ready when you do?" People get ready. Something bigger than we've imagined is coming to the earth--and we are not ready for it.
I don't think it's a coincidence that fog machines have had such an enthusiastic reception at concerts (and even some worship services). We cling to shadows and Christ fulfills all. The pervasive deception in the society is that religion is boring; we cling to the poor copy and don't see the reality for who He is. He is light. And He's bigger than we think.
This is the beauty of Jesus shining through us. When we seek to be a burning and shining lamp (even as John the Baptist was), our sphere of influence changes--not because of who we are, but because of who He is. Smoke always dwarfs the fire, even as the relatively small fire surrounding the car produced enough smoke to cover the sky for miles. When we allow the Lord to consume our hearts in a blaze of love for Him, He comes in with the cloud of His glory. The Lord sits enthroned as King of glory.
"This little light of mine" may only shine bright enough to impact a tiny circle of people, but His glory fills the heavens. As we pray, "Lord, let Your glory fall," I believe He answers, "I will--but where there's smoke, there's fire." Let our hearts burn within us, releasing fragrant incense-prayers that draw the smoke of His glory for the world to see. This will happen; will we take part in the process?
Even so, Lord, come quickly.
Grace over you.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
But because of His submission to the Father's will that He should suffer, He brought life from death; and by His unprecedented love for us, He gave to us the gift of freedom through pouring out His blood. All we have to do is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and confess His lordship with our mouths, and we are free from the condemning law of sin. This is the simple message of salvation.
1 Peter 2:23 captures the message I'm trying (and often failing--thank You, Lord, for grace!) to learn:
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered,
he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
I've read that so glibly and so thoughtlessly in the past, without coming to terms with the vastness of what it means. The Word of God was silent. He spoke the universe into existance; the creative nature of His very breath animated dust and formed man, and yet He was silent.
Louis Giglio's message, "How Great is Our God" has helped to pull things into perspective for me so much about how big God is, and how small we (well..."I" anyway) try to make Him. We live in a universe with stars trillions of light-years away--places so distant that we would die before ever arriving there, and yet He's greater still. Deuteronomy 33:27 says that God is our refuge, and the strength of His arms upholds us forever. The fullness of this enormous, mind-blowing God was in the One we chose to kill; and He accepted it without comment.
It will take a lifetime to understand this sacrifice. My biggest struggle in life is the desire to defend myself; it's an urge that surfaces when I'm wrong, but even more so when I'm right. Yet Isaiah 53 tells me that the Jesus after whom I strive to pattern my life made no protest when we mistreated Him. He embraced the cross in silence for me. If He did it, He expects us to follow His lead when we crucify our flesh. Ouch.
The lens of Easter was still fresh in my mind when I was reading in Psalms this morning, and I found myself tearing up over this verse:
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your
righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday
sun. Psalm 37:5-6
This must have been such a comfort to Jesus in His life on earth. The context of verse 6 is that of the vindicating God. The Father is seeking those who will willingly lay down our right to be right and trust Him in the face of others misunderstanding us. He has covanented with us that if we will just trust Him with our reputations and quit trying to defend ourselves, we will shine in the light of His glory like the summer sun at noon.
The process of meekness is difficult. Our flesh never wants to take the lowest road; but God truly does give grace to be humble. If you're anything like me, it's a process of daily (sometimes hourly) confessing to the Lord that you've cared more for man's opinion than for His and allowed the fear of man to dictate your decisions--but He's so kind and so tender in our brokenness.
May the beauty of His relationship overwhelm your heart yet again today, friends. Blessings in Jesus' name.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In particular, I felt the Holy Spirit settling over the words "life" and "light." Strong's concordance says life here (zoe) means, "of the absolute fullness of life; life real and genuine; a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, and blessed." This is a different kind of life than the one used in Mark 3:4--"psyche"--which refers more to the mortal life of all things, the process that distinguishes between an elephant and a boulder.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
We can be alive without being alive. Anyone whose eyes have flitted open on a gray November morning and half-prayed to a corner of the ceiling, "God, I can't face another day" without expecting an answer knows this. It manifests in weak knees and thumping hearts when we've felt too heartsick to eat for a few days. It shows up when we avoid our friends for our televisions and fitfully daydream about inventing a switch hard-wired into our brains that would turn off all thoughts so we could force ourselves to sleep. It surfaces in a heavy, drugged feeling when we cannot seem to differentiate between dreams and reality.
Simply functioning from one day to another is not the life that is God. Jesus said in John 14:6 that He is the way, truth, and the life (zoe)--full, vigorous, beautiful life that transcends mere existence.
The word used for light (phos) in John 1:4 has many translations, but the one that I liked best was, "that which is exposed to the view of all, openly, publicly." The beauty of Jesus' life was for
all to see. He did not hide His freedom with the Father; nor did He share it with only a select group. The people who walked in darkness saw a great light.
In His kindness, God was not content for us to live a life bound to striving. He came that we might have zoe and have it fully. He came that we might have Himself. Today is the Jewish feast of Passover, and tomorrow marks the anniversary of Jesus' death (He died on Wednesday, was in the ground three days, and rose again on the first day of the week). Only God could bring life out of death and use sacrifice to bring fullness for all. The life He gave transcends momentary emotions. There will always be heartaches, seasons in the valley, flights into the desert; but
they are temporary. God glories in restoration, and when He comes to you, He brings with Him fullness of joy.
Father, I bless my friends to delight in Your fullness. You promised we would win if we did not lose heart. May we walk according to Hebrews 10:35-37 and Galatians 6:9, never giving up, never losing faith. May we have eyes opened to the "small" miracles that take place every day. May we never mistake the purpose of prayer as the right to tell You what to do. You are sovereign and Your ways are right. Give us the grace today to say, "not my will but Yours,"
hands that rush to give, mouths opened wide to sing Your praises, and hearts that embrace love and reject offense. In Jesus' beautiful name....
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. ~Psalm 86:11
What is Your way, God? What does it mean to walk in Your truth?
Truly, Your way has always been first to be and then to do. First, be holy (even as You are holy) and then do the things that mark a holy life. First, love You fiercely and proactively, and then take care of other people as an overflow of love. First experience freedom that is the reality of life with Christ, and then bring life wherever we go. Your ways are truth because You are the way, truth and the life. Jesus, we come to Your Father through the way You prepared, and we lay down our lives to prepare the way before You to touch the world.
In all of this, however, we are incapable of living lives that are singled in on You in ourselves. My heart is deceitful and it pulls and yearns for things that You know would only harm me. I do not do what I want to do, and I do what I do not want to do. Paul understood.
I'm asking You for grace again--grace to zero in and focus on Your beauty. I can only give You the reverence You deserve if You give me that singleness of purpose. I lay out all of my conflicting desires before You and proclaim the sovereignty of Jesus over them. Let me love You even more than I have until this point. I've only broken the surface of a vast ocean, and Your depths are calling out to me.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I was reading in Psalm 46 this morning and God began opening my heart to the truth of verses 1 and 2 again. They've been some of my favorite verses ever since GT and the Halo Express helped me memorize them over a decade ago by putting them to music on a cassette tape geared toward children learning to face their fear. How like Him to speak yet again through something that has become so familiar, right?
I've started a log where I scribble down the verses that stand out to me when I'm reading the Word. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will lead me through a particular theme in what seems to be a random trek in the Word. The words that stuck out to me in Psalm 46:2 were "be removed":
"1 God is our refuge and strength,A very present help in trouble.2 Therefore we will not fear,Even though the earth be removed,And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the
sea;" ~Psalm 46:1-2 (my emphasis added)
I went back to the original Hebrew and found that this word is "muwr" which literally translates "to change, exchange, alter." So often I thought the psalmist was speaking of the obliteration of the world, when, in reality, he was speaking of the transient nature of circumstances.
The earth will one day be purged with fire before God descends to establish His heavenly city on the earth and dwell with us, but this is an exchange (His glory for our "reality"), not a termination of the world. What this reiterates, then, is the temporal nature of what seems so concrete to us. Stone walls and circumstances--they are flimsy in comparison to God, our refuge and strength.
Psalm 46:1 says that God is a very present--m@'od matsa'--help when we are distressed. M@'od means: exceedingly, much, might, force, and abundant. Matsa' means: to be found, to be encountered. What does this mean? Simply that, in contrast to our transient circumstances, our God is unchanging and steady, and in our distress, He is waiting to be found and encountered with might and abundance. His Presence is there for us to experience when things are going well, but He shows up excessively when His children are distressed.
I'm learning that the times I feel Him the least are the times He's most present and most active. I've come full-circle in life, and already have shed almost as many tears of gratitude and joy as I did of desolation. When we seek Him, He becomes our exceeding great reward, and the delight when we "find" Him far outweighs the grief of the journey.
Press on, friends. He's worth it.