Thursday, January 16, 2020

Words to Live By - In Pursuit of the Holy


As I sit to begin this morning's blog, my mind travels back along the past week.

Bay and I sat shocked (early last week) following a call from a dear friend's daughter informing us he had just graduated from earth to heavenly-places only minutes before.

It was a quick, unexpected home-going.

For over two years, Alan and his wife, Joyce, have participated in fellowship and the study of God's Word with us in a life-group.

Even more than "big church", this small group has become true "CHURCH."

We've formed a family.

While grieving, we rejoice.


Alan lived for years with severe muscular dystrophy.

I never heard him complain.

It hurt to watch him try to do simple things: like walk from the kitchen to the living room, find a comfortable place to sit, or attempt to carry a plate...

Yet in spite of his disabilities, he and Joyce bought a mobile sawmill, planed their own boards, built their dream home from the ground up (one of the most beautifully crafted homes I've ever been in)...all by hand and debt free.

Throughout his difficult journey, Alan pursued God.

Of anyone I know, he understood the struggle of Job.

Interestingly enough, I just finished reading the book of Job on Sunday morning, the day of Alan's celebration of life.

There was much about Job's life I would attribute to this man...

 In spite of hardship, these Job-statements resonated:

"Though He (the Lord) slay me, yet will I hope in Him."

"I know that my Redeemer lives, and will yet again stand upon the earth."


"A man's days are determined..."  The Sovereign God holds each of our days in His hands.

"What is man that You make so much of him, that You set Your heart on him?"



"Should we receive good from the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive adversity?"


"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

In spite of his difficulties, Job kept pursuing the Lord!

As I seek the Lord more through 2020, these statements are truly Words to Live By!

And, this is what I want to focus on this morning:


We all need words to live by.

Early in December, I was challenged to listen to a message by Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life Church in Oklahoma City.  The title was: Words to Live By (preached in January of 2017). If you click on the title of the message, you are directly linked to it on YouTube.

When life gets tough, I've recognized we often find ourselves in a place of stuck.

Not only stuck, but, actually, lost.

Not a "lost" as in not saved.

Lost as in: "broken, undone, perplexed, conflicted, bewildered, disoriented..."

Ever felt that way? I'm sure you have, because we are all human and nothing one of us experiences is foreign to others.

I've certainly been there...and expect it isn't a once or twice experience, check and done...

In Psalm 143, King David calls the "hard-stuff-of life" that puts us in this place:


"adversaries of the soul"

That phrase echoes deep within, doesn't it?

So, when we find ourselves sitting on an ash heap, scraping away at the scabs on our heart so the pus-filled places of our soul can be healed, words that help us to do what David did when in despair are hard to come by.

Scripture tells us that David learned how to "encourage himself in the Lord."


It's God-Words that assist in the strengthening,

But, these words can be hard, no, almost impossible, to come up with when we are lost in the middle of our mess.

Proactively writing strong Biblical truth down on paper, and repeating these words OUT-LOUD to ourselves each day, do something to bring clarity to our minds, settle our souls, and get us up out of the ash-heap.

Seriously.

I know this from experience.

Job's words inspire me in my pursuit of God, especially when things go pear-shaped.

Last week I mentioned that in my pursuit of the Lord, I am attempting to work through some spiritual disciplines - some of the practices are old and well-known, some are new and stretching me.

This is one such new spiritual discipline for 2020.

I'm writing words to live by.

When Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I hope (wait) in Him," I wrote a few words - ok, I wrote some lengthy words:

No matter what the Lord allows into my life

I will WAIT, HOPING, in Him

     to come, to just show up

     to act, to be mighty on my behalf

     to be my joy, my contentment, my source of satisfaction

     to heal, make whole

     to restore, renew

     to providentially unfold His plan

     and, do a good work in and through me.

In the meantime, I will trust
     
     REST, &

     ABIDE in Him...

I will

     process the pain

     learn what I can about the nature and character of the Lord

     pray

     ask the hard questions

     and, mostly, allow God to unveil to me all the unbelief that is within me.

I will not

    lose heart

    become bitter

    reject God

    curse God

    or stop pursuing Him

I will not

    look for other ways to cope

    fall into sin

    react wrongfully (even to misguided friends)

   give in to peer pressure

I will remain

    true to my convictions

    true to my integrity

    true to what is right and honest


I will pursue the Lord God Almighty...even when I feel lost in the middle of my mess...


NO MATTER WHAT!

Can I encourage you to write a few words of your own?  It doesn't have to be lengthy (that last sentence I wrote is really at the heart of my Words to Live By. So, a few meaningful words will do...just write them...then speak them...every day until they go from your head to your heart and are lived out through your life.

Want a "song to live by?" Here's a great one!

Big Daddy Weave: I Know (link to YouTube is included)


Thursday, January 9, 2020

In Pursuit of God...More Than Toast and Eggs


I am so thankful the Lord began stirring my heart for Him so many years ago.

Even as I child I desired Him.

It took a long time of wilderness wandering, before I stopped pursuing my own way-of-doing-life, gave up, and allowed Him to find me.

There were a lot of twists, turns, and looking the wrong direction, before my vision cleared and I SAW HIM BECKONING me to come.

The Good News of the Gospel is that GOD never stops pursuing...

Through the years, He continues to pursue me...it's evidence of His AMAZING LOVE and the AWE OF GRACE.

2020 slid into our world one quick night, and with the new year, came a renewed, BURNING passion within my soul:

I want to pursue the Lord just as fervently as He has pursued me.

Like King David, I have heard myself whispering,

Oh God, You are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Ps 63:1).

When I read Isaiah's similar prayer, something in me rose up and said, "Yes!"


My soul yearns for you...my spirit within me earnestly seeks you... 
(Is 26:9).

The Sons of Korah put their prayer to music,


My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God (Ps 84:2)...

Paul joined in:

How I want to know Him, and the power of resurrection, and fellowship with Him in suffering, becoming like Him (Phil 3:10)...

It's my only goal for 2020 - to pursue the Lord.

And, before I ever began waking up each morning of this new year and praying those Scriptures, making them my daily reminder, I knew that prayer was answered.

Jesus told me so in one of His first public teachings, on a beautiful wildflower infested hillside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee:


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst...
for they shall be satisfied... 
(Matthew 5:6)...

I love it when I set a goal and know at the end of the year, I won't be one of the 80% who never follow through with their's (see this article for more).  When I wrote down my goal, I knew it was a done deal.

This isn't pride...this is simply what I've been promised: If I seek Him, I will find Him, if I seek Him with all my heart (Jeremiah 29:13)...


Years ago, I read A.W. Tozer's book, Pursuing God, and have picked it up once again. Immediately I was reminded that

"the impulse (within us) to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand (Ps. 63:1)..."

And so, I begin by following hard after Him.

I want to be more attune to His Presence in the ordinary of everyday.

As I mentioned last week, I want to be more aware of those moments when God collides with my world, because sometimes He comes in quiet wonder...in little moments...in the ordinary and the mundane.


So, I want to be ready to see Him when He does:

When He shakes the branches of the snow-capped pines outside my window, and I see Him in the glistening diamonds that slowly fall to the ground in whisps.

When I hear His voice in the gurgling of river streams.

When I feel His heartbeat through the love of family and friends.

I want to live daily SURPRISED by Him in my world.

To prepare myself for this adventure, I'm exploring some new and some old spiritual practices.

Disciplines that are designed to help me step back from the busy and make space for my God.



Disciplines that slow me down, help me to listen, to see, to sense, and to feel (maybe even to taste) His Presence in my daily life.

Why do I share this today?

It's simply my declaration of purpose for 2020.

Along the way, perhaps I'll be sharing some of that journey, and this will lay the foundational background for it.

It is, however, not an end, but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart's happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead!
A.W. Tozer


Now, please excuse while I go fix some toast and eggs....

Thursday, January 2, 2020

New Beginnings of Pursuing God - & Where I Started


It's a quiet morning of day #2 of a New Year.

I love everything about this number: 2020.
      - it rolls off the tongue nicely
      - has a sweet staccato ring to it
      - holds the promise of many hopeful tomorrows
      - makes a bold statement that leaves me with an anticipatory brightness...
               ...a new sunshine in my spirit

I began the day quite early and am enjoying some Jesus-and-me-time before the rest of the house awakes  and we are off and running to make the best of day #2 (daughter, Steph is here with three grand-treasures, the two grand-pups, and a girl-friend of my oldest grand-son).



My fake fireplace is crackling.


The fake candles are burning.


I'm snuggled under my fun, warm fleecy blanket.


Coffee.

Bible.

Journal.

Perfect way to begin...

...or, so I thought, until...

I read this:

"Cain left the presence of God and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden (Genesis 4:16)."

This one little sentence shattered my quiet with one short question.

"Why would anyone choose to leave the presence of God?"

Cain wasn't forced to leave.

God's punishment for the first recorded murder was that the ground Cain worked would be cursed...and, while he would wander to try and find fertile soil, nothing was said about being banned from the presence of the Lord.

Cain chose to move to Nod.

Staying near to the Lord meant he might have to own up to his sinful anger, green-eyed jealousy, wrongful vengeance, and earlier doubt of God's instructions.

However, Cain never confesses.

When given a chance to right his wrong, he simply gets snarky with God, "How should I know where my brother is? Am I his keeper?" 

Dear boy...he falls into the same sequence of sin as his dad and mom:
- he doubts God
- he rationalizes his sin
- he denies any fault
- and, he blame-shifts


Only difference: they confessed and found a cure to cover their sin.

Not Cain.
No confession (guilt and shame, definitely, but not a word of godly sorrow).
So, no cure.
Only a curse.

Cain decided to pursue his own penance.

He departed from God's presence...and wandered away to the land of Nod.

Appropriate place for one to settle when they decide to hide from the Almighty.

Nod means "vacant land."

The Message paraphrase sums it up perfectly, Cain moved to "No-Man's-Land."

Often, this is exactly what we do when we sin: we isolate.

Someone once told me, "we will never experience change in isolation."


They were right.

Instead of pursuing the Lord, Cain pushed Him away.

What a great lesson for a New Year...and for this quiet morning.

Every New Year should begin with a renewed intent to pursue the Almighty with greater fervency than the year before.


New years signal new beginnings.

Clean slates.

New chapters in the story God is writing on our life.


A fresh page, where we can record how God's Great Presence

collides

explodes

intersects

intertwines

shows up in our world

to surprise us with snippets of His glory.

But, that page can't be turned

and the new chapter can't begin to be written

until I do what Cain could not.

New beginnings, fresh starts always begin with confession, and a cleansing from all unrighteous.


Then, and only then, can I welcome the Lord-God to do a new thing...

to explode all over the pages of my story!

What a blessed way to begin my morning...

It's still early in 2020 - how about you?




Thursday, December 19, 2019

Listening Lessons, Loud Whispers, and Humility (just be the donkey)


I'm taking lessons on how to be a better listener.

This is my 2019 Christmas gift to Jesus.

It's HARD to be a listener, believe me!

I'm wordy.

The sound of silence is difficult!

Silent-spaces are awkward-spaces

in my world...

however, not necessarily in the spiritual world.

BUT, paying attention and being present in the moment is,

in fact, a SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE.

Who knew?


I'm beginning my lessons by practicing on others,

so that, I might, consequently, hear the voice of Jesus more clearly, too,

whether in His Word, in worship, in conversation, or even in just the silence.

His voice is a whisper.

But, for those who are paying attention,

LISTENING,

not talking,

not asking,

not informing,

not advising,

not usurping...

just being still;

the whispers of Jesus are loud.


Whispers are loud to listeners. 

So, I'm trying

to be in the moment...

really trying not to fill every silent-second with a sentence, or two, or three...

giving full on eye-contact

asking appropriate questions

not interrupting

using open and inviting body language

and, for goodness sakes, not looking at my watch, which is continually spewing notifications at me.

Yesterday, in listening-practice, through the voice of a friend over coffee, I heard the voice of Jesus.


His whisper was loud!

We were discussing humility.

(Side note: one of the goodest-hardest books I ever read was Andrew Murray's book: Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness. Advice: Don't ever pray for humility if you don't want to go through the lessons to learn that one. Whoosh!)

My friend mentioned Corrie Ten Boom's teaching on humility.

Corrie was once asked if it were difficult to remain humble as she received acclaim for her book, ensuing movie, and the numerous requests to speak a word of encouragement to others. Her reply at the time was simple.

"When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments onto the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of the donkey that any of that was for him?"

She continued, "If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in His glory, I give Him all the praise and all the honor."


Earlier this week, I had read another quote that had resonated in my soul.

It resonated, because I so related.

Not always;

But there were times this past year I've felt this way:

The two lines came from a love sonnet written by Joy Davidman, before her marriage to C.S. Lewis.

"The best of me is merely common-place,
And I am tired, and I am growing old."

Common.

Weary.

Old.

When those words pop into my head, they, subsequently, shout this word:

Useless!!!

It struck me as my friend mentioned dear Corrie, that as much as I talk about God using the common and ordinary in extra-ordinary ways, that, in reality, I don't want to be common at all.


I prefer the extra-ordinary.

I recognized a sinful part of me, buried beneath all my wordiness...

In spite of what I say, there is still a deceitful heart within me...

A prideful spirit...

A heart that manipulates:

If I say the right thing, then maybe I will receive what I want.

I offer the Lord words that speak "hineni" (here I am, ready, available, use me however) for Your glory...


But, behind them is a sweet manipulation that says, "but I REALLY want to be beyond the common."

Newsflash! Sweet manipulation is still manipulation.

There is nothing of humility to be found.

And, this morning that breaks my heart.

I want my words and my life to match.

Right now the two are incongruent.


God used a donkey to speak to Balaam.

I'm sure the donkey was as shocked as Balaam.

God used a donkey to bring a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem.

As the donkey lay beside her resting in a filthy manger, he was one of the first to witness the entrance of the Messiah to the world.

And, as mentioned, God used a donkey to carry our Savior into Jerusalem, where he would die a violent death a mere days later for us all.

Nowhere in Scripture does the donkey boast of its mission.

There is no desire on its part to be anything but a donkey

doing what donkeys do best

carrying their masters.

But, every Christmas in every manger scene there front and center is a donkey.


Every Palm Sunday there is a donkey carrying Jesus.

Now that I was silent enough to listen...

...and hear...

now that the Lord has my attention...

I'm giving Him back my common-heart,

my nobody status,

so I can just be a donkey

God's glory rides in on

for as long as the Lord sees fit

to bring His GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY FOR ALL MEN. 


XXXXXX
And, with this I wish a

Merry Christmas

to each of you.

I'll be taking a blogging-break for the remainder of the HOLY-SEASON, along with a continued social media fast.

I pray your HOLY-DAY of Christmas is filled with deep reflection on the heart of Christmas:  Jesus!



Thursday, December 12, 2019

What the Lord Does with Mud


As is my typical morning "habit" (albeit, as cold as it has been that habit has moved more into early afternoon), I go for a brisk walk.

Sometimes I'll listen to a sermon, sometimes I listen to Scripture, or an audio-book, but most times I am just quiet and my prayer is "Spirit of the Living God, open my eyes to see what you'd have me see today." 

This is my pilgrimage-of-sorts.

It isn't always the physical sight for which I'm asking, most of the time it is the spiritual sight to see what the Lord has for me on this particular day.

So it was day before yesterday.

I just walked, breathing in, breathing out, and wondering what might be mine from the Lord for this day.

To be honest, I'm feeling stuck.

I'm loving my study in Nehemiah.

It has been eye-opening in many, many ways.

There is so much relevance to what is happening among believers in the church today.

The rebuilding of Jerusalem's wall is synonymous with revival.

Each laying of the bricks is the re-establishing of foundational truths that need to be replaced around the corporate church, God's temple, as well as the individual church, each follower of Jesus.

As in Nehemiah's day, there will certainly arise opposition: from without and from within.


It won't always be obvious.

It will even "sound" spiritual.

It will "look" loving.

It will appear like healthy "compromise" leading to unity.

It will SEEM GOOD (but remember: Good is often enemy of the best.)


No matter how it appears, it is quite possibly DISTRACTION...

The enemy will use anything, even seemingly good and spiritual "stuff," to distract from seeing God glorified and His Name (character) elevated.

We are each falling prey to the enemy's tactics from time to time and don't even realize it.

But, as I said, I'm STUCK!

I began to study the book, just for me, for my own personal deepening growth.

So, maybe, just maybe, what I am learning isn't meant to be purposed for this blog-space.

I may still need to chew on it with the teeth of my heart a little longer.

All this to say, revival, which is desperately needed in the American church, will only occur if we put into place a Nehemiah plan on an individual basis.


Revival will start with me.

Revival will start with each one of us....

It will begin, when we pick up the stones of TRUTH from GOD'S WORD that lay on the ground in rubble that has long been forgotten.

It will begin with setting aside opinion, politics, and even theology, and get back to the basics of the GOSPEL MESSAGE.

But, I digress.

Back to my walk.

What the Lord focused my eyes on is the ONE-THING I think He wants me to say today in this blog.

As I prayed, "Open my eyes," I got a sense that I was to respond to the question, "What are you seeing?"

Me:  "Mud, Lord. I just see mud. Mucky, silky, rivers of velvet brown mud."


The Lord: "What can I do with mud?"


Me: "Much! You placed it on the blind man's eyes and healed his sight. You created man from the muddy clay. You used it in Egypt with the Israelites in bondage as they made bricks day after day, in preparation for leading them out. You've used mud throughout Scripture...even in Nehemiah to rebuild the wall. AND, You are remarkably adept at washing away the mud of sin, leaving hearts white as snow."


And, my mind began bouncing from thing-to-thing like the ball in a pin-ball machine (remember those?).

Here's where that little ball landed...

When I describe the Bride of Christ (the Church), it is frequently with these words:

Jesus' bride is dirty; unprepared for her bride-groom. Her wedding dress is in dis-repair; it is tattered, torn, and stained with mud.

Gently and quietly, the Lord replied. "She is, indeed, all that and more. BUT, I can take care of her muddy dress. I can do something with dirty, unprepared, and torn. What YOU need to remember is that she is still my bride, and I LOVE her."


That is the Gospel.

That is what we need to remember - all of us - from those who are "done" with the church ("Doners"); those walking away, deconstructing, and, most of all, critical.

The Church is Jesus' BRIDE.

And, JESUS LOVES HER.


I am the BRIDE.

And, JESUS LOVES ME.

It is why He "advented" so long ago.

It is why He will "advent" again.


In the meantime, I watch for distractions...and keep rebuilding my wall of faith with the rubble of ancient TRUTH.

Jesus will take care of the mud and the holes in my wedding clothes.

And, He will take care of yours.

He LOVES YOU, precious Bride!