Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Word of the Lord Proves True

Maturity. It's the process we work toward. I wish that I could say with certainty that were the Apostle Paul sitting over a cup of coffee with me, he'd applaud my growth. Yet, I have a feeling that he'd probably be saying something like, "though by this time you should be..., instead you need..." I think he'd be reminding me of my need to renew my thinking and that maturity is still illusive... I have a few moments of brilliance, I do! When I think I'm close to truly settling some things, then, it seems, the Lord gives me a glimpse into my heart. I had such a glimpse on Sunday night. 

We'd just come home from a week of speaking. It was an effective time watching the Lord do what He does best - show off - and we got to be participators. There was prolific fruit, a look at "rediscovering Jesus" (as we were challenged to see Him again as if for the very first time), some sweet friendships formed, and some one-on-one conversations where we got to do a little "spurring on." I was tired, I know. Yet, it's at those weak moments that the true-heart has a way of revealing itself. 

I struggled all day Sunday with where I "fit" in my own home-town. What's my niche? I'm used to serving in between the serving, but am not finding my place. Not fully. It's something I continue taking to the Lord. Hence, that was on my mind as I went to bed that night. Then...there was this dream. It was disjointed like most dreams are. When I woke up I wrote it down. There were several aspects to this dream. What I remember is feeling embarrassed, incomplete, unorganized, inadequate, a few steps behind, out-of-place. I hated the experiences in the dream that were leading to these feelings. Then came the big exclamation mark. People sitting around me at a conference, where I was to speak, began moving away, some spraying themselves with what I recognized as a perfumed-body-mist. I heard a woman next to me ask an accusing question, "Who smells like compacted trash?" I sniff. I don't smell anything. I turn to another lady, and ask, "Is it me?" "Yes," she says. "It's you." That's about when I woke up, but not until an old, dear friend, from Kenya-days, a counselor-by-trade appeared in my dream. A comforting presence. (Ok...I couldn't resist a little "trash humor..." By the  way, in that dream, I'd have welcomed an elephant to step on me, that's how powerful the emotions were!)

I don't often read a lot into dreams. They can be silly reflections of events that have happened during a day. Yet, I've explored this one. There was a message of maturity-needed, and a reminder that I'm still not "fully-growed"; a ministering of the Word needed to happen in my soul. I didn't need to run to another counselor, I have the Great Counselor, always at my beck and call. I didn't need to get another's ideas of truth. I have access to the sufficient words of truth in Scripture at my disposal. I recognized that old familiar serpent of shame that raises it's ugly head from time to time in my head and in my heart. The serpent that wants me to believe I am not enough... Then, I remembered these words from last week's blog.

The Psalmist who wrote 119, the longest Psalm in Scripture, extols the virtues of the Words of the Lord. I wrote out a list of just a few. The Word:
* Keeps us from sin (11)
* Keeps us from shame (6) - I DEFINITELY NEEDED THAT ONE
* Makes us whole as it brings LIFE (25)
* Strengthens the heart (28) - Yep, needed this, too! 
* Sets the heart free and enlarges it with compassion (32)
* Helps us discern and turn away from worthless things (37) 
* Teaches us to fear, respect, and be in AWE of the Lord (38)
* Gives us answers (42)
* Brings hope (43)
* Comfort in affliction (50)
* Blesses (56)
* Grants us good judgment and knowledge (67)
* Guides us and lights our path (105)

Wow! How I need the Word!!! By the way, this isn't a complete list. No wonder it's THE KEY to maturity. THE WAY to resolution of all the things that plague the depths of our souls. 

This simple gal dug into Scripture. The Lord gave me a passage that absolutely illuminated within me. It was exactly what I needed to hear from Him. I wrote it out on a 3 X 5 card. All through the day on Monday, I took it out of my pocket and reminded myself of the TRUTH of God's word. The truth that says, He cares. The truth that reminds me His timing is perfect. The truth that reminds me He is always present. The truth that reminds me of His Sovereign plan over my life. The truth that strengthened my soul. I must have read it 100 times by the end of the day. Little by little, that small task, that one Word-of-the Lord to my heart, did all-of-the-above from that list. It was a simple reminder to me of how valuable the Word of God is; but, not just valuable, absolutely empowering

I am writing this morning just to say, the Word-of-God is enough!!!!!! This one little verse I wrote out on Scripture was a reminder that settled my soul, raised me out of my own self-centeredness, and defeated the ugly serpent of shame. It is ENOUGH! May I encourage you to live in it? May I encourage you to never leave the comfort of your couch until you've gotten your Word-of-the-Day from the Spirit-of-the-Lord? May I encourage you to carry it with you? To look at it throughout the day? To marinate in it so that it moves from your head to your heart and out through your life? May I encourage you that GOD'S WORDS will do all-of-the-above, and more? 

I'm reminded that sometimes we rush first to the side of another counselor, before we rush to the side of the Lord, taking our concerns to Him. It's exactly where I tried to go in that silly's obviously something that seems more natural, even to me. BUT THE LORD HAS GIVEN US EVERYTHING WE NEED FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS! It's right in His Word. Soak it up! Give it the opportunity to do exactly what God says it will do. 

As we learn to "man-up"......


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Man-up...Move on to Maturity

(An early P.S.:  If you're just joining this current blog-thread, you might want to go back and start at July 23rd, just to keep this in context...)

Reflect on these words a second… 

The words of your mouth are of greater value to me than thousands of pieces of gold or silver (Psalm 119: 72).

Now, take a look at these…

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. 
(Psalm 119:111)

I ran across both of these passages, as I was studying for a message I was to share this last week to a group of young women. My goal was to leave these gals with a tool that might allow the Word to be powerful in their lives, to be life-changing, just as the Lord designed. However, after reading them, I was deeply convicted. If God placed two treasure chests in front of me and asked me to choose, what would I pick? 

Behind door #1 is this:

Behind door #2 is this:

Is the word of God truly of greater value to me, as it was to the Psalmist? Have I found God-breathed Scripture to be the joy of my heart? If the Words of the Lord are as powerful as the writer of Hebrews (4:12) declares, or if they are as useful as Paul explained to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16), then my choice would be a no-brainer.

Let me give you a couple of snapshots. 

Snapshot #1: I’ve spoken several times at a women’s retreat for the same group of gals from the same church. Each time I’ve spoken, I’ve been asked to share an identical message over again, for at least one of the sessions. These gals want to hear the same uplifting, encouraging words over and over again. Words that assure them of God’s love. Words that remind them of their identity in Jesus. Words that cause them to reflect on their unique chosen-ness. I get it…these are important truths; we do need to be reminded of them. I’m not opposed to repeating a message…but I have wondered, and questioned…why are these truths not sticking? Why are they not making a difference? Why are they, apparently, not changing the lives of these women? Why must we cycle around and around about the same teachings?

Snapshot #2: This past February, Bay and I spoke in Cuba. We went to a different community this year, where I spoke to a new group of women. However, the first night in-country, we spoke at a church where we’ve been a couple of different times. A gal approached me, who’d been in one of my conferences both the year before, and another time several years ago. She came with a recognizable notebook in hand - a notebook we’d provided. With tears leaking from her eyes, she thanked me for the teachings from three years prior. Teachings she was sharing, and had even used just that day with a co-worker who was struggling with her marriage. Teachings from the Word that had changed her life first, and that she was certain would change the lives of other women she was in connection with daily. Her notebook pages were thin and faded, but they were being USED and God’s truths were bearing fruit!

Mulling these two scenarios over, I found myself, first, convicted. I live in a culture rich with biblical information. Access to the Word, and to messages regarding the Word of God, is plentiful. I attend retreats. I go to conferences. I read a dozen, or more, books centered around the Scriptures yearly. I hear sermons on YouTube and listen to Podcasts. How much are they changing me? How much do I remember? How much of what I hear and study have I found applicable, useful, corrective, strengthening, and am now teaching? Then, I began thinking on these words that God-breathed:

For though, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the Word…, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation…
(Hebrews 5:12-6:1, emphasis mine)

The amount of information available does not just automatically grow us up. God doesn’t have I-V poles on church pews. We don’t just instantaneously assimilate truth. We have to chew, ruminate, digest the meat He offers us. We have to mull it over. We have to apply it. We have to allow it to do that which God purposed (Isaiah 55:11). We have to “do the work” of the Word….courageously. We have to “man-up, church!” 

Here are the questions I am asking myself? Spiritually, am I still settling for a bottle of milk and sucking my thumb, or have I begun to digest solid food? Food that is life changing! Food that works in me to help me mature. Food that develops God’s potential within me for His glory. 

And, you? Are you going on to maturity? Are you still taking a bottle of milk or are you celebrating and cheering your advancement to solids? Is the word making a difference in you, or do you find yourself stuck, needing the same teachings, over and over again? Are there simple truths you want to "milk" over and over again, and fail to truly live out? Has the truth entered your world in the midst of your life issues and strengthened your soul? If so, are you sharing it with others?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

It's a GREAT Work!

For those of you following this thread (we started on June 23rd), here's a little summary. The Apostle Paul, speaking truth to the messed-up Corinthian church, gave them several pithy admonitions to follow. These were course corrections for them as he spoke God-breathed words meant to teach, rebuke, correct and train. I've been sidelined by one of those reminders:

On this particular road, we're exploring what he meant by this statement. We know what it isn't, and we're learning what it is:

When I take the COURAGE-PATH, no matter what has come before, no matter how I feel...I simply "do the next right thing."

I can do-the-work, because MY GOD IS ALWAYS WITH ME!
He fills me with empowering grace.

To see what's left on this course-correction, I've taken a closer look at a little story in the middle of Nehemiah (I'd encourage you to read the whole book - it's short - but if not, please read Nehemiah 6). First the story, then what the Lord's been teaching me.

Nehemiah, heart-broken over the condition of his beloved homeland, returned to Jerusalem from Babylon with one goal in mind: rebuild the wall. He woke up each morning with that work on his mind, and he went to sleep with it resounding in his heart. The wall was critical to survival. If there was even a little breach in the wall, the enemy could conquer the city. Jerusalem might not ever see her former glory, but Nehemiah knew he was the one called to do the work of seeing her protected from further devastation. It was a daunting task. Not only would he have to travel long miles with materials and try to rally the folks in the city to help with the work, but he'd have to fight off outward enemies who continually threatened him. Once he recruited people to do the work, they'd have to split up. Half would work on the wall. Half would hold the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail, so they'd be prepared for ANYTHING. This wasn't a glorious work. It was laborious. They kept at it from break of dawn until the stars appeared at night. They never took off their clothes and always kept their weapons close. The enemy was being thwarted, so they tried another tactic. Five times they sent a message to Nehemiah to come down from the wall, so they could meet in the plains to discuss a "problem." It was "reported" (ha!) that Nehemiah was proclaiming himself king, and they were troubled by this declaration, and wanted to clear it up. However, even that lie did not persuade Nehemiah to be distracted from his work. So, his enemies tried one final move. Somehow they got to one of Nehemiah's closest allies and intimate advisors, a prophet named Shemaiah. His advise sounds good to a Christian's ears: Let us meet in the temple, for they are coming to kill you... "Nehemiah, let's go to the house of the Lord. There, safely ensconced in the temple, you will be safe under the protection of God's wings." Nehemiah remained undaunted, "I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but that he was hired...that I should be afraid and do as he suggested." And, so...the walls were rebuilt in a total of 52 days.

"When the enemies heard of it, all the nations around were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, because they perceived the work had been done with the help of God (6:16)."

Right there, in the heart of the story is a key to Nehemiah's victory. In spite of threats of violence. In spite of countless distractions. In spite of personal lies being spread about him. In spite of his friends turning against him. In spite of distraction after distraction. In spite of fear. In spite of discouragement. In spite of sorrow and grief. In spite of all that, Nehemiah persisted. He remained steadfast. He did that which the Lord had called him to do. Here is his resolve:

"I am doing a great work and I cannot come down."

Nehemiah was assured of his calling.
He knew his work.
He knew his Lord had brought him to this task, equipped him for the job, and was there with him in purpose and empowerment.
He caught the vision.
He knew the why behind the hard.
There was an outcome he was working toward. He worked for a goal greater than himself.
There was a glory of God to be reflected in this job.

Nehemiah was doing a great work! This was his steadfast anthem. That became his mantra of resolve. If Nehemiah had a Twitter account that would be his hashtag: #Iamdoingagreatwork. If he had an Instagram account, every picture of progress he posted, would be with this comment, "I am doing a great work." If he'd had a Facebook page, all we'd hear would have been these words, "I am doing a great work, and I cannot (no matter how hard you try) come down." This was the catchphrase that kept him courageous.

Even me, I am building a wall. My wall doesn't look nearly as important (or impressive) as Nehemiah's wall, but it's my wall. It's the wall the Lord has called me to purposely work on for His glory. For me, it's a great work. I'm tempted to give up. I'm distracted by an outward enemy, as well as an inward enemy. I'm often distracted from the work. I get TIRED! I am often inwardly crushed by words and actions that seem to be "against me." I am tempted to run and hide, to isolate in the temple, under the shadow of His wings, and just stay there. Sometimes I'm tempted to just sit in a chair by my pond, read a novel all day, and get lost in someone else's world... I needed this reminder: I am doing a great work. 

If it's God's work - it is a great work!

What about you? Are you doing a great work? What's the wall you are building? Write Nehemiah's motto down. Put it somewhere close. Put it on the mirror in your bathroom, on the fridge door that you open 100 times a day. Tape it to the dashboard of your car. It can help you stay steadfast. It will help you catch the vision. It will help you remember there will be a victorious outcome. You will be encouraged that the glory-of-God will be delivered to those around you, if you stay alert, strong, and steadfast in your calling.

You are doing a great work and you cannot come down!

Let's own this motto and man-up, church!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Man Up, Church...on the Courage-Path!

I've been looking at what the Apostle Paul meant when he spoke these words to the church at Corinth:

His actual words were: "Act like men." As I've looked deeper into the meaning of that phrase, I've discovered two paths that lead us to that goal. That's what we're exploring. Right now, we're on the path with the signage: COURAGE.

We'll get to MATURITY......................eventually.

So far, we've learned that courage = doing the next right thing. Or, in King David's words, courage = doing the work. Fear often gets in the way; so does discouragement. When we set the expectation bar too high, or the work takes longer than we want, or there are too many hurdles to jump over, or we have an enemy to distract us, courage wanes. It does. I know. I've been there. At those times, it's easy for resolve to retreat and hopefulness to get hobbled. 

Author, Paul David Tripp has said this, "Discouragement preaches a false gospel..." OH! YES! IT DOES! I've heard it's story repeated over and over and over, cycling around in my brain, until it picks up speed, and becomes a total tornado of despair. When it gets to that point, I've lost all God-awareness. So, that's when Paul steps in, and stops the cycle, with some pretty strong words: "Man-up! (Grow up! Drop the bottle! Saddle up anyway! Have courage! Do the next right thing!) Whatever you do...don't wallow."

With that reminder, there are two other things to pay close attention to on Courage Path. We'll only get to the first:
"...the Lord God, my God, is with you." 

Here was last week's focal verse. 

These were David's words to Solomon.
They were also Moses' words to Joshua.
Joshua passed them on to Caleb. 

Your God. My God. The Sovereign, Omnipresent Lord, is with us. ALWAYS!
Seen, or unseen...
Heard, or unheard...
Felt, or unfelt...
He NEVER leaves us or forsakes us. 

In this truth, alone, belief and courage rise up when discouragement starts to preach that false gospel.

David knew it to be true. When someone is offering a dying declaration, we can know for a fact, that they aren't blowing smoke. They aren't lying. There's no time left for anything but honesty. So what David said, he KNEW! 

David experienced this truth in the Valley of Elah with a giant, named Goliath, and he acted on it. Joshua knew it at the battle of Jericho, and did the next right thing, watching the walls come tumbling down. Joseph believed it's truth in the belly of an Egyptian prison, when he was tempted to discouragement, and watched God deliver him, and place him second in command of the entire nation. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel, all lived in this promise; and, the Babylonians had never seen such a deliverance-dance! I've seen it to be true, time and time again, when the Lord takes over my inadequate mouth and allows me to get in on something that is simply, "BEYOND ME!" In fact, I have an "altar of remembrance" to this truth in my back yard (you can't see it, but etched in this heart-shaped rock one of my former dorm boys hauled out of the mountains for me is my declaration of God's loving and grace-filled presence: beyond me).

We can always stop the discouragement cycle, because GOD IS WITH US. Not, just any "little g" god; no, MY GOD!!! Say it over and over until it goes from your head to your heart. MY GOD IS WITH ME!!! The problem is, like me, when discouragement is preaching, you forget, don't you? So, we need to plant that truth deeply in our hearts, and preach it louder than the screams of discouragement to ourselves. We have to pray it. We have to live as if we believe it.  GOD IS WITH ME! That's part of Paul's plea to "man-up church!" Maintain your spidey-senses for God's presence...He is there in the midst of any hard you experience.

I'll finish today with this quote from Paul Tripp:

" The God who calls us to a radical new way of living, meets us with radical 
(emphasis mine)" 

You'll have to come back next week for the other thing we need to remember on Courage Path....