Thursday, August 25, 2016

Good News for Us All....I AM NOT GOD!

Sometimes my study in God's Word takes me to places of comfort.
Sometimes I find myself a little beat up (this I have, over the last few weeks of learning how to "Man-up!'").
But at all times, I discover a God who loves me, and who longs to journey with me through the transformation process.
He loves me enough He doesn't want me to stay stagnant...
Ever growing...
Ever going deeper...
Ever looking more and more like the Son He sacrificed on my behalf.
Never personally or spiritually satisfied, simply seeking (& finding) more of Him...over time.

I'd like to see all that happen faster,
According to my timetable.
After all, don't I live in a world where instant gratification = better service?
I get....well...impatient.
Tired of the same old struggles.
Tired of the slow process that lasting change takes.
Sometimes, it's hard to remember that I am "being perfected."
I don't like slow progress.
So, I get frustrated...sometimes angry.
Here's the good news for me...I am not God.

And, another thing,,,
Sometimes, I forget others are in the same process of "being perfected."
Sometimes, I get impatient answering the same questions,
Hearing the same scenarios,
Praying for similar requests.
I don't like slow progress.
So, sometimes I get frustrated...sometimes angry.
Here's the good news for you...I am not God.

God does not demand instant maturity.
He doesn't expect that I will get it right, RIGHT NOW,
God is patience.
He isn't just patient.
He is patience.
It's part of His nature.
I know this by mathematical deduction.
If A = B, and B = C, then A and C are also =.
It's not rocket science.
God is love.

Love is patient.

Therefore, God is patience. The Old Testament calls it "long-suffering" (literal meaning is that He is "slow to get in one's face.")

So, He is patient with me in the process of maturity | completion | perfecting.

I don't receive His patience because I'm deserving, but because of who He is.

This is great news! It's jumping up and down, leaping for joy good news! Unlike me, He doesn't get frustrated or angry at slow progress. What grace!

So, as I come to the end of surveying Paul's admonition to "act like men," I find myself resting on a ROCK of GRACE. A rock that reminds me, my Lord gives ample time for grace to do its perfecting work. 

About the time I settled down on that rock, I read this sweet quote:
"It is God's tender willingness to wait that allows His powerful grace to finish it's transforming work."

What I tried to say in all the above, has been said perfectly in one sentence. 

Now - JUMP FOR JOY...and be patience (with yourself and others). After all, the one who is patience lives in you!!! AND...thank the Lord that I am not God, though, even I, am trying to be more like Him, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Diseased Heart

I've put off writing this week's thought, because, for me, it's one of the more convicting areas of maturity. Before we dig in, let's recap (or you can skip down below the ***).


The Apostle Paul admonished the Corinthian church, which is an instruction passed on through the ages, to "act like men." This has been an exploration that's taken me down a number of winding paths. Only two main highways to cruise down, but each one has several side roads that have kept me sight-seeing, perhaps a little longer than I've sometimes wanted. Down the first highway of Courage, I discovered courage looks a lot like:
1) Doing the next right thing (or, "doing the work")
2) Being fully aware of God's Presence (or, paying attention)
3) Remembering God's Call on our lives (or, maintaining an anthem of steadfastness - "I am doing a great work, and I cannot_______________")

Those days of exploration were a bit easier than the days of hiking off the highway of Maturity. Here we've seen that maturity looks a lot like:
1) Changing our diet to solid food (loving the Word, digging into the Word, doing the Word - allowing God's Words to prove true & be enough)
2) Being more than a consumer, but a server (using our spiritual gifs to the full)
3) Loving those who oppose us (those who have different values, belief systems, traditions...our "enemies")


Now's the time to look at another aspect of maturity. It's tucked away in the middle of the book of James (chapter 3, verse 2). Here it is:

"For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect (mature, complete) man, able to bridle his whole body (emphasis mine)."

The tongue - it is:
Filled with deadly poison
Capable of blessing and cursing
A fire
A world of unrighteousness.

How many times have I spoken words I wish I could take back? How many times I have said to myself, "I need to just hold my tongue!" or "I've got to learn to just stay quiet?" I've even tried to take Thumper's advice:

I can be a pretty decent person, just don't get between me and my goal, or catch me under pressure, or criticize my family, or say something ugly that pushes my buttons...because I can transform into some unrecognizable, wild creature. I'd ask myself, "Where did that come from, but I don't have to, because I know the answer."

The tongue is simply a thermometer, an indicator, of....the heart! 

Jesus said, "For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Right before that, He said, "(We) will all give an account for every careless (useless, worthless, without value, idle) word." 

And before that..."For out of the heart the mouth speaks..."  (Matthew 12:34-37)

The comfort in all the hard truth is that that I'm not alone. It's not a struggle for me and no one else. It's a common disease of the heart. As James goes on, he gets right to it, and diagnoses the disease. 
Bitter jealousy & Selfish ambition

I want to be you. Or more, I want to be better than you. And, I want to be fully in control. If I really had the layers of the onion pulled back, it's even worse (it's not about you at all), I want to be God. That's the root of the heart issue, and when I can't be God, my mouth betrays me. It shows the world around me my true colors. 

It's the color of YUCK!
It's the color of SIN!

There's a correction for eraser (like using toothpaste on a whiteboard)...John 1:9, of course. That's the start. Then there's a path to take for righteousness, James says it's found in "wisdom and understanding (James 3:13)." I'm right back to where I began: OH, HOW I NEED THE WORDS OF THE LORD! As I apply the surgery of truth to my diseased heart, the promise of the Lord is true: He will make me new!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Loving Opposition

Jesus said, "You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48)." 

There's that word: perfect. In other places, it's translated mature. Mature Christians look like their heavenly father. Ufda (I love this word...I should have been Scandinavian!)... But, what a daunting thought.

It's even more daunting when you see it in context. So, let me print out the rest -

You've heard it said, "you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do to even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even gentiles do the same?" You therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Love your enemies.
Another piece of the maturity, "man-up," puzzle.

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus used it to explain who our "neighbor" is. No one asked him the question, "Who is my enemy?" They didn't have to ask that question; we all know who our enemies are. Even Jesus would have answered, "Duh!"  My enemy tends to be anyone who is spiteful towards me, right? Or, antagonistic...or, a "hater..." An enemy, even back in Jesus' time, would have been anyone who mentally opposed my belief-system...anyone whose values looked, well, different. Jesus mentioned a couple: tax collectors and gentiles.

No one was hated more than a tax collector (ask Zacchaeus) - they were even worse than "sinners..." No one was lower on the social scale than a gentile (those dogs!). Right in there with gentiles were Samaritans - I mean, you'd have to throw away a fork if a Samaritan dared to pick it up. The world in Jesus' day had some pretty rotten folks with whom a good religious person didn't dare to rub shoulders. That wasn't an exclusive era - we've had them down through the ages, all the way to you and me. You could write a list...I have my own mental record.

Needless to say, our world has become a Team Me, Team Them Society. If you don't think like me, or hold to the same values that I have, or even look like me, cross the line to Team Them. The only people welcome on Team Me is, really, if I'm honest here, ME! The rest of you are simply sinners...and there is enmity between us. If there was an appropriate hashtag here, it could be this one: #mylifematters.

That's why our world is so messy. We've forgotten that we are all part of the same team: humanity...and, no matter how I justify, excuse, or defend, I AM A SINNER. In reality, my heart isn't much different than the murderer on death row, the Muslim-extremist-terrorist who beheads the Coptic Christian on a deserted beach, the drug dealer selling to the teen behind the gas station, the politician out for self-empowerment, the sex trafficker who snatches children off the streets, or the member of the church that split off of mine just up the road. There's always a story behind the person we've become. The only difference is the road we've traveled to get where we are.

Recognizing this truth should give me a great deal more compassion for Team Them. That sentence, this fact, this is the starting point for moving toward maturity. When it comes to sinful, diseased hearts, there is no opposition. We've all got one. So, Jesus reminds us of it, then issues a challenge: earnestly pursue love. Love that reaches across the aisle to Team Them. Love that engages those who are nothing like me. Love that has eyes open, even for the opposers in our world, and hands that are ready to do something practically generous and sacrificial. I think the Lord's heart is that we each pay attention, looking for the "hater" who is in a "ditch" (literally or metaphorically) and in need of a little compassion, kindness, and, active philanthropy. That's what it looks like to be a son of God. That's what it looks like to be on the road to maturity.  To "man-up" means:

Love your enemy.
Love your opposer.
Love those who don't hold to the same values...or the same belief system...
Look like Jesus.
" that you will be sons of your Father in heaven..."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Not a Consumer, a Committed Server

Last week I alluded to a current inner struggle. It would be my desire this morning, as I sit down to write today's thought, to gloss over it and move on. I can't, because that struggle carries with it another piece to the growing-up puzzle. I'm a doer. It's much easier to be a doer, than it is to be a be-er. In the past, that has been out of balance. The Lord has been teaching me to simply "be;" and, gotta say, I've truly enjoyed the classroom.

Since leaving Arizona Christian University, this season of learning what it means to just "be" has been good. However, almost a year ago, I truly thought I heard the Lord's still-small-voice letting me know that it was time to add some "doing" again. Not just random doing, intentional in "use-my-spiritual-giftedness-to-His-glory" serving. Oh, I never stopped traveling and speaking; and my calendar is fairly full. My norm, though, is that in between traveling, I'm used to serving the Lord in some capacity locally. This is tricky, of course, because of the inconsistency. My position at ACU was perfect, because it was a built-in way to do what I love to do, on those terms. So here, at home, in Pagosa Springs, I just haven't found my place (sigh). I'm not one to go creating ministry, I've always believed the Lord opens that door for me...and has in the past. Hence, there is this inner warfare, and I'm mulling over a lot of different angles with this in mind.

That said, I would add this: "Hands down, I am most fulfilled when able to operate in the realm of my spiritual giftedness." I've heard myself say those words quite often. They are true for me, which is why this current situation has been such a struggle; and, because it is on my mind so much, is it any surprise that the Lord, in connection with His Word, has used this to explain more about maturity? Of course not!

I started connecting the dots when I jotted that highlighted, italicized sentence above in my journal the other day. That same day, I happened (right!) to be focusing on a new focal verse for study that included the word mature in Ephesians 4. The word "mature" happened (right!) to be sprinkled in the middle of a passage on spiritual gifts. Let me show you:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...Ephesians 4:11-16 (emphasis mine)

I've looked at that word "mature" in my Greek Lexicon multiple times for keys to the "man-up" admonition of the Apostle Paul. It has many synonyms, including words like "complete" and "perfect." Now, while I'd like to be perfect, I'm far from it. Yet, it's part of the process to maturity... 

But this particular morning, before I began my study of Ephesians 4, I sat whining to the Lord, and reminding Him of how fulfilled, yes, even how happy, I am when I get to use the spiritual gifts He gave (and is continuing to develop) within me. I had just asked Him, once again, to give me clarity of exactly what that looked like here in Pagosa, in between the out-of-town-serving. That's when, this synonym jumped out of the dictionary: "filled-to-the-full." Do you see the connection? Gift-using fills me to the full; because gift-using is also part of the process to maturity. So, when the Apostle Paul speaks to the church at Corinth and tells them to "act like men," or in our vernacular, "man-up," he's adding to the list we've already generated (see previous thoughts back to June 23): devote yourself to that which is fulfilling. 

Believers who are in the process of maturing, attaining to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of fullness in Christ, use their gifts. They don't just grab the package out of the nail-scarred-hands of their Savior, and hold it near to their hearts, without doing something with it. They don't just rip open the present, and put it on some spiritual shelf in a spiritual closet for safe-keeping. Children of the Lord who do this will be tossed to and fro, easily deceived...they can not "grow up in every way into Him who is the head..." 

So, here was my take away: because this is key to the growing-up puzzle, I am assured that there are places the Lord has for me to use what He has given me. I simply need to pay attention. Keep my eyes open. I was reminded that ministry isn't just something that I step outside of my home to do and then step back into the comforts of my isolated life. No, ministry is my life and my life is ministry. When I grab wholeheartedly to that mindset, I am in the process of growing up...and I will find myself most fulfilled, satisfied, and, yes, even happy in my faith.

God never intended for us to be consumers only. When we man-up, church, we become committed, sold-out servers in partnership with the Spirit of God. Where are you using your gifts? Are you paying attention for areas of service? Are you looking, as you go about your daily routine for ways to do that which comes naturally to you? It's quite easy to become complacent, isolated, by-standers. Yet, I know from experience that once I engage, and am useful in the Kingdom, I enjoy the experience of service. Long for it, in fact.

P.S. Oh, and one more thing. When I'm most fulfilled, I am most satisfied in the Lord, and when I am most satisfied in the Lord, God is most glorified. It's a WIN-WIN!