Monday, September 25, 2006

My Church

Over a year ago, everything connected to my life was either damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. My family lived like nomads for nearly a month, I had to live and work most of the week away from them for over 3 months and still my parent's home and my church are virtually unrecognizable from its pre-Katrina condition. My parent's home can and is being rebuilt. My church will be demolished and by God's grace be rebuilt better than it was before.

Please take a look at this short video of our story and prayerfully consider how the Lord would have you respond.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Treasures, Fire, and the Satisfied Soul

…everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. (Numbers 31:23)

God wants what is most precious to us, not because He enjoys robbing us of our treasures, but because our treasures often times rob Him of the glory due Him. We all have things, people, hopes, and plans that either do or threaten to rival our affection for God. It wouldn’t require too much time and effort to think of the last time one of our treasures caused us to sin against God in our hearts, if in no other way.

God requires the best we have to offer. No polluted or discounted or left-over or second-best thing can be offered to Him. In the Old Testament times, the first fruits, the first born, the cream of the crop and best of the flock were required…the same is true today, only instead of livestock and harvests, we are called to offer our will, our dreams, the treasures of our hearts.

everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. (Numbers 31:23)

Back in March, I blogged about this very thing. Then, the treasure was a very specific hope for marriage. That hope has remained in the fire since that day. The Lord has not called me to stop praying – only to leave it in the fire until it is either clean or all burned away. All these months later, I still don’t know which it will be. It has been painful and frustrating and heart-wrenching. It has also served as preparation for this latest treasure which He is taking and placing in the fire: The love I have for my nieces and nephew.

I was told last week that they are moving to Dallas, Texas. It is supposed to be temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like a great many things that are just bad and wrong. The thought of being separated from them, of their being in a foreign environment without us, without their Father, is like having my heart excised with a plastic spoon. At times, my fear for them and what this will eventually look like for our family is so strong I can’t breathe. But God…

In Psalm 22:10, it says On you was I cast from my birth and from my Mother’s womb You have been my God. From birth…from my Mother’s womb…before I knew Him or surrendered my life to Him, He was my God. And He is their God, too.

I tell my nieces and nephew I love them all the time. I say “I love you so much.” They repeat it. I say “I love you a million, trillion, billion.” They repeat it. Then I ask “But who loves you more than TiTi?” And they answer “Jesus!” They know this. I know this. Now we all have to live it out. He is their God. He is their protector. As painful as it is, this is His good and kind and perfect will for them and for us.

My flesh and my heart do not like it. “They are the only good thing I have in this world, Lord. You know this.” I cry. “Why must you take them from me?” There is no answer, only a hushed sense that He really just does, and that He is still good and does good always. And, that “the end, it will explain.”

In the original post in March, I wrote: God wants everything…but it must be clean…it must be our best…and little by little, fire after fire, He will have all.”

All is all that will satisfy our jealous God. He is all that will every truly satisfy us. That is why we can and should say with Paul that all loss is gain for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. There is no treasure on this earth or in our hearts that can or should be more precious than Christ…or that will satisfy our ever longing, ever striving souls like He can.

In His poem on Job, John Piper says:
… ponder everything we've lost.
And let us bow before the throne
Of God, who gives and takes his own,
And promises, whatever toll He takes,
to satisfy our soul.
Come learn the lesson of the rod:
The treasure that we have in God.
He is not poor nor much enticed
Who loses everything but Christ.

He will have all. In this respect, also as John Piper says “Jesus is not safe…” No. He is not safe. Those things that are sacred, untouchable to us are the very tools He uses to make us wholly His. They are at His disposal to touch and press and twist and take and put through the fire. But, with that is a promise that “whatever toll He takes” He will satisfy our souls as only He can…and in a way that will bring glory to Him alone.

It is easy to be distracted when things are being taken, when we feel the heat of the fire on our faces and in our hearts, by what we are losing and what it is costing us. The pain of each loss is real, there is no denying that. But what is more real is that the one who is the consuming fire is good and does good always. He loves us and through the taking, through the pain, through the loss He is giving us His best. “The end it will explain…” but in the meantime, may it suffice our hearts and minds to know this one thing: no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

We can’t know the outcome, but we can know that it will be good because He is good. We can’t turn the pain off, but we can cast our cares on Him who cares for us and rest in the comfort that is assured us there. We can’t have a guarantee that things will not go as we fear or as we hope, but we can trust that God is sovereign and that His way is perfect. We cannot change our circumstances or those of our loved ones, but we can shift our gaze from what we see to Him who promises that He is always moving and working in the unseen.

everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. (Numbers 31:23)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Killing Me Softly...

Behold the kindness of the Lord:
"What we have lost God will restore
When he is finished with his art,
The silent worship of our heart.
When God creates a humble hush,
And makes Leviathan his brush,
It won't be long until the rod
Becomes the tender kiss of God."
(John Piper from the poem "Job")
This past weekend I had a sort of confrontational conversation with a family member. I do not meant that it was heated or ugly, but I did have to confront this person that I loved and who was angry with some truth about their circumstances. It wasn't a flattering conversation and though I tried to infuse every word with kindness, I know some things I said hurt and were unwelcome. I also know that in trying so hard to be kind, I may have also somehow made the truth a little less glaring.
This is not the case with God. He alone has a way of saying things to us that cut right to the heart, are unvarnished, and seem as ugly as they really are and yet, as UGHly and painful as they are, somehow, He makes us feel completely loved. He rod becomes the kiss.
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, the Lord has been revealing some pretty ugly things in my heart. He has also been shaking my circumstances. There has been discord in my family, many deadlines at work, schedules have been rearranged, plans changed, hopes left unfulfilled, finances stretched, etc. Through these I have seen some of the gunk that still lurks in my heart and have, at times, literally choked on it. Yet when I go to the Lord with this ugliness and pray or open His word, He ALWAYS responds to me in kindness. He reminds me of who He is and who I am to Him and that His plan is still moving forward. Though I sin He does not change. Though ugliness rears it equally ugly head, His thoughts are still precious toward me. I am poor and needy and He takes thought of me. He is good and does good...whether I do or not.
At one point last week, I was so overwhelmed by His response to me that I broke emotionally. I burst into what can only be characterized as "cartoon crying". The tears were literally springing up and outward from my eyes and hit my hands as I was raising them to my face! I've never sobbed that way in my life and as I did - though momentarily thrown off by the strange tear phenomenon - I cried out "Lord, you are breaking me and killing me with kindness. Thank you."
As much as I want circumstances to change, the truth is that it is moments like this, where everything is going "wrong" that God's glory is the most relevant and shines the most brightly in our lives. And the promise is that it will not be so always. The contrary winds will one day soon cease to blow, the rod will become the kiss, and the end it will explain. This is the way of the disciple: deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Him and die daily.
Praise our Father in Heaven that we have a God that kills us with His kindness and disciplines us with a rod that becomes a kiss!

Thursday, September 7, 2006

"Deny yourself..."

From today's "Gateway to Joy" by Elisabeth Elliot...

An important sign of maturity is the acceptance of responsibility. One quits depending on everybody else and acknowledges that certain duties are his alone. If he doesn't do them, nobody will. Every day there is, for example, a "cross" to take up. Who else is going to carry it? It is mine. It lies in my pathway, and unless I accept it--and accept it gladly for Christ--I simply am not following Him. He has made it perfectly clear that there are two prerequisites to following, that is, to being his disciple: denying oneself, and taking up one's cross. To know yourself is to know your cross. Francois Mauriac says, "to flee one's sorrow and evade and ignore one's cross is the whole occupation of the world; but that occupation is at the same time a fleeing from one's own self"--or, we may say, from our proper and assigned responsibility. We may not always see a particular task laid before us, but one thing is sure: to trust Him is a task, proper to every Christian, assigned to us every minute of every hour of every day, and to flee this task is worldly, irresponsible, and immature.
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? (Ps 27:1 AV).

I will trust, and not be afraid (Is 12:2 AV).

I will trust and take up my cross.
I will trust and deny myself.

On the surface it may seem that trusting has very little to do with taking up a cross and denying one's self. But it doesn't take much meditation and thought to realize that it has everything to do with trust. Self-preservation, desire for ease, cravings for comfort, self-reliance, self-indulgence, fear of suffering, loss, pain, embarrassment...all of these are reasons to leave our cross where it lay and fail to deny ourselves. We need to maintain the status quo or protect something we feel is rightfully we forsake our cross and indulge in arranging and controlling and vain imaginations and manipulation and justify disobedience. We are sad or scared or anxious and need we forsake our cross and grant ourselves food or comiseration or guilty-pleasure TV or reading material or justify gossip and idle talk. We just need to do it fix it make it happen make it right change it accomplish it all on our we forsake our cross and indulge our pride and justify our sin and absence of faith. We fear imagined pain, difficult consequences, the severing of a relationship, losing face in front of someone, appearing we forsake our cross and indulge our disbelief and emotions and justify selfish prayers and lack of wisdom.

I could go on.

For every we I could put an *I*...but I think I am not alone in this. I/We are not good at denying ourselves anything. What we want we seek after and pursue and do some pretty impressive mental, emotional, spiritual and physical gymnastics to get it...not to mention concocting twisted theological dissertations in our heads to make it all ok.

But Jesus says that without self-denial we can not be His disciples. If it is not our habit to deny ourselves and submit our emotions, our thoughts, our habits and our actions to Christ on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis we are not truly His...we are ours.

You cannot serve God and mammon and you cannot serve God and self.

When we fail to deny ourselves we are essentially saying that we can give ourselves something better than God can or has. We are saying we don't trust Him.

I don't know about you, but when the Lord first spoke that to my heart this morning I was overcome with how ugly that is. I choked on it and tears were instantly in my eyes. As well it should have. It is ugly ... and it is a lie. A lie that I didn't even know I believed, and would never have thought consciously, but fall for time and time again. Indulgence is a trap and a snare set by the evil one to keep us from doing that which makes us the Lord's and keeps the enemy at bay. When we resist, deny, and twart the trap, the enemy has to flee. That is the promise. But each time we indulge we keep that door wide open for him to come in again and again and again.

But we do something far worse than subjecting ourselves to repeated and successful attacks...we forsake His cross, the fellowship of His suffering, the sharing in offering one's self up for another, in knowing what it truly means to be His disciple.

O Lord, make us more willing to deny ourselves that we might truly follow you, know you and be wholly yours...for your glory and your name's sake...amen!

Friday, September 1, 2006

Where to go from there...

If it is true, and I believe that it is, that "All is as it should be" with our good and sovereign God...where do we go from there? It has been my experience that simply "knowing" this truth doesn't necessarily change my heart or mind. It certainly doesn't change my circumstances or keep new developments (or lack of developments) from shaking me in some way or provoking emotion. It does not keep my flesh from wanting what it wants and wanting to rage against what is. So, if simply knowing isn't the solution...isn't the way to rest, what is? Do we have a part to play?
It has been my experience that we usually always have a part to play.
When I say "All is as it should be" I do not mean that we are to simply sit and wait and watch God work. Sometimes that is the way it is. Sometimes He forbids us from touching or working on a thing He wants to do. But mostly, he gives us responsibilities. Mostly, we are called to do or actively not do something; we are called to change; we are called to take steps; or we are called to sacrifice in some way.
Life will always bring uncertainty, perplexity, change, difficult circumstances. But we have a promise of help that David speaks of in Psalm 73: "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory."—Psalm 73:24.
Knowing that "All is as it should be" is the first step, believing that God is our guide and will counsel us...and lead us to glory is the next step. The head knowledge becomes heart knowledge when it is applied and put into action. Heart knowledge leads to wisdom, which can then change the tambre and color and intensity of whatever uncertainty, perplexity, change, difficult circumstances we face.

Charles Spurgeon writes: The Psalmist felt his need of divine guidance. He had just been discovering the foolishness of his own heart, and lest he should be constantly led astray by it, he resolved that God's counsel should henceforth guide him. A sense of our own folly is a great step towards being wise, when it leads us to rely on the wisdom of the Lord. ... and so would we give ourselves up implicitly to divine guidance, nothing doubting; assured that though we cannot see, it is always safe to trust the All-seeing God. ... Be assured that thy God will be thy counsellor and friend; He shall guide thee; He will direct all thy ways. ... This is thy portion; live on it this day, and if perplexities should surround thee, go in the strength of this text straight to the throne.
Our hearts are indeed foolish and wayward and in need of divine guidance. As Spurgeon says, this a a giant step toward wisdom. Without this knowledge we might never know our need of God, and never know the reality of His leading and guiding and help. He also says this - the promise of guidance and help, God as our counsellor and friend - is our portion. We tend to think of material blessings as our portion. If we have what we need and then some, if we receive some cherished wish or stumble upon some wonderful act of providence we think "My cup truly does runneth over!" But these are incidentals to God. These are not our portion. Our portion is Him...fellowship and fathering and friendship with Him. Healings and treasures and all other blessings pale in comparison.
This is where we go from "there"... We go from seeing our circumstances for what they are to seeing that, in God's sovereign goodness all is as it should be to seeing that He is our ever present help and guide and counsellor to seeing that, if all else falls away and all we have is Him it would be our greatest good. He is our greatest good.