Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Surprise That Shouldn’t Have Been

Exodus 4: 29-31, 5:1,4,17, 21 (New International Version)
4:29 Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

5:1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.' "4 But the king of Egypt said, "Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!" 5 Then Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working."

17 Pharaoh said, "Lazy, that's what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.' 18 Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks."

21.. and they said, "May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us."

The assignment accepted, here they were, Moses and Aaron, standing before Pharaoh, engaging with the elders of Israel (so far, so good); when suddenly things began to unravel.

Hope had sprung up in the hearts of the Israelites like water on thirsty parched ground when they heard that God had seen their plight. But the fragile hope quickly turned to anger and a sense of betrayal, when things went from bad to worse.The outrageous request was made to Pharaoh to let his unpaid work force go on a three day journey into the desert to sacrifice to their Lord. Not surprisingly his response was, “Who is this Lord? Get back to work!” Furthermore, he decided that they must have way too much time on their hands to be thinking of such diversions and so he increased their workload.

Actually everything was going exactly as God had said it would (see Exodus 3:19), although Moses seemed to have forgotten the plot. It should have been obvious that a change as radical as the liberation of an entire nation was not going to happen easily.

How often I “forget the plot” too. It’s easy to listen selectively, focusing on the light, the good news, but not the shadows, the challenges to die to self, the predictions in God’s Word that we can expect tough times. I want to listen to, and understand, the whole counsel of God, so that I can build spiritual muscle and be prepared for times of adversity.

Prayer: Dear Lord, how easy it is to criticize Moses when actually his weaknesses are so often mine. I pray for better listening skills, when listening to fellow humans, and to you. I want to become a stalwart, brave, faithful and seasoned soldier who isn’t surprised to find myself in the midst of a battle.

John 16:33 (New International Version)33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."James 1:4 (New International Version)4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Going it Alone or Going With God

John 15:4-8 (New International Version)
4Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Yesterday I looked back at my journal entries of April 30th and May 1st. These were days I heard God speaking to me and were the turning point that led to me sharing my journal with friends via email. I knew at the time that to ignore his gentle but clear voice in the area in which he was correcting me, would have meant a loss of something precious, although I didn’t understand completely what it would be.

The scripture today, particularly verse 6, confirms the truth of what was at stake in that moment, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers;” In that moment of significance, I was standing at the crossroads of fruitfulness or barrenness. I heard and answered and now find my soul resonating with the words of Job’s friend Elihu:

Job 32:17-19 (New International Version)
17 I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
18 For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
19 inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

Dear Lord, there are no words for the gratitude and joy I feel at this moment. You pry open our tightly clenched fists, in which we grasp sticks of wood and pieces of hay and straw. You want to replace them with gold and silver and precious stones so that we might use them to build your Kingdom. How I worship you! Everything in me bows before you in awe and adoration.

“The chief credential for the Master’s service is not technology or mighty theology, but a broken and contrite spirit through which the Master’s Spirit can flow.” Philip Keller

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Talk to No One Before You Talk to Me

Exodus 34:14 (New International Version)
Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Sunday, April 30, 2006
This morning I resisted the temptation to plunge into writing and sending an email I had been mentally composing to a friend. It was the continuation of a dialogue about writing and other interesting topics, but I felt constrained from bursting into his morning, as I knew he was preparing for church, as I was, and I didn’t want to distract him. I also heard a still, small voice say, “Talk to no one before you talk to Me.” I don’t know if that voice was God, or my own thoughts – but I think I should listen for I have been so out of balance.

Prayer: Dear Lord, anything that I might have to say is worth so much less if I haven’t been in your Holy Presence. Please forgive me for what is idolatry – the putting of my relationship with others before my relationship with you. You are my Centre, my Source, my Breath, my Life. I want to be in you and you in me. I want the fragrance of your Presence to cling to me, and my lips to speak the language of your courts.

May 1, 2006
I turned on my laptop as I passed by my office on the way to the bathroom and felt the same caution, “Talk to no one before you talk to Me,” and so I left the room; how quick I was to forget my prayer of just yesterday.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for your rod and staff. God I want your best. I want those around me to have your best through me. Help me to learn a disciplined life.

Matthew 6:33 (New International Version)

33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

God Our Intimate Friend

Job 26:14 (New International Version)
14 And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?"

Deuteronomy 29:29 (New International Version)
29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

John 15:15 (New International Version)
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.

This morning God reminds me through these verses that he longs to share his secrets with us, to delight us with insights like a friend who pulls out of their pocket some hidden treasure. All we have to do is slow down long enough to listen; he is always there.

God’s word reveals a Creator who longs to enter into intimate relationship with his creation. He reveals himself as a passionate and jealous lover who will tolerate no rival for his affections; he is the tender father who joys over us with singing; but how I love knowing that he wants to be my friend, and that he is the revealer of secrets. There are depths of beauty and mystery to be plumbed in his word and there is no end to them.

Prayer: Lord, I laugh with joy and wonder at the thought that you would want to be my friend. How gratefully I receive this gift. I can never be as faithful a friend to you as you are to me, but my heart wants to be. Dear friend Jesus, how I love you.

John 14:15-17 (New International Version)
15"If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Joy of Being His Child

Matthew 11:28-30 (New International Version)
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Isaiah 30:15 (New International Version)15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”

These verses remind me of what it was like to be a child, free of the burden of adult responsibilities. I didn’t worry about the “big picture” of my life too much.

I remember hours spent with playmates inside sun dappled, hollowed out hedgerows, in our sleepy English village. We loved to climb the branches of the trees along the banks of the stream meandering through the fields. Sometimes we would explore the ancient church that stood, surrounded by stately elm trees, on the hill around which the village had grown over the past thousand years. In those days, churches weren’t locked and it was a place of sanctuary and exploration in my childhood. Inside the church, the clock in the bell tower ticked away comfortingly like a steady heartbeat, only breaking the sacred rhythm with a loud whirring as it geared up to strike each quarter hour. The centuries had infused the place with a fusty smell that was also strangely comforting, somewhat like the aroma of the “cubby hole” under the stairs at home with the wobbly thin metal door. My brother and I would pull it shudderingly closed behind us after we had squeezed ourselves into its dark recesses amongst the shoes and cleaning supplies. These memories transport me to a place of peace.

I want to reconnect with that time of play, peace and joy. I want to unload some of the “grownup-ness” of my life and just be my Father’s child. He invites me to a place of peace and quiet confidence and I accept his invitation with a glad heart. I can relax and trust that he has everything important in hand because he has proved himself to me. He has never, ever failed me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, You didn’t tell us to “grow up.” I thank you for urging us to be as little children. Although you call us to increasing maturity, you didn’t want us to be weighed down or overly serious. Today I want to practise just being your child and trusting every heavy care to you.

Luke 18:16-17 (New International Version) 16But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Whatever He Says

Psalm 32:8-10 (New International Version)
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

John 2:5 (New King James Version)
5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

A short while ago someone asked me to tell them the story of my journey with God. They wondered at the fact that although I didn’t grow up in a family that went to church, I heard and responded to the call of God from early childhood. My father lost whatever faith he had somewhere along the way but my mother told me about Jesus, passing on her simple faith. And the hymns I heard daily in our school assemblies contained enough theology for any receptive heart to grasp and grow by. Whenever I heard God speak, my heart leapt to respond.

After telling my story to this friend, one key theme lingered in my thoughts - saying “Yes” to God. If I could leave behind only one piece of wisdom it would be to echo the words of Jesus’ mother in John 2:5, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” In those seven simple words is the secret of a life of joy, adventure and intimate friendship with God.

Dear Lord, my heart leaps in response to you like the baby in Elizabeth’s womb when her pregnant cousin Mary visited her (Luke 1:41). I hunger for an ever more intimate walk with you. Make me more and more sensitive to your Holy Spirit’s promptings so that I miss no opportunity to say “Yes” to you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Matter of Perspective

Ephesians 4:29-32 (New International Version)
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Psalm 4:4 (New International Version)
4 In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah

Yesterday, I wrote about saying something that was true “from my perspective.” God was speaking to my heart about the need to guard against anger and judgment. Today I find myself thinking about the short phrase, “from my perspective,” and I realize that God isn’t finished with me yet on this topic.

Anger and judgment are the opposites of grace and mercy and have the effect of closing my ears to another’s perspective. I hate to admit it, but I can be so sure of the facts, when I only have part of the picture and am guessing at the rest.

It’s the right thing to engage with someone with the intent of resolving a conflict. I want to learn to do it in the right way, with an open mind, ears and heart and free from anger. This is so much easier to know than do.

Prayer: Dear God, do you never tire of wrestling the various parts of me into submission? Today it’s my ears; please give me open ears to truly hear another’s point of view before expressing my own. I recognize this area as a weakness, especially when the speaker is pointing out something I could have done better. I admit that I tend not to want to do the hard work of listening – to make the effort of shifting my thinking to the possibility that I could be wrong. No doubt you are going to give me an opportunity to practice this very soon; when you do, please help me to reflect your acute ability to listen well.

James 1:19 (New International Version)
19My dear brothers, take note of this:

Monday, June 19, 2006

Right Thing – Wrong Way

Colossians 4:5-6 (New International Version)

5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

1 Thessalonians 5:22 (New International Version)
22 Avoid every kind of evil.

Instantly as I read these words, God brought to mind a very recent conversation, then another, and another, where what I said was truth, at least from my perspective, but not filtered through the soft sand of kindness. Instead the truth was propelled by the energy of underlying anger or judgment.

I am afraid that these “additions” to the truth may have actually taken away from it, leaving the listeners more focused on Truth’s unwelcome traveling companions than the message itself.
Truth, this morning’s scripture reminds me, is best accompanied by grace and sprinkled with salt, a symbol of incorruptibility and purity.

The scripture from Thessalonians, “Avoid every kind of evil,” is a reminder to me to be careful not to do the right thing in the wrong way. The right thing can so easily be weakened when done clumsily or with harshness.

Prayer: Oh patient Teacher, God, again I feel your loving rod of correction and am grateful. Your word speaks yet again into my life. I open my whole being to you, longing to be conformed to Christ’s image. Guard my lips and my heart from anger and judgment. Help me to wait for them to pass before I speak or act.

Friday, June 02, 2006

His Signet Ring

Haggai 2:23 (New International Version)
“…and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the Lord Almighty.”

These words – spoken to Zerubbabel, through the prophet Haggai, speak to me. The commentary in my Life Application Bible, says this:

“A signet ring was used to guarantee the authenticity of a letter. It served as a signature when pressed soft wax on a written document.”

“My prayer is that I too, will be like his signet ring; that what flows from me in written and spoken word will bear his unmistakable mark, his signature pressed on the soft wax of my heart.”

I wrote these words in my journal a few months ago, and I continue to meditate on their meaning. Does my life bear the mark, the authenticity that speaks of Jesus? Only those closest to me are qualified to answer that question, and I am afraid that they would often, if truthful, answer that it has far to go. I’m not discouraged by that fact, only encouraged to press in more, to “get over” my pre-occupation with my own small hurts and wounds – yes I am a baby when it comes to that.

Today I read in Amy Carmichael’s devotion, “Edges of His Ways”, these words: “There are two prayers, one of which we are constantly praying, sometimes in words, sometimes in thoughts, always in actions. One is, “Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth Thee”; the other is, “Lord, let me do the thing that pleaseth me.” If we are honest with our God He will show us which of these two prayers we habitually use. Some use the first in the morning and the second all through the day; for such the second is the habit of the soul.”

What a challenge Amy’s words were to me as I read them this morning. Which is the habit of my soul? I know which one I want to be the habit of my soul!

Prayer: Dear Lord, in the places that are hard for me to yield to you, which for me seem to be the small things, the petty hurts and silly offences, please let me be like you. Please let me be “authentically yours”, please let me be like your “signet ring”. I realize that you may give me chances to practice your grace and selflessness; please help me to recognize those times when they come, as opportunities and not as annoyances.