Sunday, December 21, 2014

To See the Glory of God

Didn't I tell you that if you keep trusting, you will see the glory of God?

I think my favorite section of Scripture, my #1 (from a long list of favorites), is John 11.  This morning, I added John 12 to it.  I never realized they were concurrent - Mary's anointing of Jesus' feet with her dowry (a jar of very expensive perfume); then wiping it off with her hair following Lazarus' raising from the dead.

That makes sense, of course.  You would throw a party, too, if your brother was raised from the dead.  At the very least, host a dinner party.  But I never saw it before.  Just goes to show you how fresh and exciting Scripture is.  Keep reading it!  

What got me started in John 11 was the verse I quoted above (v. 40), which is one of the Scriptures from today's Jesus Calling.  I've read that chapter a hundred times, but this verse jumped out at me because of a particular issue I've been praying over for my church.

I've been praying against unbelief.  I've been asking the Lord to remove any unbelief from the room, so we could see His glory, His work, His miraculous power clearly.  That we, as a congregation, wouldn't be party to any blocking of the Holy Spirit.  Because that is what unbelief does - it blocks us from seeing God at work.

Lack of belief not only blocks our vision of God's Handiwork, Scripture makes it clear that when unbelief is too thick, it can also keep God from doing His work.  Matthew 13:58 makes that clear.  Jesus could/would only do so much in His hometown because they couldn't/wouldn't believe His miracles meant He was Messiah.  Unbelief doesn't remove God's power - far from it.  I can say, though, it removes His willingness to display His power.  Unbelief displeases Him.  It saddens Him.  I would even go so far as to say it makes Him steaming mad.

Matthew Henry said this: "Unbelief is the great hinderance to Christ's favours."  And Pulpit Commentary echoes that thought: "Our Lord was hindered, not by lack of power, but by lack of those moral conditions which would alone have made his miracles really tend to the spiritual advantage of the inhabitants of Nazareth."

Here, in John 11, Jesus reminds Martha of the power of trust in Him.  This chapter is so rich and I especially love the radically different interactions with both sisters.  Both ladies are mourning the loss of their beloved brother (who, in verse 5, Scripture says Jesus also loved).  Yet, knowing the conditions of their hearts, He engages with them differently.  He gives Martha a chance to display her great faith in Him (redeeming her earlier upbraiding in Luke 10).  Then, when He sees Mary, we see Him break down.  He met them both where they were and it is so touching.  He is, in this chapter, fully man and fully God.

Jesus, the Lord, is not unmoved by darkness and death.  He is right in the thick of it.  Yet, He calls us to look beyond those present circumstances - really beyond the present, to eternity.  Through interactions with both sisters, He makes the same point: Believe in Me and you will Receive from Me.

How many times in our lives, in our church families, do we pull back from full belief in God and His power?

I know I have been there.  I have prayed BIG prayers, only to have them seemingly go unanswered.  I understand now, those prayers were on hold until I could receive the answer.  It isn't that I doubted His power, my heart just wasn't ready.  The answer was blocked from view because my heart still held onto a natural view, versus stepping into a supernatural view.

Some of us flat out don't believe miracles are possible anymore.  We can't even go there - it is too painful, too out of reach.  It is certainly too ridiculous, miracles are beyond the pale.  Those kinds of things happened in Jesus' time, in the Book of Acts, but not now....right?*

It is so hard when we don't see the evidence of our prayers.  They don't always come how we can or want to see them.  The details of the answers to our prayers are not our part.  Our part is to know, to believe and then to receive.
Martha knew Jesus was the Messiah.  Still, she balked at the idea of opening the tomb.  I get that. But then, she consented to receive when she consented to removing the stone.  She removed the barrier of seeing the Lord's wonders even when I am sure she didn't fully understand how He was going to work. But I feel sure her heart lept in anticipation when the men started to roll away the stone.  Her heart; then the tomb were opened. 

When you dare to believe, your heart opens wide in anticipation.  You may know.  You may believe.  So, the question is: Do you want to receive?

It is a small shift, with enormous consequences.  Martha put all her eggs, whatever remained following the death of her brother, in Christ's basket.  She gave Him all she had and He delivered, above and beyond what she could imagine.  She believed Jesus could have healed Lazarus from his sickness, while he was still alive.  And it isn't that raising the dead was beyond the realm of possibility.  Still, that stretches the limits of our senses, our knowledge.  Dead people don't come back, better than before.  Do they?

Clearly they did then, and they still do.  I was a dead-woman-walking for 15 years and yet, Jesus called me out of the tomb of myself and I came.  Raising a physically dead person is just as great a miracle as raising a spiritually dead person. 

Our current church season of Advent is meant to make room in our hearts to receive.

Christmas and Advent are preludes to Easter, just as the raising of Lazarus is a prelude to Jesus' Resurrection.  We are meant, especially in this time, to want more - more of God; to see His works, His Goodness in the land of the living.  It is right to want and expect this.  The Lord is the Great (and perfect) Gift Giver.  We should expect He wants to give us more.  It is our part to make room in our hearts for Him to pour more in. 

I will continue to ask the Lord to clear my church, the very air of the room - of unbelief.  I want Him to remove any barriers, misconceptions, preconceptions and biases.  I want to see the Glory of God - on a regular basis.  I don't just want the spiritual candy of miracles and wonders, although those results of faith are awesome.  

More than that, I want the people in my community, as the great evangelist and miracle-worker Smith Wigglesworth once counseled a woman, to see Jesus and takes Jesus.

It really isn't any more complicated than that.  When the Lord wants to give, we are to believe and we will receive.  And He always wants to give.  Therefore, we are to always want to receive: Him, His promises, His blessings and His works.

I hope you would pray for belief in your own church family.  I hope you would pray that now, in the season of the Great Miracle of God coming to earth.  I hope you would pray that for yourself.  Let's look to see more of God and we will then see more of His workings in the world.  Keep your eyes open.  He is coming!

*Eric Metaxas' new book is called Miracles.  It is an excellent dissertation on what miracles are, why they happen and he gives some great examples from his own circle of friends.  I highly recommend it, for those who believe in miracles already - and for those who don't.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Questions vs. Questioning - An Christmas Meditation

It's funny how things in my life often line up with things happening in the Church Season.  Usually, that means "Ordinary Time," (the majority of the Church Year).  I would say that best reflects our to-and-fro life - Ordinary. Not in a bad way, just regular ol' life.

But every once and awhile, dots connect and stars align.

My sweet Sophia is in a tough year.  It's called Year 8.  On top of that, she is in 3rd Grade.  I've gone through this once, so I knew it was coming, but it is still tough.  You aren't a little kid anymore but you aren't completely a big kid yet either.  Still, you are required to think like a big kid, which your brain and body are not always ready for.  On top of that, Sophia is a July birthday, so she is one of the youngest in her class.  It can be frustrating for her to figure out what is really expected of her.

That translate into a lot of training and discipline in our house right now.  Discipline specifically for things like back talk, little white lies and "omission" type offenses where you were just not motivated enough to get done what Momma asked you to do (in the time she asked you to do it).  There is always the middle sister factor, too, with a big sister on one side, who is generally Johnny-on-the-spot; and the little sister on the other, who gets away with a lot more than you do.  It's rough.

In the midst of this, the Lord is working on growing one fruit of the Spirit in particular in me: gentleness.  This is not my natural state of being when my kids disobey or are disrespectful.  I'm much more likely to bring down the hammer than be merciful and forgiving. 

Which is no doubt why the Lord is testing and proving me on this particular virtue, especially with Sophia.  We have so much history of me having to push, cajole and flat out make her do stuff - from my days as her caregiver.  The Lord redeemed that, but the reality is still working itself out in my parenting style.

Plus, out of all 3 daughters, Sophia is most like me.  There is a lot of iron sharpening iron going on right now and the sparks tend to fly..

Most of my grievances come in the form of her questioning my authority.  She asks a lot of questions, to be sure, but it's gone to a new level.  Lately, when she asks me a question, her whole attitude towards me (which I can read on her face) is: "Mother, you have no idea what you are talking about!"

On Sunday, I was inspired to ask her if she knew the difference between asking for information and questioning me.

She didn't, so I explained like this: It comes down to heart.  Question asking is ok, because you are looking for clarity and understanding.  Questioning means you doubt the authority/credibility/integrity of the person you are interacting with.  One is purely for information (question asking).  The other is an effort to stand your ground because you feel you are right and the other person is wrong (questioning).

It just so happened, on Monday at Ms. Janice's house for prayer, we read the Christmas story, including Luke's account.  It was then I saw the Biblical illustration of this principle of doubt of intention (questioning) vs. confirmation of action (questions).

It plays out with 2 people: Zechariah and Mary. 

In summary: in Luke 1:5-25, Zechariah loses his voice because he questioned the plan of God, told to him by the angel Gabriel.  Even though he and his wife were old enough to be grandparents, they
would have a son who would declare the Messiah's arrival.  That son ended up being John the Baptist, the last prophet to the Jews.  However, even in the middle of the Temple, on the Jewish high-holiest day of the year, Zechariah didn't believe what this messenger from on high was saying.  He doubted, he balked.  Zechariah flat out did not believe God!

In contrast, from Luke 1:26-38, there is Mary, the mother of Jesus, also being visited by Gabriel.  He brings her some outrageous news too.  He says, "You, my dear, you teenage virgin, are going to get pregnant and that child is going to be the Son of God."  Mary had questions, good ones, in fact.  But she didn't lose her voice because Gabriel was able to see the intention behind those questions.  Unlike Zechariah, who asked with doubt, fear and rebellion in his heart; Mary asked from a heart just wanted to know how all this was going to work, so she could respond appropriately.

This is not the revelation for me, although this has been communicated to the people of God down through the ages: Zechariah doubted, Mary didn't.

What hit me was: despite the initial questions, even in doubt and disbelief, Zechariah came around.  He and Mary, both, ended up acting in faith.  They obeyed the Lord becoming major contributors in the plans and purposes of the Almighty Savior, come to earth. 

It's true, Jesus would come regardless of their participation.  God could have found other vessels, but He saw past Zechariah's doubt.  God stayed with him, even as He disciplined him for his unbelief.  Mary was blessed because she believed outright.  Zechariah, even in his reluctance obedience, ended up being blessed too.

Our God is that faithful.  He is that merciful.  

Even when eternity is on the line, He doesn't forsake us.  His Promises were fulfilled and the people He asked to be involved were willing - even if the process of getting them there was different.

That gives me a lot of hope for Sophia and myself.  It renews my faith in our Great God, who is more than capable of handling our doubts, our rejection, our disbelief - and yes, even our disobedience...and still doing wonderful things in and through our lives.

Because of this awareness now, I can be more gentle with Sophia in her questioning and patient with her questions.  I don't have to be fed up with it.  I can (and will) remember this stage isn't the last one, or the last time, we will face doubt, disbelief and disobedience with our kids.

This, too, shall pass.
Because the church season of Advent is when we remember God's first incarnation and look ahead in anticipation of His Second Coming, I am reassured.  Zechariah and Mary remind me of a singular truth.  It proves without a doubt, the God of Heaven is involved here on Earth.  Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow....even when we have to be convinced to receive faith, eventually, we will.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The How: The Simple Disciplines of Gratitude & Praise (Growing in Faith Series)

A couple of weeks ago, I started a series and this continues the thread.  This is the How of the Who, What, When, Where, Why of faith.  I like that is happens to fall in Thanksgiving Week.  It fits.  (In the first post, I covered the What, you can read that here.)

I'm a personal believer in the power of gratitude, especially as commanded in Scripture.*  But as I grow in faith, I've discovered something remarkable.  Gratitude is the root of the fruit of the Spirit we think of as Joy.  Have you ever met a sour-faced joyful person?  No way!  Grateful people are smiling.  They freely sing, dance, give, serve, study and all those other things we should do as Christians.  Freely being the keyword here.

In fact, the people you know who have the deepest well of joy have learned, through literal trial and much error, to be thankful in all situations.  Giving thanks and praising God has set them free from the weight of sin, from death.  They know these two simple practices have immense power, and are perhaps our greatest weaponry on the spiritual battlefield.**

It might seem a bit shallow to say gratitude and praise are the biggest guns in our arsenal.  We've been taught to go deep in study, prayer, service, giving.  We feel we must start an orphanage across the globe.  These are all very good things, and I wish we all did more of them.  But there is a fundamental problem - we often don't have the purest intentions when we do them.  They tend to be about us and what we do for God, rather than freely (again that word) giving without expectation of anything in return.

That issue hits home in a a book I'm writing called The Jesus Rule, based on Christ's answer to the question: what is the greatest commandment?  He answers pretty simply, quoting Deuteronomy 6 and tacking on Leviticus 19, to create the be-all-end-all commandment to please the Lord.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

Christ says that 3 times in 3 Gospels: Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:28-31 and Luke 10:25-28.  You know if God repeats something three times, we better listen.  Those red-letter words support my point: Jesus was never about what we do for God.  He was about experiencing God by letting He Who is love transform you and those around you.  I submit to you now: the shortest distance between God's love and experiencing it is gratitude and praise.

That's why I call them disciplines because they should be practiced daily, if not hourly.  That looks like saying "Thank You, Lord;" like saying grace before a meal, but not only then.  We should be saying grace over everything.  We should be declaring (out loud) Who God is and What He has done/is doing/will do.  Stormie Omartian, in The Prayer That Changes Everything, writes these wros on the very first page of the introduction,

If prayer is communicating with God, then the purest form of prayer is worship and praise.  That's because it focuses our minds and hearts entirely away from ourselves and onto Him.

If praise is our vertical beam of the Cross, then gratitude is our horizontal.  Gratitude is how we demonstrate His power and work in our lives.  They are two halves of the whole.  In them, we meet the Lord, coming to a greater, fuller understanding of Who He is.  Our love for Him will grow wildly as a result.

Trust me when I tell you this because I've been practicing it for awhile: When you truly praise God; when you are truly thankful for Him - you will find what you've been missing in your faith walk.  If you are struggling to get closer to God, to feel His Presence more, these two active truths are the keys to opening the door of your heart to Him.  Maybe you are struggling with sin, with a diagnosis, with money problems, with your kids (whatever) is time to bust out your big guns of thanksgiving and worship.

Jesus told the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4, there will come a day when the place we worship doesn't matter, but instead the position of our hearts.  We will worship in spirit AND in truth.

For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship—is our worship spiritual and real? Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help? For God is Spirit, and we must have his help to worship as we should. The Father wants this kind of worship from us. (v. 22-23, TLB)

The fastest way to have the kind of relationship the Father wants is to praise and thank His Son through His Spirit.  
Quote from Watchman Nee
This are very simple practices, truly.  No theology degrees required.  Yet, when we practice them, they will become our greatest witness to the world of the love and power of Christ: to save, heal, deliver, provide and set free.  They usher in the Kingdom of God right in our own hearts, right here at our desks or where we are on our phones.  Gratitude and Praise bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth: in your house, car, workplace, school, neighborhood, gym and especially in your church.

We have such a tendency to be what the Bible calls "double-minded."  We think about God on one half of our brain, but the other half is all about ourselves: what we are feeling; what we think is right; what others are doing/have done to us; what we will eat next; what we will wear next, etc.  The Lord wants us to be singularly focused on Him, which is why The Jesus Rule makes sense.  Jesus always started with God, so we must start there. 

A.W. Tozer called Psalm 103 "God's Pitch Pipe."***  If you know anything about music, a pitch pipe is used to get a choir in tune.  Psalm 103 is a great place to start, but you can just keep going through Psalm 109 (or just go through most of the Psalms, if not all).  Worship and Thanksgiving will not only build your faith, in them you will get eyes and ears to experience the Lord in real-time. There is no better easier week in America, no more acceptable time in our calendar year, to be grateful for the vast blessings we have.  

Take Thanksgiving Week one more step further.  Call it Thanks & Praise Week.  Be grateful and praise God for it.  Let Him get your spirit in tune with His.  Let this holiday season be different because it is marked by what really pleases the Lord: Not good works, not giving, not getting along with your relatives, but gratitude and praise of His name.

*For your study, here are some references to commands from Scripture to be grateful: Psalm 50:14; Psalm 100:4; Psalm 107:22; Psalm 116:17; Isaiah 51:3; Mark 8:6; Luke 22:17; Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 4:4,6,8-9; Revelation 7:12

**So you know, the enemy can't get to you when you are thankful and full of praise.  It expels him from the area because you are submitting to the Lord.  He has to flee.  So, if you are experience some spiritual warfare, break out your shofar (that's a reference to a horn the Hebrews often used going into battle and it's purpose is to praise God).  You've got one, right there in your throat.  Shout your praise to God - thank Him with all your might.  Then you will see the very atmosphere of the room change.  I know this for a fact too.

***Thank you to my precious, dearest friend and mentor, Janice Heffer Wright, for telling me A.W. Tozer's comment during a sermon she heard him preach (in person!) so long ago.  I have never forgotten it!