April 2009

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Romans 8: 26
There are times when prayer can become a shallow recitation of wishes, wants, and desires, or it turns into an exercise in empty yet eloquent speech. We have all heard prayer that was well crafted, written with carefully chosen words that have the just right ring of public speaking. Most of us have prayed to God out of some sense of duty or requirement and spoken relatively meaningless phrases that were structured in a manner that covered all of the bases; you know, address, praise, request, and closing.
I have certainly had times when I really didn’t know what to say to God, or how to begin to express what was going on in my heart; times when my head was a swirling and confused place filled with pain, anger, or desperation.
Yet, prayer is very simple, for God wants us to talk to Him; He desires to hear our voices even when our throats are choked off and we can’t get a word out. The Lord listens to the uttering of our hearts, and He understands the intention of our minds even when we can’t make sense out of any of it. As God’s Spirit has come to live within us, so has His understanding of our lives. The Spirit communicates with us in ways that are beyond our limited understanding.
As we travel through life with God, every moment of the day can be a time of prayer, we can talk through each situation with our Lord, and the strength and the encouragement of Christ can empower us to live courageously at all times. There are no formal words required, there are not even any audible ones needed, and we don’t have to know what to say; God understands, and He responds.

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3: 15


There is an interesting proposition made by Peter here; for, as we embrace Christ’s holiness at this deep and personal level, we are doing the same for ourselves; since, if Christ is in me, then His holiness is mine. That is why it becomes so very important to focus on the Lord’s attributes as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of our own transformed nature, and the same holds true for focusing more clearly on our own objectives for personal spiritual growth.


As I consider the ways that I still don’t function as I should, based upon what God has established as the model for living in His holiness, the steps that I need to take and the personal sacrifices that I need to make in order to move in that direction become more clearly defined. There is always an element of surrender, a yielding of my will to the Lord that is involved in this growth process, for this is a process that is begun by continually allowing Christ to be the center of my heart.


Then, as the presence of His holiness takes over more of my being, my own ability to live in a manner that is worthy of Christ’s love increases, and I gain an ever greater understanding of the marvelous hopefulness that He brings into my life. This is a hope that is too large and much too important to keep buried inside; it needs to be expressed, and it will gain expression through the way that I live as well as through the words that I speak. The final element that Peter speaks to here is one that I suspect was a serious challenge for him; he again tells us to consider how Jesus went about connecting and communicating with people, for true holiness is also gentle, respectful, and always loving.  


The Lord will not allow your foot to slip;

He who keeps you will not slumber.

Psalm 121: 3


Ice storm covered sidewalks or a steep mountain side that is made of crumbling rocks, even when the steps are slow, steady, and deliberate, a fall can come at any moment. With that fall comes disorientation, pain, and fear of serious injury. With the fall comes a loss of confidence and concern about going on with the journey. Most of us have experienced this sort of misadventure at some time; most of us have dealt with the need to get up off of our backs and to start to walk again, too.


However, my important concerns about traveling through life have nothing to do with an icy walkway or even a slippery road; they are related to choices and direction, actions and results. The areas where my feet tend to come out from under me with a disquieting suddenness are found mostly in my relationships and in the decisions that I make. There is an absolute certainty that when I fall down badly in these aspects of life, I have taken a path of my own choosing and have not allowed the Lord to influence and to direct my thinking and my actions. Off I go headed along with my coarse charted out of foolish pride or motivated by some selfish fear; then, suddenly, I am flat on my back in the middle of a painful situation trying to recover from the damage that I have done.


It would all be so much more simple, and life would be a lot less painful if I would simply accept the guidance that the Lord wants to give me. He never fails to provide what I need to make the right choices, and He does not need for me to even ask the right questions; God always knows what will be best for me, and He continually counsels me to make that decision. It is up to me to seek Him, and it is my decision to follow. Those are the choices that I can make now, and I need to decide to follow the Lord’s sure path through this day.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Psalm 115: 1


Where is my mind focused and what does my heart desire?


Am I consumed with how others will think about me and how many will praise me for my brilliant skill, knowledge, and accomplishment?


Let me direct my thoughts toward God and onto His desired way for me to live. I need to allow the Lord’s approach to life to take over mine; then, I will begin to live as an expression of love. The only true and lasting love to be found is in and from love’s source, and that is God; so, for me to even begin to understand faithful, unwavering, and lasting love, I need to stay closely connected the Lord. Then, as He continues to transform me and to mold me into His image, the ways that I act that are unloving and disconnected will start to change into His way of relating.


O Lord, let me seek to bring glory to you through the way that I live today; so, my prayer is that you would change the hard places in my heart into ones that lovingly embrace and that you would remove my self-directed thoughts and replace them with your face.


Jesus said,

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work.”


If you have ever experienced one of those days when the weather changes very rapidly so that a bright, sunny sky changes into something that is the color of mud and motor oil that is poorly mixed, deep browns swirling in a sea of thicker than cement black, then you know how incredibly quickly brightness can become disorienting darkness. At that time, you better know where you are and have a good idea of where you want to go, for there aren’t many visual clues left to navigate by.


Our world has been heading down this path toward darkness for a long time; evil has been working continually and with great diligence to remove the channel markers from our journey so that we can’t find our way home. Although God has promised us that His light will remain in the world in total for a time, He has only promised its permanence to people who choose to know Him personally by claiming Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Still people resist and they postpone entering into this relationship; they don’t want to make the sacrifices, life is still too new and they are exploring its possibilities, they have done too much that is wrong and God couldn’t want them, or the darkness is just a much more comfortable place to be for the way that they want to live at this time. There are as many reasons for rejecting the love offering of Jesus as there are people in this world; still, permanent darkness is coming for them all.


That is why God mandates that we do what Jesus is talking about; right now, during the dimming light of this day, before the storm’s oily blackness enshrouds this world, there is a lost soul in my life who needs to be loved and shown that the never failing light of God’s glory is Christ’s gift for that person. Sharing God, the Father’s, loving truth with our world is what Jesus was sent to do, and this is what He is sending us to do, also. We can bring to light the path to eternity through the lives that we live, the love that we give to others, and by the words of truth that we share. Jesus knew that permanent darkness can come in an instant; an individual’s sunny sky can change into the blackness of Hell in a heartbeat; so now is the time for those who know unending light to do the work that God sends us to do. 


My Lord, my God, only Faithful is He who calls you, He will surely do it.

1 Thessalonians 5: 24


The famous Nike slogan Just Do It is an expression that we have all heard and seen; it is an effective piece of ad copy, for it conveys a sense of capability and urgency that connects to an image of performance improvement that is aided by the products. For some of us the doing of it might be something that is easily accomplished, but for me, the readily doable part might end with tying the laces and zipping that perfect workout jacket so that at least I can look sporty while downing my latte. My challenge comes in the part where I am required to engage in the faithful work of exercising in order to actually put that perfect gear to use.


Its in the area of consistent and total application that my mind and my heart break down; I can have the very best of intent and the clearest of vision for how God wants me to live and what He desires for me to do; yet, when the moment of clarity is past, my actions can be very far removed from what the Lord said. This is a frustration for me, and I am certain that it creates confidence issues in the people who I have made commitments to. I am also left wondering how God can not be frustrated and saddened by my failure to trust Him to the degree needed for me to follow through on the simplest of things.


My personal challenge in all of this is that I keep trying to take it all on myself; I seek the perfect gear to enhance my performance, and I believe that I must do certain tasks in order to be prepared for acting upon the things that God seems to be calling me to do. What I am missing in all of this planning and preparation is that I continue to try to accomplish it all for myself. What God wants me to do is to accept that I already have all of the right clothing, complete knowledge and conditioning, and the perfect game plan for exercising the Lord’s will. 


God wants for me to give Him my willingness to trust in His loving purpose. The Just Do IT of my life should be expressed in my openness to follow the Lord in all aspects of it and in every situation that I encounter; the actual doing is wonderfully in God’s hands, and this is a blessing to me that brings peace to my heart.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.

Psalm 33: 11


There are thoughts, ideas, and concepts that last, and there are those that seem profound and true in the moment and then, even when they are carved into stone, fade from use. A really good test of the advice and the wisdom that we listen to is to look at the duration of its validity. Has the same idea been true throughout history? You see, God has been saying the same things to people from the very beginning of our relationship with Him; He has not changed his mind, and His heart is constant and continually loves us.


Another aspect of the way that God relates to me is that He is very active and involved, and He is truly personal in what He says. The Lord provides me with wisdom and insight for living that seems as if it were created solely for my situation and for my life. These thoughts unfold out of His word in ways that are pertinent to the moment and that seem as if they were written about today as viewed from my front door. Although it can seem a bit scary to consider how well God actually knows me, it is truly comforting to realize this and to know that He still loves and accepts me. His thoughts, plans, and counsel are intended to provide me with everything that I need to live my life fully and to live it well.


True wisdom is also a gift and a legacy; God gives it to people, and He wants us to share it with others and to pass it on to the next generation. A life that is lived by following God’s will and inside of the framework of His plan is one that stands out in ways that impact people’s hearts for eternity.


But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3: 21


Black and white form a stark contrast when they are placed next to each other, for they are strikingly different and obviously so. Patterns painted in these two colors are easy to identify and relatively easy to paint as the black will always cover over the white. Yet, outside of paint schemes and Harlequin makeup, most of the world where we live is no so easily discerned. Black bleeds into white and gray is formed, and some grays are light and wispy like soft clouds, and some are dark and ominous like a rain storm that is ready to let loose.


Jesus is telling us that it isn’t so much the color that we are painted that matters, the way that we choose to go is what counts. There is true light and dark in our world, but this can be challenging since we people ,by nature, are big on defining and determining right and wrong based upon our own needs, wants, and desires; thus, we often start to try to paint over our world with our cans of black and white paint. We spray the things that we want to be good and acceptable with our can of white, and we coat the things that we view as bad, wrong, or inconvenient with the black. Unfortunately, we often cover people with our spayed on values, and when we are in the midst of tagging our world, we aren’t following God’s way of grace toward reconciliation.


God gives us light in a darkened world; He provided us with its perfect living source in Jesus, and He continues to bring light to us through the presence of His Spirit. When we hear the safety briefing on an airplane, we are always told about the string of lights that are set into the center aisle to lead us to safety if something really bad happens; I can tell you with all sincerity that I have no desire to ever use those lights. In a world that is suffocating in confusion and deception, the Lord provides an illuminated pathway to safety that is much clearer and more certain than the plane’s ribbon of lights; He gives us the eternally bright truth of His word, the brilliance of His people, and the leading of His Spirit to direct our steps to safety and to strength.


Move toward and into the light and the glory of God will surround you; live in truth and the brilliance of the Lord will radiate from you.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4: 18


Jesus had come home to Nazareth, and He brought with Him these words of the long awaited truth which He shared with the residents who were gathered in the synagogue. As Jesus read these forward looking words that Isaiah had written, He was pointing specifically toward Himself, and He was purposefully looking at me and at you, at all of us who would follow. For in Jesus, the anticipated and longed for deliverer had come; through Jesus, The Christ, deliverance was granted to everyone who accepts it; and each of us is then directed to spread the truth of deliverance to all who need it.


The oppression of sin, its freedom crushing weight and its soul eroding bitterness, create equal opportunity poverty; it is a great equalizer of people in that we all experience it from birth and everyone is controlled by it regardless of status, stature, or nationality. Without God in my life, my spirit was impoverished to the point of destitution; so, there was nothing that I could afford to pay to God for the right of becoming His child, and it wasn’t necessary for me to come up with anything either, for Jesus has already paid the entire price of admission in order that I and everyone else can enter into the presence of God and can live in the bountiful riches of His kingdom.


Through God’s gracious gift, we are no longer poor, and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are set free; then, with the Spirit of God as our guide, we are given our ability to see living truth. The thing that matters most is what we choose to do with these gifts, for when Jesus quoted the Prophet to the stunned crowd in Nazareth, He was pointing to Himself, and He was looking forward to each of us. Then, Jesus was God in human form, and He was very involved and highly active in bringing the message of freedom to His world; now, Jesus points to each of us and says that we are to accept this same anointing from God. We are to use the riches, freedom, and vision that God has given to us as a platform for sharing the truth of life changing, soul restoring liberty with the people in our lives who are impoverished, bound in chains, and blinded.  


Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27: 14


This past weekend we watched a three day dog agility trial; it was fun and exciting, there was a lot of laughter and some tears, and like so much of what we do in life, there were some aspects of it all that seem to have a broader application than just the event and the moment. There is a dramatic moment in almost every individual run when the dog and handler team have entered the arena and are getting ready to start their event. The handler removes the collar and lead from the dog, commands the dog to stay, and walks up the coarse to get ready to direct and command the dog through the coarse. This is a moment of tension and of trust; sometimes the dog just can’t wait any longer and explodes into action; in some other situations, the handler gets anxious and inadvertently signals the dog to start; and most of the time, the well-practiced trust relationship between them works, and the dog waits for the handler’s signal to start the run. Patience, trust, understanding, appreciation, and forgiveness are needed and are exhibited continually throughout the events.


It is this waiting and trusting part of life that I find particularly challenging; I can get very anxious and get to that state of mind in a huge hurry. Then fear, concern, and anxiety start to prevail, and my thoughts and my energy start to get tangled and dissipated in nonproductive ways. When this happens, I start to run the coarse of my day at full speed as if the pace will make up for not knowing where I am going; I am soon off track and need to start looking around trying to find the next place that I am supposed to go; then, it all just falls apart. I have consumed time and energy, become truly frustrated, and in the end, there is no qualifying score and no ribbon. 


However, there is always God, and He is always there with a smile, a hug, and a treat, and He always tells me that He wants to go try it all again with me. The Lord knows the coarse, He knows me and what I need to successfully negotiate it, and He has the sort of patience with me that never gives up. God knows that I struggle with having the strength and the courage that are needed to wait for His leading; so, He keeps practicing with me, and He continuously works with me until I start to understand Him better and to trust Him more fully. For me, strength and courage are found in waiting, watching, and listening; and they are the result of trusting the Lord in everything. 

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