Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Unholiness of the Human Heart and the Severity of God’s Love

“Spiritual leaders who teach that I am here to solve your problems and make your lives comfortable and prosperous underestimate the energy (and badly misunderstand the nature) of unholiness in the human heart that I must severely deal with to get you to my party.
“And that underestimation leads them to underestimate the severity of My love. My servant C.S. Lewis got it right: I’m not safe, but I am good.

“I will not coddle you any more than a good surgeon only hugs a cancer-stricken child. I will not coddle you, but I will purify you. And that takes more, not less, than a hug.” –Larry Crabb in God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional

We don’t like to think about unholiness. In fact, every time I type it, I get an angry red line under it, telling me it’s not a word. It may not be in the dictionary, but it is very real. No matter how much we want to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, it affects every area of our lives… most importantly, our relationship with God.

But if we continue in our denial of our unholiness, we miss out on the “severity” (I love the way Larry Crabb puts it) of God’s love.

If you feel that God is not answering your prayers (as I have felt), it’s because you (and I) don’t get the big picture. We can’t see past what we feel we need and want now, today, on earth, in this life. We don’t realize that what we need most of all is a relationship with God, which we can’t have as long as we have unholiness in our hearts. God knows that, and he has gone to great lengths to deal with it.

He has gone as far as leaving heaven! That in itself is a great sacrifice! But He didn’t stop there. Not only did he leave his royal throne, he entered our world, not as a mighty warrior, a knight in shining armor to save his bride, but as a tiny, helpless, homeless, poverty-stricken, illegitimate baby! What?! What kind of plan is that, God? I would have done it so differently!

Not only did he enter the world as a destitute child, he then allowed us to beat him bloody, torture him, and execute him as the worst of common criminals. Yes, He went to great lengths on his part to deal with our unholiness so that we could be in relationship with him.

And He will stop at nothing on our parts as well. So, instead of seeking God as the “Giant Santa in the Sky,” allow Him to work on your unholiness in the midst of your trying circumstances. Seek Him in the midst of your darkest moments. Don’t just look for what He seems to be withholding from you, look for Him. Be willing to let him withhold that answer to prayer and desire Him more than what He can give you.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Enjoying Our Arrangement

“It takes a long time to understand that I am not here for you, but that you are here for Me. It takes even longer to enjoy that arrangement. Come to Me in My letters with all your frustrations, hopes and questions, but DO NOT COME EXPECTING that I will advise you on how best to accomplish YOUR agendas. I have a far better plan.” –Larry Crabb in “66 LoveLetters”

Oh Lord, in my self-centered, American way of thinking, this is hard to grasp. It does take a long time and a lot of pain to understand that You are not here for me, but that I am here for You. And You’re right, it takes even longer to enjoy that arrangement. Here’s why…

“The stories I tell convey my message to desperate people, to people miserable enough to realize that their approach to life is horribly and subtly flawed, who want to overcome their biggest flaw more than they want their lives to go well.” –Larry Crabb in “66 Love Letters”

Until we are miserable… until we are desperate for God… until we desire Him more than any comfort or answer to prayer, we will never grasp the correct worldview. As long as we think it's all about us, we will never get it. It’s not all about us, it is all about Him.

We are here for Him and not vice versa. He is not the great Santa in the Sky, ready to pour out gifts and blessings to all the good boys and girls. It just doesn’t work that way. God has a plan and He is working it out. We can participate in that plan or we can beat our heads against a wall, shaking our fists at God when things don’t go our way. But for some of us, it takes a lot of beating our heads and shaking our fists before we finally get it. Then once we get it, we are still often not happy about it. That's about where I am.

Lord, help me go beyond accepting the fact that I am here for You and not vice versa. Help me to actually enjoy this arrangement. Help me to fall so hopelessly in love with You that knowing You, spending time with You, and seeing Your plan come to fruition mean more to me than getting my way. Help me to do more than just survive this arrangement, to go further than existing in it. Do a work in my heart... no, create in me a NEW heart... one that loves You above all else. Amen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Sacrifice of Praise

I love corporate worship. Often, I go in, not feeling like praising God at all. I'm so often tired, irritable, distracted and frustrated. But it doesn't take long before all that begins to melt away. Then my head goes down and my hands drift up. I see others around me, who I know are going through painful trials, and it seems the same thing happens to them.

Sometimes it takes more effort than others. But if I take that first step and begin to offer a true sacrifice of praise, God meets me there. But even if I "feel" nothing, I will praise Him, and eventually I will sense His presence because He inhabits the praises of His people.

There's just something about a bunch of broken, dysfunctional, grieving, hurting people joining together and saying, "No matter what life has dealt me, I will praise The Lord." And "I am so far from perfect, yet God still wants my praise, so here's the best I've got, Lord."

When it comes to corporate praise, whether we know it or not, we are all in the same boat. So unworthy, so inadequate, so broken and needy. Yet He desires our praise. How can we not give it!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Sorrow and Suffering

“Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go.”

Wow, really, Lord? Are Sorrow and Suffering that important for us to find the path You’ve laid out for us? Isn’t there another way? Aren’t Sorrow and Suffering for those who have no hope of a Savior? How could you, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, ask us to walk with Sorrow and Suffering. You’re the one who can keep them away from us! And yet You ask us to go with them… to confidently put our hands in theirs. This is so contrary to what I grew up believing.

I used to believe that following Christ would spare me from Sorrow and Suffering. I believed that following Christ would cause all the blessings and prosperity of God to fall into place for me. I thought that God would never allow Sorrow and Suffering in my life… in the life of His beloved child… at least if I followed all His Rules.

It didn’t take long before I realized there was no way I could follow all the rules. I failed miserably again and again. I thought there was no way I could possibly get to heaven. Finally I had that face-palm moment when God said, “Of course you can’t follow all the rules, that’s the whole point! Why do you think I sent my Son to die?!” Oh, so following the rules won’t get me into heaven, but it will get me what I want on earth, right?

Raise my kids in the Word and in Church, pray for them daily, even join a Moms in Touch Group, teach Sunday School and Wednesday night Bible Club and they will grow up to become sold-out, God-fearing adults, right? And I will become an old, doting grandmother to my grandchildren, right? a + b = c, right?

Not necessarily.

God wants so much more for us than to “live happily every after” on earth. This is not our home. We will “live happily every after” but that doesn’t come until later. For now, we must walk with Sorrow and Suffering.

Sorrow and Suffering are not to be avoided at all cost… in fact, they cannot be. We all have our share of them. So don’t ignore them, don’t flee from them, don’t try to fix them or wish them away. Don't even try to pray them away. Confidently place your hands in their hands and allow them to lead you exactly where the Shepherd wants you to go.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Missing My Unswerving Hope

I have not had much to say here recently because, again, I have not been listening much. I have been running… busy… vacation… dance class… homework… laundry… the list goes on.

I miss listening, and my heart yearns for it.

So today I pulled out my kindle and began reading through My Clippings. One of the first ones to really catch my attention and express my heart of late is from “Hinds’ Feet on High Places.”

My heart has been hurting because of a loved one who I’ve not heard from in a long time. I miss him, I struggle to trust and not to worry. Most of the time I trust, but some days the weight gets heavy.  Because as the Much Afraid says in “Hinds’ Feet on High Places”, “I am afraid… I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”

The Shepherd confirms Much-Afraid’s fear, “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”

Oh yes, Lord, I, too, am very Much-Afraid of pain. That’s why I continually find my heart barricaded behind a wall so thick, nothing much can penetrate it. The problem is, when you build a fortress around your heart to keep out the bad, you also keep out the good. Hence, my lack of listening… my lack of journaling… my lack of peace.

When will I learn, Lord? When I get to heaven I suppose. But until then, I’ll keep working on myself… on my schedule… on my priorities.

Getting Out My Bubble

About two years ago, I came across a book by Matthew Barnette called “The Cause Within You.” When we lived in AZ years ago, I had heard about a project he was working on in LA, so it caught my attention. I got the book and began to read it on an airplane as I traveled back to AZ to take care of some difficult family business.

In his book, Barnette tells the story of his dream to build a mega church in LA similar to his Dad’s church in Phoenix. He was just 20 years old. But God had a different plan. As his dream crashed down around him, God gave Barnette a new vision--a vision to make a difference in the run down, crime ridden inner city neighborhoods of LA. Barnette’s ministry, and the Dream Center was born. Barnette purchased a huge abandoned hospital and began to renovate it. Now, 18 years later, the renovations are almost complete, and the ministry is thriving.

The Dream Center is a volunteer driven organization that finds and fills the needs of over 50,000 individuals and families each month. (That’s the population of the whole county where I live!) They do this through mobile hunger relief and medical programs, residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs for teens and adults, a shelter for victims of human trafficking, transitional housing for homeless families, foster care intervention programs, job skills training, life skills counseling, basic education, Bible studies and more. They work to meet people where they are, to bring them hope and a way off the streets.

They’re also equipping others to serve. The Dream offers short-term mission trips to folks who want to see their operation up close. As they volunteer at the Dream Center, they gain insight and skills that they can take back to their own communities.

During my trip to AZ, I continued to read the book every evening after long hard days of appointments, waiting in lines, watching hopeless people going through the motions of basic survival, and I realized I live in a bubble… a very comfortable, bubble. I’ve never been hungry a day in my life. I’ve never had to wonder how I would keep a roof over my children’s heads.  I’ve never had to worry about keeping my children safe at night. I’ve never even had to ask for help for my family’s daily survival.

Yet I have a family member who seems to have chosen a lifestyle very different from mine, and this causes me daily heartache. When I read this quote in the book, I knew I needed to do something with that pain:

Your pain can become the greatest motivation to embrace your cause. Does your pain crush you, or do you let it mold you and motivate you for positive results? Do you let your suffering overwhelm you and undermine your life, or do you use it as a means for growth?  

I don’t know about you but I truly want to use my pain as a means for growth! And in the days and weeks following that trip to AZ, I finished the book, and felt God tugging at my heart to go to the Dream Center… To take a team of women who live in bubbles too to the Dream Center. But, I am not a big risk taker. I kinda like my bubble. So I sat on that calling. I sat on it for 6 months. I knew I should take it to our mission coordinator, but I knew as soon as I did, I’d have to go—I’d have to get out of my bubble.

Finally, one day, I found myself standing in front of our missions coordinator, and the words came tumbling out of my mouth before I could stop them. And guess what… I’m going to the Dream Center. In fact, I’ve already been there. I visited there last FebruaryI’ve seen a glimpse of what goes on there and it is an amazing operation.

Our church is organizing a mission trip in early April, and I will be on that trip. I’m going to get out of my bubble and serve in the Food Truck mobile food distribution, Adopt-A-Block outreach, Under the Bridge feeding program, Foster Care Intervention, and so much more. In fact, they will try to bring us in to almost every ministry The Dream Center offers – all in just a week’s time. The Dream Center’s Short Term Mission page says, You Will Work Hard, Pray Loud and Come Home a Different Person. Am I scared? I am so scared. Will my heart be able to handle it? Will my body be able to keep up. My heart palpitates just thinking about it. But there’s a nagging calling from God that just won't go away. I can't not go. And by the grace of God, I will go.