His Call. His Time.

In my trek to read through the Bible again, I have (after over a year) reached the book of Jeremiah this morning. I love Jeremiah chapter 1: God’s call on a man’s life. The verses simply ebb and flow with the substantive strength and undergirding of the Lord God. Truly, Jeremiah must have felt encouraged and emboldened as God spoke His part into Jeremiah’s life.

“…I formed you…”

“…I knew you…”

“…I consecrated you…”

“…I appointed you…”

“…I send you…”

“…I command you…”

“…I am with you to deliver you…”

“…I have put my words in your mouth…”

“…I have set you this day over nations…”

“…I make you this day…”

“…I am with you…”

Wow!

According to His words of commission, God has placed Himself as the driving force over Jeremiah’s call. Granted, God intends for Jeremiah to speak out when commanded, but He does not expect–nor does He even attempt to imply–that Jeremiah should feel compelled to speak or act on anything outside of those commands.

God created him for a purpose. God called him to that purpose. God desires for him to fulfill that purpose. That is enough for God.

And Jeremiah’s purpose? God gets to use him as a megaphone to speak judgment over the evil actions of His people. (Hint: Jeremiah’s life will get very, very uncomfortable.)

But here’s the pivotal verse that stuck out to me regarding this call: “And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land” (verse 18).

Hmmm…I can’t help but wonder how many times Jeremiah had to speak back to himself and encourage himself yet again in his call. “I am ‘a fortified city…an iron pillar…bronze walls…’ God made me thus.” I wonder how many times he didn’t feel like any of those things. (Say, when he was in stocks, or in the dungeon, or in the cistern.) How many times did Jeremiah have to remind himself of whom God made him…regardless of circumstances.

Sometimes the call of God places us in situations that don’t seem to match up with the vision. Those positions require a deeper determination to hold on to His words–to choose to allow His words, and not what we see or feel, to direct our course and steady our thoughts.

This aspect feels quite personal to me this morning. Having arrived in our new home near Little Rock, fresh and eager to start a new church, we find ourselves still settling in–wondering if we’re doing enough toward that end–pondering whether we should stop settling in and start to make that church happen. And yet God has not given my husband clear direction on the particulars. Ideas. Thoughts. But not clear and distinct direction. So we pray. So we wait. So we settle.

And yet the call on my husband’s life to be a pastor remains. He has been created, consecrated and appointed to be a pastor. He simply is one. And a pastor without people can feel a little at sea–just like a shepherd with no sheep. Ministering to people throbs within his heart and soul.

Therefore, keeping our vision focused, we remind ourselves of the call. The story of its inception. The steps God worked out so clearly to get us here. The verses and words of encouragement others have spoken into our lives. We recollect God’s faithfulness and His character to always, always fulfill His Word.

We choose to walk in His word and wait on His ways.

We choose not to run ahead of God, trusting that–like with Jeremiah–the One who called us will be the same One who will command us.

Our God.

His word. His call. His purpose. His time.

“…I am watching over My word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12b).

Praying for our people in our city from our porch.

Praying for our people in our city from our porch.

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God’s Face -> Cutthroat Decisions

“In the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy [age 16], [Josiah] began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images” (2 Chronicles 34:3).

To my never-ending delight, I get to enjoy the role of mother to two pretty nifty young adult children. And much like young king Josiah, they have faced the challenge of growing up in about as un-Christlike a culture as you can find. Whereas Josiah’s father, Amon, endorsed that culture by choosing to do “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 33:22a), my husband and I have tried our level best to choose, and to encourage our children’s choosing, of God’s highest–even in the small, unseen places which don’t play out on the big-screen of life.

Thus our little family has marched on, trying to evaluate our choices in light of God’s Word with a longing to stay sensitive to His Spirit’s direction. To the encouragement and conviction of some, and to the amusement and bewilderment of most, we don’t watch certain TV shows, go to certain movies, indulge in certain video games, nor read certain books. We don’t judge others, we simply try to judge our actions through God’s eyes. Imperfectly? You bet! But we’re in there swinging!

It should come as no surprise, then, when either of our thought-filled children come to us to talk about past choices–to wonder if they missed the boat in regards to the pleasures and delights this life has to offer. Or to ponder future choices–to consider what those will cost in light of past decisions. As many of their friends embrace all the cultural options available to even Christian youth, my children cannot help but speculate on what they might have lost out on, and will they continue to “miss out” if they maintain their trajectory.

The answer is yes. They have missed out on what our culture has to offer, and, yes, they will keep missing out if they stay their course.

godsway

Christians who love Jesus and determine to seek His ways do NOT get to play both sides. We cannot serve God and indulge our flesh. We do not get to explore all the allures of our culture and maintain spiritual purity. We cannot sate our soul with societal pleasure and the fulfilling joy of the Lord.

And wise parents won’t allow their children to believe they can.

Furthermore, wise Christian parents will train their children when they are young to seek God’s face and act on God’s guidance.

You will note that as King Josiah sought the God of his father, he felt compelled to take action and purge his kingdom of the things which provoked those around him to serve their cultural gods. He didn’t just not participate–he went on a seek and destroy mission!

Seeking God will do that in a person, for to truly encounter God’s face will result in decisive cutthroat action. As a matter of fact, if we don’t find ourselves tearing down cultural idols in our lives, perhaps we should wonder if we’re really seeking God’s face.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

The Sweet Joy of Obedience

Believe it or not, last week I floundered in my desire to follow-through on a commitment I had made. Have you ever done that? Of course you have! Who hasn’t? You see, each week I dedicate some time to do a little behind-the-scenes work on my computer for our church. And last week–guess what?–I didn’t want to do it! I plainly and simply did.not.want.to.do.it.

Yet God, with great faithfulness and kindness, reminded me of a solid, old lesson He had taught me years ago:

Joy doesn’t come with the anticipation of obedience–joy comes with the actual obedience.

Yet in order for true joy to flow, I had to remember one key ingredient: Who was I doing this for anyway? The church secretary? Nope. My sweet husband? Not even. To preen the vanity of my own self? Still no. The only way that true joy–not just happiness–could sweep across my heart and spirit was if I offered this ministration as my own personal drink offering to Jesus. If I was willing to take that which had been given to me and pour it out through my service to my church, but as unto Him.

Another gentle reminder that streamed across my mind came from the example laid out in The Law: God commanded the Israelites to offer only the best of their flocks and vines. Their unblemished animals. Their firstfruits. They were not allowed to toss “any ol’ thing” upon the altar: God required that it cost them their highest as a reflection of His worthiness to receive their worship. And do you know what? I bet that the heart of each Israelite who truly worshiped Jehovah–despite any original balking–ultimately rejoiced to exalt God with such a blessed offering. For only the heart of one who has considered the cost, yet offered his ultimate sacrifice anyway, could fully enter into that joyful place of true worship.

We all have our offerings to surrender. Our sacrifices of service. Our personal drink offerings. We all know what it’s like to make a commitment, then struggle with the desire to follow through. We have all balked when we realized the true cost. Trust me, it’s rare to understand the full cost at the onset of our service. Yet God asks us to adhere to each word of commitment we have made. Not merely because of others–but for the sweet joy of walking in obedience to Him.

“But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).

Who Am I?

As my son and I continue our homeschooling ramble through World History, we embark on the era shatteringly known as World War II. We, therefore, must encounter one of my favorite “heroes of  faith,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man so intelligently aware of his times and so devoted to his faith, that he deliberately chose to step into the fray, and joined a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The conspiracy failed. Bonhoeffer was arrested for his involvement, and eventually executed.

During his imprisonment, Bonhoeffer continued to live out his faith and witness before the guards and other prisoners. Even for the most stalwart of believers in Christ, this was no easy task. Bonhoeffer exquisitely captured his own inner struggle through the words of the following poem.

Who Am I?

Who am I? They often tell me
that I step out of my cell
calmly and cheerfully and firmly
like a manor lord from his mansion.

Who am I? The often tell me
that I speak freely and cordially and
clearly with my guards
as if I were the one giving orders.

Who am I? They also tell me
that I am bearing these days of misfortune
with equanimity, smiling and proud,
like someone accustomed to victory.

Am I really that which others say I am?
Or am I only that which I know about myself?
Restless, longing, sick, like a bird in a cage,
gasping for breath as if someone were strangling me,
hungry for colors, flowers, for the song of birds,
thirsting for kind words, for human nearness,
trembling in anger at arbitrariness and petty insults,
driven by anticipation of great things,
helplessly worried about friends infinitely removed,
too weary and empty for praying, thinking, creating,
exhausted and ready to say farewell to everything?

Who am I? This one or the other one?
Am I this person today and a different one tomorrow?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others
and a despicably pathetic weakling before myself?
Or is what is left within me like a vanquished army
fleeing in disarray before the victory that has already been won?

Who am I? Such lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, you know me, and I am yours, O God!

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1944)

Although caught in a situation beyond any that those in the general populace face, Bonhoeffer’s words yet resound deeply within the core of so many. I, too, feel his internal struggle as I daily come to grips with who I am. I know that I am a daughter of the King of Kings, the Almighty One. In light of this knowledge though, how can one who longs to do so much be captured by a disease which compels me to such a small life. My home–my bedroom–encapsulate my cell. ME/CFS serves as my guard, restricting my boundaries with undue vigilance, my longings and deepest desires seemingly ignored.  Many Christians try to tell me that am the victor and that I must claim my healing, yet in the light of the whole gospel, these words fall short. And I must discover the me who I really am within my constraints and before my God.

  • I am His daughter, and His lovingkindness toward me has yet to fail.
  • I am His workmanship, and He molds me through His private and sacred means for His glory.
  • I am His bride, and He is simply making me beautiful.
  • I am decreasing so that He may increase, though I may never see earthly results.
  • I am learning what it means to simply be His, with NO limitations on His hand.

I cannot see all or know all, but I can rest in the One who does, and I can place my hope in His love. I can choose to daily surrender any rights I think I may have. I can choose to let His knife cut just a little bit deeper.

Who am I? Just another child longing to be more like Jesus.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

Fueled by Grace

Last June my son checked in for summer football conditioning spry, agile, and ready to go, weighing in at all of 149 pounds. Although not a ton by any means, he still rocked the world of 95 opponents and brought home the Pride, Hustle, Desire Award at the end of the season. But an odd thing occurred en route. Around about October, he started complaining of running out of gas midway through practice. He just couldn’t finish hard. Didn’t know if he was getting sick. Wasn’t sure what was wrong. In due course, he also shared that he weighed-in at 146. My “aha” moment! Armed with the knowledge that he was losing weight, I understood that he didn’t have enough fuel in his tank. He could not give out what he did not have.

This premise holds true for all of us on so many levels, but today I want to talk about grace.

Grace serves as the foundation–the cornerstone–of the Christian faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). God lovingly and freely gives us His grace. No holds barred. Ours for the receiving. Done.

But then God turns right around and says, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Oops. What a minute. What does that mean?

Let me put it to you in a real-life, how-you-live, kind of way. (I get things better when they are simple and straight to the point.) If you hold on to bitterness and forgiveness, you cannot dispense His grace.

When God shows you His grace, He demonstrates it through His forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He holds nothing against you. Then if you receive this loving grace, He expects you to express the same attitude toward others.

How do you know if it’s there? In your heart?

Easy self-check: Think for a few moments of the person whom you perceive has wounded you. What do you feel inside? Do you feel angered? A little knotted up? Like a wealth of ugly emotions wants to run amok in your heart and mind? Or do your feel compassion? Grieved by the pain he/she must live with?

If you feel compassion and mercy, then you truly are a dispenser of God’s richest gift. If, however, you feel anger or knotted up, then you simply cannot offer what you do not have. You cannot work that way. You can pretend to work that way, but, by God’s design, you do not. You can preach or minister, but without the fullness of God’s grace expressed lovingly through your own life, your words serve as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).

And then like begets like.

Let’s go back to my son for a moment. On his first day of practice, he could probably have worked it hard powered only by Twinkies and chocolate milk. Such is the joy of new beginnings. Likewise, when we first get saved we feel so much joy that we could forgive anyone of anything at that moment. As the season starts to get long though, that initial component of new joy wears thin and we find out what we’re really made of.

For my son, it meant recognizing the problem and making the necessary changes to accommodate the daily challenges football requires of a body. We started hammering him with food, and his body eagerly responded. He finished strong.

For the human soul, it means essentially the same thing. We have to acknowledge that we have issues with letting go of bitterness while extending grace. We don’t have enough grace to go down the hard road. Our spirits are underfed. Much like my son couldn’t survive on his weekly team dinner (monstrous as it was), neither can we if we rely merely on a weekly feeding at the neighborhood church. We need daily, meaty spiritual meals which nourish our souls and provide rich doses of grace upon grace.

Please understand that as I write this, my heart extends toward you. I treasure the joy I get from living unencumbered in God’s grace. I love the freedom of walking out from under the burden of bitterness and unforgiveness. Do I march on perfectly? No! But I beg you, if you struggle with this, please ask God for help. Confess these attitudes as the sins they are. Lay them down at His feet, and don’t allow yourself to pick them up again.

Remember, Christian, the greatest gift you possess to share with the world is grace. God’s grace. Lived out in you through forgiveness as a sweet aroma.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

PS. If you struggle with this, I would like to recommend “Why Grace Changes Everything” by Chuck Smith. -brenda-

Thy Righteousness Alone

The Book of Psalms continues to encourage my walk and enthrall my mind as I journey through this relapse. I pray these simple thoughts bless your heart as He so distinctly blessed mine.

“I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone.” Psalm 71:16b

I have been in that place. That ugly, ugly place where I was deceptively convinced that I actually had some pretty awesome attributes to bring to the table in my ministry relationship with God. Not only did I feel that way, but I had friends who verbally confirmed my awesomeness.

Short story. I eventually came to believe my own press and became wickedly proud in the confines of my own heart and mind. (Naughty, naughty!)

This pride then led me on to become willful, disregarding the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit when He prompted me about certain decisions I made. I also became unteachable, reading God’s Holy Word from my point of view as though He wrote it merely to confirm my grandiose thoughts. I had forgotten something intrinsic to the Christian walk: my “righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). My righteousness. Me in all my own radiant glory. Me when the world acclaims my accomplishments. Filthy rags.

I abhor thinking about myself then. The pride which underpinned my visible Christian walk was out-and-out root rot. Plain and simple. It needed my Creator to deal it a loving blow to enable me to truly reflect His glory in even the smallest of ways. And with a grateful sigh of relief, I can assure you that He has wonderfully taken me in hand. His hand.

I find now that when offered a compliment of any kind, the words “Praise God” quickly tumble from my lips. Not gratuitously, just simply felt and meant. For I now know, deep within my being, that if I have anything praiseworthy to offer, it originated in His design and it transpired through His craftsmanship.

Not that I’m perfect! Ha! Not by a long shot! That little snippet of pride loves to rear up her ugly head and holler out, “Hey! Look at me!” I must then deal another death blow, because if I’m about the business of extolling myself (even in my own mind) then I can’t be about the business of extolling Him…the only One worthy.

Take a moment. Listen in on your own thoughts. Ask yourself, “Whose righteousness gets mentioned here?” If the righteousness receiving glory is not Christ’s alone, cast it out.

“For Thy righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, Thou who hast done great things; O God, who is like Thee?” Psalm 71:19

Decision Hangovers

As many of you know, my husband and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary the other day! Marriage to the man I love is priceless, which is but merely crowned by a dinner in a fine restaurant. Yet to a fine restaurant we did go–and enjoyed every moment of the evening. From a choice table to excellent service to an unexpected dessert, we considered ourselves truly blessed.

The marvelous chef, having been informed in advance to expect a gluten-free patron, took extra pains to prepare a dish which could meet my dietary restriction. However, I had pre-determined to partake of dairy–a decision I later rued–but a choice I made nonetheless. I, thusly, kept my casein-free restriction mum.

Perhaps not a good idea. For although my evening was exceptional, the next morning I awakened with a post-dairy “hangover.” Even though I had taken a digestive enzyme, fuzzy, muddled thinking pervaded every part of my poor cranium.

My defective dietary selection has led me to ponder how other poor choices have affected my life. The movie or TV show, which God’s Spirit urged me not to watch, later filled my head with images and words I had no license to own. Likewise, sharing my heart unwisely with those I already knew would decimate it without qualms, have left me picking up pieces–which sadly may have included the wounded hearts of others.

God’s Word gives its readers a solid rock on which to stand. From its vantage point, a child of God has the wisdom of the ages to make choices which benefit not destroy. In addition, God’s Spirit–freely given to each one called by His name–grants an inner insight into honorable and dishonorable actions and attitudes.

I suppose that, in the end, I want to encourage you to choose wisely. As an appointed son or daughter of the King of kings, you need not live with the repercussions of poor decisions. For, much like my dairy “hangover” affected my family the next day, faulty choices affect those who surround each of you. However, if you affix your decisions on the solid teaching of God’s Word, while practicing dependence on the guidance of His Holy Spirit, you will find yourself walking in the full blessing of obedience.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience, resulting in righteousness?” Romans 6:16