Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our Rear Guard

One of my favorite activities with my 22 month old son is walking. Specifically, we love to go downtown, get a coffee drink (for Dadda) and a mini-scone (for B-man), and run up and down the sidewalks watching the city wake up. Brennan loves to run ahead of me, and I love to be behind him so that I can keep an eye on him. I notice when I'm following him I'm always scanning ahead; looking for danger, cars, obstacles he might trip on, trying to keep him away from things that could harm him. I don't (and can't) prevent him from ever getting hurt or falling, but I can watch out for the big stuff...anything he might not be able to handle.

Last time we went for a walk I was struck with this picture; that of God as my "rear guard." That brought me to this passage in Isaiah;

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (Isaiah 58:6-9)

I don't know about you but I long for God to be my rear guard. In this passage, however, it's important to note the condition for the promise. The promise comes to those who...
- loose the chains of injustice
- untie the cords of yoke
- set the oppressed free
- share their food with the hungry
- provide shelter and clothes for those who have none

And when we do this, our "light will break forth like the dawn." I love that picture. Jesus was the one who said that we are the light of the world. And what is the light? Is it not to do the things that God has prepared in advance for us to do? The two great commandments are to Love God and Love our Neighbors (which includes our enemies). Not just to love with an emotion, but to love with action.

The point I think is simply this; when we are investing our lives in the things that matter to God, He indeed will be our guard. How are you doing? How am I doing? Are we paying attention to the important things? Mercy, justice, caring for the orphan and widow, loving the homeless and hungry? Not just with words but with deeds?

8 "He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Do you ever wonder about some of our figures of speech, or our proverbial sayings? One of my favorites (except when it applies to me), is "He/She can't see the forest for the trees." It means that someone is so focused on the details that they miss the big picture. Or put even more simply, it's when someone is missing the point.

In John chapter 11 we have an amazing account of Jesus healing someone. This isn't just a "regular supernatural healing" (as if there is such a thing); not just a blind man seeing or a lame man walking. This is a man who is dead...and Jesus calls him from the grave and brings him back to life. So what happens next? You'd think that every single person who saw or heard about this would immediately bow down and worship Him. Some do. But others, well, read for yourself...

"If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48) 

They, (the religious leaders), couldn't see the forest for the trees. They were missing the point. Here they have the fulfillment to their very own Scriptures living, breathing, healing and moving among them, in their lives and they missed it. Too focused on their own position to see the Son of God. I wonder, though, if you and I would be different? 

Part of my job has me leading worship on a regular basis for our local congregation. Let's say for a moment that a new, young, good-looking great guitar-playing worship leader joined our church, and I decided to let him lead a few weeks. He's amazing. Humble, talented, Spirit-filled, teachable, and our church is clearly being moved to worship in ways they have never experienced under my leadership. Nobody says anything to me, but I can tell that all eyes are on me. Will I embrace him? Will I let him lead even more, or even position him in a place to take over? Or will I squelch his leadership, too consumed or worried about my position and what I might lose? Will I miss the forest for the trees?

You see, it's all too easy for us to point fingers or cast judgment on how the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus' time responded (or didn't respond) to Him. And yet when I think hard enough and search my own heart, I am humbled...and I know that were it not for His grace in my life, I could easily slip down the same path they were on, a path that leads me away from God.

The point? I think this is a case for humility. A dangerous prayer to pray is "God, keep me humble..." and yet I pray that prayer because I know the other path is so, so dangerous. Will join me in this prayer?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you Secure?

Today my Bible reading plan took me to Psalm 16. So many things jumped out at me as I read this Psalm that I thought I'd highlight just a few of them. 

1 Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.

Do I? Do you? Do we take refuge in God? In one respect, yes...the evidence simply being that every time I'm in trouble or need help, I turn to God. But this very thing also reveals that I too often place my trust and faith in things other than God...and it's only when they fail that I turn to God to take refuge. The million dollar question remains; "is God enough?" If all else were stripped away; money, health, family, friends, job, house, food, even life itself; is God enough? My prayer is that indeed, I would find and take refuge in God.

2 I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

James reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes from God, but more then that, the single greatest gift of all time is the salvation we find in and through Jesus Christ. Many gifts find their true joy, their true meaning and their true fulfillment only with God. For example, the gift of loving and being loved unconditionally is only perfectly fulfilled in God. Remove Him from the equation; take Him out of your life, and you have nothing. "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36)

5 LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
you have made my lot secure.

However, through Jesus, I am secure. I have nothing to fear, and nothing can harm me. I know Christ, He knows me, and because He is Sovereign, I can rest knowing that everything passes through His hands before it comes to me. Blessings, trials, tests, sorrows, they all come through the hands of a Sovereign God. Because I know Him, I am secure.

7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

Because of all of this, because of all He has shown, His love demonstrated by His brutal and painful death, I will praise Him. For even when I'm resting He counsels me. As I quiet my heart I hear His voice. Jesus Christ; my rear-guard. Wow. When you feel insecure, when you feel unsettled and shaken, know that He is there. He is always there...leading, guiding, whispering.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Worship. Worship is a response. Let it be that our lives are lives of worship; lived in response to all that He has done for us. Just as Jesus did not see decay, so we, adopted as sons of the living God and co-heirs with Christ Himself, will not see decay. No, in fact we will see Him face to face, and see the place He is and has been preparing for all who trust in Him.

soli deo gloria - To God Alone be the Glory!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: Time to Grow

In my previous post I commented on my resolution to experience growth in my relationship with Christ this year. I want to take the picture of our garden, one step further (if you haven't read that post, click here and read it first). There's a few things that I'm responsible for if I want to experience spiritual growth...and let's be real honest here; spiritual growth is never an option for believers in Christ. It's something we should all see in our lives.

Step 1: prepare the soil (my heart). If I want to see growth, I need to make sure the soil is good. This involves both putting things in, fertilizer so to speak, and taking things out. I need to guard my heart above all else. This means "bouncing my eyes" and being careful what I listen to, read, watch and look at. It means investing in things that strengthen my heart. It means an unwillingness to engage in things that poison my heart.

23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Step 2: plant the seed (God's Word). Obviously if you don't plant anything then nothing will grow except weeds. If you want something good to eat, you have to plant the seeds...and plant them properly. This is one area I need to work on this year. I read my Bible frequently, and completed a 2-year Bible reading plan...however, more often my reading was done simply to check the box. Instead, I need to read with my eyes and ears wide open, listening for God to speak to me while I read. And beyond that, planting God's Word is more than just reading...it's involves study. Asking and answering the simple questions as I read; (who was this written to? what was the context? what is it saying to me today? is there an over-arching principle I need to learn or apply?). It's only as I read in this manner that the seed gets properly planted.

12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Step 3: water the seed (Pray). Prayer involves two distinct things. Talking and Listening. I do a lot of talking, but not much listening. This is where other disciplines such as solitude or fasting come in handy...they force you to slow down and listen. Still, I know many men and women who have tons of knowledge but lack prayer. Prayer is what moves the hand of God. Prayer is what reveals the secrets in His Word. Prayer is what brings peace to my marriage, creativity to my job, energy to my body. Prayer is what settles disputes, protects the vulnerable. Prayer changes things. Prayer leads to peace. And without prayer, your seed will lay beneath the surface and never poke through.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

Step 4: get into the sun (Deeds - DO). Many Christians stop at step 3. They protect their heart, they read and study, they have a deep prayer life, and they stop. They become as I heard one pastor put it, "spiritually constipated." There's no outward expression. Our faith should make a difference in this world. Step out and take a risk. Do something bold for Christ...or just do something. But whatever you do, don't stop at step 3...get out and serve. Consider the words of Christ;

"Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

Step 5: Hang on for the ride. Once you are growing, you will see God do amazing things...