Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fellowship with God

I taught on Fellowship with God last night at church, based on Amos’s words, “How can two walk together unless they agree.” I’ve heard fellowship defined in so many ways it’s lost its power in our lives. Fellowship is our lives until the journey’s over.

The conditions of the walk are set by God. He has told us we must walk by faith: a foundational position of beliefs and actions.

God, who dwells in pure light, and in Him is no darkness or shadow or gray area, cannot fellowship with darkness. He told us we can’t either. So, there are behavioral conditions to fellowship. David writes, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

My faith establishes my identity and my heart guides me to the behavioral standard.

John said, “If we say we have fellowship with Him and have sin floating around in our lives, we lie.” We cannot have fellowship with Him and embrace sin at the same time. John calls it unrighteousness—anything in my life that comes between me and God.

If I have let something come between us, I have violated the principle of how two may walk together. I am no longer in agreement with God. He is a jealous God who loves us with a jealousy that resents anything interfering with our fellowship. Even the opinions of others.

If I allow anything or anyone to take precedence in my life over the priority of God, an attitude, an action, a loyalty, a hurt, a memory, I am no longer able to walk in agreement with God. I have submitted to the temptation rather than to God.

If we find anything between us, John says we can confess that invader as sin and God will forgive us that sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is anything I have let get between me and God—anything. By confession, God removes the hindrance and we are again able to walk in fellowship together.

Walking in fellowship declares I am right with God. If I am not right with God I am unable to walk in fellowship with Him. What a miserable Christian experience to have a relationship with God but no fellowship! Let’s get the junk out of the way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Facing Fears

I watched a stirring and emotionally compelling movie last night—The Four Feathers: the story of a British officer (played by Keith Ledger) who resigned his commission instead of going to war. His friends, including his fiancĂ©, each give him a white feather indicating their opinion that he is a coward. He spends the rest of the movie proving them wrong by going into the battle zone and rescuing each of his friends. When he does, he returns the feather.

Included as a voice of truth was a large African man who told him protecting him was God’s mission. When the officer explained why he was in the Sudan and showed him the feathers suggesting his cowardice he admitted his fear. The man said that fear is natural but being there proves he is not a coward.

A General during WWII said courage means going on in spite of your fears. Willingness to go on doesn’t prove we aren’t afraid, only that we aren’t cowards.

God knew we’d have fear—some appropriate, most presumptuous—referred to as worry, anxiety and cares.  His answer—give it to Me. We aren’t designed to carry that weight. He is. “Cast your cares upon Me for I care for you,” He said. “Don’t be anxious, I know how to take care of you.”

Paul’s words were, “Don’t be anxious but in everything…pray.” The promise was, if we would trust in God’s faithfulness, His peace would overwhelm us and we could face what we fear.

I’m glad we don’t have to prove our bravery with Him. I can admit my fears and trust. That’s a whole lot easier than faking strength. I don’t have to cower in a corner, letting fear stop me whether I face a battle, friends or a fiancĂ©.

“When I am weak, then He is strong!”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Falling Satellites and False Expectations

If we have such sophisticated weaponry that we can knock a flea off a bunker fifteen feet in the ground, why can’t we know with certainty where the NASA satellite hit the earth? Not that it really matters but it bothers me that something we would seem to be able to do, we can’t do.

It was the size of a bus, six tons of nuts and bolts and other stuff. We can map the garbage in space down to the size of a grapefruit but we can’t follow a bus as it tumbles out of the sky?

Don’t those guys ever watch TV or go to the movies. Stuff like that and even more difficult is done all the time. If they can do it on the screen you’d think they could do it for real.

Our expectations sometimes come from how we feed our mind with data from shows. A wife watches watch a couple in a romantic comedy and thinks that’s normal and ought to be how my husband treats me. Or the guy watches a make-out scene and thinks why doesn’t my wife ever show me that kind of passion?

The answer is more obvious than you might think. They’re following a script, not making it up as they go along. He doesn’t really feel that way about her, he’s just acting. She’s just doing what’s expected in order to get her paycheck at the end of the week.

Most people haven’t a clue when it comes to what to do next in life. They’re just happy if they get through the moment. They’re not spending time thinking about how to make their partner’s life better or how to express love more clearly or what their spouse needs from them. Expecting them to is a ticket to disappointment.

NASA can’t find a bus in the sky because nobody ever put it on the list of priorities. We develop false expectations because no one ever told us our examples are fake.

If there’s a hole in your love bucket, you might want to ask yourself if you have false expectations. Then you might want to talk to your spouse and see what you can do to make things more real. Like:

            What do I do to makes you realize I love you?

            What do I do that makes you think I don’t love you?

If I could add one ingredient into our marriage that might spice things up, what would it be?

Have fun.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Have we messed up the idea of church?

Typically it’s the third generation of a product that takes on change. Second generation stays similar to the original but it’s the third that gets tweaked to make it “better” than the original. Better may be more nearly defined as more desirable, more personally pleasing or more uniquely compatible with current tastes.

Back in the day, we couldn’t wait for the revealing of the new cars each year. With great anticipation we’d wait until the day the showroom was filled with the new models. Often cars were radically different from one year to the next. After a while costs entered the picture and they started keeping the same style alive for three to five to now even ten years. It’s nearly impossible today for uninformed consumers to tell the difference in this year’s model and last year’s.

The church goes through a similar process of change. It latches onto a style and holds it for decades until someone introduces a new approach and the bandwagon fills rapidly. Traditions suddenly become old and obsolete as new ideas crowd out “the way we’ve always done it.”

Church as we knew it only a couple of decades ago is nothing like the church today. And the church today is so far removed from the early church there is very little remaining of what was the original model. It has been tweaked to the point that it has become all about us and very little about the Lord who established it.

Originally, the church was a collection of Believers who came together to solidify their faith and flesh out of their understanding of who God was and what living underneath His Lordship meant. To do this they needed the strength of worship, the power of instruction and the support of fellowship. Going to church was an unknown. They were the church. And wherever they gathered church happened. They lived church throughout the week and came together regularly to reinforce the growth and changes in their lives that came from personal discovery of the purposes God had for them.

It is unlikely they brought their unsaved friends to this assembly. It wasn’t about them either. It was designed to give Christians a collected experience connecting with God that would encourage, correct and reshape them for how God wanted them to live in the world. It was through this assembly they found courage and a message to carry to their unsaved friends to help lead them to salvation and then incorporate them into the fellowship. You don’t think the reason they first called believers Christians at Antioch was because they went to the church house together, do you?

Today, we’re creating an image, a style, a showcase to demonstrate we’re cutting edge. We’re so focused on our presentation that we rarely look at content. We evaluate what goes on during the service but never question how what we’re doing is making a difference during the week. We pride ourselves in the belief that we know how to do church. But what is being accomplished in our displays of creativity and presentation of talent? What goals are we trying to reach? Why are we even doing church?

It would be helpful if church leaders would re-read the Book instead of the books on how to do church. That they would take us back to the essentials of worship, prayer, testimony, teaching, fellowship and communion with God. Help me get in touch with Him so I can better sense His direction during my week. Don’t fill my schedule so full of activities you want me to participate in that I can’t seek out and do God’s will. Don’t busy my life to such an extent I can’t minister to my own family and friends. Help me feel His conviction not your guilt.

The Church is an extension of the life of Jesus, a collection of Believers combining their lives to demonstrate on a larger scale the goodness of God. Somehow we need to reclaim the fact that it was His design not ours. What we’ve turned it into says much more about us than Him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Get Out of My Shoes!

I’ll be the first to admit I have a limited knowledge of my laptop. I look at the keyboard and there are buttons that I have no idea what they do. Like all these F keys. I know just enough to let me do what I’m doing right now—type out words on a screen. I know the buttons that fix what I’ve said wrong and let me delete or move or correct. But this ctrl and alt…I have no clue. Neither am I curious enough to press one of them to find out. I have this abiding fear of unknown buttons.
My just-turned-three year old granddaughter, on the other hand, is fearless. She’ll take her grandmother’s I-pad and maneuver through it like she designed the software. She’ll find her icons, sort through them and select the game she wants to occupy herself with. When she’s done, she’ll go back to the main menu and start all over. I can’t do that.

It doesn’t make me inferior to a three year old, only less capable. I could probably learn all this, in time, but it seems unfair that she somehow knows how to do something without being taught.
Everything I can do, somebody, somewhere, can do better. I can live with that. There are many things I do that others can’t. I can live with that, too.  

When it comes down to living my life, I’m the best one for that job. Nobody can be me better than I can. Some have tried but failed miserably.
Living our lives is the first obligation we are born with. That is hard enough without trying to live someone else’s as well.

At the red light the other day, someone was impatient that the car in front didn’t turn right on red. Which, by the way, is an option, not a requirement. The car behind loudly stated the fact that the person in front wasn’t driving like the person behind would be driving if he were in the car up front. My thoughts: quit trying to drive two cars at the same time and just take care of the one you’re in.
Lot’s of people try to drive other people’s lives: you ought to…you need to…would you…could you. They see something they want done and think the other person ought to have the assignment of getting it done. Or they find a list of shouldn’ts that they want you to take out of your life. Is that their role or do they have the spiritual gift of supervisor? They are neither my momma nor my Holy Spirit.

In Colossians, Paul says, Whatever you do, do your work heartily for the Lord, not for men. My motivation must come from a higher calling to serve and honor the Lord. To do so, I must be free to obey Him. Placing anyone else equal to or higher than Him is sin.
Trying to run other people’s lives or having them run ours only frustrates us. We must be free to believe God and free to obey Him. Those are paramount.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Joy's Curtain Draws

Joy’s curtain draws upon the scene, the richest moment now concealed

From eyes that strain for what it means to only see by what we feel.

We grope along familiar walls now absent of our common marks

That show we’ve traveled down these halls, once adorned but now are stark.

Can faith sustain the mortal need to light the path on which we walk?

Can faltering steps that now proceed carry us on or make us balk?

The burden in our quaking souls cries out for help from raging fear

That tightens its constricting hold and whispers doubt within our ear.

“You cannot journey without sight,” it tells us and we must agree.

Our eyes are blind without the light but hope remains and will not flee.

But shall we take our faithful torch, hold it high and in its glow

Fondle through by what we touch, assured by self the way we go. 

We dare not strike the match of pride, ignite the flame of passion.

Desires of self will only hide the true illumination.

Will we trust our feeble spark that shadows as it blurs,

And fails to push away the dark with poorly aimed flickers?

Will we attempt to slowly move and pray we do not crumble?

Want our pathway cleared and smooth, and hope we do not stumble?

Or will we call on God divine whose promises are strong?

And will we stand before Him blind, singing Heaven’s song?

As faith embraces Holy Light and arguments are done,

With darkness all around as night, we see, we walk, we run.

For now our vision is made clear, our hidden pathways known.

For now we travel without fear, our look is up not down.

God, our Light, has shown on us the joy His promise makes.

So we of breath and earthly dust can live and give Him praise.

Then the blind can surely see what eyes within reveal

That God, our guide, who reigns in me makes the passage real.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Good Fortune? No, Good God!

I’m wrestling with how much credit we give ourselves for things God is doing in our lives.

A mouse clung onto the bushy nest of hair on top of the elephant’s head. The path they were on led to a bridge that rumbled when the elephant’s feet stomped across. The mouse looked back and said, “We really shook that old bridge up, huh?”

It’s amusing how, when we ask God for help or declare our trust in Him, that we discount His involvement in what happens next.

A lady was praying for a parking place, making round after round in the parking lot at the mall, begging God for a space near the front. Finally a car backed out. “Never mind, Lord, there’s one now.”

Do we forget we asked or did we ask without expecting? If we forgot, was the request genuine? If we didn’t expect, did we ask without faith? Does forgetting or not expecting release us from acknowledgment?

We consider folks lucky when good happens. Being in the right place at the right time is a fortunate coincidence. But what if we actually had asked for what happened or what if we had submitted our circumstances to God? It is our responsibility to connect the good that comes with the God who blesses. Or is it alright to ask but too spiritual to thank Him? Are we so unsure of His actions we’d rather believe in luck than in the hand of God?

Faith requires us to ask, trust, and rely on God in the spirit of gratitude. We offer our petitions on a platter of thanksgiving. We anticipate His goodness. We thank Him in advance for what He’s going to do and whenever or wherever we see the hand of God we give Him praise.

My favorite verse is “My God will accomplish what concerns me.” (Ps 138:8) If I believe that to be true, then I must expect His activity in my life. Whether I have asked for it or am trusting in it as a privilege of belonging to Him, I have to count on Him working His good out in my behalf.

Then, whenever He has done something good in me or through me, I simply smile, knowing who’s the elephant and who’s the mouse.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Of Course He's Heavy He’s My Sumo

Einstein gave us the Theory of Relativity. Using his theory I have determined beauty is relative. Sumo wrestlers are not what we might consider beautiful. I don’t think they are intended to be. Attractiveness is not a necessary characteristic of their sport. But then that’s just an outward perspective. Hollywood is full of people considered beautiful. Probably it's what helps them do what they do, but then again, that’s simply an outward perspective, too.
Here’s the problem: when we stop with the outside we never really know how beautiful the whole package really is. We make assumptions but those assumptions are often wrong.  Unless there is a code connecting the outside and inside people often discount the inside to emphasize the outside.
Sumo wrestlers are revered in Japan. They have a code that dictates both their outward and inward lives. Their appearance is part of that code—fat, nearly naked and long hair—but their life regiment reflects their inner commitment to being a Sumo. It takes both parts to make the whole.
Hollywood's code seems much different. There, they bank on someone based on how they look on film. But off camera some of those same people show a much darker and less attractive side of who they really are on the inside. How do those dissimilar parts make up their whole? Do they have a code?
Paul asked God to preserve our spirit, soul and body completely. That must indicate He has an interest in the whole. If Paul thought God was only interested in how we look on the outside linking our spirit and soul to our body would seem out of place, inappropriate, and an unnecessary burden. Same if it were the spirit or soul only He was interested in and not the outward appearance. We're a total package. All three, together, demonstrate who we are. 
You actually can judge a Sumo by his size, because, since he is a Sumo and is to be living by the code, his outward appearance is a reflection of the total commitment of his life. Wearing the name Sumo is more than an accessory, it’s the life. For Sumos and for Christians, what shows up on the outside represents the bigger picture of what's on the inside as well.

Unless, of course, Einstein was talking about kinfolk...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Moment is Just a Moment

Ever felt yourself melt down to a puddle on the floor? It happens when we get so disappointed we don’t see much future in going on. It happens when we set our expectations too soon.
I’m as prone as anyone to want instant gratification, instant success, instant pudding. I was a great sprinter, not so great in marathons.
As a result I tend to evaluate things before their time. Our lives can be chopped up into segments, some of those segments are better than others. If I evaluate my life at the wrong segment I can come up with the wrong opinion as to how things are going.
If I make a road trip out West and have a flat in one of those segments and then evaluate the trip based upon that segment, the whole trip is a bummer. But if I look at the trip as a total experience, that flat becomes insignificant. It’s just a blip.
I could just be having a bad day. Those happen, you know. If I evaluate my life based upon that day, my whole existence is in the toilet. That’s why I can’t expect every moment to be the single criteria by which I judge the worth of what I’m doing. I need more data.
Raising kids, taking a job, beginning a project, living a life all have great and not so great moments. But taken as a whole, they are amazing adventures.
The bad times of our lives are relatively brief when we consider the over-all. The problem comes when we get hung up on one segment and can’t move past it. We’re letting one flat tire ruin a very good life.
The best approach is to pace ourselves, live each segment fully and keep an eye on the goal.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You Just Can't Surprise God

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 20:11

I have loved this verse from the first time I realized it applied to me as well as to Israel. That beyond all that is going on, all that I can see, God is at work accomplishing what concerns me. In recent days, I have wondered when those plans were put into place?

If God is working out his plan today, say, when did He begin that plan? Are there other issues that needed to be readied for the plans of today to occur? I know when I’m building something there are steps to the process. What I need to do next must follow what I did before. To be able to do what I’m doing today may have taken several hours or days to prepare for.

So, when did God engage the process of today’s plan for my life?

Joseph was destined by God to save the nation (or actually the family) of Israel from starvation. It took years to set up. It took a dysfunctional relationship with his brothers, a plot to kill him, a modification of that plot to sell him to some Ishmaelites, a transfer of ownership of him as a slave to Potifer, a false accusation by Potifer’s wife to have him imprisoned, a meeting with the baker and cup bearer while in prison demonstrating an ability to interpret dreams, being forgotten in prison until Pharaoh had a dream, brought out to interpret the dream, then made second only to Pharaoh in order to prepare for the drought and subsequent famine.

At what point was God engaged in working out His plans in Joseph’s life? Did He just watch and one day say, “Oh, good, I was wondering how I’d be able to work that problem out.”

According to Joseph, God had been working out the plan of that day throughout his whole life. And even though his brothers had been engaged in evil against him, God was using their evil desires to work out His ultimate concerns for the nation.

God’s activity in our lives today is connected to His work yesterday, the day before, and so on, back to the beginning of our days.

David said, “You knew the extent of my days before there was even one of them to count.” God’s omniscience (all knowing) covers the complete spectrum of information about our lives—the beginning, the middle and the end. The plans He has for us have been in place the whole way. Nothing has taken Him by surprise. And according to Job, “Nothing can thwart Your plans.”

If God’s plans cannot be thwarted, then He is accomplishing things beyond what I can think or ask. He is in control. The step we are on right now is necessary. I don’t have to like it but I do have to trust Him. Someday, we’ll understand how everything fit together and agree with Joseph that “God was accomplishing His purpose in my life all along."

Friday, September 2, 2011

An Act of God? Really?

Woke up to the news that an earthquake hit off the coast of Alaska. Yesterday, a quake shook southern California. A week or so ago one rumbled through Virginia and Washington D.C. I have family in all of those places. My question is: are these random events or is someone out to get us?

In an earlier time, natural disasters were considered the work of the gods—punishment for a lack of appeasement. Even today, insurance forms and other contracts provide a loophole for obligations due to an “act of God.” It would seem some still believe in a God who whacks us with natural forms of destruction.

Of course God is able to make things happen. It’s part of His privilege of being Almighty. But with how the earth works, He doesn’t really have to go to the trouble. Stuff like this happens all the time.

Fault lines are all over the place. Earthquakes result from the plates shifting along these fault lines. They’ve been doing that from day one. Hurricanes happen when a low pressure system in the Atlantic or Gulf becomes rabid and takes on a life of its own. They happen every year. Wars begin when men or nations rise up against the ideals or institutions of others—either to take them away or defend their right to exist.

If God sent the disaster, who’s He going after? Rarely does one person get the brunt of an earthquake’s fury. Hurricanes do widespread damage. Wars affect everyone. There are easier ways to take someone out.

God's actions are intended to help us honor Him as God. Natural disasters make us want to do just the opposite. But they have nothing to do with God’s ability to be God. His power, provisions and purposes remain in effect. Our world may be blown to the next county but the substance of our lives remains. All it takes to praise Him is breath. Got breath? Praise God.

But I’m still curious why there were earthquakes where I have family living. Hope they don’t come to visit.