Monday, May 18, 2015

I Let My Guest Clean My House

In Him, also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glorious name.  Ephesians 1:13-14

I house the Holy Spirit. Christ in me. And I'm thinking this morning about how much room I allow there for Him to actually build a structure that will not fail. I have squeezed the Spirit into some very small corners and told Him to sit there and be quiet. Not knowingly. I wouldn't think to speak to Him that way. But that's what I've done, anyway. In  my conversation with my Father this morning I was struck by the fact that I don't even remember life without His Presence in me. I was six when I asked Jesus into my heart...and I meant it! With all my heart! And I still remember the excitement that beat in my little chest. But I didn't do much big girl sinning before that time. So, I don't recall life without the Spirit, but I can talk all day about "grieving" Him. Of hearing the Spirit sob for me.

The women in my Bible study group are studying the book of John. We're in John 16 where Jesus promises to send the Spirit. And one of the younger women asked: "How do we know we have Him living in us?"

Good question. That's what being saved means. That Christ comes by the Holy Spirit to live within us. If we have given our lives over to Christ, asked Him to come into our hearts, He does. It's what changes us. If it doesn't change us, we aren't His. If we are still dead in our sins, walking down the same old path with the same old heart, we missed the connection somehow. "I don't always feel different," she went on to say. "I just wonder if He's living in me some days."

Isn't she honest? I love that about her. Because we all have those days...or, for me, years.

So I took us all to Romans 8. And here is where I land again this morning in thinking of how God's amazing grace goes on and on and on and on. Here is what God, the Spirit, is doing while we are weak and confused: The Spirit helps us with our weaknesses. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit Himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain. God can see what's in people's hearts. And He knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for His people in the way God wants. The picture of the Spirit within me begging God to remember I'm His child, covered by the blood of Jesus, weak in my flesh, and though, undeserving of mercy, still a kid my Father, loves makes this computer screen hard to see because of the wash of tears that are spilling onto my keypad. Really? The Spirit of God in me, that I've often given such little space to breathe in the home that is my tent, sobs and begs God on my behalf. And I know that in the quiet moments of my greatest need I've heard Him there when I thought my heart would burst and my life would shred into a thousand pieces. And I know it's because of His countless pleadings that I was walked back up out of a horrible pit and set on solid ground with a new song in my heart.

I'm more likely these days to open up the doors and windows of this tent and air it out, letting in the sunshine, unafraid that something would be revealed to my heart-guest that I'd have to deal with. Not so worried about the roaches that will scatter in the brightness only to reemerge when I grow dim. My prayer is that the Spirit of God have a huge home in me, free to wander, to look in the closets and purge what's old and worn, even to look under the sink at the mess I've made there. I want Him to roam the rooms and stretch out on the couch...you know, enjoy the place! This tent will never be perfect. I know that. And for any who know me, it is clear I am a work in progress. But it is progress I'm after. Like a belly full of oatmeal on a cold morning, the Spirit of God fills my soul with His Presence. and I'm more content to allow Him to dwell there in joy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ephesians 1:5-6 - "I Love You Back!"

In love, He predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He blessed us in the Beloved.

In more text messages than I can count, my son, Will, always gets the last word. I will say, "I love you!" and he will say, "I love you more" or "I love you back." Usually emoticons are involved. I often allow this last word because it always makes my heart so full. My son loves me back. I remember the day I first held him in my arms. Will didn't know me then. He'd heard my voice from the safety of my womb. There was the day when we were swimming in a neighbor's pool and Vanessa, his sister, arose from beneath the surface, grabbed hold of the floater upon which I was lying, stomach bulging with near-term Will, and yelled into my belly button, "Flower!" She was teaching him words. She did that often. I'm sure Will knew her voice, too. But he didn't know we loved him, yet. But, of course, we did. So much so that we made all kinds of plans for his arrival. And on that day, I was flooded with such joy and overwhelmed with such hope. The little one I'd felt rolling around within me was there in my arms, soft and round. My beloved son.

All these years later, Will reciprocates my love. Gives it back to me. Emoticons and all. So do my daughters. In ways that cause me to stand a little taller. All of them tell us how happy they are to be our kids. How thankful they are for all we taught them. We are "the best parents ever." But we know we are terribly flawed. Have made huge mistakes. Wish we'd done some things so differently. The thing, with God's help, we did do was love them all to pieces.

So, here's what I can't imagine: giving Will up for the sake of others. This son of my heart. And if I had done that, I would expect the others to acknowledge the sacrifice with a love and loyalty that reciprocates the act. God gave us His Beloved Son that way. "In love..." Jesus came as God Incarnate in order to demonstrate that love. "God showed His love for us this way: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). God wasn't interested in waiting on us to clean up our acts. We can't, actually. Our God knows our condition. We all fall short of what even those of us who don't know God should reasonably expect of ourselves. We make mistakes. Hurt each other. And all the blood of bulls and goats, all the sacrifices we make in order to right ourselves in an upside down world, aren't enough. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but, if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12)." The grain seeds itself and makes others like it. From the foundations of the world, God knew He'd do this. Save us Himself. Seed Himself into the soil of our sin. Bury His Beloved in the cave of Pharisee. Raise Himself up out of the anointed darkness to free the Spirit to burrow into our carnality and produce the unexpected, undeserved and unprecedented grace of adoption as children. Born of the Grain Who was willing to plant Himself into the earth of a planet deemed to be the theater of God's grace since before the before.

When I read the phrase "to the praise of His glorious grace" just now, I was struck by what I've heard said before by those who don't believe. "God is such an egomaniac." Makes me cringe. Given what I understand this verse to mean, God is quite the opposite. God gave His Beloved so that, yes, we would praise Him for His glorious grace! Reciprocate the over-the-top sacrifice of life for life! Acknowledge that we understand the plan and what it cost! And be overwhelmed at the grace of a God Who "loved us first" (1 John 4:19). It's why we love Him. Like my beloved son loves me, because I first loved him. I didn't command my children to love me! They love me back! When they moved in my womb, when they cooed in my arms, when I dreamed of their lives, I loved them, and they didn't even know it! That's how God first loved us. Pre-birth, pre-world, before I could possibly understand it. But now? Now I do get it, imperfectly, I'm sure. And I desperately want to reciprocate the love to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He blessed me in the Beloved!

 

Monday, February 16, 2015

PSALM 150 - Our Last Breath: ISIS

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Hallelujah!  (Verse 60

This is my last post in Psalm Calm. The end of a journey through the real life songs people sang about their God and to Him. It is fitting that the book ends with the imperative for every breathing thing to praise the One Who is and was and is to come.

Also fitting for me today was to meditate on the news of the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were slaughtered over the weekend by ISIS in Libya. Marched to their deaths wearing orange jumpsuits as they walked single file along the edge of some undisclosed body of water, leaving their footprints in the soggy sand, they were lined up and told to kneel. Several cried out, "Oh, God!" or "Oh, Jesus!" The last words they would have breath to utter before they were thrown forward, facedown into the sand where Islamists sawed off their heads. I didn't watch the YouTube video, but those who did said the lips of most of the men were moving as they knelt. Praying. What were they thinking in those last few moments of life?

I put myself there for a few minutes. Horrified by what was surely coming. Knowing that my life was over with the thrust of a knife into my neck. Dreading the pain; wondering how quickly I would die. What next? Understanding that in the seconds I had left I could breathe the name of the One I would see with my own eyes in the ensuing seconds. I could cry out to Him or I could incline my heart already in that direction and find, perhaps like Stephen did when he became the first martyr for our faith, that Jesus was already standing there awaiting my arrival. Holding a white robe. "...I saw under the altar the people slaughtered for God's word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, the One Who is holy and true, how long until you judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?' So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer..." Revelation 6

No virgins. Heaven isn't about revenge or the sexual conquest or hearty usury of women. It's about justice, peace, righteousness and love. The more honor given to those whose lives were demanded in bloody death for the sake of Christ--as Christ's was given for us. And their blood is now mixed with His in suffering. The martyrs seem to have a say in heaven. "Avenge us, God!" The promise is, of course, that God will. All the armies of the world can't mount an attack that will stop the flow of justice when it "rolls down like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream (Amos 5)."

While we have the breath to do so, it is our privilege to use it to proclaim the mercy and love of our God. He is not a god who tells us to strike with jihad. Instead He says, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved! (Acts 2:21)" Over and over again in both the new and the old testaments of the Bible, God willingly saves and forgives those who call out to Him. Even the worst of us...even the best. And however it is or wherever it is we find ourselves taking that last breath here on Earth, may we be assured that by the grace of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus, that we will take our next breath in heaven. May those who have been slaughtered for their faith over the weekend, leaving their bodies behind, be dancing with abandon with all who have gone before them! No more tears. No more pain. And their joy reflected in the face of Christ!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

PSALM 150 - Shall We Dance?

Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance! Praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals! Praise Him with loud crashing cymbals!  (Verses 3-5)

Get loud! Dance around! Beat the drums, play the sax, clang the cymbals! Praise Him with everything that is in you! Join the noisy worship of heaven. Lift your hands. Sing a new song at the top of your lungs. It's appropriate to the occasion. We have been redeemed by the One True God! Brought into His family as adored and precious children. Set free from sin and death, empowered to live in a confusing, upside down universe. You are no longer judged by God but now you are saved from eternal punishment. Set free from the prison that bound you as surely as if you'd been released from Leavenworth. Sprung because Jesus took your place on the gallows. Rejoice! Don't sit quietly in your pew when the music starts. We have much to dance about.

Recently during praise and worship, I have felt drawn up into heaven where I see my mother and several of my friends worshipping in a broad space before God's throne. They aren't still, but running in circles together, dancing wildly, extolling from a place in their souls that makes them almost frantic with joy. They sing with their mouths open wide as emerald lights flicker in the bright whiteness of His Presence. The music is very, very loud. Pounding the foundations of heaven, lifting my mother and friends from the pavement on which they stand. I want to join them there. So I do. To the degree that church protocol will allow me to wander from Earth to Heaven or my body can facilitate such romping in the privacy of my home. But I want to empty myself like they are doing. Exhaust myself before the throne. Sometimes I am a bit shaky after worship. Sad to shut it off. Wanting more and more to join my heart with His.

If we could strip ourselves of our bodies in the experience of worship, what would we do? Unencumbered by the restraints of flesh, only presenting our pure devotion from soul and spirit, I believe we would be LOUD! Revved up by the heavenly orchestra, electrified in the presence of God, thankful beyond all imagination for our place in His kingdom, do you think we'll stand still? I think heaven is amped up. There are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, the ever shouting voices of angels and elders crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!" And here on Earth, music brings us into the Presence like nothing else. Drums for the pulsing throb of heaven's atmosphere, cymbals for the crashing thunder and lightning, stringed instruments to soften the experience as the angels do when they sing. God wants us to be as carefree and unrestrained as King David was when he brought the ark back to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). Returned the Presence of God back to the Jewish people. Stripped down to his linen ephod, David danced "with all his might" while his men shouted and played their trumpets. He was so out of control that his wife, Saul's daughter, was disgusted by the wild display. So, maybe some will be uncomfortable with our abandon, but that doesn't mean God isn't ordaining and enjoying it. It's no little thing to be saved. To walk out of prison free. To be included in the family of God because Jesus is our Lamb! We should get a major rush from the knowledge, remembering it day after day and never tiring of its magnificence!

So let it out today! A massive flow of unadulterated worship. Turn the praise songs up! Dance around the room. We are freed from the enemy and will never, never, no more forever (Exodus 14) be locked in the cells of his making! We are loved beyond all reason. Protected even from our own stupidity. Great mercy covers our lives. And we will live forever in the noisy reverence of Heaven!
 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

PSALM 150 - The Role of a Lifetime

Praise Him for His strength; praise Him for His greatness!  (Verse 2)

I can do all things through Christ because He gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13

The Oscars are coming up. A time when the entertainment industry honors those whose performances in movies were great. Number one. Top of the top. Amazing job. Standing ovations. Applause. For...being someone else. We laughed, we cried...we'll never forget. Well, maybe, a little. Next year the hype will be about another movie star.

So how do we calculate greatness. Might. Strength. There are awards for football, basketball, racing, prize fighting. Athletic, muscled men and women who are mightier than the rest, as we count might. In the scheme of things, most of the rest of us are left out of the competition. Only the elite receive the bows of homage; the wreaths of victory. To be great, we must be ahead of the pack, while most of us are trying just to keep up.

I'd like to give a prize today. To the ones no one sees. The ones who are bravely taking care of their children's children because mom and dad are MIA. To Saeed Abidini and the other hundreds of Christians who languish in prisons because they love Jesus. I'd like to walk into their cells and say, "We are proud of your courage, your strength, your steadfast faith in light of the fact that you are tortured, sleep and food deprived, and cold." Then I would hand them the Oscar for endurance and faith! I'd like to award those who have languished in illness with their heads high and their faith in Christ in tact. And to those who held the hand of a loved one to the last breath then committed themselves to living in faith without the warmth of the one they loved so much. Trusting that soul to Jesus while they trust their todays to Him, also. Loss. Handling it as yourself...not an award for pretending to be someone else--a life you can leave when the cameras are off. There should be acknowledgement for powering through the very real difficulties that are our dramas.

It's why the knowledge that we can do all things through Christ Who gives us strength is so vital. We have to play out what is our lives. It's not fantasy. It's the nitty gritty of our reality. I don't know how people live without the Holy Spirit. I don't. Christ in me is the engine that propels me toward every goal. Keeps me in every circumstance. My Guide. My Source. My Inspiration. Christ in me is the very energy of my spirit that keeps me from idling or falling apart. When I can't play the role given to me another minute, it is He Who lives in me Who revs the engine and moves me forward. Gives me inspiration for the part. Cues me where to go next. Who to be. What to say. Millions of fans don't watch us bigger than life onscreen taking each step. Most people will never even know we exist. But the drama that is our lives is important just the same. It is the role of a lifetime. And it has its reward.

"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now, a crown is being held for me--a crown for being right with God. The Lord, the Judge Who judges rightly, will give the crown to me on that day--not only to me but to all those who have waited with love for Him to come again."  Paul.  2 Timothy 4:8

Monday, February 9, 2015

PSALM 150 - Somewhere in the Crowd is You

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens! (Verse 1)

Last night was the album release concert for Vanessa's newest CD. It was so great to see friends I haven't been with in years, in some cases. I'm never done with hearing Vanessa sing and marveling in the gifts God has given her. I was thankful to be in the mix when she praised her God in song. Couldn't help but raise my hands and worship as she sang, "I am forgiven, once and for all. I am not doomed to stay down when I fall." I mouthed the words I've come to love from hearing the song many times at home. "He calls me Precious, He calls me Precious Little Girl," she sang, and somehow in lyrics and music I heard Jesus say, "You are my Beloved." And in the worship experience, heaven must stretch its edges to draw us like a magnet into God's sanctuary. The dividing line thinner as the strains of worship reach the ears of God. I hear my daughter. So does He. And He hears us as we join in, for we are only catching a far off whiff of glory. Our worship reflecting what is happening in His sanctuary; not the other way round. Worship brings us into a holy unity with heavenly choirs whose sole reason for being is to extol the God of All.

My standing in the crowd at the concert last night watching my daughter praise our God reminded me this morning of how God, to a much, much greater extent, joys in standing in the midst of our praise and bathing in its purity, however imperfect or amazing. It's a family thing. A recognition of the fact that our Father is better than any other father! He forgives us, restores us, loves us with almost unbearable sweetness, guides us, defends us, provides for us and grows us up to be like Him. Praise causes us to look at Him. To put aside whatever rubble life has thrown our way and to enjoy God's presence. It's a sharing of mutual affection. Reciprocating our Father's love. God comes near to hear us shout with the angels that He is "Holy, holy, holy!" There is no one like our Father. That's what holy means--separate, set apart. One of a kind. Tears welled up in my eyes knowing my daughter's heart is given over to Christ. How much more does the love of God swell in His heart when He hears the songs of our hearts, smells the sweet aroma of our sacrifices of praise? Above the noisy thundering of heaven's electric atmosphere, we have an audience Whose ear is attuned to the songs of our hearts. It's all one to Him, the praise there and the praise here.

The stars are constantly humming in harmonic praise. The Kepler space telescope proved Job's observation in Job 38 that "the morning stars sang together." The group of massive red stars sing in concert. God's mighty heavens literally play for Him. And God doesn't just stand apart from the creation He called good, but is in its midst, worthy of our prostrate adoration; worthy of the dance; worthy of the song; worthy of a life lived in praise to His glory. In the sanctuaries of our churches or in the sanctity of our quiet places, praise becomes us (Psalm 147:1). It's appropriate, sweet. It's like wearing a dress that fits perfectly and shows off our best features--becoming. That's how praise looks on us. Like we were made to wear it. The first fruits of our eventual white linen clothing reserved for us in heaven when we'll sit at the wedding supper of the Lamb and rejoice at the table of our Father.

Monday, January 19, 2015

PSALM 149 - Musings on Martin Luther King Day

To execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all His godly ones. Praise the Lord!  (Verses 7-9)

The battle is always about the heart. Wars are fought because the heart of some man or woman has been given over to the destruction of other peoples or nations. Hitler, Stalin, Nero...something went terribly wrong. Pol Pot and the killing fields, and, yes, the Crusades. A demonic tweaking of  the mind that made a person or group of people decide everyone has to agree with them or die. The power of being right and gaining absolute control overwhelming any sense of compassion for those who disagree or don't fit the mold. Hearts that can kill their progeny and call it expedience. Hearts that can judge others by their own biases. We've got to fix the heart. And war against the proper powers. Unseen and violent, seeking destruction. Since the beginning. Offering up the pride of being godlike, making us buy into our own demise. Our real enemy: Satan.

The battlefields are real enough. Worldwide. Beheadings in the name of righteousness. Missile attacks, aggressor against aggressor. Mass executions in retribution for a drug deal gone wrong. Families wiped out by a spurned husband or wife. Our own infanticide pervading our country in the name of expedience and quality of life. And we all feel good about our particular war. We have the right to it. And in this way we are able to make wrong right. Celebrate it, in fact. Someone somewhere was whooping and hollering when the twin towers went down in flames and smoke as somebody's mother jumped out a window and landed on the pavement and somebody's father choked to death in an effort to save those trapped. Some several million people breathed a sigh of relief last year when a baby was taken, alive and well, and thrown into the garbage heap behind the doctor's office. What is wrong with us?

No tyrant thinks of himself as tyrannical. There is a certain altruism about making others do what you want. We seem to have infinite capacity, even the best of us, to create for ourselves a scenario that justifies our actions. There is some good and some evil in all of us. The question is, which will win? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it this way: "There is some good in the worst of us; some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." Evil always justifies itself.

Dr. King went on to say, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Agape love. Which we can't manufacture alone. God is love. And unless we are saturated in it, driven by it, changed by it, committed to it, we are bait for the enemy of our souls, who desires to turn us sour and use us for his purposes.

This love that armors us for battle (Ephesians 5) isn't a weapon of mass destruction, but of daily victories that come about by attacking the real enemy circumstance by circumstance. The sword of the spirit taking down principalities and powers (2 Corinthians 10) in order to destroy "strongholds and arguments" of the enemy. Because all evil starts in the heart and distills into the mind. The way we think is how we act. And if the love of God hasn't affected our minds, changed our hearts, and made us want to war for the same deliverance for others, we will fall in battle, too. We might not be in Iraq fighting ISIS, but we are at war just the same. Our battlefields are closer to home. Most of the time, the fighting is one on one. We don't win with great arguments and cutting language. We win, as Dr. King did, with the desire to love our enemies. By bringing light into darkness. Love where there is hate. Aiming right for the heart. Devastating it with the retribution of forgiveness and love.

Satan finally loses. I know the end of the book. But in the meantime, he will take hostages and execute the godly. This is war. And some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., will physically fall in the battle. This world isn't where we belong forever. But every single day we have the opportunity to bring light onto the battlefield, exposing the dark, making it flee. Every day we have the choice to love instead of hate, to forgive instead of hold a grudge. With the sword of the Spirit (God's Word) and the shield of faith, we are ready for battle, knowing that Love ultimately triumphs over evil. The cross provided our victory; the resurrection guaranteed our safe travel home. Let's have the courage to combat our enemies in the same spirit Dr. King did in the successful war he was called to wage against the prejudice and hate that divided this nation. Let us be willing, as he was, and the Savior before him, to "lay down our lives for our friends (John 15)."

"Now there is a final reason why I think Jesus says, 'Love your enemies.'" It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can't stand it too long...and by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That's love, you see. It's redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There's something about love that builds up and is creative. There's something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.