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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

a confirming word

Once again, I find myself struck by the timeliness of one of Oswald Chambers' daily readings from My Utmost For His Highest. The devotional for today connects well with an email that I got from a friend late last night after I had already gone to bed. I was encouraged by the email, and this reading confirms much of what the Lord has been teaching my friend, as well as myself. Initially, I found myself in awe at the aptness of the devotional; then I was reminded of the Lord's goodness and his constant work in our lives. I am still in awe, but in light of his goodness, not surprised.

Inner Invincibility

"Whom the Lord love He chastens..."(Hebrews 12:6). How petty our complaining is! Our Lord begins to bring us to the point where we can have fellowship with Him, only to hear us moan and groan, saying, "Oh Lord, just let me be like other people!" Jesus is asking us to get beside Him and take one end of the yoke, so that we can pull together. That's why Jesus says to us, "My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). Are you closely identified with the Lord Jesus like that? If so, you will thank God when you feel the pressure of His hand upon you.

"'...to those who have no might He increases strength' (Isaiah 40:29). God comes and takes us out of our emotionalism, and then our complaining turns into a hymn of praise. The only way to know the strength of God is to take the yoke of Jesus upon us and to learn from Him.

"'...the joy of the Lord is your strength' (Nehemiah 8:10). Where do the saints get their joy? If we did not know some Christians well, we might think from just observing them that they have no burdens at all to bear. But we might lift the veil from our eyes. The fact that the peace, light, and joy of God is in them is proof that a burden is there as well. The burden that God places on us squeezes the grapes in our lives and produces wine., but most of us see only the wind and not the burden. No power on earth or in hell can conquer the Spirit of God living within the human spirit; it creates and inner invincibility.

"If your life is producing only a whine, instead of the wine, then ruthlessly kick it out. It is definitely a crime for a Christian to be weak in God's strength."

Monday, April 12, 2010

yielding control

As was the case a few weeks back, yesterday's message at Colossae was exactly what I needed to hear the Lord speak into my life. Based on the final section of 1 Peter, Chuck titled the message "Humility and Faith vs. Pride and Anxiety." At it's core, the message was focused on our deep need to humbly yield to the God our desire for control, our desire to know what is going on in our lives, and the resulting anxiety and stress, so that we might stand firm in our faith and live accordingly.

The Lord is our faithful creator (4:19), He has a mighty hand (5:6), and He is good (5:7). And still I (we) struggle to yield control and entrust my life to him; pride, and more specifically arrogance, gets in the way, compelling me to try and wrest control of my circumstances away from the One that is actually in control and who's best I actually want for my life. To live a life of faith, however, I must trust him from the core of my being, with the entirety of my being. Humility lives in faith, even amidst uncertainty.

There is far more to this message that I'm not touching on here. I've heard it twice and am still processing the first two verses. My intent here is merely to begin working through it for myself and to share it with others that also have a hard time yielding control of their circumstances to God. If that's you, please listen to it.

God's peace...   
1 Peter 5:6-11
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

six point two

Yesterday morning I ran 6.2 miles in Champoeg Park. It was the annual Tilikum 10K race to raise money for summer camp scholarships for the camp just west of Newberg. This was the third year that I considered participating, but the first time I've actually done so. In fact, this was only the third time in my life that I've ever run so far.

The first time was when as a high school freshman, I decided that participating in a 10K walk for a local food bank was boring and decided to run the entire route instead. Chalk that one up to the boundless energy of a 15-year-old that was too impatient (and/or stubborn) to walk with a bunch of older people from local churches.

The other time I ran this distance was in January 2008. A good friend invited me to go for a run with her, and wanting to spend as much time with her as possible, I eagerly agreed. Nevermind that I hadn't been on a run of any length since the previous June. Nevermind that it was the dead of winter, the prospect of snow looming overhead. Nevermind that only a few years earlier this same friend had completed a half marathon, and from time to time would secretly contemplate the idea of running a full marathon (which I still think she will do at some point). Nevermind all of these facts, because that's what I did.

Let me be clear, I did not expect this run to last 6.2 miles. Based on her comments about starting to run after a lengthy layoff, I reasonably assumed the run would last only a few miles. We'd jog for a half hour or so, build up a sweat, maybe feel the muscles start to burn, and then call it good. I was wrong. Unbeknownst to me, we took off on a hilly out-and-back route that continued to go "out" much farther than I would have hoped. But feeling my heavy legs, I refused to slow down or give in at all, even as the snow began falling on us. She'd charge up a hill, and I'd charge right alongside her. Throughout the run we talked and even laughed from time to time.

When we made the final turn, she complimented me for keeping up and attacking the hills. I laughed it off, admitting that it was just my pride that wouldn't allow me to slow down, which was true. Ultimately however, I'm thankful for the unexpected length of our run. It was an incredibly memorable experience that I won't soon forget. Our run also proved that I had something in me that I didn't even know was there, even if it only manifest itself because of my pride. Chalk that one up to a guy's willingness to do just about anything to impress the girl he likes. Months later, she admitted that our run had been a bit of a test, and I had passed.

And so I came to yesterday's 6.2 mile race knowing that it was physically possible for me to run the course laid out along the Willamette River. But unlike my first time 16 years earlier,  I couldn't rely on abundant energy to carry me through to the finish line. And unlike my run two years ago, my masculine pride and desire to impress a beautiful girl wasn't the overwhelming motivation to run strong and finish the race. Instead, I was running to challenge myself, to push myself beyond what is comfortable. And I was running to prove that I could do it. Simply put, I was running for me.

Along the way there were times when I questioned whether I actually had what it takes, whether I would actually finish without having to walk a portion of the course. Over an over I found myself praying for strength.  Even as I made the final turn with a quarter of a mile to go, my legs were done and my lungs were burning. I had gone out faster than I had planned, and I could feel the consequences with every stride. But I wanted to finish strong, to press on toward the goal. As the finish line came into view, I ran faster, mustering every bit of strength from deep within.

I finished the race in 51 minutes and 59 seconds, nearly 3 minutes ahead of my goal. Crossing the line, I truly felt like I had nothing left. I had used every bit of strength that God had given me and it felt good.

This wasn't my fastest 6.2 mile run, nor was it my most memorable. But it was the most satisfying. I ran for me, in the strength that He provided, and I finished the race strong.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

the promise of exile

Jeremiah 29:11.

We all know it. Come on, say it with me. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

What an incredible verse! It is an amazing promise that God gives to his people, the people of Israel. And it is one that we are wise to remember and cling to today. And we do. When times get rough and the storm clouds start to build we take refuge in the strength of His word. We share it with others that could use some encouragement (like the time I told my college roommate to read it as he was questioning his future. Of course, I told him to read Jeremiah 28:11 instead. Read that one sometime...completely different message). I know people that have this verse tattooed on them, so as not to forget it when times get tough. We love this verse. And why shouldn't we? It shows God's sovereign hand at work in our lives. 

But, in most cases we fail to look at it in context. I am not saying that it is untrue, or that we shouldn't take solace in the strength that God exhibits here. It is, and by all means we should! I am merely saying that we should look at the broader context of this verse.

In this section, God is talking specifically to "all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon" (v. 4). His people had been removed from the land that He had promised their ancestors; land that He had given to them. It was the land that God wanted them to be. And yet, he removed, or "carried," them to another place, exile. Actually, this context fits well with those circumstances in which we usually return to this verse. Times of challenge, times when we are found in the desert, times when it seems like what God has promised or provided us has been taken away. Like Israel, we are confused, frustrated, even brokenhearted.

God doesn't give Israel his remarkable promise just yet, however. Instead, He tells them to wait, even in the midst of their exile. In fact, he goes so far as to command them to "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters" (v. 5-6). And He goes on, telling them to increase, not decrease, while they are in exile. He commands them to "seek the peace and prosperity of the city" (v. 7) where he has brought them. They are to pray for the city "because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (v. 7). In their exile, in their pain, confusion, and brokenheartedness, God commands them to not only wait but to seek the prosperity of the place that He has placed them in. I don't think we often consider this part of the story. The promise is so lovely and tempting that we skip right to it. (In my Bible, verse 11 is the only one highlighted.)  

After commanding his people to wait, to settle, to seek the prosperity of their exile, He comes to the promise by giving them a timeline. "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place" (v. 10). And with that said, God makes our much-beloved, oft-quoted promise to His people (v. 11).

God called His people to wait in exile, but He also calls he, to so much more. They were not to sit on their hands. Instead, He calls them to wait by going about their lives in an upright manner, seeking good in exile. It's a point similar to that of my recent post called "the beauty of suffering." In our sufferings, trials, or challenging circumstances, we must seek joy in the Lord, as these moments will grow our faith in significant ways. Indeed, these moments prove our faith in Him.

The last part of this section continues the beautiful promise of God to His people. (Why don't we all know this part?) "'Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the Lord, 'and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,' declares the Lord, 'and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile'" (v. 12-14).

The Lord does know the plans that He has for us, because He alone is sovereign. His best is what He wants for us and what He has in store for us. He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future. As we cling to this promise though, especially in the midst of our own personal exile, we must recognize that God "carries" us into these times for a reason. And while we are in them, we should settle down and wait on Him. I'm not specifically advocating that we build a home, plant a garden, get married, and have kids and grandchildren. But I am saying that we need to be obedient to Him and the circumstances that he places us in. We must settle ourselves and seek to grow and prosper in these times. And then, oh, then, God's promise will reassure us and He will bring us back from captivity, back to the place from which He carried us into exile, back with a stronger faith and stronger desire for His will in our lives.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

a good reminder on easter

Today's devotional in My Utmost for His Highest addresses some of the things that I have been thinking through and processing for the past month or so. It deals with the questions of where we place our trust and where we derive our hope, particularly in those times when we are "scattered." The underlying Scripture for this reading is John 16:32 as Jesus tells his disciples that a time is coming when they will be scattered and no longer in his immediate presence.

I share here the majority of the devotional...

The Way To Permanent Faith

"...We will be scattered, not into service but into the emptiness of our lives where we will see ruin and barrenness, to know what internal death to God's blessing means. Are we prepared for this? It is certainly not of our own choosing, but God engineers our circumstances to take us there. Until we have been through that experience, our faith is sustained only by feelings and by blessings. But once we get there, no matter where God may place us or what inner emptiness we expereince, we can praise God that all is well. That is what is meant by faith being exercised in the realities of life.

"'...you...will leave Me alone.' Have we been scattered and have we left Jesus alone by not seeing His providential care for us? Do we not see God at work in our circumstances? Dark times are allowed and come to us through the sovereignty of God. Are we prepared to be separated from the outward, evident blessings of God? Until Jesus Christ is truly our Lord, we each have goals of our own which we serve. Our faith is real, but it is not yet permanent. And God is never in a hurry. If we are willing to wait, we will see God pointing out that we have been interested only in His blessings, instead of in God Himself. The sense of God's blessings is fundamental.

"'...be of good cheer, I have overcome the world' (16:33). Unyielding spiritual fortitude is what we need."

Twice in this reading, Chambers uses the phrase "Are we prepared..." I have found that, in significant ways, I was unprepared spiritually to be taken to this place. Clearly, I have had my own goals which I serve. Fortunately for me, "God is never in a hurry." And so I return again to the place of waiting; and I wait with expectancy of the goodness of my risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

He is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

the necessity of not pushing through

I came across the following excerpt from Frederick Buechner's The Sacred Journey this afternoon and it struck a chord in my heart. Most of the time, I am pretty confident in my own ability to get through life. Whether in times of ease or difficult situations, I have a tendency to bear down and push through my circumstances. As Buechner states, however, this is the very thing that I should refrain from, as doing so will force me to miss the opportunities for growth that are present in that experience. If I don't allow myself to be open to the possibility of a heart transformation, I may miss the Lord's entire purpose behind the circumstance. And what a shame that would be, all because I think I can get through it on my own. 
"To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do - to grit your teeth and clench your firsts in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst - is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed."