Friday, January 29, 2010

Picture This

I think most people will readily admit that they don't know everything about God.

But imagine this:  God is eternal, and those of us who follow Him will be with Him forever. it possible that because God is eternal, we will never know everything there is to know about Him, even after being in heaven for all of eternity?

Can you get your head around that one?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sorrow Without Mourning

Sometimes I don't like the way God does things.

Remember how He told Ezekiel to play with toys and lay down for over a year?  That seemed just plain absurd.  I would think there would be a more effective (and time efficient) way to get a point across to a bull-headed people.

But then God does something awful to Ezekiel in chapter 24.
The word of the LORD came to me:  "Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.  Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears.  Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead.  Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover the lower part of your face or eat the curstomary food of mourners.
Know what happened next?

Ezekiel's wife died.

The delight of his eyes.  His lover, his favorite person on the planet.  The one he loved more than life itself.

The delight of his eyes.

As if to pour salt on the wound, God also told him to pretend like nothing had happened.  Don't cry, don't be sad.  Don't go to the funeral, and keep your jeans on instead of dressing in the traditional black.  Don't accept any meals that your friends bring by the house.  Carry on with your life as though your heart weren't just shredded right out of your chest.

And why did God do all this?  What was His purpose?  To tell the people that the sanctuary they so delighted in would be destroyed, along with their sons and daughters.  And to tell them that they would do as Ezekiel had done - they would not mourn.

Seriously?  God created this woman to grow up and fall in love with this prophet, to be his joy...just to kill her so He could tell the people their sanctuary would be destroyed??

I don't like it.

It doesn't seem fair.  It doesn't seem like the best way to illustrate a message.  And I don't get it.

Ezekiel was a better person than me.  He did as he was told and did not so much as shed a tear.  It's days later and I still can't make sense of this story and why God decided that was the best way.  I can't even find a lesson to pull from this passage to apply to life.  But one question remains.

If God does this to me, if He takes away the delight of my eyes, destroys my life, brings me to ruin for reasons that don't seem to make sense or seem worthwhile...

Will I trust Him?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Then You Will Know

In my slow trip through Ezekiel, a certain theme keeps popping out at me.  Over and over again, throughout each chapter, a phrase is repeated:

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

It's not so much the frequency of this phrase that grabs my attention as it is the negativity that usually comes before it.

When I think of the LORD revealing Himself to His people, I imagine Him doing great miracles, blowing people away with answered prayer, and heaping great blessings upon the faithful.

But God is not confined to my imagination.

Each time the LORD states this phrase, it's always after a prophecy of doom and destruction.  War and death.

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Famine and plague.

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Wind and hailstorms.

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Horror and punishment.

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Destruction and desolation.

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

I asked Him why all the bad things, how death and destruction would draw His people back to Himself.  It didn't make sense to me. 

But then 9/11 came to mind.  And it started to kinda make sense.

Look at our nation.  We are a prosperous people with material possessions out the wazoo.  We have entertainment and feasting and wealth and blessing that most of the world never sees.  We have the good side of life.

And we have forgotton Him.  The One our founding fathers built our nation to stand under.  The One we now try to remove from every possible public place.

We are just like the people Ezekiel speaks to, with idols and rituals and sins that are detestable in His eyes. 

But look at what happened on 9/11.  Our country was brought to its knees.

And many turned to Him.  Prayer meetings broke out all over the place and churches were packed full.

Then you will know that I am the LORD.

I don't like that it has to be that way, that it takes a major tragedy to remind people of Who He is.  But maybe if we chose to remember in the first place, He wouldn't have to remind us so severely.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beautiful Fog

Man, has it been a foggy couple of weeks around here.

I read somewhere that the lack of wind is to blame.  (I used to complain frequently about the wind back home.  Sorry, Kansas friends...South Dakota's steady gale-force winds trump Kansas breezes.)  Therefore, it has been foggy.

Foggy on my way to work.

Foggy during the day.

Foggy on the way home at night.

Sometimes, the fog is so thick I can hardly see.  I blindly take my left turn off interstate in hopes that no cars are coming from either direction, because I wouldn't be able to see them until they were in my backseat.

My car lights don't help a whole lot.  High beams certainly don't do anything except reflect the fog back in my face.  So low beams it is.

And I turn on my fog lights, because I know I'm supposed to use them.  But they don't reveal any more road than what is immediately in front of my car. 

Fog not only keeps out the light, it also keeps light from illuminating the road.

Sometimes life gets foggy.  It's hard to see.  Light isn't coming in, and my own lights I try to use sometimes only make my visibility worse.  When I use the Light I'm supposed to, I can't always see the road any better.

But I can see just enough for the next step.

I don't mind driving in the fog so much.  In a strange way, I almost find it comforting.  There's something soothing about being tightly tucked in on all sides, like a big heavy blanket.

Besides, when I stop long enough to pay attention, I can see how beautiful the fog truly is.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Want Me To Do What??

I'm about halfway through the book of Ezekiel right now.  My favorite part was Ezekiel's experience and description of his encounter of the glory of the LORD.  My second favorite comes right after that, and it's so crazy I just have to tell you about it.

Ezekiel's first assignment as a prophet is one that, had it been mine, probably would have made me resign my position as regional prophet right there on the spot.

According to chapters four and five, here's what he had to do.  Not just say to the people, "Woe are you."  No.  Not at all.

1.  Find a clay tablet and draw a map of the city of Jerusalem on it.

2.  Make little models of seige works, a ramp, surrounding enemy camps, and battering rams.

3.  Place an iron pan between toy city and self and look at it.

4.  Attack the toy city.

5.  Lie on self's left side, one day for each year of sin of Israel.  This totals 390 days.

6.  After 390 days, give the left side a break and roll onto the right.  One day for each year of sin for Judah.  This totals 40 days.

7.  The LORD will personally tie self with ropes to prevent any rolling over and cheating.

8.  Prophecy against toy city.

9.  Since self will need to eat, here is how to prepare food:
  • Measure out necessary food and water before hand.
  • To bake the food, make a fire out of poo.  Since self is tied up and unable to move, may as well use own poo.
  • But, since self does not wish to defile self in this way, cow poo may be substituted instead.
10.  Shave head and beard and divide hair into three parts.

11.  Burn 1/3 of hair inside toy city.

12.  Use a sword to chop up 1/3 of hair around toy city.

13.  Scatter the remaining 1/3 of hair in the wind.

14.  Save a lock and tuck it in belt.

After all of that, the LORD interpreted the message He was sending.  But can you imagine carrying this out?  And I get all bent out of shape thinking that people will wonder if I'm out of my mind for randomly knocking on their doors to share Jesus.  Ezekiel was probably called crazy for sure.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Point

Thank you to all who have prayed for our Sunday School class!  God has been working in hearts, and it is so fun to watch.  The feedback I have received has been positive, with people learning and being challenged in ways they can apply to their everyday lives.  Attendance has also just about doubled, and we keep having to add tables so we have enough room for everyone.  So...keep the prayers coming!

The point of your life is to point to Him.

Our discussion this week revolved around that idea.  My life is but a fleeting vapor, and God is the One who determines how long I remain on this earth.  The length of my life is out of my control.  He desires glory, honor, praise...and all of me.

But I live my life for me.  Even in the most well-intended actions of my day, I'm usually benefiting somehow.  I do what I want, and complain about doing things I don't want to do.  I worry and fret because I don't trust Him to either come through for me or to have the better ultimate plan.  I seek to rush through each day so I can finally have a couple of hours to myself at night to do with as I please.

I live as though death will never touch me.  Intellectually we all know that we will die, [but] we do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true.  In my head I know that everything boils down to the moment when I finally stand before God Himself.

But do I live like I believe that moment is coming?

I don't know when that will be.  Maybe fifty years from now.  Maybe ten.  Maybe next month.

Maybe in the next moment.

So the question becomes this:  Is what I am doing right now pointing to God?

This is the question I asked everyone.  We individually wrote down a few things that we know need to change this week, things that we will consciously try to carry out in ways that point to Him.

I hope that you will do the same.  Does what you are doing at this very moment bring Him glory?

I ask you through words.  One day He will ask you face-to-face.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

He Wants

"Does Jesus want me?"

Her eyes searched mine, etched with the pain and confusion that comes only from a bleeding soul.

"Yes, He wants you," I replied. I paused for a brief moment. "He likes you."

She shook her head, but her eyes never left mine. "He loves me, but He doesn't have to like me."

The only thing I wanted in that moment was to reach deep down inside her heart and take away all the years of lies and confusion and brokenness so she could know how much Jesus truly wants her.

I answered her questions with full belief that what I told her is true. I have no doubt in my mind that He wants her.

Yet as I voiced my replies, something inside me was dragging its feet.

Because these doubts she has are the same ones I carry. How can I convince her how much He wants her when I haven't yet taken hold of that truth for myself?

But He gives us more grace...

Grace. Unmerited favor. Receiving what we did nothing to earn.

Nothing I can ever do in or with my life will ever provide any iota of repayment for the eternal grace that He has lavished on me.

Or her.

Or you.

The Spirit He caused to live in us envies intensely...

Not only is there grace in His wide arms, but He also wants us.

Not just want, as in I want a pizza tonight.

Want as in a deep, soulful desire.

He is jealous for us. When we look to anything besides Him to satisfy, He envies instensely.

The Creator of the Universe agonizes in His desire for us when we are away from Him.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Italicized verses taken from James 4.

Monday, January 11, 2010

By Confidence, You Mean...

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence... 
-Hebrews 4:16

I've come to believe that we often use this verse as an excuse...and even abuse it.

Let's get a few things on the table first.  Jesus took our punishment on the cross, so that those who are covered by His redeeming blood may stand before God without fear or punishment.

But how often, when we pray, do we holler at God from a distance, or rush into His presence during a spare moment with only ourselves in mind?  We throw our to-do lists at Him, demand answers and blessings, whine and complain about how things are going for us...and that's on a good day when we remember to pray at all.

What if we met the President, or the Queen?  Would we be so bold to tell them what they're doing wrong, what should be fixed, how they should do their job, and what freebies they should hand out to us?  Some people say they wouldn't hesitate to say such things.  But really, even the President's most reluctant follower is going to exhibit at least some respect, if for no other reason than for the power the President holds.

Back in ancient times, the king sat on his throne and was treated with all kinds of fear and reverence.  He had the authority to decide what he wanted, when he wanted it, and who was going to talk to him.  He had the power to order punishment or death to any person who came before him without being summond.  Remember the story of Esther?  It was up to her to save the Jewish race, and she needed to plead her case before the king (who was now her husband, by the way).  She had people fasting a praying for her for three whole days before she even tried to approach him, because it was against the law for her to come before him on her own.  (Did I mention this was her husband?)

These were human kings.  The King of kings is far above any of them.  He created all the billions of galaxies.  He sees all things and knows all things.  People who encountered His presence face-to-face in the past fell down, immobilized and passed out cold.

When we read that we may approach Him with confidence, we can be confident that He will not cast us out of His presence to destroy us as long as we have the blood of Jesus covering us.  But I think we are still to enter His presence on our faces, trembling with awe and reverent fear, giving Him the utmost respect. 

After all, He is the One who determines each breath we take.  Who are we to demand anything of Him?

Friday, January 8, 2010

I felt a little more attached to him than most other patients.  Maybe because I first met him as an outpatient at our clinic a year ago.  Maybe because he's a likeable guy.  Or maybe God was starting a work in my heart.

When he came as an outpatient, I missed the signs that pointed to the return and metastasis of his cancer.  A few weeks ago he came to the nursing home, and we began therapy there while he went through the chemo process.

Monday morning he had a stroke. 

Wednesday night he passed away.

In my work setting, death happens.  It happens a lot.  And for the most part I remain undeterred by it.  But this time one thing haunts me.

I read this verse the other night, and it won't let go of me:
"When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood."  -Ezekiel 3:18
I am haunted by this verse, because I had contact with this man multiple times but did nothing to save him from hell.  Maybe he was a believer.  I don't know.  But one thing I do know is this:  if he is in hell, his blood is on my head.  If he is in hell, one day I will have to stand before the LORD of all creation and try to explain why I did not even attempt to save this man's life for all of eternity.

If I had tried and he rejected my words, at least my hands would be clean.  I would have done my part.

But instead I did nothing.

I can hear the arguments rolling in already, so I'll save you the time of leaving them in the comment box.  Some would say, "You're being too hard on yourself.  That's not your job.  You can't be expected to minister to the hundreds of people who pass through your workplace.  Other people are responsible, too."  

Others might say, "Jesus' blood covers all sins.  You don't have to worry about it.  The Old Testament isn't relevant anymore." 

Just a few weeks ago I would have said, "God is going to save those He's going to save regardless of what I do or don't do."

I still believe God is not going to lose any of His children based on my performance; His grace is greater than that.  But we have so softened and remolded and cushionized Christianity that we have lost sight of the Truth.

Picture a road.  One direction leads to town and safety.  The other direction ends in a sudden bridge collapse over a canyon.  I'm traveling toward town, yet I know perfectly well what demise lies behind me.  As I go along my merry way, wouldn't it be just plain responsible of me to do everything in my power to stop every single motorist I meet who is heading straight for the bridge of death?  How ignorant, foolish, unloving, and despicable I would be to only smile and wave politely while we each move in our opposite directions!

God does not change, nor does His Truth.  Thankfully, He is able to provide His own roadblocks to bring people to Himself.  He doesn't depend on me for the salvation of others.  So I don't fear someone spending eternity in hell because I dropped the ball.

But He still holds me accountable.  He commanded me to go and make disciples, to warn people when they are headed to destruction.  What I fear is the Day of Judgment when He looks at my life to see what was so much more important than reaching out to a lost soul.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Look Back

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, probably for several reasons.  Therefore, I will not be listing any such goals in this post.

I just read a post by Jennifer at Getting Down With Jesus that has me thinking a little.  Instead of looking back at 2009 and lamenting over resolutions she did not...well, resolve...she did the opposite.  She stepped back and reflected on things that happened that she did not resolve to do.  Her year carried many unplanned and trying events.  But in hindsight, she can see the grace of God and His provision through it all.  If you follow her posts for very long, you can see how she finds Him at work in whatever she faces.

So here is my own list of things that happened in 2009 that I did not plan - or sometimes even desire - to be a part of, but have been blessed through.
  • Blogging.  I never thought I would become a blogger, and the creation of my site happened rather suddenly.  A few months prior I had started writing down thoughts as they came to me and saved them on my computer (which later crashed and erased my meager collection).  After a few conversations with a couple of friends who had their own writing agendas, I, too, joined the online world of words.  And wow, have I seen God multiply blessings in places I never imagined!  My followers are few, but they include friends and acquaintances that I never expected.  I have seen God bless through words I have written, and He has opened new doors of ministry with and through these people whom I have connected with.
  • Music.  My part in my church's music ministry has grown in ways I didn't see coming.  I used to barely show up Sunday mornings to strum along with a few songs.  Now I "lead" during Sunday morning services.  And Tuesday evenings are spent with a handful of friends in a room off the sanctuary, gathered together for a simple acoustic set of praise songs to our Father.
  • Prayer.  Through pain and lonliness the Father has drawn me closer to Himself.  He provided a long morning commute to spend with Him, and while I continue to fail miserably at doing this well, it has become a chunk of my day that I would sorely miss if it were not there.  He has also led me to a weekly commitment of serving others by interceding for them.
  • Change in heart.  I covet the few hours I get to spend at home in the evenings.  Yet God has helped (and continues to help, for this is an extended process) me to step outside of myself and focus on others.  He has opened my heart a little wider to create a desire for the poor and the lost, and to serve.  I have been trying to get organized enough to learn to make blankets so I can give them away to those without this winter...or spring...or later, depending on when I actually get that far.  He has also shown me (and has to continually remind me) the blessing in having the job I do, because it allows me to give more financially to people locally and around the world who otherwise have nothing.
Each category above is a treasure chest full of blessings that simply cannot be shared in only a few paragraphs.  And the only way I have any of them is because of the road He has brought me down during this season in my life.  It has been a hard road, one laden with thorns and branches and barriers and unexpected turns.  I can't say it's one I care to travel again, and I don't even know that I can say I am grateful for it.  There are other roads I would have much rather taken.  But I know that He is faithful to do a good work in me and carry it on to completion.  And I can say that I am glad for the blessings I have now and would not trade them for any earthly gain.

I don't like to sound conceited, and I realize writing about things I have done and received can look a little big-headed.  But I wrote them anyway because it is God who has done these works in my life, not me.  If I did not intentionally reflect on them, I might miss the blessings altogether.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Challenge Before Us

Any New Year's resolutioners out there?

I'm not so much of one.  But the start of a New Year does traditionally mean the start of a new diet.  The end of a stuff-yourself-sick-with-goodies season, snug clothes, and a long enough break from the previous diet to make me forget how miserable dieting is...these all work together to create my perfect dieting environment.

Now I have another challenge to stare at.  I'm not sure yet if I want to take it on.  Because I'm pretty sure I would like it even less than food deprivation.

But the results are even better than fitting perfectly into the skinny jeans I haven't been able to wear for years.

Am I willing to step into this new year and embrace pain?

I want to live and experience a faith that is real.  Genuine.  Pure.  When the day comes that I stand before Jesus, I want Him to welcome me into His arms.  When the years of my life are put through the final fire of testing, I want to have more left standing than burned up.  I want to hear Him say, Well done, my child.

It's easy to present to the world a faith that looks real.  And I am afraid I have spent too much time doing this.  It's easy to mimic the appearance of deep faith.  Observe the believers around, take a little Bible reading here, impersonate an impressive prayer there, and display passionate worship on the side.  Reuse spiritual words, learn how to appear wise.  It all looks good...even feels good.

But true faith is not about feeling good.

In fact, I've come to believe it's quite the opposite.

The closer we grow with God, the more it hurts, because the deeper He digs to remove our sin and impurities.


It's bittersweet, this pain.  Oh, how it hurts to have the deepest places of our hearts prodded in that way.  Yet with this pain comes a peace and joy that is beyond explanation.  Because this faith that is slowly grown through trials and suffering becomes increasingly more real to remind us of what is yet to come.

Sickness, pain, loss, the midst of them we can rejoice because we know it does not end here.  There is something greater beyond our wildest imaginations that awaits us on the other side of the valley.

We all want to reach the other side.  But the only way to get there is to first pass through the middle.

The low, dark, lonely, painful, beautiful middle.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Trust in God. Trust also in...myself?

Trust Me.

I went to bed early last night after feeling pretty crummy all day.  I slept fairly well, woke up feeling well, and proceded about my very rushed morning routine.

By the time I finished my shower (about ten minutes into the thirty minute process), icky feelings were starting to return.  Maybe I was just hungry and needed some food in my belly.

But breakfast didn't want to have much to do with fixing the problem and lasted only a few bites.  I sat down for just a couple minutes (the first morning in months I've gotten out of bed early enough to have this luxury) and debated calling in sick to work.  I just did not feel well.  And I certainly did not feel like spending the next 50 miles in my car.

God, what should I do?

Go to work.

Ugh, really?  I don't know if I can do this today.

Trust Me.

I spent the next 50 miles pondering this in my half-functioning mental state.  Maybe this made sense.  Maybe I was going to collapse later from some unknown complication and would get the help I need since I'd be working right in the hospital.  Maybe the doctor who worked on me would be able to identify an unknown ailment that would otherwise be missed.  Maybe...(take note:  instead of wandering close to home, my mind travels to all kinds of exotic lands)

Or maybe...

Maybe I heard wrong.

But by mid-morning I was feeling almost completely normal again.  I finished out the day with a nearly-full appetite, no headache, no need for further swigs of antacid, and in a good mood. 

God was right.  Going to work was the right thing to do.

But it opened a door to all new questions for me.

How much do I really trust God?  I thought I trusted Him...but do I really?

If I don't trust Him, what does trust look like?

Am I a control freak?

Could I really trust God with anything?  The big things in life are easy.  But what about the small everyday things?

How do I silence myself long enough to hear what He's asking me to do in the first place?

How often to I miss my chance to trust by deciding to do what makes sense?

Some parts of trust I get.  But others I'm finding are not so much within my grasp.  And there lies the irony - trusting means it's out of my grasp.


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