Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I was puzzled as to how we could be near "severe drought" conditions when all the world around seemed green and lush. My walks into the countryside overlook oceans of green crops gently swaying in early morning breezes, most of which are taller than I am. Freshly mown lawns, roadsides and wildflowers put forth fragrances in the cool morning air that are both refreshing and invigorating. This is often accompanied by the gentle rustling of foliage as light winds stir the canopies of the trees that grace these paths. There is evidence all about me of flourishing life. But here on the screen before me was the foreboding warning of imminent ruin in the words "severe drought".
"Ridiculous" I thought to myself as I went to the faucet to fill a glass of water to quench my sudden unexplained thirst. The forecasters must have it wrong. Then I began to ponder the conditions that would prompt such an obviously misguided prognosis. It dawned on me that I had seen probably no more than one or two days with rain this past month and of those days, the rain came intermittently and never in a solid, day long, steady shower. It also dawned on me that I had seen many lush green lawns, but I had also seen a fair number of sprinklers put forth to keep those lawns lush and green. Further, my own lawn was needing weekly mowing, not from the turfgrass growth, but from the weeds that thrive when the turf is in decline.
As I continued to mull these events over, the condition of drought became less ludicrous and more credible in my understanding. Though the world was green around me, drought conditions did exist. Though to my eyes all was lush, hidden to my understanding was the damage that was currently occuring and would soon present itself in the fields, turf, and landscape from a lack of necessary regular rainfall and irrigation.
Suddenly, ice-water sounded really good.
I can apply this to my walk with the Lord as well. I love and follow Christ and I have, for the most part, proclaimed him as my Lord and Savior for most of my life. This earns me no special status. Many people make this claim. Why is it, then, that so many who claim His lordship in their lives, who profess to know Him as Savior find themselves disconnected, weakened, and powerless in their own lives? Why is it that people who have near perfect church attendance records, volunteer to teach sunday schools or greet at the church, or involve themselves in any number of outreach ministries find themselves empty and "dried up"? Why is it that those who profess to know and fellowship with the authority of heaven find themselves subject to the whims of day-to-day circumstances and misdeeds of others?
Connectivity and involvement with the local church is tremendously important. Applying your giftings, time, and resources in the name of Christ to reaching and ministering to others is likewise important and even critical. I am actually focusing the microscope inward, at myself as much as any - which is the point of this blog. For even though these are important outward works of the Body of Christ, above all God desires relationship with you and with me. It is why we were created. But what happens when we are too busy?
I very recently found myself in the trap of being so busy living the life God gave me that I was having trouble making time for the One who gave it to me. Relationship with my Father was being ignored for all of the obligations and demands upon my time and the effects were telling. I could see it in my home, in the manner in which I handled stresses at work, and in my initial reactions to those who were unkind or "less than Christian" to me. I felt the disconnect and no matter how much I struggled with it in my own strength, no matter my good intentions, things always seemed to be going sideways. I felt faith and strength drained from me - I was wilting.
I was not able to live to the fullest, "abundant life" as promised in the Word, because I was failing to regularly water my heart with the Word, water my relationship with my Father with time spent alone with HIm. I was drying up and quickly becoming a burned out shell, weak and depleted of will, strength, and motivation. I was going to church, I was listen to my favorite Christian music on my favorite Christian radio station. I was praying in my car and reading clever sayings and quotes on media sites. I was even daily trying to squeeze in those bursts of scripture from sites I've subscribed to in triage fashion. But this isn't relationship. This isn't immersion.
God wants so much more for each of us. He wants daily moment-by-moment, "in the now" living for Him. The only way we can achieve this is by being regularly refreshed and watered in His Word, in time spent with Him speaking our hearts, prayers and petitions and listening for His reply. I've never heard the thunderous booming voice from the clouds, but I've often heard the soft quiet whisper in my heart that I know to be Him; but only when I'm listening. Only when I desire to hear. Only when I commit to be still and know He is God.
This week our forecast is calling for near record temperatures and it is anticipated that the effects of our drought conditions will become readily apparent. But the heat of this week is not what initated the problem in the biology of the local plant-life. It was the lack of rain the entire previous month that has and will adversely affect the green world around. It is not the trial that will uproot your faith or frustrate your will or your plans. It is your lack of regular fellowship and seeking of our Father. It is the lack of root structure that prevents the plant from withstanding the scorching trials and pressures of this world and the enemy's unending assaults. Roots naturally grow through regular irrigation. They seek it out.
Jesus knew exactly what He was referencing when He stated that He possessed Living Water. The first chapter of John shows us that Jesus is the Living Word. The Word is Living Water and is available to our thirsty souls any time we desire. Psalms 1:3 says:
"Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do." (NLT)
Personally, I would like to prosper in all that I do, but I know it is not within my own strength or intellect to achieve this. I would like to bear fruit in every endeavor and every effort that I put forth, but I find myself stretched too thin and too limited in my being to keep up with the plans that God states He has for me.. It is only in the center of God's Word that I find the wisdom, the patience, the knowledge, and the quenching of my thirst for fulfillment. It is only in my relationship with Him that I find growth and strength to withstand the dry times. We must guard against the business of our lives to make sure we allow for the necessary watering of our souls for this is how we become the trees that bear fruit in the garden that is our lives. Tending the garden of our relationship with Him, watering ourselves in His Word - this is how we stay green and strong even when the world is forcasting drought.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Examine that statement for second. Is there any possible way in which a person can state the above and NOT sound like they are riddled with pride? Imagine yourself in a church service where everyone has their eyes closed and heads bowed. What would you do if the pastor suddenly said "I want everyone who needs more humility to raise their hand!" Would you peek and then shoot your hand up? (You don't want to embarrass yourself and rocket that arm up if nobody else is, right? - Think about the irony of that question...) But most of us think we are fairly humble people, don't we? We try to be nice to others - even serving them. We try to remember to let at least one or two cars go in front of us in the evening traffic quagmire when everyone is trying to get home. We try to be patient and not thank badly of the woman wrestling that screaming toddler with two other children playing tag in the checkout line wreaking havoc on the efficiency of the whole.
"OK, why the 20 questions on humility already?" Because I don't need it. Do you? Honestly, is this in your "Top 5 Self-Improvement List" for God to work on with you? For most of us, it falls far below, possibly not even making the chart, yet somehow God keeps bringing me back to it. I've written on this a couple of different times in posts entitled It's Not About Me: Resting in Humility and The Power of Submission Through Humility so it is evident that the Lord is dealing with me on this issue. But why keep bringing me back to it?
Up until now, God has shown me in His word my part in humility and its tremendous importance in my life. But do we ever consider the humble nature of God? The Word is clear, the nature of the Son is the same as the nature of the Father which is the same as the nature of the Spirit. They are one in thought and intent, one in value and in objective. Unified and distinct. But do we ever ponder humility as a character trait of our Father?
It is awe inspiring to gaze at deep space imagery and consider the hand that framed the heavens. It is equally magnificent to study the microscopic intricacies that permit life to even exist on our planetary sphere and to consider the mind that has designed these to perfection. Praise readily comes forth when we enrapture ourselves in the greatness and magnitude of our Creator when we bear witness to the power of the oceans and the majesty of the earth. All of this is without even considering His redemption of our doomed race from death and hell and price paid to usher us into His presence. His love is overwhelming. His majesty is staggering. His power is incomprehensible. His humility is.....? We draw a blank. Why? Why do we fail to see the strength and necessity of humility in our day-by-day, moment-by-moment walk of faith? Shouldn't we be seeking to emulate Him?
"Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion."
Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)
This verse is powerful to transform how we interact with each other. The heart of a servant is revealed and we can see our Savior washing dusty feet, silencing the bickering between a dozen men who still couldn't grasp what it meant to love selflessly.
Why do we stop here though? Why do we continually hit the mental wall of humility being equal to being abused and downtrodden? It's because we continually fail to see the power of humility and its affect in turning our circumstances and the promises associated with it.
The reward of humility and the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.
Proverbs 22:4 (AMP)
Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.
Matthew 23:11-12 (MSG)
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
James 4:16 (NLT)
Humility isn't about seeing who can get the most people to step on them. Jesus was perfectly humble, never sinned, and even in humility angrily drove money changers out of the temple. The Father in complete majesty, power and glory is completely humble, though all praise in the universe is due Him. Is this such a stretch? Can you imagine if He did not possess humility? First, it would be His absolute right to boast about anything He wished, and secondly, it would be His absolute right to wipe out anything that challenged His absolute authority and power. "But for the grace of God go I...."
But Humility is core to His nature, as is Love, as is Grace, as is Mercy, as is Righteousness, Purity, Goodness, Kindness...where do we stop? This God, our Father, is so big and cares so much for each of us. But often we are too busy to pay attention to Him. We are too busy, too worried, too fearful, too proud living this life that He has given us and sustains to come to know Him. Love and Humility, Patience and Grace, Mercy and Goodness - all waiting for us to turn our thoughts, our attention to Him. And do you know who He takes special note of?
For all these things My hand has made, and so all these things have come into being by and for Me, says the Lord. But this is the man to whom I will look and have regard: he who is humble and of a broken or wounded spirit, and who trembles at My word and reveres My commands.
Isaiah 66:2 (AMP)
When do we tremble at and revere His Word? Remember, "the Word was made flesh". He has modeled humility to us on such a grand scale that just like love, and numerous other character traits of His, we will spend the rest of our lives trying to get it right. The beauty of it all is that He is the one who empowers us to do so.
In the face of an eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent tender loving Father who sacrificed that which was most dear to Him to bring me, a faulted creation, into His family and continues to put up with my faults, my failures, my ungrateful outbursts, my lack of trust and at times my faithlessness and even continues to bless me in spite of it - in the face of all of this, I could never imagine why I (especially) should ever fail to run towards more humility. I invite you to examine and ask yourself "Why I don't need more humility?"
Friday, June 1, 2012
Exhaustion of the mind and will settled upon us as the weight of social agency oversight and state decree was lifted. We planned a gathering to celebrate, but to be honest, we were far too tired leading up to and during to put together anything elaborate. A picnic at a local park. Our children playing, laughing. A few close friends. Very little pomp or celebration. Very little to note that a struggle of eternal consequences had just been won. Our play date was cut short as a field trip from a nearby school unloaded four busloads of kids onto the playground. Sensing impending complications, we gathered our children, thanked our friends, and went home.
That night our hearts ached. Where were the people to support us? Where were the scores of people who knew about our special day? To be elevated on a pedestal was and is detestable in our minds. We did nothing but go where God led, sometimes hanging on for dear life. We deserve no praise or admiration for this. We mis-stepped as often as we walked out His will. But to share the joy of victory over the enemy in the dimpled smile of a precious boy whose identity was forever changed, not just in name, but in mind, in body, in personality and future: where were those who were supposed cheer as we crossed the finish line? Certainly our little one deserved this after the hellish events he has lived through, the extensive work and tears he has worked through - all to be brought from the cognitive level of an 18-month old to a 5-year old in less than two years. He is, in a word, "amazing". Where was the "victory parade"?
But there were no parades, there were no large celebrations. A dear friend made some of the most delicious cupcakes with all of our names on them. All the while the world continued to scarcely take notice of us...
It was a dimly lit hovel. He leaned over the matting, protectively and watched the men. There were several of these herdsmen and they all reeked of the fields. It was evident that they had been with their charges for several days and had rarely bathed in that time frame. He had done his best to clean a suitable bedding for his young wife within the meager surroundings. Matting straw and blankets together, he had managed a pallet for her to rest upon. He had found an old feeding trough and had loosely packed straw into it and padded it with his donkey's saddle blanket. The baby was sleeping in this now. The herdsmen were in awe. Tears rimmed their eyes as they stared intently upon his newborn son. Their story was strange - "heavenly hosts" directing them here, to this filthy animal shed. This was supposed to be the Son of God, Immanuel, the very Messiah. Were these few herdsmen the only ones to take note? Wouldn't God proclaim this to the entire world? Wouldn't His very finger blaze the skies proclaiming the arrival of man's salvation?...
Victory doesn't always get a parade. Wars won don't always get a celebration. But this does not diminish the true eternal value of the effort nor the necessity of our following after our Father with reckless abandon because we're not living for just this "here and now". Our lives have eternal weight upon the lives of others. Our own Savior stepped down from unimaginable glory to a silent arrival, successfully living as a sinless man, and dying a criminal's death bearing all sin to the grave, conquering Sin and Death once for all for every person. And on a quiet Sunday morning, He walked out of the tomb, without a parade, without a celebration.
So don't get discouraged when the masses don't rally or the ticker-tape fails to fall. Rather take heart that you are walking in your Savior's footsteps and He knows what you feel and He has equipped you for everything He has called you to. Even when no one else sees, He sees and He loves you and is proud of you! He is, after all, the Grand Marshall of Silent Parades.
"My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed."
Isaiah 53:2-5 (NLT)