Monday, December 12, 2011

The Eternal Gift

...we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~II Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

As I closed the book, my mind pondered what I had read. It was a novel, fiction, but I was touched by several ideas contained within those pages. One particular portion impacted me. A main character was talking of his mother's struggle with ALS and his father's care of her.
He said:
"My mother's almost completely paralyzed now. She can no longer speak or write. The only thing she can move is the forefinger of her right hand. At night she taps her finger against the bedpost when she hurts. My father wakes up and gives her her pain medicine. He hasn't slept through the night for years...He's given up everything for what he loves most. Her.
...I asked him how he did it, how he could give up so much for her. What he said taught me more about God and Jesus than a thousand sermons ever could...He said love is stronger than pain." (1)

"Love is stronger than pain." (1) There are layers and layers of meaning held within such an idea, such a truth. I'm sure I have barely scratched the surface in my understanding of these powerful words -- but one thing I can say for certain: When Jesus gave His life for the sins of humanity, He did so completely comprehending the beautiful supremacy of love over pain.

Because of His love for God, because of His love for us, Christ took upon Himself the pain of sin and the brief separation from His Father that such sin ensued. He had never known separation from His Father, but He was willing to go to that point of pain and lack that we might know sweet union and precious communion with God.

With Christ's death, the sting of death was removed, the potency of pain was neutralized; for all who believe on Him, death has been swallowed up in victory. (I Corinthians 15:54)

Christ's love took Him to the deepest, greatest pain - separation from His Father. But His death ensured that such separation would never again be necessary, not only for Him, but for all who believe on Him. Once we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from God's love.

Because of Christ's great love for us, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God... (Romans 8:38-39)

When Christ was born of a virgin, when God became man to dwell among men, this is the gift that He came to give. This is the true Gift of Christmas: birth that provided a sacrifice, death that enabled union, separation that eliminated separation.

In light of such a Gift, the suffering and pain of this life is put into perspective. Oh yes, I see why we are encouraged to not lose heart. Outwardly we are wasting away, but because of Christ's love, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Our troubles truly are light and momentary in comparison to what we have been given and what this Gift is producing for us, in us. The struggles, losses, disappointments and frustrations of this life are temporary, but the Great Unseen -- what we can never be separated from -- is Eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

Shepherds, told of Jesus' birth by an angel, rushed to glimpse the God-babe. (Luke 2:8-20) 
A star in the east compelled the Magi to come and see the God-child. (Matthew 2:1-12) 
As they looked into the face of the Eternal, time and space clashed -- their eyes saw past the temporal, and they worshiped.  They worshiped the Eternal.

What will we do with this Gift we have been given? Will we allow the eyes of our heart to see the wonders of the Eternal or will we hold to visions of the temporary? Will we worship the One who gave everything for what He loved most? He beckons us to follow His example and depend on His provision that we may see past the pain of this life.

Every day that we focus on the Eternal, every minute that we live for the Unseen, we celebrate the true Gift of Christmas -- and the Gift that can never be stolen, broken or destroyed, the Eternal Gift, reigns supreme in our hearts.

This Christmas -- and every day -- may our hearts and minds be captured with the Eternal,

(1) Evans, Richard Paul, The Sunflower.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Therefore Go

...All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. ~Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

All too often the "therefores" of the Bible are overlooked. In Matthew 28:19, there is a very powerful "therefore". In fact, this "therefore" is pivotal. It was pivotal for the eleven disciples to whom Jesus spoke these words and today, it is just as powerfully pivotal.

At the time these words were spoken, the hearts of the eleven had experienced devastation after devastation. Their Teacher and Friend, the Messiah, Jesus, had been captured, mocked and beaten, crucified and buried. Now, His tomb was empty. Some said they had seen Him, that He had risen from the dead. The two Marys told of seeing Jesus. They relayed His message to the disciples: "Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me". (Matthew 28:10)

So the eleven went to Galilee. Matthew 28:17 tells us, When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.   Jesus knew their hearts. He knew what they had witnessed, that they had experienced devastation after devastation. He knew their doubts. Soon, He would be going back to sit at the right hand of His Father, but right now He wanted to encourage them with His presence.

His presence proved the truth of His words. His life was His Word. By His very life, He was showing them His power, His authority over death. For He had died -- He was crucified -- and yet He was alive. Death had no hold on Him.

By His very presence, He showed them His all-encompassing authority. Then He told them: "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me." In that moment, He wanted them to be impacted by two things: the encouragement of His presence and the limitlessness of His authority. After showing His authority and voicing His authority, He gives them the commission to Go: Go to every nation and tell them what I told you. Go and teach others about Me.

But in between the voicing of His authority and the giving of His commission enters that very powerful and pivotal "therefore". "All authority in heaven and earth is given to me. Therefore go..." Because of my authority, Go. Because I have limitless power, Go. You see, He was not sending them empty or impotent, He was sending them in His power. He was not telling them to Go for Him, He was telling them He would Go through them.

As a reminder of the encouragement of His presence and the limitlessness of His authority, He says: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.". These words were a double reminder, for before His crucifixion He had promised them that in His physical absence His Spirit would come and live with them and be in them. (John 14:15-18, John 15:26, John 16:7-8,12-15)

It was very important for the disciples to grasp the limitlessness of Jesus' authority, for that very authority would live within them and would provide everything needed to accomplish all that had been commanded. If they were to "Go" without that authority, they would fail.

Before Jesus ascended to His Father, He expressed the crucial need for the commission to be worked out in His authority. He told his disciples, "I am going to send you what my Father promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) Jesus wanted them to do nothing apart from Him, just as He had done nothing apart from His Father. (John 14:9-11) In His physical absence, the disciples needed to wait for the Father to send them His Spirit, then the commission could be carried out as intended.

As I mentioned earlier, the power of that "therefore" was not just for the eleven. It is for every follower of Christ. We, too, have been given the commission to Go, but our commission must be coupled with the authority of Christ. Without such authority, the commission is worthless.

When we believed on Christ as our Savior, we were given the Spirit, but the Spirit does not make us walk in His authority. Walking in the Spirit's authority is something we must choose to do every moment of every day. It is something that can only take place through faith. By choosing to believe Christ's authority in this moment and every moment that follows, the product of the commission is solidified. Do I have limitless confidence in the limitless authority of Christ?

He is the Answer to His Commission, therefore, encouraged in His presence, confidently equipped by His limitless authority, Go.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fighting With Unholy Weapons

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore get rid of all moral filth and evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. ~James 1:19-21 (NIV)

Several months ago, I had an unholy fight with the love of my life.  What made it unholy?  My weapon of choice: anger.  Isn't there a righteous indignation?  Absolutely.  But I was not expressing it.  I was raging from hurt feelings, longing for time and an evaluation of priorities; all my expectations were flowing from a heart that felt jilted.

Was my desire for wholeness, for a meeting of the minds?  Yes, but I was going after this conclusion in a tainted way.  I had let my hurts pile up and fuel anger.  I thought I was bringing these hurts before the Lord but had not left them there.  I kept bringing them out, stroking them, feeding them with thoughts of discontent.  All this stroking admiration led to a big blow up.

My fight was launched in hurt and anger.  When I chose to march with such weapons, I was marching to the drum of the Deceiver.  I had the opportunity to leave my hurts at Jesus' feet and march with the Redeemer, but I made the wrong choice.

Thankfully, the Spirit touched my heart and I saw the unholiness of my weapons.  I stopped, asked for forgiveness and the Redeemer stepped in.  He brought the right weapons, holy weapons: love, patience, forgiveness, mercy, peace...in that instant, the atmosphere changed.  The real need came to Light and discussion was possible.

My unholy weapons were leading toward a path of destruction -- Oh, the damage those weapons could have done!  How thankful I am for the Spirit's whisper, that He helped me listen!  How thankful I am for holy weapons!

Didn't I want unity and restoration?  Very much.  But this was impossible with the weapons I was wielding.  What deception -- to think my unholy weapons could bring about holy resolution.

The Lord is teaching me to stop, look up and wait before I respond -- to wait for Him to choose the weapon that is right for whatever I encounter.  All too often, I bound forward in my pride, packing unholy weapons, when He is simply asking me to wait, humbly realize I do not know the weapon to use and look to Him -- where the correct weapon is already waiting and ready -- a holy weapon.

Christ in me, those holy weapons are always at my disposal, but I have to stop and look to Him, asking His Spirit to choose instead of my flesh.  Looking up releases the license to carry a holy weapon that has the power of life.

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. ~James 3:18 (NIV)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beautiful Tender Of My Heart

For in him we live and move and have our being... ~Acts 17:28

Faithful Friend,
Shepherd and Overseer of my soul,
Thank you for beautifully tending my heart.

Breath of Life,
My Portion forever,
Thank you for beautifully tending my heart.

Though body is weak,
spirit is strengthened in You.
Your sufficiency never wanes.

Merciful Savior,
Stronghold of my life,
Thank you for beautifully tending my heart.

Though mind is without solution,
spirit is restored in you.
Your mercy never ends.

Living Water,
Light in my darkness,
Thank you for beautifully tending my heart.

Though limitations increase,
spirit is certain in You.
Your love never falters.

Beautiful Redeemer,
My firm Foundation,
Thank you for beautifully tending my heart.

Alpha, Omega,
My all-sufficient Lord,
Thank you for beautifully tending my heart.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Conformed to Transformed: Christ-minded on Love

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. ~Romans 5:8 (NIV)

There is a lot of pain and hurt in this life, but, in Christ, that pain and hurt need not be our resting place.  Sometimes in the midst of pain, struggle and hurt, it is hard to keep sight of the fact that we are dearly loved by God.  So often, the struggles that touch our lives do not feel marked by love, and yet God showed us how deeply He loved us by sending His Son to die for us -- though we were sinners.  Holy God sent His Son into the pit of sin that we might be pulled out of its depths.

Just as this Holy God was willing to send His Son into the pit of sin that we might be saved, this same God is willing to allow struggle and pain that we might learn to rest in His Son and be renewed from within.  He does not delight in our affliction, but He does delight in our transformation.  "He will not keep back even the most painful chastisement if He can but thereby guide His beloved child to come home and abide in the beloved Son." (Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ).  Transformation is that significant, that important, that necessary and that freeing.  Do we believe in a Love that will go to any means to make us more like His Son?

No matter what touches my day, everything boils down to this: do I believe that God is a good Shepherd and Overseer of my soul?  Do I trust that He knows my needs better than I do and that He will do exactly what is needed?

It is so easy to look at our situation, to sit in our hurt, and believe what we feel instead of the truth of God's words.  Those flesh-minded thoughts taunt and taunt, but we must persevere and seek God's help to keep our mind stayed on Him.

Flesh-minded Thought:
My life is filled with struggle and pain, God must not truly love me.

Christ-minded Thought:
Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you. ~Isaiah  54:10 (NIV)

Flesh-minded Thought:
This hurts too much to be of God; a loving God would never allow me to hurt like this.

Christ-minded Thought(s):
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. ~Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

True Christian joy is the heart's harmonious response to the Lord's song of love. ~A. W. Tozer

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us. ~I John 4:18-19 (NIV)

Fear is a result of being subject to someone who rejoices in evil and does not desire our good. If we are living in such fear, then we do not understand the depth of God's love for us. A Love that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. A Love that does not make us bend to His will, but is permissive in allowing man free will. A Love that has good plans for His children and desires to bring them a hope and a future. ~CDS

Rest has overtaken my heart through understanding that God never leaves a single detail dangling.  I know that sometimes it seems that He is working in another time zone (I guess in a sense He is - He works outside of time), but there is a peace that comes in realizing that time has no hold on Him -- our deadlines mean nothing -- His work will always be done in the very best way at the perfect point of purpose without a single detail dangling!  The only thing that God ever waits on, in relation to our personal destinies, is us -- He is always waiting to give us more of Himself, to bring fulfillment to our lives -- we can take comfort in the truth that He waits on us; He longs for us: He will keep hoping, keep persevering, keep enduring...because that is what Love does. (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Praise the LORD, for he has shown me his unfailing love... (Psalm 31:21, NLT)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Eyes Lifted Up

I lift my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. ~Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)

For the past 14 years, health struggles have been a major part of my life.  There have been good periods, good days, but physical limitations and uncertainties have been the norm.

Producing multifarious symptoms, one of the main struggles has been with my thyroid. For the last nine months, the thyroid struggle has been pretty intense. Seemingly, this body was being assaulted by every thyroid-related symptom previously experienced, as well as some new encounters.  To name a few: severe weakness and a heavy brain fog -- some days, it was as if my mind was almost blank, hardly a thought, no energy to form a thought.   Many, many days, I have had absolutely nothing to give.

I was physically experiencing what I knew spiritually -- that I had nothing to give to God.  To realize that you have nothing to give to God and yet to give Him everything you have, this is quite a paradox.  Everything comes from God: there is nothing that I have that was not graciously given to me by God, but nothing I have is needed by God.  His desire that I give myself back to Him is for my benefit not His.  For as I abandon myself to God and give back to Him everything that He has given, He gives more grace.  It could be said that the portion of grace is doubled.  For as I realize that He is my portion, I inherit the full portion that He desires to bestow upon me.

I have seen this in such a remarkable way in the last few months.  I love to read God's Word, but to even read a Psalm has been a supreme effort - at some points throughout the day, to pray, a mighty task.  Many days, all I could do was just look up -- Look to the hills from where my help comes.  Beautifully, each and every day the grace to get through that day, the grace to look up, was there.  God knew my heart and He lifted my eyes when I could not do this for myself.  That is the beauty of abandonment, of a surrendered life: we see ourselves for who we truly are -- realizing we are nothing apart from God, we offer the reins of our life to the One who truly knows what is needed, and He takes over and accomplishes all that needs to be accomplished.

God's grace is ever sufficient.  He takes nothing and makes it into something.  I do not know all the somethings that He is making within me, but even in the last few weeks He showed me that He was making something out of nothing: For years my hair has been growing -- growing -- I did not cut it, just let it grow.  Then two weeks ago, I had it cut -- 17" cut -- for donation.  You see, this body that has been so wasted was still endowed with something to give.  It may sound small, but it was huge to me...Sufficient grace, sufficient in wisdom and supply, sufficient to produce a gift from what the locusts have devoured.

As we look up to Him, His grace is constantly renewing us from within, making a new thing, producing a good gift.  All appearances may show a very contrary picture to true reality -- do we believe that our Maker knows what is best even when every outside indicator says that we have been cast aside?  Do we believe that He is producing a good thing even when production cannot be measured by human standards?  We can rest assured that fruit will always be produced from a surrendered life -- are we willing to allow God to enable our eyes to see the fruit that He is producing or will we stubbornly refuse the fruit that does not meet our hopes and expectations?  Will we keep looking up even when we are scared of what we might see?  We must, for as we do, Grace will be waiting to give more Grace.