Thursday, December 27, 2012

Of Gifts and Givers

Christmas is about giving, right?  We spend time, money, and energy looking for the perfect gift for someone we love in remembrance of the greatest gift of all time...God the Father gave us His Son so that we might have life.  "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."  1 John 5:12

Of course in the hustle and bustle of this holiday madness we have created, the glitter of the retailers' big hurrah, and the ever-growing march of our society away from God, the greatest gift and the Greatest Giver are often lost, forgotten, or pushed aside.  We cheat ourselves.  We grieve our Creator.  And when tragedy strikes, as it does in this world, those for whom Christmas is only a festive occasion are suddenly left with nothing to celebrate.  No hope. 

In my family, we have tried to simplify our Christmas festivities.  Yes, family togetherness and special food and gifts are a part of it, but our desire is to keep Christ in the center.  We spent some time sharing what we are thankful for...some thought of simple pleasures that we can enjoy because God allows it , others spoke about the blessings God has given us that outlast our material world.  Our conversation turned to Kingdom matters and how to be better God-seekers.  Then we enjoyed the time of giving and receiving.  We didn't go wild buying gifts and we didn't spend what we don't have.  The gifts chosen were few but meaningful.  Sometimes fun, sometimes practical, sometimes surprising, depending on personalities, but always with careful thought to delight the recipient. 
With twelve people in the family, opening gifts turns into quite an event, despite our simple preparations!  We have a secret name exchange, so it's a time when we get to find out who drew our name.  It's a time for trading stories about where someone got a creative idea or where they found some special item or how they knew just what the person wanted.  It's a time to enjoy being together and expressing our love for one another in the tangible form of giving.  And it's a time to rejoice in each other's joy....the expressions, exclamations, and appreciation as each gift is revealed.

Today, the day after Christmas, I was thinking about the way our giving and receiving reflects our Heavenly Father.  It was fun to watch how everyone reacted in different ways to their gifts.  My seven year old brother was ecstatic over everything, especially his new cars!  He kept saying, "I can't believe it!!!"  One of my sisters was amazed that whoever got her name knew exactly what she liked....which happened with a little clandestine help from her roommate.  My mom was supremely pleased with her gift of new clothes...everything was perfect for her...the result of a cooperative effort by two daughters.  Everyone was fascinated by the uncommon gift that my inventive-minded brother gave my dad.  And when my future brother-in-law produced a gift of gourmet chocolates from his parents, we swarmed it like bees to honey!  Each of us took pleasure in the gifts we received, but we had double pleasure in watching our family members delight in what we gave them.  How sad would it be to give someone a special gift that you planned to bring them joy, and have them dislike or reject it?  Maybe this has even happened to you.

 I think that if I can get such pleasure from watching someone enjoy my gift, how much more joy does God have when we delight in His gifts to us?  When He created the world, Genesis tells us that He said everything He made was very good.  He takes great delight in the flaming sunset, the soaring mountain peak, the ocean waves roaring, the brilliant colors of sky and grass and flower, the grace of an eagle riding the air, the icy tendrils in a snowflake, the colors and shapes and sizes and unique handprints and personalities and gifts of every human being.  But God didn't fashion these things because He needed them.  He didn't need to put a little bit of His glory into every part of His creation in order to see or know how glorious He is.  I think He did it because He wanted to share His glory and joy with us!  Imagine Him planning every intricate detail for our enjoyment!  Think of the way you feel when your best friend absolutely loves the gift you gave them.  Can you imagine how much pleasure it gives God to see us loving the things He's made?  And when we begin to take the time to name every gift we can think of that He has given, and the list goes on and on and on, and we find even greater joy in the that must thrill His heart!  And then when we begin to look harder and discover the beautiful in the ugly things, the hard things, the painful things, and we understand that everything coming from the hand of our Father is good and perfect, even when it doesn't make sense, and we trust Him despite the pain....that must bring Him the deepest satisfaction, for He sees the whole of the beautiful tapestry He is weaving in your life and mine...we only see the ugly knotted underside.  And He knows that some of the sharpest and ugliest stones will become the most brilliant gems...ashes will become beauty, mourning will turn to dancing, streams of water will burst forth out of dry ground, and deserts will bloom!  Remember, the greatest gift came at the highest cost.  And it wasn't pretty.  Picture Jesus hanging on the cross.  Covered in blood.  Flesh ripped open.  Horrid, long nails through His body.  Gasping for breath.  Screaming in agony.  Heart broken as the full weight of our sin hangs on His shoulders and His Father turns away.  It's the ugliest picture you can imagine.  But it's also the most beautiful.  "But God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Romans 5:8  It's the ultimate love story.  "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?"  Romans 8:32

Sadly, untold numbers of people have rejected the greatest gift and the Greatest Giver.  Others have ignored Him, seeing their own small pursuits as more significant than knowing the One who gave them life.  And many, even those of us who call ourselves His children, have worshipped the gifts rather than the Giver.  Imagine if you gave a wonderful gift to your friend.  Maybe they expressed their gratitude at first, but they loved the gift so much they became obsessed with it.  They began to spend all their time and energy with this gift.  They no longer spent time with you, and soon your lives drifted apart.  This is how many people treat God.  They'll eagerly take His blessings, but they lose interest in cultivating a deep relationship with Him.  We also fall into taking the gifts for granted, neglecting to say thank you.  Instead of opening our eyes and telling God how much we are grateful for, we focus on what we don't have, and we become blind to everything we do have. 

So today, think about the Greatest Giver, and consider whether you truly want Him, or only His gifts?  Think about the greatest gift.  Have you accepted it and opened it?  Do you have the Son?  Think about your daily life.  Are you seeing, naming, and delighting in Father's countless gifts to you today?  Are you remembering that you have the best gifts, like hope, peace, and everlasting life, in Jesus Christ?  That no matter what happens, your life is bound up in the Giver, not the gifts?  He loves you.  He died to prove that.  He delights in your delight, but most of all, His joy in full when your delight rests in Him.  "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalm 37:4  He will be your desire.  Nothing else can fill you like He can.  He made you for Himself.  God is with us.  Immanuel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Coming Kingdom

"God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne."  Psalm 47:8

Election Day 2012.  Today we are faced with choices.  These are ripples in the water, the kind of choices that will affect not only ourselves but our family, friends, nation, and the world.  Will we stand in the gap for our nation through prayer, or do nothing?  Will we vote for leaders who uphold truth and justice, or do nothing?  Will we trust in God as sovereign, or fear the disasters that are coming upon our nation?  Will we answer the call to our God-given privilege and responsibility, or stand idly by as the storm clouds gather on the horizon?  It has been said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."  (Edmund Burke)  But if you are like me, you may find yourself wondering if anything you do is going to make a difference at this point.  We hear stories of corruption and manipulation in the election process.  The candidates are constantly slinging mud at each other.  The media tries more and more to tell us how to think.  Our economy is on the brink of collapse.  We are quickly losing the favor and respect of other nations.  Our culture is filled with corruption and immorality is the accepted norm.  It brings to mind this passage from Isaiah...."Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.  Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey."  Isaiah 59:14-15

To be honest, I have not been praying fervently and earnestly for my country and for the results of this election.  And I wonder how many of us have been?  Often I put these things out of my mind and in selfishness I choose not to care, as long as it doesn't affect me and my little world.  But as I come to know God more and to understand what matters to Him, I realize that this is not about me or my world or an election or the United States of America or all the nations....all these are drop in a bucket to God.  This is about Him.  It's about His glory, His kingdom, His reign over all things, His agenda.  We and all our history and the history of the world since the beginning is part of His story.  As I turned my thoughts to Him this morning and spent some time in the Word and prayer concerning this Election Day, this is what I learned.

Many times in the Bible, we can read the prayers of Godly men who pleaded for mercy upon their nation.  They knew judgment was immenent and they prayed for God to stay His hand.  So I asked God to have mercy on our nation, to put men at the helm who have the wisdom and courage to turn this ship around before the storm hits.  Leaders who understand the times and know what our country should do.  I believe it is right to pray this way.  As citizens of the kingdom of God, we have a responsibility to care for the souls of men and to stand in the gap.  But we must see beyond this.  Maybe it is time.  Time for God to shake all that can be shaken in our world.  Time for the church, the bride of Christ, to walk through fire and come out refined and ready for the wedding.  Time for everything to fall apart so that people will call upon God and turn from their wicked ways and be saved.  This too is part of God's kingdom.  His story.  We know that judgment is coming.  We know that Jesus Christ will soon return.  We know that every knee is going to bow before Him.  Again, let's be honest.  Could it be that in my prayers for mercy, my only true concern is for myself and the people I love?  I don't want my comfortable world to be dissolved.  In my heart of hearts, I know that God is my only Rock and I cannot hang on to anything else.  I know that loving Him means dying to myself and my kingdom.  I know I probably need to have my world drastically rocked before I will follow Christ with abandon.  But I don't want to pray for it. 

Now what will I do if God does stem the tide for awhile longer?  Will I make the most of the opportunity to win the world for Christ and to do everything in my power to have a Godly influence on the culture and the government?  I haven't done so up to this point.  What makes me think that I will start doing things differently if God answers my prayer for mercy?  Does God know that His people will wake up and be watchmen if He gives us another grace period?  Or does He know that we will only wake up through severe trial and testing?  Maybe it is time.  Time for God to strip all the glitter from our lives and the pretense from our hearts.  Time for us to lose everything we cling to so tightly, that we may gain what cannot be lost.  And, as we read in the book of Esther, our Father has brought each one of us to the kingdom, the kingdom of His Son, for such a time as this.  The storm is coming.  The lines will be drawn.  Our true allegiance will be discovered.  And so we must pray.  We must pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done, regardless of personal cost.  We must pray that people everywhere will be brought out of darkness and into light and will come to the knowledge of the truth, for it is His will that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance.  Whatever happens at the polls today, whatever happens in the next four years, may the Kingdom of our God become flesh and blood in our lives, as real as it already is in Heaven.  Don't be terrified by what is ahead.  Take comfort in the living Word of our Father.  We can know that He is with us.  And we can know that come what may, He will be exalted.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea...the nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utter His voice, the earth melts.  The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.  Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"  Psalm 46:1,2,6,7,10

Be exalted, O God!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Complete Life

Recently, I've been memorizing and meditating on Psalm 34.  It has a lot to say about the benefits of fearing the Lord and His care for the righteous.  So I'd like to share some insights God gave me from the middle of the chapter.  Verses 8-10 say, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!  Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack!  The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing." 
It's quite a statement that we will lack nothing!  What a wonderful thing, but does it really mean what it sounds like?  I want a lot of things.  And for the most part, they're good things.  At least that's what I think.  God has the power to give me all of them, but He doesn't.  I know in theory that He knows what's really good for me and that some of the things I want are not good, just like parents know better than their children.  But can I believe that there is no good thing I lack?  Listen to Psalm 84:11.  "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly."  So not only will we lack nothing, but God has promised He will not keep back any good thing from us when we fear Him!  And Psalm 23 says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." 

What God is helping me to understand is, first, that the more I taste, meaning personally experience, of Him, the more I will discover that He is the source and the essence of all good, and that He is all the good I will ever need.  Secondly, God created me.  He knows what is good for me, even more than a parent knows what is best for their child.  He has wisdom without limits!  "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

My heavenly Father knows what is truly good for me.  He knows that many of the "good" things I want for myself are actually dangerous to me because they will distract me or drive a wedge in my relationship with Him.  If all the good I need comes from Him, then anything that steals my attention away from Him is destructive to my soul.  Basically, if I fear the Lord, meaning I love, worship, adore, trust, and obey Him over everyone and everything else, then I have in Him all I need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)  If there is something else I think I need that God chooses not to give me, and I won't let go of it, I'm fearing (worshipping and requiring) that thing over God. 

So I don't think our focus is supposed to be on the question of whether or not we can trust God to give us every good thing.  I think the real question is, do you fear God?  Who or what are you worshipping today? 

I leave you with one final thought from the Word of God.  Psalm 16 expresses the heart of a man who fears the Lord and has found the fullness of life in Him.  Listen to verses 1 and 2.  "Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.  I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.'"
And verse 11 is one I have long loved; it tells us the results of a life that is utterly dependent on the Lord...."You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Enjoy the Journey

It's been an absolutely beautiful week!  The temperature cooled off and we had a great time with the kids on the ranch.  To top it all off, God has brought me back to a place of peace and contentment, and I know once again that Taylor is the right place for me right now.  He's given me such joy and high spirits these last few weeks, and I praise Him for the work He's doing to show Himself in and around me!  The weekend finds me grateful but physically spent.  I was ready for some serious down time.  So today I've done very little.  Oh, I have a list of good stuff I'd like to accomplish, things I feel I need to get a move on, such as writing on this blog!  In the last week I had an inspiration for something to write about, and then a few days later I got some really cool insights on a Psalm I'm memorizing, which I would also like to share.  The trouble is that if I don't have or take the time to write the same day, it usually won't happen.  I begin to lose the train of thought and the inspiration.  When I sat down this morning with the intention of writing, I was distracted and couldn't get started.  I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with these ideas anymore.  So I didn't try very hard.  What I needed most was to sit in the gorgeous mid-70's sunshine on the lake beach and listen to the water lapping the shore and talk to God.  So that's what I did.  After that I messed around for awhile, doing seemingly a lot of nothing.  But it really was something.  I cleaned the shower, which improved my general outlook.  I read a letter from a close friend, which gave me great pleasure.  I spent time chatting with some other friends.  The day was wearing on, and I still hadn't gotten to any of my writing or reading, but I was determined to get out and move for awhile, so I pulled out my bike.  It turned into quite a long ramble over hills and gravel roads and into some lovely secluded spots.  On the way home, as I pushed my tired muscles along, I began to focus on how much time I'd spent away from the list of things I "needed" to do.  I was becoming weary of the journey and anxious to just get home and be done with it.  But I stopped myself and considered what a pleasant ride it had been, and I remembered that I ride my bike because I enjoy the scenery and the experience.  I don't do it to knock off a certain distance and get back home.  And I realized that it's the same way with life...the joy is in the journey.  Yes, we do need to be certain of our destination and intentional in the way we travel.  There is a reward at our journey's end.  Yet what would the homecoming be without the journey?  It's in the trials, triumphs, hardships, and joys of this walk through life that we are being shaped into all we were meant to be.  And God is working through it all to take the emptiness of our lives and turn it into fruitfulness.  Take my day, for example.  God can do as much or as little as He chooses with one day of my life to make an impact on eternity.  Did I make myself completely available and surrendered to His use today?  Probably not.  Have I ever had a day when I did that?  Not that I can tell.  But God is constantly working to bring me and you closer to that goal.  And sometimes, to be honest, we need a day to do absolutely nothing.  A day to breathe deep, lay on the sand, and listen to the sound of water. 

Back to my bike ride.  It matters little how many miles I went or how many times I had to get off and walk up the hill.  The journey wasn't about my speed or my physical strength.  For me, the greatest reward in a bike ride, and in life, is in the times I stop to smell the roses.  It's in making a memory.  It's the sunshine on your face and the wind whipping your hair.  It's stopping on a secluded back road among the trees to listen to the stillness.  It's catching the scent of Fall in the air.  It's hearing the corn stalks whisper as you pass.  It's the excitement of seeing what's just over the next hill or around the bend.  It's drinking in the jeweled blue of the sky and trying to imagine how that color would feel and taste.  It's the crunch of gravel under the tires and the buzzing of the cicadas.  It's the thrilling and slightly scary rush of flying down a hill.  It's singing along to your favorite worship songs in your earbuds, and then turning the music off and talking to God.

Today I spent time with God.  I spent time with people I care about.  I didn't accomplish a lot of tangible stuff.  Maybe I didn't reach my full potential in a lot of areas.  My life isn't long enough to write every inspiration.  And that's ok.  I don't have to try to recapture what was on my heart a week ago.  But I shared what was on my heart today.  We all have a lot of living left to do, if the Lord wills.  Slow down a little bit.  Savor what means the most to you.  Let's look for the joy in the journey.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

God Speaks

So here is one of the things God spoke to me about during the Life Action Summit.  I've dealt with this issue before and even written about it here.  But it has surfaced again in the last few months and God made it clear to me what the deal is. 

For as long as I can remember, I have rejected who I am.  I have believed myself to be inadequate as a person and as a Christian.  I constantly admired other people, comparing myself with them and believing I was less valuable because I didn't have this personality, or that body, or those abilities.  I wasted a lot of time fantasizing about who I wanted to be and the life I wanted to have.  God let me see that there is so much pride in my heart.  Pride told me that I deserved to be someone amazing, someone "better", and that God had withheld the best from me.  Whatever I fantasized about being or doing, I was always the best, the most beautiful, the heroine, the super-talented, the one everyone would envy.  I never saw myself as being anywhere close to those ideals, so I didn't try to meet them; I simply lived them in my fantasy world.  I created an idol in my mind....the image of myself as I wanted to be.  And I raised this image up against the design that God created in me.  I was saying, in effect, "God, You cheated me.  You didn't make me good enough.  This is how you should have made me.  This is who I would be if I were in control."  Along with the pride, God also revealed that I have been bitter towards Him for the way He made me.  Consequently, I've allowed comparison, discontent, and envy to rule me for many years.  These things have held me back from reaching out and loving others unconditionally and giving myself fully to relationships.  And God showed me that by rejecting myself, I have rejected Him as my Creator.  He said that everything He made is very good.  (Gen 1:31)  He inspired the Psalmist to say, "I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14)  In my prideful presumption, I made God a liar.  I believed that what He made in me wasn't good enough. 

God has been working on this issue in my heart for many years, and He used some struggles over the last few months and this week of the revival summit to bring it all together.  Before this week, I was dealing with depression and anxiety over the coming summer season at the ranch.  I had nothing left in me to go on in the work God has given me here.  I was in a desperate place, feeling the weight of my own emptiness.  Do you know that feeling?  Amazing how heavy emptiness can be.  Now I believe that God brought me to the end of myself and shredded every last vestige of my supposed self-sufficiency to prepare me for revival.  What He spoke to me so clearly during one of the messages is this:  "You are empty.  You can't do this.  You don't have the sufficiency in yourself.  But that is where My grace comes in.  My sufficiency meets your need.  My utter strength meets your utter weakness.  I delight in using destitute people.  People who have nothing to offer and know it.  Because that is where I can show Myself.  I don't want the world to see your personality, your gifts, or your strength.  I want the world to see Who I Am."  Wow.  That absolutely floored me.  I mean, I really should have known.  It has never been about who I am or what I could be.  The whole reason for my existence is to know and love my Creator.  The reason I am still on this earth is so He can show Himself in my life! 
God asked me to surrender.  He asked me to lay down all I wanted to be and all I was trying to be and throw myself on His grace.  He wants me to embrace who I am as He made me and to allow Him to show people Himself through my life.  I repented of my pride, bitterness, and rejection.  I acknowledged Jesus as Lord of who I am.  I've asked Him to make my life the grounds in which people can see Him and be touched by Him.  He must increase, and I must decrease. 

Now as I step into the summer at His Ranch, here is where the rubber meets the road.  God has lifted my spirits and changed my perspective.  But a brief spiritual high is not going to carry me through.  This doesn't make it any easier to do what's before me.  I have to choose every day to receive fresh grace.  I have to move forward in faith and do the hard things and keep desperately holding on to Jesus to be my sufficiency.  He wants me to depend on Him moment by moment, even for the smallest things.  I know He has brought me here and it is still the place where He wants me to be.  It's easy to be in the place where you want to be.  It's easy when you love it and you think you can handle it.  But when the passion fades and strength is gone and you don't want to be here anymore, I think that's when we have two choices.  We can either quit and run away to a safe, comfortable little bubble where there's no room to grow, or we can bet all our cards on Jesus and find out that He truly is Everything.  Sometimes we have to find out that all our best efforts have been coming out of our flesh.  We have to come broken before God, knowing we have nothing to bring to the table.  That's when we're ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  That's when our lives can bring the most glory to Him because it will be obvious that what is being done is totally from God and not from us.  I'm just beginning this journey.  I can't promise that I won't fall away from this truth again.  But I know God is holding me.  I know He's not going to give me what I need for tomorrow, but only what I need for today.  So I'm holding on, because God is my Rock and my Stronghold.  He is the strong hand that is holding on to me, and there is nothing powerful enough to separate me from His love!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Re-vival (Back to Life)

Hello my friends in blog-land!  (If anyone is still out there.  J)  I know it has been ages since I posted.  However, if you are interested, I’ve done quite a bit of writing on the His Ranch blog over the past year.  You can find that at  Life just keeps on happening, and as much as I would like to keep a running commentary here, time eludes me.  So instead of picking up wherever I left off, I will share what God is doing in the present. 
I spent most of the winter living at His Ranch, taking care of the horses and doing other part-time work around the place.  God also blessed me with the gift of traveling in Indiana and Ohio for awhile.  I spent a month with some friends and horse people in South Bend, Indiana, and was able to get home for Easter, which was an unexpected blessing!  Now everything is gearing up for the summer season at the ranch, staff and volunteers are in place, and we will be opening, Lord willing, on Monday.  As I write I am actually on the road again.  I just spent two weeks with my family in Ohio for a special time of seeking God with churches in our community.  Today I am in Chicago for a short visit with relatives and will be back in Missouri later this weekend.  God has been so good to let me have this travel time, especially right before we dive into the ranch ministry again.  I have been desperately in need of renewal and personal revival.  This is what my time at home was about. 

For the past five years, two of my siblings have served with Life Action Ministries on their traveling revival team.  If you have never heard of Life Action, you should look up their website and see what it’s all about.  The heart of the ministry is to earnestly seek revival in the church of Jesus Christ through fervent prayer and solid Bible teaching that calls believers to repentance and total surrender to the Lord we claim to follow.  The team that my brother and sister have served with travels around portions of the eastern and south-eastern states during the school year, spending one to two weeks at each church.  They hold special services almost every day during this time, called a Life Action Revival Summit.   Two or three speakers, along with their families, travel with the team and share messages from Scripture on things like repentance, recognizing sin in your life, and the Biblical model for life as individuals and families.  The rest of the team, consisting mainly of college age men and women, serve in various capacities: leading worship music, teaching youth and children’s programs, running sound, and covering the summit in prayer.  God has chosen to use this ministry as a channel to work transformation in the hearts and lives of many of His people. 

It has been a desire of my family for a few years to bring the Life Action team to our church, but this was not feasible due to the small size of the church.  God, however, has been working in our local area for a long time, stirring people to pray and seek revival.  There were things going on that we didn’t even know about.  Pastors meeting to pray.  Community meetings called to seek God where pastors confessed to people the failure of the church to follow God.  And this year God opened the way for the local ministerial group to come together and sponsor a Life Action Summit for the churches of the whole community!  This is something that has never been done before in Life Action’s history. They have always gone to large single congregations.  Needless to say, our excitement was high, and we have asked God to do great things!  Months of prayer and planning went into this event.  We were able to use the county fairgrounds for the services.  For a whole week, Sunday to Sunday, people came together from several churches around the county, different denominations, to seek the Lord in a concentrated time for personal revival that will spread ripples throughout our community and beyond!  The spiritual unity that God brought among the people who attended and especially among the pastors was amazing!  A large group of pastors and other men met every morning of the week at 6:00am to pray.  The pastors also met several other times for special meetings.  The singing during the services was charged with energy and people expressed themselves freely to the Lord.  The messages we heard were not new truths, but things we needed to hear in a fresh way, and I believe God spoke to each person about the specific issues He wants to deal with in our lives.  He certainly spoke to me.  I’ve been in a season of depression and apathy that God used to bring me to the end of myself.  He knew that is what I needed to be ready to begin experiencing revival.  In the past two weeks, God lifted my spirits in a wonderful way, and although it is not any easier to go back to what He has given me to do, I am going with a fresh touch of His grace and a renewed faith in the sufficiency of His strength to meet my emptiness.  I believe that kind of faith and utter dependence on Him is what matters to God more than the specific place I’m in, the work I’m doing, or even how successful I am in that work.  He puts us in the places where He knows we will have to choose between unbelief and faith, between independence and God-dependence, between rebellion and surrender.  He doesn’t want half of my heart.  He wants it all.

I will share more in the coming days.  Today I am grateful for the unfailing love and compassion of my Lord.  He is the reason I can walk forward in hope.   He is our Fountain of Life.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What Is It You Want?

In the sermon yesterday, this story was shared, and it really captured my attention.  I don't know if it's a true story, but it's told that when Socrates, the great philosopher, lived, a young man came to him one day and said, "I want wisdom."  Socrates said, "Alright, if you want wisdom, come with me."  The young man followed him to a river.  The old philosopher walked into the water and told the man to join him.  The young man followed, wondering what in the world Socrates was doing.  The philosopher asked, "Now, what is it you want again?"  "I want wisdom," he replied.  "Alright," said Socrates, and he pushed the man's head under the water and held him there for a moment.  The young man came up dripping and confused.  "Tell me again, what is it you want?"  "I want wisdom!" said the man.  "Alright."  And he pushed his head under again.  This time Socrates held him under a little longer.  The young man came up spluttering.  Again, he asked, "What is it you want?"  "I want wisdom!"  And again he pushed him under, this time holding him for quite awhile, till the young man began to fight and struggle to come up for air.  When he let him up, gasping, again Socrates questioned, "What is it you want?"  Now doubting the wisdom and the sanity of the old philosopher, the man said, "I what wisdom!"  Once more Socrates pushed him under the water and held him for a very long time.  The young man writhed and twisted desperately, until finally he was released.  As he choked and gasped, Socrates asked once more, "What do you want?"  "I want air!"  he gasped.  Satisfied at last, Socrates said, "When you want wisdom as much as you wanted air, you will find it."

The story was told in the context of asking ourselves, "How much do I want God?  How much do I really want to be close to Him?"  In Jeremiah 29:13 God says, "you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart."  I have heard and quoted this verse many times.  But again I find myself asking: what does it mean to seek Him with all my heart?  I really admire people who seem to approach life with an exuberant passion for all they do.  They seem to have a natural ability to put their whole heart into what they are doing and enjoy it fully.  I am not one of those people.  I tend to imagine acheiving lofty things without the intention of fully pursuing those dreams.  I used to spend a lot of time dreaming unrealistic dreams....desiring gifts and abilities that I wasn't given, or just plain wanting to be someone else.  Even in my real-life pursuits, I find myself living half-heartedly.  But nothing grieves me so much as the realization that most of the time, I'm pursuing God half-heartedly.  The story of the young man who wanted wisdom convicted me.  And it also reminded me of something.

When I was little, I was diagnosed with asthma and allergies.  I was taking medication early on and learned to use an emergency inhaler.  If I had too much physical exertion or even got into a fit of laughter, my lungs would constrict and I would have difficulty breathing.  Almost every time I had a cold, it would turn into an asthma attack.  But the worst time was when we would visit my grandparents in West Virginia.  There was something in the air, either inside or out, that got to me every time.  Within hours of our arrival, I usually started sneezing and developed a runny nose.  Within the next day or two it would turn into a full-blown asthma attack.  There was hardly a visit to West Virginia during my childhood that didn't end up with at least a day and night spent in the easy chair in the livingroom, struggling to breathe and passing the miserable hours until I could use my inhaler again and get a brief respite.  My mom would sit up with me some of the time and rub my back and try to encourage me to relax, to sit up straighter and take deeper breaths.  I would be hunched over trying to breathe in shallow gasps.  But there was really nothing else anyone could do for me, and I remember passing many night hours alone, watching the clock, because I knew when I could have my inhaler again, and I would just try to survive till the next relief.  Thankfully my condition was not as serious as some.  I only went to the emergency room once in my life to get more serious intervention.  But in my memory as a child, those attacks were torture, and I sometimes wondered if I would make it through the night.  There was nothing to do but keep breathing, as painful as that was.  Even so, my Father was always there, and He used those dark nights in a special way.  I remember when I was about 11 or 12, spending much of the time singing in my head all of the comforting songs I could think of.  And sometimes I would read the Bible.  I'm sure I talked to God a lot, because there wasn't much else I could focus on besides breathing and the knowledge that He was there, holding me all through the night.

God has been so merciful to strengthen my body and lungs as I grew into my teens and heal me of the asthma!  It's been so long that I almost forget I dealt with it.  But as I listened to that sermon, God took me back, and it was almost like I was there again, ten years old, sitting in that old stuffed rocking chair in the darkness, wrapped in a blanket, concentrating all my energy into that next breath.  I could almost feel the terrible constriction in my lungs, the heaving of my aching chest, and the desperate pulling of oxygen through an airway that was nearly closed.  And I realized I knew how that young man felt.  What a picture!  I've been there!  I know how much you want air when you can't get enough.  And I know that is how much I have to want God, if I would be wholly committed and fully satisfied in Him.  I wish it were as easy as the memory.  But it's not.  It's a daily choice.  It's putting aside other things that are important to me to give God the highest place in my heart and the best of my time.  It's investing more of my treasure in Him instead of using it for myself.  It's purposefully, persistently falling on my face before God day after day, pleading for the outpouring of His glory in my life, until He becomes the greatest passion of my soul.  And I'm not there yet.  But it's where I want to go.  I thank Him for the grace to even desire to go there.  I pray for desperation, to want Him that badly.  And I hope, because I know He wants to take me there even more than I want to go. 

What about you?  What is it you want?