Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Backyard

I intended to post a wrap-up on my stay in Romania....truly I did! I've been back in the States for nearly a month now…..I’m obviously a little behind.  Or a lot behind! First I blamed it on jet lag. After that, I don't know exactly what happened. I crashed. And life won't stop. The next bend in the road is coming up fast! So I've never gone back to finish what I started....and I did start that post, I really did! Maybe I'll get back to it? But for now, I’d like to share something that God put on my heart after I returned from Romania.

One night, as I was lying in bed, I asked God a question. “What happened?”

Meaning, what happened to that passionate thirst for His fellowship, to those rich, deep hours spent with Him, drinking in new insights He was showing me after the Lamplighter Guild this past summer? What happened to my new purpose to begin doing battle in prayer after seeing the movie War Room back in August….the determination to fight back against the enemy’s bid for my effectiveness, my fruitfulness, my potential in God’s kingdom? What happened to those intentions I had when I left for Romania….that I was going to use my free time to learn prayer warfare and to write more consistently?

“Lord…..what happened?”

Would you like to know what He said?

He brought to my mind these lines from a song. It pictures something similar to a quote I’ve heard from C.S Lewis, I believe. He was talking about how weak our desires are compared to what God wants to give us and to do in our lives. Lewis said we are like children making mud pies in the slums, and we just go on doing this in our blissful ignorance, because we can’t even imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday on the seashore. We are far too easily satisfied. These are the words that came to me….

“There you are in the backyard
Covered in mud in the backyard
If you only knew the joy I have for you
But you’re far too pleased in the backyard.”

And I get it. My backyard consists of the things of this earth that dazzle and distract, that split my focus and prevent me from being fully effective in anything to which I set my hand. 

It’s my smartphone, which after my choice to leave it off the grid for my two months overseas has inexplicably entangled me in its time-sucking vortex just as much as I was before! It’s things like Facebook and Youtube that play on my tendency to sit and kill time because I feel too lazy or too tired to do something better. It’s the ads and promotions and sales that are sent to my email and plastered in the store windows, calling me to hurry into the stores and look for bargains for Christmas gifts, or maybe just some new additions to my wardrobe. It's the spirit of laziness that entices me every morning to stay in bed just a little longer. It's spending all my time being busy with my hands because then I feel like I'm accomplishing something. Sometimes it is even worship music, which, although it feeds my soul and lifts my spirits, I often allow to become all this noise that drowns out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit and never allows me to quiet myself enough to listen.

I’m like a kid making mudpies in the backyard when my Father has planned this extraordinary adventure to the seashore and the mountains. He wants to show me so much more than I can imagine, but for the most part, I am content with my small world and small desires. I like to dream of far-off adventure and the glories of eternity…but to actually leave my puddle and walk away from what feels like security and comfort in the little fenced-in yard? It is difficult to focus your eyes on the horizon when they have been stubbornly fixed on the ground beneath your nose all day long.

So what will I do with this? How can I fight against the enemy’s strategy to bind me to small-mindedness?

I don’t know all the answers. For all the Word I have in my head, my sword arm still feels so weak. But the Word tells me that I must choose by faith, every day, to see what is unseen. To lift my eyes from my mudpies and see what God sees. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”  
Colossians 3:1-4

So what does it mean to set my mind on things above? How do I practice this? Seek what is above, where Jesus is. Seek His will, His kingdom, His glory. Seek the advancement of His kingdom and glory over the earth. 

But what does that look like?

Jesus is going to reign forevermore, and I will reign with Him and share in His glory! That is what He is preparing me for in this earthly life. Right now, on this earth, we are co-workers with Christ….co-creators with Him in the restoration of all things which will be completed when He returns as King! We are a part of His restoration work here. We have been newly created in Christ for particular good works that He has prepared for us to carry out in His name! That is our purpose and our calling on this earth. And of primary importance, our purpose is to know God intimately and to grow continually in our knowledge of Him. As a result of this, our lives here will be effective and fruitful in bringing Him glory and accomplishing His will!
So the question remains: what does this look like in practical, daily life? How do I throw off the things that are not necessary to an effective daily life, the things that slow me down and dim my sight of eternity? How do I maintain a proper perspective towards the responsibilities, opportunities, and tasks that are a necessary part of daily life? How do I determine what to emphasize more….the things I need to practice with increasing passion and perseverance in order to develop the gifts God has placed in me, grow in Christ’s character, and be the most effective me?

I have plenty of grand, searching questions, but I lack answers. Yet the Word says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” It says that Jesus has become my wisdom from God. His life in me supplies all the wisdom and all the resources I need for life and godliness. So then the question is how can I tap into this source of amazing life and wisdom?  

Ask. I must ask Him. You must ask Him. He said, “Ask, and you will receive.”

Because life is bigger than the backyard.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Life is tough.

Sometimes it is downright chaos.

Sometimes we get lost.

I've been a little lost lately. There are so many things I wanted to write. Many things still left to share from my time in Romania. Pictures to post. I've been back in the States nearly two weeks and where does the time go? People want to hear about my experiences and I don't want to keep it to myself, but sometimes the words won't come.

I came home eager to see my family and make things festively fun for the holidays and enjoy Christmas. Funny thing is,life doesn't stick to my script. I should know that by now. Christmas is all about God with us. But Jesus didn't come to make our lives all warm and cozy and fun,, He didn't come to give us a beautifully constructed holiday celebration, full of tastefully decorated homes, special food, thoughtful gifts, warm fuzzies, happy music, and family harmony. All of these things are great when you have them, and we can give thanks in our enjoyment of them. But they don't make Christmas.

And what about when life gets messy? When fear and faith collide in your soul and it gets ugly? When your eyes begin to open wider to the cosmic war we live in, the war between two kingdoms...and you feel powerless to stand? When hearts are broken and family is complicated and we struggle to understand, to make some connection? When the needs and pressures and work and junk of everyday life keeps piling up and overwhelming you and it's all you can do to keep putting one foot in front of the other?

I'm not writing because I have any answers or some fresh insight to share. I'm writing because I'm full of questions. Because I don't understand. Because I'm just trying to keep my head above water. And trying desperately to cling to the belief that God's plans for me, for all of us, are hope and a good future. Not because life will get easier. Not because we've been promised the answers. Not because we're ever going to feel equal to the task.

Simply because God is here. And He is our hope. He is our future.

We fill ourselves up with so much stuff and think we have it pretty good and it's easy to forget that our only good in life is God. That without Him, we have nothing. We are poor, blind, naked, destitute. Apart from Christ, we are pitiable wretches.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.....

I have done nothing to deserve redemption. Jesus has done everything.

I. Need. Jesus.

The more I travel this life, the less I seem to know. But I know this....I need Him. I don't know it enough. I want to know it more. There is nothing that matters more in this life than to know the one thing John Newton still remembered at the end of his life.....

"I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior."

John Newton has become one of my mentors of late, as I have been reading a wonderful book compiled from his scores of pastoral letters throughout the years of his service to Christ. Newton On The Christian Life by Tony Reinke is a rare, golden gem of a book. This is a bit of a rabbit trail, but if you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend the reading. I've read a ton of books, and I don't usually mark them up, but when I had gotten a short way into this one and was compelled to pull out my highlighters and start underlining, I knew this was a special book! John Newton was filled with Godly wisdom, and He clung to the simple power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote letter after letter to friends and those under his spiritual care, encouraging and challenging them in the Christian life. Now his writings are feeding my soul with the rich truths of the Gospel.

I don't know a better way to tie down this wandering post than with another gem of wisdom from the lips of Newton.  I quote:

"This is faith: a renouncing of everything we are apt to call our own, and relying wholly upon the blood, righteousness, and intercession of Jesus."

This is profound. This is what I am truly wrestling with right now. To lay down everything I think I am and everything I wish to be and whatever others may think I am and everything else that gives me some sort of merit in my own mind. To lay down all of my efforts to build a better me. To embrace the reality that I will always be wholly insufficient and bankrupt, and to cast myself fully on the all-sufficiency of my Savior Jesus.

He is ALL my righteousness. ALL my wisdom. ALL my sanctification. ALL that is lacking in me. ALL I can never be, never do for God. The Victory I can never win. The Love I can never give. The Fruit I can never produce. It is the power of Christ living in me that will do the impossible. Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27) My only hope of bringing glory to God, now and forever.

So yes, I've been a bit lost. There is so much I can't make sense of. There is the pain of everything that is not what it should be. There is the crush of endless things unsaid, undone, undeveloped, unfinished. But I still have hope. I will let John Newton close for me because he expresses this hope so well....

"I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I want to be; I am not what I hope to be in another world: but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am."  -John Newton