Friday, September 30, 2011

stop being cheap with God

"I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing."  David (2 Samuel 24:24b)

How often does our worship, does our dedication, does out commitment to the Lord cost us anything?  Maybe it's cost us a little sleep...maybe a few friends here and there over the years...maybe its even cost us a job or a grade...but has it truly cost us anything?  David, in the above statement, was explaining to those around him that he would pay for the threshing floor he would use to offer a sacrifice to the Lord on, because he didn't want to take the easy route and be given the floor.  In his mind, if he got the space for free, it wasn't a sacrifice of praise at all but just a praise of convenience.

So I asked myself: What's my threshing floor?

The answer to that isn't quite as cut-and-dry as I'd like it to be, but that seems to be the nature of most things.  I think my sacrifice will look differently at different times and situations in my life.  On Sunday morning at church, if I'm standing in the congregation and really don't feel like singing that morning, my sacrifice is to take myself out of the equation and sing.  I don't sing because I'm always in the mood to sing (which is generally the case) but I sing to encourage others around me [check out this blog by Greg Gilbert on this subject].  Then, maybe I'm at the grocery store and the woman next to me in line wants to strike up a conversation and I'm just not feeling it.  At that time, though we wouldn't initially say that's a 'worship moment' the Lord asks us to love others and to share Him with them - this would be a perfect opportunity for me to do that if I would, once again, take myself out of the equation and talk to her. The examples of this are endless.

I was intrigued by the idea of sacrifice to God so I looked around and came upon Malachi 1:6-14 which is basically Malachi pointing out the sins of the priests in the way they were offering sacrifices to God.  What they were offering on the alter to God they wouldn't even have offered to their own governor.  He wouldn't have accepted it!  The type of sacrifice they deemed 'worthy' of God were lame or blind animals and defiled food.  I was incensed when I read that thinking, "How dare they offer the least of their things to Him!  Don't they know who God is and what He deserves."

But, as my righteous indignation waned, I realized I'm guilty of the same indiscretions.  There are days when I crave sleep and then force my Bible study into a fifteen minute period where I'm also in the middle of at least three other things.  I sit down to pray and suddenly, a half an hour later, I realize I've been making a To-Do list in my head for at least twenty of those minutes.  I show up to church and allow the stress of my week or personal life to seep into my thoughts so, instead of being encouraged or focusing on areas in which to grow, I come away looking more at myself then at Christ.

How dare I offer myself to God in that way.  Don't I know who He is and what He deserves?

Ah, the painful irony.  But, in the pain is an understanding; an awareness.  These times of selfish interest should propel me to seriously evaluate my heart and where it's at in everything I do.  I desire to "Honor the Lord from [my] wealth and from the first of all my produce"(Prov.3:9) and to offer up to him a "broken spirit...(and) contrite heart"(Psalm 51:17) and ultimately to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15).  I want my worship of Him (really, my life) to show sacrifices for His glory - made potentially at the expense of what's easy.  It's all right there in those verses.  The sacrifice, the author of Hebrews explains, is the fruit (the result) of lips that give thanks to Him.  To sacrifice to God is to give Him the first fruits (the best) of what you have or receive.  To have a broken heart and contrite spirit is to be humble before the Lord.

I pray that these things will define my praise and worship to Him.  That, when tempted to take the easy route and offer up things that cost me nothing, I will resist and instead ask of the Lord what He desires as my sacrifice of praise and then give it gladly, in spite of the cost, and through His grace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

blood on his hands, cleanness in his heart

"He also brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.  The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.  For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not acted wickedly against my God.  For all His ordinances were before me, and as for His statues, I did not depart from them.  I was also blameless toward Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity.  Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness before His eyes." 2 Samuel 22:20-25

Can you believe that King David wrote this? The fact that he was able to say the he had "cleanness" before God's eyes is amazing to me considering the blood that was on his hands.  If nothing else, this should be a huge encouragement to us - especially those who feel like God could never forgive them for their sins.  Need I recount David's sins?  Including (but not limited to) lust, adultery, and murder.  That hits a lot of the 'major' sins we think God could never forgive us from.

As I read this passage I was amazed at David's understanding of God's forgiveness and His grace and mercy.  I mean he was a guy who understood it!  He realized that his standing with God was not based on his sinlessness, but rather on his acceptance of God's grace and an attempt on his part to 'keep himself from his iniquity' (v24b).  David seemed to have mastered the art of repentance.  Just through reading many of the Psalms he wrote, you can hear a cry to God from a deep place in his heart asking God to pull him through and to "create in [him] a clean heart"(Psalm 51:10).  Psalm 51 is full of these pleas that show an understanding which reaches far ahead of David's own circumstances.  He rightly says that, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" and that  God will not despise "a broken and contrite heart" (51:17).  That small statement speaks volumes!  In that day and age, the way in which you came to God was through sacrifices, and here David was saying that God looks on those as a way to Him but beyond that He requires true repentance.  Repentance of the heart and the spirit.

David's view of God creates a deep desire in my heart to know and understand God in the same way.  As I read through the Psalms and through 1 & 2 Samuel and see David's life unfold before my eyes, I see a man who knew God and who loved Him.  He valued His relationship with the Lord above all else.  Sure, David messed up big time (several times) but yet to the very end his relationship with the Lord was held intact because of his view of God.

What is your view of God?  Is He just some dictator who sits in the sky judging and manipulating people?  Or is He only a being of love without justice, loving everyone without judgement which isn't really love at all?  Or maybe, in your mind, He doesn't care.  There are so many interpretations of who "God" really is, but if they aren't founded and shaped by who the Bible says God is, they're wrong.

David knew God because he spent time with Him.  He sought out His presence.  He took refuge in the Lord.  He trusted the Lord.  He listened to His voice.  David's outlook on life was changed because of the time he spent with God and, the amazing thing is, we can do the same thing.

"O love the Lord, all you His godly ones!  The Lord preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer.  Be strong and let your heat take courage, all you who hope in the Lord."
Psalm 31:23-24 A Psalm of David

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

don't miss the forest for the trees

I think back to the times where I'm desperately searching for something that I've lost.  I'm panicked.  I'm frantic.  I'm about to go ballistic because I cannot find my keys!  And then, two seconds later, there they are, sitting peacefully on the kitchen counter right where I left them.  And I was so sure I'd put them in my purse or on my bed... I didn't find them right away because I wasn't looking in the right place.

In Luke we read about the Jewish leaders and how they were desperately searching for the Messiah.  They were panicked.  They were frantic.  They were about to go ballistic because they could not wait for their King to come and take over.  Then Jesus showed up at the temple and was nothing like they'd expected.  They were awaiting a powerful and dominant King and Christ came as a humble servant. They missed the whole point of why He came (and that it was Him) because they were only looking for a Messiah of their own making.

I don't want to do that in my own life.

I'm not afraid of missing Him because I already know Christ, but I am afraid of searching so intently for what or how I think the Lord is going to act, that I actually miss what He's doing.  It's so easy to find yourself looking in one direction, waiting for the Lord to respond in a certain way and getting frustrated when it doesn't happen.  It's the times when your idea of the 'perfect solution' to a situation actually fails and you wonder if things really ever will work out.

But those are exactly the times when it's best to be ready for the unexpected to surpass our own ideas.  We see it in the parable of the prodigal son.  There he was, thinking that the best possible outcome for him would be to come home and work as a slave for his father (because at least that was better than not having food to eat).  He made up his mind and returned home, lost and broken, and what did his father do?  He threw caution to the wind and ran to meet his son, embracing him, clothing him, giving him his ring (like a personal credit card) and on top of that he threw a party for him!  I'm sure that was not the outcome the son was expecting or looking for.

I want to always remember that picture when waiting on the Lord.  His plans are always better than our own.  His way is always best.  His perspective infinitely more detailed and, when we step back and let Him lead us, we can't go wrong.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

renewed, refreshed, refocused

Do you ever have those days when you feel like you're just going through the motions?  Where you find yourself questioning your own motivations, wondering if what you hold so strongly as your beliefs are truth or are maybe founded on something wrong?  I know I have those days...sometimes those weeks, but today, for some reason, I started assessing what founds that initial questioning.  What makes me look around and wonder, "Is this real?".  I'm sure there is more than one answer to that, and yet I think...actually no, I know there is really only one answer to it - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

There are a lot of things we do - as Christians, as humans, as friends, as lovers, as brothers, sisters, mothers, name it, and there is generally something associated with that role.  For me, being raised in a Christian home and accepting Christ as a small child, I felt I was 'expected' to act/live a certain way.  You know, the 'good girl' thing.  It's not that my parents forced this on me, it was just my understanding of being a Christian at that time in my life.  It took me 'growing up' and going to college to realize that my faith couldn't exist just because my parents said it did.  As much as I respect them and look up to them as pillars of faith in my life, I knew I couldn't rely on their beliefs as if it were my own and call it good.  I had to accept my faith as personal; a relationship between Jesus and I.  Recognizing that, I found myself growing in leaps and bounds as I became saturated in His word and spent time with Him in prayer.  I stopped looking to others to gain my faith from and instead turned to God to establish His word in my heart and to answer my questions through scripture.

Years later, I can look back on those initial growth spurts and smile - completely seeing the hand of God through all of those times!  But, I also see times where I struggled.  It wasn't always easy to believe and I didn't always find the answers to my questions right away.  I did notice that in the times where I was struggling the most, there was one thing I overlooked every time.

I forgot who I was.  And, unfortunately, I still have times where forget who I am.

Maybe that sounds a little existential, but what I mean by that is the minute I start looking to myself to try and make sense of life, I forget Who is really in control.  It's so easy to think that the life I'm living is just all a performance when you conveniently forget what the purpose of life really is.  Based solely on a human understanding, life could be about making yourself happy and doing things so that you live your life 'satisfied'.  But then I think of all of the things in my life that are supposed to make me happy and remember that they don't - not completely.  Friends are great and money is nice and relationships can make you feel happy and fulfilled for a time, but what happens when those things don't work out?  When your friends can't hang out with you and your pay check doesn't quite stretch far enough and when your boyfriend dumps you?  Then what?

Then you're left to yourself and your own thoughts and that's a scary place.  No matter the amount of time I could take to 'make myself' be a better person, there is no way that I could actually accomplish anything worth noticing.  Sure, I could give money away, feed the poor, help an elderly neighbor get her cat out of a tree... you name a good thing and I could do it, but doing all of those things would get to be so tiring!  I know I couldn't keep it up for long and then I would be right back where I started - feeling purposeless and hopeless.

The beautiful thing in the midst of all of this is a simple word: grace.  Getting to the place where you recognize that you can't do anything to be good is exactly the place where Jesus meets you and says you don't have to do anything!  In fact, all you have to do is accept that He already did it all.

Maybe it's just me, but this always seems too good to be true.

But it's not!  In the midst of those times of questions and wondering if my life is headed in the right direction the answer to all of this is as simple as reminding myself of the gospel.  It answers every question I may have.  It puts me in the right place - recognizing that I am a sinner and don't deserve to be saved, but then comes along side me and lifts me up saying that I don't have to deserve anything.  And then, at the end of it all, it promises that Christ will always be with me, helping me, strengthening me, and guiding me through all of my life.  Through the good and through the bad.  I'm not alone and I'm not purposeless.

The gospel has renewed me.  It has refreshed me.  It has (and will always) drawn me near to the Lord and that is the best, most peace-filled place to be.  It's what I choose to focus on.

Check out James 4:1-10

Friday, September 9, 2011

learning from a broken man

Have you ever messed up really badly?  I mean, really, really badly?  You get to that point where your heart sinks to the bottom of your stomach and you just know that you've ruined everything?  David was definitely at that point.  There he was: a King, a warrior, a husband (a few times...), even a man after God's own heart, and he'd blown it.  Completely.  He had just been minding his own business when suddenly he was over come with lust for another mans wife and, rather than flee that temptation, he enabled it.  He used his power as King and called her to him, slept with her, then sent her back to her husbands household like nothing had ever happened.  On top of all of that, when he found out that she was pregnant, he tried to get out of it by sending her husband to her so it would look like the child was his.  When that didn't work out, things went from bad to worse as he sent her husband into battle, purposefully, to be killed (2 Samuel 11).

I read that story recently and was again struck by how utterly selfish David's actions were.  But, thankfully, I'm not the only one who noticed that.  In the next chapter (13) Nathan, a profit at that time, was instructed by the Lord to talk with David.  He told him a story, painting the picture of a poor man who could only afford to have one sheep.  This man loved the sheep and treated it almost like it was part of the family.  Then, one day, a rich man entertained guests and, rather than kill one of his many sheep, he took the poor mans lamb and killed it to feed them.  David burned with anger against the rich man in the story and claimed that he should be put to death.  Nathan simply pointed out that David was this man.  

Talk about a revelatory moment.  There David was, thinking he had gotten away with his sin - the woman's husband was dead, she was now his wife, they were having a child - all was well.  But no, the Lord brought David's sin to his attention through Nathan.  But the part that gets me is David's response.  He simply says, "I have sinned against the Lord."  It's short and too the point but I'm sure those words held a lot of weight.  In that moment he was recognizing that he hadn't just sinned against Uriah (the husband) and he hadn't just sinned against Bathsheba (the woman) but that he had sinned against God.  

Unfortunately, as is always the case with sin, there were consequences that came with David's actions.  The child Bathsheba bore became ill.  And what did David do?  He didn't walk away and say, "Oh well, that's what I get for messing up",  thinking his sin still held him captive.  Instead, he inquired of the Lord on the child's behalf and fasted, laying on the ground all night.  When the child eventually died and David found out, he got up, took a shower, changed his clothes, and asked for something to eat.  Those who had wondered at his sanity only a few hours before were amazed at this change.  He replied to their questions by saying, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.'  But now he has died; why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

In the midst of David's sin and grief, he held fast to the Lord.  He understood that he had sinned against God, and he also remembered that the Lord is in control of all things - his child's health as much as his own eternity (v23).  I feel as if I can look to David and learn so much just from these two chapters.  At Hume Lake this year the theme was centered on David and a week studying that has forever affected my view of this King and "man after God's own heart".  It's not so much that David was perfect and worthy of being in the position he held, but the fact that he understood who he was in perspective to who God is.  David messed up.  Big time.  Yet, in each of those situations he took rebuke and owned up to his sin only to fall on his face before the Holy God in true repentance.  

I want to respond like David when faced with my own sin.  I want to recognize that it is a sin against God and, in turn, repent and move on.  It's much too easy to get weighted down by past sins, allowing them to change the direction of your future, but if we understand true forgiveness and what Christ did on the cross for us, I think we'd think less about ourselves and more about Him.  The beauty of Christ's sacrifice is the fact that it doesn't take anything from us to accept Him.  Not a clean slate or a good work.  All it takes is an understanding of our own sin and an acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf.

A final word from David:

The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The Lord is good to all,
and His mercies are over all His works.

Psalm 145:8-9

Thursday, September 8, 2011

are you yelling? are you seeking? (part 2)

"The gospel view of salvation doesn't just humble you before people who don't believe what you believe....but the gospel version of salvation says serve them...make this a great place for all the people  of the city to live.  Because that's what God is seeking to do - to bring a new heavens and a new earth." - Tim Keller

It's all about the Kingdom.  And I'm not just talking about a Kingdom we'll eventually get to that appears far off and distanced.  It's about the Kingdom of God that's right now - at this moment - existing.  I know I have trouble completely understanding that.  What does it mean when we say the Kingdom is now?? I think some of that is cleared up by a definition of what the Kingdom actually is. 

Jesus uses many parables to describe what the Kingdom of God is, or is like.  He compared it to a man searching for fine pears and, upon finding the finest pearl, he sold all the possessed to obtain that pearl (Mt. 13:45-46).  He compared it to a king who wanted to settle accounts with some of his subjects and one appealed to him asking for time to repay his debts.  The king then forgave him the entire debt and let him go.  But this forgiven man turned around and called in debts that people owed him and showed no compassion.  Jesus then said of this, 
"My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Mt. 18:23-35). Jesus also compared the Kingdom of heaven to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  Some of the soil accepted it, some appeared to accept it but the shoots were choked out by weeds, and some flat out rejected the good seed and died on the rocky soil (Mt. 13:24-30).  He also compared the Kingdom to leaven (like yeast).  He said that it was like leaven a woman placed in flour and set aside until all of the flour was leavened (Mt. 13:33).

That's a lot of weird descriptions for a place, huh?  Well, it would be strange for a place but I like to think of the Kingdom of heaven as more of an all-encompassing idea.  In these instances, and many, many more that Christ gave of the Kingdom, it represents an acceptance of what it means to be a child of God.  As Keller hinted at in the quote above, living out our faith in Christ requires that we live focused on the Kingdom of God which, in turn, compels us to serve others.  We're not just living for ourselves and what we can (or think we should) get, were living together in order to give an example of what Christ's Kingdom looks like, albeit an imperfect one.  

With that in mind, it's refreshing to realize that we should not be alone in attempting to live out this vision.  In fact, we can't live it out alone!  We must be like the man who sold everything he had in order to purchase the pearl of great price but, instead of getting a pearl, we are giving up our idea of what life should be and receiving eternal life in its place.  Eternal life that, in essence, starts right here on earth.  Our hope would be to affect others like the leaven affected the flour.  Just a little bit was introduced but soon all of the flour was leavened!

At my church we focus on living in community with one another.  That could be a strange thought or phrasing to some, but basically it just means living life with one another.  We are trying to live out the Kingdom here on the earth within our small communities spread throughout the valley we live in.  It doesn't mean we seclude ourselves from everyone, but quite the opposite!  We try and live together in such a way as to show our freedom in Christ, our salvation in Him, our hope that is in Him, and our commitment to Him.  It's living purposefully.  It's making the effort to invite neighbors and coworkers over so they can gain an inside view into what the Kingdom of God actually looks like here on earth. I even know people in our church that have discussed the idea of purchasing homes close to each other just to further their involvement within a community!  

Have you ever thought about your finances that way? Living for the Kingdom means that we live like the church in Acts where it says they were, "Continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer...And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need" [Acts 2:42, 44-45].  I see that as a radical way to live for the Kingdom.  Seeing all that we have (not just 10%) as the Lord's.   Making decisions based on what He is instructing us to do, not based on what we think will be the best career move for us.  

A questions I would leave you with (and that I'm asking myself too) is this:  Is your life focused around living for the Kingdom or living for yourself?