Saturday, October 1, 2011

Droughts & Roots

Today I spent the good majority of the morning doing yard-work, which included mowing the grass but also a lot of weed-pulling...our next house will have St. Augustine grass like we have had in the past - Bermuda is a pain!

So some of the weeds were large, but most of them were in the normal range of what we have come up in our yard. Imagine my surprise today, that as I pulled these seemingly identical weeds I've pulled before, when they were NOT coming up easily at all. If you know me personally, you know that I have decent strength, I guess you could say, for a girl :). And when I say not coming up easily - I mean both feet planted, knees bent, gloved hand wrapped around it firmly - weed-pulling. When they finally did let go, most of the time it sent me backward a little. You would not believe the root systems on these babies! We are talking maybe a pencil diameter, as compared to these same weeds having more like dental floss-diameter roots in the past. Here in South Texas, we have had an incredible drought this year; and I can only imagine this is the reason behind these very beefed up roots, as even the weeds had to work hard to search out any moisture available!

As I continued to work, that got me thinking about our spiritual root systems, and I continued to mull along these lines all day. We all go through times of spiritual refreshment, and then I know we sometimes go through periods of drought, like Texas has experienced in the natural this summer. I recently came across a different perspective about these so-called drought times that I'd like to share. I am currently working through a study on the Song of Solomon from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, and here's their enlightening discussion on the different 'seasons' of His embrace:

"His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me." Song 2:6
This is the "divine embrace" or His "jealous grip" which describes the 2-fold activity of God in her experience. By embrace, we mean the "sweet" feelings of being loved and the "sweet" feelings of loving back. The "Divine Embrace" is found in 2:6 & 8:3. There is a certain mystery to God's embrace as He releases and withholds His presence in very strategic ways. God wants MYSTERY to be in the relationship.
a. The Invisible Activity of God ("His left hand is under my head")
Her head speaks of the Lord touching her and releasing to her wisdom and a heavenly perspective. God's left hand touching her UNDER her head speaks of His indiscernible activity she can't see, because His 'hand' is under her head. He is still drawing her in.
b. The Manifest Presence of God ("His right hand embraces me")
This speaks of the "sweet" manifest presence of God that can be seen, felt, and discerned. The right hand of God is the part that embraces. This is something that you can feel and it is discernible. It is the cherishing embrace (Eph. 5:29).

I liken these seasons of His embrace (invisible and manifest) to mean the same as drought and rain periods in our spiritual journey. Much of the time in Christian circles though, you don't hear the positive analogy (embrace) just the negative one (drought). Thinking of it in the terms described above makes it much more palatable, wouldn't you agree? That our amazing Father isn't withholding anything (in one case rain) from us; but that He is actually there, literally holding us and teaching us the whole time, and we just don't know it!

Regardless of how you view it, these times of quieter spiritual activity in our lives can still be very unpleasant and confusing. I know I've been in positions where I was trying to figure out what I could do to get out of them, when in fact, they were something He was taking me through. And for what purpose? Of course, the answer is maturity in Christ and a greater understanding of Him (roots being more firmly and deeply planted); but that answer can very hard to receive when you are in the midst of going through.

So if you are experiencing such a time in your life (as we all have) - I want to leave you with two mental images this evening: 1) Side by side comparison of your root system before this season and what you think they will be after you walk this out (imagine my steroid-esque weeds described above!) and 2) Your being held by God in an embrace that transcends our human understanding, regardless of whether you feel it or not!

Colossians 2:7
Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Drawn to Prayer

I know as well as anyone the legalistic ideas that can surround having a long, daily prayer time. I grew up attending a small Christian school that would sometimes feel a bit condemning in the way that having a daily quiet time was taught, and quite frankly, it ended up feeling like a chore a lot of the time.

As an adult growing into my own personal relationship with God, making time to 'withdraw' to a 'solitary place' (Matthew 14:13) was often difficult. I remember very well a Bible study I did when my oldest son was a baby called "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World." It encouraged sitting at Jesus' feet (resting and gazing) rather than being and doing so busily all the time. One of the practical suggestions in the book was to create a 'withdrawing' room, a place where you would want to go and be alone with God. I vividly remember the corner of our previous home that I set up while my son was napping - lots of cozy pillows and yummy smelling candles. Now, are any of these things necessary? Of course, the answer is absolutely not. However, it encouraged me to withdraw to a solitary place - it helped to get me there initially where then God's Spirit could do the rest.

Even more recently, I have felt God prompting different things to help me spend more time in prayer. He wants me there, and He knows I'm human and apt to fall asleep like the disciples; isn't His grace amazing? He knows just what we need. Anyway, one thing in particular for me lately has been going outside on our back porch at night. I have to be honest - some nights I just want to crawl into bed or stay there if I'm already laying down. And I don't have anywhere near a perfect record, but man the wonderful evenings I have spent out there. Sometimes just the breeze, the cloud movements, even a shooting star - I always come inside shocked at how long I spent outside enjoying praying. Another thing for me has been the discovery of these instrumental piano podcasts called Music to Pray By. They are beautiful, free, and absolutely anointed.

I list these things to give you some examples of the things God has used and is using to draw me in being more devoted to prayer. What, for you personally, can He use to draw you? "Draw me! We will run after you!" - Song of Solomon 1:4(a). Not only does He want this time alone with you, but there is tremendous power He wants to release as well.

I'll finish with this story. My three year-old son was telling my husband and I in the car the other day that he wanted to draw a picture for God. He described everything he wanted to put in it, but then stopped perplexed and asked the thought-provoking question..."How do I give it to Him?" As he realized that day, God can seem so far away; but it's especially so, when we are immersed in the very tangible presence of the world around us. That is why we need to regularly find a solitary place, just like Jesus did, where we can be quiet and become in tune with the invisible realities of our Father's Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

To Whom Goes the Glory?

This subject is a truth that God has made real in my heart through different circumstances over time, but I had to pray and think about how exactly to convey it. The gist is the following: EVERYTHING we do should give glory to God. Let's define the word glory for a moment - praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent; something that secures praise or renown. And here are a few synonyms: acclaim, accolade, credit, props, etc.

Even when you don't want something bad enough to do it for yourself, will you exhibit the faith in order that God, and not the enemy, receive the glory? I want my life to be a light that reflects His beauty, splendor, love, and majesty and doesn't even have a hint of the enemy on it. I believe it makes our Father's heart sad when we allow the enemy to have victory in even small areas, not saying that I don't still have some myself :). Here are just a few of the Scriptures I was reading as I wrote this blog:

Exodus 20:23
You shall not make [gods to share] with Me [My glory and your worship]; gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.
1 Chronicles 16:24
Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all peoples.
Psalm 145:11
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and talk of Your power,
Isaiah 42:8
I am the Lord; that is My name! And My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to graven images.
Habakkuk 2:14
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
John 11:4
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
John 11:40
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
John 15:8
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
1 Timothy 1:17
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

This conviction is especially real to me whenever I see someone facing major bodily sickness and disease. You can almost see the enemy dancing all over it, as the person's body is wracked with pain and suffering; it is such a perversion of God's perfect creation. Recently my 102-year old Grandad passed away. The circumstances came quickly, as he was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer only 2 weeks after becoming ill. Obviously treatment at his age would probably have killed him sooner, so the doctors sent him home with the grim prognosis of being unable to eat along with extreme pain for weeks or months until his body gave out.

Now he was a believer and had lived a great life, and it grieved me to imagine his last days on earth being spent this way. Not only for his own pain, don't get me wrong! But also for the message that would be displayed on earth and the heavenlies - that we stood by and allowed the enemy to suck the life out of him in such an awful way. So, my sisters and I believed that it would not be so. We took communion together and agreed in prayer that he would have a peaceful homegoing when he was ready. And that is exactly what God's glory!!! He went home to be with Jesus and His Heavenly Father less than 24 hours after being released from the hospital, at home in his own bed while sleeping.

Of course, sickness isn't the only circumstance where I can see this playing out. It's also in the small allowing a strife-filled home, or not taking care of your body, or allowing small offenses to take root, etc. I don't want my life to give glory to anyone or anything but God, because He alone is worthy of all praise, acclaim, and props!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Following Your Convictions, i.e. Obedience

So here we go on the topic of obedience... I hesitated to write this one because I do not like legalism in any fashion, and that can sometimes be the fruit of such discussions. But this is something God has been working on in me, and I knew it was time to share; I trust that His Grace covers my writing and will not let it be received in a way I did not intend :).

For me, as I'm sure for many of you, obedience comes easily in many areas. There were a few stubborn spots, but almost all of them are gone, money, entertainment, etc. But can I be really transparent here and tell you what remains? Food! That's right, I said it, food. It is the Christian drug of choice after all. I say that facetiously, but it does seem to be an accepted habit done in excess but yet isn't considered "sin" to most Christians. And I would agree, that in and of itself, food is not sin. However, if God has been speaking to you and nudging you away from certain foods or habits of eating, and you're still not listening - that is a completely different story. See Exhibit A below...

Romans 14:23 (NLT) - But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

This Scripture called my bluff, to say the least, on whether or not I was sinning by continuing to drink my Dr. Pepper (which God had been asking me to give up). Now for you, food (or drink) may not be the issue. But what is it in your life, seemingly insignificant and innocent, that you continue to do regardless of the Spirit saying otherwise? Is it your entertainment choices, the way you prioritize your life, your spending habits, your attitude, etc. May I encourage you to take your blinders off, and admit that even these things (if you believe they are not right) are sin? At this point, you may be asking yourself why I am pointing this out.

I believe we all go through different stages in our relationship with God. When you have reached the point of being fully committed but still have these small remnants of disobedience remaining, you are truly right on the verge of breakthrough but limiting your potential. As it says in Song of Solomon 2:15, it is "the little foxes that spoil the vines."

Commit today to follow your convictions, and to obey in everything He is asking you to do. I will do the same! Now on the upside, and there ALWAYS is an upside with God:

Genesis 22:18 (NLT) - And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.

Kingdom Resources

What I'm about to write may shock you, but I hope that it doesn't. Have you ever considered that everything that is under your authority is or should be a Kingdom Resource? And by that I mean: 1) resource - a source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed and 2) kingdom - a territory, state, people, or community ruled or reigned over by a king or queen. As part of the people of God under the rulership of King Jesus, are you a source of supply and support that can be readily drawn upon? I dare to assert that all of us who claim the name of Christ should be able to answer this question with a resounding YES!

So often we consider most things in this world "ours", when in fact, we are
merely stewards of them. One has to look no farther than the parable of the talents to see this illustrated (Matthew 25:14-30). When you first come face to face with this truth, it may seem a little unfair, and to be honest, kind of a rip! But when you finish this parable and realize that the King of ALL rewards those who are faithful with even more resources to steward - you realize there is nothing to fear and no reason to hold so tightly to these piddly resources that you think are "yours." How much would you rather be tied into LIMITLESS supply for the small price of laying down your will? :)

Obviously when you start to talk about resources, people naturally move toward the topic of money. And that is a big one, of course, especially in the financial times we are enduring. But what else is under your authority that can be of use to your King? Your home, your time, your family, your vehicle, your particular set of skills, the list goes on...

As I was reminded at a marriage conference recently, according to Matthew 6:21 - "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." When we begin to invest, all that we are and have, in the Kingdom and in people...our hearts will be drawn there as well. We won't have to fabricate or muster up a desire for the things of God or a love for people - it is our human tendency as this Scripture so succinctly states to hold dear those things where we put our treasure or resources.

What an awesome opportunity we have, and let's think of it as such! To begin to make choices to invest all of our resources into Spirit-guided Kingdom endeavors and stand back to watch what our awesome God does!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Fullness Thereof

A few months ago when I felt impressed to start this blog, I was working late one night setting it up and when I came to the box specifying the title - "the fullness thereof" immediately came to mind. Knowing this was from the Lord, I named it as such and moved on, but I knew I would revisit this topic and pray about why God wanted it named this.

In the context of the verse (Psalm 24:1), this phrase denotes God's complete and total ownership of the world and everything in the world - all of its fullness. I want to relate the phrase though to our walk/relationship with God. Bear with me as we go crazy in the dictionary a bit: Full - holding or containing as much as possible; filled to capacity or near capacity; with all privileges, rights, etc.; with no part lacking, complete; the greatest degree, extent, etc.

So many who bear the name of Christ today aren't living in, or for that matter, even being exposed to all of the fullness available. We serve a limitless God who has empowered us and given us everything we need to overcome. Yet so often, we are content to both hear and live a watered down gospel. I pray that this blog may be instrumental in challenging you to pursue the fullness thereof with God, that you may be: filled to capacity, with all privileges and rights, with no part lacking. Amen!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pressing On's Response

Hosea 6:3 (NLT):
Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.

As I read this Scripture, I am amazed at the grace and love of our Almighty God. What seemed like merely an encouraging pick-me-up or a new motivational status update to this westernized Christian was truly so much more in the context of the book of Hosea.

Just a little background if you are not familiar: Hosea was a prophet of God to the northern kingdom of Israel before its demise. Early on in Chapter 1, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer, and that this would be an illustration of God's relationship with Israel. Defying the customs and proper appearances of the time (not that this situation wouldn't be given a bewildered glance today!), Hosea follows God's instructions and marries Gomer. After having children together, she leaves him and is unfaithful with other men. Just as God pursues Israel after her relationship with other gods, so Hosea goes after Gomer and redeems her back.

This book tunes into the very heart of the Father and the unfathomable depths of His love, despite the unfaithfulness of His chosen people. Of course, let's not just point the finger at Israel though, the Gomer in this story often describes each and every one of us. And yet despite all of our shortcomings and unfaithfulness, He still yearns for the renewal of an intimate relationship with us.

And here in this verse we are exhorted to "press on." The definition of the word press is - to act upon with steadily applied weight or force. Sometimes that is what it feels like in our daily pursuit of God...steady application of force. But look at the result of the pressing - He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn. What a promise! Especially if you look at it in the light of the history of this story. Even from a people this stubborn and hard-hearted, He encourages through His prophet Hosea that they form an attitude of wanting to know Him and press onward, so that He can SURELY (firmly; unerringly; without missing, slipping, etc.) respond.

Let the principles of this story and the revealed heart of the Father sink down deep into your spirit - He didn't choose this story as His analogy by accident!


As I was making my way through the book of Daniel, I came across a passage of Scripture that had never stuck out to me before - Chapter 10, Verses 16-19 (NLT):

~Then the one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing in front of me, “I am filled with anguish because of the vision I have seen, my lord, and I am very weak. How can someone like me, your servant, talk to you, my lord? My strength is gone, and I can hardly breathe." Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger and said to him, “Please speak to me, my lord, for you have strengthened me.”~

In Daniel's case, he was seeing some pretty frightening images of things to come. Like me though, I am sure a lot of you are weakened and left breathless by just what is going on all around us in this world and in our very own countries and communities. I do believe we are approaching, if not entering, "the time of the end" as described by the angel Gabriel in 8:17. How close I do not know, but certainly enough for all of us to sit up and pay attention.

In our day to day lives, it is sometimes easier to quote "bury our heads in the sand" and avoid thinking about all of the ugliness and evil that permeates our world, much less to attempt doing something about it. However, knowing what Jesus said in Matthew 24 about keeping watch/observing the signs and about the state of readiness of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, should warn us against doing just that.

Times are hard, and frankly, they are going to get harder. But I also believe God's grace is going to be grow stronger and sweeter for believers in these days! As the warfare and spiritual activity pick up and you find yourself worried, frightened, or even breathless like Daniel - don't be tempted to shut it out and insulate yourself, but rather face it head on and seek comfort in the strengthening power of the Scriptures and the touch of God. I believe this is God's lion shout to His church, the body of Christ, today through His incredible Word: DON'T BE AFRAID...FOR YOU ARE VERY PRECIOUS TO ME. PEACE! BE ENCOURAGED! BE STRONG!"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

True Thankfulness

I was recently in a Bible study covering Ephesians, and one of the questions in the curriculum set something off in my spirit. As we went through chapter 5, it asked why thankfulness was listed in contrast at the end of this laundry list of sins (...but instead...voice thankfulness).

~Ephesians 5:1-4 (Amplified) - 1Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]. 2And walk in love, [esteeming and delighting in one another] as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God [for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance. 3But immorality (sexual vice) and all impurity [of lustful, rich, wasteful living] or greediness must not even be named among you, as is fitting and proper among saints (God's consecrated people). 4Let there be no filthiness (obscenity, indecency) nor foolish and sinful (silly and corrupt) talk, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting or becoming; but instead voice your thankfulness [to God].~

It doesn't really seem to follow, at least not right off the bat for me. I am sure there are many interpretations of this but as I pondered it a while, I felt God was impressing upon me that in order to be truly thankful, we have to really (no, I mean really) know Him. When we get just the slightest glimpse of Him - His character/love/goodness/majesty, then all of these (and other) sins would have no effect - we will have no choice but to turn from them and become imitators of God. But how do we really come to know Him, and walk in this true thankfulness? Again I felt God gave me this illustration:

When you give someone a present, for this discussion say...a toy for a child. How thankful are they as they stare at the completely wrapped present? What about when the wrapping is off, and they can see what new gadget awaits? What about when the outer box is off, and they can admire all of the additional features and accessories? What about as you pull off all of the tape/metal ties/jaws of life holding the toy in the box? In my experience, they get more and more excited, and in turn thankful, as they see the fullness of the present revealed.

How many Christians pursue this kind of relationship with God...unwrapping and discovering all there is, never to be deterred by whatever obstacles lie in the way? (I hope by now you're getting a visual of some poor schmuck ripping toy packaging to shreds, desperately trying to free a toy!)

Unfortunately, I think the answer to my question is not very many. So is it really any wonder that we are not very thankful, and thus so easily ensnared by the day to day sins of this life? Mentally, for many of us, God is still in his box...tied down by all the limitations and preconceptions we have put on Him.

As Christian believers, we have to insist on a relationship posture that pulls off the packaging, dives into God, and seeks to explore all of Him. Will you have the courage to challenge yourself to do that? It's not the popular road I will tell you, and once you choose it, there is no going back. As that first glimmer is revealed and then grows brighter and brighter, you're ruined for life...nothing else will satisfy. But herein lies the overwhelming thankfulness for our amazing God, just like the little ecstatic child finally playing with their new present.

And to go back to my original point, overcoming sin becomes easier too, since you are not white-knuckling it trying to resist...but rather, overcome by the wonder of something so much grander than yourself, gliding along on thankfulness right over those former ensnarements!