Do you have trouble letting your fellow in for a time of REAL fellowship?

You’re sitting in a group setting. It’s small enough to be personal, yet large enough to give a decent level of unpredictability to the exchange you share. The conversation changes to matters of God and the heart (in this case, yours). The rule of participation is singular: you must offer honesty that comes at a cost to you.

You cringe at the very thought. You’re not feeling anywhere close to exposing your heart in this way. I’m gonna guess you’re also not looking for a motivation to change your mind. There is a part of you that appreciates the idea of fellowship, but its practical elements make up that large area where you get tripped up and tongue-tied.

When someone in the groups comments, “Oh, where would we be without fellowship?” you instantly think of a thousand places that would make for a very comfortable exchange in residence. There would be no reason to dislike fellowship except that it always has that bite; thus, you do all you can to avoid the unpleasantness.

What you may not realize is that by choosing to not sacrifice your present comforts, you are not making room for the wider range of creature-comforts that God designed for you. There is, in fact, more to being comfortable than never experiencing discomfort. Comfort is the reality of finding that spot that is most suited to you, what truly delivers the best results to your person. Such comfort cannot be offered to you by the world. It is solely the gift of your Maker. When you and I open our hearts to God, and to others who have made Him their Lord, we enable ourselves to be retrained in those very best delights that God originally set out for our lives. We don’t have to worry about disliking fellowship (or our fellows); we will thirst for it in the way God intended.

 

You were wondering what it’s like when God’s behind the wheel…?

Do you ever open the window of your life and realize that there is more out there than you realized? Maybe the extent to which you’ve been living with faith has not been enough considering what you’re beginning to understand about the possibilities in front of you.

I don’t know about you, but I love when my world suddenly takes on wider dimensions. That is when I know God is at work and the seat belt I’m wearing is about to come in real handy. My confidence reaches an all-time high when I am most aware that God is in the driver’s seat of my life and He’s about to turn up the speed and whip a wild turn.

There’s nothing more exciting than encountering the rewards of letting God lead you. I’m telling you, it’s worth it. Yeah, there may be long stretches of I’m-not-sure-what-you’re-doing-God but even these times cannot be compared with the emptiness of not living with God. His presence in our day-to-day experience is irreplaceable.

Now, the fact that God is indispensable does not mean that He bows to make completing our lives His ultimate purpose. I believe this is seeing Him in the wrong way: God is the One in whom we find ourselves complete, but not because He is working toward this goal. God is above the goal of make our lives complete. He defines what He wants to do; He is not defined by something that needs to be done.

Therefore, we are the ones who learn to bow to the One who makes us complete. He is who we need to receive from, not the other way around. So we receive slow times as well as speedy, adrenaline-fueling times with gratitude and peace. We don’t run the show, but the God who does has shown us–and will continue to show us as many times as we have to see it–that He’s got our back. Knowing this is the Truth, fastens our lives to the Rock and catapults our hearts into the ride of our lives. Are you ready to strap yourself in so the Driver can get going?

So, what did you do today?

If I were to ask you what you did with your day, you might say that you did something useful, something fun, something that took time and left you with the rewarding feeling of a job well done. And, if you were to ask me what my day looked like, I would have to admit to you that I spent an all-too prominent portion of my time venting. (I trust that your day was cooler, and hopefully, lighter.)

Venting, in and of itself, may not be so bad, but in this case I was not focusing on the frustrations at hand. Rather, I took it upon myself to recycle much older frustrations, having the curious conviction that since they were a bit removed from me, I could be more subjective and feel like I was handling at least one heart-challenge well.

Well, I got carried away. I scavenged and found an abundance of interesting artifacts that were always worth reexamining. Needless to say, I chose to peruse the wrong chunks of my history. I kept convincing myself that I was going to learn something new, that rehashing old thoughts and invigorating dormant emotions would prove to be a relevant use of my time. One goal that figured well into my occupation was that searching the dark (and still confusing) parts of my past would shed more light on my present and somehow instantly make everything make more sense.

I was trusting that if I could conduct a prolonged analysis of the troubling portions of my life that I might induce the understanding that God appeared to be making me wait to long to receive. Where God was failing me, I would my own solution. I don’t need to tell you that I failed miserably. I found no joy in the endeavor–yet, I was not entirely surprised; I had made no provision for God to meet me in it.

My attempts to be a critic of my circumstances did not help me to feel less of a victim; instead, I claimed the status of helplessness because I shut out the very One who could help me raise my heart above the mess. Coming up with answers wasn’t what I really wanted; I needed to know that I was still safe without them. I didn’t need to escape the haunt of mystery that pervades God’s plan, I needed Him to teach me to settle my heart in the greatest mystery: His love.

If I knew in that moment that His love superseded every other aspect of God that I didn’t understand, I could have been content. Yet, though I missed the Truth in that occasion, my hope is that the Truth did not fade with my ignorance. It still came and claimed me when I fell into my graceless pit of bitter emotions. Truth remained a restorer even while my perception of its usefulness was weak.

Is that something that you need to know today too? Have you been rooting your soul in the facts of your existence that sit on the fringes of recognizing God? Have you been failing to realize that He is real and ready to save you because you’ve been too busy observing the shadows? If so, hear the call God places on your soul:

“Come, My child, turn back to the Substance of your existence. Don’t get caught up in anything in your life that doesn’t lead you right back to Me. If you need to contemplate difficult aspects of your life, let Me be the One leading you into such evaluations–otherwise you will be trapped by half-truths that emerge from broken pieces of reality.

Be assured that you won’t be able to make sense of anything by looking at the mess around you. Instead, I invite you to look to the Designer who comes to redeem what’s been done to His creation. You will not stumble if you concentrate your entire person on  Me. I am your Leader. Let Me take over the directing of your heart-travels–then it shall always be well with you and the roads you traverse shall lead you to the good places that I have for you. Be settled, dear one, I am making provision for you.

 

 

Wookieepedia: Re was a MC40a light cruiser belonging to the Rebel Alliance.

Is there anything MORE energizing than God’s love?

Perhaps, when I ask that, you’re response is one of being positive that you could make a list with plenty of things that might beat-out God’s love in the energy-producing department. But, let’s test that thinking. Your assumption may not be as secure as you think. God’s love may appear to have very little going for it in the competition for your heart, but perhaps this is because you don’t quite understand the worth of this treasure.

If you have thought for most of your life that including God in your life was supposed to be a drag, His love cannot possibly be a blessing to you. In fact, you will not even be able to KNOW His love if you perceive Him only as a drain to all your resources and ambitions. God never meant for you to see Him that way. His presence in our lives is meant to be a gift; more than that, because of what Christ did to make God’s presence in our life possible, it is a privilege. But this privilege is not to be equated with those thinly-veiled responsibilities that no one really wants to be given.

God’s presence is meant to be a pleasure; it really can be! The reality for you to consider today is that if you are not experiencing God’s presence as a pleasure, you cannot truly be experiencing His presence. To actually know God–for who He is according to His unchangingly perfect character–is to know boundless joy. Conversely, to regard all the negative and untrue press-releases that Satan manufactures about God is to know absolutely no genuine joy.

That’s a big deal. Don’t miss out on the implications here. In this debate concerning God being our Friend or Foe, His personal leaning is not the main focus; what you choose to listen to is. If you tune your heart into what the world tells you about how you should handle God in your life will never be in short supply, yet neither can it be trusted.

The world’s ambition is to get YOU to choose not to be God’s friend. The enemy of your love for God is not uncertain about the state of God’s love for and commitment to you. The person in question is you. And his goal is to “help” you decide that you don’t want to have any part of the God who pursues you–not based on what is True but on what he can get you to feel and think according to the lies he twists.

It is dangerous to not be aware that his words about God come to us through any voice that he can get to speak for him. Therefore, we should not take anyone’s word on God above God’s own Word on Himself. Find out what that says first. Ask God to make it sink into you and take up root, becoming a living part of you that shades your thinking and fills your heart with the fruit of His goodness. Then you will become acquainted with the unceasing, and energizing benefits of His love that cannot be equalled in all the earth.

I don’t know the answer, but you better believe I’ll give you my best guess, good and loud!

Would you like to hear a little story? The personal blooper I have to share is taken from my early days, when I didn’t have the facts about God q-u-i-t-e straight. You’ll see what I mean…

The context of this particular moment in my history is Sunday school. I am six. I don’t remember how closely I usually followed the Bible stories that were told my class mates and I, but I certainly was not fully focused on the topic of this lesson.

I imagine the theme must have centered around Paul or, at least, allowed for one of our teachers to take a minute to question our knowledge of the conversion of this early church-builder. His exact question was “What was Paul’s name before it was Paul.”

I remember hearing it and how I reacted to the seemingly mindless question like it was yesterday. I thought, What an odd question to ask! The only thing I could come up with was that we now knew him by only Paul because his name had been shortened by the dropping of his last name.

If the man delivering this challenging question had given us any clues about the answer before he posed this test, as became clear to him from my answer, it had obviously made no real impression. I only had eyes for the beautifully frilly socks and matching white shoes of the curly-haired brunette in my class who appeared unable to help being perfect and always so still. How I wanted to be her friend…

But, I digress. Needless to say, I was completely unprepared to respond audibly. But, as a person who never likes to be caught without a response to queries of any import, I boldly ventured forth! I quickly imagined an answer in place of the truth I could not account for; a flash of revelation made me aware that Paul’s original full name could have been none other than..

Paul Coffee!

In case some of you don’t know, he was a hockey player that I heard spoken of by my dad and brothers. Surely he had some relevance in this conversation if he was mentioned so often at home, right?

Oh, the way we thought as young-uns! As a side-note, if you don’t know anything about Paul’s name change or why it came about, you can read the account in Acts 9. Here you will find Christ staging one of His dramatic interventions into the misdirected course of a man He loved too much to let alone. I pray that as you read, the details that pertain to Paul’s identity will be shadowed by the redemptive name you see God making for Himself. I hope you will see that He is the same God who wants to bring the power of His name (His very person) into the denomination of your life as well.

Be prepared! Like He did with Paul, Christ will likely turn the life you know right now upside-down, but don’t lose heart; it will not take too long before He lets you recognize that He is actually setting you right-side-up for the first time in your life. Then, you will have every reason to thank Him!

When’s the last time you found it difficult to function and God took over?

I’m a tired mess today. I haven’t been able to sleep for many weeks and I’m feeling the lack of refreshment more and more with each passing day. I’m kinda wondering what’s going on. No, I don’t exactly have a reason to give you for why I’m not getting sufficient sleep, but I do know God is working through it.

Despite my temporary physical- and mental-compromise–which has been especially bad this past week–God’s overflowing kindness has not been compromised at all. He’s taken these otherwise difficult days and loaded them up with almost more mercy than I can stand. The blessings seem endless. Where I have nothing to give, He gives all there more. It’s almost like He’s been saying, “Elaine, you can’t do anything significant with these days because of your condition? Here, let Me step in and show you that I can make everything significant if you will let Me take over.”

And what blessings I’ve seen since! It moves me to tears to see His kindness continually unfolding in my weakest of moments. Somehow, some way, God always makes phenomenal grace come out of whatever seems to me a nonredeemable reality of difficulty. Based on my experiences with God so far, I believe that God doesn’t save His best for last so much as He prepares us to receive His most abundant fillings when we are most empty and ready to want more.

That has been a mammoth theme threaded through every moment of this heart-tenderizing time. God does not give us what we don’t need. And sometimes, if we don’t know we need something, He will allow the needs we wouldn’t otherwise see to become acutely disturbing.

How fun! you might be thinking. Thanks, God. But don’t go there just yet. Hang in there a little bit. If God is doing something in your life, no matter what it looks like or feels like right now–even if it’s presently taking something away from you–don’t put an end to what God’s doing before He does. Though it may look pretty black today, it is still possible for God to be good (even to you) when you can’t see the good that you want to see. Yeah, you may be restless now and grace at work in your life may be looking a little strange, but take the time to discover what’s deeper than Your symptoms–What is God working at? Surely He has a purpose for shifting things around on you so inconveniently. Have you asked Him what He’s doing, and not just ask for an answer, but for the glory to wait until He’s ready to answer?

 

If you’re gonna serve Him, are you going to all the way with it?

Periodically, I have to take a social break. I pull back from the public world and take refuge in the quietness of my home for a few days. It can feel like a big deal when I do it–reorienting my schedule and reminding me that I primarily serve God, and not my own desires or the people around me.

God uses this time, that I have every few months, to deliver me fresh insights and assignments that I wouldn’t be able to fully receive if my focus were not so concentrated on communing with God. These sabbaticals have recently been resulting in very practical examples of God directing my paths when I acknowledge Him. He honors my willingness to put myself before Him in a temporary adjustment of my life that I wouldn’t normally choose.

This is a matter of obedience. It is not always convenient, but it is truly something I need to do. I worry–with embarrassing regularity–that my friends will be hurt by my actions or at least severely disappointed in/by me. I have a strong inclination to “rescue” them from such a fate by doing my part to keep them satisfied in all things that in any way relate to our relationship.

But, as I write this, it is becoming clear to me that such penetrating concern is inordinate, even on the level of idolatry. If I am placing my relationship with my girlfriends above the nurturing of my relationship with God–exalting their response to my action of obedience over God’s response–than I am sinning. I am hoping that in some way, both God and my friends can be equal; that there may be no difficulty pleasing the two simultaneously.

The truth is, though, that I can’t have both. There may be times when I can enjoy harmony between the two, but this is not a long-lasting conjunction. God will inevitably shift me into a new position that will test whether my alliance is with Him solely or parceled out between Him and my other loved ones.

Indeed, this will certainly have a flustering affect on my friends and I–who suffer from an acute sensitivity to discomfort related to God-appointed adjustments–but that’s not so bad. Certainly, we need our naturally-occurring devotions to be questioned in order for us to perceive our lack of Christ-centered devotion. And there is no better place to grow stronger in understanding the agreement between us and God that needs to be formed than by taking time away from the rest of the world for a little while. Have you tried it?

 

Regulations are next to godliness…or are they?

Have you found that regulations seem to be synonymous with the idea most of us have of godliness? If we find someone who follows the rules very well we immediately think, “Oh, they must be godly.” Often, we find it easy to believe this because we ourselves find it so hard to keep the rules. We think if someone can keep them so well, they must be of a different spiritual caliber than us; they must have some secret that we don’t. They must be touched by God or the recipient of some measure of divine favor that we lack.

But, despite our staunch convictions concerning this matter, we should not forget to ask ourselves: Does God agree with our judgment? Does God regard our delight in the evidence of such high moral standards as a thing to praise? Is He ultimately pleased when we have the whole Christian life covered by our execution of perfect actions that touch every sphere of justified behavior and astound every neighbor we have?

Or would God witness that we have lost the heart of worship in all our closely guarded behaviors and “spiritually” modified existences? This is a concern we should not take lightly; I don’t believe God does. He wants our hearts far more than He wants any show of “faithfulness” or “piety” that strips the heart of tenderness toward God in order to elevate flesh in the manner of recognized godliness. Such a pattern of living has a name in the church: it is legalism.

Legalism is a strain of pride and spiritually-oriented conceit that sidles up to people who forget the reason why they stand before God or never discovered how they can know God’s pleasure freely. It’s a shame. It’s a curse, really. It is something we should desire to see Christ defeat in all it’s subtlety and scam.

I love how Galatians chapter five handles the matter of legalism. It first thrills us at the prospects inherent to our grace-delivered relationship with God through Christ and then enjoins us to not let anti-Christ tensions of legalism twist what God has provided into something that kills the soul:

 22-23But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

23-24Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

25-26Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. (The Message)

As I hope you see clearly from what you’ve read above, God is into personally performing our heart work, while legalism seeks to get ahead of God in the transformation department and make Him unnecessary in our pursuit of appearing holy. Therefore, the heart of legalism misses the heart of God. And, if we miss the heart of God, we have truly missed everything. Our hearts cannot be engaged in anything meaningful where God is intentionally or unintentionally excluded. In this way, we diminish our hearts and make religion our results-god rather than reverencing the God who has already accomplished the results that really matter. He is ready and eager to apply them to us, if only we are ready to have Him do so. Are we?

This wasn’t a result of me, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Have you ever been overwhelmed at the kindness of the Lord towards you? Maybe you’ve had at least one moment in your life where you looked back over something wonderful in your experience and was absolutely struck by the knowledge that it was a gift–that what you enjoyed was not something that originated with you, not even springing from your imagination or prayers.

Again and again, today, my heart has been assuaged by this wonder and an accompaniment of weeping. I honestly don’t know what to do with myself–I am so aware of how God’s kindness has taken over my life. In a rare observation of grace, I see my whole life as the sum of One great God’s transcendent compassion.

I can’t handle the vision, but why should I think I might have such an ability? God is not a work for me to master, a subject to study or a person to explore and then be able to document. No, He laughs at the suggestion of such a comparison!

He is the stuff my life is made of, but my life is such an infinitesimally small part of what He really is. I serve a God Who cannot even be equated with the world and universe I struggle to envision the scope of. If I think on Him and try to understand who He is–how great He could be–the vast majority of His secrets remain withheld from me by the laws of mercy. I could not handle more than but small doses of revelation regarding His nature–and that’s what He gives me; no more and no less.

Yet, on certain occasions, He stretches my brain cells (and heart-cells) to their limits, just to remind me Who is the infinite One in the relationship; Who is the One who handles the pants-wearing business; Who I can trust and submit to with all my heart with perfect judgment.

Oh, who can comprehend our God, when even here on earth, God’s goodness and majesty makes our hearts shake and faint with the slightest of revelations! How it makes me anticipate heaven with renewed zeal. I knew I wanted to be at home there before–in my Lord’s exhausted presence–but the desire I had then seems as nothing compared to what I am knowing now.

But, perhaps–to my sorrow and His–you don’t have any way to identify with what I’m saying. Maybe brokenness hasn’t compromised your soul enough to make it ache for God and rejoice in every morning’s new glimpse of Him. Or maybe there is plenty of brokenness, there in your heart, but not enough healing to resurrect your joy. My friend, if either of these things is so, I pray for a heart-swelling to take place within you that has no words, no proper expression.

May you be filled with Spirit-endowed worship that adjusts your eyes in a way that only Christ can. May you know the blessedness that God promises to the poor in spirit: May you receive the kingdom and may it more than account for everything you’ve lost to receive it. There is power in this desperation-required exchange. I have experienced it again and again in my life–to new levels the longer I live–and I implore God to meet you in the middle of your apathy or anguish and grant you the same grace.

Acting a bit squirrelly lately, are we?

The noise of curious shifting draws my eyes through my upstairs window to view a squirrel scavenging in my neighbors trash can. He pops out within a few seconds with what appears to be a tasty (to him) crust of pizza left over from days gone by.

He (or she, as the case may be) repulses me. Every sensation of crawly-skin and mental infestation with the disgusting is happening on the inside of me right now. I hate scavengers–squirrels most of all. (Well, in truth, there are many that I would hate worse, but I won’t let myself remember the existence of any species from the rodent family other than the one creature who afflicts the terrain about my home with it’s presence.)

Seeing the sight I’ve described above, and contemplating what an uncouth life is led by this common breed of scrounger, I can’t help wondering, for a moment, what God thinks of us when He finds us picking at waste and filling ourselves up with the sewage we find around us. This may not have occurred to you, but we act out habits spiritually that are very similar to that of these petty gatherers.

When it comes to finding the truth and filling our hearts with it, we can be so undiscriminating and dispassionate. We’ll take anything. Apparently we have little regard for what may be suitable for us or what is perhaps exceptionally ideal. We’d rather amuse ourselves with what’s available than with what must be worked for.

Instead of acting like civilized humans, who work for their food and hold a conviction about the type of products they put into their bodies, we behave much more like the bushy-tailed Sciurus’ that inhabit our backyards and, sad to say, our garbage containers.

What kind of intervention do we need in order to move us from outback excuses-for-feasting to the real meal that’s going on inside God’s house? How can we stop keeping Him waiting for us to take our seats? Well, for one thing, if we have the heart of a squirrel, we’re never going to be able to really join the sumptuous festivity we were made for without having some type of deep reorientation or else we can go where the food is and still ruin the repast with our awful table etiquette.

Therefore, we head in the direction of the spread God’s called us to partake of, praying our little hearts out along the way. What I’m trying to intimate is surrender. The idea is that we would put our hearts at the disposal of our Host, asking Him to do all that is necessary to make us dining-worthy participants in His celebration of grace. We enjoin Him to make as new and pleasing our appetite and amend our manners in such a way that they mirror the behavior that He created the meal to inspire.

Then, with a joyful confidence that He has gladly taken us under His wing, being capable of refreshing and transforming us in every way, we enter the banquet hall with glee. Here we are, about to receive the fixings we were made for. And, boy, will it ever be good!

Wikipedia: A banquet is a large meal or feast, complete with main courses and desserts.