Thursday, December 31, 2009

Touching others...

(In a post last summer, I wrote a little about the Five Love Languages, as written about by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  I explained how I found myself wondering if they apply to our relationship with God. This is the last (I think) in what has turned out to be nine posts as I've explored this topic.)
Love Language: Physical Touch
Physical Touch is the last love language on my list. I think this love language is unique in a special way...and perhaps that's why the devil has worked so hard to pervert it.

But the truth is that a physical touch made in the love of God is a very powerful thing. It can, in some miraculous way, affect a person on all three levels: physical, mental and spiritual--breaking down the barriers that we put up to protect our hearts and even bestowing spiritual gifts. Perhaps the very power of a physical touch is why those made in sin are so devastating.

When I started this little series thinking about my own love languages, I thought of the connection between physical touch and God's love and I remembered how I often envision myself curling up on the lap of my heavenly Father...experiencing His spiritual touch and equating it to a physical touch. That's how I thought of God touching me. But, you know, that's not a physical touch. That's an imagined physical touch.

Jesus gave physical touches all the time when He healed people. Parents brought their children to be touched by Him. He laid His hands on people all the time, and almost always touched those whom He healed.

How can we receive His touch now, though? That's the question I posed to God. For answer, He reminded me of a trip I made last summer.

We went to my aunt's wedding last July, and I got to see lots of family that I hadn't seen in years. I came back feeling so loved by God. I wondered why, for I'd enjoyed the little vacation and seeing family, but I didn't see why that would make me feel like I did--simply loved! Then, in a fraction of a moment, I saw all the hugs and handshakes I had received from numerous aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmothers, and God spoke to me. "Every one of those hugs was from Me, for the love they have for you is a small portion of the love I have for you," He said.

How does God give us physical touches of love? The simple answer is: through His body.

Think about it. If a part of my husband's body touches me...his hand on mine, his foot pressing mind under the table, his forehead against mine...he has touched me. If my best friend wraps her arm around me in a hug of greeting, she has touched me. If someone uses any part of their body to touch you, they have touched you.

What does this mean? If a member of the body of Christ touches you, you have been touched by God.

Last night, just as God whispered this to me, my daughter began coughing like crazy in her bed in the other room. I listened and sighed that she hasn't gotten rid of the last of this cough yet, and I instantly began praying again for her. But I stopped the moment I prayed the words, "Please touch her." What had He just shown me? My mind jumped ahead. "So, Lord, why are my touches in Your name not always accompanied by healings the way Jesus's were?"

Perhaps the answer seems obvious. Jesus's physical body obeyed His commands at least as well as your body and my body do, for the Bible says nothing about Him having seizures or suffering from paralysis. Yet...we, His body on this earth...don't.

Perhaps this is how the devil has so successfully warped and twisted the beauty of a touch made in Godly love...twisted so badly that the vast majority of the world has absolutely no idea what it would even look or feel like...because only the smallest fraction of His body is following His leading even half as well as your average human body.

Here's what I want to know. Am I an epileptic part of the body of Christ? Am I paralyzed finger or a stuttering voice? I'm afraid so, for the channels of communication that run between me and my Head don't function as I know they should.

Here's another thought. What if this is another reason why Hebrews says we shouldn't quit gathering together with other believers? For if we're never with other members of the body of Christ, we can't experience the blessings of His physical touch.

I feel like this post is quite short and almost totally vacant of the hope and inspiration that I prefer God to give me for my blog posts...yet I feel His call upon His church for 2010. Will we draw closer to Him and truly become His body?

So many are saying that the time is short until He returns. I do not know if He will return shortly or if there are still many scenes left for the world to play. Yet I do sense in my spirit that the time is short for those of us who claim His name to make a choice.

So many of us, in so many areas of our lives, have been part of the church of Laodecea that was neither hot nor cold. I believe that the reason He said He would "spit them out of His mouth" is because when we claim to be part of Him but do not live for Him, we are instead actively portraying Him falsely to the world that needs Him so much. We portray Him as a epileptic god, a partially paralyzed god, or a god that does not know what his right and left hands are doing.

He is not that, though...He is an all-powerful and all-consuming God! He needs His body to portray His power and glory in an all-consuming way, that we might bestow the touches from Him that He longs to give, both to them and to us! And the time is short for us to become filled with the fire of His Spirit and get rid of our lukewarm-ness.

I am excited for this next year. He has done more inside me this past year, I think, than all of the years previously...even though I seem to recall saying this before! Time is moving faster, for He is doing marvelous and amazing things. So I will close this year out with a simple quote from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

Aslan is on the move!
...for God is on the move!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One of "those days..."

Yesterday, I had one of “those days.”

You know they’re like. Nothing seems to go right, and somehow all the little things that didn’t go right affect you more than the things that did go right. And even though you’re sure that more went right than wrong, it’s all you can do to think of even one of them.

By the time afternoon came, I was snapping at my kids, fighting a headache, and just plain tired of being frustrated. As I dashed out the door to the Post Office, I called my husband for some encouragement, for I know that when I get like this, his loving and patient voice is always ready to assure me that it's fine if I don't get everything tell me he's sorry...and to just generally help me put things in perspective. And he did, again.

But you know, even a loving husband can do only so much. The problem was in me, with my heart...and only my Savior and my Lord can totally meet my needs.

I waited through the long line at the Post Office, looking worse than I ever leave home looking, but just not caring...and God gave me a clerk whose kindness and helpfulness was truly a gift from Him. (Plus, it seems that any time you're sending gifts and cookies to soldiers overseas, everyone is eager to do their little share and help you, which is special. We appreciate you, soldiers!)

Anyway...then I got back in the car, and God did one of His miraculous-moment-things. I heard no words, I saw no vision...yet suddenly, between the time when I pulled on the car door handle and when I sat down behind the wheel, I was overwhelmed with how blessed I am...just because I've been given a husband who loves me, three beautiful children, a church full of friends...and most of all, because I have Him. My Lord. My Savior. My Rescuer. My Light. My Joy. My Healer. My Strength. My Peace. My Righteousness. Because yesterday was certainly a reminder that I have none of those without Him.

I knew what to do. I turned on a songlist full of my favorite worship songs and began praising Him who is my All in All...and it never ceases amaze me how quickly I feel His everything flooding my spirit and renewing me. It took the devil all day to tear me apart and drag me down with little nothings...and it took my Savior only five seconds to restore me. He is so good!

And then "Moment Made for Worshiping" came up on my song list, and I was reduced to joyful tears. The words were simply the perfect echo of what I needed to reaffirm.

"Somewhere in the distance, I remember yesterday...
Singing 'Hallelujah,' full of wonder, awe, and praise
But now I’m just wondering why I don’t feel anything at all.

This is moment made for worshiping
'Cause this is a moment I’m alive.
This is a moment I was made to sing
A song of living sacrifice
For every moment that I live and breathe.
This is a moment made for worshiping."

It's as simple as that. This is a moment made for worshiping, simply because this is a moment I'm alive to do so!

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I know I've said it before...that the times when we don't feel like worshiping Him are the times when we most need to. Yesterday was such a poignant reminder that it's not God who needs our praise in those times. We are the ones that need it, for in those times, more than any other, we need to open the door that allows the gifts of His presence to flow into our spirits.

He is so good! And He is so faithful, for His love for us is boundless and never ending and encompasses everything we'll ever need.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gift-giving exposed...

(In a post this past summer, I wrote a little about the Five Love Languages, as written about by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  I explained how I found myself wondering if they apply to our relationship with God. This is the sixth of what turned out to be nine posts as I explored this topic.)
Love Language: Gifts
It seems appropriate that I am getting to this love language just as the holiday gift-giving season launches itself. You see, even though gift-giving is an ancient method of expressing esteem and establishing a relationship, the commercialism of today's society has unfortunately warped and twisted the meaning of this love language until its meaning has been almost completely lost. I'm afraid that those who do not speak this love language seriously underestimate its potential value. Consequently, those who do speak this language are unintentionally hurt and left feeling guilty because they care about gifts more than "Christian society" says they should value mere things.

Watching my son has given me a new appreciation of this love language. You see, he doesn't know that many people today feel obligated to buy gifts for different occasions. He still has the childlike innocence that enables me to see the value of gift-giving the way God intended it.

My son receives each gift as though it was given with the same love that he gives gifts with. Most gifts he receives are "just what he always wanted!" ...even if he never thought of wanting that particular thing. I used to think that it was just something he said, but as I watched him treasure each gift, I began to see that he was sincere in that statement.

You see, what he always wants is an expression of love. And for him, a gift is a way to hold onto someone's love for him. It is their love made tangible. Christmas and his birthday are when people allow their love to change from mere words to something that he can see and touch and treasure.

When he gives a gift, it is an expression of his love, and the more he loves you, the more special he wants that gift to be. And for him, gift giving is a privilege. He would be hurt beyond measure if he overheard you say that the gift he gave you was meaningless, purchased only because the season demanded it. Perhaps that's why you gave your gifts, but that's not why he gives his!

So my plea, on behalf of my son and others like him, is this: If gifts mean nothing to you, please do not make the mistake of thinking that they should mean just as little to others. Perhaps they mean a lot to one of those you love most in the world. And God created them that way, for He is a gift-giving God!

What about God's gifts? Are they given out of obligation? Has society demanded that God shower us with gifts? Of course not! Yet God has given us gifts that eclipse anything we could ever dream of giving.

He is a gift-receiving God as well, for He said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to drink. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you gave me clothing." Then He said something amazing. When we give gifts to others, we are simultaneously giving those gifts to Him.

Think of that! That gift you saved so carefully for or worked so hard to make for your loved one... you gave that gift to God as well. What about that gift you snatched up because it was the cheapest thing available? That one was for God, too. Ouch.

Am I saying that we have to heed the call of advertisers and spend thousands on Christmas? Absolutely not! It is not the monetary cost that expresses love, but the sacrifice of thought. That's why a gift of roadside flowers picked out of love means so much more than a thousand-dollar TV set given out of obligation. Heed the call of your gift-giving God and put thought and love into every gift you give, for you never know when God might use that gift to minister His love to someone who desperately needs it.

But back to God's gifts.

God's gifts to us come in two categories: the physical and the spiritual. The spiritual gifts were all given through the physical gift of Jesus. He was indeed the most magnificent gift God could have ever given us. Think of it! The God who created the universe, gave Himself! How can we do any less than gift Him ourselves in return?

But what spiritual gifts did Jesus bring down with Himself?

I mentioned a number of the spiritual gifts in my last post, for they are what God has filled that table spread in the wilderness with, only a few of which are listed in Psalm 23. I'd love to go into detail about just how powerful and great these things are, but it would take the whole Bible to show the length of breadth of them! So I'll settle for a list with references. He has given us:

Peace (2 Thess. 3:16, Rom. 15:13, Phil. 4:7, Rom. 14:17, Eph. 2:14-15, Jude 1:2, 1 Pet. 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:2, 2 John 1:3)

Mercy (Jude 1:2, 2 John 1:3, Ex. 33:19, 2 Sam. 24:14, Matt. 18:33, Mark 5:19, Luke 1:78, and all of Jesus' miracles)

Grace (1 Pet. 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:2, 2 John 1:3, Ps. 84:11, Prov. 3:34, Zech. 12:10, John 1:16-17, Acts 15:11, Acts 20:24, Rom. 5:15-20, 2 Cor. 9:8, Eph. 3:8, 2 Tim. 1:9)

Joy (Rom. 15:13, 1 John 1:4, 2 Cor. 8:2, Ps. 16:11, Ps. 45:7, Is. 61:7, Jer. 31:13, Matt. 25:21, John 15:11, John 17:13, Rom. 14:17)

Truth (John 1:17, Ps. 25:10, Ps. 138:2, John 8:32, John 15:26, 2 Cor. 11:10, Gal. 2:5)

Freedom from sin and everything that comes with it (John 8:32, Rom. 8:21, Gal. 5:1, John 8:36, Acts 13:39, Rom. 6:7, Rom. 6:22, Rom. 7:24-25, Rom. 8:2, Rom. 8:21)

Rest and Security (Ex. 34:14, Ps. 91, Is. 30:15, Is. 32:18, Is. 63:14, Jer. 6:16, Jer. 50:34, Ez. 34:15, Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:1-4)

Wisdom (Job 38:36, Ps. 51:6, all of Proverbs, Acts 6:10, Eph. 1:17, James 1:5)

Love (this whole series)

And then there's every gift of revelation He gives us, which is the only way we can fully comprehend the fullness of every one of these gifts. And these are only small sampling of the spiritual gifts He gives us.

What about the physical gifts He gives us--gifts that I, at least, often take for granted.

Our children are a gift from God. (Ps. 127:3) The more joy they bring me, the more I realize just how amazing this gift is.

Our spouses. Those who have been through divorce or who are in a difficult place in their marriage right now might not feel that this is much of a gift...but it is sin that messes up marriages. Marriage the way God intended it is a marvelous and mysterious gift, for it is a symbol and a picture of His relationship with His body. (Eph. 5:31-33)

Music. This is a big one for me, for I cannot imagine my life without music. Music is actually very complicated--mathematical correlations between sounds determine what sounds good and what does not. And God could have created this world without the ears to hear it, or the voices to sing along with it. He could have kept the knowledge of musical instruments from mankind.

Sunshine, mountains, oceans... Seriously. What if God had created us to live on a planet like Mars, barren and dry and monotonous?

Color. He could have made the earth in black and white.

Laughter. Think of the laughter of a child, or that hour you've spent with your best friend. What if God had never given you that?

The ability to savor a delicious meal. I know lots of people for whom this is one of life's great joys.

Life itself. As I learned when my mother died, every day is a gift from Him.

I know there is so much more, but this post has gotten long enough. But I hope that this list affects you as it does me...filling my heart with thanksgiving and my mouth with praise. For He is so good to us!

(Continue to the Physical Touch post.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Enough time...

If you haven't noticed from little things I've shared here or family loves deep conversations about God. That's what happens when your dad comes from a family of 9, where most are computer engineers whose dinner conversations revolve around the workings of computers, their affect on the world, physics, and more topics that generally fly over my head...and your mother was a people-loving, Bible-studying, talkative Christian. You end up with five kids who, at any given moment, are generally ready and willing to turn the Bible inside out, discussing something.

This can be a problem when we try to understand the things of God with our natural minds. (It's impossible.) But I love it when God steps in, orders the conversation, and gives one of us a revelation like He did yesterday.

So yesterday morning, I was chatting with my youngest brother (online, since he's half a world and, ironically, half a day away on a military base), and he mentioned how he was reading in Genesis where Noah's descendants are listed and how strange it was to think that Noah's son, Shem, outlived nine generations after him. In fact, I just now figured out (though my brother mentioned something about this yesterday) the time of Isaac's birth, every single grandfather between Abraham and Shem was still alive. Yet something obviously changed then, for every last one of them died during Isaac and Jacob's lifetime. (Although I never realized, 'till now, that both Seth and Abraham saw Jacob's birth. Or that Isaac was still alive when Jacob died in Egypt.)

But back to yesterday morning. As my brother applied his brilliant brain (he can keep up with my dad better than I can) and his memory of history to this scenario, and he started tossing facts at me.

The Roman empire lasted 600 years... less than a lifetime for Seth, Noah, and many before them. The Roman empire suddenly seemed much less impressive.

Abraham and Sarah had trouble believing that they'd have children, even though Seth hadn't had his first son 'till he was 100...and he was still alive and able to tell them so. I wonder if they talked with Seth--or any of the eight generations between them--about it?

In less than 400 years, one family had spread out over the world and separated enough to form the mighty city of Ur...the country of Egypt...the Indus Valley civilization. And each developed their own religions. Evidently Noah's family took the commission to "fill the earth" seriously. Too bad they didn't remember the God who gave that commission.

Someone who witnessed the flood was still alive when the Pharaohs began setting themselves up as gods. I can imagine what Seth thought about that.

For 800 years during the Dark Ages, the world changed very little in Europe. I never really realized how strange that was.

The last 200 years, technology has changed the world more than the last 2000 combined. In fact, we've come to expect the world to change with every year that goes by.

Then my brother said, "It gives you a new appreciation for how time moves." For that's what we were seeing...that time appears to speed up and slow down. It's not as constant as we think.

It made me think that our fixed idea of Time might not really be all that realistic. We think time never changes. We believe the second is based on something having to do with an atom, that a year is based on the earth's rotation around the sun, and that those things can't change. Yet the Bible says He made the sun stand still and moved a shadow backward.

What if God's been messing with Time all along, and we're clueless? What if both the rotation of the earth and the oscillations of protons and neutrons speed up and slow down at His command?

Or what if Time is tied to God's heartbeat, speeding up when He's doing things, and slowing down when He is at rest? After all, He spans the universe with His hands, and breathes out stars.

After my brother and I signed off, I continued reading where I'd left off in Isaiah the day before. I anticipated the discovery of something having to do with Time, since it seemed that God had led our conversation there...and sure enough, I did.

In Isaiah 48:3-5, God talks about things that He commanded and declared long ago, yet were not fulfilled until, "Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass."

But then, in verses 6-7 He said that He was proclaiming something new "from this time." He said these new things "are created now and not long ago!"

Instantly, I saw that I've somehow come to believe that God was controlled by Time. That because He knew everything that ever has or ever will happen, His actions were limited to what He has always known He would do, even when He knew He would change His mind.

But now I see that He is much farther outside of Time than I can even begin to comprehend. At any time He wants, He can turn the past, present and future (even as He knew it) on end, flipping Time itself inside out.

All those Star Trek episodes that were concerned about preserving the space time I see that God's never been concerned about that. If He gives Time a twist that sends it off into a new direction, He can do that...and the Bible will still be just as true in every word because it is His word and came from His dimension outside of time.

It was then, as I was contemplating all of this, that something else struck me.

How often do we decide against praying or reading our Bible because we don't have time? And how often do we fail to start something God asks of us, because there does not seem to be enough time to complete it?

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How foolish and shallow-minded we are! And how little we trust our God! He holds Time itself in His hands. If He has asked us to do something, He is capable of bending, twisting, speeding up, or slowing down time to suit His purposes and complete whatever He desires to do through us. He is more than capable!

We serve a very, very powerful God. I, for one, see that I need to start trusting Him with the time He has given me, for He can multiply it or subtract it as He chooses.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

My heart's tuning fork...

How is it that a song you've heard dozens of times...a verse you've read before...a story you know by heart...can suddenly touch something in your spirit? Suddenly, without anything done on your part, you're drawn into His throne room, seeing things you've only ever dreamed of before, knowing that your heart and your life is even now being changed, feeling the touch of your Maker and Restorer.

I am under the awe of that right now, yet again because of a song.

Those who have followed my blog for a while have probably noticed that learning to hear God's voice has been a recurring theme for the last year and a half. If you read my makeover story, though, you'll notice that this journey began eight years ago when I realized that God actually talked to me, amazing fact that this is!

In February of this year I posted that I was hearing His voice more than I ever have, and you'll notice that this year was full of posts that touched on this.

But I never shared what God told me, and it wasn't 'till today that He gave me the words that crystallized how this works in my life.

He told me that, if I wanted to hear and recognize His voice the way I claimed I wanted to, that I needed to get in His word more often. He pointed out how I recognized His voice more easily when I'd been His word more frequently. Yet when I allowed distractions to distance me from His word, my hearing grew dim as well.

And it's true. I've seen it all year long. This past month, I have found myself in awe at how I am now hearing Him. I suppose that, after so many years of begging, I'd begun to wonder if my request would ever be granted.

But it's so simple. Just as most musicians need something that holds a perfect key to tune their instruments to, so my heart needs something to tune it. Only then will it know what it's listening for.

I am sure that this is different for everyone. I've known Christians who could easily recognize God's voice from the time they first got saved, while many others who accepted salvation as children have the same struggle I have.

All I know is that Jesus is, once again, my answer. For He is the Word of God, and that Word is my heart's tuning fork.

And that is why this song has touched my soul today. It's on the same CD as the last song I posted. The words start out:
Standing here, in Your presence
Thinking of the good things You have done
Waiting here, patiently
Just to hear Your still small voice again
...and my heart sings because I am learning just how precious that is...precious enough to invest my time to gain.

And then the music changes, and the keyboardist in me recognizes that the notes that are played here are inspired. They portray the simple power and beauty of that still small voice. And the words change to the awe-inspired acknowledgment of who this God is who speaks to us of mysteries and truth and beauty and power and of everything that is Him:
Faithful to the end
Redeemer and Friend

The chorus is quite simple:
I will worship You for who You are
I will worship You for who You are
I will worship You for who You are

And the bridge:
My soul secure
Your promise sure
Your love endures

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I will worship You for who You are...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Warrior, Lord, Servant, Architect...

So evidently God didn't want you all to help me discuss His acts of service...which is perfectly fine, because He gave me something wonderful when His timing was perfect. (Or when I was quiet enough to listen. That might have been the case.)

So! Here, finally, is the next in my series of posts on the five Love Languages (as written about by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts) and how they apply to our relationship with God.

Love Language: Acts of Service

As children, we take this love language for granted. Our parents (hopefully) showed us love through this love language, for when we were little, they are the ones to cook our meals, clothe us, help us with chores that are beyond our capability, etc.

But as we grow and mature, our parents naturally do less and less for us. Eventually, we get to the point where people only do things for us for two reasons: 1) Someone or something is giving them an external incentive to help us, or 2) They want to. That desire is the Acts of Service love language.

For some people, Acts of Service are still a very natural way to show love for someone. The very fact that they love someone makes them want to do things for them. These people naturally look for ways to do things for their loved ones. For others of us, though, it's more a mental, “'s been a while since I did something special for my husband. I bet he'd appreciate it if I did something again. What can I do?”

You see the difference? Virtually everyone knows that, if you love someone, you'll do special things for them now and again, and almost everyone does it. The difference is in how naturally it comes to the person. And, of course, the difference is also in how much it means to you when someone else does an act of service for you.

I don't really speak this love language. Sure, I'm a mother, so I'm constantly performing acts of service for my family, and because I'm busy, I always appreciate any help that my husband or anyone gives me. But if I don't get that help, it doesn't make me feel unloved in the slightest. That's the difference.

My mother might have spoken this love language, though. I wish I could go back in time and ask her. She often complained about times when people could have helped her and didn't, though. She'd break down in tears over it. Thinking back, I want to cry, because I never realized that she was begging for help because that's what made her feel loved. I always thought it was because of her physical condition or because she couldn't handle housework and five kids alone. And yes, I DID help her. After all, I was the oldest, and as every oldest knows, you're Mom's built-in help until you leave home.

But I don't know how often I consciously thought of something extra I could do for her when I was a kid—something she didn't tell me to do. (Thank God that was able to spend six weeks with her, serving her, a few months before she died. Otherwise...well, I just thank God for His grace and goodness.)

Before I go on to what I found in the Bible, I'd like to point out two “warnings” about this love language.

Those who love this love language can easily dig their own trap. Because they speak this love language, they can drive themselves crazy doing anything and everything for their family. The problem is that then, if they complain that their family doesn't do anything in return, their family is left thinking, “What is there left to do? You do it all! I was going to do ____ for you, but you got to it first!”

When we speak this love language, we must also remember that acts of service done in the wrong way or at the wrong times can spoil children, invite others to take advantage of us, and sometimes downright mess up real-life situations. (Like when some well-intentioned person at a four-way-stop tries to let you go ahead of them, and winds up confusing you and three other drivers.) Therefore, acts of service must always be weighed against what God says is good for that person. We never want our acts of service to deprive someone from learning a life skill, keep them from accepting consequences, or harm the process of maturity. For example, if a child sins and you want to show them you love them anyway, the wrong way to show love is to take away the consequence. The right way might be to do something absolutely unrelated, separate from the consequence.

I share these warnings because these tainted views can also affect our viewpoint of why, how, and when God does things for us. We can sometimes be accused of acting like spoiled children, expecting God to spoil us even more "if He loves us." We cannot do that. We must always be willing to trust His vision, His way, and His knowledge of everything that we cannot see.

So! What acts of service has God done for us?

The obvious one is He sent Jesus to die for us. But there are so many beautiful things that His death and resurrection encompass. Those are what I wanted to find...and somehow, as I said, I was having a hard time finding how to express what is often thought of and felt in such a vague way.

But then the Twenty-Third Psalm popped into my head, and God suddenly laid out several panoramas before me.

We all know the psalm of the Good Shepherd: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..." So instead of posting it here, I'm going to attempt to describe the pictures that God showed me, moving through this psalm and cross-referencing other beautiful, powerful verses and posts where I've gone more in-depth in what God's shown me.

v. 1 - The Lord is the one who cares for me. He supplies everything I need, binds my wounds, washes me and serves me, and guards me against the predators of my soul. When one of those predators kidnaps me, He is willing to leave the entire flock just to rescue me from the mouth of the lion.

v. 2 - He shows my soul where it may find the nourishment it needs, for He is the bread of life, and He brings the water that satisfies my soul so it will never thirst again. He supplies these things to me in a spiritual place that is surrounded and filled with peace.

v. 3 - My soul is like a house that has been abused and damaged. It was neglected and falling into ruin. But He is the Architect who has chosen to restore my soul to its full glory. He is the Workman who is lovingly and tenderly taking away everything that is damaged and ruined in my soul and supplying beautiful, new things in their place. He is the Owner of my soul who has paid the full price for my restoration. And He has dedicated whatever resources are needed, for as long as it takes, for my entire life, to complete this good work. For He is a Master Craftsman who will not settle for less than a perfect restoration.

The path of righteousness may be hard and may appear uncertain and dangerous. But He never expected me to blaze this trail on my own. Instead, He went out of His way to blaze the trail for me and to write a guidebook giving me everything I need to know. And if that wasn't enough, He has returned to walk it with me every step of the way, even explaining what the guidebook means.

v. 4 - Even when that path leads through the darkest and most dangerous places in my life... times when the enemy of my soul is surrounding me and seeking to destroy me...even then, I don't have to be afraid, for He is my Warrior, with legions of angels at His command who are more powerful than any of those that the devil has. He will guard and keep my soul.

v. 5 - Not only is He the Warrior in that place of darkness, He is also the Servant, setting up a table and filling it with every good thing that my soul needs and wants. He lovingly prepares everything and arranges it on that table, until the table is overflowing. Then He is the Lord of the feast, beckoning me to His table, that my soul may feast on His goodness and be filled to overflowing. The enemy of my soul is still out there, howling in rage as he watches me feast. He hates the way the Servant anoints my head to ease the pressure of life and replace the stench of travel with the sweet aroma of His presence. Yet the Warrior still holds that enemy at bay, and the Servant still serves me measure after measure of the righteousness and peace and mercy and grace and more mercy, peace, and grace and joy no matter what and hope--all of which my enemy longs to snatch and ruin. But no one can take it.

v. 6 - And it is this table full of good things, this bounty, which is given to me out of the abundant mercy of my loving Father, and which He has commanded to travel with me no matter where I go, and be replenished every morning, so that at any moment my soul may turn to this feast and partake. For He has chosen to make my praises His throne, that I might forever dwell in His presence no matter where life takes me. For His presence is beautiful.

(Continue to the Gifts post.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Group post, please...

I've been stumbling over this next installment in my little Love Languages series for the last month.

The next language is Acts of Service. I feel like this should be easy for me, since this is essentially what this blog is all about, yet I keep pulling it out and trying to get somewhere...and ending up nowhere!

Obviously, the biggest thing that Jesus did for us is that He came to earth and died. Yet...we all are so "used" to that idea, that I want to break it down. I want to discover and illustrate more detailed and specific things that He's done for us...things that we all-too-often forget were a part of what He came to do.

So tell me, please...what specific acts of service has God shown you that He's done for you? They can be things things that are in the Bible, or they can be things in your own life.

What can you share?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

True or False revisted...

It was interesting reading the comments that people shared on my last post. For those that might have missed it, I posted:

A statement:

It is possible for us to rest in the Lord and still be "stressed out."

True or False? And why?

I realized that people were going to have different interpretations of what "stressed out" meant, and I wanted that. Each of us has a slightly different relationship with God, each of us handles stress in different ways, and each of us is "stressed out" in different ways. I wanted the answers to portray those differences. Because of this, there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer. But I do want to share what God has shown me, through my own life.

I think of stress as pressure--pressure brought against me by people or circumstances around me, and pressure I put on myself through my own desires, perceptions, expectations, etc.

Most of you have probably read the testimony I wrote last January, relating how far God has brought me in learning to trust Him. (I thought it was about money, in particular, though the lessons are definitely spilling into many other areas of my life.) As that story shows, I was frequently stressed out. In fact, just the thought of where we were at financially and where we could potentially find ourselves in just a few short months was enough to reduce me to a mass of worry. I felt like I was about to be crushed by the responsibility of making ends meet and “doing things right.”

Anyone else ever felt that way??

Last week, however, I realized something. My husband and I are basically in the same financial position we've been in for the last 6 years. We're still living paycheck to paycheck, and we still frequently look at the bills and wonder how in the world they'll get paid. Only now the economy is firmly down. Now my husband's company is getting rid of employees. In fact, if you look at all the indicators, we have more stress pressing against us than we did.

But I am not stressed out.

Last week, for example, I looked at the bills, considered the paycheck that was expected Friday, and saw that we were going to be $200 shy of making the mortgage payment. But the fear of not making our payment obligations never came. I did have to toss a few devil-inspired thoughts out of my head...but the tossing was done rather calmly. In fact, my overall feeling was, “This will be interesting to see how this works out.”

Is this brief summary succeeding at all in portraying what a huge difference this is for one Ohio woman named Katie?

The stress factors are the same or worse than they were two years ago. My history of watching God's faithfulness is now only slightly longer than it was then. What is it, then, that has made the difference? Why do these things now press no deeper than my skin? What keeps them from reaching the real me—my spirit, my emotions, and my mind? How can I now see the pitiful smallness of the dust pile that was once my mountain? (And pitiful it was, for He had no trouble providing the money for yet another mortgage payment.)

The answer to all these questions is that God has given me a deeper revelation of submission and the trust that comes along with it. But this revelation involves more than His promised provision—far more. Not only am I able to trust that He will continue to pay our bills as long as paying those is right in His eyes, I am also able to trust that He will guide me in how to use whatever money He entrusts to my keeping...and that He has already made plans to cover the mistakes I will make. I now know I can trust that I will accomplish what He intends for me to accomplish today, and that trust keeps me from feeling rushed. I am able to trust that He will raise my children to be the man and women He has called them to be, regardless of my mistakes and the differences of opinion between my husband and I. I am able to trust that the new struggle that has found its way into my marriage is yet one more dust-pile that He will sweep aside when He no longer needs to make an object lesson out of it.

Quite honestly, I have discovered what it means to rest. (At least, to a certain degree. It will be marvelous to discover what untapped wells of rest are waiting for me!)

And I have learned that when the pressures, struggles, and stress of life do make it inside me, that is a red flag—a signal that I have reached a lesson that I have yet to learn—that I am missing something that will enable me to watch these struggles from place of rest. Yes, watch them, not fight my way through them. Because if God has taught me anything through these last six years, it's that I have only begun to tap the strength and peace and power that He has waiting.

So you there, with the heavy burdens weighing on your shoulders. Whether you're man or woman, boy or girl, stranger or the woman in my say that life gave you those burdens and it will always give you more. You listen to a voice that says it's impossible to live without feeling the weight of them. I remind you that Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

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I challenge you to surrender those heavy burdens and watch how easily He carries what weighs you down. Take His yoke in place of those burdens and let Him guide your steps, for He is a gentle taskmaster and His yoke weighs almost nothing. It is certainly nothing compared to His strength, which He can make flow through you.

You say you don't know how? Frankly, I don't either. But thankfully, His Spirit has come to teach us all things, and this just might be one of the most glorious of them. And somehow, He is capable of doing things inside of us that we don't understand. For He understands it all.

All He asks for is our surrender...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

True or False?

A statement:

It is possible for us to rest in the Lord and still be "stressed out."

True or False? And why?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Act well...

(Note to the unknowns who read this blog: I haven't abandoned my study on the five love languages...I just keep wanting to post interruptions. Please don't give up on me, if you're looking forward to those posts!)


Today would have been my mother's 57th birthday, if we hadn't lost her four years ago.

I've mentioned a little about her now and again, and today I find myself thinking of her life in a whole new way.

You see...I also happened to have just finished reading a book today that is unlike any other book I've ever read. I don't know if Mom would have enjoyed it or not...but I do believe that she understood one of the lessons this book paints.

You see, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl is a word-artist's attempt to portray the world as God's masterpiece. Its subtitle is "Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World," and that wonder is something that Mom understood.

She also understood that life as we know it is only a reflection of something much larger and more complete...something that began before time existed and will continue throughout eternity. As this author so eloquently portrays, God's paintbrush is His spoken words, and the world and all of human history is His masterpiece. His novel. His painting. His poem.

My mother's death is a shadow in that painting. A tree whose last season has ended.

Many people struggle with accepting death. And yet, because of who Mom was, I do not. It's no fun...but it's part of life. A part not to be feared, if you know your Savior. A part not even to be questioned, if you believe as I do.

Think about this. An author would look quite strangely at a character who leaped from the pages and began asking him what right he had to make him poor and crippled. As the author of the book I read asked, "Would Pride and Prejudice be improved by throwing away every page prior to the resolution, by erasing every character flaw, every misunderstanding and dispute?"

Of course it wouldn't! Yet isn't that what we sometimes tell God He should do with His story, both past, present, and future?

And what broken branch, lying under the snow on the ground, looks up at the painter who painted her and asks why he didn't paint her full of leaves on the tree above. Does she dare to blame the painter for the cold and ice and bitter wind? The painter has decided the season. That is that. And again, as this author puts it, "Could we improve this picture? How can we make it not better, but best? Remove the tension and the contrast. Remove the black. All of it. Remove the struggle and the inevitable end. Leave the white. Only white. And now it is perfect. Perfectly blank."

Does that make you look at life's struggles differently?

In the midst of my study for my Quality Time post, I was struck by something David said. Or rather, I was struck by the attitude that his statement portrayed.

In 2 Samuel 15, David finds himself running for his life. Again. Only this time it's not from his father-in-law or a neighboring king. By now, he has reigned securely on the throne of Israel for years. Decades, perhaps. Until his own son gets ideas.

Absalom conspired (and succeeded) in winning the hearts of a vast portion of Israel, including some of David's advisers. And when he'd decided he'd won enough of them, he rode into Jerusalem to take the throne.

And David fled. He knew that a king is only as strong as those who are loyal to him.

Had David done anything wrong in this story? Perhaps. That depends on whether parenting skills factored into the equation. BUT...this was not a judgment of God on him. This was simply a beloved and powerful son in total rebellion.

What struck me was David's response. He didn't rail against God or blame Him, asking, "Why did You allow this to happen to me?" He didn't judge God--either for what He'd allowed or for not protecting him.

Instead, he said, "If I find favor in the sight of the Lord, then He will bring me back again. But if He should say, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am. Let Him do to me as seems good in His sight."

Does that seem as remarkable to you as it does to me? David not only believed that absolutely everything was under God's control, but he accepted anything that might come his way as being good in God's sight. He didn't even bother himself with the reality that getting killed by your son isn't exactly something that could be considered good in man's sight. He knew how very little man's opinion on things really mattered.

And that concept brings me back to what this author was talking about...that the history of the world is God's novel--His-story. We are its characters. We cannot choose the scenes we have been placed in, and we cannot control the characters around us. We can't control when we enter and exit the stage. The only thing we can control is the type of character we will be.

I'll share his challenge:
Do you dislike your role in the story, your place in the shadow? What complaints do we have that the hobbits could not have heaved at Tolkien? You have been born into a narrative, you have been given freedom. Act, and act well until you reach your final scene.

My mother reached her final scene, and I will say that she played her part well.

What about me? What about you?

What about the scene we are currently in? And will we choose to act well?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The art of losing myself...

I've discovered that there's been an amazing song circling the globe for two years, and I just now heard it for the first time!!! Perhaps this has just been God's timing for me. I don't know.

But I can't resist sharing this with anyone else who may have been missing out like I was.

This is the type of enrapturing worship I talked about on my last post...when we use our words to create a throne for His presence in our lives. It's about "the art of losing myself in bringing You praise, from the inside out" and asking Him to "consume me from the inside out" so I can "love You from the inside out."

Hillsong - From The Inside Out - With Subtitles/Lyrics - Mighty to Save DVD

A thousand times I've failed
Still Your mercy remains
And should I stumble again
I'm caught in Your grace
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself
In bringing You praise
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

In my heart and my soul
Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out
Lord let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself
In bringing You praise
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

In my heart and my soul
Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out
Lord let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart
Is to bring
You praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out

In my heart and my soul
Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out
Lord let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart
Is to bring
You praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out

Monday, August 31, 2009

Drawing near...

(In a recent post, I wrote a little about the Five Love Languages, as written about by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  I explained how I found myself wondering if they apply to our relationship with God. This is an extra add-on to the seven posts I planned, so I suppose I'll call it 4.b of eight posts on this topic...unless I end up adding more later. ::grins::)

Everything I shared on my last post on Quality Time is still resonating through me. Every time I start talking with God, I find myself overwhelmed with the thought and the question, "God, are You really just waiting for me to want Quality Time with You badly enough? Do you really want to literally show Yourself to me?" And I stand there in awe.

I've found myself wondering just how close to God other people have gotten...both well-known Christian "greats" and unknown ones. Were Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses the only ones who walked with God in a physical way? Or has there been at least one in every generation? What about George Muller? Most Christians are familiar with one or two of his stories, but I doubt many of us really know our God the way he seemed to...but just how close did he get to God? Or what about mothers and grandmothers around the world? Have there been one or two who have gotten so close to God that He allowed them to see and experience things they could not share? That no one but them and God knew anything about?

So how do we draw near to God? That's what I want to write about today...even though anything I might say is only my own humble thoughts. What do I know? I haven't seen God. All I can do is share where I'm at...what God has shown me so far...and ask anyone who's reading this and who wants to share to do the same, so that we may encourage one another.

Yesterday morning, through a somewhat personal set of circumstances, God let me feel His heart. At least, one side of it. I was playing the keyboard and singing for our church's worship service, we finished a song, and I was about to let the keyboard notes trail off into silence when He said, "Keep playing."

I did.

A moment later, He said, "There is a word for the people." In other words, He wanted to speak to the people through somone.

I kept playing, and the worship leader obviously sensed what I did because she fell silent. "Lord," I said, "No one's saying anything."

"Then you speak it," He said. I did, trembling and my voice shaking, simply sharing that I felt God was calling us to call upon Him while He was near. To seek Him while He could be found. That He was only waiting for us to reach out for Him and seek His face, and then we'd see just how close He'd always been.

And then I collapsed on the chair behind the keyboard with tears running down my face, His Spirit pouring prayer in words that I don't know, as He let me feel how His heart breaks when we shrug Him aside...when we turn our back on the strength available in the mercies that are new every morning and rely on caffeine to get us through our days instead...when we willingly step into slavery...when we're just too busy with less important things to do that which would transform our life into something beautiful beyond our comprehension. "Lord," I sobbed, "how often do I still do this? Open my eyes to see, that I can give You those parts of my heart as well!"

The moment passed...but for one moment, I was closer to Him than I usually am...and it hurt. Was it worth it?

After church, I felt a strange mixture of that pain and of the love He feels, for that grief flowed from His love. After lunch, my husband took the kids to go cut wood, and I had several rare hours in the house alone. I did what I haven't done in a while, and I turned on my favorite worship CD and just worshiped while I cleaned house. And it was wonderful! To be able to stop in the middle of the hallway and raise my hands and face to my God and sing from the bottom of my heart, "I'm nothing without You, You are my source of life." To get so lost in the words of the song that I could no longer sing through the emotion that clogged my throat.

And again I was drawn closer to Him than I usually am. But this time it didn't hurt. This time I experienced the fulfillment of being in the arms of the One who created me and completes me.

How do we draw close to God? I think, perhaps, we are held back by thinking there's a formula...that we have to spend x number of hours day praying...that we have to study the Greek and Hebrew...that we have to worship like someone else does.

I think those are lies. I think it's really quite simple. It starts with the same prayer that Moses prayed, "Lord, show me Your ways." It starts with a heart that is totally willing and humble enough to know that it is only through His grace that we are even capable of drawing near to Him. Then He is the one who opens our eyes to see Him moving in our see things the way He does and know His heart.

I used to view Bible reading as a reading something for the umpeenth time and getting very little new out of it. I'm afraid my prayers were more along the lines of complaining than sincere requests: "God, what does this mean? I'm not getting anything out of this!" But somehow He led me to write out my questions...and I discovered how journalling my thoughts and prayers and questions slows my overactive brain enough that I can hear Him speak. And wow! The things I began discovering in the Bible, as I wrote! That was Him, taking my lack of excitement about the Bible and overwhelming it with my deeper desire to know Him. I couldn't do it...but He did! Now the choice of obedience is mine, continue walking the path that He opened up for me, or to turn my back on it.

Prayer used to be something I labored to do...a list I brought before God. But it's not, you know. I think there's more to prayer than I can comprehend, but God has opened my eyes to see how one aspect of it is simply talking to the God who surrounds me and fills me, about everything that comes my way. When I've messed up and I feel far away from Him, that's just a lie in my mind. He's still there, watching me ignore Him and pretend that He's not interested in the companionship of someone so faulty. But again, opening my eyes to these truths was something He did...a path that He opened up when I was incapable of finding it.

And then there's passion. But it didn't used to be! I was a girl who stood with my arms locked to my sides throughout the worship service. I hated it when our charismatic church organized a processional or dance presentation for the girls to do. I refused to sing a song with the words, "I would give my final breath, to know You in your death and resurrection, oh I want to know You more." Why? Because I knew He heard the words I sang, and I was afraid He'd take me up on that if I said it, even though we both knew it would be a lie. I didn't want to die! I was so bound up in so many things, and I didn't even realize it.

I certainly wasn't asking Him to set me free to dance. But He did! I'll never forget the day and the welling of desire for an unknown something that filled me. The next thing I remember, I was dancing before Him on the stage. (Don't get judgemental, please...this was an informal, evening worship service when the floor in front and stage were open for anyone, so what God did was perfectly orderly.) Anyway, I have absolutely no recollection of moving from the place of bondage that my seat had become, to the place of freedom in His presence that I found when I gave every cell of my body up in worship. But I have never gone back. Sometimes I allow life to get in the way and I momentarily forget about the path into His presence that He opened up that day. But no matter where I am, no matter how I feel, that path is always there...and the distance from my sorrow and misery to the ecstasy of His presence is never more than a few moments long.

I won't say that praise and worship is the only way to draw near to Him, for it is in studying my Bible that I come to know Him. And it is through prayer that I learn what going through my days with Him is like. But I will say that praise and worship might be the only way to enter His physical presence. (Keep in mind that worship doesn't have to be singing. You can speak your praises.) How does the Bible tell us to enter His courts? "With praise." Why? Because when you praise Him, your words are creating a throne for Him to sit down on. You're pulling up a chair for Him and asking Him to make Himself comfortable. He created our world with His voice, and we create His easy chair with ours. And when He settles Himself on what we create, chains fall from our hands and feet, until all we can do is stand enraptured in His presence.

So perhaps drawing near to Him consists of nothing more than holding up our shackled hands and saying, "Here, Lord. Set me free from what keeps me from You. I don't know how to let it go, and I'm not strong enough to break them anyway. But I am willing to let it all go. I am yours. I want to know Your ways, and I will praise You, no matter what."

What do you think? And what have you experienced?

(Continue to the Acts of Service post.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Surviving the experience...

(In a recent post, I wrote a little about the Five Love Languages, as written about by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  I explained how I found myself wondering if they apply to our relationship with God. This is the fourth of what turned out to be nine posts as I explored this topic.)
Love Language: Quality Time
Quality Time is my dad's prominent love language. He continuously went out of his way to spend individual time with each of his five kids, and one of his favorite methods of spending time with you was to go on a walk with you--away from everyone else, where no one and nothing could interrupt--and just talk about whatever was important to us and him.

Even though this isn't one of my love languages, somehow I understood that Dad did this because he loved me and because I was important to him. And when I realized that these times meant more to him than they did to me, I knew that my willingness to put other things aside and go on a walk with him was a very powerful way that I could show love to him.

My daughter speaks Quality Time as well. She'll give up almost anything if it means doing something with you. I don't know if she loves to cook...but she loves helping me cook, because we're doing something together. She didn't love baseball, yet she was always out with her father and brother practicing, just because it was a way to do something with Daddy. In fact, if you ever dare to ask her what she'd like to do, it will always involve some sort of time-intensive activity that involves her and one (or both) of her parents, and often her brother and sister as well. (She's an oldest who begs her little brother and sister to do things with her, rather than begging them to leave her alone.)

Another example: What is the traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving Day activity? And what do the vast majority of dating couples do? We enjoy a meal together. Quality Time is why this is so important. There is something special that happens when you share a meal with someone, because you're doing something together and you're (hopefully) looking into each other's eyes and sharing meaningful conversation.

When I started this study, I assumed that this love language would be more for the benefit of someone else reading this blog, rather than for my own benefit. After all, I don't speak this language.

But boy was I wrong! My search through the Bible led to some very interesting verses. In fact, I ended up skimming ten or eleven books of the Bible, looking for more. (Which is why this post has taken me so long to get up!)

The first interesting thing I realized when I started this, is that Quality Time is the only love language that must be reciprocated to be given. Spending Quality Time with someone means looking into their eyes, talking with them, and doing things with them that they enjoy. You can speak Words of Affirmation to someone, and they can pretend to ignore you if they don't feel comfortable accepting it... but you still showed them love. You can pat someone on the shoulder, and even if they shrug off that Physical Touch, they still felt it. You can perform an Acts of Service for someone when they're not around. And you can leave a gift for someone on their bed or doorstep. But you simply cannot look into someone's eyes if they turn their back on you, and you cannot spend time doing what they enjoy if they're avoiding you.

Notice what this means. God cannot show love to us through the love language of Quality Time unless we are willing to spend time with Him!

The obvious way to spend Quality Time with God is spending time in prayer or in reading our Bible. But my study went beyond that. Way beyond that to something that blew my mind and that just might end up changing my life.

I thought again about how spending Quality Time together is essentially doing things together in each other's physical presence, and I wondered. Are there any stories in the Bible of people who did things with God? Not for Him, but with Him?

I ended up rewinding my study and going all the way back to Genesis 3:8-9 where it says that God walked in the Garden, calling for Adam and Eve because they weren't there waiting for Him. God was physically there, coming to actually do something with them. The infinite, all-powerful Creator of the Universe somehow made Himself less so that He could step inside His creation and do something with the most important element of that creation. He wanted to go on a walk with them, just like my father did with me.

But somehow I never really thought beyond that, other than that Sin made it impossible for anyone after Adam and Even to experience spending that kind of Quality Time with God...

...until I did this study.

What if God's whole desire when He created man was to spend time with us? What if, when Adam sinned, thereby clothing himself in sin so poisonous that the simple act of being in God's presence would have killed him...what if that loss of companionship grieved God's heart just as much as Adam's?

What if it grieved God's heart more?

What if it grieved God so much that He began searching for ways to restore that companionship with mankind, since Adam was clearly in no state to be able to do it? You see, it was never God's choice that we be separated. It was our choice. God's glory and sin cannot coexist. They're like baking soda and vinegar--they explode on contact. And when we're clothed in sin, that explosion makes us the casualty. Adam knew it (which was why he hid), and God knew it. And He didn't like it.

What if God began searching for people who were just as eager to spend Quality Time with Him as He was with them...and instead kept finding people who were more interested in holding onto that poisonous cloak?

I'm going to tell a story...a story that takes a little liberty here and there with what's in the Bible, but a story that I think accurately reflects God's heart down through the ages.

Let's keep moving forward through time.

After Adam, the next instance of someone walking with God was Enoch. We're only given four verses of Enoch's story, but the fact that God "took him" was significant. If Enoch's walk with God was the figurative type of walk that we talk about having with God--the type of "walk with God" that I always assumed it was--God clearly wasn't satisfied. He wanted more. He wanted an even closer relationship with this man who was evidently just as eager for Quality Time. In fact, God wasn't willing to wait until the man lived another 600 years or so. (Which is remarkable, since 1000 years is like a day to God!) So God took Enoch to heaven at the young age of 365 (which was, by the way, only 27 years after Adam died).

And guess what? Four years after God took Enoch, Noah was born--Noah, who also walked with God. We all know Noah's story and how Noah was the only righteous man God could find. In other words, Noah was the only man willing to be righteous so that God could spend Quality Time with him. So God decided to start over. He wiped out all of mankind, except Noah and his family, hoping that righteousness would prevail. But of course, it didn't. Noah's son, Ham, remembered the flagrant sin that his neighbors lived in before the flood and carried it into the world after the flood.

I wondered if God sighed? It was already evident that this "fresh start" wasn't going to result in a group of people that were interested in pursuing the righteousness needed to exist in His presence (which is the only way He could spend Quality Time with them).

But what if Enoch and Noah's walks with God weren't figurative? What if God found a way to cloak His glory enough that He could literally go on walks with them?

Does that sound far-fetched? It's not.

Noah's son, Seth, was 465 years old when God called his great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson out of a land of idolatry. Fourteen years later, (yes, Seth was still alive), God went on a physical walk with Abraham! Here is an abridged version of that day:

God was on His way to check out Sodom and Gomorrah, and He decided to stop off and visit with Abraham along the way. What did Abraham see? He saw three men, but he evidently saw through God's disguise immediately since he ran to them, bowed down, and begged Him to stay for a while and share a meal with him. You see that? Abraham wanted to spend Quality Time with God! The very thing that God cared so much about!

So God and the two angels stayed for a while, and when they finished eating and drinking, they got up and Abraham walked with them. He went on a walk with God, just like Adam used to go on walks with Him, and just like my father did with me.

While they were on this walk, God was thinking about what He was about to do, and He decided He wanted to talk about it with Abraham--meaningful conversation, another important component of Quality Time. So He told Abraham about it, and the two angels left for Sodom. (What happened when they got there is told in the next chapter.) God, however, stayed with Abraham. The rest of the chapter is the account of their conversation, and it proves that Abraham was, indeed, very aware that he was walking and talking with God.

That wasn't the only time God appeared to Abraham, either. Perhaps Abraham recognized God through His man-like disguise because it was the same disguise he'd seen when God appeared to him and promised the land of Canaan to his descendants, or when He appeared again, changed his name, and had another lengthy conversation. It was in this conversation that I see God's desire and intent. It seems to me that He was hoping that, by establishing a covenant with them, He would acquire a multitude of people He could spend Quality Time with.

Let's keep moving through time as God unfolded this plan.

Abraham died; his son, Isaac, became head of what was now a vast household; and twice God appeared to him, reiterating this plan and the covenant that Isaac was a part of.

The first time that God appeared to Jacob, it was in a dream, rather than in the form (or disguise) of a man. Again God reiterated His plan and the covenant that Jacob was also a part of. But it is the second time that God appeared to Jacob that we see God coming to spend Quality Time with him.

In the Love Languages of Children book, we're told how one of the best ways to spend Quality Time with our children is to play games or get involved in a sport with them. How many of you felt loved when you got to ride bikes or play ball or wrestle around with your father or grandfather? Do you realize that your heavenly Father put on his man-like disguise and came down to wrestle around with Jacob? And again, Jacob definitely knew Who he had spent Quality Time with and Who had just changed his name, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." (My sister wrote a wonderful blog post about this wrestling match, if you'd like to read it.) And God appeared to Jacob again and changed his name.

Four-hundred-plus years went by after that, and the Bible doesn't say anything about God appearing or walking with anyone. God was obviously with Joseph in a very special way, but it says nothing about God appearing to Joseph or how Joseph heard from God. God was evidently waiting for His timing to be perfect.

And then came Moses, and God's plan started unfolding on a massive scale.

God's first appearance to Moses was in the disguise of a burning bush. (No one can claim God isn't imaginative!)

But when they came to Mount Sinai, God began to show His hand and his plan. He told all the people to prepare, because He was going to show Himself to them. (This time disguised as a cloud.) He moved slowly, setting boundaries for how close the entire camp could come. They saw and heard Him and His thunder and lightning and earthquake and horns and smoke.

And what was their response?

"We don't want to spend time with You, God. You scare us too much. Talk to Moses instead."

Moses pleaded with them, telling them that God was testing them...trying to put the fear of His glory into them, so they'd avoid the sin that separated them from Him, but still, it was oh-so-worth it!

That's when something else occurred to me. God gave the law, to show what sin was, right? Perhaps this is why God wanted us to be able to recognize we'll know exactly what will stop Him from being able to spend Quality Time with us! Amazing thought, isn't it?

God's next step was to call Moses, Aaron, Aaron's two oldest sons, and seventy more of the elders of Israel up on the mountain. Yep...that's 74 people! (Possibly 75, since Joshua, as Moses's servant, seemed to accompany him up on the mountain almost every time.) They were still not allowed to come as close as Moses did, but they were allowed past the barrier that God had set for the last showing.

What happened to those 70+ people, up on Mount Sinai? Not only did they hear Him, "They saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself... they saw God, and they ate and drank." Read it for yourself! They spent Quality Time with God, enjoying a meal in His tangible, physical presence.

Then, again God called Moses up on the mountain (Joshua went with him), but what the next step in God's plan was, we'll never know. Why? Because a mere 40 days later, those 73 other men so forgot the God who had showed them Himself that they made and worshiped a golden calf. Even Aaron, called to be the highest priest of the Most High God, lacked the spine and conviction to remind the people what they'd seen, who their God really was, and what was required just to be near Him. (Ex. 32:1-21)

The thought appalls me. How in the world could you actually see God and then go on to worship a cow!?!

What did God do?

He gave up. He got really mad and told Moses He was going to kill them all and start over again with Moses's descendants. Moses argued with Him, citing God's reputation and faithfulness, and God changed his mind.

Then Moses saw what they were doing for himself, took his own turn getting mad, and broke the tablets that God had written with His finger. But still, he asked God to forgive the people.

And God's response is quite interesting. Remember that He'd been working for years to make a way to spend Quality Time with man, and that His plan had progressed so far that the entire camp had heard Him, and 74 of them had actually seen Him. He had even given them instructions to build a house for Him, right in the middle of their camp!

But now He decided His plan to have Quality Time with all of them simply wasn't going to work. Not only did they not want to see and hear Him, but they stubbornly persisted in returning to the sin that kept them away from Him. As He told Moses (paraphrasing Ex. 33:1-3), "Lead them to the land that I promised I'd bring them to. I'm not going back on My promise. But I'm not going to be traveling with them like I wanted to. They're too stubborn and I'll just destroy them before we arrive."

Again Moses pleaded with God, and this time God agreed. He'd go with them. But I can't find any instance after that where God tried to show Himself to the people, outside of the cloud. Moses asked to see God without the filter of any disguises, and God allowed him to see His back...perhaps because Moses asked also to know God's ways. Moses was willing to do whatever it took--pursue whatever level of righteousness was required--to survive the experience.

I can't find anything after this point that says that God appeared to anyone in this way. He appeared to many prophets in visions, and He appeared to men in dreams. The angel of the Lord appeared to quite a few people, and there are some who believe this may have been a form of God, rather than an actual angel. (I don't pretend to know.) There are numerous places where He spoke to men, but God didn't have the writers include how He spoke to those men and prophets.

But God didn't stop wanting to spend Quality Time with His people. It seems He began to wait for them to seek Him out.

"Return to Me, that I may return to you," He said through Zechariah. Through Jeremiah, He said, "You will seek Me, and you will find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you."

Jesus came. He was God in the flesh, and He came to do two things, one representing God's side of the Quality Time equation, and the other representing our side.

He said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." He came so that everyone would know what God was like, since our sin made it so we'd never know, otherwise. Just like the sample counters in stores...they know you'll never put out the expense to purchase something when you have no idea just how wonderful it tastes. So they offer samples. They say, "Come and taste this for free. See how delicious it is!" Jesus came for the same show us what God was like, so we'd see that the "expense" was very little compared to the worth of knowing Him. In fact, Jesus said it again in Revelation 3:18-20, "Come and buy from Me gold refined from the fire...and white clothing that your shame will not be revealed. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and I will dine with him and he with Me."

That "from Me" highlights the other thing He did. He made it possible for every single last one of us to wear those get rid of that poisonous covering of sin that keeps us from God's presence.

But it costs. It costs far more than a simple prayer. The cost involves sacrificing everything that is tainted with the poison of sin. James understood the cost. He pleaded with the church: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded."

The cost involves giving up our idols, even if our golden calf looks more like television, chocolate, motorcycles, shopping, or vacations. It involves surrendering our way and our ideas of right and wrong, and praying what Moses prayed, "Lord, show me Your ways." David prayed the same prayer, which is, I believe, why God called him "a man after My own heart."

What about me? What about you? Are we willing to pay the price so that we can walk with God and dine in His presence? Are we willing to give Him our Quality Time, so that He can give His to us?

Or are we dancing around our golden calves, saying, "God, you scare us. Talk to our pastor. We don't want to come up the mountain with You. The cost is more than we want to pay, even though You paid for it. Go find someone else to spend time with."

What choice will we make? Are we willing to seek Him hard enough to find out just how much of Himself He wants to show us? And are we willing to do what is necessary to survive the experience?

(Continue to post 4b which is on Drawing Near to God.)

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