Taking It Personally

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 2:29

I’ve often heard it said that the church from Revelation which most resembles the modern American church is the lukewarm, spoiled church of Laodicea. And this is true.

As a whole, we do tend to be complacent in a rather shallow, wealthy, and self-serving social club we call the church. We neither offer a refreshing drink of cool Living Water to the world around us nor a sanitizing scalding from the heat of holy fire. We are, to use the modern vernacular, meh.

But the letter to Laodicea isn’t the only one we could take to heart as a solemn warning. Like Ephesus, many of us have forgotten our first love of the Lord – going through acts of service as if our works will save us and not His grace. We can be guilty of making service into an idol, serving others out of humanistic motives rather than from an overflow of the love of God in our hearts.

Like Pergamum, we think we can compromise with the world. We think we can trust the modern-day Balaams who go thrice with the kings who desire to curse God’s people and eventually urge us to mingle our God-ordained values with the fluctuating and unstable mores of the world around us.

Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor…

Numbers 31:16a

Like Thyatira, we tolerate sexual sin within our churches and the exploitation of our freedom in Christ to the point of causing others to stumble when they see us behaving in a way which appears to them to compromise with the culture’s petty gods.

In those days, some would see the eating of food sacrificed to idols as actual worship of said idols. Today, the practices are more subtle but not less damaging to the consciences of others and are still tolerated within the Body of Christ. For us just as for them, tolerance has become a pitiful alternative to love.

Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

1 Corinthians 8:12

Like Sardis, we are capable of pantomiming vigorous, Spirit-led worship, while inside we are spiritually dead. What looks like worship is sometimes nothing more than reactivity to stirring music; automatons who respond to stimulus, going through the rote of worship while failing to truly adore and serve the Lord our God.

But I want to take these things more personally. Not us, not we, but me.

Where do I stand in all this? Is my worship genuine and alive or just a task I check off my list? What evils am I overlooking in my heart or my home, tolerating them in the name of getting along and not rocking the proverbial boat? Where am I compromising with culture or serving others just because I should but without the love of Christ? Have I grown stale and complacent in my walk with the Lord?

For me, this season is a time of prayerful self-examination. I invite the Lord to answer these questions, exposing sin in me so that I may repent and turn fully to Him. You see, I believe the promises He gives to the one who conquers. I long for them.

I want to eat of the tree of life, enjoy the hidden manna of His presence, receive my new name, be given the Morning Star, and be clothed in bridal white before my King. I long to be with Him forever, enjoying Him and His people and utterly free from the battle against sin and death that I constantly wage in my earthly body.

And in my longing, there is a strong desire never, ever to grow spiritually lazy and complacent.

Oh Lord, grant that I may always grow in Your love and wisdom and in the knowledge of You. Bring revival to my heart, my home, and Your Church and restore us to our first love. Teach us to repent of tolerance and compromise, of lifeless worship and service by rote. Teach us to hunger for Your Word and desire Your Kingdom above all. Remove the god of entertainment from the throne of Your Church and restore us to proper zeal and reverence for You. May it be to us for Your glory and Your Name’s sake, amen.

Sanctuary

Last week, I chaperoned my tenth-grader’s field trip to New York City. One memorable site we visited, at least to me, was the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

As is often the case with field trips, we had little time in the building. Still, for the time I had, I trailed my fingers over the heavy polished wooden pews as I took in the ornate ceiling, columns, and alcoves all bathed in light filtered through stained glass windows.

My thoughts strayed from the sights before my eyes to the beautiful descriptions of the two Temples given in Scripture. For a moment, my heart stirred with sorrow and I whispered, “O Lord, when did we stop building You such glorious houses of worship?”

He whispered back, “This is not My house, child. You are.”

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16

The thought has been with me since.

On this day, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I invite you to join with me in an endeavor which will have eternal benefits. Now that God’s people are His house – His temple – let’s do a little spiritual housecleaning. If our bodies are God’s temple, ought we not be certain the bodies we offer Him are worthy of His residence?

So by His grace and with the sound counsel of the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit our Helper – let’s resolve to search our temples by the Light of the Word. When we find something unsavory or rotten, let’s remove it, banishing it from the house. What is filthy, let’s cleanse; what is ugly, let’s beautify; what is dishonorable, let’s cast out.

From here on out, let’s join together in Christ to become a Temple of incredible beauty. Let the worship performed in these, our temples, be genuine, breaking forth from the overflow of gratitude for His sacrifice which has set us free from sin.

Then let us choose to live as free men and women every single day. Let’s keep these houses swept clean of debris and deceit. Daily, we’ll let the Light in so that by the light of the Word we can see clearly. We’ll let the Spirit of God do His work in us, putting our houses in order so that by our lives and in our bodies, we can magnify the beauty of our great and awesome God!

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Fountain

Thanks to the flu (which I have so far evaded) hitting my home, I’ve little time to engage on social media this week. So here’s an oldie from 2014 that I needed to re-read today! ❤

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:12-13

We do not like to hear difficult news. It isn’t much fun, I have to admit, especially when said news involves an uncomfortably close look at my own behavior. My pride doesn’t enjoy the buffeting that comes from a confrontation of my sin.

However, the longer I have walked with God, the more I see the absolute necessity of these moments. If I cannot humbly ask God to search my heart and know my thoughts, well… I am not drinking deep from the Fount of living water but trusting in the cracked and leaky vessel of my silly and rather vain human pride, either by trusting in my own effort or ability or by accepting a cultural standard that is man-made and fleeting. This brief passage in Jeremiah has given me pause for both personal reflection and for a close look at my expectations as a part of the Church at large.

Lately I have been wondering how much of our modern church services are driven by such cultural expectations and efforts. Have we allowed the show to upstage the Almighty?

I love some stirring music as much as the next gal, but I do sometimes fear that what passes for “worship” in many churches today is not actually the unadorned worship of the Father. I fear it isn’t fueled by a hunger for His Word and His presence and marked by repentance and obedience, but by something far inferior. I fear that it is nothing more and nothing less than emotional response.

The plain fact is, we do not need music or color-coordination or conducive environments to worship. Worship just happens, and it happens from a recognition of the majesty and worthiness of God. Worship cannot be manufactured: it is the natural response to our mighty King.

Just the other day as I read Jeremiah 2 to my kids, I pondered it in light of the current church trends. When we, the Church, allow human expectations to define our worship services, are we then trusting in the Fountain of Living Water? Or have we hewn out cisterns for ourselves, cisterns that we expend enormous energy trying vainly to fill only to watch our efforts drain away while we sit by, exhausted and helpless to stop the leak?

I do not claim to know the answers; it is just something I have been contemplating. I do know, however, that many people are out there searching, searching for just the right worship environment rather than simply seeking the limitless Fountain which will, without fail, well up to an overflow.

I have experienced that worship can happen in the midst of intense pain as well as in the midst of beautiful and stirring music. True worship is really a reflexive response to the work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be conjured by any amount of human effort or will. I hope to see a return to sincere worship in our churches in my lifetime. I pray to see it in my own heart, as well.

God has made me realize lately just how deeply I, too, have based my ideologies and standards upon these fractured and fragile, man-hewn cisterns. You see, I tend to view my life–my use of time and other resources, how busy I am, my assessment of my own spiritual condition–not by God’s standards but by measuring them against my peers.

This is an area in which God has been dealing with me lately, pointing to the leaks and flaws in the cisterns I am pouring my energy into and beckoning me to sit by His Fountain and be filled.

I spent years striving ceaselessly to keep my spiritual life “full,” but for years I neglected to begin with humility, repentance and surrender. I have tried to be “good,” but in the end my best efforts are no better than filthy rags. What I need is to abide–to be a part of the living Vine, to trust entirely in the Fountain of Living Water and allow His life, power, and love to suffuse every element of my being until I am utterly eclipsed by it. May He increase and I decrease.

My prayer today, Father, is that I will no longer commit these two evils. Teach me to forsake my flawed human understanding and surrender entirely to Your perfect will. May Your Living Water well up within me to an overflow, for the glory of Your Kingdom and of Your name.

Let it be Your power that others see in me–power over sin and over the cares of this world. I ask for Your forgiveness for my arrogance in carving out my own, leaky vessels. I pray, too, for Your forgiveness for our churches. I pray that we, as Your Bride, would humble ourselves completely and listen to Your will for us. Help us to let go of all expectations that we have created and heaped upon ourselves and open our hearts to pure and sincere worship of You, our King.

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16

Looking for the King

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Luke 2:25-26

During Christmastime, it’s not unusual to hear from all corners references to that ancient pair of travelers, Mary and Joseph, and their trek to Bethlehem. Songs about the birth of Jesus or the heavenly chorus which was performed for shepherd are occasionally played even on secular stations, and I’ve heard tell that some broadcasters will air A Charlie Brown Christmas complete with Linus’s recital of 2:8-14.

The story isn’t new to Christians. It isn’t even new to some who do not know the Lord. But how many continue reading in Luke past the point of the shepherds and their rejoicing? There’s more to the coming of the King than His undignified birth amidst the stench of a stable.

Forty days after His birth, the young couple would make a journey to Jerusalem because Mary’s time of purification according to Levitical law was at hand.  On this exciting day, we are told, they brought a sacrifice “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'”  (Luke 2:24)

A quick glance back to Leviticus 12:6-8 will reveal that the sacrifice of a pair of birds was a provision for those who could not afford to offer both a lamb and a bird for the ritual purification after childbirth. 

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

Leviticus 12:8, see also 12:2-4, 6-7

The idea of Jesus’s humble beginnings is not new, of course, but it bears fresh meditation as we approach the day of celebration. Most of us are familiar with the fact that His first bed was not one of down and silk in a palace, but scratchy straw in a place meant to feed animals. But it strikes me even deeper that Mary and Joseph brought two birds for the sacrifice, unable to even afford a lamb for the ritual purification of the mother of the Lamb of God.  

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28

Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of any of the trappings of royalty, two people at the temple that day recognized Him. A man named Simeon who’d received a promise that he wouldn’t die before he saw the Messiah, and an old widow named Anna.

A few years ago as I re-read this story, one fact really captured my attention as I read: Anna was at the temple that day, as she was every day, worshiping God.

… [Anna] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:37-38

 Somehow I doubt that Simeon and Anna were the only folks in the temple that day, yet they are the only ones mentioned who recognized the Messiah.

In our modern ways of worship, I sometimes fear we have allowed musical selections or environments or programs or gear or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King.

Perhaps this is more apparent at Christmastime. During the season when we are purportedly celebrating His birth, don’t we often find ourselves more caught up in the details of hymn selections and service times, or of parties and decor instead of being caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating? I confess that I sometimes do.

Don’t get me wrong – I love worship services both classic and modern and hymns both old and new. I also enjoy the entire Christmas season. But every year, I have to ask myself if I am still seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities. 

Anna worshiped. Simeon waited. Both recognized their King and rejoiced. What am I doing today?

I sincerely hope that I will not be found sitting in a place of worship going through the motions of devotion and somehow overlooking Him in the midst of it all! I hope that I, like Simeon and Anna, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.

Gracious God, forgive me for so often being concerned with the “hows” of worshiping You and neglecting actual worship. During this Advent season and forever after, help me to be alert to Your presence, looking attentively for you, eagerly anticipating Your appearance in my days as both Simeon and Anna did. May I never miss You whether You come heralded by trumpets or as subtly as a gentle whisper, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Worship

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

Lord, as we celebrate this Christmas season, let us not forget You as the Founder and Perfecter of our faith. You are the One true God, holy and pure, and in Your unfathomable mercy, You have established the ability to worship within the human heart. In fact, You created us to worship with the intent that You would be the recipient of our cravings and our praise.

Today we confess that we too often allow other things to eclipse Your glory in our lives. The Christmas season can be especially so, for although we sometimes say things like, ” Jesus is the reason for the season,” our actions sometimes betray where our true devotions lie. We can get so caught up in the busy-ness and the secular pressures of buying and giving that we forget Whose birthday it is we celebrate.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42)

So it is that we look to You as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Lord, take our small faith and make it grow. Hone it, refine it, purify it, and make it into something which reflects Your glory to others. Take away all that eclipses Your majesty in our lives, turning our eyes from worthless things and giving us life in Your ways. Make us to love Your Scriptures more, reminding us that it is the very Word of Life to us.

 Give us a passion for Your Kingdom, a hunger for Your presence, and a never-ending thirst for the Living Water. Forgive our lack of trust and help us to trust You more. Fix our eyes on You and ascend the throne of our hearts as our rightful King. May it be that our worship of You is evident to all, shining like a light in the darkness of this world and acting as a guide to bring others to walk and live in the light of Your love, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Idols

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
(Isaiah 44:6)

Most High, as You spoke through the prophet centuries ago, You are the first and the last and apart from You there is no God. You are the sole and supreme Authority, the One who existed before all else and in whom all things are held together. Everything is part of Your creation, made to serve Your purposes and subject to Your plans. Teach us to magnify Your name as it should be done and to serve no other God.

Lord, as we spend more time in Your word, the more we are forced to confront those areas in our lives which fall short of bringing You honor and glory. As we examine our hearts, our lives, and our loyalties through the light of Your truth, we find we are not so far removed from the faithless children of Israel as we would like to think. Like them, when You appear before us in glory we fall to our faces in awe, but also like them, when an obstacle appears or when Your promises seem delayed, we quickly fall prey to fear or turn our hearts to yearn after some other thing.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it…
(Exodus 32:7-8a)

Forgive us for our idolatry, subtle though it may be! Whether what we serve is our careers, our families, our pleasures, entertainments, or any other created thing, we pray that You will reveal all of them no matter how painful. And Lord, we invite You to tear down the idols, asking only that You will give us the faith and trust to work with You in removing whatever we have erected in the place of worship within our hearts.

As we submit to this process, we look forward to the freedom we will experience by walking fully and humbly in Your will. We long to see You exalted in our lives and ask for You to fill our hearts more and more with love for You.

Let us be genuine Kingdom seekers first and foremost, not serving you out of one side of our mouths and serving ourselves out of the other. Instead, Lord, make us fully Yours; a people of undivided minds and hearts loving You and serving You wholeheartedly. As we walk out our trust, use the light of Your freedom shining through our lives to set others free. May Your word speed ahead and be honored in us, in our families, and in every place we go with You, amen.

Pants on Fire

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
(John 8:44)

Right now, I’m striving to take the excellent advice of an older lady given to me back when I still counted my firstborn’s age in months. She told me not to take anything kids say or do as teenagers personally.

In the difficult moments, I remind myself of this advice, though with varying degrees of success. At such times, I try not to think of my kids so much as young adults but more as very tall toddlers.

With that image firmly(ish) in mind, my aim is to be amused rather than angry; treating teenage temper tantrums with the same degree of hilarity that I did the time my son was three and answered my stern admonition to behave with, “I am being have!”

***Note that in his preschool pronunciation, ‘have,’ rhymed with ‘stave’ and should not be confused with the verb as we are accustomed to reading it (ie-May I have a donut?.***

To that end, I was thinking about some poor behavior-inducing deceptions my oldest is currently believing and acting on. These are lies any of us might believe – and sometimes mistake for humility – at one time or another. You probably know the litany: I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, nobody likes me, everybody hates me, etc.

As I was pondering how to get my teen to see past these lies to the Lord, a funny thought hit me.

But before I tell you what actually made me laugh a little on the inside, bear with me and forget for the moment that when Jesus called the devil “a liar and the father of lies,” His aim was not to encourage the depressed but to oppose those who refused to listen to Him.

Lest we think our Lord is permissive (as some opine), He was actually associating His critics with the satanic.  Heck, within minutes of uttering these words, He was almost stoned by the crowd. Perhaps there’s a post in there, too, but let’s shelve it for now. Follow me back to where we were before I chased that rabbit…

Nearly every time I hear this quote about the devil being the father of lies, it is maybe a trifle out of context but meant to encourage someone struggling with self-esteem; specifically someone who is believing lies about their own value or whatnot.

But rather than arguing with an ancient enemy who has more experience twisting truth than we have in dodging it, I thought it might be a lot more fun just to concede this point. Score one for team Abaddon, ya know?

What I have in mind is something along the lines of, “Darn it all, you’re absolutely right. I don’t have a worthy bone in my body. What a wonder that God would trouble Himself save me, useless hunk of animated clay that I am!  And yet, He has done it. Doesn’t it just accentuate His perfect love and His goodness?”

Somehow, I do not think praise is the response demonic deception is intended to evoke…

Even so and all kidding aside, how much more jaw-dropping the light of His mercy and grace is when superimposed upon the blackness of my heart. The mere thought of it only makes me love Him more. The truth of it brings a gratitude beyond words.

Oh who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!

… And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
(Nehemiah 8:10b)