When The Past And The Present Seem The Same

God chose you as the first fruits for salvation, through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth, to which he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thess. 2: 13-14

I saw a quote earlier. “Your past is not God’s future for you.”  Many would argue that. They say that so much of what they have suffered continues to visit them over and over again. They continue to get sick. They continue to sustain disappointments. They continue to get fooled by people. They continue to face losses. They continue to work with challenging financial parameters. They experience life as a cruel cycle and the abundant life seems nothing but a dangling carrot.

This fallen world will continue to be fallen until Jesus comes or I die and step into His presence. My ultimate future will look nothing like my past or my present. Praise God! But until then, my circumstances here will continue to be challenging, if not cyclical. Life will continue to present set after set of problem solving exercises, but in the midst of that reality, the kingdom is also here now with respect to my internal world.

  • My spirit is already seated with Christ in heavenly places. (In my past, it was not.)
  • In God’s eyes, I have been declared righteous. In the past, this was not the case. I was a condemned woman.
  • My soul has been ransomed from the snares of sin and death and is being sanctified. (In my past, it was not.)
  • My past is not my future. My past is not even my present.

So circumstantially, how am I to regard my life when painful things keep repeating themselves? I have to remember that from the outside, things are often the same. But the inside? That is to be in the process of continual radical change. Here’s an example. When my mother died, I was thirty years old. I did not have a strong connection to God. I had no idea how to draw close to Him to weather the trauma of losing a mother. I floundered, grew depressed and inconsolable, and my faith suffered for another decade. Much further down the road, my father died of cancer. My relationship with God was alive. Scripture had driven my root system deeper into the person of Jesus. I knew how to live in hope, draw strength from my Savior, and put scripture into practice. Everything was different even though cancer had once again re-appeared in my life in the death of a parent. Same circumstances. Different internal world.

My past is not my future. My internal world can resemble eternity with Jesus. Right now. In Christ, God has made it possible for my soul to live in paradise.

You walk with me and talk with me. You tell me I am your own. That changes today entirely no matter how ongoing my affliction. Amen

Beneath The Noise Of My Life

But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat.  John 6: 20-21

Jesus’ disciples are in a boat in the middle of the sea.  The opposite shore is nowhere in sight.  It is dark and the sea is churning.  Uncertainty and fear overtake them.  At that moment, Jesus appears and is walking toward them on top of the water.  They had just seen Him feed five thousand people with one small meal yet this sight is beyond comprehension.  His power continually surprises them.  Each time it is manifested, it is in an other worldly context and their finite minds are challenged.

Jesus, knowing their fear, “It’s Me. Don’t be afraid.”  Like a child whose parent shows up to take care of everything, their fears turn to calm.  Pounding heartbeats normalized.  Adrenalin subsided. Consider how the elements of this story live on past the disciple’s time.

All of us are navigating our lives.  Often, there’s no light on our path. Wisdom for the next step is completely elusive. The shore is behind us. Everything familiar is out of sight.  We are in uncharted waters, feeling inadequate.  The sea is beginning to churn.  Passages are difficult enough without storms complicating them.  Fears begin to intensify and rational thought decreases.  Roar of the waves bombard our senses and functioning normally is not an option.

Where is Jesus?  He is on the horizon and asks to be invited into the boat.  His words can be heard even in the midst of the storm.  “It’s Me.  Don’t be afraid.”  We realize we don’t have to make the voyage alone.  The One who can control the storm with a mere whisper is our companion.

Never has a voice been as sweet as Yours, Lord, heard quietly beneath the noise of my life. You have not abandoned Me. Take me safely home.  Amen

 

Save

The Cry Of Every Heart

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. John 7:38

A person’s deep emptiness will only filled by a relationship with Jesus. Not only will it be satisfied but it will also overflow from the reservoir of life that Jesus pours in. That is the meaning of Jesus’ words here in John. Even on a bad day, a believer’s heart will spill out abundant life. Get that person talking about Jesus and the praise is free-flowing, even through tears.

It’s grievous to meet a person at the end of their lifetime and hear them say that their life has been wasted. After all the self-effort to be happy, to love and be loved, they admit to having no idea how to fill the emptiness inside. Such were the words, lately, made by the superstar, Neil Diamond. I can’t shake the sadness from hearing one of his interviews several weeks ago. He apologized to his multiple wives over and over again about how poorly he treated them and how easily he traded their value for his career. He struggles every day with regret.

Though admittedly lost spiritually and a poor role model to our generation, I have nonetheless appreciated his God-given talent. A classically trained and gifted musician, a deep and poetic lyricist, a master at knowing how to sell a song, he wrote upbeat classics like Song Sung Blue and Sweet Caroline. While these have been his most popular, I prefer his deeper material like Morningside, Hello Again, and his most famous self-portrait ~ I Am I Said. His ballads are painfully meaningful and are often begun with extensive string prologues to set the stage.

I Am I Said is, by his own admission, a cry to be heard by someone who will really listen to his pain. The lament is expressed, not only in the lyrics, but in the very arrangement of the song.

Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king
And then became one
Well except for the names and a few other changes, if you talk about me
The story is the same one

But I’ve got an emptiness deep inside and I’ve tried

But it won’t let me go

I’m not a man who likes to swear but I’ve never cared for the sound of being alone.

CHORUS

“I am”… I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair

“I am”… I cried
“I am”… said I
And I am lost and I can’t even say why
Leaving me lonely still.

Most people don’t know that when they look up into the heavens and cry out in desperation, “Is anyone listening?” there really is. It is not a redundant question. Jesus is Life and the Life-giver. He invites anyone to step into union with Him. The great “I Am” envelops His child into his God-given destiny . . . to know His Creator, to live in Him, and to find Him the source of all joy and contentment.

I am praying for God to send a witness to Neil before it’s too late.

Father, You are still the beautiful answer to every cry of my heart. Amen

I’m Not Really Over It Sometimes!

“You nullify the word of God by your tradition.”  Mark 7:13 

What God leads my conscience to do, or not do, is entirely specific to me.  The problem comes when I feel that every other child of God should make the same choices.  My father in law, the evangelist Jack Wyrtzen, came to Christ out of a culture of dance bands and nightclubs.  He was a musician and played in a band.  Every time he heard jazz, the sound took him back to the clubs he had left behind for Jesus.  To him, jazz was a stumbling block.  Jazz however, in and of itself, is a neutral thing.  It is just music; an assembly of notes, rhythms, and instrumentation.  How many churches have split over the issue of music styles when the real emphasis should be on the Spirit behind the music and whether the people who lead it have been anointed to do it.  Talent and style of music are secondary issues.

In Paul’s day, there were similar hot topics.  Jesus’ ministry was conducted almost exclusively within the Jewish community.  Keeping kosher was an important part of Judaism.  But Jesus stretched his fellow Jews out of their comfort zone when he and His disciples ate without washing their hands ceremonially.  Jesus even sent His disciples into the town of Sychar (in Samaria) to buy food for lunch.  A Jew would never touch food that a Samaritan had prepared.  When the Pharisees erupted over Jesus and His group breaking the law, He answered them by attacking their legalism.  “You nullify the word of God by your tradition.”  Mark 7:13  Then He talked to them about their hearts, that it’s what in the heart that makes a man clean or unclean.  But we’ve always tried to make our Christianity about external things; what we do and don’t do.

Having grown up in legalistic circles, there were many rules. Don’t go to the theater because someone seeing you exit won’t know if you saw a PG or an R movie.  Don’t order a glass of wine at dinner because someone watching won’t know if you drink excessively in the privacy of your own home.  Don’t even play the game of Rook in your own home because someone driving by might see you playing cards and assume they’re real playing cards.  Of course, as a teenager and young adult, the only things I wanted to do were the things that were denied.  Human nature.

Am I over legalism?  Nope.  I still fight it.  The rules have just changed.  I can avoid those circles who are legalistic and want little to do with them.  My bias can easily do a 180 degree turn and that’s just as sinful.  God is constantly dealing with me about this.  He often sends me to legalistic churches to bring the healing message of grace to them.  To teach them, I must forgive them.  To teach them, I must ask for forgiveness.  To be effective, I must love them.  And to be effective, I must let God love the sinful Christine.  Oh, I’m a work in progress and it’s humbling how far I have to go sometimes.  You can pray for me.

Legalism kills.  Others killed my faith but I often still do it to others in new and creative ways.  Show me.  Forgive me.  Change me.  Amen

Knowing The Right Answers Doesn’t Always Count

You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Matthew 16:16

It seems that Jesus needs to get away from the crowds so he takes His disciples and walks a day’s walk north of the Sea of Galilee. When they get there, Jesus asks His disciples who people say He is. They reveal that the most popular answer was that He is John the Baptist – raised from the dead. Others say ~ Elijah. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus then blesses Peter ~ something rabbis do when a student gives the right answers to important questions.

One of the differences between Jesus and every other Rabbi-teacher is that Jesus can sense the heart behind the answer. He knows whether Peter is giving lip service to impress Him or if Peter’s whole heart is engaged as he makes the proclamation.

Jesus read people’s hearts then and He still does it today. As I teach the scriptures, as I sing the worship songs, or as I answer questions in a class, Jesus – who sits at God’s right hand – can tell if I’m going through the motions for reasons other than divine affection. How easy it is to try to fool people when my heart isn’t in it. Knowing the right answers can often get someone far but not far at all with Jesus if the heart is darkened.

It’s painful to be fooled, isn’t it?

  • Perhaps your search committee asked all the right questions of a prospective pastoral candidate. He was impressive in his answers. Time revealed a deeply flawed character, however.
  • Perhaps you asked your would-be spouse where he/she stood with Jesus. The right answer was given and it appeared sincere. When memories of standing at an altar were dimmed, so was any remnant of their faith.

Time reveals the fidelity of faith. It certainly did for Peter. The other eleven disciples could not tell for certain if Peter was caught up in the emotion of the moment or if his faith would carry him through a lifetime of hardship. As it turned out, Peter would end well. He was no charlatan. He was also not someone who was power hungry. Persecution has its way of weeding out all pretenders. Peter ran the race and finished upside on a cross.

You said to let my yes be yes and my no be no. Forgive me when I say one thing but really feel another way entirely. Amen

What Would We Do If Life Were Perfect?

In His days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. Psalm 72:7

What drives man’s propensity to sin? Is it the effects of the fall on this world? I can think so. I believe that when I’m not loved well, I must rise up to take care of myself and do whatever I need to do to be loved. When life is not fair, I must rise up to seek and enforce justice. My sin erupts from a personal need to fix a broken world, right?

If that were all correct, the converse would be true. A perfect world, one where God is King, would be so wonderful that no one would need to sin. Perfect love would exist. Perfect justice would rule society. Sin would be unnecessary and the compulsion to sin would disappear.

Let’s fast forward to the millennial reign of Christ. Satan will be bound. (Revelation 20) Jesus will be King. The rulers under Him will be the appointed saints who have already died in Christ and been glorified. (Rev.20:4-6) Perfect love. Perfect justice. Perfect authority figures. But in this thousand year span, humans will still live on the earth. They will procreate and have children who will grow up to father new generations. These people will still be under the effects of the fall while living under an umbrella of perfection. So what will they do? Will they sin?

Can you see the deja-vu here? Adam and Eve were created and lived in the perfect environment. God walked with them in their world. They didn’t experience lovelessness, loneliness, unfairness, cruelty or danger. Yet, in spite of this perfect existence, they still sinned. And in the millennium, under the next umbrella of perfection, man will sin again. The presence of Holiness won’t ensure righteous responses. Adam and Eve wanted autonomy and so will many of the children of men under Jesus’ reign. When it comes right down to it, what we seek is not a perfect world. What we demand is the right to decide who rules us. We are repelled by the idea that we must bow the knee to Jesus. Even in the presence of Perfection, our need to be our own god rises up to tempt us.

Today, we hear all kinds of excuses when people sin. “I just needed to be loved.” “I needed to make things fair.” May we not be fooled! These rationales were not the driving force. It was the failure to surrender to a holy God who rules all things well. It was the failure to trust Hope deferred.

Today, this will also characterize my battle with my own flesh. I cut to the chase and I ask God for the grace to surrender to His Will above my own.

Lord Jesus Christ, I ask you for Your grace today so that I am able to surrender in all the places I have set myself in charge. I lay down my pride and forfeit all rights to challenge Your Kingly rule over my life. Amen

Do Not Take A Break

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth upon it.”   Job 1:6-7

 There’s a reason Jesus prayed without ceasing. And there’s a reason I am told to do the same. While I have a God who is always aware, active, and faithful, I have an enemy who is roaming back and forth, aware, active but destructive. I cannot take a vacation from spiritual alertness and unceasing prayer.

For every action, there is a reaction in human relationships,. When I do something, then someone responds. If I am kind, they make a move. If I’m hostile, they bristle. If I move close, they might express mutual desire.

As is true in the physical, so it is in the spiritual world. When I sow something spiritual, I reap something spiritual. When I draw close to God, His heart responds and draws near to me. If I sin and push Him away, He doesn’t barge His way into my heart again. He responds by waiting at a respectful distance.

My enemy also has quick reflexes to the activity of a child of God. Every time I act, he reacts. If I advance the Kingdom through Spirit-filled labor, he will retaliate. If I sin, he preys to tempt me again. That’s why prayer must keep up its momentum because everything is constantly in motion.

Sometimes after a spiritual mountaintop, I believe that I can rest and let down my guard. I believe there is a lull. Not true! There is never a lull. Though things appear quiet, there is scheming at the gates of hell. The church is promised victory if the prayers of the saints prevail against it.

Resting in You is not taking a break from prayer. You provide a refuge after the battle is waged on my knees. Give me grace to endure as a soldier. Amen