Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pain and Grace

We have psychiatric words for people who enjoy pain.
Pain is (as Dr. Paul Brandt observies in his wonderful book "Pain the Gift Nobody Wants") really a gift and not a curse! Many people mistakenly (in my opinion) interpret Genesis 3:16-19 to say that pain is a result of the fall. That's not what my Bible says. I think my Bible says that pain will INCREASE in childbirth rather than become existent. My Bible says that work will be harder not suddenly become hard because of the fall.
I've been thinking about grace and how it practically applies to my heart and life recently. It's sort of like the horse and carriage (in the song) - I don't think you can have one without the other! Getting to grace only comes through pain. It is intrinsic in the process!
I conclude that we are so caught up in what we want to be true that we eventually convince ourselves that what we want is the reality. That just ain't so! We want life to be painless! And it ain't!
That's what a Pittsburgh dentist knows and advertises when he hangs his shingle on "painfree dentistry"! Is there such a thing or is it just that the pain is blocked by some substance or technique? The reality is that the pain is still there -just not perceived.
GRACE - unlike the pursuit of a life without pain - requires pain in order to get to grace! That makes grace unappealing at first glance. We can only understand the wonder of forgiveness and true love when we have at least touched some of the darkenss that resides from conception in every heart. THAT's the part where the fall fits in!
One of my favorite hymns is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The 3rd verse challenges my heart with grace:
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

In my musings about grace I have found a great gratitude for living in the 20th and 21st centuries. I believe the family of God is blessed as perhaps never before with a Biblical understanding of grace in very practical ways that is unprecedented!
"A life lived under the rule of grace is a life of need which allows us to receive and appreciate the gift of the Giver of Grace. That is why we will always have the poor with us; this is why God will not allow us to ignore injustice; this is why we are called to a life we cannot handle alone, which can and will break us in the effort to live it -- because grace must wound before it heals."
To turn the phrase "No pain no gain" - the Biblical model is "No pain no grace"! That's true for our awesome Savior and His Father both and it's true for every believer in search of grace for the deepest crevices of our hearts of darkness!
(credit given to Justin McRoberts for some of my thoughts)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Balance for Your Heart Today!!

It has been close to 30 years since I first heard these words on either a cassette tape or (Horror of horrors!) a vinyl record (which is the most likely but I have honestly forgotten). What I do know and remember is that I heard these words sung and played by the author James Ward at a time in my life when most of what I could see was pretty dark. It was a desperate time and I was very shaken and scared! I honestly didn't know if I would live to see another day or year or see my two precious little sons grow to manhood! I prayed this as a prayer from my heart and listened to the music with my heart and found balance for my heart in these words from Scripture - Philippians 1:19-20:

“For it is my deep desire/And my hope is eagerly/ That I not be put away to shame at all/But that with perfect boldness/ Just as I’ve been tryin’ to do/ So his honor may be seen in my body/ So his honor may remain in my body/ So his honor may be seen/ If I live or if I die/ I may even have to die/ So his honor may be seen in me For to me to live is Jesus Christ/ And to die would be so much better.”

I recommend letting these words sink deeply into your heart today whatever your particular circumstances! I am here to tell you that not only did I live to see my sons grown into men but I am about to meet my 7th grandchild in a few weeks!

God is so good whether I live or if I die! It is STILL my deep desire that His honor may be seen in me!!! That is the cry of my heart today!

Monday, June 27, 2011

God Lives Under the Bed

I envy Kevin. My brother, Kevin, thinks God lives under his bed. At least that’s what I heard him say one night.
He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, “Are you there, God?” he said. “Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed … “
I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin’s unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in.
He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (He’s 6-foot-2.), there are few ways in which he is an adult.
He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.
I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?
Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner and later to bed.
The only variation in the entire scheme is the laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.
He does not seem dissatisfied.
He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work.
He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.
And Saturdays – Oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. “That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go!” Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.
His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.
And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.
He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent.
His life is simple.
He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power. He does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.
His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it.
He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax.
He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure.
He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.
Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.
Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an “educated” person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.
In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.
It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions.
It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.
Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.
And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.
Kevin won’t be surprised at all!
--written by Kelly Adkins

And here I thought as a child that scary things lived under my bed. That's why I always tried to keep my feet from falling off the side of the bed and to stay covered up.
I guess this is some of what Isaiah 11:6 means when it says, "... a little child will lead them." In his child simplicity, Kevin challenges my heart!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Does Your Heart Need a Shower?

I don't like to be dirty. One rainy Saturday about 1 1/2 years ago I fell while helping a friend move into his apartment. I tumbled down some concrete steps and into the very muddy, wet street. AND in the end I ended up in the emergency room with grit and grime all over me along with the scrapes and bruises. In short, I was a mess! I needed a shower and more!
HOWEVER that is only the start when it comes to a messy heart! Jesus said, It is what comes out of a that makes him unclean. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean. (Mark 7:15b-23, NIV)
Why do you think Jesus took the time to make this list? Perhaps there were folks in the crowd around Jesus whose hearts needed a good shower.
I have a good friend who lives in a power wheelchair. She broke her ankle not long ago. She needs practical help all the time but even more since she broke her ankle. One assistance she is receiving is an aide who comes to help her bathe.
A dirty heart requires the aid of the Holy Spirit to get to a clean heart! There is no other way!
It is easy to understand why Jesus listed the "big" sins but it is interesting that He lumped them in with what we think of as "small" sins. Just take "arrogance" as an example. Arrogance is defined as "an offensive display of superiority or self-importance, or overbearing pride."
The other "small" sins are equally "not pretty" - in fact, it is arguable that they are just as bad as the "big" sins!
How do we clean up: Arrogance? Envy? Greed? What does that look like?

  • Cleaning up arrogance gives me a servant heart that displays selflessness.

  • Cleaning up envy makes me content with the blessings of God in my life.

  • Cleaning up greed plants a passionate quest for God and His righteousness in my heart where greed once reigned.

That sounds like the start of a "heart shower" to me! I want to live with a clean heart! That's a labor intensive process which ONLY God can accomplish. ONLY He can shine His light into the crevices of my heart to illuminate the darkness and clean me up from the inside out!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grace - A Matter of the Heart

Elise Fitzpatrick has written a fabulous letter to Mr. Antinomian. I found her letter featured on Tullian Tchividjian's blog which I read regularly.
For the record "antinomianism" is a theological term for the heresy that says faith and God's grace are grounds for a Christian to be free from all laws (including the admonitions of Scripture and the moral standards of culture).

Dear Mr. Antinomian,
Forgive me for writing to you in such an open forum but I've been trying to meet you for years and we just never seemed to connect. ... I've got a few things to say to you and I think it's time I got them off my chest.
I wonder if you know how hard you're making it for those of us who love to brag about the gospel. You say that you love the gospel and grace too, but I wonder how that can be possible since it's been continuously reported to me that you live like such a slug. I've even heard that you are lazy and don't work at obeying God at all ... Rather you sit around munching on cigars and Twinkies, brewing beer and watching porn on your computer. Mr. A, really! Can this be true?
... I'm very tempted to tell you that you need to get up off your lazy chair, pour your beer down the drain, turn off your computer and get about the business of the Kingdom.
I admit that I'm absolutely fulmmoxed, though, which is why I'm writing as I am. You puzzle me. How can you think about all that Christ has done for you, about your Father's steadfast, immeasurable, extravagantly generous love and still live the way you do? Have you ever considered the incarnation, about the Son leaving ineffable light to be consigned first to the darkness of Mary's womb and then the darkness of this world? Have you never considered how He labored day-after-dfay in His home, obeying His parents, loving His brothers and sisters so that you could be counted righteous in the sight of His Father? Have you forgotten the bloody disgrace of the cross you deserve? Don't you know that in the resurrection He demolished sin's power over you? Aren't you moved to loving action knowing that He's now your ascended Lord Who prays for you and daily bears you on His heart? Has your heart of stone never been warmed and transformed by the Spirit? Does this grace really not impel zealous obedience? ...
...Will you please come forward? Will you please stand up in front of all of us and tell us that your heart has been captivated so deeply by grace that it makes you want to watch the Playboy channel?
Again, please do forgive me for calling you out like this. I really would like to meet you. I am,
Trusting in Grace Alone,

Wow! Wish I had thought of writing such a letter! BUT it did get me thinking about grace and reflecting that the work of grace in my heart (and yours) SHOULD make me want to do all I can to glorify and enjoy God forever whether by life or by death! (Phil. 1:19-20 - For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.) Grace should drive my heart away from liscense to living in the truth of the Gospel which is that I am forgiven and accepted into the forever family of God not thru any merit of my own but simply and totally by grace alone! Grace drives my heart to do all that I do for the glory of God which includes rejecting mediocrity and minimalism in pursuit of excellence! It requires rather than negates living under God's truth as found in His Word! As Elyse says "Does this grace not impel zealous obedience?"!! It is truly a matter of the condition of the heart and the work of grace to change my heart! John Donne put it, " Batter my heart, Three Person God"! That is my prayer!

Monday, June 20, 2011

As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after you
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship you

You alone are my strength, my shield
To you alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship you

You're my friend and you are my brother
Even though you are a king
I love you more than any other
So much more than anything

You alone are my strength, my shield
To you alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart's desire.

--Martin Nystrom

Do you ever reflect on the words of this wonderful worship song? Have you ever been really, really thirsty? If you have then you know the singular focus of wanting something to drink more than anything.

That's the picture the psalm-writer draws for us - having a heart that loves and wants and worships God more than that kind of a focused quest for water.

Camp out in these words today. Soak them into your heart. Remember to live them with your heart this day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Heart of Death

Paul asks, "Death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55) AND the Biblical theological answer is that death "is swallowed up by victory" in the resurrection of Jesus.
BUT my heart is struggling to live there this week! One of my dearest friends - after a long marriage filled with a lot of betrayal that ended in divorce - finally married the first boy she ever liked as a little girl with whom she reconnected at a class reunion. She married him April 23, 2011. Seven weeks, two days later he "slipped the surly bonds of earth ... and touched the face of God" (John Magee) in his eternal home.
As I emailed her daughter when I got the news Monday:
"I'm having such a hard time with this! I know God knows all, is always good, is good all the time and is the sovereign Lord but my heart screams, "NO! NO! NO!"
This is a huge test of faith for my friend, her children and for me.
Sometimes death and loss seem so overwhelming and inexplicable that we wonder where God got off to. That's the heart of death - fear and despair and desperate loss!
BUT the wonderful good news is that "God is a good God. We must begin there. Though we don't understand His actions, we can trust His heart!" (Max Lucado, Max on Life, Q. 148)
When we get stuck tangled in the heart of death we aren't trusting the heart of God! The heart of God is the place I need to "hang out" especially when death smacks me in the face and the heart!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Affair of the Heart?!

Do you remember the wicked queen in the children's story Snow White? She wanted to be the most beautiful woman in the land. Every morning she would gaze into her magic mirror and inquire, "Mirror, mirror on the wall - who's the fairest one of all?" The mirror "faithfully" responded day after day that she - the wicked queen - was indeed the most beautiful woman in the kingdom until the fateful day when the mirror told the truth that Snow White was indeed more beautiful. As the story unfolds it is more and more evident that Snow White is not only beautiful of face and form but also of heart. Her beauty is much more than skin deep and the mirror tells it true.

Recently the news has told the sad story of another who is also apparently consummed with his own "beauty" - a US congressman, no less. His now well- cussed and discussed (and finally 'fessed up to) "cyber sin" - which at the heart is no less than the same kind of narcissism with which the wicked queen was also infected.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote (6/14/2011): In the sad case of Representative Anthony Weiner's virtual adultery, the Internet era's defining vice has been thrown into sharp relief. It isn't lust or smut or infidelity, though online life encourages all three. It's a desperate, adolescent narcissim. ... Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before
... as Anthony Weiner just found out, it's very easy to get lost in there.

Chuck Colson gets it terribly right in Breakpoint today: Congressman Weiner recently announced that he was seeking a leave of absence from the Congress so he could undergo therapy. Therapy for what? For repulsive behavior? For the inability to refrain from taking lewd photos of himself and sending them to innocent people? I don't know what psychologists would call this disorder, but I would call it sin. ... And while some doctor will prescribe psychotherapy or some drug to control the Congressman's urges, the proper prescription would be taking responsibility, repenting and asking forgiveness. ... Those feelings of guilt and shame that so many of us nowadays try to medicate or explain away are absolutely essential to our moral and spiritual well-being. They are warning lights that all is not well with our souls. We ignore them or disable them at our own peril. ... The cure for narcissism is stepping away from the mirror and looking at someone else - especially at Him who is (or should be) the true desire of us all. ... Taking a pill or undergoing therapy will be no substitutes for forgiveness. The good news is that forgiveness is only repentance and a prayer away.

Only God can grant full forgiveness (because of the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus) and only God can hear your prayer! BUT others can help and support that journey. We all need that loving support - that's what restoration is all about: bringing life through a surrounding community of faith, love and acceptance! If you are searching for such a safe place to recover and find your own restoration of heart and soul, my friend, then come join others on that same journey at A Restoration Church!

Ultimately it's a journey of the heart into the restoration that only God's grace can bring us into and through into the light of His love and acceptance! The mirror of God's truth and grace is the only one that tells it true!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hard Heart, Old Faith, Dry Eyes and Cold Prayers

What to do with my hard heart? old faith? dry eyes? cold prayers?

Keith Green died when the Cessna he was taking off in with eleven other people crashed.

Green is known for his contributions to worship and praise music in his lyrics and melodies including "O Lord, You're Beautiful" and "There is a Redeemer."

Perhaps his greatest gift to the people of God is his haunting and beautiful "My Eyes Are Dry."

My eyes are dry; my faith is old.
My heart is hard; my prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be -
Alive to you and dead to me.
O, what can be done for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up with oil and wine!
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love.
Please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood.

Thank you, Keith Green, for this gift to my own hard heart!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Does a Repentant Heart Just Be Sorry?

Remember the "love is never having to say I'm sorry"? Well, it's a lie born in the pit of hell!
God's truth has its counterfeit in Satan's lies. This is one example!

Actually the truth is that love is ALWAYS having to say I'm sorry! AND there is more to being sorry than just saying so! Repentance means turning and going in the opposite direction than anger and sin took you or me. Repentance means making right what has gone so wrong "as far as it depends on you"! (Rom. 12:18)

"The life of a repentant person is altered. The course of their daily conduct is entirely changed. A new King reigns within their heart.
-- J.C. Ryle from Old Paths, 5 Marks of Repentance, 1816-1900