..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

To Live a Life of Faith

I am just sitting here. It is a lovely day, and suddenly I just see the truth of it all. If we are to know God with any depth, if we are to have anything that we can really call a "life," we are going to have to batter through, in spirit, soul and body, those things which terrify us and mezmerize us and trick us into thinking that we are not totally loved by God. What demons of hesitancy lure me away from so great a Creator? What lies keep the Lover of my soul waiting to receive my whole heart? What excuses waste my time waiting for my head to feel certain about what my heart already know to be true?

To live a life of faith sets the world on fire with the Glory of God!. Or perhaps the world is already so set on fire and we just need to put on our 3-dimensional, no, 1000-dimensional glasses to see it. Hear O Israel,... thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, (Deut 6: 4a & 5.) This kind of love shall not just come to us. We must go after it. We must row out into the deep. We must row until the waves splash over our little boats and sink them, leaving us alone with the Almighty One in the depths. There is nothing to fear. There is no life until we let go of our own puny ones. A great and glorious banquet with our Beloved awaits us if we but dare give our hearts completely to Him Ah, may we all have the courage and resolve of the Magi, to go forth on a journey looking for He who is King of the Universe. Surely a star will lead us to Him. The Morningstar rising in our hearts: Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let Go of the Weights

Last night I was thinking of that kind of ongoing spiritual malaise that sometimes lingers in our lives or in the lives of our loved ones. The picture of the Peanuts character "Pig Pen," with dust clouds swirling around him, comes to mind. How many folks do we know with ever present spiritual dust clouds hanging overhead? How many lives seem lived in some sort of fogged and murky dimness? How many have let the clear light of God in their lives wax into darkness?

God often gives me pictures as I pray. Yesterday, as I was praying, I saw a hot air balloon being filled with air. It started to rise from the ground but went only so far up and seemed stuck in a bank of thick and ominous clouds. The balloon remained there, obscured in mid-air, and the person in the balloon seemed to not know what to do to rise above the clouds. They were not aware that just above them was the brilliant unobscured sunshine. They seemed confused and complacent in their plight.

A voice cried out to them: "Let go of the weights!" Inside of the basket of the balloon were sandbagged weights used to control the balloon's ability to rise. The person inside began dropping these weights overboard and the balloon began to rise into the sunlight.

Many times we might say, "My life has been so dark, and my problems so entrenched that there are no simple answers. I will not be able to free myself from so long a slavery. I shall not know joy." I am not saying that life is not challenging and that it does not deal us some difficult blows. But if I were a betting woman, (and for the record I am not) I would bet that the world's way of thinking has overtaken us. When we think that we shall never know joy again, that our sun will never shine again, that our enslavement to our problems is perpetual, we are not taking seriously what God says when He promises His rest and joy to those who obey Him.

A voice calls out in our wilderness. It is the simple and direct Voice of God: Let go of the weights! Let go of that which is holding you in a dark place! Our response should be one of simple obedience. We will not be helped by cursing the weather, by sitting and waiting for someone to rescue us, or by jumping overboard. We will be helped by deciding to let go of the things we should not be hanging on to. How many of us hold onto unforgiveness, hold onto grudges, hold onto "our" rights? All that God asks is that we "let go." Or even begin to will to let go. That is within our power. Our willingness to let go is what will draw the Lord near to us. Salvation is closer than we know. The race is not won by the strong, but by the obedient! Hebrews 12:1 says, "let us lay aside every weight." May we do that and so rise into the great and everlasting Light of God.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Whatever happened to the Holy Ghost?

When I was younger He was called the "Holy Ghost." Modern times or translations have somehow renamed Him the "Holy Spirit." I hope its not one of those politically correct things. I really hope no-one's trying to take Him out of the fall-on-your-face-at-the-sawdust-revival genre and rework Him to, well, you know, Business Class, complete with a briefcase, Blackberry, and a glass of well-aged Merlot.

When this name transition first seemed to be occuring I, myself, was more interested in being at the altar rail then at the library. I was in my late teens. Still, I remember people saying, "Well, you know, the whole idea of "ghost" has such a scary kind of feel to it. I guess I don't see a whole lot wrong with a "scary kind of feel." Biblically, its called "fear of the Lord." I don't think too many people thought God was a ghost like Caspar. He never seemed flimsy and wispy to me. Solid, not see-through, not unlike meeting a 350 pound defensive tackle on the football team. You weren't getting by Him and you had a really good chance of getting knocked over. You know, I still pretty much see Him that way, although I have known a lot more sides to Him in my life as a believer.

It just seems that now that He is the "Holy Spirit" in most circles, something is missing. My first bible was the incomparable King James Version :). Every bible verse I have ever memorized I know in the KJV. So now I am thinking of some really good ones, "Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? (Acts 5:3). "And you shall be baptized in the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:5). "And the Holy Ghost fell on all of them" (Acts 10:44).

The Azusa Street Revival, as did all the great revivals, had a LOT of the Holy Ghost. He rocked the house. The New England Revivals, the First and Second Great Awakenings, found bars closed and people praying at noon instead of drinking. Upstate New York was called the "Burned Over District" because revival blazed from town to town. Paris Reidheid, in his noteworthy sermon, "Ten Shekels and a Shirt" relates the story of John Wesley Redfield, a preacher who lived near Yale University during the 1800's: A man by the name of John Wesley Redfield had continuous ministry for three years in and around New Haven. Culminating in the great meetings in the Yale Ball, the first of the Yale Balls' back in the 18th century. The policemen were accustomed during those days, if they saw someone lying on the ground, to go up and smell his breath. Because if he had alcohol on his breath they'd lock him up, but if he didn't, he had Redfield's disease. And all you needed to do if anyone had Redfield's disease was just take him into a quiet place and leave him until he came too. Because if they were drunkards, they'd stop drinking, and if they were cruel, they'd stop being cruel, and if they were immoral, they gave up their immorality. If they were thieves, they returned what they had. For as they had seen the holiness of God, and seen the enormity of their sin, the Spirit of God had DRIVEN THEM DOWN INTO UNCONSCIOUSNESS because of the weight of their guilt! And somehow in the overspreading of the power of God, sinners repented of their sin and came savingly to Christ." (www.firesofrevival.com)

Now was that the Holy Ghost or what?

C.S.Lewis's famous line about Aslan the Lion applies equally to the Holy Ghost, "He's not a tame Lion, you know."

You need to know that I really don't mind if you call Him the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. What I do mind is you thinking He's just going to send a few shivers up your spine and then call it a night. Thinking that, in my humble opinion, means something is seriously the matter. The Holy Ghost's job is not to hover like Glade Mist sprayed in the church--covering a bad situation with a pleasant scent. If anything, He is more like Mr.Clean, who, ironically, I haven't seen a whole lot of lately, either.

I need to ask, "Where are the days when you didn't need to wonder if you had received the Holy Ghost because when He arrived in your life you could cross doubting that He was real right off your list of things that could be doubted. Is it just me or does everything seem kind of safe and mundane lately? Whatever happened to the old fashioned idea of "tarrying" til the Holy Ghost comes? Whatever happened to the kind of conviction of sin that those people who lay in the streets of New Haven felt?

I worry about what we call a "normative" experience of the Holy Spirit. God is God and I know that He acts uniquely with each of us. Yet as sure as sure can be, the Holy Spirit was sent to accomplish this: He will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11); He will guide the believer into all truth (John 16:13) and He will glorify God (John 16:14).

Jesus said to His disciples, "I have many things to say to you but you cannot now bear them" (John 16:12). What He was saying was that to bear them they needed the Holy Ghost. Those folks had an excuse for the Holy Ghost had not yet come. Yet I wonder how often Jesus says to the modern believer, "I have much to say to you but you cannot now bear it"?

I wonder if He's just really saying we need the Holy Ghost.

The Spirit of Christ is our pre-eminent and indwelling Teacher, Comforter, Convictor, and Guide. He is the Pledge of God within us. May He cause us to unreservedly offer Jesus His rightful place in our hearts and lives.

Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest, and in our hearts take up Thy Rest.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Music of God

Don't get me wrong. I love worship music. I love singing soft, sweet songs to Jesus. It is one of life's highest honors. Last night, however, as I listened to the soft, sweet choruses waft in the background of our prayer time, it suddenly seemed the inner music I was hearing was strangely and strongly at odds with the outer.

I did not want to hear comfortable flowing strains when my persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ were uncomfortable and oppressed.

I did not want to feel comfortable in the Lord's House when it was not all that the Lord wanted it to be, whether locally or globally.

I guess I did not want to rest when the Lord needed me to watch with Him.

I remember being in the old Soviet Union and visiting a Russian military cemetary. One could buy candy and flowers to leave at the graves of the war dead. Over the loud speakers wafted the most haunting of Russian funeral dirges played on violins. Nearby, old Ukrainian women sobbed for their dead sons.

That day, I cried and cried, too. Me, an American, crying for the enemy's sons. Crying for a homeland that was not mine. Crying for the beloved mother country. That day changed my perspective on the world. Sin and hatred hurt us all. Entering into the wounds of our enemies can bring healing.

We must cry for those who have not yet found their heavenly homeland. Cry for those who may never make it there. Cry for those who are being lost to a spiritual war that very few see. Cry for the heart of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Cry for Jerusalem itself.

Let us not just sit in our house, or even in our church, and listen with our ears alone to pretty music that makes us feel better but isn't allowed to change us. We need to listen with our hearts and allow the real music of God, whether it be soft or hard, played in silence or trumpeted loudly, to conform us to the image of God's dear Son. Do we know how to listen that closely?

Jesus said, "To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace calling to their companions and saying, "We played the flute but you didn't want to dance. We sung a funeral dirge but you didn't want to beat your breast in mourning " (Matthew 11:16,17).


God comes to us in mercy and we feel we don't need to listen to Him. He comes to us in judgment and we hold Him as an enemy. Sometimes we need the comfort of our worship songs, but those times are for us. Other times we need to shut the music off and go and do battle with all that is in our hearts that keeps our Father's Kingdom from coming. That is for God. Sometimes the Lord brings us peace through His prophetic minstrels. Other times, not so. Sometimes the music is sweet. Sometimes, it is not meant to be.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Blessed Boundaries of God

Today as I was out walking the dog, I found myself standing on the place where "my boundary" was. I grew up in a somewhat idyllic small New England farming town in a time when things were not quite so dangerous. I remember my first bike, it was red, and had a bell and speedometer and lots of stickers on it. I was six. I was able to ride the bike about 1/3 of a mile to where my parents had designated a boundary (the red tobacco barn). It was there that I was to go no farther by myself. So happily I would ride to that point, turn around and ride back, and if I still had energy, I could keep making that route over and over. Ironically, that red barn sometimes still appears in my dreams, always as a happy idyllic place. I had no sense of being held back, no feeling that I wanted to go past the boundary. All was right with the world: the boundary was just there.

I am thinking, today, about the boundaries that God sets for our lives, and how we view them. Do they seem as a horrible cage, or a liberating parameter that keeps me where I am created to be? As we grow into adulthood there are usually many times that we "test our boundaries" which usually means lots of excess and throwing caution to the wind, to put it nicely. It often means deliberately disobeying concepts that may have been set down for our best interest. Of course, when we are younger, our ability to discern what might be "in our best interest" might need some work.

God is not an anarchist. He took a world that was without form and void and created it to be a place of order and beauty beyond compare. He created a place for each creature, including you and me. He did this out of love, and proclaimed it to be good. The birds of the air were ok with it. The fish of the sea were ok with it. The animals of the field were ok with it. But not us. Lured into thinking there was more to be gotten over the next green hill, we soon turned our back on the One who had set us in the greenest of pastures made specifically for us. And so to this day it is often just more of the same. We all know that story.

What I want to say is that as we return to God, our Father, that this story has a different slant and a different ending: a happy one. As we belong to God and come to know Him, we WANT to stay closer and closer to Him and not run away. We want His protective boundary around our lives. We want Him to say, "thus far, and no farther." Within His boundaries for us we find our true selves and our true vocation. His boundaries give us our allotted share of the work of our Father to do, it is our garden to plant and water. It is in owning and observing the boundaries that God gives us that, as C.S. Lewis says, "our face" before God emerges.

God has a perfect environment for me to grow in. In that place, His burden is light. It is neither too much nor too little. Its blessings show me the goodness of God, its appointed trials and lessons form His character in me. It is "my" place. It is where God meets me and perfects me.

If we think of God's boundaries as anything but the good and loving choices of a Father who loves us beyond our wildest imagination, then perhaps it is not the boundaries that bother us so much as our concept of who God is. So many of our earthly fathers have not reflected the nature of our Heavenly father. Sometimes things get broken. And yet "God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us "(Romans 5:5). In knowing that love, all the mistakes that have been made to us and by us fall into the ocean of His grace and forgiveness. Draw near to Him. Climb up onto His lap and ask, "Lord, do I love your boundaries in my life? Do I trust you completely as my Father?" The outpouring of love you will, no doubt, experience in return should answer all your doubts. Our God is an awesome God.

"When the Most High gave the nations their nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples...." Deut. 32:8

"And his banner over me is love."--Song of Solomon 2:4

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Prepare the way for the Master!

Today I am happy to be alive. Very happy.

The sun is shining and I have been to church. A very sweet man from India speaks, his face shining. He has that Indian way about him, a way too often born of suffering. From him emanated an ability to know a simple, unmediated connection with his Lord. His faith was, indeed is, not just in his head, but in his heart and hands and feet and face.

I, too, could feel my faith. It was not just in my head but in my heart, in my skin, in my soul, in the deepest part of me. Deep calls unto deep: "All Thy waves have rolled over me."

Today, my Lord, I am happy to be alive!

He told us that we should prepare a way for the Master! He shouted in that same direct and immediate way. It was a gentle shout, but powerful. I felt it resonate deep within. I could feel the Master standing there in front of me. Or was it behind me? Or yes, yes, that was it-- living and breathing WITHIN me: beckoning, smiling, calling in that same solid and stable way.

Oh my Lord, today I am happy to be alive!

Today I am thankful for unhindered, direct faith, glistening with a million nuances in glorius simplicity. Faith shining like the sun.

Today, O Lord, I am happy to be alive. Very happy.
Prepare a way for the Master!

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Day for a Miracle

Blue sky. Clouds so full and white they must reach to heaven and so reflect its glorious purity.

They move swiftly across the sky,
Blown by some celestial wind,
Pushed by some Invisible Hand.

A small bird soars on the breeze, on currents invisible to human eyes but capable of easily holding up its small body. A small miracle not noticed as one.

Was it really any harder for Peter to be held up on that Galilean lake so long ago? Perhaps all we need is faith as small as a bird's. Let us not allow Peter, and of course, Jesus, to be the only two people on earth to walk on water. Step out. Fly into the arms of God.

The Love of Christ

"The love of Christ both wounds and heals, it fascinates and frightens, it kills and makes alive, it draws and repulses. There can be nothing more terrible or wonderful than to be stricken with love for Christ so deeply that the whole being goes out in a pained adoration of His person, an adoration that disturbs and disconcerts while it purges and satisfies and relaxes the deep inner heart."... A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), That Incredible Christian, 1964

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Santa Fe Sunset

On crash helmets and the Living God

"It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church. We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may awake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return." -- Annie Dillard, in Teaching a Stone to Talk

Whether invited or uninvited, one day God will show up in our churches and we should be glad to have the hard hats, life preservers, and even the oxygen masks that will drop in case the church cabin loses, or perhaps in this case gains, pressure. Our vision and expectation of who God is, and what He is able to do, is abysmally small. We "visit" Him in church as if we were visiting a feeble, dying relative in a nursing home: sitting perfunctorily, not knowing what to say, showing up more out of a sense of duty than love, and biding the time until we can get home to the real action--Sunday afternoon football or the backyard grill.

Even in churches that profess a deeper level of spirituality, our eyes are more often on human actions, plans and posturings than rapt attention to the Holy One. It is written, "No man can see God's face and live (Exodus, 33:20). We cannot set up our own churches as penny arcades where, for a cent or two, you can catch a safe glimpse of God through a peephole.

Meeting God is about encounter with the Mighty One. Whether He comes to us in a whirlwind, or in silence, in consolations or in confrontations, that is up to Him. It is up to us to arrive prepared for anything. Anything less, most likely, counts as the sin of idolatry. For if we do not discern Him arightly, do not give Him the place He deserves, then we worship a God of our own making and not He who is Living and True.

Life preservers are not just for sissies. You would be unwise to swim out into the Deep without one. So next week if I show up to church wearing one, it is out of respect for what could and should be happening there. I'll leave the straw hat for the gardening, if I'm able to get back to land. Let's go to church with the expectation that we will meet the Living God there. It will never be business as usual.