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God Trumps our Limitations

ImageToday I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s adult son.   Aside from the obvious sorrow attendant upon losing a close family member, what made this particular situation especially thought-provoking is the fact that this particular man wrestled with physical and mental limitations all his life that most of us have not had to face.  As a result, he was quite a remarkable man.

Although I have many memories of my friend’s son that make me smile, God used one situation to teach me a foundational lesson about His Presence and power.   One day several years ago, I had dragged myself to church after an extremely trying week.   I felt heavy-hearted and full of despair, in spite of my best efforts to resist falling into an emotional tailspin.  It turned out that my friend’s son was serving as a back-up greeter to his parents that day at the service.   I greeted my friend and her husband and proceeded to stop by the bench where their son was seated and said hello to him.   He looked back at me in response, and I literally saw the eyes and heart of Jesus for me reflected in his eyes and face.   I recognized the Presence of the Lord in him, and the heaviness that had weighed me down simply evaporated!

Clearly, the power of God’s Presence in us is NOT hindered by our limitations (real or imagined).  I believe this truth is part of the mystery Paul was describing in Colossians 1:27, the mystery of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”  God’s power is unfettered — it is not something that depends on US!  That is certainly good news for those of us who find ourselves continually striving to hear God, to please Him, and to speak on His behalf the right way at the right time to others. While those goals are certainly noble, all we really need to do is trust that His Presence in us will shine through us and touch the hearts of those around us.

Although my friend’s son was confined to a physical body that limited his activities, and he never was able to read a Bible, he had the TREASURE, for he knew Jesus, the Lover of His soul.   Jesus used him in countless situations and allowed him to leave a profoundly rich legacy in the hearts of those who knew him.  Thank you, Steven, for the rich deposit you made in my heart!

Rahab’s Refrain — My Song of Redemption

The story of Rahab’s protection of the spies who came to Jericho has always touched my heart.  In order to risk her life to protect these strangers, she must have sensed a profound presence of God upon them.  Had her duplicity been discovered by the government officials, she could have been incarcerated or even put to death for her crime.  I have always admired her discernment and her courage.  However, more recently, I have come to realize that I actually identify with her in her life of prostitution.

In a spiritual sense, all of us have been harlots to some degree.  We struggle to consistently honor Jesus first in our hearts and reject the innumerable distractions of our busy lives.  Sometimes we inadvertently allow other people and other concerns to shove Him off the throne of our hearts.  We are easily consumed by the pace and intensity of our responsibilities and routines, only to temporarily forget the One Who is the Giver and Arbiter of true peace in our soul.  Mercifully, He stands always ready to receive us back to Himself when we acknowledge our missteps and repent.

However, only recently have I realized that, but for His unfathomable and boundless mercy, I could easily have led the life of a real prostitute.  As it was, God blessed me with parents who emphasized the importance of education and even paid for me to earn a university degree.   They taught me that I had value and abilities waiting to be tapped.   They taught me to set my goals high and to have confidence in the dreams of my heart.  They also taught me to love Jesus.  After college, I married my husband, who has proven to be a generous man with a strong work ethic and a heart for God.  He has loved me, encouraged me, listened to me, and believed in me.  He has been a wonderful father to our five children.  The fact is, however, that I am increasingly aware of the blessings I have always enjoyed but never deserved.  Had I been born to a family rife with incest, addictions, ignorance, and indolence, I would not have been equipped for the very basic demands of life.  If no one had taught me to value what God put in me, no amount of intelligence or talent could have pulled me out of the mire of generations of torpor.  In fact, I shudder to think what I would have been willing to do to put food on the table for my children in the absence of a loving husband and without the advantages of higher education.  I must confess that I would doubtless have been willing to steal, lie, and even prostitute myself for the sake of my children.  That is the truth.

Therein lies the key to compassion — not simply getting a taste of someone else’s sorrow and feeling sad about it (“Those poor people!”), but actually identifying with them and understanding that you or I could quite easily have been in that person’s situation, given a simple shift of circumstances or opportunities.  I could readily make the same wrong choices anyone else has made.   Without Jesus, I am fully capable of all manner of wrongdoing, bad choices, and wickedness.   The fact is, even WITH Him residing in me, I have made some not-so-stellar choices, and He has been faithful to cover me and heal me!

Compassion that identifies with the one who is the object of compassion is the essence of the Gospel.   Jesus didn’t just feel sorry or sad for our sin and cooperate with His Father’s instructions to save us.  Instead, He actually BECAME sin for us; He identified with us sinners and paid in full for our sins with His own blood. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

As a result, I realize that Rahab’s story of redemption and inclusion in the line of the Messiah is actually my story as well.   She responded to truth, and God was ready to make room for her.   Her name in Hebrew actually means “road,”  “path,”  or “room,”  as in “making room for.”   God made room for the harlot in His royal line, and He thereby made room for me as well.    As I recognize myself in her, I confess my own potential for waywardness and realize God has had mercy on and redeemed the Rahab in me.  I look forward to meeting the Rahab who hid the spies in person one day, for her song of redemption is mine — our merciful God has made room for me, and His banner over me is love!

Poetry in Motion

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a spent a couple of days with our eldest son and his family.   Our five-year-old grandson’s first soccer game proved to be the highlight of the morning.  We had gotten up extremely early to arrive on time at the 10:00 a.m. game, as we live over three hours by car from their home.   We were exhausted from the events of the past week and sat down, happy but somewhat bleary-eyed, to watch the game.   Our grandson Caleb was running up and down the field with his teammates, delightedly pursuing the ball and clearly relishing the opportunity to play.   In between greeting all the family and interacting with Caleb’s younger sister, who was not as interested in watching her brother play, I happened to glance up at the field.   Caleb’s team had just kicked a goal, and all the children on his team were in the process of turning around to run back in the other direction.  In that split second, as I glanced up to see Caleb pivot and charge back toward the other end of the field, a flash of recognition washed over me:  recognition of our firstborn son, Caleb’s daddy, in the way  Caleb moved and ran in that twinkling-of-an-eye moment.  The word poetry popped immediately into my head.   “Yes,” I thought, as the tears welled up in my eyes, “you have your daddy’s ‘dash’ in you.  You have your daddy’s way of running and moving.  I see it.  I recognize it.  You have your daddy’s exuberant precision in the charge, his alacrity and ease in shifting gears.  I see it!”  The rest of the game proceeded as any small children’s soccer game might proceed.   However, for that split second, I caught a glimpse of an enduring gene pool I recognized as my own.

“Do you suppose,” I asked myself, “that THIS is how God feels when He recognizes something remarkable in us that He knows is His very own genetic code in us?”   By the power of the Blood of Jesus, we are changed from degenerate to regenerate beings (2 Cor. 5:17).   Since the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us (Rom. 8:11), we literally have His Presence resident in us.  His Presence means His very essence, the DNA of God Himself!  Paul explains in 2 Cor. 3:18 that we are being transformed into the image of the glory of the Lord.  When I meditate on that statement, I realize that it means we are being changed to reflect the very glory and nature of God Himself! In Colossians 1:27, Paul declares that we are stewards of a great mystery:  Christ in us, the hope of glory!

Just as that glimpse of recognition thrilled me when I saw Caleb turn and run the way his daddy used to when playing the same game, God’s heart must swell with joy when He recognizes Himself in us!   “There’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!,”  He must proudly declare to Himself.   It is truly His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom, to give us Himself, and He loves to watch us receive Him with joy!  I am so thankful for this glimpse of poetry in motion!

Who’s First?

It’s fascinating to listen to children playing games of any kind.   Inevitably, they argue about who will have the privilege of going first.  In my own experience, I learned that being first does not always prove advantageous, particularly in strategy games.  Sometimes it’s better to hold back and observe what the other players do before making my own move.  

In sports, earning the championship of a league or your state is a particularly sought-after goal.  Initially, I assumed that the person or team who placed first was, without a doubt, the most skilled.  THAT was before I spent years watching my children play various sports and discovered that players cheat, and referees don’t always see everything.   On occasion, strategy in team sports may also trump skill.

Since I personally was NEVER good at anything athletic (with the exception of giving birth, which was one of my more stellar feats for a number of years), I never once experienced the thrill of a sports champion.   However, in spite of the fact that, as a child, I was passed over when my athletic friends picked teammates for any given sport, I was their first choice for an academic teammate.  That fact heartened me considerably, until I figured out that some of those people, in actuality, were NOT real friends, but were instead using me for my spelling or math ability.   Ah, the woes of the lessons of life!

What’s the point?   Being first is not always a glorious experience.  It carries with it advantages and disadvantages, joys and sorrows.   Whoever goes first is the one who takes the initial risk, the one who confronts the opponent.   Whoever goes first often sets the tone for those who follow.   Success or failure may hinge on the wisdom of the first move.   Moreover, the person who starts out may not end up being the person who reaches the goal first.  The ultimate winner, the first to cross the finish line or the one who ends up with the most points, is the one who will win the prize.

A forerunner is a more elegant term for someone who goes first – one who runs ahead of the pack.   Forerunners are often misunderstood, as they often set out for a goal that, for various reasons, remains invisible to others, at least for a season.  Forerunners take a risk in choosing their path, as there is no guarantee anyone else will follow.   They must be convinced in advance of the purpose of their venture and absolutely certain that the prize will prove worth the hazards of the journey.   Forerunners risk loneliness, ridicule, roadblocks, injury, and failure.  They are pioneers on a heretofore-unblazed trail. 

Some people seem to specialize in the forerunner role – they are quick to perceive the need to pursue a particular goal and seem to have innate energy to run for the prize.  Despite the inherent loneliness of the journey, they manage to sustain enough energy to finish the race, and they enjoy encouraging others who later catch the same vision and follow them on the same path.  True forerunners persevere in the race, even long after the initial (and spurious) glamour of “going first” has evaporated.  They remain in the game when others have tired of it.

However, if a forerunner truly longs to remain a forerunner, he/she must be careful not to get too comfortable hanging out with the masses who eventually endorse the same goal and catch up with him.  He must not glory in the fact that he chose the right path or that others are now adopting the same practices or behaviors.   When that happens, he/she is, by definition, no longer a forerunner.   It is far too easy to lose one’s edge when what was once fresh and new and challenging develops into something that is generally accepted. 

As always, Jesus is our example.   We must never forget that HE is the quintessential forerunner, the One Who lived a sinless life on our behalf, the One Who became sin for us on the cross, the One Who was resurrected FIRST by the power of the Holy Spirit (not to mention the fact that He is the Beginning AND the End, Alpha AND Omega, the First AND the Last.   He is the one who has always gone first and the one who always wins – for us!  From His position at the right hand of the Father, He always serves to intercede for us, cheer us on, and empower us!  

We must be vigilant to honestly monitor the condition of our hearts.   Let us not be encumbered by our past – the overweight baggage of sorrows and fears, even of past triumphs and treasures.   If we are called as forerunners, we cannot continue to count ourselves as such if we get bogged down in those triumphs and treasures or if we languish with others in what used to be fresh but now has become common, even stagnant.  If we are called to be forerunners, let us follow His example:  “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and which has entered the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  (Hebrews 6:19-20)  Let us run with perseverance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!  (Hebrews 12:1-3)   He will empower us to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). 

Father, help me to remain fresh and watchful, untiring in my pursuit of You!   Help me let go of souvenirs and prizes from past races that are now hindering my gait and my pace.   Empower me to continue to run for the prize and press my ear to Your heart!

Been Eating Dirt Lately?

In my more melancholic, self-focused moments, I often find myself dwelling on a prevailing sense of my own inadequacy, particularly when I compare myself to what I think God expects me to be.  In a matter of moments, I find myself eating dirt — feeding on failures (both present and past), dining on disappointment, chewing on the clumps of soil that remind me of the hardness of my heart in many areas.    In these moments, I turn inward and bemoan the futility of my pathetic efforts to change and to truly become what God intends me to be.  After all, I am just a pile of dirt and dust!  

The more consumed I become with spooning the dirt into my mouth, the more I withdraw from others, as it is clear I have nothing good to offer anyone else.   Now and then, when a friend insists, I might fish out a little “meat” from the supply of dirt in my soul and tenuously proffer a worm, the best I have, to feed him or her.  “It’s really nothing,” I protest, when thanked, “You know I have nothing good to offer you, but it’s the best I can do right now.”

Lately I have realized that this kind of attitude is only a poor counterfeit for humility — at best, it might be classified as self-pity.  However, the real root of it is something far more serious:  unbelief!   I consider myself a person of faith, but God has revealed to me that I have Tupperware containers full of unbelief on the pantry shelves of my soul, containers I delve into when I am paralyzed by fear, a sense of failure, disappointments, or my own human mistakes.  The root of that unbelief is a simple refusal to believe that the God who created me and delighted in what He was creating is capable of using anything He pleases to make anything He wants.   In judging myself to be nothing more than a pile of dirt, somehow I forget that God made man out of the dust of the ground.   Surely God, who made man out of dust and breathed His life into him, is capable of working the same miracle again with what I deem to be my pile of dirt.

Moreover, when feeding on my personal bowl of dirt, I am actually relegating myself to a future reserved for the enemy of my soul.   In Genesis 3:14-15, God placed a curse on the serpent as punishment for deceiving the woman.  “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.  And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her Seed [aka Jesus!]; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”  What a devilish plan of deceit for the enemy to trick me into thinking HIS destiny of eating dirt is MINE!  May it never be!

Forgive me, Father, for eating dirt and not trusting you to transform me!     Will I dare to believe God or not?  

Dry Hole, Stagnant Cistern, or Living Water?

Of late, I have been examining my motives for giving.   Do I give to get, or do I get to give?  Do I give in order to get something in return (thanks, value, credit, honor, a good image, or material increase for myself), or do I truly enjoy the privilege of giving away my money, time, talents, effort, with no thought of benefit to myself?   The answer is disappointing, if I am honest with myself.

I really should know better, as my parents taught me a lesson in giving that still speaks to me.  When I was about eight, they began giving me a small allowance of $1.25 a week.  Of that, I got to keep twenty-five cents.  Seventy-five cents went for milk money at school, and the other quarter was to be put in the offering plate at church. To this day, I remember my annoyance and disappointment:  I asked my mother why she and Daddy didn’t just keep the milk money and the church money and give it themselves to the school and to church. It seemed pointless  to give me something that was pre-designated for someone else.  As an adult, of course, I understand that this lesson in income and expenses was an important one, as most of a paycheck is used for fixed, regular expenses, such as rent and utilities.   As a child, however, this made no sense to me (especially the church part, as my parents were with me at church and could have put that quarter in the plate themselves).

The second memorable lesson occurred when I attended church with my now-husband after we graduated from college.  He put a bill in the offering plate, folded in thirds in such a way that no one could see the denomination of the bill.  Curious, I asked him how much he had given.  He replied, “Twenty dollars.”  Horrified and shocked, I stared at him and wondered why and how he could give that much!  (Keep in mind that this was in 1976!)  I mistakenly thought everyone was supposed to give a quarter, simply because that was what my parents told me should come out of my allowance as a child.  Somehow, I had missed the fact that offering percentages (along with other expenses) rise in conjunction with one’s total income.   

Recently, I have been meditating on the concept of giving, and how my views of giving can increase my risk of spiritual dryness or stagnation.  A simple example of a life-giving resource is the blood in the human body:  the same volume of blood so vital to life in all parts of the body does not just sit in one reservoir, but instead circulates continually through all the tissues and organs of the body, bringing life to every cell.  In God’s economy, this same principle of circulation applies to everything else:  our time, our money, our material possessions, our energy, our talents.  Since God is the source of every resource, both spiritual and natural, He could certainly keep it all and enjoy it all Himself.  Instead, He has chosen to use us, His people, as channels for His Kingdom “circulatory system.”  If I will be faithful to give away WHAT He directs and invest in the way He leads me to invest (personally, in relationships as well as finances), He will activate His divine process whereby He redeems, re-creates, refreshes, restores, reuses, and recycles the resources He has placed in me/invested in me.

The Bible speaks often  about God and the restorative power of His living water.  He is a spring of life, a fountain, a supplier of living, bubbling spiritual water that flows from our inmost being as believers. (See Jeremiah 17:13, Joel 3:18, Zech. 13:1; John 4:14; Rev. 7:17; Rev. 21:6.)  He is always moving, flowing, transforming us by His presence.  Just as He did not sit with all His resources in heaven and watch us perish, but instead gave a part of Himself, Jesus, to die for our sins, He expects us to give ourselves away, first to Him as our Redeemer, and then to one another.  The degree to which I give myself away will determine my stagnation level, as standing water that is hindered from flowing invariably becomes stagnant.   Worse yet, I could use up all my resources myself and be left with a dry hole I have dug all on my own!  Jeremiah 2:13 states: ” For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

I used to have trouble understanding the story Jesus  told in Matthew 25:14-30 about the man who went on a trip and entrusted his goods to his servants.  When he came home, he found that the servant to whom he had entrusted the most had invested his talents and made a profit.  The servant who had received two talents had done the same and had a return on his investment to give back to his master.  The third servant, who had only received one talent, had put his master’s money in a hole in the ground (a safe place, I would think!).  His master was not pleased and took away the one talent the man had been given.  As a financial conservative, this story bothered me for years.  However, now I am beginning to understand the difference between stagnation and flow.   God gives us gifts to be given away, not to hoard in fear.   What He has invested in us is for the purpose of edifying others (Ephesians 4:12).

My prayer is that God will deliver me from every fear, from my tendency to hoard resources, from my reluctance to engage in relationships with other people unless I am certain they are a “good risk,” and from my own selfishness.   He is faithful and will deliver me!   Thank you, Lord, for Your amazing generosity!  Help me to remember that all You have given me is for the purpose of giving to others (mercy, kindness, faithfulness, insights, knowledge, understanding, material possessions, finances), that they may be edified and You glorified.  Don’t let me hold on to what You are calling me to give away; let those things not spoil in my hands but be given away while fresh and full of life!

Sinners’ Liberation?

God recently shocked me (surprise!) by revealing to me that I often fail to understand what it means to belong to Him, to be a part of His family.  He has adopted me as His very own:  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoptions as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘ Abba, Father!’  Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”  (Galatians 4:4-6) Perhaps people who have been raised in royal circles understand what it means to inherit a kingdom, but most of us have no concept of that kind of life. 

As I watched the wedding last week of Prince William and his beautiful bride, a commoner, the Holy Spirit began to show me that Jesus, the King of kings, has married me, the commoner, an inveterate sinner, and received me as heir and co-heir with Him of the Father’s Kingdom!  Although I understand that Jesus’ relationship to His Bride, the Church, reflects the redemption He provided for us on the cross and His intent for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to partner with Him in His Kingdom work, somehow the impact of  that allegorical royal wedding didn’t sink in until I watched a royal wedding of two very real people.  The tiara worn by the bride served not only as a glistening adornment for her head, but also as a powerful symbol of her position as princess — and future queen — of an earthly kingdom.  On her wedding day, Kate Middleton became a legal member of the House of Windsor and heir to a throne.

The prophet Isaiah also speaks of a tiara, a bride, a bridegroom, a new name, and an inheritance.  “You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will name.  You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord and a royal diadem [aka tiara] in the hand of your God.  You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah [my delight is in her], and your land Beulah [married]; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:2b-4)  When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, the Father literally changes our name, just as brides all over the earth traditionally receive the family name of their new husbands.  We are legally a part of His family.  We are no longer desolate, rejected, forsaken, alone, pathetic, and sinful.  Instead, we are the object of our heavenly Bridegroom’s delight, partners with Him in the heavenly Kingdom.  His Name speaks of ALL He is, His attributes, His DNA, the GREAT “I AM” who made all things.   The married land signifies our inheritance in Him, for it truly is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom — HIS Kingdom (see Luke 12:32)!

God is asking me to STOP taking my “maiden name” back and acting as if I belong to my old spiritual family:  the family of rejection, desolation, destruction, spiritual poverty, abandonment, sin, and sorrow.  I need to remember WHOSE I am and realize that the Father, by His Spirit, has planted His own DNA in me (see 2 Cor. 3:18), holy DNA that has the power to transform my very nature.  He has granted me His Name and lavished His royal gifts on me (every spiritual blessing — Eph. 1:3!).  He takes great DELIGHT in me!

Ask Him for revelation on this point as you navigate the sea of life’s circumstances.  Receive the tiara the Lover of your soul has purchased for you with His Blood!  You are the object of His delight!  Forget your people and your father’s house (your old spiritual blueprint of sin and iniquity, your former heritage).  The King of Kings desires your beauty (see Psalm 45:10-11).  He has set His heart on you!