Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Disposition of Spirit

          "There is something required from us.  God preaches the word, but the word is without profit unless something comes out from us to receive it, and take it to heart, and to turn it into something." ~ Arthur Katz, "Apostolic Foundations: The Challenge of Living an Authentic Christian Life," p. 111

          There is something "other" that is required from us than sitting in our seats on a Sunday morning, taking notes of the preacher's message.  We desperately need to understand that unless we activate the words of God, unless we reach out with our spirits to grasp those words and intentionally walk them out, we will be missing something in our life.  There needs to be an intentionality about us; a fervor and a desire for God's glory that characterizes us and that takes precedence over our own personal well-being and the attention given to our own goals and dreams.  This (God's glorification) comes first!

          This activation of God's Word on our part has many implications for our personal life.  One of those implications is putting personal goals and dreams in their correct place.  I address this issue of personal goals and dreams cautiously.  For I know without a doubt that God creates or wires people in such a way to be skilled at certain things, and drawn to function in particular arenas of life.  To one He gives a love of music; and to another He gives a gifted mind in the area of mechanics.  Nevertheless, other goals and dreams can be born out of superficiality; they are almost like an acquired taste; they are created by the expectations others have of us and our recognition of those expectations.  Because of the difference in constitution of the two goals and dreams, they naturally differentiate between themselves.  God-given goals and dreams will work towards giving God glory.  Whereas, superficial goals and dreams work in a manner contrary to that same end.  Therefore, although goals and dreams are incorporated in a person's life giving God glory, they should remain just that, an incorporation.

          This "other thing" which is required from us will include sacrifice.  The issuing of a timely word from God, through whatever instrument God might choose, encompasses the whole man.  That is to say the whole man is required to respond.  A man is not to be justified in affirming the word with only his intellect.  This reminds me of quote which goes something along the lines of, "It doesn't take much of a man to be a Christian just all there is of him."  Everything in us and apart of us is working towards advancing the Kingdom of God

          So let the disposition of our spirit be one of activation and realization.  Let's not passively listen to the Word of God, but let's allow it to gauge our hearts and minds, and drive us to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.  Don't simply listen to the Word of God, but act upon it, consume it, and allow it to form and shape your life so that you reflect Christ. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Contentment: Part 2

It's early morning, and I'm still wrapped in the covers of my bed enjoying my rest.  But I'm expecting somebody, and He should be here soon.  Oh, there He is now, knocking on my heart's door once more, eager for me to get up and spend the day with Him.  He is never late.

I rub the sleep from my eyes and walk to the door, stumbling over something or other in the darkness of the shaded windows. I open the door and the room is suddenly flooded with light and warmth.  He enters.  He wears a smile so beautiful and comforting as He wraps His arms round me in a loving embrace, lifting me in the air for a moment.

I laugh.  My heart is flooded with joy as I return the favor.  He pushes me back from himself and looks me over.  His eyes, mysteriously deep and capturing, speak of His great love for me and indicate that He is even now pondering the wondrous plans He has for my life; and His heart dances with joy, delighting in the hope of their fulfillment.

He firmly grips my shoulder with His right hand, and as I gaze into His mysterious eyes, a deep, satisfying peace washes over my spirit.  It begins in the pit of my stomach, first burning as a coal then washing as a river it spreads throughout my entire body.  I close my eyes and take a deep breath.  I feel whole.  I am restored by His gaze and touch.

Mind you, He has not spoken one word to me, and yet He has lifted my spirit to the highest of heights, has shone the warm sunlight of His love, which radiates from His face, on my spirit, and has given my soul a deep, deep peace - a rest in fact - that fills my whole body, conquering all insecurities and doubts, and overflowing from my mouth in a long exhalation.

He pats me on the back, starts toward the door, and beckons me to follow as He begins His trek up a dirt road.  I follow.  Yes, I follow; and the very act is a microcosm of my life, which has been played out in moments like these, step by step.  He is there right in front of me.  And as I quicken my pace to match His confident stride, He is right here next to me.

Authority in its fullest sense is emanating from His every step.  As I closely observe Him in His authoritative countenance and His joyful radiance, trying not to miss the minutest of details, confidence in Him is being formed and made full within me.  I trust my Savior.  But more than that I love Him.   A love that has been inspired by His loving me first.

He continues on the dirt path towards some hills in the distance which overlook a village.  He comes to these types of places often.  He is very fond of the high places of His creation.

We finally crest the highest of the surrounding hills, the one which gives us a direct view of the village.  Although the beauty of nature that is all around us is extraordinary, especially on this particular day, His focus is elsewhere.  He is not considering the breathtaking view; instead He is observing the inhabitants of the village below, peering into their hearts; and His heart is deeply grieved, as it has been many a time, by their sinfulness.  They have spurned His love again and again.  And as I look over at Him, I see His compassion for His people - His children and friends - materialize in the form of a tear that rolls down His cheek.  Oh, how He longs to gather this people as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37).  

My eyes also begin to well up with tears.  As I've have been with Him, studied Him, talked with Him, and been a direct recipient of this compassion that has now trickled down His face and fallen into the dust, I have begun to learn and experience - even if to the slightest degree - the great weight of lost people that burdens Him, and His overwhelming desire to see them set free from their bondage and step forth to live with Him in the light.

He begins to descend the hill towards the village.  I follow at His side.  After reaching the bottom of the hill, He starts to move in the direction of a group of children playing tag in the morning sun just outside the village. I am but a few paces behind Him now.  The children catch sight of Him before He reaches them, and as a group they sprint toward Him.  They mob Him, shouting with delight, some wrapping their arms around His waist and legs and others jumping up onto His back and front, clinging to Him.  He nearly falls but manages to keep His balance, laughing all the while.  As they finally loose their grip He spies a little girl that hadn't quite made it to the mobbing and covers the last few steps to her, picking her up and swinging her about.  She laughs, her face lighting up with joy.

The group of children finally settle down, and He makes His way to a nice, grassy opening and has the children gather around Him on the ground.

Here is where He stays all morning and most of the afternoon, with the children, telling them story after story of the men of old - David, Enoch, and the prophets.  As He tells each story I observe the faces of the little ones, which are sometimes filled with wonder, other times with sadness, and still other times with great joy.

As the sun begins to fall across the western sky He calls me to Him, telling me to bring the bread and juice I had carried with me from the house.   As I break the bread into pieces, hand the pieces out to the children and fill their cups with juice, I am acutely aware of a sense of destiny and purpose; or  more exactly, a sense of the fulfillment of my destiny and purpose.  Here, in this village, as I serve children food and drink, I'm vibrant with peace, joy, and...contentment.  Yes, deep unshakable, undeniable contentment.

I gaze over at Him.  He is smiling as he watches the children consume the bread and wash it down with the juice.  I close my eyes and silently thank Him, for He was the reason I knew contentment as I would a good friend.  He introduced me to contentment, teaching me to go down in order to go up; telling me to give up everything so that I might truly gain it; showing me how to die in order to live .

As the children finish their snack we say our goodbyes and start home.  When we are half way up the hill I glance back and catch sight of some of the parents of the children at the edge of the village, staring back at us disapprovingly.  I knew that He had also noticed them from the slightly saddened expression on His face.  I looked over at Him and said,"If only they had the faith of their children."  He nodded slightly and replied," Yes, indeed.  But these people's hearts are dull.  They scarcely hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts and return, and I would heal them."

After we had arrived back at my house, He turned to me; and putting His hands on both my shoulders He said, "What I tell in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. For the days are evil, and the time is coming when you shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. You are my witness, an ambassador of the Gospel. Therefore confess Me before men and I will confess you before My Father who is in heaven. And always be on the alert!"

This said, He turned and started down the road. When He had gone out of sight, I went inside and wrote down this paragraph in my journal:

He is what sustains me. My Father, He is God.  I have entrusted him with my heart and it couldn't be in better hands.  He is more than enough for me.  He is my all in all.  He has painted my selfhood with sonship and has adorned the essence of my being with the beauty of His grace.  He makes all things beautiful. In Him - and in Him only - there is true contentment.  Many a man has wasted His life scouting the hills of success and searching the caves of pleasure for contentment.  As for me I will abide in Him;  I will search His heart and there I will dwell and know Him and be content, because He is all I seek.  One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Contentment: Part 1

It is true that people do most of what they do to find contentment.  For although Aristotle's theory that all things vigorously seek their place of rest--for a rock this would be the ground, and for hot air it would be the higher reaches of the sky--was wrong when it was applied to motion, it still holds true today for the human spirit, which is always seeking rest and peace--albeit in the wrong places.  And this is a very plain and logical state for mankind to be in, for contentment is a very beautiful thing.  Its earthly value is priceless, bringing peace to the soul in a way similar to the sweet, soothing words of forgiveness relieving a lifetime of hurt.  Contentment delivers from bondage so severe and tortuous; it is a liberator.  It is refreshing life-water to a dying soul whose existence is slowly being erased by the stress and anxiety of selfish ambition, success, and the expectations of others; it is a life-giver.  It sustains a human soul in many ways for it has a value that is eternal.

Nevertheless, though Contentment is pursued by most everybody, he is understood by very few.  It is not that Contentment is elusive, he is not trying to hide from anybody.  It's simply that the one place that he can be found is the one place people don't want to look.  You must understand that most people who pursue contentment have it backwards and upside-down.  They believe that you must gain to know contentment, when in actuality his requirement is to lose everything.

Yes, that is the requirement, but as you can imagine, that is just not good enough for some people.  It goes against their every instinct, so they disregard that standard with vehemence and loathing.  They say, "What kind of fool would be taken in by such a fabrication as that?!?" Not them that's for sure.  Instead, they let their sin--pride, greed, selfishness--create another "Contentment".  One who they can know simply by having a certain measure of success and obtaining enough property.  Yes, this is a contentment that they seek to know, that they vigorously desire to know.  For--they reason--it is perfectly sound and logical that they should meet and know contentment by obtaining more of the things that give them pleasure.  Furthermore, they ask themselves--for in their hearts there is a small voice whose words seem to contradict their reason,"Why on earth, as the Bible would like me to believe, would I give up all that has brought me happiness to find contentment?  That's like asking me to die so that I might live!"

But what they have created is an illusion.  They themselves have been taken in by a fabrication and have spit in the face of the truth.  They are driven by money and pleasure, and those two are not easy taskmasters.  They have forsaken the light burden and easy yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:30) and have willingly--but ignorantly--donned an ever-increasing weight of sin that will reward them with eternal punishment at their lives' end.  They've bought into a lie!

So these seekers of a false contentment continue their pursuit of that which cannot be found on the path which they have chosen.  Along the way, many worldly others will look upon the lives of these pursuers of "Contentment", upon everything that they have accomplished and obtained carnally, and marvel at their success, and even be inspired by it.  Yet to the very end, the pursuers could never genuinely say that they had been successful in their ultimate goal, in that which put them on this wild tear for property and success in the first place.  Namely, to know contentment.  In the end, they possessed nothing but loneliness, despair, and an ever-present, gnawing sense that they had missed the point; that what they had gained throughout all of their years was now utterly worthless.

And even now as they lay on their deathbed reflecting on their lives, weeping at all the opportunities to make a lasting difference in the lives others that they had casually ignored, writhing at the gaping hole within their heart as they come to grips with the fact that they have gone through life without any substantial, meaningful purpose, I see Contentment weeping by their side.  He remembers all the opportunities at life--eternal life--that they let slip through their grasp.  Oh, how he wanted to get to know them.  Oh, how he wanted to be their companion in life, unmoving and faithful.  Oh how he wanted to comfort them even now, yet they refused God's voice and refused to let Him free them from the bondage to which they had submitted themselves over their lifetime.  They loved their other life too much, though it was slowly killing them.  God had revealed Himself to them throughout their lives in so many different ways, in so many different scenarios, yet their hearts had grown hard.  And as they sped along the highway of life at 100 mph in the vehicle of success, Purpose, Destiny, and true Life were all dumped by the side of the road so as not to slow their "progress" down.

Now,  as they are breathing their few final breaths, the words of Paul are like salt on an open wound:

 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in  prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of  being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. ~ Philippians 4:12

But how true and joy-inspiring they are to those who intimately know their Savior, for it is in Him that true contentment is found.  You find contentment worshiping and praising Him; getting to know Him. You find contentment obeying His commands, and those are to lose your life so that you may find; to go lower and serve so that you may go higher in Christ; to give generously what God has given you, so that you can experience righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17).  That's life.  That's contentment: the indwelling of Kingdom in our lives and its outworking into the lives of others.  It's the manifestation of the incarnate Christ on the inside of people, shining out from us to the world.  And it gives me such joy that doing this thing--establishing and experiencing kingdom life which restores and replaces brokenness with wholeness--is commanded of us as children by Jesus, for I know then that He has provided us with the Way in which to do it.  Yes, He has in fact given us Himself to do this great work.  And oh, the joy, oh the peace, oh the contentment that is experienced by a Kingdom worker, and which brands him.

Praise be to the King whose kingdom we have the privilege to further!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Psalm 27

"[David's] motivation was not just because he wants to be determined.  He's determined because God is beautiful.  He's motivated to meet with God because God is wonderful. ~ Bob Gladstone

Here's a link to the full message: