A New Hunger

Like Sabbath, Lent is made for man, not man for Lent. Like Sabbath, there are many and varied opinions on what it means and ways to observe Lent. I’ve pondered and prayed about Lent over the past few years, and I have gotten away from the notion of making it a punishment. Lent is about growing, and that may mean doing some weeding so growth is unhindered.

Whether you believe the forty days of Lent are based on Israel’s years in the desert, Christ’s days of fasting in the Judaean Desert, or His hours in the grave, all three have one thing in common. They are about healing and growing nearer to God. Lent should be about the same. It is a time for reflection, prayer, and turning my heart toward Christ’s precious love, death, and resurrection.

I will be in the midst of a move during Lent, so I’ve started sorting my belongings. I’ve been through this process four times in the past thirteen years, and each time I come away feeling a little lighter. I’m moving into a small apartment in town, so  I’m having to do some serious purging. I’m giving up anything that doesn’t fit into my new home, and I plan to do the same thing with my heart.

Jesus went into the Judaean Desert to be tempted for forty days and nights, and He didn’t get a break on Sunday the way we do during Lent.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2 NLT)

I am struck by the fact that Christ came away from the desert very hungry. I think the point of Lent is to bring my heart to a point of great hunger. As a teacher, I loved seeing my students hunger for knowledge. I hunger for it myself. I pray I will always have that hunger, but I pray this Lenten season brings a new hunger to my heart, a hunger for Him.

lent

True Heroes

Psalm 16 makes me think about the qualities that make one a true hero. I applaud the daily sacrifices of those who chose to put their lives in danger to protect mine. The world is filled with such people, and I thank God for all of them. I realized yesterday, as I read David’s psalm, that there is another kind of hero I tend to ignore. David knew about heroes; he was famous for killing a giant when only a small boy. He gave credit for the kill, but I admire him for his willingness to do God’s will. That makes him a true hero like the ones in his psalm.

Keep me safe, O God,
    for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
    Every good thing I have comes from you.”
The godly people in the land
    are my true heroes!
    I take pleasure in them!
Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
    I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
    or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
    You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
    What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. (NLT)

There is joy, gladness, pleasure, and safety in knowing that God is right beside me. David knew God was always with him and had an intimacy with The Creator that allowed him to be a hero.

I stopped for a moment yesterday and thought of all the godly people in my life. I was taken aback by how quickly so many came to mind and how varied they were. While at lunch yesterday, I ran into one of my former coworkers. He was a janitor who took a great deal of pride in his work. He was, and still is, truly a godly man. After talking to him for a few minutes, I realized he was a true hero like the ones in David’s psalm. What a blessing to look into his peace-filled eyes and see a man who did difficult and dirty work for years with a smile and a gentle manner.

Heroes aren’t meek and mild in books and movies, but I see a glimpse of Jesus in those meek heroes who go about doing God’s will without making much ado about it. Jesus was a mild mannered man who didn’t live up to the heroic expectations of those around Him, and He was killed because of it. I’m glad God put Psalm 16 in my path this week to help me remember to stop and notice the true heroes that literally surround me.

A minister once told me that Jesus was a bleeding lamb; He is a bleeding lamb, and He will always be a bleeding lamb. Most want a hero who is a warrior, and they can’t wait to watch Jesus wreak havoc on their enemies when He returns. The world doesn’t like a meek hero and probably never will, but God made it clear in the life of His Son that is exactly the kind of hero He has in mind for His world.

My Hero
My Hero

Our Righteousness

Matthew 5:20 is a sobering verse. It’s easy to poke fun and point fingers at the Pharisees, but it’s more important to remember that the law was everything to them. They knew righteousness was important, so Jesus uses them as an example in this powerful reminder that we can never be good enough. He became our righteousness, so righteousness would not become our idol.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” NASB

Jesus is the only righteous man, living out and fulfilling God’s law in a way only He could. He was the Word made flesh and the Son of God. His life did not remotely resemble the lives of the Pharisees. He went with sacrifice and service instead of piety and power. What a different Messiah than the Pharisees expected. They wanted someone like them, but Jesus did not fit their bill. I could point a finger here, but I don’t dare because I expect my God and my Messiah to be like me, as well. It is the root of idolatry, and it tears the body of Christ to pieces.

Christ came to make us one by becoming our righteousness. 1 Corinthians 10:17 says it beautifully and reminds me of the unity Christ desires each time I hear it.

“Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” NASB

Righteousness got in God’s way when the Pharisees tried to own it. Righteousness took on new meaning when Christ fulfilled God’s Word. He became our righteousness, and that changes everything. We no longer have to spend a lifetime trying to be who only Christ can be. God knows we are not perfect, so He sent His Son to be perfect for us. God sees Jesus each time He looks at us because we are one. God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, but He does expect me to love because He knows I will find Him when I do.

Lillyann asked me last night after her prayers if God was a person like us. I told her about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Her little prayers always touch me in a special way and remind me to keep my own simple. There’s nothing I love more than hearing her say, “Thank you God.” Thank you God, indeed! It’s the most powerful prayer of all, especially when it comes from the heart of a child.

Working God’s Word Into My Heart

Luke 6:48-49  is a beautiful scripture that explains why some folks either don’t like to read the Bible or read it without joy while others can’t get enough of it.

“If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.” (The Message)

Studying the Bible is like self-examination. It’s wonderful when the Word works its way into my heart, but it’s terrible when over analyzed. The Word of God is the only literature that is literally alive. I have books I’ve read ten times or more, but there’s no comparing them to the Bible. As I began my study of Mark this week, I was reminded of how much I love his Gospel. I said the very same thing a few months ago when I went through the Gospel of John.

Every time I read Jeremiah, I am awed by the way the prophet’s poetry touches my heart. David’s psalms reach into my soul, break my heart, or lift my spirit depending upon where my heart is at the time of my reading. Revisiting a book of the Bible is like meeting an old friend. My love for them bubbles to the surface, and I cannot contain the emotion they stir up in my soul. Last Sunday, Pastor Jeff challenged us to read the Bible together this year. He asked that we not look at the challenge as a chore but rather as a way of getting closer to God. I had to grin because I’ve been there and knew just what he meant. I appreciate God’s Word more than ever before in my life and lose track of time when I’m in it.

To me, the Bible is a beautiful love letter read over and over until the pages grow soft and the ink fades. There is tragedy, pain, and hurt in the pages, but that’s what makes it real. Love isn’t about getting what I want; it’s about sharing the hurt and the joy with someone who hears my heart. God’s Word does that beautifully as it points to Christ’s precious love, a love so amazing and real that it takes my breath away. I marvel each time it works its way into my heart.

A friend told me today that the ladies in her Bible study discussed the fact that we might live to experience a time when our Bibles are taken away from us. I told her that isn’t a problem if the Word is in our hearts. It can’t be taken from my heart from anyone other than me. It isn’t the printed book I cling to but rather the healing Word that lives in my heart. The Holy Spirit gives the Word life. I have a relationship with God’s Word just as I have a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God.

Arguing over what a passage means is the best way to keep God’s Word from taking root in my heart. I love the book “The Blue Parakeet” by Scott McKnight. In it, he discusses the ways in which the Bible has been picked apart by those who would use its precious words to promote their agendas. It’s like taking a love letter and breaking down the syntax or picking out grammar and spelling mistakes. That ruins everything. Jesus fulfilled the law and became the Word. He knows the Word intimately. He is my model when it comes to God’s Word. Satan knows God’s Word well, but he hasn’t allowed it to be worked into his heart. It’s all in his head, and that’s obvious in his encounters with Christ. He is the perfect example of using God’s Word to promote his personal agenda. God forbid that we ever follow his example!

Next time you read God’s Word, let it wash over you like a stream of living water. It sometimes cuts deeply into my heart, but it opens up a beautiful space each time it does. God’s Word isn’t always just what I want to hear, but it is always just what I need just when I need it.

I love that about it!

Working God's Word Into My Heart

A Brighter Light

I’ve struggled with Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 this week and have been putting off looking deeply at what God has for me in this psalm of lament. It’s Christmas, and I’m not in the mood for lament or tears. When I returned to the psalm today, I saw it in a new light. It really is all about light, and the plea for God to shine upon and restore us is what Christmas is all about.

Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power
And come to save us!
O God, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And You have made them to drink tears in large measure. 

You make us an object of contention to our neighbors,
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
O God of hosts, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. (NASB)

God laid aside His anger when He decided to come down and be with us. Christ is God’s Light, and He restores, saves, and causes God’s face to shine upon us all. Everything changes in the light of Christ’s precious love, and we celebrate that Light each time we remember the birth that did more than cause God’s face to shine upon us; it brought God’s heart to earth. A brighter Light than expected came upon us, one we will not fully understand until we are in God’s presence. Immanuel did, does, and always will save and restore those broken and feeding upon the bread of tears. Thanks be to God!!

Brighter Light

The Feeling That Follows

At the Last Supper, both Jesus and Judas make up their minds to obey. Jesus decided to obey His Father, and Judas decided to go with his gut. Jesus knew about Judas’ heart, and I know it broke His own to see His disciple and close friend go in a direction He knew would bring separation and intense pain. Jesus would taste such pain on the cross as He bore the sins of the world. Christ’s pain turned to joy as He obeyed His Father. Judas’ momentary victory turned to unimaginable pain as he decided to go his own way. Satan satisfies self beautifully, but the pleasure is temporary. God satisfies the spirit beautifully for an eternity.

Each moment of every day, I make decisions in regard to my heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit. When I decide to follow God, I often find pain; but it gives way to indescribable joy. I get a taste of heaven when that happens and feel very close to God. When I decide to follow self, I find great pleasure; but it gives way to terrible misery. I get a taste of hell when that happens and find myself far away from Him. Decisions are, and always will be, up to me. It is so tempting to go with the immediate pleasure. I’m human and too often make my decisions based upon feeling good.

The beautiful news is that Christ made it clear at the last meal He shared with His disciples that He wasn’t leaving them, or us, alone. In John 14:16-20, He says to them:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” NASB

He says the very same thing to me today and every day. The problems I have with decisions come from forgetting that I am not alone or on my own. I am one with God and Christ through the Holy Spirit. If I follow God, as did Christ, those decisions are clear. If I follow myself, as did Judas, those decisions are also clear. The difference is in the feeling that follows those decisions. With self, I get a great feeling followed by a terrible let down. With God, I get confusion and pain followed by understanding and joy. Life is all about the ending. Life with God is guaranteed to end well, and that is well worth any temporary pain that may come as a result of obeying Him.

Christ kept His eyes upon what was to come, and I have to do the same if I am to live a life, as a dear friend reminds me, worth living forever!

The Journey Home

I knew I was home this morning when I awoke to the sounds of Lillyann and Mylah squealing. I’ve missed my sweet morning wake-up call while I was away from home. Traveling reminds me that home is truly where my heart belongs. I’ve always  loved coming home, and that was never more true than it was this week. I loved the beauty of Topsail Island, and it was wonderful to see my sister. However, I’ve never been happier to see the mountains than I was on Friday.

For over a week, I’ve struggled with God’s image of coming home. I just couldn’t wrap my heart around the lesson God had for me. I was getting very frustrated this morning as I continued to miss the message. I decided to leave it alone, stop trying so hard, and just wait it out. That usually works when I hit a stumbling block. I was shocked this morning when Pastor Jeff began talking about Jesus telling His disciples He was going home. I hope I am always surprised and delighted by the way God works.

The message today reminded me that I attach my definitions of father and home to heaven rather than letting Christ’s definitions shape my vision. I did, at least, understand that God was referring to heaven when He was bidding me to come home. Going home can be difficult, as Pastor Jeff reminded me this morning. Our homes and fathers are imperfect and always will be. I had to unpack my feelings about my father and home so I could embrace the Father and the home Jesus is trying to get His disciples to see. I’m sure they struggled as I did; in fact, they must have struggled even more because they had Jesus right in front of them. They could reach out and touch Him, so I’m sure they did not want Him to go anywhere without them.

Jesus used the best examples in this world to try and get across the love He so wanted them to know was waiting for them. As I told Jodi this morning, I’ve been looking at home and father from the wrong perspective. I understand God, the Father’s loving home much more clearly that ever before if I think of my own son coming home. It doesn’t matter what he’s done or where he’s been; I want to see him and love him. There is nothing in this world I love more than seeing Tyler after being away from him for a while. God feels the same way about me. I’ve been thinking about past hurt and the difficulty of going home in terms of how I would be welcomed. Looking at it from a different perspective healed my heart in a very beautiful way this morning.

Christ’s precious love brought me to the shore and cleared the path for me to go home long ago on the cross. His grace and love are all along the way home, and His Father’s love is waiting for me at the door of heaven. He’s waiting for me to come home so He can do what I do each time I see my son, my precious grandbabies, or any one of my dear family and friends. I can imagine that love now, and that changes everything. I know the way I feel about my son coming home is a drop in the ocean compared with how God feels when He sees me coming home, and that makes the journey home worth all the stumbling and getting lost.  It makes me want to jump for joy the way my little girls do when they see me. Lillyann literally jumped into my arms yesterday when I was waiting for her at the Play Lodge, and Mylah did the same this morning after church. Children delight in coming home and seeing those they love after being separated for an hour, day, week, or month. It doesn’t matter to them how long they’ve been away. They just delight in seeing a loved one, and I plan to take their attitude as I continue on this journey home.

This picture of Tyler and Lillyann reminds me of how God will feel when I get home 🙂

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