The Busy Signal

One night a man had a dream that left him quite shaken upon awakening.  He dreamed that after repeatedly getting a busy signal into heaven, God finally answered.

The man cried out, “I have been trying to get ahold of You for DAYS!  I needed Your help but every time I tried to reach You, all I got was a busy signal.  Why did You have to be unavailable when I needed You the most?”

God answered, “I’m so sorry to have missed your call.  I’ve implemented a screening mechanism to eliminate prank and junk calls; so perhaps where your number has shown up previously as a frequent non-prayer call, it’s been automatically routed to a busy signal.”

The man was very upset.  “What do You mean, Lord?  When have I ever placed a prank call on You?  That’s an unfair accusation.”

The Lord said, “Well, the new system might not be without its glitches.  Let me pull up your records and let’s review them.  Hmmmm…I do see your number showing up quite a few times these past few days, but I don’t see any actual calls placed to speak directly to Me.  The system logs each time you say My name as a call.  Wow…you do say My name…a LOT.  And yes, here at  end of the printout, I do see where you were indeed trying to talk to Me.  Your requests, however, just got shuffled in with all the other false alarm uses of My name, and thus triggered the busy signal.

You see, I used to handle all your calls directly, because My ears are attentive to the cries of my children.  Any time My name is spoken, I stop and lean in to hear the conversation.  Is it to Me?  Is it least about Me?  But reviewing these 347 times you’ve said My name over the past month, almost none of them fell into either category.  You’ve exclaimed it a few dozen times while watching the ball games, the fights, in traffic…sometimes in elation, sometimes in disgust, sometimes in surprise.  You’ve typed OMG about 100 times in your recent social media texts…and said it about that many times as a casual response of fake awe to other people’s stories about nothing in particular; but again, not praising Me or talking to or about Me.  You’ve uttered My name every time you’ve rolled over or stood up or climbed a long flight of stairs,  when you were in pain or out of breath, when the alarm clock went off and you weren’t ready to get up; but nope…not to really get My attention…not even to complain to Me or ask for My help.  Again, false alarms…like a phone call where the caller hangs up as soon as I answer it.  You even said My name two or three times last Tuesday after taking a bite of your wife’s freshly-baked carrot cake.  Were you perhaps thanking Me retroactively?  …because you didn’t give thanks before you ate it, or any of the other meals and snacks you had over the past several weeks.  A deer ran out in front of your car and startled you a couple of days ago, and you blurted out My name with a couple of other words you shouldn’t have said with or without it.

So you see, My child, I wasn’t deliberately trying to ignore your call…but you have short-circuited the prayer bells of heaven by using My name in vain.  I love when you say My name as you talk to Me, or to overhear you using My name in a conversation with someone else about Me.  It’s sad, however, that My very own children—not just strangers who don’t even know Me—are blurting out My name as an expletive, sending scrambled signals into the heavenlies.  It’s a holy name, child, and you’ve made it common by using it as a byword…not to praise Me or speak to Me or testify of Me.  You’re misusing one of the most powerful gifts you’ve been given, and you’re rendering it powerless from your own lips.”

The man woke up trembling, deeply convicted because he knew that, although it was just a dream, he had indeed done exactly what the Lord had said.  He got out of bed, got on his knees, and cried bitterly.  He said, “Lord, I am so sorry for the many times I have misused and abused Your precious name and the name of Your Son.  I will make it a point, from this day forward, to use Your name only when I’m speaking to You or about You!  Forgive me for all the times You bent Your ear from heaven in response to my words, only to find out I wasn’t talking or even thinking about You at all…just blurting out empty false alarm words. I will reverence Your name for the rest of my life; and in the future when You hear it from my lips, it will be something worth lending Your attention to.”

So how about it, friend?  Are you (like me), guilty of sometimes idly invoking the name of God or Jesus in times when there’s no prayer, no praise, no testimony?  I’m convicted in my own heart to do better…I pray you will be, too.  Let’s not disappoint the Creator of the Universe who took time to hear us even mention His name.  Of course, He has no telephone answering machine, no screening service…but even in the Ten Commandments, we are instructed not to take His name in vain.  We are also told that we will give account for every idle word.  What do you say we work on this together?  Let’s please Him when He hears us use His name.  It may hasten the answer of our prayers, heighten the level of priority, when our use of that holy name is reserved only for special communication that doesn’t fall into the “junk call” category…

Obedience Above All

Years ago when I was just starting out in my young adulthood, I acquired a secondhand hot plate that had only one temperature:  wide open.  It was this Frankenstein monster of a thing—big, heavy, and depending on what you needed, handy—well, handy perhaps if you were planning on smelting iron ore.  You didn’t dare turn your back on it for a second if you actually desired to EAT what you were cooking.  It was a dumpster dive contraption that served a very temporary purpose, and I was so glad to retire it at the earliest possible opportunity…before I burned out the whole neighborhood and not just the scrambled eggs.

Sometimes we as believers are a lot like this old hot plate.  We mean well; but we have no thermostat, no discipline to read, listen, and obey.  And for that reason, God can only use us for very limited purposes.  If we’re stubborn enough long enough, we may find ourselves completely disqualified for the Master’s use…still saved, but not submitted; still rescued, but restricted.  We may be offended and affected by anything that has the ability to tip off our emotions; so although our zeal for the things of God may be genuine, it’s all over the place…instead of targeted where and to what extent God actually wants it.

The Church in the Wilderness had a lot of testing to endure; but it was as much a mercy as it was a proving ground.  There were mindsets to change in between liberation from poverty and the stewardship of promise. God had to prove He could trust them for destiny.  Oh, He fully knew their capabilities, but their very survival as a people—HIS PEOPLE—would depend upon how well they listened and obeyed.  He wasn’t setting them up for failure:  no, to be certain, the try-and-try-again course they were on was setting them up to succeed.  He loved them; He was qualifying them for where He would take them, but He also required their allegiance.  He was aware that some would simply refuse to be obedient—further validating what He already knew about the incompleteness of the Law.  We would need a Savior.  Even then, however, with a Savior, we would still have to choose to be followers and not just freelancers!

James gave us the perfect example of how serious rogue Christianity can be:  But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:22-24)  It’s very possible, if we just hit-and-miss with our time in the Word and prayer, to go away and forget who we are and why we’re here.  Our carnal impulses begin to render His commandments powerless in our lives because there’s no discipline to hold to the purity of obedience.  We become religious rather than submitted; self-righteous rather than humble and attentive to His every instruction.  James says we deceive ourselves at that point.  The knob is ripped off and we run wide open, so therefore God can’t trust us for a second.

God winked at (tolerated) our ignorance initially, but He’s calling us all to repentance now. Change must come.  We are in critical times where one misstep, one wrong “my way or the highway” attitude on our part can completely abort a mission, defer an entire movement.  His merciful, extended testing time offers us daily opportunities to grow, to strengthen, and to prove ourselves as fit wineskins to hold His anointing; or we can go around and around the same dumb issues in our lives, unchanged and burning everything entrusted to our care.  At some point, regardless, we must decide whether to follow Him wholeheartedly or be left in on the sidelines.  God won’t entrust His harvest to those who’ll let it be left in ruins while they bicker about who’s in charge, who gets credit.

While He’s pruning us for fruitfulness, you can be sure He’s going to test us by changing up our plans to see whether we’ll accept His will as the final call, or whether we’ll pout and get in strife.  I’ve seen it (and had it happen to me) time and again.  Work toward a particular end—maybe have a new song rehearsed and ready to use in the worship set—just to have the Holy Ghost show up and shut it all down for a different direction entirely.  When it happens, can we joyfully handle submission, or will we instead defy Him by trying to “get ours” while we’ve got the chance to do so?  How you and I respond in these these testing moments either adds to or depreciates our stock value!  Can God trust us?  Is He REALLY Lord of all?

In my prayer time last night, God gave me the perfect example of how critical our obedience really is.  Imagine a “SWAT team” trained for duty, who’ve rehearsed every scenario and know every drill.  But someone on that team is overzealous for a chance to use that newly-acquired skill.  Frustrated.  Impatient.  Chomping at the bit.  In a hostage situation where lives are at stake, that drive to break bad can override the Commander’s instructions; and the undisciplined desire to ACT can result in unintended casualties–maybe even among that rogue member’s own unit.

We are in the spiritual world war of the ages; and if there were ever a time to be with our faces to the ground seeking God’s instruction, it’s now.  Captives are in peril and He’s calling us to pull them from the very jaws of death.  Many are in vulnerable, volatile situations.  It’s just as important to recognize and obey the command, “stand down,” as it is the command to “open fire,” because our spotter has a better vantage point than we do.  If we go by merely our own driven-ness and instincts, we can even forget who the enemy really is.  We then stop engaging in heavenly warfare and just turn on anyone earthly who appears to oppose us and what we preach.

If we crucify our tendency to run wide open all the time (some things go out only by prayer and fasting), we can come out of this with more than just ourselves intact; we can rescue lives.  If we have the attitude of “Don’t tell me to pull back, Lord.  I came here to git-er-done and I’m not going to waste all this adrenaline on waiting and patience and doing it Your way,”  however, then we forfeit His ability to use us in those very ways we long to be used.

Remember, God will always choose the most obedient, least ego-driven to carry out His will and establish His kingdom. Believe it or not, obedience will prove to become the greatest skill in your arsenal of spiritual warfare.  Your qualification to open the valve all the way in those appropriate times will be determined by your willingness to hold a controlled, unambitious grip during the slow-and-steady maneuvers.  If you can contain all that power but handle it with delicate precision that hears only one Voice calling the shots, God will entrust you to complete great exploits in His name!  Remember, obedience above all.  Master it.

Breaking the Addiction to…Addiction

John 4:13-15   Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty. The water I give will become a spring of water gushing up inside that person, giving eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so I will never be thirsty again and will not have to come back here to get more water.”  (NCV)

We sure live in an odd culture with all our trendy cliches. One of the latest fads is branding something good as addictive.  You see it everywhere.  A phone app game.  A brownie recipe.  An exercise routine.  A vape cigarette.  An online dating or auction site.  The sure-fire way to get 21st Century Americans interested in trying something is to make it sound as if, once we start it, we can’t quit and we have no control over our actions.  Sounds enticing, risky, and just fun to take something otherwise seemingly harmless and inject an element of forbidden-ness to it. And so, we not only engage, we begin to pronounce our own curse by our very words.

Quite frankly, I don’t want to partake of even something seemingly benign that imprisons me.  I don’t want something that I would even joke about being “safely” imprisoned by it.  I started to download a recipe a few days ago where the word “crack” was in the name of it, and suddenly declined.  A spirit of admonition rose up within me, and I thought of how the Word pronounces a woe upon people who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).  Would it be a sin for me to fix potatoes that had a nickname comparing them to a street drug? Of course not…but it’s the principle of the matter.

I thought of friends of mine who have broken free from addictions through a relationship with Jesus; and others who were already believers but struggling with something that had its hooks in them, who finally surrendered and walked away free.  I thought of loved ones whose names and a date are engraved in bronze on a hillside cemetery, whose graves I visit…taken before their time because of addiction.  Then I thought of other loved ones who are still enslaved by strongholds they can’t seem to break free from; or, in getting free from one addiction, immediately pick up a different habit in its place.  There are even a very few people I know who are unbelievers who’ve wrestled free from the python, but the void still remains…getting filled with intellectualism or other means of pseudo-completion. So, somehow, to partake of something that even in jest or idle words sucks me into a vortex seemed, well, wrong.  Does that make me uber-spiritual, holier-than-thou?  Goodness, no!  But out of respect for those who’ve discovered first-hand how ugly and painful addiction really is, why on earth would I find the idea of becoming addicted actually appealing?  What a terrible price real addicts have paid (or are still paying) for trying something that “seemed like a good idea at the time.” Some paid for it with their lives.

Jesus saw right through the tough facade of the woman at the well.  She had the “look” of someone weathered by hard living.  Oh, quite possibly, she was still a beautiful woman on the outside.  Something about her kept her attractive enough to be in one relationship after another…if nothing else, her vulnerability, usability, desperation.  Whether it was external or internal, Jesus saw right through her actions into the root cause:  a need for something she hadn’t found in the natural.  Relationship with God…the water that quenches all thirst.  She found it at of all places, just minding her own business doing an everyday task. Random?  No, Jesus had her in the crosshairs before she even left her house with the water pot.  The lady who seemed impervious to weakness was now disarmed by a simple request from the Master, who exposed her pain instead of just her sin.  If you think about it, most all sin comes right back down to idolatry: filling the spiritual void within us with something else besides right relationship with our Maker.

So, how about you?  Are you looking for something to fill that “can’t get enough” hole in your heart?  We are all engineered to need that hole filled; but not by drugs or sex or food or some mind-numbing computer game.  We are meant to be filled by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is only real satisfier of our deep, indescribable longings.  Have you met Him?  Have you really surrendered all to Him, or are you still reserving part of that unfilled space in your soul for temporary things?  Do other gods, little idols, litter your closet floor?  Are you yourself one of those idols? As long as you entertain them, your relationship with Jesus will never be the water that leaves you thirsty no more.  You may even build a weathered, hard-living, Pharisaical callous on your heart that comes from religion without relationship.

I’m ready to “thirst no more.”  I’ve been on the empty side before and frankly, there’s nothing glorious about feeling trapped.  As the song says, “take the whole world and give me Jesus.”  Yep, He’s the One thing I can’t live without and don’t want to.

Father, thank You for making a way for me to walk free from enslavement.  Today I snip the strings off the harmful or just plain unfruitful pursuits in my life.  I empty my pockets of all the weights that hinder me from running.  I say to You, “Take them all.  Purge me, streamline me, make me whole and give me desire for no idol.  I want nothing to take Your place or to even share Your rightful dominion over me.”  I will watch the words of my mouth and stop hanging myself out to dry by bragging about being “addicted” to silly things.  Jesus paid a high price for me to not be addicted.  I choose not to go there anymore.  In His name and for His sake I ask and make this declaration of my faith…Amen.

Shedding the Spirit of Anger

I honestly don’t watch a lot of TV, but I picked up an interesting tidbit on a documentary this morning. The word PORCUPINE literally means “one who rises up in anger.” How about that! Did you know that your temper, uncontrolled, is like sharp barbs which injure everyone who comes close to you? It doesn’t matter whether it’s emotional or physical…over time those to whom you should be the most loving accumulate a lot of scars from the quills of your meanness! STOP IT! If we couldn’t stop our bad behavior, the Word would not command us to. Colossians 3:8 says “But now you MUST (emphasis mine) also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Those behaviors typically run all in one pack, don’t they? Uncontrolled anger causes us to hate, to talk bad about, and to curse others. You are not without hope, though!  

Father, You never ask us to do what seems impossible without coming alongside us to help; so we release our “right” to be spiny, mean-hearted, cruel, and negatively aggressive toward others. Forgive us of owning (at times even proudly) family curses of temper, anger, and abuse; and for trying to justify our bad behavior. There is no excuse that holds up to Your judgment…and if we judge ourselves now and make right choices, we won’t have to sit in shame as You judge us for our words and actions. Cleanse our hearts and make us tender instead of cynical and hard. As we endeavor to prove ourselves to those we have hurt in the past, help us to re-establish trust with them. Mend the bridges we’ve burned when being unrestrained and difficult to live with. Help them to forgive us, and help us to forgive them if we’re holding onto past offenses that trigger our anger. We want to please You and to represent You well in a lost world. We can do all things through Christ…including BEHAVE like Christ! In Jesus’ name, Amen.