Kids and Grownup Church–They Belong, Too

Our family was far from perfect, but I’m thankful to have been born into it. I was a church kid, born to one of those families who believed in gathering for worship…and not just on rare occasions or when something else more interesting wasn’t going on. Whatever else they did or didn’t get right, my parents/grandparents raised us to be Christ-followers, within a larger group of other imperfect believers and families.  They modeled putting God first, in their tenacity to carve out Sunday for the Lord’s day (they definitely didn’t confuse us with on-again, off-again faithful attendance).  My parents didn’t fight with us or threaten to ground us on the issue…it was just our way of life, so since it was all we ever knew, we kids weren’t really exploring other options. If I may, I would like to just transparently share a little about kids and “grownup” church, and why I believe it’s important that kids experience more than just the nursery and the children’s program alone; we tend to try to keep it all so separate that our kids aren’t integrating into a grownup worship experience. So to keep babies from crying or parents from having to teach a wiggly child to behave for a little while and reverence God’s house, we just never bring them into where there’s grownup church going on.

Parents don’t seem as motivated as they once were with exposing their kids to a very spiritual encounter with God. So when it’s going to put any kind of kink in the routine, or if there’s an inconvenience of any kind; or if it’s not a service where there are kids’ activities running in tandem; or if church night clashes with other activities they like to participate in, the whole family just stays home. And our kids can develop a mindset that church has to be all about entertaining them–if there’s no cotton candy or egg hunt or pizza or face painting–it isn’t really worth the investment of their time. So as soon as they outgrow the games, they just stop coming, period. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t the excuse for my parents to stay home from church at night or during revival. Oh, there might be a sick day factored in there once in a while, but they never kept me out of evening worship services and said it was because I needed my sleep for school the next day. They had me there even when there wasn’t something special just for the little kids. Even if we should have to leave a little early (maybe we did…I don’t remember), they still brought me. Worship wasn’t the obligation we had to hurry and get over with just so we could rush out to go do what we would have rather been doing all along. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of my church family from a young age, and you know…it was a healthy thing. So what was the benefit of my parents bringing me to grownup church, too, and not just kids church?

For starters, I learned a lot about Christians in the real world. I saw people who had to deal with some hard circumstances who didn’t give up. I saw others give up. I saw some quit and come back. I saw the saints and I saw the hypocrites. I saw church conflict, and when it was and wasn’t handled properly. I wasn’t shielded from any of it…and it taught me by example what to do and what not to do. I even saw sincere believers and family members whom I loved, who battled to the death with strongholds they wouldn’t break free from. I heard the way parents and grandparents prayed. I watched them forgive hard things. I saw them volunteer countless hours, hammer and saw, cook, serve, teach, sing, and just…be present.

And yeah, sometimes I got a little less sleep on a church night. It didn’t stunt my growth and I graduated in the top five of my class.

As a little girl, I fell asleep on the church pew and woke up in my own bed many a night. I got to stay back and see the things people miss who cut out early to catch their show on tv. I saw people get saved, get demons cast out, be healed, women shout their hairpins down. I remember watching my Grandma make homemade Communion bread, and I remember how that, as a small child, I knew it was serious that we not take the Lord’s bread and cup with unrepented sin or unforgiveness in our hearts. I took turns with all ages washing the saints’ feet (ladies in one room, fellas in another) in that old ceramic washpan, and sometimes the water got a little dirty in my little country church–and how that people often cried, rejoiced, forgave and made up with one another during that humble sacrament. I got baptized in a creek under an old bridge long before I attended a church that had a fiberglass baptistery. Sometimes I got taken to church when I had the sniffles or a cough…and when I did get sick (as kids will do), my parents didn’t hesitate to get me prayed for and even more importantly, they didn’t hesitate to lay hands on me and pray for me themselves. We had a special bottle of olive oil just for that purpose in our house! And they brought me to church…they didn’t just send me. I’m saying these things not to criticize or judge you if you’re a parent who’s raising your kids different from the way I was raised–but to encourage you to press in closer and let your kids have more than just a sterile, disconnected, indifferent, occasional relationship with the entire household of faith.

Don’t shrinkwrap your kids’ church experience in just the parts you think they should see. Please don’t opt to keep them home whenever the service isn’t tailored to their age group!  You’d be surprised at what a five-year old understands from a grownup preacher’s sermon, and what he or she picks up when it looks as if there’s absolutely no attention being paid at all. You’d be surprised at what your kids can come to understand about prayer, giving, serving, living with integrity, and sharing their faith.

Believe me when I tell you that world doesn’t dumb down what it shows kids now. Your elementary school kids have probably seen more on tv than you knew on your wedding night. Why, then, do we try to ration their experience of real faith in the lives of real people who need grace and redemption and patience with one another? Bring them to all the fun, memorable, age-appropriate stuff..they need that, too. But be thinking ahead to where you want them to be spiritually once they outgrow puppets and VBS.

Integrate them into a full, multigenerational worship experience. Let them know what it’s like to experience conviction, to get lost in worship, to pray in the altar for the Holy Spirit. Moreover, may they learn from watching how you worship and respond to the move of God, how you give, how you serve, how you interact with others in the church family, how you deal with hard times, and how you pray.  Please understand, I’m not undermining the value of children’s Christian education, at all.  I am grateful to be a member of a local church that has a phenomenal childrens program.  I’m just saying, your kids will learn more from watching your life than they ever could from just children’s church alone.  They need both.  They’re going to need to know how to bear up under persecution, how to live without compromising their moral ground, how to do spiritual warfare, and how to pray the prayer of faith when sickness, tragedy, or injustice happens. And make sure that, in spite of some occasional inconvenience, their opportunity to witness the church in all its organic guts and glory isn’t lost in just pacifying them with an electronic babysitter to keep them from being bored (yeah, they can make it for 90 minutes without the iPad and earbuds!).  It is, after all, us visiting God in His special place. He didn’t just leave us the key and tell us to lock up and turn off the lights when we’re done–He wants to come down among us. If we are excited about meeting Him there, and our kids catch the spirit of that excitement too, talk about some quality family time…

I was seven when I gave my heart to Jesus–and it was in a grownup revival service. I was ten when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit…at night, lingering long in the altar. In both situations, I was a child but yet I knew enough about the presence of God to experience hot tears flowing from a sincere heart who wanted to know Him. It changed my life. Regardless of what your denomination teaches about these things, I’m just sharing with you the precious experience I got to have as a child raised in a Pentecostal church. And just think…had my parents kept me at the house either of those nights, because I was young and because they wanted me in bed at a certain time, or because they reasoned that I would probably encounter Jesus sometime after I got a little older…I might never have made a decision for Christ that translated into a lifetime of rich, growing faith. It was just two church services on the timeline of my life; but oh, if I had missed them…

I’ve had my ups and downs spiritually, have made some good decisions and some unthinkably foolish ones; but I’m 52 and I’m still deeply, deeply in love with my Savior. This didn’t happen by accident. My parents steered me toward a relationship with God–very intentionally–and part of that involved raising me not just as an occasional visitor to His house, but a regular. It was all I ever knew. Sunday was His day, and very few times was it pre-empted for something else. And because I got to experience needing to exercise my faith, worshiping God in a setting of young and old, being encouraged to seek out my gifts and use them for His glory; and seeing the consequences of when things aren’t handled right by believers actually protected me. It kept me from becoming jaded from offenses and hurts and church splits and injustices–because unfortunately, those things happen. Your child needs to be conditioned to deal with the very things you wish they didn’t have to see.  I learned that men may fail you, mistreat you, withhold favor, betray you…but that God will not. Ever.

If you will live Jesus Christ before them, and be genuine in your faith, your kids will be ok even if they see others who don’t walk the walk. If you’ll value their spiritual growth as much as you value them making first string on the ball team, you are securing something even more important than whether they get skilled enough to win a sports scholarship and a free ride to college. Your kids need to be able to cope with life in a wicked, wicked world. They will worship somethingand if you don’t teach them and model before them how to put the Lord God first in their lives, you may lose them to the world system. If they see you indifferent about your commitment to Christ, don’t be surprised if they grow up completely detached from faith. It’s not going to be enough for your children to say, “Oh yeah…I believe there’s probably a God.” Or, “Hey, I might not be where I ought to be, but I still pray…sometimes”. The time to sell them on the value of that relationship is now, while they’re still impressionable. Your kids need Him for eternal life. They need Him, because drugs and alcohol and debauchery and pornography and crime and suicide are all waiting to grab hold of them.

Some of you prayed that God would bless you with children. Now that you have them, will you truly dedicate them to Him or will you instead teach them that life is all about what they can achieve and get and buy and own and collect and play? Will they encounter His presence or will their lives be all about getting numbed out by newest level of their favorite video game? Don’t raise them up not to know who their Father is, and don’t raise them not to know about a hell that’s to be shunned and heaven to be gained. it’s a matter of eternal life and death.

Being a church kid wasn’t–and isn’t–a bad thing to be. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

That’s all.

Unabridged Blessings

close up photography of four baseballs on green lawn grasses
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A few years ago, it made the news when I some fellow caught a baseball at a big game, and he was giving it back to the player who knocked it out of the park—only, the gift tax on the market value of the baseball was so much that it would be impossible to keep it. I can’t remember all the details, but to me it was just so absurd that a tiny little leather ball could create so much of a conundrum.

If someone were to give me a big yacht, or a sprawling mansion, or for that matter, a pet giraffe, that person would be unthinkably generous. And while it sounds as if it would be nothing but a #blessing, in truth, the maintenance and upkeep of any of these things would be something that I could neither do myself nor afford to pay someone else to do.

You know, God, the supreme gift-giver, has something to say: “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” (Prov. 10:22). Wow. A blessing that’s not pulling a ball and chain behind it of regret, error, buyer’s remorse, penalty, dread, fear, painful toil, fractured relationships, high maintenance, or strife. Yeah, that’s got my attention.

He’s also not toying with us here…not humoring us or trying to use psychology on us. He’s not baiting us with the carrot-and-stick approach. He’s initiating trust and patience while He teaches us perspective on what’s really good and what’s…meh…only good at first.

Could it be that, as we look to Him for provision and blessing and the fulfillment of dreams, He knows exactly how to bless us without those blessings becoming a burden to us instead? Pause and reflect! We can’t get those sorrow-free blessings by the strength of our own hand–so we learn to patiently anticipate and petition them from the One who knows exactly what will satisfy our deepest longings, without cheapening our relationship with Him or stunting our spiritual growth!

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with a Christian or even a preacher (uh oh, some religious bristles just rose on a few people’s necks) being wealthy. I want to be. I want to have the means to do some generous, righteous, benevolent things I can’t do on a grand scale on my limited income. I want to be able to buy necessities like a new car without making the lenders…wealthy.

But, even as I pray daily for my needs (and a few wants) to be met, and as I look to a very generous but wise Father, I trust Him to bless me in ways that won’t be a curse as well as a blessing.  Yeah, who wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel of a Maserati on a stretch of highway with no state troopers, and open it up just to see what it had under the hood…smile…even a few state trooper friends would have to smile at this fantasy…but do I want the insurance payment, property taxes, extra security measures, and the sheer cost to service that baby? Nope. Do I envy or judge the person who has the means to own one? Absolutely not! 

Lord, I pray for myself and my friends reading this today. We all have needs and we all have wants and dreams. And we all have to find a balance between our focus on this life and the eternal life to come. I ask You to meet our needs. Lord, for some, that need might be extra food to last through to the next month. For others, it might be money for college. Or healing from cancer. I’m asking You, Papa, to then bless us with a blessing that makes rich and adds to sorrow with it.

Your blessings always go above and beyond, because that’s just who You are. That overflow is meant to be used for a worthy purpose. I pray that we will have more than enough to meet our basic needs and reasonable wants—and that when You do pour out Your blessing, we will have the good sense to manage it well. You are not a God of waste and ostentatiousness even though You own the cattle on a thousand hills!

Teach us to stop envying others and coveting what they have! Teach us to stop railing on others who do have wealth and talking about them for how they spend their money. Teach us to be better planners with what we have. Teach us to have neither a poverty mentality nor an obsession with material things. Teach us not to judge others by what they have or don’t have. Teach us not to use our lack or thrift or frugality or even our better management as some measure of being holier than someone who has more than we have! Ouch! Conversely, teach us not to look down on someone who has less than us, as if our prosperity is a measure of our level of holiness compared to his or hers. Help us throw away the measuring stick, period! Destroy that comparison mentality which stems from pride, period! And send us the blessing in the form You know we can handle, that accomplishes great deeds but doesn’t take our eyes off of You. We will not rob You of what belongs to You, either!

Over and over again, You warned the children of Israel not to forget You when at last the blessing of the Promised Land would come. Some of us prayed to have healthy children and got them, and now we don’t even teach them about You. Some of us have taken job promotions that keep us so busy, we never have time to worship You or pray or spend time with our families. Some of us have received miracles and extended lives and we went on our merry way and forgot to come back and thank You, just like the other nine lepers Jesus healed. Some of us prayed for talent and we have squandered it or used it in ways that bring You shame. Lord, in whatever ways we have failed You—in whatever ways we have forgotten You and where our blessings come from—we repent.

Build in us great character so that You can entrust great blessings in our hands! Cause us to be faithful over what we have now—in our time, talents, and treasure—so that we can handle promotions, divine favor, and blessings, without our increase becoming our downfall. Who we are with little is who we will be with much, just on a bigger scale. May we be wise, generous, and ethical in all our dealings whether seen or unseen! We will do the right thing. We will be the servant capable of ten talents instead of misusing the one. Bless us, Lord, but in proportion to our character, maturity, and our ability to use that blessing wisely and not recklessly.

We receive today those things from You which money can and cannot buy…and we will put nothing or no one else before You. So as Jabez prayed, bless us indeed, increase us, and keep Your hand on us that we might not cause (or incur) pain. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

A Mosaic Kingdom

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I think of the kingdom of God like a mosaic. If you’ve ever viewed an intricate mosaic first from a distance, it’s beautiful and somewhat intriguing. But it’s quite a miracle of artistic expression that becomes more evident not so much at a distance but rather, as you get closer. How is it that thousands, even millions of tiny, imperfect shards of glass or pottery, tiles, or stones can form something so perfectly harmonious and beautiful? Those irregular pieces probably didn’t start out all crooked and cracked…they got broken when life happened. And yet here they are…mortared together to make a work of art.

You realize as you move close enough to touch that rendering just how unlikely a pairing all these dissimilar pieces really are. Different shapes, colors, textures, different angles, thicknesses, and size. Only a true artist with a vision could sort them all and then spread a mortar just thick enough to make each piece level off equally with its neighbors. A preconceived plan must be in place to allow that artist to keep everything in proportion, perspective, and depth.

We—you and I—are those jumbled, mixed up pieces. We all come together in all our brokenness, in need of the same love and healing, mercy and grace. His Holy Spirit is the mortar that holds us together and causes us to find our perfect fit in the overall picture. It’s a mystery, I tell you. Our circumstances, our fallible human nature, our life stories, our successes and yes, even our failures—bring us to the pile of shattered shards. Nothing about us individually seems to point to perfection or wholeness. Yet, He finds a place where even the most broken of us fits. There’s no piece that is unredeemable. There’s no piece He would call “damaged goods.” His blueprint is simply that we love Him first and then that we love one another. If we are yielded to His hands, He can create that “exceeding abundantly,” glorious, expectation-surpassing plan for our lives. We don’t have to be swept into the dustpan of lostness. Sometimes He has to reshape us a little to work us into the picture and that’s ok, too.  Sometimes He has to scrape off the residual mortar from our sinful past and our unhealthy associations, so that we can conform to His will.  He loves us too much to leave us alone–He can change wrong attitudes, clean up our habits, give us hearts able to love and trust again. He forgives our sins and tells us to go and sin no more.  He wants us to fit!

Every week there’s a lady who gets up and ministers during worship time, and her smile seems to indicate that life is perfect and that she has no issues. Don’t be fooled. She does not have her ducks all in a row, her i’s dotted, her t’s crossed. Sometimes she just has to worship in the midst of the messes of her own doing. Sometimes all isn’t well! She has jagged edges that don’t make her fit just anywhere. She has attitudes that need crucified on a regular basis. Oh yeah, you bet this gal can be a real piece of work some days, and her own shortcomings are a humbling reminder that she needs to cut the people around her a lot more slack too! The devil tries to tell her she is a phony and that she has no real value. She falls to her knees in the secret place and tells her God just how small and inadequate she feels to the task. She has to repent for her unyieldedness, doubt, insecurity, and fear. And yet. And yet He blesses her and says, “You belong. You fit right where I placed you.”

Only by His grace, and only in the setting of the big picture created by the Master mosaic maker, can this broken piece find a sense of belonging. Only bonded to other imperfect people by His Spirit does she find her life purpose. Only working hand in hand with and relying on other fragments in equal need of His grace does she find wholeness. She was not meant to be complete in herself, but woven into His grand design.

I am that frail earthen shard, and in His hands, even my imperfection is beautiful. I belong to something greater than the sum of its parts—the kingdom of God. Guess what? If you’re a believer, then so do you. Stop fretting about feeling as if you don’t belong. Stop postponing your relationship with your Father until such a time when you feel like you’ve got your act all together. Word: you are not going to be able to get your act all together! Let Him take you in all your brokenness and fit you—right now—into His perfect mosaic. He will fix what needs fixing. Together, He makes us a thing of beauty.

“You are the body of the Anointed One, and each of you is a unique and vital part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 (Scripture taken from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

Matters of the Heart: Character

Good EggGod, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me.  Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.  See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,  and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—the path that brings me back to you.  —Psalm 139:23-24  (The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

#Character issues disqualify us from promotion by God far more often than lack of talent, geographic advantage, education, or even resources. Can God trust me….you….us? God wants to use us to fulfill His purposes in the earth. Some of those purposes are big, some are small. In either case, we need to be reliable and trustworthy to the One who created us, just as much so as if He were calling on us to be the next Billy Graham! Even if we perceive ourselves as little fish in a big pond, our character still matters very much to God!

We can choose to be assets or liabilities. How? By honest self-examination and surrender to God. David did this. He invited the Lord to search him, to try his heart, to uncover any wickedness. We know David had a fall, from which he recovered…but his fall was not an ongoing character issue that became his identity. He remained humble and repentant before God, and God honored that. We need to ask ourselves, in the neighborhood, the church, our family, our school/workplace…what are we known for? The reputation that precedes us, yes, can be tarnished by the lies/misconception of others…but how often is the origin for our tarnished reputations our own words and actions (or inactions)? I don’t want people to say of me, “You’d better steer clear of Lisa…she will stab you in the back, she’s lazy and unreliable, you have to walk on eggshells around her because she’s so easily offended, you can’t believe a word she says, don’t say anything in front of her that you don’t want spread all over the place, she won’t finish what she starts…” On and on.

If in our dramatic laments about why things aren’t going right for us, it’s always the other person’s fault, it’s probably not.😉 If we hear rumors about ourselves that are unsavory, it’s a great time to evaluate what we need to change and then go to God for help. Those character flaws CAN be healed if we will own up to them and work on them. Left undealt with, we are driving through life with bad brakes and it eventually will catch up with us.

Lord, help us to be very honest with You and ourselves. You know our weaknesses and You also know our willfulness. Your strength is made perfect in our weakness when we lean on You to help us. Our will, however, is sure to get us in trouble if we rebel from aligning with Your will. Jesus, over and over, submitted His will to Yours; and He was the example for us to follow.

Reveal to us, Holy Spirit, when there is an ugly nature in us that needs dealt with. Whether it’s lust, infidelity, pride, unforgiveness, spite, cruelty, intimidation, prejudice, a lying spirit, dishonesty and cheating, a talebearer, a betrayer, a spirit of laziness, rebellion, hatred, insecurity, negativity, undisciplinedness, grumbling, jealousy, or fear—we lay our entire selves on the altar and ask You to sanctify us and purge us of anything unholy that would cull us from kingdom usability and trustworthiness. We renounce and reject any spirit that would attach itself to us and defile the pure gifts You have given us. We will not make excuses or blame others or be offended over Your attempts to prune away what disqualifies us. When we represent You in the earth, may we represent You well. Help us never to bring reproach on Your name, Your family, Your kingdom!

May it be said of us, even by those who don’t necessarily like our personality quirks or the way we look, “Blessed is he/she who comes in the name of the Lord!” Conform us to the image of Your Son. Fill us with a refreshing overflow that lifts the atmosphere in every room we enter. Make us fit for the kingdom—assets and not liabilities! And Lord, help us to reverse undesirable reputations whether or not we earned them. Make us willing to prove ourselves and to submit to those You would place in our lives as mentors and leaders. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Whose Shadow?

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“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will remain secure and rest in the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no enemy can withstand].”  (Psalm 91:1 AMP)
Do you have a parent, sibling, coworker, spouse, ministry constituent, or friend to whom you feel inferior? Does someone close to you in that way shine so brightly, so talented or gifted or just favored, that you feel there’s no room for you to ever excel and be lent credibility? You may feel like you’re in someone else’s shadow, but I encourage you today to choose WHOSE shadow you’re going to stand in. Choose to stand in God’s shadow. Learn to be at home in the shadow of the Almighty…you don’t have to stand in anyone else’s shadow, but you belong to Him and you need the rest and comfort and protection of His wings! That’s the only place where you won’t be plagued by the temptation and bondage that comes with comparison!
Stop comparing yourself to other people and viewing yourself as less-than (or for that matter, as more-than!). Stop buying into what other people have said or implied about you…a teacher or a parent or boss or someone who may have said, “Why can’t you be more like ____ (a sibling, a peer, or someone else who was/is used a measuring stick)?” You were not placed on this earth to fulfill His plan for their lives, but to fulfill the plan He tailor-made just for you. It is an insult to the power and imagination of our Creator, for us to try to make ourselves signed-and-numbered prints off of some priceless original. No, each of us is a priceless original, and He never runs out of creative power.
Be free from the spirit of comparison, from pride, from inferiority, from any other emotion or mindset that hinders you from living life to its fullest.
Lord, we cast down these crazy imaginations and “high, lofty things” that work overtime, which cause us pain and limitation whenever they run contrary to what Your Word and Your will for our lives has spoken. Forgive us for spending so much time looking at ourselves and comparing and lamenting and walking in fear. Fear tells us we will never be good enough because we cannot excel past certain other people. Fear tells us not to even try because we are doomed to failure. Your Word, however, says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
 
Forgive us as well for carelessly speaking damaging words over ourselves or others out of ignorance. We are not guiltless in the area of having made statements like “He/she sure is no ____” and compared one of Your precious originals to someone else we perceived to be be more skilled or talented or good in some way. You don’t create counterfeit, cheap knockoffs, and You don’t use a cookie cutter to mass produce lives void of authenticity. We are sorry for ever trying to establish the standards for excellence over ourselves or anyone else! We are not the Creator. We submit our words and actions to You again on the potter’s wheel and ask that You give us clean hearts that in turn compel clean words. We will resist the devil when he tries again to make us feel intimidated by the giftings and abilities of others, and if we resist–as often as necessary!–he will flee.  We forgive and release anyone who may ever have hurt us by comparisons, and we ask You to forgive them too, because they knew not what they were doing.
 
In order to stay in Your shadow and to dwell in the secret place, we have to be on the move, as well! You don’t stand in one place with your wing of protection stuck out for us to stand under. No, You are moving and working constantly—so our secret to staying in Your shadow is to move with You, to go where You go, to do what we see the Father do, to speak what we hear You say. What worked for Jesus works for us today–operating under the canopy of submission to You. We submit ourselves to You today and we will stay under Your protection, fulfilling every wonderful thing You have ordered for our lives! We are free from approval-seeking and self-exaltation and self-deprecation and any other tool the enemy would use to shift our eyes onto ourselves and off of You. Be glorified in us today, Father—all of it—You get all the glory and we will gladly stand in Your shadow, we pray in Jesus’ name!
#Psalm91 #2Corinthians10 #callthosethings

 

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.

The Spirit’s Eye

Window

“No one has ever seen this, and no one has ever heard about it.  No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.  But God has shown us these things through the Spirit.”  (I Cor. 2:9-10 NCV)

Years ago, my now brother-in-law Tommy had a poster on his office wall that, at first glance, just appeared to be a nice purple-and-blue pattern.  I thought it was pretty but really didn’t see anything outstanding there.  Eventually one day, I heard some of the others talking about the picture-inside-the-picture…and I was intrigued enough to press in closer.  I saw nothing.  It was one of those times where you wonder, “Should I be like the people in the Emperor’s New Clothes story, and pretend I see what isn’t there…or do I just admit that I don’t get it?”

Well, I ‘fessed up…I really didn’t get it.  So Tommy said, “You’re trying too hard.  You have to just relax and let your vision blur a little.  When you stop trying to SEE it, you’ll see it!”  And he was right.  After a couple of tries, it was as if the hidden images materialized out of nowhere.  Now, the theme of that particular poster turned out to be Star Trek…but after I discovered the whole “Mind’s Eye” picture series, I just became an instant fan.  I sought out other similar pictures to peer into and enjoy.

As believers in Christ, many (probably most) of us breeze, at least in our fledgling years, right past situations that appear one way but have hidden spiritual undertones.  It’s not a sin to be unable to read those signs; yet, we can miss some really important, even critical, messages God is trying to show us in the spirit realm.  We can live a very superficial Christian life, saved as can be, but still not have a depth of understanding that will mature us and make our walk effective.

Now, to become spiritually-minded, we don’t have to become hermits, shave our heads, or adopt bizarre behaviors!  However, our affections and appetites change as we draw closer to God.  As we begin to savor the deep things in the Word, and as we spend time in prayer and just fellowship with our Father, a side to us is opened up which we didn’t know we had.  Carnal mindsets start dying off, and we begin to understand a greater scope of what’s going on around us.

I’ll give you a little example, because becoming spiritually-minded has been and is an ongoing process with me, too.  At one time, I might have looked at face values of situations which need changing, and might have only seen the visible problem instead of the hidden cause of it.  The Lord has enabled me, over time, to become aware of the “picture-within-the-picture.”   Rather than just seeing a geographical area full of drug-addicted people, and shaking my head at the astounding statistics, now I realize that there are territorial strongholds which exist on a different plane: addictive spirits which acquire dominance in a particular place…strongholds which can only be broken through prayer, through fasting, and through persistence.  The problems we “see” in the natural realm are pretty much just the results, and not heart of those problems at all!  So when we try to attack that growth from the stem up, it keeps coming back.  We cannot do war against a spiritual entity by fighting against flesh and blood opponents!  Try to rid your lawn of the clover and dandelions by mowing, and see how long they stay gone!

Now, there will always be a need for support groups,positive changes in the natural, etc., but until we see beyond the visible to the root of the problem, and begin to conduct warfare on the root-end of the situation, we will be at best just maintaining.  We can clean out corruption by calling in the authorities, but unless there is spiritual deliverance—unless ground is taken by righteousness where once was wickedness—we will see different faces but the same problem, stemming from that original root.

There is a bit of a price to pay for becoming spiritually-minded.  It comes right back around to time spent in God’s presence.  You cannot think like God thinks if you aren’t willing to hang out with Him and let the mind of Christ rub off on you!  Having His mind won’t make you weird, cultic, eccentric, or “out there;” although, folks may just not get you when you make observations from a perspective they can’t see.  Being occasionally misunderstood is a very small investment, when going deeper into your relationship with God empowers you to pray and to see in a much greater way than before.

God doesn’t give us this ability just so we can feel “enlightened” above other people.  No, that’s where we could dance a fine line of hypocrisy.  It doesn’t make us superior to the average believer, so there’s absolutely no room to gloat in one’s spirituality.  God gives us that deeper vision so that we can see as He sees–to respond as He responds,  and so that we will be proactive to promote His righteous will on earth.  To merely SEE on a deeper level would only drive us to despair, without God’s Word and without His instructions on what we are to do with the revelation He’s given us.  Remember, the devil has his own counterfeit spirituality too, and some may confuse being psychic with the kind of spiritual sight I’m talking about.  When Satan approached Eve in the garden, he said that God didn’t want them to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because God didn’t want their eyes to be opened to see what He sees.  Why, that made the fruit even more delectable…to think, that she could become privy to something God was concealing from her; something with which she might then have a right to disagree!  Therein lies the difference.  When God reveals a matter to us, it’s to bring us into alignment with His will—not to consume our knowledge on our own greed, or form our own carnal opinions about it.  Satan’s intent behind luring people into pseudo-spirituality is to cause them to think independently of God’s will.  Eve managed to be duped into thinking that God was keeping her from something good.   What she, and so many others have failed to understand over the years (to their destruction), is that outside of God’s will, nothing good exists in the first place.

With more understanding comes more responsibility.  God doesn’t grant you the gift of discernment, for instance, so that you can peek into other people’s secret faults and frailties and use those weaknesses to harm them.  It’s not given with the purpose of advancing you AT ALL.  As a matter of fact, a person with special discernment may very well have to gird himself/herself up in the area of having judgmental tendencies.  A person of discernment must also learn to be silent about what God does not choose to reveal to others.  We must NOT reveal what God has confided in us, and certainly not with the motive of making ourselves look more spiritual to other people!  There’s absolutely no room for a gossiping spirit or a manipulative spirit in the life of a Believer who walks on this level.  Conversely, as our awareness of spirit realm is heightened, we must choose to become more humble, more consecrated, more surrendered to God.  Our carnal nature, if not put under submission, will only make a mess out of what God’s wanting to give us for His good purposes.  We cannot afford to try to use our gifts outside the realm of His Word and His will.  We are called to prayer, and on one’s knees is the best place to remain when humility is paramount.  Trust me…if you walk closely to God, there may be times when you discern things about other people which are going to disturb you, grieve you.  You may enter places and sense the presence of a particular controlling spirit.  Without holiness in your life, there are things you can’t bear!  With holiness and a totally submitted-to-God’s-authority frame of mind, you’ll not only be able to bear these things, you can pray the prayer of faith against the influence of the enemy in the lives of people and over localities.  We are not given the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound, calm, well-balanced mind!  Any time God reveals hidden things to you, it’s always either with yours or someone else’s protection in mind, or for you to know what type of prayer must be prayed to bring situations in line with His Kingdom and His will.  And it’s not always about identifying the negative!  God can use our sensitivity to His Spirit to reveal good, wholesome, encouraging, holy truths.  Just as important as not walking through wrong doors is the discernment to walk through the right ones!

God will even test us early on to prove whether we are trustworthy to walk on another plane.  He may instruct us to speak out over something we don’t want to address; or He may order us to keep silent about a matter even though we feel we have the “low down” on the situation.  In these times, it may be very tempting to try to make ourselves look good in front of others.  If we disobey His instructions, we disqualify ourselves from certain realms of spiritual authority.  Just as you love some people you wouldn’t trust for a minute, God loves us even when He can’t trust us…but He’d rather be able to trust us!  He wants to love you, to bless you, to promote you to do great and mighty things, but much of that depends on your obedience factor.  Remember, no matter what kind of pretty pattern we display on the outside, God uniquely sees beyond the window dressing and straight into our hearts.  May He be pleased with what He sees…

Pray with me today:  “Heavenly Father, I desire to be closer to You, and to want those things which You desire.  I have some carnal affections I’m already aware of, and some I may not be aware of.  Prune me of those tendencies toward unrighteousness.  Mature me in the things of God!  Help me to have healthy appetites and goals, and help me to have a pure heart with right motives.  There is another level I’ve not attained in my walk with You, and that level is where You will for me to come up to.  You created me for purpose, and oh, how I want to fulfill Your will in my life.  I want to be a vessel You can TRUST.  Fill me with Your Holy Spirit; baptize me through and through, and give me power for service.  Help me not to see the world around me through the eyes of the flesh.  If I walk after the flesh, I’ll only fulfill the works of the flesh.  I ask You to enable me to walk after the Spirit!  When I’m confronted with the sin and the despair around me, help me to see through Your eyes.  Help me see people, even the most difficult ones, through Your eyes.  Prompt me to pray and to intercede for the lost, for the bound, and for the hopeless.  I want to be transformed today.  Help me renew my mind to Your Word, and help me to bear You much good fruit in this lifetime You’ve appointed me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”