This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Archive for January, 2012

There is a place

This is an outdoor, brush arbor type area in Danbury where I go to meditate.

There is a place I like to go
When my world is caving in
Where peace will come, I surely know–
A place where few have been.

There is a place I like to sit
And watch the world go by
Where waving trees do bit by bit
Refresh my weary eye.

There is a place I like to pray
It’s not shut up in walls
And the ceiling’s the sky of a winter’s day
The music–the wild birds’ calls.

There is a place I like to go
Where my Maker seems so near
And speaks to me on the winds that blow
‘Til my muddled mind is clear.

There is a place. . .won’t you come, too,
To my lovely forest glade?
And we’ll find that peace for me and you
In the beauty He has made.

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He loves me, He loves me not?

I sat on the bleachers at London Gym this morning, watching two K-2nd grade teams battle it out in a nail-biter of a game. While my son Malachi’s purple-shirted team scrapped in a vain attempt to come from behind, Malachi sat on the bench with his blue Gatorade held up to his ear as a make-believe telephone that he talked into animatedly. Instead of becoming irritated and trying to get his attention to tell him to pay attention to the game, my heart melted in absolute love for this precious little seven-year-old boy who, despite his many unusual idiosyncracies, brings continual joy to my life.

As I pondered this tonight, I was overcome with the realization that this is exactly how our God loves us. We in Puritan-tainted American Christianity have this idea that if we’re not doing exactly what God wants of us at any given time, then He must be mad at us, irritated beyond belief by these scatterbrained humans.

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon, now made famous in 11th grade literature books, called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In this sermon which was delivered to his Massachusetts congregation in 1741, Edwards said: “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.”

Baloney. Yes, I said it–BALONEY. Or bologna, if you prefer technical correctness, you Puritan you. (Just kidding–c’mon and smile!)

I’m not afraid anymore to question things that I don’t believe are Scriptural. If I was unconverted and thought that the God of all creation was looking at me like a loathsome spider, I doubt that I would want to serve such a God. And if I did, it would be purely out of fear and not at all out of love.

But do you know what the Bible tells me? It tells me that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for me–that I might live and have life more abundantly. It tells me that He has His people’s names graven on the palm of His hand, that they are the apple of His eye.

Does He want us to live holy lives, worthy of example? Of course. Does He withdraw His love for us if we don’t? Absolutely not. Unconditional love by definition means loving without conditions, doesn’t it? If He loves me based on whether or not my works measure up, then isn’t this a works-based salvation? (Yes, I know faith without works is dead, but right now we’re only talking about God’s love regardless of works.)

There are those high in the penthouses of religiosity who are afraid to preach God’s love too much. They fear that people will begin to subscribe to “easy grace,” “salvation without accountability,” “loose living.” But I read a book by a renowned preacher once that argued that if we truly believed that God loved us unconditionally and irrevocably, then we would actually live better. We would yearn to please such a God; we would long for Him to be proud of us.

Think of this in your own life. If your parents were demanding in such a way that you felt they wouldn’t love you as much if you didn’t line up with their standards, didn’t you have at least a tiny bit of resentment and insecurity? Isn’t it possible that this could’ve led to you harboring a secret rebellion that may have even resulted in you stepping into sinful behavior?

But if you had a parent that you knew would adore you to the ends of the earth, wouldn’t you have wanted to make that parent proud of you? (Disclaimer: we’re not saying that parents should have no discipline or standards to be adhered to. To the contrary, good parents discipline their children according to the Word of God, but they do it without condemnation and rather with love.) Receiving unconditional love may actually propel us to live better rather than to use it as an excuse to take advantage of grace.

What’s your picture of God? Of course you would probably say He loves us. But do you still somehow have a little sense that He is mad at you if you don’t do right? That He is watching you with His judgmental eagle eye, just itching to throw down a lightning bolt if you mess up? That even if He bears with you in your folly, He does so with a frustrated sigh of impatience that you are NEVER going to get it all together?

I have a word of advice for you: Put that theology out by the road for the garbage collector. Flush it down the toilet with all of the other crud (Mama never let me say “cr*p.”) Step on it then jump up and down on it with all of your might until it is ground into unusable powder then go get the Electrolux.

Then receive this into your hungry heart: God loves you. You are His precious creation. Yes, He wants you to live a righteous life. Yes, there is a price to pay for sin. But no matter what you do, He loves you. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;” (Isaiah 49:15-16)

Beloved of God, we are not plucking petals off a daisy to see if He loves us or loves us not!

Have you trusted your life to the Father? Then imagine Him loving you the way you love your children, even when they backtalk you or use their Gatorade as an imaginary phone when they should be concentrating on the task at hand. Rest tonight knowing that you are His beloved and that this fact isn’t based on how good you are.

“I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 52:8

(Click on the link below to hear one of my very favorite songs, “My Beloved,” sung by Kari Jobe. I imagine that God is singing this to me, and it usually makes me cry out of pure joy.)

I won’t go back

You might figure that I–the gal who writes a column called “The Old Paths” for the local newspaper–would be tempted to spend too much time focusing on the past. I am indeed your local spokesperson for the “I can’t deal with progress” movement. So I often find myself with my face turned backward, longing nostalgically for what I sometimes paint erroneously as “the good ole days.”

Paradoxically, I am also a visionary who dreams of what can be. I look far into the future beyond today’s complications, clearly seeing with a prophet’s eye what awaits us if we move positively ahead in God’s Spirit.

Sandwiched somewhere in between is the present in which I have trouble living. My address tends to be either 666 Yesterday Road or 888 Tomorrow Street.

Since my separation from my ex-husband in 2007, I have spent a lot of time craning my aching neck toward the past–agonizing over where I went wrong, where we failed, what we could’ve done to fix it, what an ideal marriage could’ve been.

Is there anybody out there like me who spends time assessing the damage from the past and ends up getting bogged down in misery? Let me clarify that I am in many ways the happiest I’ve ever been. I am recently remarried to a kind, thoughtful, moral man that I absolutely adore who serves God and works hard so that I can stay home to homeschool my children and to pursue ministry in Walnut Cove. (Disclaimer: references to any good qualities of my hubster are not negative reflections on my ex-husband who also has many good qualities.)

I have an exhilarating liberty now in following the call of God. I have awesome family and friends. I laugh aloud a lot–something I didn’t realize I had lost until suddenly it came back–but now my laugh is different–louder, more joyful, more spontaneous. It’s as if I’ve tapped into a freedom and boldness that I had been too intimidated (my own fault) to step into before.

But at the same time that true happiness is present, there is an ever-present grief that hovers beneath the surface, just waiting for a weak moment to rear its ugly head. It picks those times that I am unusually tired, physically challenged, or alone late at night. Then that grief swims to the surface and bobs there until I must deal with it.

It is the grief of being divorced, the agony of having nights my children aren’t physically with me. I rehash events all the way back to the early days of that failed marriage, wondering how it could’ve been different. I ponder it over and over and over and over. . .

I didn’t get my Little House on the Prairie life–with a passel of kids (yes, I realize I have five), Ma and Pa smiling patiently despite blizzards and grasshopper plagues, happy times around the fire with Pa’s fiddle. And thus I mourn the loss of the ideal.

My daughter Meghann, with her practical wisdom, reminds her sentimental mom that we live in a fallen world. Nobody tends to get their ideal life. Most people suffer some kind of tragedy or loss–a little boy might lose his dad to cancer, a husband might gamble away his family’s earnings, a woman may never find Prince Charming to sweep her away on clouds of marital bliss. I’ve seen parents who dream of hearing the pitter patter of little footsteps never be able to conceive and bear children.

So, yes, the sinful nature of this world more often than not rules out the “happily ever after” life.

But we rise up, repent if we’ve been guilty of sin, trust in God as a Redeemer, and move on into the future with the hand we’ve been dealt, whether by our own choices or someone else’s.

But I’m not too good at moving on. I can enjoy the present life at the same time that I spend way too much time bemoaning the failures of the past. Like a movie that is rewound time and time again, I mentally replay circumstances that are long past. And I cry bitter tears.

That was the scenario this past Saturday night. The hubster and I had had a stellar day–my son’s basketball game that morning, a fun grocery-shopping excursion, a cozy afternoon nap, Super Bowl-style food for the exciting NFL playoff games, topped off by Bible study.

My first mistake was giving in to the urge to drink the forbidden soft drink–a caffeinated one at that!

Yes sirree buddy, I was still wide awake at 3 a.m., staring into the darkness. I started off well, spending time in prayer. But that specter of “past failures” was looming nigh. Before long, I was mired up to my neck in the mud of a past I cannot change. For the thousandth time, I imagined what the ideal life could’ve been.

I wasn’t even praying, when all of a sudden I had myself a vision. A bonafide vision from the Lord. Seemingly from nowhere, I clearly saw a huge, metal door with elaborate locks on the outside. That gigantic, heavy door slammed firmly shut and the locks were set.

That was the extent of the vision, but the Spirit of the Lord began to deal with me immediately about the meaning. God was kindly but firmly instructing me to close the door on the past and not open it again. It isn’t that I am not supposed to learn from the past in order to improve my future. It is that I am to STOP hindering forward motion in my present life by keeping my face angled toward something that doesn’t even exist anymore and never did in the first place. I am to stop mourning something I cannot change.

There comes a time to take off the widow’s weeds, fold up the sackcloth and sweep up the ashes. If I don’t, I will never move confidently into the future.

When He did what He did for me in the middle of the night, I was so overwhelmed with the gratitude of His caring that much about me, that I almost immediately fell asleep in peace. I have now lived three days with no regression. If a grief-stricken thought tries to rise up, I see that humongous door shutting with finality. And I move on.

Since then, everywhere I look, there are confirmations of this express command of God to not go back. The very next morning at church, my friend Sandy brought her new gospel CD by William McDowell. She wanted us to listen to a song called “I Won’t Go Back” to use as our theme song. I had never heard it. After a few measures of it, I was totally sold. It quickly became my favorite song.

I won’t go back. The door has shut. God doesn’t want His people to mourn forever something they can’t change. He wants them to progress, to move forward in Him toward a new, albeit unexpected, life–a thriving life where they can say, “Look what the Lord has done!” Not to justify the failures and brokenness of the past, but to proclaim that He is a Restorer of our joy, a Mender of broken hearts.

Do you sometimes feel chained to your past, trapped on the broken road of your life? Well, I’m here to tell you: shut the door on what you cannot change and turn your face to the plans that your God has for you–plans to prosper you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to bring you to your expected and positive end.

Make a positive declaration to the enemy who rubs his hands together in delirious glee when you stay mired down in the muck of the past. Declare today in the words of McDowell’s song: “I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be, Before Your presence came and changed me. All my shame. . .guilt. . .sins. . .they’ve been forgiven, No more chains, fear–my past is over.”

Then shout it out with McDowell and his choir, “I am never going back to the way it was!”

And look unwaveringly forward with unobstructed vision to the bright future God has picked out just for you.

 

(To hear William McDowell’s song,”I Won’t Go Back,” click on the link below. I posted the long version which has an instrumental part which is good for an extended period of praise and worship. Enjoy this anointed song!)

We all need somebody to lean on

“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Romans 12:5)

In my longing for Him, more and more I want to be aware of the Body of Christ worldwide. I have a physical sister in Walnut Cove, but a spiritual sister in Uganda. I have a blood-kin brother in Dry Hollow, but a blood-bought brother in Colombia.

I don’t know what they look like in the flesh, but when we all get to Heaven, I KNOW that I will recognize them in the spirit. I have never met them, but I love them. They may not have the blood of Tom and Judy Bray flowing through their physical veins, but they have my Father’s blood coursing through their spiritual arteries.

Have you ever awakened in the night feeling the need to intercede, yet you have no idea whom to pray for? For all you know, you are making intercession for an anonymous believer on the other side of the world or maybe even in your own town.

What a comfort to know that the favor may often be returned! When you are going through a tough time and feel all alone, rest assured that your Father has someone praying for you. A little old man in India may be working in the field and suddenly feel the need to pray in the Spirit–things that he doesn’t understand in the natural. But that prayer may be for you, and you will never know it.

But God knows it. And that prayer of obedience does not go forth void.

In this workaday world, we get so wrapped up in our own lives, our own needs, our own troubles, that it is easy to forget to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ–the other members of our very own Body. I have felt the Lord dealing with me more and more, when I am in need of prayer, to stop and pray for others–when I feel that I need attention, to show attention to someone else–when I wish someone would care about me, to reach out to care for someone else.

This was burned into my soul more than ever last Sunday morning at Times of Refreshing. The Lord led us straight into the Word without any singing or organized prayer. But after I exhorted my sisters and brothers about the need for Him to be increased in our lives, I felt the need for a time of worship before we went our separate ways.

As we sang and worshiped to “O Glorious Day” by Casting Crowns, I could feel the presence of the Lord so sweetly. I wanted to give Him every part of me, so I attempted to lift the right arm that has been hindered for over six months. In the past two weeks, I had been unable to lift it at all.

That may seem like no big deal to you, but you have to know me: I am a girl who goes all out if I’m going to do something. I don’t want to lift just one hand; I want them both up in the air in praise. No matter how hard I strained, the right arm was too weak and the pain too excruciating for me to be able to raise it. So I ceased trying.

Until the next song.

As Chris Tomlin began to sing, “How Great Is Our God,” I entered into such a state of worship that before I knew it, I had done something almost unconsciously. I used my left arm to raise my weakened right arm into the air. Once I got it up and held it there with the left hand for a minute, it stayed up there on its own with no pain. I was ecstatic as I praised the Lord with both hands lifted high.

And then it hit me: this is what God wants us to do in the Body of Christ. When we see a member who is weakened, who is in pain–it is our Christian duty to lift them up. They are part of our Body, just as my right arm–though seemingly useless–is part of my body. My stronger left arm stepped in to lift it up where it then found strength to stay for a time. Once the right arm was down and again too weak to move, my left arm could intercede once more. . .and again and again. . .as long as was needed for the right hand to regain its own strength.

Tears of joy began to flow down my face as the reality of this powerful lesson hit me. The stronger members of the Body of Christ MUST step in to support other members of the Body who are weakened through trial and tribulation. My right hand was once my stronger hand, but right now it needs help. We may be standing strong today, but there will most certainly come a time when we need other saints of God to provide support for us.

Do you know someone who is hurting? Can you think of a fellow believer who is not standing strong right now? Ask God what you can do to support them. Maybe it’s a handwritten card of appreciation, perhaps it’s a phone call just to say you are thinking of them; it could be a hug and a whispered, “I love you and am praying for you.” Most of all, lift them up in prayer to the Lord.

Because ole Bill Withers knew what he was talking about when he sang: “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on, For it won’t be long, ’til I’m gonna need, somebody to lean on.”

“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (I Corinthians 12:25-26)

(Click on the link below to hear the old classic, “Lean On Me,” by Bill Withers. Great song!)

Simple mathematics–more of Him, less of me

The Christmas lights don’t twinkle anymore at night. I probably won’t hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” again until next November unless Walmart decides to start their holiday music after Labor Day this year. The hubster took the last of the Yuletide gift bags and wrapping paper to the basement storage bin this morning. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the last, rapidly-aging vestige of the Christmas honey-baked ham in the fridge will kill me if I indulge a final time.

Blustery, cold January has relegated December to the last page of the 2012 calendar, and I can’t quite catch a glimpse of spring no matter how hard I squint into the future.

The New Year has arrived. This is where the rubber meets the road, where the feet hit the bathroom scale, where the Richard Simmons’ videotapes come out of the forgotten reaches of the entertainment center drawers.

And this is where my new motto for 2012 comes into play: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

I don’t mind the decrease if it means I can get my beige corduroy pants buttoned again. I actually don’t even mind the decrease in the way that John the Baptist meant it in the aforementioned Scripture.

It’s just that I’m not sure how to do it. Mathematically speaking, the equation simply reads: Add Jesus. Subtract Leslie. Or, +Jesus – Leslie = ALL JESUS.

In theory, I WANT Jesus to increase in my life and myself to decrease. In practice, it gets tricky.

“And then I realized how many stupid times a day I used the word ‘I.’ In fact, probably all I ever do is think about myself. And how lame is that when there’s, like, 7 billion other people out there on the planet and when -“ (Mia Thermopolis, “The Princess Diaries”)

Just substitute my name for Mia Thermopolis. This could be me speaking. I am also reminded of the first line of one of my favorite poems from childhood: “I had a little tea party this afternoon at 3, ‘Twas rather small–3 guests in all–just I, myself, and me.”

But I LONG to do what John the Baptist did–decrease myself that my Lord and Savior may increase. The Greek word for “decrease” here is “elattoo” (transliterated) which means just what you would think it means: “to decline in importance, to decrease in authority or popularity, to make less (in rank or influence).”

But we are groomed from infancy to want attention for ourselves. Our parents dote on us, video our every shining moment, take pictures of all stages of our cuteness. We learn in school to compete for the best grades, the top spot on the team, the supreme level of popularity. Everything in life seems to position us as the bright center of the “ME” universe where all other things and people revolve around us.

But God’s Word teaches me something totally opposite. “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. . .” (Romans 12:3)

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. . .” (Matt. 6:33)

This is my prayer for 2012–that I would take a backseat and let Him drive the bus. That when people look at me, they don’t see the gaudy, brassy light of Leslie but the radiant, pure light of Christ. That I won’t have to get the glory for anything. (“Hey, that was MY idea that we do that!” “I thought of that first!” “Yeah, well, she wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t reminded her.”)

In essence, it all boils down to that beloved old hymn, “How Great Thou Art.”

“Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art!”

Realizing and exalting HIS greatness is the key.

We really don’t even have to think about decreasing ourselves. If we focus too much on that, we can so easily get caught up in even more focus on “me, me, me.” If we just think about increasing Him, the emphasis on ourselves will naturally decrease.

Remember the order of mathematical operations. With simple addition and subtraction, move from left to right in order. John the Baptist had the order correct: first, He must increase; then, I must decrease. The first one inevitably leads to the second.

“Then I shall bow

In humble adoration

And there proclaim,

“My God, how great Thou art!”

More of you, Jesus. More of you.

(Click on the link below to hear a version of this old hymn that will make the hair stand up on your arms!)

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