Saturday, July 28, 2012

For King and Countrymen

Long, long ago in a country far away, the King called all his subjects to the castle for a time of celebration. During the festival the King issued a decree: “My loyal subjects, from this day forward you must guard your hearts, as you would guard a precious treasure for it will determine the course of our kingdom. You must be careful to love your king with all your heart and love your neighbor like you love yourself. In this way, you will guard your heart and keep our kingdom safe.”

When the people heard this royal decree they fell to their knees before their beloved ruler and wholeheartedly pledged their love for king and countrymen. Later, many of his subjects thought that what their King had asked was such a simple request and wondered why he hadn’t asked for more. Many declared that they were ready to give their life for him if only he would ask.

After the festival, life returned to normal in the kingdom. The farmers returned to plow their fields and plant their crops, shop owners opened their stores and plied their trades, and knights rode out to guard the borders of the kingdom. All was well in the land . . .

But time has a way of causing people to forget their promises and such was the way of this promise. . .

One day, a farmer brought his horse into town to be shod. To pass the time the farmer visited relatives that lived in the town, picked up some much needed items for the farm and passed the time with pleasure.

Meanwhile, the blacksmith began the careful process of cleaning the horse’s hooves and replacing the worn out shoes. There was joy in his heart as he worked. He enjoyed caring for these magnificent creatures and each one he cared for as if it was his own.

But this day, without warning the horse suddenly fell to the ground with a loud crash! The blacksmith was paralyzed with fear. He looked on the horse with dread wishing the flanks to move but there was no breath left in him. He was dead.

The blacksmith in a stupor waited for the owner of the horse to return. How was he going to explain to the farmer that his strong, healthy horse was dead?

The farmer flew into a fit of rage as the blacksmith explained what had happened. He was out of his mind with anger. He hadn’t just lost an expensive work horse; he’d also lost his livelihood. How would he ever feed his family and take care of his farm?

When he returned home, he looked out at the fields that would never get planted and a bitterness like he’d never known took root in his heart. It festered and grew and before long he became obsessed with destroying the blacksmith just like he had destroyed him.

But rather than pleading his case before the King, he turned to his fellow farmers and with hostility in his heart and malice in his words; he told them what the blacksmith had done to him. As the farmers listened they began to think of times when they had been cheated or abused by the townspeople and their anger burned against their fellow countrymen.

As one, the farmers picked up pitchforks, hoes and anything else they would be able to use as a weapon and marched into town.

News of the war reached the King but it was too late, the damage had been done. The country was plunged into a civil war, brother fought against brother, father against son, friend against friend and the devastation was everywhere, in their land and in their hearts.

The King did everything in his power to halt the war; he called for his knights to return from protecting the boundaries and he sent emissaries to talk to both sides but nothing was resolved. Year after year the battle raged until no one remembered any longer why they were fighting.

The Kingdom became a waste land of broken hearts and broken lives; everyone having forgotten what they had willingly promised to their King so long ago.

I deviated this week from my "normal" devotional blog to write an allegory.  I hope you enjoy the change.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Wounds of a Friend

My heart went out to my friend as I watched a tear gently make its way down her beautiful face.  As she struggled to find the words to say, I sensed that this pain and sorrow ran deep.

God had our paths cross way back in college and for that I am so grateful.  We were kindred spirits and in love with our man.  Marriage, kids and different callings found us distant from each other but as I sat across the table from her, it was as if the years had melted away and we were just two kindred spirits in love with our man (with a few other men thrown in for good measure – our children).

As she shared the betrayal she had experienced at the hand of a friend, I felt her pain resonate deep in my soul as I reflected on a long ago severed relationship of my own . . .

This friendship treachery cuts like a dagger into the very heart of who we are.  It feels like a mortal wound, which leaves us wondering if we will ever recover from it.  In my own experience, it took years for the pain to dull but I’ve found that it never quite goes away.

I was reading in  the Psalms the other day and ran across this passage of Scripture.   My heart was inexplicably joined with David’s heart (just like I was joined to my friend’s heart) as his words echoed the cry of my soul. 

It is not an enemy who taunts me – I could bear that.  It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me – I could have hidden from them.  Instead, it is you – my equal, my companion and close friend.  What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God.

But I will call on God, and the Lord will rescue me.  Morning, noon and night I cry out in my distress and the Lord hears my voice.  He ransoms me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me, though many still oppose me. . . As for my companion, he betrayed his friends; he broke his promises.  His words are smooth as butter but in his heart is war.  His words are as soothing as lotion but underneath are daggers! 

Give your burdens to the Lord and he will take care of you.  He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.  Psalm 55:12-22 (NLT)

Have you experienced the excruciating pain of a friend’s betrayal in your own life?  Do you find it difficult to breathe or get out of bed?  Is it taking everything in you not to send the daggers flying in their direction?

It is so easy to allow bitterness to take root in our life, to set up walls of protection to guard against ever experiencing that kind of pain again.   And we end up drinking the poison we had intended for our perfidious friend to drink.

Look at what God promises and claim them as your own: 

He promises . . .  
 -  to rescue you
  - to hear you when you call
  - to protect you in the midst of the battle
  - to not let you slip or fall
Jesus knows the throbbing ache of a broken friendship; he experienced gut-wrenching betryal at the hands of Judas, one of his closest and dearest friends. 

He knows, He understands and He’s waiting to hear your heart’s cry and to walk hand and hand with you through the storm. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

From the Inside Out

About a year and a half ago I was visiting my parents and my mom sent me home with cuttings from her rather large plant that resided in their living room.  The cuttings weren’t anything to celebrate about; they were just a couple of large green sticks stuck in dirt.  There was not one leaf in sight.

I couldn’t help but wonder if these sticks would ever turn into anything worthwhile.  It seemed so impossible.  Sticks sitting in dirt don’t usually sprout leaves and turn into a plant. 

With a hope and a prayer, I set the pot by a sunny window and faithfully watered it each week.  I began to wonder if my mom had given me this as a joke because nothing seemed to be happening. Then one morning I looked at the sticks and wondered if that “bump” had been there before.  I noticed another bump on one of the other sticks and in just a few short weeks they began to sprout big beautiful leaves!

I was truly amazed and even now I find myself gazing at that plant in awe at its transformation!

Romans 12:2 (NLT) says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God TRANSFORM you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Aren’t we are just like that plant?  A stick in a pot with only a promise, WAITING for God to do His transforming work in our life.   In the midst of the waiting we often find ourselves struggling with habitual sin, wishing we were someone else, hating the place where God has us and craving the transformation NOW.

We don’t want to have to WAIT but change takes time – it doesn’t happen overnight.

What I didn’t realize as I watched my sticks for weeks on end was that there was change going on, it was only on the inside and I just couldn’t see it. 

How true this is for us!  When we surrender to God’s way and live in obedience he begins to change us from the inside out.  He changes the way we think and believe and that alteration gradually changes who we are and what we will become.

Someday, we will no longer be dead looking sticks in a pot but a flourishing, glorious plant that brings glory and honor to the One who rescued us and called us His own.

Isaiah 61:3b (NLT) says, "In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory."

Do you feel like a dead stick in a pot, wondering if you will ever be a glorious plant?  Are you struggling to see God’s transformation in your life?  

Be patient my friend, if you are truly surrendering to His work in your life He IS changing you from the inside out.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Would You Fail a Breathalyzer Test?

Recently I did a Bible study on the Holy Spirit and it was like no other study I have ever done.  To say that it radically changed my life; my perspective, my understanding and the living out of my faith would be an understatement! 

For much of my life the Holy Spirit has been more like an afterthought; he just didn’t seem to rank up there with God the Father and God the Son.  I understand why Francis Chan titled his book on the Holy Spirit, Forgotten God (which by the way is an excellent read).  To be honest, this was really how I saw the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1:18 was a common verse that was used in my upbringing when talking about the Holy Spirit.   Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life.  Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . (NLT)

The emphasis most of the time was that we shouldn’t get drunk.  In fact, this was always the verse that our youth pastor would use to reinforce the fact that we shouldn’t drink. 

I had never looked at this verse in any other way until I did this study.

In one of our lessons we read, Ephesians 1:18 and I asked the question (a question I hadn’t planned on asking but later realized it was the leading of the Holy Spirit), “What does Paul compare being filled with the Holy Spirit to?  Silence filled the room, you could hear a pin drop.  

Then someone hesitantly said with a question in their voice, “Being drunk?”

Immediately, I followed it up with another question, “So what is someone like when they’re drunk? (Not speaking from practical experience or anything.)  As we began to answer the question we were stunned at the similarities:   1). They are no longer in control 2). They are bold  3). Their perspective is changed  4). They are uninhibited.  (Maybe you can think of some others.)

When we allow the Holy Spirit to FILL our lives we are no longer in control – He is, we become bold in our faith and uninhibited in sharing Christ with others, our perspective changes as we begin to see things the way He sees them and we are no longer controlled by fear, worry or self-centeredness. 

The following verses shed even more light on what it looks like to be filled with the Spirit.     

 . . .Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts.  And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (NLT)

It’s interesting that many of our songs have come from bar songs and I think it was another reason why Paul chose this comparison.   A person who is drunk sings meaningless empty songs but a follower of Jesus who is filled with the Spirit will sing with a purpose and make music in their hearts to the Lord. 

Wow!  This was a whole new way of looking at these verses.  We were all amazed as we began to really see the point that Paul was making here.  It’s not just that we shouldn’t be drunk but we should be filled to over flowing with the Holy Spirit – to put it another way, we should be drunk on the Holy Spirit, intoxicated with Him!

Have you ever thought of being filled with the Spirit like this? 

When we ask God to forgive us of our sins and to come into our lives, He promises to send His Holy Spirit to dwell within us.  Unfortunately, many of us  have the Holy Spirit living in our lives but are inhibiting Him from filling us.  

It's like a glass of milk when you add chocolate syrup - it sinks to the bottom and you really don't see any difference in the milk.  It's only when you stir the milk that you experience the change - it looks different, smells different and tastes different.  

In the same way we must  "stir up" the Holy Spirit in our life in order for change to occur.  The "stirring" comes when we surrender to Him; to His work, His way, His purpose.

So let me ask you,  if you were given a breathalyzer test on how drunk you are on the Holy Spirit, where would you fall on the scale?