Sunday, July 26, 2009

Would You Serve A God Like That?

When I was a child, I lived next door to my aunt, uncle, and cousin, Kimberly. It was like having a sister--Saturday morning omelets, trips back and forth between our houses, late night rounds of my uncle cheating at Monopoly, and too many sleepovers to count. Then, baby Allison was added to their family. Now, I would have two sisters to share everything with!

But, suddenly, our close-knit world was rocked when my aunt and uncle felt God calling them to be international missionaries. They then accepted that calling, leaving behind careers, family, and friends to become missionaries on the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean…and taking with them my two “sisters.”

After that, our families came together maybe once a year. We were still close, but it just wasn’t the same. Many years into their ministry, they rode out a very serious hurricane that destroyed much of the island. While their lives were spared, our church had to send a team to help repair their home.

What kind of God asks His people to leave their family? Stable jobs? Country? What kind of God puts those same people who are obediently serving Him in the path of a killer storm?

Yahweh. The God of Moses, Abraham, and Isaac.

Scripture gives us several examples of God asking His people to give up everything to serve and obey Him. One such man was Ezekiel, a priest whom God called to prophecy to an exiled Israel: “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children…” (Ezekiel 2:3-4).

Ezekiel wasn’t a Jonah. He didn’t run the other way or ask God to send somebody else. Instead, even with God continuously reminding him that his prophesies wouldn’t result in Israel’s repentance or turning from its sin, Ezekiel was obedient in doing what the Lord asked of him.

And then in the midst of that obedience, God required Ezekiel to make yet another sacrifice, which would serve as a sign to a rebellious Israel of Jerusalem’s coming destruction: “And the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes with a blow; but you shall not mourn and you shall not weep, and your tears shall not come. Groan silently; make no mourning for the dead Bind on your turban and put your shoes on your feet, and do not cover your mustache and do not eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. And in the morning I did as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 24:15-18).

What!? Did I read that right? God required Ezekiel to not only lose his beloved wife but to also not publically mourn her death? Yes. And Ezekiel obeyed.

How? Why?

Because Ezekiel knew the God he served. He knew the price for disobedience. He knew God’s kingdom agenda was more important than one man or one woman.

Although we may not like to think of God as one who requires such large sacrifices of his obedient servants, that doesn’t mean we can ignore Scripture that tells us otherwise. We must accept every part of who Scripture says God is or not accept Him at all.

This week, spend some time considering if you’re serving the God of the Bible who may require you to sacrifice everything you love most for His kingdom… or if you’re serving a watered-down version of God that doesn’t really exist.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Praying it Forward

My two-year-old knows his mommy demands immediate obedience. And yet he struggles daily to balance the desire to be independent and do it his way with the desire to make mommy happy by obeying her.

He and I act out the same scene several times a day: he is loving, clingy, and obedient, claiming, “I be a nice boy.” Then, suddenly, this boy who was snuggling so closely with me that you couldn’t tell where he ended and I began…this boy who very seriously whispered “I love you mommy” as he kissed me—suddenly, his own desires clash with my requests and he rebels, no longer wanting anything to do with me.

But I know it’s just a matter of time before he is back at my side saying he’s sorry, renewing those vows of mother-son love, and promising again to be a “nice boy”.

Sadly, all too often, I’ve played out the same scenario with my heavenly Father. On a spiritual high, I will become totally engrossed with in-depth Bible study and prayer, rooting myself so deeply by His life-giving river that I feel I cannot possibly be drawn away from His presence again.

And then step by wayward step, I allow the cares of this world to draw me from the water’s edge. Disobedience, apathy, children, friends, job, household chores, spouse, sheer laziness, exhaustion—they all beckon me away from His presence until His Holy Spirit convicts me, sending me humble, repentant, ashamed, parched as I crawl face-down to Him for a long drink.

In Scripture, King Solomon was on one of the biggest spiritual highs of his life—what God had not allowed his father, David, to accomplish, he had been able to complete. After seven years, the temple, the house of the Lord, was finally finished. The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the holies of holies. The people of God were “sacrificing so many sheep and oxen they could not be counted or numbered” (1 Kings 8:5). The glory of the Lord Almighty had descended upon earth to fill the temple with a cloud so thick that “the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kings 8:11).

And yet when Solomon prayed to dedicate the temple, he did not merely rejoice over how close he and Israel were to God at that present moment. Instead, his prayer looked ahead to those times when God’s people would not be walking in obedience to Him:

When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin …. And send rain on Your land” (I Kings 8:35-36).

"When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy…if they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You…then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You” (I Kings 8: 46, 48-50).

There is a lesson we each must learn from Solomon’s prayer. We must realize our human frailties will eventually draw us from that mountaintop, even if for a short while. Knowing this truth, in those uplifting seasons of indescribable closeness with God, we must pray, asking Him to convict us of our sin during those future times when we will undoubtedly go astray and then forgive us when we truly repent.

This week, start praying in this manner. Pray for God to never give up on you, to never just let you have your own disobedient way, to never let your heart harden to His voice, to never stop hearing your prayers and offering forgiveness, and to never cease prompting you with the Holy Spirit towards a life of complete obedience and a closer walk with Him.

(Photo: Our '05 family trip to Hawaii, looking down from the mountain at the ocean)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wild Beast Feast

Are you anxiously waiting for the doors of your life to fling wide open and for the next chapter to begin? Have you heard God’s voice? Received a divine promise? But, for some reason unknown to you, God is now silent on the subject and you don’t see any progress?

At these times, you may wonder, “Did I hear God right? Wasn’t this something I was supposed to do? Did I do something wrong somewhere along the way?” And then finally, God may start to work, but much more slowly than you anticipated. You may want to scream in frustration, “Can’t we hurry this along?!”

You aren’t alone.

Forty years had passed. Because of disobedience and lack of faith in God, an entire generation, save for two men, had died in the desert without seeing God’s promise fulfilled (Num 32:11-13). After that much time, the remaining Israelites must have waited in what sometimes seemed a futile hope. They followed Moses, wandering aimlessly in the desert, eating a monotonous diet of quail and manna, and grumbling most of the way.

Surely they wondered if God’s wrath would cease once they had served the forty-year life sentence. God had promised their forefathers a land flowing with milk and honey. Would He keep that promise? Or would He go back on His word because they had not fulfilled their end of the covenant to follow His commands and worship only Him? Would He remain faithful when they had not?

And then, suddenly, the Israelites’ new commander Joshua sent word through the Israelite camp that the day they’d been expectantly waiting for had come: “within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, to possess it” (Joshua 1:10). Three days later, they crossed the Jordan River on dry land and began the long process of driving out the other pagan nations who inhabited their inheritance.

Yes, you read that right—even when God gave Israel the Promised Land, He didn’t give it to them all at once. At first glance, this may seem like a cruel parent giving a young child a puzzle for a birthday present but then doling out the individual pieces one by one over a period of a lifetime.

But, that’s not the case. God had a very good reason for this plan.

Moses explained, “The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you” (Deut. 7:22).

Without enough time for the Israelite population to be fruitful and multiply, the wild beasts would have had a field day eating tasty Israelites.

Although you may not see it now, God has His reasons for when He fulfills His promises. His timeline is perfect. It may take years to see Him fully accomplish what He promised you. Or it may take a lifetime where you never see the fulfillment of that promise here on earth.

If you feel frustrated this week because God is not working fast enough for you, change your way of thinking. Maybe, just maybe, He’s taking care of some wild beasts that would cause you harm if He fulfilled His plans for you all at once.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Will You Take the Dare?

My husband and I did not make a mad dash to the altar; our journey to marriage was more like a slow-motion 4-year crawl. We went into marriage knowing it was a forever choice, but that hasn’t always made it easy. Over the past nine years, we’ve been through a lot of tough situations that loving one another just didn’t conquer, problems that could easily break up a marriage: infertility, two miscarriages, unjust prosecution, public humiliation, loss of a career and several jobs, and religious differences.

Lately, the media has covered several high profile couples’ decisions to divorce. This proves one thing—husbands and wives must guard their marriages no matter how long they have been happily together. No marriage is immune. This doesn’t mean divorce is inevitable. On the contrary. Remaining in a committed marriage relationship till death do you part is God’s plan for couples, and His Word speaks of how to guard your marriage.

1. Don’t Trust Your Feelings. You may not feel “in love” with your spouse every moment of every day. In fact, you may decidedly not love him or her at a particular moment. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Even in the most loving marriage, those squishy feelings ebb and flow.

2. Take Your Thoughts Captive. Adultery isn’t just a physical act. Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27). No matter what the world’s psychologists say, it is not healthy for one’s marriage to fantasize about someone other than a spouse. Thoughts are dangerous. As a result, God’s Word says we should seek to “tak[e] every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5b). Pornography, graphic romance novels, and even “silly” daydreams about another man or woman have no place in a Godly marriage.

3. Fight Fair. Every couple will have disagreements, but there is a right and a wrong way to solve them. Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:4-5, NIV). Surely, words have wounded more throughout history than bullets. And dredging up a list of crimes your spouse has committed over the past month will not be helpful in solving the current problem.

4. Put Your Spouse Before Your Children. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (KJV). The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament says “cleave” means “to cling to, join with, stay with.” Why then do many marriages focus mainly on the children? Parents used to come home to each other; now many come home to the children. The best thing for your children could be to work on your marriage, on “clinging” to your spouse. Children should not come first or even second in your marriage. God and your spouse should hold those positions.

5. Make Time for Intimacy. One huge problem I see in modern marriages is people are so busy and so tired at the end of the day that they don’t make time for intimacy. Paul warns his fellow-believers: “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband….Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:3-5). Schedule a date night. Put sex on your calendar. It may not be spontaneous, but it works.

I quickly learned the emotional feelings of “love” will never be enough for some of the hurdles marriages are forced to overcome. I love and cherish my spouse, but I know love must be a choice, a decision I, like other couples, must make on a daily basis, to stay committed to one’s spouse no matter what.

This week, I want to challenge every couple to fight for a better marriage. My spouse and I are presently working through the 40-day study, The Love Dare. No matter how many years you’ve been married, no matter how committed you feel you are to your spouse, it’s still worth your time. Don’t fall into the trap of complacency, of taking your marriage for granted. Relationships require work. Will you take the next 40 days to work on yours?