Monday, March 17, 2014

Better to Obey . . .

“It is to the man who is trying to live, to the man who is obedient to the word of the Master, that the word of the Master unfolds itself.” 

It tasted so good.

The sweet and sour chicken that my brother-in-law picked up for me on Friday night.

My husband was working late -- and here I was, pregnant -- and the sweet and sour chicken just tasted so good. 

But I'm trying to be careful with what I eat -- I was pretty careful all week -- this was a treat -- a salty treat. 

I had eaten about half of it, and I was full. And I felt my conscience, felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me then and telling me that I had eaten enough. 

I was full. I knew that if I ate any more (as I have in the past) I would feel sick and sluggish and my ankles would most likely swell like sausages. 

So I wrapped it up. I put it away. I prided myself on the "good" example that I was setting for my watching daughter and happily placed it in the refrigerator, planning in my mind what I would have later as a healthy dessert. 

A few hours later.

I put my daughter to bed, was feeling tired and discouraged. Somewhat thoughtlessly, I opened the refrigerator and there it was. My half-eaten sweet and sour chicken -- Chinese takeout -- the "opiate of the masses." 

I took it out and ate the rest . . . it didn't even taste that good. 

Later, feeling sick and bloated and frustrated, I asked for forgiveness. 

Rather than taking my weariness and discouragement to the Lord, I had taken it to sweet and sour chicken -- and the only "consolation" that I "got" was that of a sick stomach and a restless night.

It's always better to obey...

The alternative isn't worth it.

And we forfeit peace and joy and holiness and rest for a lukewarm morsel that only makes us sick.

It's always better to obey.

When we sense the Spirit of God speaking to our conscience -- whispering some word to us about self-control or trusting the Lord, or being slow to become angry, etc., it always behooves us to listen.

An idea struck me this week -- when we love the Word, we obey it. 

And our obedience is a testimony to how much we truly love the Word of God. 

The Word is not just a Book -- yes; it is transcribed for us in a book -- the Bible -- but the Word is a Person -- the flesh and blood Person of Jesus Christ.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth --and we beheld His glory . . . 

He speaks to us through His Book and through the Person of the Holy Spirit -- who makes that Book come alive in our hearts as we surrender to Him in obedience. 

A few years ago, my sister introduced me (more in depth) to the writings of George MacDonald. 

His emphasis on being obedient to God in the seemingly "little" things made a deep impression upon me and has helped remind me of how important it is to do a thing that the Lord wants us to do once we become aware of it.

Simple things like laying out our family's clothes for church the night before so that I'm not overwhelmed and running late in the morning--

Things like picking up toys and books as we use them rather than letting them sit and pile up (as much as this is possible with a young child). 

Things like asking for forgiveness quickly when I've wronged someone rather than letting it sit and frustrate and fester.

When we don't sense or "feel" the presence of God at any particular period of our lives, I've learned that the answer doesn't always lie in waiting for Him to give us an epiphany.

The renewal of that sweet sense of His presence often comes through taking the small, difficult steps of obedience that lie before us, even when we don't feel like taking them.

Getting up a little earlier in the morning to spend time in the Word of God when we'd rather sleep--

Truly listening to someone who is speaking to us rather than being distracted by the 100 things on our to-do list--

Exercising self-control and patience and humility and trust in the areas of our life where the Holy Spirit is convicting us, rather than giving ourselves an excuse--

Spending our time in edifying conversation and pursuits that bring health to our souls rather than wasting our lives on things that really won't matter in eternity.

This is how we, how I demonstrate love for the Word of God--for Jesus, the Word--through quiet, simple steps of obedience in the day to day things that happen to me.

When we love the Word, we obey.

Recently, I watched a video clip of Chinese Christians receiving Bibles for the first time.

It brought me to tears when I witnessed how these precious believers pressed the Word to their hearts as they were handed their copy of the Word of God and praised Jesus openly, kissing the Bibles that they held.

So full of joy -- kissing their Bibles because their eyes have been opened to see Jesus as the living Word.

Kissing their Bibles as if they were kissing the Son.

Beauty and truth in their open hands and in their open hearts.

So persecuted, so poor, the refuse of this world, their hearts wide open to receive His truth--


Perhaps because when we come to a place of emptiness, of brokenness, when we have suffered long for righteousness' sake, He is ready to fill us with His presence, with his joy, with his Word--

And of His fullness we have received . . . 

Grace for grace. 

And if we are too "full," too "stuffed," with the things of this world, this life, His fullness cannot fit -- and we are just bloated, worldly-fluff-filled beings who have eaten too much Chinese takeout. 

We don't really care for the things of Christ . . . We  aren't aliens and strangers here; we're friends with this world and all of its pleasures.

Friendship with the world is enmity towards God. 

We have to ask ourselves, do we, do I have that kind of all-encompassing love for Jesus Christ, that I would take His Word and kiss it and press it to my heart?

Is it that precious to me? Do I even hold those kinds of emotions towards Him?

Am I prepared to suffer persecution for His sake, or am I too comfortable in my heated home with my flannel pajamas and the promise of vacations and entertainment and "stuff?"

Am I spiritually empty?

We have to ask ourselves these hard questions, especially when we hear stories of our brothers and sisters suffering persecution and deprivation and hardship in countries like North Korea and China and Belarus.

They care about Jesus -- they've been willing to lay everything down for him--even their very lives--

What am I willing to lay down?

What do I care about?

What does my heart seek?

And he who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake will find it--

He is our Treasure; His Word our hope. Only in obedient surrender do we realize these truths--

And press His Word to our hearts -- as our salvation and glory.

 Photo Credits: 

Monday, March 10, 2014

But for Grace . . .

"There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness." 

----Andrew Murray

"She wears A LOT of make-up." That was my first thought. 

I looked at her picture and I mentally judged her character based on the amount of mascara that she had on. A Godly woman. A woman who had proven herself a servant of the Father, a humble example of grace. 

What was I really thinking? What was my heart saying? "I would NEVER wear that much."

Did it matter how much foundation she had on her face? Didn't the Lord see through to the beauty of her soul? But here I was, judging by the outward appearance, thinking myself just a tiny bit better because I supposedly had a tad bit more "discretion," and because my lipstick shade was just a little lighter. 

We can become caught up in "secondary" issues -- things that don't ultimately matter in the light of eternity and lose sight of what is real and important. 

Is it right to pierce my ears?

Can I wear a skirt that is just above my knee?

How tight is too tight?

Is my hair long enough? Is it wrong to cut it?

We become encumbered in these issues and forget what the Lord requires of us--

To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. 

And there is a present pride that is real and rampant in each of us -- that needs to be subdued and crushed daily, through the power of the risen Christ. 

And that is the sin of rebellion.

The old, Garden-of-Eden transgression. 

We think of rebellion as those "obvious" sins -- drunkenness, swearing, premarital sex, open flagrant acts--

We forget about the "little," hidden things, the carefully polished piece of forbidden fruit that we conceal in our pocket, shining it until it is just ripe enough to bite. 

We forget that "rebellion" is more than drinking, swearing, disobedience to parents, premarital sex. 

Rebellion is any form of pride.

Because pride is rebellion against God.

And this is why the Pharisees and the Sadducees received Jesus' greatest rebuke. These "whitewashed tombs" were literally full of rebellion and hypocrisy. 

I can do well to heed the warning . . . It is only too easy to become a beautiful, marbled place of death.

Fairly recently, I was surprised (surprised, but not shocked; there is nothing "new" under the sun) to hear that the President of Vision Forum was stepping down. 

A strong advocate of the "Quiverfull" movement and a powerful influence within some conservative Christian circles, Doug Phillips was guilty of the sin of a "natural" man--he behaved "inappropriately" with a woman who was not his wife. 

And so he and his family suffered the shame of his indiscretion -- to a greater degree, I think, because of his strong, insistent advocacy of Christian marriage, the importance of the marriage covenant, the purity of his own sons and daughters, and (in my own personal opinion) a strongly legalistic, unbiblical approach to the whole issue of biblical "courtship" and childbearing, and a father's patriarchal role within his family -- and how these issues should play themselves out within Christian relationships and family structures. 

(I would add a brief note here that I believe that there are some very Godly individuals who subscribe to these and to other such movements -- It is my personal conviction that these individuals are misled in their interpretation of Scripture in these particular areas -- but some are otherwise very sincere and Godly individuals who love the Lord with all of their hearts.)

I've always felt uncomfortable with Doug Phillips and his teachings because they smacked of pride to me -- not overt pride, but always the undercurrent of it. 

And I see the same pride in my own heart and shrink back. 

I know from experience the power that it can wield. 

I know from experience the danger of thinking too highly of myself.

And I know how capable I am of it.

My husband and I saved our first kiss for our wedding day -- Were we any more "pure" than Elisabeth Elliot and her first husband, Jim, who shared their first kiss on the eve of their engagement?  

I think not -- I know not.  Each child of God is responsible before Him for their actions and in-actions. And the Holy Spirit convicts different Christians in different ways in these so-called gray areas where the will of the Father needs to be sought for each individual life--always within the guidelines of His Word, but unique to individual Christians as they seek His Spirit. 

And again these decisions need to be prayerful, obedient responses to His Word, applied in our lives through prayer and direction from the Holy Spirit.

It is when we cling to a "pet" idea, philosophy, or principle -- or even to our own moral goodness based upon our interpretation of Scripture, rather than to Christ Himself -- then, no matter how "good" or wholesome or "right" these things may be, we are in danger of succumbing to spiritual pride. 

He alone can teach us whether or not it is best for us to wear a skirt above the knee (and it may be "right" for some and not for others--the issue is the motive of the heart--not the exact length of fabric), when the "right" time is to share a kiss, what respect for our husband means for us Biblically, and so on.

Does it matter what term we use to describe the time that we spent with our life partner before marriage? As someone once commented, "I've known some very impure 'courters,' and some very God-fearing 'daters.'" 

And I won't say that the words that we use to describe things aren't important -- they are -- but they aren't the "end-all" -- rather, our heart's motives and the fear that we have towards God are. 

And there is much good--or at least, good principles--in many of the things that Doug Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr. and those who are like-minded, purport.

For example, their "quiverfull" idea which springs from the truth that "children are a treasure from the Lord."

Their high regard for Biblical manhood and womanhood.

Their insistence upon purity before and within the marriage relationship.

However, it is when these ideas and truths are not joined with humility and a sincere searching of God's Word that things go awry and confusion sets in.

When, instead, the idea itself is clung to proudly and arrogantly, dismissing any other interpretation of God's Word -- within the realm of orthodoxy and legitimate interpretations of the Scripture.

We can strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.

And our own spiritual pride entraps us.

When I was a young girl, if someone would comment to my Mom about her parenting, she would always answer -- "It's only by the grace of God."

And her constant response made a strong impression upon me.

I knew, from my experience, that my Mom gave all of her heart and strength, poured every ounce of herself into raising us.

She literally went for years without buying new clothing for herself, made strong, costly sacrifices to stay home with us when we were very little, and was constantly, mentally and spiritually engaged in raising us up, to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.

And yet, whenever anyone asked her what the "secret" to her parenting "success" was, she always answered, "only the grace of God."

Because my Mom believed that the Lord had given her a physical illness so that she would become closer to Him and pour everything that she had into her children.

Because she believed that He protected our family despite my father's constant backsliding and unfaithfulness.

Because she put her trust in God and knew what she was capable of without Him.

And I read about people who give all of the credit to themselves, with God as a sidenote, and my heart is disturbed.

I read about people whose children never (outwardly) rebelled, who never miss a church service, who glory (honestly) in their own goodness, in their own efforts.

And I think -- maybe they have forgotten that it is only because of the grace of God.

They think, we think, I think, "Oh, it is something that I have done -- some good thing, some right thing, heeded some scriptural principle -- that is why my family, my job, my dating relationship, etc., is flourishing."

And if anything goes wrong, if a child rebels, if the sink gets backed up, if my daughter won't sit still in church one day, that we have "messed up" in some way.

Not necessarily so.

Maybe -- and we definitely need to reflect, repent of things done and left undone, but the Lord at times allows trials such as these to test us, and to help us to remember that everything is grace -- that it is "only the grace of God" that touches what would have, could have been an ugly disaster and makes it beautiful through Him.

When we put our confidence in our own efforts, become enamored with our "correct doctrine," or parenting methods, or excellent child-rearing abilities, we forget the grace of God.

And again, I'm not saying that it it not important to pour all of our strength and mind and heart into the work that the Lord has called us to, whether it be parenting or some other vocation/ministry, but our spirit must be so knitted to Him, that we know that

nothing in our hands we bring; simply to His cross we cling.

It is His grace working in and through us to bring glory to Himself.

It is His mercy that makes everything beautiful in its time -- nothing that we have done.

We simply offer Him our obedient hearts -- or our desire to want an obedient heart, and we cast ourselves upon Him.

And when we look up, from a position of humility, His hand reaches down and blesses us--

The glory is all of His, none of ours.

We lay our crown at His feet--

And bless Him.


Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me,
As Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace, my all in all.

Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.

O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

--Mary A. Lathbury

This was a very good, unbiased  blog post that I came across while researching the Doug Phillip's affair--very worthwhile to read and to reflect upon- written by a homeschooling mother of 8:

Photo credit --mascara
 Manuel MarĂ­n / Foter / CC BY

Publican and the sinner:
 Lawrence OP / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 Jason A. Samfield / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Monday, March 3, 2014

That They May Have Life ...

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
John 10:10

We drove to the animal hospital and I held death in my hands . . . 

A dying grass-blade of God's creation, her white breast quivering in the cavern of her ebbing life. 

A mourning dove, the representation of His peace, in the midst of the chaotic grip of pain and death. 

Her life sinking, he took the box and walked inside. 

And walked out later alone. 

And we had driven silently there; death is not a glib event, and I think of Legolas as he bowed his head and uttered that whispered benediction. 

A benediction of peace amidst the angry cacophony of death. 

I think of this desperate world, and all creation in bondage, and the inside of my soul weeps.

The dove, mourning, dying, attests to the bondage of creation--peace, life, in the grip of death. 

I think of how we choose death--and beautiful, sweet things are so casually mocked, manhandled, twisted.  

What is it about humanity that grips the ugly, that chooses the sarcastic and degrading and the despicable and gnaws on them like a filthy, greasy bone? 

What is it about humanity that chooses death?

That tosses aside the weak, that rejects what is physically or mentally unpalatable--the elderly, the retarded, the unwanted child? 

What is it that draws us to degrading humor and so-called "entertainment"? To 22-words-sardonism and conscience-numbing stupidity, to mindless cartoons that depict sweet, innocent animals and birds (part of God's beautiful creation) as "angry," sarcastic specimens that resemble the worst of what humanity is capable of, what I am capable of, without the grace of Christ? 

Death, clinging to us, clinging to our children, wrapping itself around our hearts through the media that we allow into our homes and lives for the sake of entertainment and a hollow laugh. 

We drain the cup dry like a cheap wine--and our debauchery chains us. 

I read about a man who enjoys photographing hawks in the city of Providence killing pigeons. 

And his "art" is  celebrated. 

Have you ever watched a hawk kill a pigeon? 

It's an ugly, slow process, the hawk's talons kneading the pigeon's body, while he struggles, still alive beneath the death-grip. 

Death is not a celebration--something to be delighted in, gaped at, fascinated by.

Death is what Christ came to abolish, why the nail-thorns were pressed into His brow--why He bled and ached and suffered. 

And hawks need to eat, but does someone need to take a picture of it?--just so that we can gape and gawk at a poor pigeon's agony? 

Gape at death. 

But sin, worketh death . . . 

Death of the conscience, death of the spirit, death of the soul. 

And death makes us callused and raw, manacles our souls--

Manacled my father's soul when he spit us out, rejected us, handed my Mom papers for a divorce. 

Did he care that he crushed us? That he left her with nothing--nothing but the mangled shards of a covenant that she faithfully held on to? 

Did he care?

Death had chained him, and he casually joked with his friends about "missing their lunch" when the court hearing dragged on too long. 

Death; death of the conscience, death of the soul. 

But Christ . . . 

  Came to give life, to free our souls from death--to crush the serpents's head and to silence the hawk's shrill death-cry forever. 

Came to give us life, life more abundant. 

So we choose life. 

Choose it for our homes, for our children, through what we allow into our lives and our hearts--

Things that make for beauty and peace and health of the soul. 

Clean laughter, the fellowship of the brethren, the joy-bliss of pure worship, the ache for our heavenly home, our hands free from clutching this wretched sinful world as our home--

Longing for the new heavens, the new earth--where the lion will lie down next to the lamb and the child put his hand in the viper's nest--unbitten. 

Where glory dwells,

And death is swallowed up in victory.