Weekend Walk, 03/31/2012

Hiding the Word:

It’s the first full day of Spring Break for us and my kids were up early.  My oldest daughter announced that one of her friends plans to “sleep all day” for spring break.  “How boring!” she said.

My kids plan to pack in as much activity as possible.

So, it wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet when one of my girls was inspired to start singing.  She pulled out a travel CD of Bible songs that Grammy gave them a few Christmases ago and popped it into the CD player in her bedroom.  I started hearing the chorus of “Deep and Wide” emanate through the house . . . loudly.  This daughter of mine always sings with passion.

Inspired, my baby girl ran into the playroom and pulled out the entire plastic drum of instruments.  The harmonica was humming, the cymbals crashing, the sleigh bells jingling, the clackers clacking, the triangle jingling.  Yes, even the kazoo was buzzing.

It was an early morning symphony of praise in my tiny house and it may have sounded like pots and pans at times down here.  To God, though, it’s spontaneity and passion must have sounded beautiful.

We are preparing to enter the Passion Week, the time when we remember Good Friday when Christ died for us and Resurrection Day when He conquered death and the grave.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem for that final week, the people filled the air with waving palm branches and shouted, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

They shouted praise to Him because of false expectations and misplaced excitement.  They didn’t praise Him for being a Savior, for laying down His own life to provide redemption for their sins.

No, they hailed Him as a conqueror, rebel, and over-thrower of the earthly kingdoms.  When they realized that’s not what He was doing, they mostly abandoned Him. The palm branches stopped waving.  The people stopped shouting “Hosanna” and started shouting “Crucify Him.”

My praise can be tainted by misplaced expectations also.

So, this week, I am meditating on a verse that reminds me to praise God when He behaves the way I expect and when He doesn’t.  It’s my hope to sing praise to God with the passionate simplicity of children crooning with their Bible songs CD and clanging together toy instruments.

It seems appropriate to prepare for the Passion Week with praise:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
 Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!  (Psalm 34:1-3 ESV)

Weekend Rerun:

Am I the One, Lord?
Originally posted on April 5, 2011

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”  2 Cor. 13:15

Twelve disciples, one Savior, reclined and relaxed, celebrating Passover together in an Upper Room.  Thirteen share in a meal of remembrance that they would always remember and that we continue to remember.   The Last Supper.  Communion.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Together they have eaten and laughed, declared “For His mercy endures forever” and sung hymns in worship.  They are jovial, anticipatory, expecting Christ’s triumph in Jerusalem.

Jesus leans in, “While they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me’ (Matthew 26:21, NLT).

Silence.  Stillness.  Seriousness.

If Jesus said this at the end of a church service today and the pianist played the quiet first notes of the closing hymn, many of us would be nudging our neighbor or making concerted efforts NOT to stare at the person across the room.  (Or, perhaps, making lunch plans and quieting the rumbles in our stomachs.)  It’s you, it’s you, it’s you—we might think.  That sermon is for you!  That heaviness of the Holy Spirit—it’s for you!  I’ve seen your sin.   I know your need to repent.

And yet, 12 disciples, “greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, ‘Am I the one, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22, NLT).

Am I the one, Lord?

This seeking is our salvation.  We ask the dangerous question and we allow the Holy Spirit to turn over our hearts and reveal our own true need to be at the altar and lay it down.  Or the Holy Spirit searches, finds purity of heart, and invites us to pray for those around us still struggling.

It’s our complacency and satisfaction with our spiritual dwelling place that leads to our downfall.  It’s when we stake our claim to land and decide we’ve traveled enough in this road to Christ that we edge our way to danger.  I’m pure enough.  Good enough.  I’m not lukewarm.  I’ve conquered the “big” sins.  I read my Bible.  I pray.  I’m close to God.  I have a strong ministry.

I’m good.  Right here, in this place, I’m good here.

But this journey to Christ is ongoing.  As long as we are alive on this planet, we are imperfect creatures in need of an ever-closer intimacy with our Savior.

This moving to Christ requires moving away from something else.  It’s a necessity of the road.   In order to go forward, we must leave something behind.

That was true for Israel.  God called them to Canaan when He beckoned Abram out of Mesopotamia and its many gods and idols.  God called them back to the Promised Land when He led them out of Egypt and they left slavery for freedom.

They walked towards promise, but it involved rejection—rejecting the old definition of “normal.”  It was “normal” for those in Abram’s home town to pray to statues and worship bits of stone and wood.  It was “normal” in Egypt for male babies to be slaughtered simply for population control.

It’s “normal” for us to be too busy for God, to lose it with our kids, to be selfish, to feel jealousy, to cheat, to lie, to overindulge , to worry, to rebel, to gossip. . .  We think these sins are acceptable because everyone does them and no one can be perfect.

Yet, God calls us out of “normal” and into radical.  He doesn’t ask us the hard questions to shame us or humiliate us.  He does it to draw us close to Him so that we are “being transformed . . .from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NKJV).

Eugene Peterson wrote, “Repentance, the first word in Christian immigration, sets us on the way to traveling in the light.  It is a rejection that is also an acceptance, a leaving that develops into an arriving, a no to the world that is a yes to God.”

Peter sat at that Passover table and asked the dangerous question, “Am I the one, Lord?”  He allowed the searching of his heart.  It wasn’t him.  Eleven of those at the table endured their souls being turned over and could say that they were innocent of this betrayal.

Yet, then they stopped asking.  That’s our weakness, too.   When we stop asking the Holy Spirit to search us, when we become complacent and self-assured, it’s when we will betray.

Like Peter.  Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him.  “Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crowd, you will deny Me three times.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’  And so said all the disciples” (Matthew 26:33-35, NKJV).

But, he was wrong.  Jesus arrested.  Jesus taken away in chains.  Jesus bullied, beaten, spat on, and mocked.  Peter in the courtyard answering the questioning accusations of others by the fire.  “I never knew the fellow.  I wasn’t one of his disciples.  I didn’t follow Him.”

He stumbled into betrayal because he was complacent.  Peter thought he knew what was in his heart, that he was right with God and strong in his faith.  So, he stopped asking, “Am I the one, Lord?” and started saying, “Not I.”

And so we must ask and keep on asking, “Search my heart, search my soul.  There is nothing else that I want more.  Shine Your light and show Your face.  In my life, Lord, have Your way, have Your way” (Hillsong United).

*******************************************************************************************************

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

From the Inside Out

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Hebrews 4:12, NIV

I like to pretend I’m perfect.  Not for my benefit, because I know I’m far from a perfect person, woman, wife, mom, ministry leader, friend . . .

Not with other people either because I truly believe that openness and vulnerability are the only way we can help one another through this thing called life.

I mostly like to pretend I’m perfect with God.  When I sit down for my quiet time, I rarely pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV).

Instead, I usually pray something like, “God, it’s so great to spend some time with You.  Please meet me here and teach me.  Encourage my heart.  I could really use some comfort and lifting up today.”  In other words, “Tell me You love me and are proud of me and promise me blessing.”

This week I’ve been writing about how God’s Word is His intimate and personal revelation of Himself, a testimony of God’s activity in people through history, His love letter to us, and our daily bread.  God’s Word is all those things.  It is where I go when I need encouragement, comfort, peace, and a reminder of His love and it’s totally okay to ask God for help when I need it.

But, God’s Word does one more thing.  It unsettles my heart.  It interrupts me and my “perfect” plans.  It calls me to account.  It bruises my ego sometimes.  As Lysa TerKeurst says, it “steps on my toes.”  It shines a light on the dark places of my heart and reveals the hidden sins.

Sure, I’d rather just pretend I’m perfect and ignore the quiet nudging of the Holy Spirit, but I’d be missing out on God’s plans for me.  In the vocabulary of child rearing, I’d be asking for perpetual positive reinforcement and never accepting discipline.   Getting gold stars on my spiritual behavior chart is fine.  Sometimes, though,  in order for me to grow more Christ-like and thus become a more usable vessel for God to work through, I need a “heavenly time out” or a “Holy Spirit grounding.”

That’s why I totally understand where Asa is coming from in 2 Chronicles 14-16.  Asa was a king of Judah who “did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 14:2, NIV).  When the nation faced an enemy that was too powerful for them, Asa cried out to God.

God answered Asa’s desperate plea for help by totally routing the enemy.  Then, to further encourage Asa, God sent a prophet with an encouraging message:

The Lord is with you when you are with him.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. . . But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your hard work will be rewarded (2 chronicles 15:2, 7 NIV).

I’d take that message from God any day!  Asa had gotten it right.  He was a good king with a heart for God.  When he needed rescue, he cried out to God and was saved.   As a result, God blessed him with encouragement and promises that he could hold onto in the tough times.

So far, so good.

Still, something happened in the later years of Asa’s reign.  He faced a new enemy and instead of asking for God’s help again, this time Asa did something that seemed totally logical.  He made a treaty with another king and they fought the enemy together.

So, God sent another prophet to Asa, this time with words that cut to the heart.  He said:

Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand . . . Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war ( 2 Chronicles 16:7-9 NIV).

Ouch.  Those aren’t feel-good words of encouragement for a hurting king.  Asa was totally willing to accept encouragement and God’s promises in the past, but he wasn’t so willing to accept conviction.  This time, “Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison” (2 Chronicles 16:10 NIV).

Later on in his reign, Asa became ill with a disease in his feet.  Scripture says that “Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians” (2 Chronicles 17:11 NIV).

Asa never accepted God’s discipline.  For the rest of his life, he placed his trust in himself or in other men, but he didn’t turn to God for help again—not even when his diseased body became a daily proof of his need for God’s rescue.

How we react to the conviction of God’s Word will determine God’s ability to use us. Maybe Asa could have defeated those enemies if he had asked for God’s help.  Maybe his kingdom could have been at peace through the rest of his reign if he had repented.  Instead, Asa chose a life of perpetual war and unending disease all because he couldn’t react to God’s Word with humble submission.

I don’t want to be like Asa, stubbornly clinging to my sin just because I don’t want to repent and respond to God’s convicting words.

In James 1:23, it says, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (NIV).  God’s Word should have a transformational power in our lives.  When He holds the mirror of His Word up for us and we see our sinful reflection, we shouldn’t ignore what we see and pretend we look perfect.  Instead, we should be willing to let Him give us a heart makeover.  It may hurt a bit and sting our pride.   Yet, when we allow God’s Word to change us from the inside out, we grow more and more like Christ and are better able to reflect His love to those around us.  When they look at us, they will see Him.

*********************************************************************************************************

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

Your Comforts Delight My Soul

Last night I had a terrible dream that I was preparing to lead worship—sitting at the piano all ready to go—when I saw my cell phone bill.  Obviously, in dreams it makes total sense that I’m checking my mail just before the music starts.  Anyway, I looked at that bill and it was $1,717. Then the music started and I couldn’t worship.  I couldn’t figure out what words to sing or what notes to play.  I was playing a different song than the congregation was singing.  It was a disaster.

Obviously, I woke up in a cold sweat from this dream (who wouldn’t be freaked out by a cell phone bill and public disaster like that) and couldn’t get back to sleep for a while.  I was anxious and worried about something that only existed in my dreamworld.

Today, as I was doing my devotions, I was reminded of how so much of my worry is about “fantasy situations”—the what if’s I stress over that never actually come true.  These anxious thoughts also always affect my worship.  It is just not possible to fret and praise at the same time.

In her book, Me, Myself and Lies, Jennifer Rothschild notes that the Old English and Old High German origins of our word “worry” mean “to strangle.”  Indeed, worry strangles us, choking out hope, joy, trust and, as it says in her book, “the life-giving truth that should be filling our thought closets” (p.23).

The Psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV). I have always loved that verse and I copy it into my journal every time I read it in my devotional time.  Yet, it’s not something I find easy to do.

It’s difficult sometimes to hand over our thought lives to God.  Even though we know worry harms us and our relationship with God, we don’t want God to search our hearts and test our thoughts.  Somehow worrying makes us feel in control and we feel that handing over our anxieties means truly relinquishing any modicum of control we have in our lives.

Thomas Merton said, “Anxiety comes from strain, and strain is caused by too complete a dependence on ourselves.”  It’s true that when it’s broken down, worry essentially is a lack of trust or dependence on God.  We’re telling Him—“we know that Scripture promises us You will provide, You will comfort, You will bring peace, You will be our Advocate, but I’d rather just depend on my ability to fix my circumstances.  Thanks anyway, God”

Chris Tiegreen in Worship The King goes one step even farther than that.  He calls our fear “anti-worship.”  In his devotional, he writes:

But we who worship God cannot praise him with such insecurities.  Our fears are a form of anti-worship–a clear declaration that our God might not have promised us enough, or might not be able to follow through on what He has promised.  Yes, He will let us go through hard things, but never outside of His timing or beyond His protection. So worship Him.  And don’t worry about it.

Refusing to worry, fret, stress, fear and be anxious doesn’t come to us naturally.  It is a discipline of the heart and mind.  We must reject anxious thoughts, deny our emotions the opportunity to take over our lives, and fill up with the truth of God’s Word and His promises to us.

In Psalm 94:19 it says, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Take delight in His comfort today and consciously choose trust over fear.

In Kathryn Scott’s song, At the Foot of the Cross, she sings, “I lay every burden down at the foot of the cross.”  That’s the best place for those burdens to be—not on our back, but at His feet.

***************************************************************************************************

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King