Worship

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  (Luke 7:37-38)

A writer usually writes for an audience.  My problem is, I have a hard time choosing which one.

My husband jokes that I remind him of Cerebro on X-Men – the bald paraplegic, a.k.a. Dr. Xavier, who has the ability to psychically connect to all mutants. I know, right?

My mind is on all kinds of wavelengths – the ultra personal one where there is only me and my Saviour – my audience of One; the fellowshipping one where I embrace those who are on the same spiritual path towards sanctification; the challenging one where I connect with those “lifestyle” Christians who choose to live only the “nice”part of Christianity, but who distance themselves with a twenty foot pole from the more unpalatable (in a worldly sense) Christian principles; finally, there is the witnessing wavelength where I attempt to reach the entirely unbelieving – those who might cringe when they read this and realize that it is being written by someone who lives next to them, or who shares an office with them at work. (If they are reading this now, I might be greeted with furtive, side-long glances tomorrow morning, like in horror movies where people wonder if you are “one of those” infected with the (Bible-thumping) virus).

In short, the question begging my mind when writing my devotionals is always, for whom do I write?

By definition, a devotional is to God. No one else. To Him and for Him.  It is a writing, an expression of love, devoted entirely and uniquely to God. This, by definition, is also a form of worship: an intimate, irrepressible act of love towards God, my personal Saviour. The Lover of my soul. The One to Whom I am blissfully and eternally betrothed.

Worship is the experience of God, the habit that determines whether a Christian is alive in Christ or surviving in Christ.

For this reason, my inclination is most often to speak to the third group – the “social” or “cultural” Christians. I liken this group to people who have been invited to a wedding banquet, but who are sitting in the nosebleed section – near the restrooms – because they do not really know the bridal couple.  They relish in the feast and sights and sounds of a celebration, maybe even help out with the preparations, but they do not know the deep joy that is experienced by those who have an intimate relationship with the newly wedded couple. I want so much for these people to know God – Jesus Christ – the Living God. Not only know, but to know in Spirit and in truth. I desire that my act of worship compell them to worship the only One worthy of our praise. To move from survive to alive.

Some Cultural Christians I know sometimes say to me, “I believe in God, but I’m not a fanatic like you.”   I find this laughable, conjuring images of me foaming at the mouth and leaping onto unsuspecting passersby with blood-thirsty intentions (this image sooner describes my relationship to chocolate cake). Seriously, however, I don’t really laugh.

What is fanaticism?  Is it loving passionately and wholeheartedly? Wearing, as they say, my heart on my sleeve?  Why is it okay for us to love our spouses or children or parents or friends with a demonstrative love, yet are called “fanatics” when we outwardly express our love towards our personal Saviour?

If people are to truly understand what it means to be alive in Christ, it is the irrepressible compulsion to worship. It is not merely a desire or inkling or even an instinct.  It is compulsion.

The passage that moves me every time, is that of the “woman who lived a sinful life.” When she met Jesus, she said not a word, but immediately broke an alabaster jar of priceless perfume to pour on his feet. She did not think about whether it was a good idea. Indeed, she was quietly chastised for her impulsive action, for “wasting” a commodity that might have been sold to feed a multitude. But it was an instinct. As natural as breathing.

I can relate to this woman; she is someone who has responded to the sinful world around her with her own acts of sin. She is inexpressibly grieved. Desolate. Dead in her filth. But every cell in her being comes alive again when in the presence of the One Who loves her. There are no words. Only recognition. Deep, heart-rending gratitude. She must worship.

Why an alabaster flask of perfume? And what’s with the hair towel?  I’ve never asked this before, but it occurs to me that this precious oil and her hair was all she had of any value. She gave back to God that which had been given to her as a gift. This, too, is worship.

In response to my accusers, I might ask, “Have you never wept at a sunset or sunrise? At the the miracle of a birth or the beauty of a mockingbird’s song?”  That is worship. It is a feeling of being wholly unworthy of a great gift. Only, I do not worship the creation.

I worship the Creator.

My prayer is that Christians no longer strive to acts of service that drain them from true service to God. The only true service to God is an authentic act of worship. I believe that the common church culture of lauding institutional service before worship, or even at the exclusion of worship, runs the risk of perpetually relegating believers to the ‘nosebleed’ section of the banquet. In so doing, it robs God of the true gifts due to Him.

Let us be drunk with worship of the Lord of our lives. May every act of service be one of authentic worship to the One who saved us from the pit and put a royal crown on our heads.

My writing, for now, is what I have to offer. I pray that it be a fragrance to His feet.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. (Psalm 42:1)

 

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Wellspring

 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.                                                                                       
 (Proverbs 4:23)

My husband tells me that I am made of Teflon.

Not sure if this is good or bad, but I do agree that I have the rare ability to deflect behaviour directed to me that might be considered a personal affront.

Not so, however, when I was younger. I took everything to heart – the good, the bad, the ugly – and suffered for it. Such is the heart of the young: unweathered, tender, easily bruised.

As the new school year starts, I, once again, ponder (obsess over) the new experiences that await my children as well as the new batch of young people who will be entrusted to my care as their teacher.

And then it happened, only three days into the school year: my daughter wanted “to talk” to me about something. So it begins.

I find myself searching desperately for wisdom to guide my own children. There are days when I think sequencing the human genome would be an easier task. I agonize, trying to relive my youth so that I can remember the details of my circumstances, my state of mind. I recall wishing that someone would provide me with an instruction manual to life with the answers to the seemingly endless conundrums of adolescence.

Now, as a believer, I am so thankful to have my Bible. I can still hardly believe my good fortune!  Finally – a real, live How-To-Live-Life-for-Dummies!

At my age, one does not need to be a genius to know that our relationship to our fellow human being is the thing that will keep us up at night, time and again. The good news is, unlike other life trials like school, job, finances, etc, how we relate to others is something that, to the greatest extent, we have control. Although we cannot control how others will react to us, we can control how we behave towards others and how we choose to respond to them.

No doubt, I always counsel my children to respect others, treating them as they would like to be treated, commonly known as the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). This part is easy enough. But the difficult part about being their parent is when I know they are not being treated in kind. Hell hath no fury like a momma scorned (Lee 1:1 – just kidding).

As the relationships enjoyed by my children evolve from play dates at the park to more emotionally complex endeavours (big SIGH), I find only one prayer on my lips:  that they have the wisdom to guard their hearts.

When I think of this word, guard, I think of body armour, the type worn by medieval jousters, or the carapace of the komodo dragon – impenetrable. But reality is, we were made to be penetrated. To be impenetrable would mean that we make ourselves immune to the kind of emotion that defines our humanity. So then, how do we, practically,  guard our hearts without hardening them or fleeing from human relationship?

Our young people are exposed to an increasingly impure, complicated world bombarding them with distorted ideas and portrayals of “relationships”. Indeed, even those of us who are older and “wiser” can attest to the maze of relational twists, turns, detours and one-way streets that we must deftly navigate in a world where saying what you mean and meaning what you say to a another’s face (not a screen) is about as common as slicing one’s own bread.  The only strategy, to protect them (and others) from harm, short of withdrawing them from the world altogether, is to guard their hearts.

Guarding one’s heart is not a passive endeavour. It is an active fortification. Indulge me a moment as I illustrate with my favourite Hollywood epic, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Aragorn and his dwarf and elfin comrades never just stood around guarding the city walls when they faced an impending onslaught of evil Orcs, they fortified them with troops armed with flaming arrows, fearsome boulder launchers and other destructive battle implements. In the spiritual realm, we need only one: God’s Word. Even if we can’t shut out the world, we can crowd out the undesirable elements with the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). Time to gather some implements and get to work!

I think my favourite Bible verse which guides my spiritual fortification in relationships is this:  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4).   This verse just blows my mind. How often have we heard about looking after “Number One”? But this verse speaks to the kind of counter-cultural behaviour that is distinctly Jesus, but that which we can only achieve when we have been filled up with His incredible love.   I must confess that as much as I am more or less able to live out this principle for myself, it is much, much harder to encourage our precious babes to walk in it. What if they get stepped on? Bullied? Hurt? That is when we remember that we (and they) are able to do all things through Christ Who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).  Man, did someone say that parenting was hard?

It is important to understand that considering others better than ourselves does not mean self-flagellation or lying on the ground with the word ‘welcome’ splayed on our foreheads. It is simply remembering that the mark of God is on every human being, and that we need to value each and every one of God’s creations as He does. In my experience, very few have not responded to such treatment in kind.  And frankly, those who don’t have always, eventually, come around.   But if not, then guarding one’s heart will sometimes mean a quiet retreat: Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6). 

If our children are able to guard their hearts in this manner, via fortification by the Word of God, from them will percolate the wellsprings that can be the source of love and healing for others. As a teacher of youth in the public school system, there is no end to the need that I see in this regard.

I pray that my children have the wisdom to fill their minds and hearts with the Word – the place where they will find the mighty, protective love of their heavenly Father. For the Word of God is not just a collective of words, but is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12)! I pray that they will always remember not everyone will have this refuge, that their friends are experiencing their own growing pains or come from difficult circumstances that they know nothing about, and so will need their kindness and prayers. I also pray that their hearts will be fortified to bear it when that kindness is sometimes not returned to them. Finally,  I pray that they will have the wisdom to walk away from such situations without bitterness, because sometimes, that is what it will take to guard their precious hearts.

These are simple principals, no doubt, but worth revisiting, especially for those who ever needed  A Parenting Guide for Dummies, like me!

 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. ” (Matthew 19:14-15)

May our children run into His open arms! May the Lord bless and protect our precious ones as they begin a new school year. May they walk in His ways, and always know His deep, abiding love for them.

Amen!

Flow

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

     I’ve lately been hounded by this thing called time. This feeling that I must hurry to “realize” my dreams because I am getting old. How very ridiculous.
     The moment I think, “my dreams”, I know that I am in trouble.
     As a Christian, I am fully aware that my dreams are supposed to be none other than to fulfill the Great Commission as God has commanded, to love God with all of my heart and soul and mind, and to love my neighbour. Ultimately, when I ponder the brevity of this life, I am convinced that there is no greater wisdom than this.
     However, we live in this world. Indeed, Jesus has come so that we may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10). Can we deny that this life occurs in this world, or can we honestly say that we, as human beings, are devoid of worldly desires? Even if not fame and fortune, our desires to have a roof over our heads or money for leisure, etc. – those things that seem modest enough to be “Christian” – are still worldly. More particularly, my focus here is that pursuit to which we expend our time and energies – how do I reconcile “my dreams” with those of God?
     Many of us Christians know well Colossians 3:17:  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…
     But how do we really know that what we do is giving glory to God, first and foremost, and not to ourselves? This is a question that bears whether our pursuits are in full-time Christian ministry or some other vocation. I believe that today’s captioned verse speaks to this question.
     When we believe in Jesus, out of us shall flow rivers of living water. Oswald Chambers, in his classic devotional, notes, “Jesus did not say, ‘he that believeth in me shall realize the blessing of the fulness of God.'”
     Indeed, our human desires are rarely, entirely devoid of earthly reward, and God knows that. But in His mercy, He asks us to “seek thee FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…then all these things shall be added unto you…”.  Often, I believe that we make the mistake of thinking that “seeking His Kingdom” means doing some kind of service. In fact, seeking His kingdom means simply seeking Him. Indeed, service might be a natural consequence of seeking Him, but it is not the goal. It is in His mercy that He reminds us to seek Him first, for only in abandoning ourselves to His glorious SELF will anything, of value/perfection flow from us.
     In other words, when we focus on being holy – all the qualities of Jesus, God incarnate – out of us will flow living waters. Our focus needs to laser on the being, not the doing.
     So then I ask myself, is what I am producing in the process of realizing “my dream” – albeit a worldly one – some form of “living water”?  Can it be? Quite honestly, I am not entirely sure. But as I wrestle with this question in all of my human longing, time has passed, and new revelations come. I continue to listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides, often painstakingly slowly, through the process. The passing of time produces wisdom and the unhurried, practised patience of a saint. This is my desire, that I be “holy as He is holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And what flows out of me from that slow aging – like a finely timed porterhouse or vintage wine – can be nothing less than spectacular. Glory to God.
     Lord, may I shut my eyes and ears to those voices  – however well-meaning – that seek to hurry me into action, into self-realization. May my eyes and ears be fully trained unto You and You alone, wholly entrusting my dreams to the God who first laid them on my heart. Amen.

Focal Point

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

My family and I were driving up Mount Haleakala in Maui. We were not prepared for the hairpin turns that, at times, were so close to the precipice, I wondered how people ever got down if they had the misfortune of miscalculating time and began a descent too late in the day.  I kept reminding my husband, “Don’t look. Keep your eyes on the interior of the curve.”  This was a difficult feat given the distracting majesty of the view just over the precipice that made us feel like we were driving in heaven.

We Christians are reminded often not to worry, that God will take care of our daily needs. We see this in the Old Testament when God commanded the Israelites to gather only as much manna as they needed each day; we also see it in the New Testament when we are told not to worry for God knows our needs before we ever utter them in our prayers (Matt 6: 7-8, Matt 6:25-33).

But as a wife who has supported my husband through a myriad of challenges working in a volatile industry, who has long held an often stressful job while caring for two children of my own, and who has grown up in a household where there was rarely anything extra for “frivolities” after all seven of us were fed, this command “not to worry” comes as a surreal luxury in today’s ultra-competitive and uncertain world, made possible only on a Sunday when I am high on God’s Word. I have often wondered, how realistic is this command in the age that we live?

I ponder my own advice to my husband as he death-gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white, as we ascended 10,000 plus feet to Haleakala’s summit, and have come to liken God’s command to driving a vehicle under any conditions: focus on the distance instead of what is up close and you will find that you are able to navigate a smooth, veerless path to your destination.  Likewise, in our Christian walk, we need to focus on the end goal – God and arriving in perfect fellowship with him – in order to not allow life’s immediate worries clutter our vision, ultimately leading us over the edge. Only in this way can our worries authentically, miraculously disappear in our real, daily experience.

It is only now, after decades of following Christ, that my husband and I have come to a place of expectation and peace, trusting God with those things that we can (and often should) try to fix practically, but that, ultimately, are out of our control. But this is only after many years of having witnessed God, time and again, take care of our needs. Indeed, we have fervently petitioned Him to blessed ends, but how much mental anguish have we endured, how much time and energy have we squandered on praying for the minutiae of our circumstances, when we might have focused our prayers on greater things. God-sized things!

In faith, let us trust that God is good for His Word:

 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  (Matt 6:31-33)