pleased to know you

Zion is called to rejoice in God because God rejoices in her. She is to shout for joy and sing because God’s joy too has a voice, and breaks out into singing. For every throb of joy in man’s heart, there is a wave of gladness in God’s. The notes of our praise are at once the echoes and the occasions of His. We are to be glad because He is glad: He is glad because we are so. We sing for joy, and He joys over us with singing because we do.
Alexander MacLaren, Zion’s Joy and God’s (exposition on Zephaniah 3.)

God enjoys our presence. He loves to hear us laugh and sing, and He sings over us with His own songs of joy as we live and eat and work and play.
Preston Sprinkle, Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us

Many Christians with sensitive consciences carry unwelcome and uncomfortable baggage in the form of a nagging feeling that “something isn’t quite right,” suffering a kind of low-grade spiritual fever that enervates and leaves them lethargic. Their prayer life is mainly duty; they wonder why it is difficult to feel deeply engaged with God’s presence, and they are troubled by their lack of zeal for the things of God–especially after they have fallen short in some way, whether through inadvertent stumbling, or deliberate compromise or rebellion. They echo the cry of David, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3.)

It is important to realize that the Lord never intended to have a family that focused on its failures. However, such an idea arouses our inner Pharisee, who with puffed chest and foaming disapproval, bellows: What! Would you minimize your sin? How then will you remain pure before the Lord?  

We need to repent of sin; yes. We must watch and pray–yes; and humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God–indeed, yes; and love and encourage each other–yes and amen! It is vital that we humbly submit our lives to God’s love and counsel and rule. He has called us to holiness because He is holy. Paul reminds us that we have the promise that we are sons and daughters of God–He is our loving Father and He dwells with us–and because of that, we can cleanse ourselves of defilement, “perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 6:17–7:1.) And the beautiful, wonderful reality hidden in that truth is that He is the LORD Who Sanctifies us! (Exodus 31:13.) It is His power; it is His work. He accomplished our salvation not only because He loves us, but also for His own sake and glory (Isaiah 43:25; 53:10; Ephesians 2:4-7).

Because that is true, then continually bemoaning and bewailing our sin and foolishness does not honor our Father, nor does it show gratitude for the astonishing, eternal redemption purchased and provided for us by Jesus our Savior. We have available to us His “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10-14; 1 Peter 3:18)  and the “how much more” cleansing through His blood (Hebrews 9:11-14).

So, access into the presence of our Lord is a gracious, glorious privilege–a wonder. We are wanted; we are loved; we are passionately urged to draw near. Through faith in Jesus, we have been sanctified–set apart, dedicated, and made holy–so that we may have intimate communion with the eternal Holy One, who is purity and love. But beyond every magnificent benefit to us is the overarching reality that what we experience is for the glory of God Himself. When we are in right relationship with Him and with each other (Matthew 22:37-40), then creation resonates with the wonder of His name and opens the way for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

God’s desire is that all His creation would flourish. He delights in our flourishing. He is grieved when we fail to live as we ought; when we gratify ourselves with paltry pleasures, defiled by lust and greed and seduced from genuine joy by cheap promises of exhilaration and the hubris of self-sufficiency. He is dismayed also when we cower away from Him in dread, quivering and whimpering with self-loathing.

We were meant to find our identity and our fulfillment in Him. By walking in fellowship with our Maker we discover who we are actually meant to be. But that does not involve working, grasping, clawing to “enter in.”  We are drawn in; we are desired. Our Father knows completely who we are, and who we will become.

But some cry out, I have done so much wrong; I don’t know how to come near Him; I do what I shouldn’t do, and don’t do what I ought to do! I am so weary, and I’m not sure I even desire to “press in.”

Is your heart cold? That is nothing when you are face-to-face with unquenchable flame (Daniel 7:9-10; Hebrews 12:28-29). Have you been foolish, selfish? Your actions do not supersede or negate His wisdom working in you (Proverbs 1:20; 1 Corinthians 1:21-30). Your stubbornness is not enough to shake off His “easy yoke” (Matthew 11:29). Your isolation cannot shut out the One to whom the darkest night is as bright as day (Psalm 139:12). Your delusion and disengagement is banished by His invitation to “Come up here” (Revelation 4:1). Your fear and loneliness are dispelled by His tender mercy and love (Isaiah 49:14-16; John 10:10-11; 15:9; 16:27).

The Father is pleased–genuinely, truly, unabashedly happy–to know us. He delights in our fellowship. Often, we don’t “feel” as though He would love us and want us, and we can list the many reasons He wouldn’t and shouldn’t. But we submit to the truth that He does, and Jesus the Son came to prove it to us and to win our hearts.

 

 

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…that they might be one…

I write today during the National Day of Prayer for the United States of America.

Prayer is, of course, always a good thing. It is vital to the well-being of an individual, a region, a nation; and indeed, our entire world. God Himself has declared regarding anyone and everyone who longs to find a true home in the heart of the living Creator:

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7.)

This year’s theme is “unity,” which is also good and powerful. Yet all of us who live in the U.S. are aware of the incredible divide and animosity that exist in our society; and the body of Yeshua is not exempt.

But as I prayed this morning, I became aware of a phrase in the heart of the Holy Spirit. I sensed that He referred to our arguments and strongly-held opinions as “petty irreconcilable differences.” Now, I understand that there are issues that are of grave concern, and they absolutely, unequivocally must be addressed.  There is no denigrating issues of injustice and racial inequality and hatred and violence. There are innumerable social, cultural, and political evils in our nation. The battle is fierce; the stakes are high.

And yet I understood, in the short, potent word dropped into my spirit, that much of our fighting occurs not because we are working together to overcome evil, but because we are angry that we can’t agree or get along. So, people “agree to disagree,” which is a cop-out from the hard work of true unity. Our argumentation and frustration and strident clamoring are nothing before the relentless, reckless, raging river of fire that is the love and holiness of God. The crystal cascade of the water of life “flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1) sweeps away the flotsam of our foolishness and carries us into crying out that we might echo the purity of our Savior who prayed

“…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23.)

Today, we humble ourselves, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. Together in Him, overwhelmed by His glory, we become one, that the world might know He is alive.

maria, did you know….

I asked the Father this morning what I should pray about, and I instantly sensed “Pray for Maria.” That’s all; no other information.

Really? I thought. There must be millions of Marias in the world. I guess I will pray for them all!

Dutifully, somewhat sheepishly, I lifted up my voice for all women named Maria, and suddenly my thoughts jumped to the systemic oppression and degradation and exploitation of women and girls worldwide. I also began to picture the staggering number of single mothers working so hard for their children and extended families. Then, it occured to me that I should find out the meaning of the name, and the first results I came across online informed me that “Maria” can mean “sea of sorrow” or “sea of bitterness.”

Now I understood. There are so many ladies around the world who are in anguish, praying and weeping bitterly like Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10) from the pain you carry; the grieving is intense, often because of the injustice you have had to face, but also because you so deeply carry the kind heart of the Father, and like Jesus are touched by the infirmities of those you love, and the comfort and tenderness of the Holy Spirit burns within you as you long to comfort others who are afflicted.

So I pray for you today; you who are “Maria”; you who are heavy-laden and feel yourself flailing in a wretched sea of darkness. The evil one and his wickedness assault you, but look up and see that the Warrior-Bridegroom King of the Universe is enthralled by your beauty! (Psalm 45:11.) I declare the goodness and kindness of ADONAI to be poured out on you, and in the safety of the Rock of His Name, you will find Him to be your defense and your strong tower of assurance.

I speak the mercy of God over your life and over the innocent lives for whom you stand guard. ADONAI proclaims His blessing to you: abundance of mercy and generosity; release of His authority in your boldness; and the glory of loveliness enfolded within the ferocity of your compassion.

My sisters, I am awed by your strength to withstand the sorrow and bitterness wrought upon you. Continue in your bravery. You may not feel brave, but believe this: You are beautiful warriors; you are Deborah and you fearlessly strike blows for justice (Judges 4-5). You are the graciousness of the Almighty, and your love and worship have become sharp arrows in the hand of the King that will pierce the heart of darkness and bring light into waste places.

Never, never, never forget your value.

 

refiner’s fire and falling sparrows

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
(Matthew 13:34-35)

I will turn my ear to a proverb.
I will utter my riddle on the harp….
(Psalm 49:4)

Everyone loves stories.

Our heavenly Father has put illustrations–parables, really–throughout all creation to demonstrate eternal realities. These are not examples put here “just for fun” so that the Christian can engage in a clever intellectual exercise, a way to enjoy “spiritual symbolism” that doesn’t connect with any real-world application; intriguing, but essentially useless for true change or growth. He has placed parables within the fabric of physical existence that teach us truths about divine realities that sustain us in the “nitty-gritty” and mundane aspects of life.

So, we find that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without the notice of our tender Father (Matthew 10:29-31). And does He not much more care for us? The crushing pressures and needs of life, that seem so threatening, are simply opportunities for Jesus to prove His faithfulness to us again and again. We can trust Him completely. Birds do it.

We learn that our God is a “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2-3). This is encouraging (and maybe a little scary), because we realize that precious stones become ever more priceless as impurities are removed through fire. A shimmering glaze on pottery becomes hard and permanent, unable to be removed, after it goes through the burning heat of an oven. So our fiery trials in life build in us character and beauty and enable us to  give pure offerings of worship to our King.

Jesus continually taught in parables to explain (and sometimes conceal) deep spiritual truths. Just as the parables carry an inherent power to transfix our attention, leading us into reflection, and hopefully a new mindset, guiding us into transformation; so do the “parables” inherent in physical creation guide us to sudden epiphanies of comprehension, inviting us–compelling us–to awe and worship, which leads to transformation and genuine love-response to the One who first loved us. This is obedience to the first and greatest commandment:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5.

So, we find lessons from the glazing of pottery, or the carefree soaring of birds, or the joy of food well-prepared, or the mysterious intensity of a quasar, or the soothing warmth of the afternoon sunshine, or the gentle touch of a loved one, or the innocent happy gurgling of an infant. These are organic expressions of our material world, which were created and pronounced “good” by our good Creator; but he is more than simply a Being greater than the cosmos who set everything spinning into existence. The stories woven into creation point to deeper realities rooted in the  character and nature of our loving Father. He enjoys our enjoyment of discovery. He knows it is fun for us, and when we search out and uncover these truths for ourselves it “locks” them into our understanding as a mere bullet-point outline never could.

We are excited by stories; we relate and respond to stories; we are changed by stories. Our Lord made life a story, so we could relish living it and contributing to the mystery. We are explorers in an adventure movie; we are pilgrims in a fairy tale; we are cherished and pursued for divine romance. And all this is far grander and more wonderful than anything Hollywood could ever dream up.

valentines and ashes

I am not Catholic, but I do realize that today is the celebration of both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. It seems there would not be two days more diametrically opposed. Do we focus on flowers and romance, or ashes and sorrow? Do we repent, prostrate in the dirt, or leap joyfully in shameless celebration of love?

Or perhaps we really do not fully understand the mystery of this question: Is there a convergence of the two, a romance inculcated by the act of prostrating in ash?

Are we able to focus on the romance of surrender, of humility, of recognizing we are butheart tree dust? It is a beautiful thing to be prostrate before the King, who desires our beauty, who gives “beauty for ashes.” So ashes can be romantic; our humanity, while humble and broken, is lovely.

To recognize that we are but dust, deserving of nothing, is a romantic and beautiful posture.
For, “…on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). We tremble with the understanding of His greatness and our unworthiness, yes; He is infinite and immense, and we are finite and puny, yes; so we tremble and fear before the Eternal and Holy, the Fire whom we cannot begin to comprehend; yet we also tremble with lover’s passion, engulfed by the searing flame of our Lover who draws us irresistibly into intimacy and incandescent communion.

Capture our hearts, Lover of our souls. “Set me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death….” (Song of Songs 8:6). There is a passionate jealousy and beauty resplendent in our ashes. From them, Yeshua will receive glory; our bodies—which came from dust and will return to dust—He has formed to be a container for His presence, a sacred temple on this earth, the pinnacle of creation.

So we, your people throughout history, are created into beautiful majesty from the ashes of our failure, as we reach upward in hope and are enlivened and recreated by your kiss, the breath of life. As we approach you, marked with humility, you make us glorious in your palace.

he gives us pure oil

This evening begins the celebration of Hanukkah with the lighting of the first of eight candles. The miracle that occurred over 2200 years ago is a picture of the light that has illuminated our hearts—a light of purity and a light of the miraculous.

We pray as Paul did in Ephesians 1:18; that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened—“filled with light”—that we would know the hope of His calling and His glorious inheritance in us, and that we would understand the greatness of His power to us who believe. This power is like the mighty strength He exercised when He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:19-20).

This is a work of grace in our hearts and our lives. It is our Lord’s mighty power at work in us. We don’t earn it; we don’t cause it to come to us through effort. We posture ourselves humbly; yielding, trusting, believing that He is true and faithful, and that His Word is true. He will fulfill His purposes and promises in our lives. He is the Alpha and Omega—the beginning and end, the initiator and perfecter of our faith (Revelation 1:8; 22:13; Isaiah 44:6; Hebrews 12:2).

He faithfully began a good work in us, and He will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). This work unites us with our Bridegroom, creating worship and faithfulness within our hearts, that we would be the “five wise virgins” with our lamps full of oil (Matthew 25:1-13), purified by the Holy Spirit, watching with the eyes of our hearts wide open and full of light.

The darkness of our present age is no match for the burning devotion—fueled by pure oil—that the Lord Himself is producing in His family.  Just as the Maccabees refused idol worship and refused to be intimidated by the enemies of God, so we too enter the temple of the Lord to worship, to set aright those things that have been displaced, and to receive a miracle of power and devotion placed within our hearts by the One who performs miracles.

We need the oil of the Holy Spirit within us to keep our light burning in the night season until the return of our Bridegroom. His truth shines more purely and brightly within our hearts, and the light we release to others—bringing the light of hope to their darkness—will continue to grow in authority and power as we have yielded and find ourselves united in one spirit with the Lord.

This will display the true light that lights every man (John 1:9) and will release the power of the Holy One to restore us, our families, and our lands.

 

love casts out fear

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!
(“Silent Night”)

Into a world crushed under excessive burdens of hatred, fear, deceit, and shame, Jesus was born to testify to the truth of God, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Scripture tells us that in Jesus the Messiah, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them. This is magnificent news to all who are weary and troubled and fearful.

There is no fear in love. but perfect love drives out fear….
(1 John 4:18).

This truth is a beacon of hope; radiant energy piercing the darkness of the prevailing spirit of the age. Our world is energized by agitation. Human leaders achieve power using threats and dire warnings of punishment or chaos. When people are afraid, they make poor choices and are easily manipulated. But the child of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, does not need to fear the world or the systems and powers of the world. God is greater by far than every earthly authority and every dark demonic host.

This is not a time for us to be swayed by the narrative of our culture and live in fear. For us who know His love, He makes all things work together for our good. For those who have not yet come to the realization of His kindness, He is reaching always with mercy, proclaiming that now is the chosen time, now is the day of salvation.

We can fully trust our Lord and His love for us. We belong to this One who shone with purity of love, given as a gift of grace. And because we are His, we are given the gift of His great love in our hearts. As we respond to that love, as we love Him and love one another, we shine like the radiant beams from His face. We can be bright outposts of hope for the people living in darkness.

For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God lightens my darkness. 
(Psalm 18:28).

Jesus is the Light of the world, and those with eyes to see will bow and worship Him in joyful adoration.  He was Lord at His birth; He has been Lord from ageless eternity; He will forever be Lord of all. Christmas is a season of holy light; a season of holy giving; a season of holy reflection; a season of joyous, holy love.

What better time than the season of light to proclaim the truth of the Son of God, love’s pure light? The Light of the world has dawned upon us, and in the illumination of His love, we can journey unafraid, our hearts filled with joy.