Bits & Pieces, Odds & Ends – 21

Jehovah knew we could never understand a god who could create galaxies, control storms and harness the tides. But He thought maybe we could understand a god who washed feet, loved children and cried at funerals. So He sent Jesus.

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Should we study God’s word so that we can be informed or transformed? Are we as willing to be confronted and challenged as we are to be comforted and calmed?

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In my efforts to please my Father and be like Jesus, do I emphasize rules or relationships? Have I allowed myself to settle for a reasonable degree of success in the “Thou shall not” part of Christianity while allowing myself to fall short in the “Cup of cold water aspect”?

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Lost people don’t need to see good people working for God; they need to see a good God working through people. And these good people need to be aware of and acknowledge that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables them to do that work.

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What specific things did I do yesterday that said to the world “That man loves God”? What will I do tomorrow that says the same thing?

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The Father decides.    The Son delivers.    The Holy Spirit defines.

Our Need For Companionship

Four times in the first chapter of Genesis, God looked at his creation and “saw that it was good.” Then, in verse eighteen of chapter two, He considered Adam’s aloneness and said “it is not good” (emphasis mine).

At first it might seem that when God evaluated his creative efforts He realized He had made a mistake or left something undone. Adam was alone and it was not good. Had God simply forgotten to create woman? Was Adam left to play a life of solitaire because God had overlooked something? Of course not!

God had a purpose when He allowed Adam to begin life without companionship. Just before Eve was created, God caused all the animals to pass by Adam (Genesis 2:19-20). Adam saw that throughout the animal kingdom there was male and female. Only he had no counterpart.

God wanted Adam to realize he was alone so he would place greater value on Eve when she was provided for him. From the very beginning, human nature has caused us to have greater appreciation for a blessing if we have spent some time without it. (We don’t realize the value of water until the well runs dry.)

We, like Adam, have a God-given, built-in need for human companionship. He intentionally put within us the need to communicate and fellowship with other people. This need is evident in all stages of life. The infant that stops crying instantly when his mother picks him up and the child who cries out “Mommy, mommy, watch me” are responding to this aspect of being human. The herd instinct that drives teens is evidence of its presence. Wedding vows are exchanged because of it – and sometimes repudiated due to the lack of it. The elderly can lose the desire to continue living if they don’t have it.

Satan recognizes this need and uses it to harm and tempt us. He tells us that we can never be happy until we find a human companion. He leads us to believe we are alone because we are somehow unworthy or unattractive or socially deficient. He tries to make us feel we are incomplete if we are alone.

And often, in response to Satan’s prompting, we begin to base our life on the search for a person whose presence will fill our emptiness. We evaluate others on the standard of “Do I want this person to be my companion and friend?” If we feel they do not somehow measure up they are rejected and the search goes on, often in the wrong places.

How does God want us to deal with this need until He provides us with the companions He has chosen for us? First of all, we must understand that such companionship does not necessarily contain a sexual component. Companionship can come from either gender and does not require the breaking of the seventh commandment.

We must learn to look to Jesus as the perfect companion. In John 15:13-15 Jesus offered us his friendship. And in John 14:23 Jesus said he and the Father will come and live with those who love and obey Him. How’s that for companionship?

Jesus wants us to make him Number One in every part of our life. He will provide all we need in this endeavor because He is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)

Christians and Social Media

Has Twitter replaced prayer? Has Facebook replaced intimacy with God? Have cell phones replaced prayer closets?

The attraction of social networking comes from the fact that we all want to feel needed and need to feel wanted. We are comforted when we believe (accurately or not) someone is interested in what we like, where we go and what we do.

We want to “reach out and touch” across the city, state, nation and world. Our sense of worth is enhanced if we have a lot of “friends.” We value the fact that we can express our feelings, fears and victories to people who are significant to us. We hope they read our messages, understand our feelings and respond with sympathy and support.

For the Christian an intimate relationship with God provides all this and more. We can reach out to Him from any place, any time, across any distance. Prayer is that 24-7, no-limit, instantly received Tweet to the best friend we can ever have. We are never in a “no-service” area.

Our spiritual Facebook includes the friend that loves us like a brother and has the love and power to solve our problems. When our need for earthly relationships becomes greater than our need for God we are missing the joy, peace and power that Jesus, our best Friend, died to provide for us.

Alone With God

Being alone with God is more than being isolated from others, reading the Bible and praying, sitting quietly and meditating on spiritual things and trying for a few minutes to strengthen the relationship we have with Him.

Being alone with God means being without our “stuff,” entering his presence emotionally, intellectually and spiritually naked. Then allowing Him to change us as He sees fit.

It is possible to be alone with God even when in a crowd, but such intimacy is more likely when there is no one else around. We must cease to be concerned with family relationships, vocational success, recreational pleasure, health, prosperity and all else we consider important in this life. Until we reach this degree of trust these things go with us when we enter his presence. They are unnecessary baggage.

Each time we pray, we should begin with the request for the Holy Spirit to empty us of everything except an awareness of His presence.

I SAW JESUS

Last night, in a dream,
I saw Jesus. 
Not Jesus the God, but
Jesus the man.

I was surprised.
He looked normal.
Not unusual.
Just normal.

Short and stocky,
Strong and solid, with
Black curly hair.

Almost instantly
I realized I was
Disappointed.

Here was Jesus, and
He looked so very
Human.

Then I met Him and
Shook His hand.

And there,
Face to face,
Arm's length away
With His hand in mine
I first looked 
Into His eyes.

And immediately
I knew I was meeting
More than a man.

In His eyes I saw
Love.
Total, open, complete
Love.

Love with no exceptions
Or limits.

Love that does not
Have to be earned
Or even returned.

Pure love.
Enormous love.
Powerful love.
Tender love.
Giving love.

But in those eyes
I also saw
Compassion and
Acceptance and
Forgiveness.

I saw calmness and
Understanding and
Power.

I saw peace and 
Courage and
Purpose.

Then I knew
I was also looking
Into the eyes of
God. 

My Part in Corporate Prayer

Corporate prayer, when one person leads a group by offering an audible prayer, is the spiritual equivalent of elevator music. In both cases there is a sound that can be heard by each person present, but it is ignored by most of them.

Usually a time of corporate prayer on Sunday morning begins with an announcement that Brother So and So will lead in prayer. Then Brother So and So intones something like “Let us pray” or “Please bow with me.”

And just what are the rest of us supposed to do?

Therein lies the problem. Exactly what are those of us in the pews expected to do while the good brother is praying aloud? There seems to be three courses of action available.

(1) Listen carefully to the audible prayer and in our minds say “amen.” (This is the equivalent of “I second the motion.”)

(2) Listen to the topics mentioned aloud and then personalize them to our own situation. (When the audible prayer asks for healing for the sick, we silently ask God to heal Uncle George or Cousin Betty.)

(3) Completely ignore the audible prayer and pray for our own specific, private concerns as we are led by the Holy Spirit.

No matter which of these we choose, it requires us to intentionally enter into our spiritual closet and communicate with God. It requires that we make the effort necessary to shut out competing thoughts and focus on what He wants to hear. After all, prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue.

To do anything else is to have a form of godliness but not truly be as spiritual as we want people to think we are. And wasn’t that the sin of Ananias and Sapphira? (Acts 5:1-11)

My Worship Relationship with Jesus

I worship God on the basis of my relationship with Him. I recognize Him as “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1) but I also enter into his presence “boldly” (Hebrews 4:16.) Such confident worship is available only to God’s children.

It is only because of my relationship with Him that I am allowed to approach Him at all, except to say “Please forgive me. I am a sinner.” I am his child (Romans 8:16.) This father-son relationship between us gives me access to Him, no matter what my failures or shortcomings might be.

So when I worship Him I recognize that his power, knowledge, majesty and holiness are far beyond my understanding. BUT I also know that his fatherhood provides love, mercy and protection that will never end.

If I knew God only as a stranger I would have to worship Him only in fear and trembling, resembling Isaiah’s “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6:5.) But I know Him as my Father, so my fear and trembling are accompanied with a confident “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15.)

Nothing can change this relationship. It is secure for all eternity.

Be Still and Know God

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) is one of my favorite verses. This is strange because it is one of the most difficult commands for me to obey. I long to know God more intimately, to spend time communicating face-to-face with Him.

I understand that Bible study will increase such intimacy, as will time spent in active, joyous praise. Listening to God-based teaching and preaching will draw me toward Him.

But “be still?” I don’t understand! When I try to do that I keep hearing my to-do list and should-have-done list and why-don’t-they-listen-to-me list and what-am-I going-to-do list rolling around in my brain. When God saved me He did not intend for me to sit and do nothing, did He?

But maybe “be still” is not an end in itself. Maybe “be still” is part of the larger process of becoming like Christ. Maybe it is no coincidence that three of the world’s major religions were born in desert areas where stillness and solitude are the norm.

Help me, Father. May your Spirit increasingly control my mind and lead me beside still waters for your name’s sake.

The Voice of God

Genesis 3:8 says that Adam and Eve heard the "voice of God walking in the garden." God was walking where they lived. I believe that God still walks where we live. But the voice of God takes many different forms. Here are some of them.
The honking of geese in night-time flight.
The hoot of an owl in pre-dawn light.
Mother, to child, whispering "It's all right."
These are the voice of God.

A mother's soft, gentle lullaby.
A newborn's first energetic cry.
The gurgle of a stream as it flows by.
These are the voice of God.

A small child saying "I love you."
A parent responding "I love you, too.
Let's play a game when dinner is through."
These are the voice of God.

The ocean's roar when there's a storm.
The crackling fire that keeps me warm.
A rooster's crow to welcome the morn.
These are the voice of God.

A father's firm, but loving, "No."
The distant cawing of a crow.
A cat's soft purr, steady and low.
These are the voice of God.

A child singing "Jesus loves me."
The in-flight buzz of a bumble bee.
The boom of thunder. It's plain to see
These are the voice of God.

The hiss of waves by a quiet sea.
An eagle's scream so wild and free.
A teen's "Thanks, Dad, for helping me."
These are the voice of God.

A red-bird's whistle, sharp and clear.
Rustling of leaves when autumn is here.
The whispering wind when pines are near.
These are the voice of God.

Thank you, Father, for your voice so clear.
Thank you, Abba, for letting me hear
And be reminded you're always near.
Thank you for speaking, dear God.

How Did He Stand It?

When did Jesus know He was going to die on a Roman cross as a common criminal? At birth? At age twelve? Certainly by age 30.

At some point his divinity gave a fore knowledge of his death.  How did his humanity handle this look into a future that promised such pain and suffering? How did He maintain a sense of joy and peace in the shadow of the cross? What allowed Him to laugh, sing, joke and smile during his ministry?

And He did each of those things. Grown men didn’t leave home, family and careers to follow a sour puss. Children didn’t flock to be picked up and held by a grouch. Crowds didn’t contribute their donkeys and cloaks to form a parade for a “gloomy Gus”.

How did He avoid a constant feeling of dread and sadness as He healed and taught the people of Judea and Jerusalem? As he conquered disease and death in others, surely the specter of his own future hovered in the background of his mind.

The answer to the question has to be in his total trust in his father’s wisdom, power and love. Long before Gethsemane his daily mantra was “Not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42.) He was fully convinced that only by following Jehovah’s will could He provide a way for the human race to be ransomed from the power of sin. He had heard “With him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17) as He stepped out of the waters of John’s baptism and He had to die to hear it again.

What am I willing to do each day to hear it from Jehovah God?