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Quiet Times In God’s Presence

Jeremiah 29:11-14a:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and will bring you back from captivity.

God clearly calls us to His presence and assures us that if we seek Him wholeheartedly we will find Him.  In His presence, we find security, our needs met, our future assured, and we are freed to hope.  In His presence bonds are broken and we are brought back from captivity.  In His presence we, with tired spirits and burdened souls, come home.

Like the hymn says,

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”*

What prevents you from purposefully spending time in the Lord’s presence?**  Busyness?  Debt?  Conflict?  Not enough hours in the day?  Something else?

Excuses.

What keeps us from coming into God’s presence is not a lack of time – we all have the same 24 hours in each day.  It is not long working hours, crying children, or a myriad of errands to be run.  No, the problem is not external circumstances.  The problem is even greater than our mixed up priorities.  We have met the enemy and he is us.***  The problems lies within the coldness of our hearts toward God.  It is not the habit of the sin nature to seek God.  It turns away from God, supposing it has better things to do.  But God says,

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Galatians 5:16-18).

In other words, we who are in Christ are no longer held captive by our old selves, but are free to obey the Spirit of God who indwells us. The Holy Spirit transforms us from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.  We respond in faith, lifting the pitcher of cool, clear water to our parched lips and opening our throats to receive its pouring.  God says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

God calls us, draws us, and enables us in Christ to find Him.  Living in His presence, habitually spending time with our heavenly Father, is less a choice than a matter of faith and obedience.  And God says we will find Him, we will enter His presence, and we will find rest for our souls when we seek Him with ALL of our heart.


* Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922: Public Domain

**The Practice Of The Presence Of God, Brother Lawrence, 17th C.

***By Pogo, a comic character created by Walt Kelly, 1970.

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Out With Old, In With The New Year Goals

Just before the close of each year, I like to spend a little time reviewing it according to the vision, goals, and objectives set the previous January.  This year, I’m happy to report that I met most of my goals.  There are several reasons for my success.  First of all, I tossed out the whole idea of new year resolutions a long time ago.  Surely I understand by now that there is nothing worthwhile I can accomplish in my own power, no matter how sincerely I may resolve to do so, yet, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).  God empowers us to do His will, therefore the place at which to begin is with God himself.  With that in mind, I changed my entire approach:

  1. I spent time with God in prayer and petition, seeking His will;
  2. I formed goals based on the principles of His Word, not on a self-centered wish-list or worldly idea of perfection;
  3. I refrained from merely creating a depressing list of my faults, and
  4. I focused on goals and measurable objectives that were challenging, but not impossible.

The question to ask before committing your goals to paper is not, “What do I want?”, but, “What do You want?”  I found that by putting God first, the goals He set were not burdensome.  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29:30, NIV).  This can also be summarized by Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

Unsure how to recognize God’s voice?  Make your goal this coming year to know Him better.  The more intimately acquainted you are with God, the better you will discern between His voice and your own or that of the enemy.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10:4).

Keep in mind that the spiritual maturing process won’t be over any time soon: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  Develop goals that you are actually able to meet in a single year.  Instead of saying you’ll lose 50 pounds and never eat cake again, why don’t you start with something a bit more realistic, like asking God to use this year to help you understand what is behind your overeating and under-exercising.

Finally, focus on the growth God wants to bring about.  Matthew 21:22 says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” This is because you are asking according to His will, not your own.  More than that, it is because in offering yourself fully to God as a living sacrifice your mind is renewed.  You – and your will – are transformed (Romans 12:1-2) into the image of Christ.  Remain watchful, therefore, for your answer will come … in God’s timing, according to His ways.  After all, whom do you really desire to be the lord of your life – yourself or God?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:19-21).

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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How Sweet Is Your Fruit?

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.’

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.’

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”  (Galatians 5:16-25, NIV).

The fruit of spiritual growth is fullness, the completeness of Christ’s image stamped upon our inmost being. It is spiritual maturity, from the inside out, so that others may see Christ glorified.  It begins when we first believe and receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, and it continues throughout our life all the way to its ripening on the day of Christ Jesus.  And this we can trust to be for our highest good.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

The spiritual growth process is incomplete this side of eternity because it involves a daily dying to self.  It is not a one-time deal in which we hand our hearts over to God and then everything’s hunky-dory.  I remember those first couple of days after I was saved.  I thought to myself, “Great!  My life is like a blank slate now.  I can start afresh.  In fact, I’ll never sin again!”  Well, of course, before the week was out, I’d sinned.  Being born again may be a one-time instance, but maturing in our faith is a lifelong process and never easy.  It is a daily struggle to hand over our will and our way to God, for He will do with it as He pleases.  Selah.

This letting go and letting God is the very heart and challenge of the Christian walk.  It is not about what He can do for us, but what He will do in us and through us.  This is what it means to be Christ-centered. It means we give up our very selves to God who promises to change us into something we, on our own, can never be, that is, the image and likeness of Jesus Christ:

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Are these fruits in abundance throughout your daily life?  How sweet is your fruit?

Sometimes I feel I’ll never mature.  I find myself struggling with the same issues again and again.  It’s a good thing faith is not a feeling, because the truth is that while I may tire and grow discouraged at times, the Holy Spirit does not.  He is ever at home in my heart, transforming and perfecting me according to God’s plan.

The process of spiritual maturity is like hiking.  Being born again is liking starting at the trailhead while being on the mountaintop at the same time.  It’s a case of the now and the not yet.  Your sins are forgiven and when God looks at you, He sees Christ.  It’s so exciting!  And yet you are a baby Christian, with a long growth and development process ahead of you.  You have to learn to sit up, crawl, stand, and then walk.

You take your first steps up the trail.  As you put one foot in front of the other, you begin to realize it is a long, long way to the top.  Your backpack is heavy and the trail is so steep and hard.  You wonder what on God’s green earth you’ve gotten yourself into.  Anxiety strikes and your breath comes faster and harder.  You worry that you’ll never make it to the first rest-stop, much less the mountaintop!  Yet only a short time later, the uphill climb doesn’t seem quite as rough.  You make it to that first rest-stop, albeit huffing and puffing, but you make it.  After a while you get up and start hiking again.  The backpack doesn’t seem so extraordinarily heavy; the trail not so steep.  Thereafter, every leg of the journey is a little easier even though you’re sweating and breathing hard.  You start to notice some interesting flora and fauna around you.  Once in a while you find a low view to appreciate.  Pretty soon you don’t even need to sit down to rest; you just stand for a few minutes leaning on the top of your staff with the pack, now quite manageable, on your back.  The hike is not easy by any means, but you are stronger than before.  Steeper climbs, scree slopes, and icy waterfalls take greater energy, balance, and care, but you’ve found the rhythm of the hike and the knowledge that you are closer to the top spurs you on.  Eventually, through twists and turns, switchbacks, roots and rocks, you hike your way to the top, above marmots and boulders, where the view and sense of victory are incomparable.  It is worth the struggle.  Later on, when your boots are off and your feet are up, you think back over the hike.  No part of it seemed so difficult than carrying that heavy pack up those first few steps.  Even the miles of trail up and down humpback ridges were easier than those beginning steps.  And no hike is more difficult than the first hike of the season.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).

For those who are born again, God assures us that He will lead us up the mountain to its peak. We may stumble, slip, or fall, but He has us safe in His hands.  We can be certain that God will continue to mold and mature us into the sweet fruit of the image of his Son:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Megan, Matt, & Me in the High Country, 9/2000

That is like God saying, “You will reach the top.”  You respond, “Throw me the rope”.  Be encouraged.

“And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

 

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Hallelujah! Party

 

Balloons

Dreamstime image used with permission

Mothers typically look forward to autumn and some mothers look forward to autumn as early as June.  Those little blessings, so cute and talkative, make it difficult to get a day’s work done.  They’re in, they’re out, they’re up, they’re down.  They’re always hungry.  And the older they get, the louder they become.  Their shoes are everywhere, their toys underfoot.  They want this, they want that.  They want iPhones, iPods, iPads, ice cream.  They want to go here and there, and with all their friends.  And the little ones want to cling, especially during the hottest, most humid part of the day.

When I was a kid, there were six of us.  John, Jeannie, Cindy, Barney, Diane, and Tommy. We were all born within the short span of seven years.  My mom had been pregnant for the greater part of seven years and after the youngest was born, she had six little children, all under the age of nine.  We were like a locust swarm in those days, eating everything in our path and perpetuating destruction in our wake.  We were not quiet, mild-mannered children.  We were loud to the point of deafening, unruly, rambunctious, and given to name-calling, arguing, and scuffles whether working or playing, all on a daily basis.  It’s amazing my mom stayed sane throughout those years.

Visions of bright yellow school buses danced in her head all summer long.  The sight of a school or bus garage could move my mom to tears.  Labor Day, I’m sure,  was my mom’s favorite holiday, and she looked forward to fall even before school was out for the summer.  I remember her saying again and again, “All I want is some peace and quiet, just some peace and quiet.”  She was perpetually exhausted.

In those days, when September rolled around and the first cool breeze of the season caressed her face, a little bell went off in my mom’s head and she began to feverishly make secret plans with the neighborhood moms.  Labor Day passed and the school bus began its creaking ascent up Rickard Hill Road.  The six of us, with our notebooks and little brown bag lunches, trudged up the hill to join the rest of the kids at the bus stop.  Just as we waved a tearful goodbye to summer and climbed aboard, things went into action in our house at the bottom of the hill.  My mom was already on the phone to the other moms on our rural road.  Flinging off floured aprons, the three of them threw on a farmwife’s version of party dresses and gathered together in one of their kitchens for the much-anticipated, long-awaited Hallelujah! Party.

Woman eating cake

Dreamstime image used with permission

Hallelujah! The Kids Are Back In School!

This trio of harried housewives got together every year on the first day of school to sip coffee and eat cake in happy celebration of freedom.  Freedom to finish a chore, a meal, even a sentence – without interruption!  At first they just breathed.  Then with a sweet sigh of relief, a frilly little lightheartedness danced into the room.  Playful chatter filled the air.  There is nothing like hot coffee and the sweet, crumbly texture of a brown sugar topping on a moist piece of homemade coffee cake to banish any shadows.  For a moment, the peace and quiet of a comely silence descended and they would smile at one another.  Hallelujah!  The summer was so worth it.

This year the tradition of the Hallelujah! Party shall be carried on.  Soon and very soon, when all the children are back in school, when the dust begins to settle and our minds unfrazzle, we gals are getting together in the spirit and grace of my mom and her friends. It’s the fall kickoff for our women’s Bible study and we are having a Hallelujah! Party. Food, fun, and fellowship.  Peace & quiet, not only because the kids are back in school, but because as God’s children we can have the peace of Christ, a far better peace that quiets our minds AND hearts.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

We will praise together, pray together, and eat cake together.  We shall certainly celebrate peace and quiet, although I must say that with me around it is not likely to be very quiet.  After all, I’m still one of those six obstreperous children, albeit all grown up.  A leopard doesn’t change its spots; they just fade a little with age.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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Isaiah 26:3 and Me

“You will keep in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because [s]he trusts in You.”

This verse in the book of Isaiah is a part of a song of salvation that “will be sung in the land of Judah in that day” (26:1), a time referring to the last days. According to study notes in the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible (Executive Editor Jack W. Hayford, Litt.D, Thomas Nelson Inc.), “Perfect peace is expressed in Hebrew by ‘shalom, shalom,’ a Hebrew method of putting great emphasis on a word. ‘You will keep in’ everything the word shalom implies: health, happiness, well-being, peace. The word translated mind is not the usual Hebrew word, but rather is a word meaning ‘creative imagination.’ Isaiah’s thought is that he whose creative imagination, the seat of plans and ideas, is firmly founded on the eternal Lord, will enjoy shalom in all its implications.”

For someone like me who is madly in love with the creative process, this is certainly good news! It’s so easy  to spend hours and hours dreaming up ideas for art, ministry, and other creative outlets like diane-izing my home.  Assessing, researching, brainstorming, thinking, dreaming, and imagining are some of my brain’s favorite activities.  And making lists.  I love lists.

This love of planning and preparing is one of the more important tools I bring to ministry. That’s why Isaiah 26:3 is such a bright light in my brain’s studio, because by keeping my eyes on Jesus and my mind stayed on Him, I am assured that what follows is creativity shaped and molded by the Creator himself.  Just as rocks in a streambed are smoothed and shaped by the water which flows, so are my plans and ideas.   “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NKJV).  That’s a good thing.

Does that mean that every idea I have is a good idea?  Of course not.  God didn’t give us brains and  then expect us not to think things through.  A mind that is stayed on God is a mind attuned to the still, small voice of His Spirit, whose focus and identity is in Christ;  a mind that prayerfully considers all things carefully.  It is a mind molded by faith, faith by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17, NKJV).  Does that mean I never make mistakes or get in the way of what God is doing?  Does it mean I will never stumble and generally make a fool of myself?  Au contrare.

Like you, I’m in the process of being perfected, aka matured.  I am not a done deal.  God is not through with me yet.  Therein lies peace. And such a peace it is!  Perfect peace as I dream and think and plan, because it is in God I trust.  And the peace that transcends all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

 

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