Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why Do I Love & Worship?

Happy Resurrection Sunday to all my brothers and sisters! :-)

Today, God has been working something in my heart and mind that I want to share in case it can also encourage/convict others.

Pop Quiz about your knowledge of Bible stories: Which of the two thieves who died on either side of Christ asked to be saved?

Thought about your answer yet? Ok, I’ll wait a minute ;-)

If you’re having trouble remembering, check out Luke 23:39-43 (emphasis mine):
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying "If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us." But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

As you can see, it was the first thief—the blasphemous one—who asked to be saved. I don’t know about you – but that’s not what I would have thought the answer was to that question. If I were some Bible scholar, I would maybe have a better understanding of what was implied by the second thief’s request for Christ to “remember” him. But I’m not…so I don’t.

But this realization in church this morning followed on the heels of a conviction this morning in my ‘prayer closet’ which was along similar themes.

Let me first back up a bit. On Good Friday, I spent a couple hours out under a tree at our Enterprise Farm journaling about something….. something that came up about a year ago from my young childhood. I felt last year that I needed to work through it more, but had delayed and delayed. God used a couple different things to bring it up again last week, and a day off work provided a good opportunity to prayerfully write about it.

As I sat down to write, I wanted to do it from the right perspective and foundation. I didn’t want to write about it out of self-pity or a ‘victim’ mentality. I wanted to write about it in a way to open my heart to Christ’s healing and redemption, which He accomplished on the Cross 2,000 years ago. And so even though I didn’t plan it that way, Good Friday helped me think about it in that framework.

Then yesterday morning I was reading Psalm 67 in my devotional time. I couldn’t help but notice, while I read, that the Psalm talks about urging all nations to praise God…..but it begins and ends with the expectation that God will bless us. So was the admonition to praise God based in selfish motives, just wanting the blessings from Him? My mind noticed it, but then I went on with my day. And when a friend later asked me what Jesus was speaking to me that day, I couldn’t think of anything – I just said I wasn’t listening well enough to hear.

Back to this morning’s conviction. I had been thinking of my friend’s question off and on. And as I was there in my ‘prayer closet,’ Paraclete revealed a piece of my heart. On Friday I felt close to God in a way I haven’t as much recently, because I was bringing to Him something that was weighing on me. I recognized that I needed healing in an area, and I was asking Him to do that in me.

In other words, my motivation was partly/primarily selfish.

So this morning, the question that came to my heart and mind was “Have I been ‘loving’ and ‘worshipping’ God for who He is? Or for what I receive from Him?” In other words, haven’t I been doing the same thing the author of Psalm 67 appears to have been doing?

It’s such an easy trap to fall into. We do need God, desperately. And because He is a loving God, He does enjoy lavishing His children with gifts of His grace (Eph. 1:7-8). But our love for and worship of God should be so much more than that….shouldn’t it?

Because the God we serve is indescribably glorious. Enthroned in Majesty. The Creator and Sustainer of all things – in ways we can’t even imagine. He is the definition of Awesome.

But our eyes are so very easily fixated on our own lives, our own problems – the things we want God to fix in us or the material things we want Him to bless us with.

Is that not asking God to save us for our own selfish reasons, as the thief on the cross did? Is that not following Jesus for what we can get out of Him, as Judas ended up doing (John 12:4-8)?

Shouldn’t we instead recognize Christ for who He is—the one who “has done nothing wrong” and who has a Kingdom where He rules—as the second thief did? Shouldn’t we pour out our most valuable and precious things simply for the sake of anointing Christ, as Mary did (John 12:1-3)?

This morning, Uncle Jonnes pointed out that the two thieves on the crosses show the two types of responses to Jesus, paralleling the contrasting responses of Mary and Judas in John 12. But which category do I really fall into? As a not-yet-fully-sanctified human, I need to be continually examining my own heart and listening for the input of the Holy Spirit in this matter.

Because this morning, there in my prayer closet, the question came to mind: “If you got NOTHING from God, would you still worship Him?” And my selfish heart had to answer a quiet “no.”

All day today, when my thoughts have gone back to these points, there’s a simple line from a song that keeps coming back to mind: “I will worship You for who You are.” And that has been the cry of my heart today. To worship both our Savior and our Father for who He is as God. Not only for what I receive as a result.

To quote my college president, “May it ever be true of us.”

Friday, March 4, 2016

Trusting God in Unwanted Circumstances

I’ve been reading through the Psalms recently. Yesterday morning, one of the ones I read was Psalm 53.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity,
There is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good, no not one. 
Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call upon God?
There they are in great fear where no fear was,
For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you;
You have put them to shame,
Because God has despised them. 
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When God brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

At the first read through, this Psalm kind of seemed disjointed. I didn’t initially see the thread of connection and flow through it all. But after looking at it for a bit, I could see it. Basically, the summary of this Psalm could be “Foolish men no match against God’s salvation.”

It made me smile as I saw it, and I thought about how encouraging that is. So often, we get focused on the rascals who seem to be able to do whatever they want. And yes, sometimes God allows evil men to have sway for a while. But in the end, they will be filled with great fear, “For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you.”

Not long after reading that, as I was walking to work, one of my fellow staff members stopped me. He asked me what other names I go by…..and I thought I knew where this was headed. When I told him my Luganda name, he told me that he had met a stranger on our campus – that spot being only a one minute walk from my house – who was looking for me by that name.

The stranger who talked to me once in the nearby town.

The creeper who has been stalking me.

He had been onsite, and not far from my place.

That was evidently a couple weeks ago. I think before he got my number and called me, and I told him “Do NOT call me again.”

On Wednesday, my fellow staff member had been in the nearby town, and three people had walked up to him and blamed him for keeping their friend (the creeper) from seeing “his friend” at New Hope (me – though I would NOT call someone “my friend” after one brief encounter).

My fellow staff member made the comment “I didn’t know I had any enemies in [the nearby town], but now I guess I do.” I explained the situation to him, and told him I was sorry he had gotten involved in it. And I did (and do) feel somehow guilty for it. The number of times my mind has tried to go back through that initial interaction, to see why this creeper thinks he can be so persistent….

But I have to keep reminding myself that I am not to blame for his unwarranted actions. My mom always says “you can’t ‘should have’ anything” – but I think it’s just human for us to think that way.
I feel like my privacy has been violated by this creeper. And now at least two of my staff members have been a bit hassled by the local people because of it. And yes, it is so tempting to be afraid.

It wasn’t until I lay down to go to sleep last night that my mind suddenly put two and two together. All day, the worry would try to come pressing back in. All day, I was waiting to talk to the church elder who has been walking through this situation with me. All day, I had been trying to remind myself not to let fear control me. But all day, I had forgotten the Truth that I read that morning:

“For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you”

And so last night, I finally prayed a Bible-based prayer about it – for the first time in all the weeks this has been going on. I prayed that God would scatter these outside ‘enemies’ who seem to be bent on getting me and this creeper together. That God would place a hedge of protection around my friends and around me. That God would place a fear of HIM into the heart of this creeper. I have no idea where he stands spiritually – and I do pray that God would work in his heart….not only to cause fear, but even to cause repentance.

So often, I fail to connect what I read in the Bible to real life. But this morning, as I read a couple more Psalms, the Spirit gave me the eyes to see it. And so I begin a new day, choosing to rest and trust in the God of my salvation. The One who can and will hear my prayers; the One who can grant me deliverance. Selah.