Friday, July 31, 2009

The Whole Story

Some of my favorite things to read are the Old Testament passages where the Lord starts off explaining the wickedness of those who have not sought Him, the destruction He will bring because of it, and then the absolute grace and mercy He will pour out on the very same people who rejected Him. Zephaniah is like this -- the whole book is just three chapters long; it begins "I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land," and by the end a "meek and humble people" are trusting in the Lord.

I love seeing the whole picture (which is why when I sit down to read the Old Testament, I'm lost to the world for a good chunk of time). And the "whole picture" usually follows the same pattern:

a.) wicked & rebellious us
b.) holy and just God
c.) unmerited favor/rescue/grace from His Hand

Oh, and then of course,

d.) happy us

Usually the fact that God is jealous comes up somewhere there in the middle. This struck me again today in Zeph 3:8. "All the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy." Immediately after starts the beautiful ending song, where He gives us a pure language, takes away our pride and shame, and brings great rejoicing. "He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."

I remember hearing Oprah describe how she began her descent away from God. She was sitting in church, and the very animated preacher declared that God was a "jealous God". Offense and unbelief entered, and she turned away from Him. It is epically tragic, to the point of poetic irony, that the very phrase describing the extent of the astounding personal love God has for us should be understood by her (and so many) as the utterly opposite emotion, one of selfish violence. Good being spoken of as evil -- the predictable, and all-too-often-effective, tactic of Satan in his campaign against God.

But for such a thing - such a trick! - to lead to the unleashing of the most extensive and powerful harlot spirit in centuries, as it has with Oprah! (Where is Tolstoy when we need him?) Is that it? Can Satan manipulating semantics among people who don't read the whole story really be the tipping point on the world's journey into moral relativism, secular humanism, and the end of the age?

It was already there. The whisper, as horrible a thing as it was referring to, was yet assuring. The anger at God, the rebellion, the sin leaving one open to offense...these things are already existent in a heart that looks to observers like it was suddenly, without warning, smashed by as light a thing as a misunderstood meaning. No, none of it is the fault of semantics. At root, already there, making the heart ripe for such reaping, is demonic wisdom and human pride that have combined to build vast complexes of empty heartroom just waiting to be filled with the anti-Jesus spirit.

(Gulp of air)

Those are my Zephaniah thoughts for the day! Thanking Jesus for His mercy to even grant us humble and pliable hearts, and for promising in the end that we "shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain," I shall move on to my next task for the day -- cleaning the windows! (Those bothersome spiderwebs shall finally, thoroughly, be demolished.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Best Beans, Please

"Will the New Earth have fewer resources for human enjoyment than Eden did or than the world under the Curse offers? If you're tempted to say, 'But in Heaven our minds will be on spiritual things, not coffee,' your Christoplatonism detector should go off. It's fine if you don't like coffee, but to suggest that coffee is inherently unspiritual is...well, heresy."
-Randy Alcorn, Heaven

This made me smile. I'm loving Randy's book; sometimes he just tells the truth in spite of the hair-raised yowl it generates in our religiosity-loving souls.

No yowl this evening. I have often said that in Heaven the promises of smell will finally be fully manifest in taste. Coffee, specifically, has always been my example. Can you imagine if it were to actually taste as delightful as it smells? I've always somehow been sure that it will, without having ever definitively said to myself, "we will drink coffee in Heaven."

But Randy lays it out on the table, giving a whole little 2-page section to the question: "Will We Drink Coffee In Heaven?" He's addressing a much wider question, of course, but what me made me smile so was its appropriateness to my evening.

Yesterday I ran out of coffee and, happy with my new Costco card, gleefully bought a huge bag of replacement stuff. Dunkin Donuts. One problem - I discovered this morning. The kind I used to drink at Sally's house and loved was a different blend, a dark roast. The brew I made this morning, to my horror, I hated.

Enter Jesus. Yes, carrying coffee.

Anniebugs, who has been dilligently saving her pennies to buy the food for a bbq she was throwing her worship team tonight at my house, and who thus has NOT been buying any coffees or lunches or extras... showed up this morning to pick me up for a trip to the market WITH AN ICED COFFEE for me in hand. I guess it was celebration day :)

"So, a morning coffee from Jesus, eh?" you say, still slightly skeptical.

"Yes," I reply, "and another month's supply, too, this evening!"

Ryan and Betty, whom I'd never met until this evening, arrived for the bbq with supplies in hand for the making of iced coffee. Supplies they intended to leave, as Ryan has completely renounced coffee & caffeine (as of 5 days ago). An extra-big, unopened bag of Starbucks beans now sits on the shelf above the coffee-maker, along with a collection of intriguing individual serving packages of a Korean speciality coffee you just mix with water - milk and sugar already included. He and Tim both said it's great stuff.

Hmm... Jesus? Why do You sometimes just come out of the blue and treat something so inconsequential with such care? I know it's not about coffee itself, although it is certainly fun to have Your stamp of approval on enjoying a particular taste. (I guess if You distinguish between poor and good wines, and between regular meats and "the best of meats" Is 25:6, its outlandish for me to think You don't discern the taste difference between mediocre and excellent coffees.) But in the middle of the coffee-fun you're saying several important things:

1. Your love is not generic, but of specificity toward me, including all the ways a lover would be aware of the loved -- of her tastes, of her likes, and of how to care for her.

2. Nor is Your love passive. You don't sit back, point out to Your Father how we serve and love You, but never respond directly to us. You are such a responder -- vigorously, sincerely, joyfully -- to every little move of our heart. And sometimes You decide to make it impossible for us to miss that fact!

3. Our religous ideas get in the way of reality - Your reality. Yes, we'll have resurrection bodies. Yes, everything You made is good. Yes, the delights You designed for us are not sinful. Thus Randy accuses almost the entire Protestant population of heresy -- lightheartedly and accurately! It's the old difference between sacrifice (deciding to give You what sounds super-holy and self-sacrificing of us) and obedience (believing You enough to actually act on what YOU SAY, not on what we imagine You must want).

Oh boy...Heaven does not fall into the "sacrifice" category, but the "obedience" one -- happy souls, us, who are destined to obey the truths that emerge when the most powerful and loving Being ever, has focused His heart on loving us well!

Some unimaginable things await -- a New Earth, new waterfalls, new shorelines, [insert here, when one has a few extra eons, several 700-page volumes of all that He's designed], imperishable bodies to enjoy them with, and the real Man Jesus at whose side to explore them all. It's excessively more than I could ask or think.

(Oh, and along with it, every few days, a coffee date with God. Only the best beans, please, and some raw cream to smooth the taste!)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tactic: The Slow Wean

I sat down in my morning room yesterday, Bible in lap, and discovered something I'd forgotten. When I am sick (head throbbingly sick), the usual resistances my soul seems to develop to the presence of God just sort of melt away. A.) I don't know WHY my soul would build invisible little walls against Him whom I love so much, and B.) It's odd that sickness would dismantle them, but there it is. What He had to say, simple little verses, seemed to go straight in. I love the feeling of just being able to quickly, easily, and transformingly believe the words of His mouth. Love it!

This is in stark contrast to what the enemy has been doing around here lately, though I've only just realized it today, while sitting in the same morning room chair, with the same Bible atop the ottoman in front of me. One of my dearlings has been recently telling me about her battle with a constant sense of sin. As we dismantled the feelings and actions involved, I concluded she was under a sense of condemnation, not conviction. That conversation reoccured to me when I plopped into my chair this morning and opened the Word with a feeling that I should apologize to God.

Apologize??

"Apologize" is a very different thing than "repent". To repent is a relieving and cleansing activity; and at the end all sense of guilt is gone, replaced with a floaty, clear, almost memory-less sort of attraction to the lap of the Father. But to apologize...

Apologies can be vague, general approaches to smoothing over some rough spot in relationship, or an ongoing personality issue that causes friction. They often come and go with no actual release from guilt. What, I asked myself, do I have this impulse to apologize over?
  • I stayed up later than I should have for the health of my body last night.
  • I don't feel I accomplished as much as I needed to @ work yesterday.
  • I'm still in my pajamas at 9 am, since I'm home sick today.
Wait a minute. None of these are sins, and they're certainly not things the Holy Spirit is actually convicting me to repent of! And yet they'd pressed on me a vague and general sense that I was bad. Condemnation, loud and clear. And yet so subersive and hidden.

It's that always-sense of not having done quite enough, of not being as devoted or systematic in prayer as one should be, of disappointing Him in multiple little things, and of having "missed the mark." I've never liked that summer-camp description of sin: "missing the mark". In one fell swoop enter elements of perfectionism and human striving, now deeply mixed in adolescent psyches with the concepts of actual sin and rebellion. No, "not being good enough" is not a sin to repent of; "not hitting the bull's eye perfectly" is not rebellion. (I know; I just tried a game of darts and failed utterly at it.)

Now, not everyone deals with huge amounts of condemnation, but I think it is more common than we normally observe. Particularly here at IHOP, where devotion and holiness are so sought after, the spirit of condmenation is one of Satan's giants, sent regularly against this camp and "entrenched" to a certain degree. I'm not soft on sin by any means, and I'm quick - sometimes disturbingly quick - to call for repentance. Undealtwith, habitual sin is a gangrene, keeping one from holiness and joy, and spreading destruction to other parts of the body. It must be mercilessly uprooted with the same right determination as a sheep farmer who shoots the wild dogs killing the lambs.

But that is for sin! This general feeling of not being full-force enough, not aromatic enough for God, is condemnation, not sin, and is designed to slowly wean us from the presence of God. The dearling I mentioned before could not rest in God through an entire two hours in the prayer room because she was constantly wondering if she was walking in some sort of rebellion and if that would then keep God from meeting with her there or honoring her seeking of Him...

Let our ruthless war against sin also be a war against condemnation; and may the Lord Jesus win both!

(Disclaimer...I'm not sure of the policy on using photos from the internet. The one above is linked from its original spot, and I think that's legal. If not...apologies - and compliments - to the photographer! It reminds me of how it feels to talk with God after a real bout of repentance. It's a very different feeling than lingering condemnation. If you don't feel like this photo after you've repented of a sin, it's time to go to war against condemnation! :)