Monday, May 29, 2006

So done with my agendas

In reading through Acts I’ve met Philip, Ananias and now Peter (Acts 10) whose flexibility is a rebuke to me. I like to know things ahead, to have a plan, to organize my days. I’m not big on spontaneity (or rather, the spontaneity I’m big on is surprise diversions of thought; I prefer to keep my days predictable so creativity can flourish in odd places like writing projects – at least that’s what I tell myself).

But God didn’t encourage these early Christians in that kind of control over their lives. He kept breaking in with interruptions:

Philip, leave the meeting with hundreds. I have a job for you on the backside of the desert.

Ananias, time to break out of your routine with a visit to Straight Street. There, by the way, you’ll meet the infamous Saul. Scared? Trust me.

Peter, forsake your itinerary for a few days and go to Gentile Cornelius.

I’m sensing God wants the same kind of turn-on-a-dime obedience from us – from me. His agenda, not mine. His agenda means being at His beck and call all day long, that beck and call coming through knocks on the door, telephone calls, emails... Or, if no interruptions present themselves, to faithfully work at the tasks already assigned, even if it’s just staying by the boring stuff.

“Many of us are after our own ends. And Jesus Christ cannot help Himself to our lives. If we are abandoned to Jesus, we have no ends of our own to serve.”
- Oswald Chambers

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Living light

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the South along the road which goes down from Jerusalem from Gaza...” (Acts 8:26)

Philip wasn’t being sent from being a main speaker in the Samaritan revival to a holiday destination. The passage above continues, “This is desert.”

But we hear no demur on Philip’s part. No, “But I'm being used here ..." Just, "So he arose and went," without any further explanation from the angel about why or exactly where.

He got that when he reached the desert and saw and chariot with its Ethiopian passenger. Then the Spirit whispered, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”

From that point Philip was on his own again in that he had to run to catch up, then use his intellect, experience and common sense to figure out what was the man’s spiritual need and how could he address it.

But from God’s point of view, the situation was puzzle pieces fitting together. This black official of Candace’s court was interested in spiritual things, had just made a trip to Jerusalem to worship God and was engrossed in and mulling over the prophetic writings of Isaiah. Philip is the perfect one to explain things to him. Even more important, he's a 'yes-man'!

Philip takes a sum of the situation and wastes no time explaining the Gospel to the man. He accepts it to the extent of requesting baptism at the sight of the first sizeable puddle.

Then Philip’s work with him is done. After the baptism “...the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so the eunuch saw him no more and he went on his way rejoicing.”

I’ll bet. And I would think Philip felt the same joyful. Because if there is any feeling on earth as wonderful as realizing that the God of the universe cares enough about little me to answer the question of my heart, it’s when God uses me to be part of that answer – whether to many, or one.

Such unselfconscious asking (and getting), such care-less obeying (knowing that sometimes obeying means not being whisked away; sometimes it means sticking with the already-given assignment and faithfully doing the day’s duties without any visible sign that heaven is involved) is, I think, part of what Jesus meant when He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Spirit's witness

Ananias and Sapphira are the couple whose slick plan was to sell their property, hold back some of the payment from it for themselves and bring the remainder to the common pot. By that action they hoped to give the impression that they’d given the whole amount – like others were doing. Their sin was not in holding back some for themselves, but in trying to give a false impression. In that lie they hoped, with their supposed generosity, to earn similar praise that others had earned (envy) and to advance their own reputations (self-seeking).

This story pricks me. I sense in myself too, actions that arise from envy and self-seeking. If God struck me dead for every time... oh my. God’s opinion of these things is spelled out in James 3:13-16:

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
This wisdom does not descend from above but is sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

However, we live in an atmosphere of discontent, covetousness, manipulation. The economic engines of our society run largely on envy (isn’t it the psychology behind most advertising?). Self-seeking is regularly cloaked in an appeal to common sense or common practice. As a product of my environment, my mind is clever at manufacturing rationalizations for why I should take matters into my own hands to get what I want: Of course one has to be a big cagey to make one’s way in the world. Everybody gets ahead that way...

But if we are truly Christ’s and citizens of His kingdom, His Spirit will trouble ours when we begin to walk down this path. A. W. Tozer says:

When there is a divine act within the soul there will always be a corresponding awareness... God waits to assure us that we are His children in a manner that eliminates the possibility of error, that is, by the inner witness.

- A. W. Tozer in Born After Midnight

I would say, by experience, that this inner witness not only assures me that I’ve met God in the first place, but is an irritant to my spirit – like the feeling of a splinter in the skin – when I respond to these or any temptations by sinning. It means I’d better spend some time with Him, deal with that splinter, and again leave the satisfaction of my needs, physical or psychological, in His hands.

It’s easy to think God was harsh when He struck down these two so suddenly and with no second chance. But I wouldn’t be the least surprised, if we knew Ananais and Sapphira’s back-story, we’d discover that they’d been given the witness of the Spirit about this sort of thing before, and ignored it. May I not be so callous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cut to the heart

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37

Not only do spoken words cut to the heart, but written ones have the same potential. One of the things that drew me to writing was the powerful impact the writing of others has had on my life. I remember even as an adolescent, lying in bed with a book – the journals of Jim Elliott for example – and feeling exposed, convicted, cut.

What a miracle – that God can speak through words on a page or a computer screen, sometimes years after they have been written, continents away, and through them bring a sense of my own unworthiness, a knowledge of His presence, the impression that He is breathing on my life, infusing my heart with faith and hope like air fills lungs.

This is not something we people engineer. Rather, it is a Spirit-wind thing: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). The Spirit indwells the writer. Deep calls to deep in the reader.

Lord, please use my life, my words to ‘cut to the heart.’

Friday, May 12, 2006

Holiness to the Lord

My last day of typing will be dictated today. I am coming to the end of an era of my life. After tomorrow’s typing I will be officially retired from medical transcription.

I am also coming to the end of the minor prophets. How apropos – this convergence of endings.

Today in my Zechariah reading, this jumped out at me:

In that day Holiness to the Lord shall be engraved on the bells of the horses. The pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness to the Lord of Hosts... (Zechariah 14:20,21 - emphasis mine)

Though I need to research the historic and cultural significance of the ‘bells of the horses’ what this passage says to me is God accepts, no wants, every little thing – even the most insignificant of things like the bells on the horses and the kitchen pots – as things set apart for Him.

And what rises in my heart is a desire for this to be the motto of my retirement: Holiness – set apart – to the Lord! What a grand thought. These days are so often considered selfishly - at last a bit of time for ‘me,’ time to indulge myself, travel, do the things I’ve always dreamed of doing...

But no. Now that the kids are gone, the pace is slower, but energy and vision are still strong – I want this time to be His beck and call. Like Phillip. He had all the time in the world to go on errands for the Holy Spirit, to take a trip to the desert to talk to the Ethiopian seeker, and then be swept away again to another place and another assignment. Or not. Because I’m sure that lots of my time will be spent right here, in my yard puttering in the garden, in this house, organizing and downsizing our stuff, or at this computer working on the assignment I’ve already been given, but have not had the time to complete.

Whatever it means, God please engrave 'Holiness to the Lord,' not only on my possessions, but on my heart.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jesus in Zechariah

After my Lent journey through the Gospels, I’ve been back in the minor prophets. This is the last lap in my trip through the Old Testament, which I started a long time ago.

I find the minor prophets hard slogging, especially in this time of family stress when what I feel like reading is comforting, soft, grace- and mercy-filled words But then, tucked in amongst the list of sins, indictments, judgements and pronouncements of doom are sweet surprises – familiar words that others have recognized, pulled out and made famous.

Here are such words from Zechariah:

Behold your King is coming to you
He is just and having salvation
Lowly and riding on a donkey
A colt, the foal of a donkey

This is the prophecy Jesus fulfilled on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

...His dominion shall be from sea to sea
And from the River to the ends of the earth...”

These words are engraved on the parliament buildings in Ottawa.

12:10 And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced...

The Holy Spirit is active here. It is from Him we receive the spirit of grace, the urge to pray and the knowledge of how to do it. It is from Him that we get the notion to look to Jesus.

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