Archive | May, 2012

Deeper Still

26 May

[H]e saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.  Luke 5:2-5

All week I have heard the same phrase as I have prayed and read the Word: go deeper.

That is what my soul longs for, but I have to be transparently honest.  I don’t know how.

I’ve been asking Him all week to show me how to go so deep into Him that I disappear.

—————

We crept along slowly the the brush, hoping to avoid notice, past the “No Trespassing” sign with our two young sons in tow.

“Isn’t this illegal, Dad?”   “I’m scared.”

“It’s OK.  Your mom and I did this lots of times when we were in college.”

Out on the wooden dock and in full view of the shore, we hustled inside the cavernous ore dock stained iron-ore red.  Once accustomed to the murky shadows our eyes followed the concrete frame up through the rail track 40-50 feet above our heads.

Trains rode out to the end, every car heaped with iron ore pellets that sprinkled down into the water as the cars slowly jostled into place.  There were no trains today, but plenty of pellets filled grooves and corners.  Inside the dock the water was deep black and still – seeming almost solid, and every sound bounced around like the pellets that fell from little hands scooping up the reddish marbles.  The echoes from each pellet, then handfuls tossed into the water wells, were melodious and pattering, coming from every direction surrounding us like the reverberating laughter from our sons.

We went back to shore the way we had gone out – into the sunshine and across the wooden dock.  Our pockets were heavy with iron treasure that was way more fun to throw into the water than keep.  Unlike the pools inside, the water outside the ore dock was transparent– all the way to the sandy bottom.  I caught myself as vertigo spun me.  The weathered timber felt like the edge of a roof above a sandy lawn 20 feet below.

I told my mind that if I fell in I would float and that the 50-degree water temperature of Lake Superior would shock any dizziness left after falling in.  But I don’t think my heart heard my head.  Holding an upright piling, I leaned over a little and tossed in two pellets and watched them quickly descend to the lake bottom.  The last few feet they almost disappeared until I saw the mini-explosion as one, then the other buried themselves in the sand.

My imagination tossed my body into the water like a pellet.  There I was, under the water– completely immersed and free-floating, totally covered with water and outside the pull of gravity.  I wasn’t actually in the water, but the experience was very real.  I knew God was using the water to get my attention, and I started recalling instances in Scripture that God used water to make a point– baptism, parting of the Red Sea, walking on water….

I wrote the following song distilling some of my thoughts from that day.

Immersed

1.  Your well is deep; my heart is dry; 
Your love abounds, and so I cry 
Lord, help me fall down out of view, 
Completely lost, and covered in Your love,
     immersed beyond myself in You.

2.  Wash over me, O Flood so deep; 
My tears are hidden as I weep 
Within the boundless well of You, 
Completely lost, and covered in Your love,
     immersed beyond myself in You.

(c) 1999 Cathy Howie  #119  7/17/99

—————
So, I’ve been thinking about this song and the experience that triggered it.

My spiritual growth has hills, mountains, valleys, and plateaus.  The day on the ore dock was the beginning of an upward burst.  That is what I have been searching for this week.

I think perhaps Luke 5:2-6 is God’s answer for how to both begin an upward growth spurt and to go deeper still with Him.

…when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

1. Do the foolish, difficult, and questionable when He asks.  (The disciples had already tried fishing that part of the lake all night.  Going back out was extra work after working more than a full shift.  People on shore would have thought they were daft.)

2. Put out into the deep – where there is risk and faith is required.  (Being in deep water when everyone was exhausted was risky.  Also, morning would bring a land breeze, pushing them further out and requiring much human effort to get back to their port.)

3. There is a time to sit at the feet of Jesus, learning and studying.  And there is also a time to get to work.  (Jesus had finished teaching and told them to go catch fish.)

And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.  Luke 5:6-11 (My underscore.)

4. For Peter obedience+faith risk+work=knowing Jesus and following Him.

I’m still chewing on this, but I already feel the water covering me as I float in Him.

READY FOR SUNDAY

Preparation before Sunday fills my heart-reserve so the well I draw from is deep.  Studying and learning is a large part of the filling.  But Sunday I lead others in worship – I am doing/working.  Am I working out of a deep or shallow well?

What am I doing (both in corporately worshiping God and at other times) that requires a faith risk?

I am humbled (again) and super-encouraged (again) that when I ask to go deeper, He answers.

Completely lost, covered in Your love, immersed beyond myself in You.

———————————————————————————————————

The brush has been cleared and the train trestle dismantled, but this spring we found the lower ore dock in Marquette, Michigan still standing.  The wooden dock behind the picnic table is where the water was (still is?  we couldn’t get close this time) so clear.  Several dozen troughs on the sides of the concrete dock would lower into the holds of ore ships as train cars emptied their pellets with a loud whoosh and cloud of red dust.  Inside the dark center, the floor is just narrow octagonal walkways around open water.  There is talk of doing something with the structure.  I hope someone will.

But mostly, I would just like to take a walk inside again!

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Ya gotta

18 May

“…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

“Ya gotta eat.”

You don’t have a choice.

But you do get to choose where you eat.  So you may as well eat at Rally’s.

I think Rally’s is onto something more significant than burgers and fries.

God created us with choice built into our being, but we don’t have unlimited choice.  We get to choose which, not whether or not.

Let me explain.  We get to choose which food (or where) we eat, but not whether we eat.  We have to eat to stay alive.  How we respond to our parents (even if they died when we were young) is also our choice, but we don’t get to decide whether we have parents or not.  Most of our choices are like that.  We get to choose what or which, but not whether.

The most basic of issue of our existence is no exception– whom we serve.  It’s a given that we WILL serve someone or something, but we do get to choose what or whom.

Bob Dylan sang it:

You may be famous, popular, powerful, rich, hiding, skilled, sought-after…      But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

He broke it down to the most basic decision like Joshua did above: choose to serve the Lord or evil.

God the Father said it first when He gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, and Jesus repeated the idea of love being the underlying motivation for choosing to serve God.  God gave us the prerogative to choose whom we want to serve.  Knowing it’s best for us to serve Him rather than created things, however, He commands us to serve Him.

Our culture, even well-meaning Christians, would like to soften the extremes, and in so doing, obscure the clarity, of this black and white choice.  Their arguments include we can serve other people (if done with the right motivation, this is serving God), serve ourselves (which degenerates into idolatry rather quickly), or just live life taking what comes.

Putting anything or anyone before God is idolatry– even, and maybe, especially, good things like relationships and providing for one’s family.  In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller asserts that idols like these can be cultural, which makes them almost impossible to identify.  “Any dominant cultural ‘Hope’ that is not God himself is a counterfeit god….  When we are completely immersed in a society of people who consider a particular idolatrous attachment normal, it becomes almost impossible to discern it for what it is.” (Chap 6, p.130)  The American Dream is rife with disguised idolatry. 

The world would say that Christians are in bondage to God.  They are correct.  But they are also bound to the things they serve.

I would rather serve the all-powerful Creator God who loves me so much that He did not withhold His precious Son but gave Him up to pay my penalty, than anything or anyone else.  More than my comfort, and more than my reputation.  More than possessions and riches.  More than my own ideas and everything temporal.

Using Keller’s description of a cultural idol, it’s possible that even the church can serve counterfeit gods.  The church is not exempt!  Individually and collectively, those of us who follow Jesus must serve Him only, or we serve counterfeit gods.

This seems like such an easy choice in the black-and-white of my laptop screen.  In my day-to-day life, however, in the mash-up of confused emotions and hidden selfishness, it’s not so easy for me to tell who I am serving.

That’s no excuse, I know.  And so I pray for spiritual clarity.

God expects total surrender– pray continually, in everything give thanks, make the most of every opportunity, guard your heart and mind, trust in Him at all times…

Only God can give me what I need.  Only He is worthy to be served.

As for me, I will serve the Lord.

————————————

Ready for Sunday

On one hand I am sure there are no idols as I worship God and lead others before His throne; on the other I know there are latent idols hidden inside acceptable church behavior– compliments, reputation, work ethic, and perfectionism, as well as clinging to my preferred worship style and practices.

Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”

God show me every idol I put before you – as I prepare to lead your people, and while leading them.  Strip me of the gross and ugly sins dressed up in cultural finery until all I see is You.  Everything else is chaff.

Stirring

12 May

Be filled with the Spirit.  Eph. 5:18b

“Rub the oil into the grain like this. Come on, keep rubbing.”

“But my arms are tired,” I whined, dropping my sticky fingers to my sides and sticking out my bottom lip just a little.

But Dad kept rubbing.  I watched him, and soon I couldn’t help myself.  I dipped my rag in the vegetable oil and applied all of my 65-pounds to pushing the oil into the butcher block with renewed enthusiasm.

My dad took a break to get more oil. (I think his arms were tired, too, because he took more than a few minutes to explain.)

“Before we put any food on this wood, we have to soak it with oil. One coat isn’t enough.”

My eyes opened wide at that.  We weren’t even half done!

“We’ll let this coat dry overnight and do it all over again tomorrow.  The wood has to be filled up with oil.  Then, when we chop tomatoes on it…

I smiled.  I grew tomatoes in our garden because they were my favorite.

…the juice that squirts out, won’t soak into the wood.  The chopping board will be so full of oil, nothing else like food or germs or stains will be able to soak in.  That makes clean-up easy, too.  Just a quick wipe with a damp cloth.”

Cleaning up the kitchen was NOT my favorite, so I smiled at that, too.

“And wood likes oil; it doesn’t like water.  Oil stays in the wood, but water dries out fast.  The oil protects wood from water.  Look, they don’t like each other.”  He poured a little water on his rag and it ran right off onto the floor.  I giggled.

Dad continued after wiping up his mess:  “If we used this cutting board without oiling it, we’d have to wash it in hot soapy water every time we cut something on it to get the soaked-in food out of it.  Then it would dry out.  Wash and dry, wash and dry, over and over again would cause the wood to crack.”  And so we got back to work with purpose.

—————

Last week I bought new wooden spoons.  Even though I am now much older than Dad was when he taught me how to season wood, I heard his explanation as I rubbed them with oil.

And today I read Ephesians 5:1-21.  I paid particular attention to the last few sentences: …be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The Greek word for filled  (pleroo) means completely permeated, over-filled, satisfied.

My imagination went back to my spoons and further back to my conversation with dad.  If a wooden spoon is completely permeated with one thing, nothing else can get in.  Staining and contamination are not possible.  The spoon is protected from cracking (which would also let foreign particles in), and the spoon stands ready in the kitchen to stir goodness and nutrition into a tasty meal for my family.

Wooden spoons and butcher blocks need routine re-applications of oil– though not as intense as the initial one.  Without further treatments, the wood becomes unprotected and susceptible to cracking, staining, and contamination.  The tense of pleroo implies the same principle – a continual, not once-and-you’re-done, filling.

The verses immediately following the command to be filled with the Spirit describe both the evidences of being filled with the Spirit and practices that allow the Spirit to keep filling the soul.

  • Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  Stay in Christian community and point one another to Christ.
  • Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.  Worship God from deep within, not simply exterior, face-saving practices.
  • Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Be grateful and trust that He is in control and knows what he is doing in every circumstance, relationship, need, and opportunity.
  • Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Put others and their interests first as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

As I read over this list, I can’t think of anything to add.  (God’s Word is so perfect!)  Worshiping and thanking God; encouraging others and putting them first– reminds me of the two greatest commandments – Love the Lord and your neighbor as yourself.

Worship leaders are to be so full of the Holy Spirit that we are unhindered by sin and free to be used by God who stirs the hearts of His people into a pleasing aroma of praise.

Our calling is not easy, but it is simple.

—————

Ready for Sunday

The above list from Eph 5:19-21 isn’t easy, but it is simple.  My struggle comes when I am working on one of the four and one of the others slips.

Holy Spirit, show me when I’m out of balance, and what I need to do to restore it.

And, ultimately, work through me.  I can’t do any of this without your power working through me.  You are my Source– the One I worship, and the One who empowers my worship.

The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.  John 3:29-30

Tomorrow may I be unnoticeable; may your people see only You.

According To

5 May
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 3:20-21
 

First, a little bit of grammar and logic.  Stick it out, I promise it will be short and worth it.

The almost overlooked phrase according to forms a one-way bridge.  Two little words often glossed over between two hefty concepts may seem inconsequential, but they define the relationship between effect and source.  The Book of Ephesians has a bunch of them all pointing to God’s inexhaustible stores of every quality and force we need as His followers.

My favorite one is at the end of Chapter 3, quoted above.  Here’s why.

The first part of the sentence declares that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.  This phrase contains two words (huper and perissos) that mean over and above, beyond superfluous, abundantly surpassing what is necessary… you get the idea.  Megahugemungous ginormous!

That would be enough.  But the sentence goes on: according to his power….  The Greek word used for power is dunamis – the root for the word dynamite.  More big-ness!

And it gets even better: that is at work within usThe gargantuan deeds that God will do according to His explosive power will be… through us!  Fragile clay vessels, useless and powerless on our own, become conduits of unlimited power when He dwells in our hearts.

Why would He do this?  For His glory in the church throughout all generations.

Notice that this is a corporate, not individual, promise.  Paul uses the pronouns we and us, not I and me*.  Imagine local churches, and ultimately, The Church, allowing, embracing, and exercising this power– together, generation after generation.

This is the holy temple of the Lord.

This brings glory to the Father.

This is impossible without unity.**

The last few days I have been trying to understand, deep in my soul, that according to my seemingly inconsequential  attitude for or against unity, God’s colossal power can do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine through my church– or not.  Make no mistake, this power and the results are not from me.  I merely have the opportunity to choose or reject them according to my attitude and actions.

What could be so important to me that I would choose disunity?  That I would throw away seeing God do immeasurably more than all I can think or imagine?

Right now?  Nothing.  I suspect, however, that the Holy Spirit will have an opportunity to show me soon.

——————–

Heart check for Sunday

Holy Spirit, reveal attitudes in me that lead to disunity and enable me to choose correctly!

Father, forgive me.  Change my heart and work through me with your explosive power to do exceedingly, superfluously, over and above all I ask or imagine… for your glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  May. It. Be. So.

——————–

*The entire Letter to the Ephesians is written to a body of believers, not an individual.

**Unity is a major theme throughout Ephesians.  See 1:10; 2:11-22; Chapter 4; and 5:21.

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