Thursday, March 27, 2014

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

As I contemplated my own ability to love this morning, this poem entered my thoughts.  As I read it I asked myself if E.B.B. was a Christian, so I searched for an answer.  According to several sources, she was a more than avid Christian and very outspoken regarding her faith.  My next question was: for whom did she write this particular poem, Jesus or the man she loved?  As I read of her marriage in 1845 and that the poem was written the same year, I came to the conclusion that it could have been for either or for both and it really doesn't matter.  The poem speaks of the passion of childhood's faith and that is enough to make me realize she was trying to get across a love so deep that it can only come from God Himself.
I then must ask myself the question, how deeply do I love those around me?  I want to love them with the passion that envelopes this poem, but I realize I fall very short.  While I love enough that I would give up this life in general for them, do I love them enough to give up my every day life for them?  I consider it a rather easy thing to die for those I love.  I would simply pass from this life to life in heaven.  Physical death seems almost admirable when it takes place in the saving of another life.  But which should truly be more admirable, physical death, or dying to self in order to see many souls given life eternal? 
Because of these thoughts running amok in my mind, I once again realized that a change was being made in me.  God has been calling me gently to go deeper into prayer.  I shared before how He has inundated me with studies and sermons on the topic, but never "shoves my face in it."  Sometimes I wish He would so I could get where He wants me to be faster, but He knows my stubbornness and how easily pride besets me, so He goes at the pace I need to prevent me from falling. 
I have been praying for wisdom for many years.  God promises that He will grant wisdom if we ask, but the very definition of wisdom is knowledge mixed with His love. 
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 
And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing.  I Corinthians 13:1-3 (ASV)
So as of this morning I have a new cry to my prayer: Fill me with Your love for all people of all nations, of all situations in life, even the ones that make me feel uncomfortable or scared.  May I love so deeply that I am willing to lay aside a portion of my life each day to lift them in prayer, putting their needs before my wants and comfort.  You did this for me.  I want to express my gratitude by allowing You to love through me in the same manner.  Grant me a generous heart that gives unsparingly, a welcoming heart that invites others to know You and to know You fully, a passionate heart that places Your desires for my life above all else.  Help me to love as You have loved me.  May I love with childlike faith and the passion of youth.  May I love more deeply with each passing day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Heads and Hair

Have you ever lay in bed at night with the names of those you love running through your mind like a herd of elephants? 
Saturday we spent the day at a party celebrating my only living uncle's retirement.  We had a lot of fun and I got to speak with cousins I hadn't seen in years.  That night I lay in bed wide awake with their names running through my mind.  I started trying to name all twenty five of my cousins.  I made it through twenty four.  One name kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning.  I knew it was a male.  I knew he was older than me, but not by much.  I even knew which cousins he was born between, but his name eluded me.  I finally dozed off to wake two hours later with his name flashing in front of my eyes, or so it seemed.  Now I was awake for good.  Silly, right?  Why in the world would you lay awake because you couldn't remember one name?  This morning as I was praying it hit me that Father God never forgets even one name.  He has received millions of children over the years and yet never forgets one detail about them. 
Yesterday I had six of my seven grandchildren here with me throughout the day.  I was blessed to hear a conversation between two of them.  I had been combing two of the girls' hair and had them throw away the hairs that came out while so doing.  Our eight year old granddaughter turned to our eight year old grandson, who is also her best friend and said, "Did you know God knows the exact number of hairs we have on our heads?"  His reply was a simple yes with an implied "Of course."  She then said, "Even when we pull out a handful, He still knows exactly how many are left!"  She was correct!
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Luke 12:7 (NIV)
How fortunate are the children of almighty God.  He has millions, yet reacts to each as if they were His only child.  I saw this reflected in my son yesterday.  When one daughter's tooth slammed into the head of his son, he grabbed both, one in each arm and clung to them.  In so doing he got blood all over his hand and face, but took no notice of anything but his children's welfare.  He guided one to the bathroom and one to the kitchen where I started washing the blood from his hair.  My son waited just a moment to make sure it was nothing major, then took huge strides to his daughter.  When he was certain she was okay, he came back to his son.  There was just a small scrape, but it bled profusely, as all head wounds do.  His anguish abated, he said, "I know what will make us all feel better!"  All three children looked in his eyes as he proclaimed, "Let's go get some ice cream!  But I'd better wash the blood off my face first."  This made everyone relax and smile, even chuckle again.
Father God, thank You that You never forget us, not even a single detail about us.  You know our coming in and our going out.  You know when we laugh and when we cry and You laugh and cry with us.  You hold us when we are hurt, sick or simply weary.  You mend our every wound.  When we feel lost and alone, You are there holding us by the hand to lead us back to where we need to be in order to see the light to guide us.  You are a hiding place when we feel insecure; a shelter in the midst of storms.  No matter how many children You ever have, You always react to us as if we were the only one.  Thank You for loving us so deeply.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Praying Parent

Every Christian parent's greatest concern is for their child(ren)'s welfare, especially when it comes to walking with the Lord.  We want our children and grandchildren to experience greater joy in the Lord than we did at their age.  We tend to forget all we had to go through in order to get to the walk of faith we maintain at this time of our lives.  When I came upon this promise, many anxieties (some I didn't even realize existed until then) dissipated as I determined to start praying God's word upon my children as it is contained in this verse and those following it.

In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee. Behold, they may gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall because of thee. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the fire of coals, and bringeth forth a weapon for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness which is of me, saith Jehovah.

A few weeks ago I was reading the autobiographical conversion experience of Stephen Baldwin - the actor.  In it he talks about how his wife prayed for his salvation every day until one day it hit him that he needed to stop trying to figure God out and simply trust Him.  He received Jesus as Savior and Lord and began to delve into His word.  God has given him a wonderful ministry to youth and he serves Him in it still as he witnesses God's greatness to his brothers and rest of his family.  This pushed a trigger in my spirit that it is time to delve deeper into prayer.  That day I finished up a Bible study I had been working on and went in to grab another to begin.  I have had these studies stacked up ready to go and have simply been pulling out the next one in no particular order.  When I pulled out this one I had to grin.  It was all about praying for our children specifically and branched out from there to others we love and are concerned about.  The following Sunday Brother Kenny (our pastor) went to the podium to explain that he was beginning a new nine week series that day on, you guessed it, prayer.  Coincidence?  As I have said before, I don't believe in them any longer.  God has shown Himself too awesome. 
That was three weeks ago.  Has there been any change?  Yes, in me.  I have a greater desire to pray than ever before.  My body position during prayer has changed, which is unnecessary, but helps me remain focused.  Have I noticed a difference in our children?  I am not around them every day, so I can't say I have, but it just doesn't matter.  I am praying for them in accordance with God's Word and am therefore becoming more and more confident in His ability to perform even this seemingly impossible task.  He is Master of the impossible - the only One capable of turning hearts.  Change has me.
Father, You have promised that my children will be taught by You personally.  The only way this can happen is if their hearts conform to Your will and I cannot do anything to change anyone's heart.  You however "hold the hearts of kings in Your hands."  (Proverbs 21:1)
They are Your children, therefore You have made them kings (Revelation 1:6) and hold their hearts.  I ask that You would fulfill Your word in them and turn their hearts toward worshiping You once again.  Bring peace to their hearts as You guide them to the fellowship in which You would have them serve and offer worship to Your holy name.  Open their eyes to the futility of striving toward earthly goals, because that bar will continually be raised.  Help them to realize that spiritual goals never change, as You never change, so real joy and peace can come only in doing our best to please You and bring joy to Your Spirit.  AMEN

Friday, March 14, 2014

Real Coffee

The Lord is near to all who call on Him; to all who call on Him in truth.  Psalm 145:18  (NIV)
The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him sincerely.  Psalm 145:18 (NLT)
The "rut" of prayer is like a security blanket; children feel secure because they have it, but it really does them very little good, except to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling.  We wrap it around us at meal times and possibly as we head for bed and/or wake in the morning, but what do we really say?  Are we praying from our heart or out of habit? 
A security blanket is a habit a child has developed that makes them feel strangely alone if they don't have it with them at all times.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes that blanket gets dirty and stinky and needs a good washing.  It is the same with rutted prayer.  We carry it with us, feeling snug and smug in that we carried out our "duty" to pray, but it is actually covered with the dust of repetition and needs a good shaking, washing and freshening. 
This thought wakens me to realize we may have made prayer seem boring.  We sit down at meal time and ask God to "bless our food to our nourishment" and possibly throw in a couple of people that need His help and then go about our meal, thinking we have done something special in leading our children in prayer.  But to what have we led them?  A stagnant pool of mosquito infested water, or the Living Water that begins to refresh with its coolness and mist even as we approach? 
I chose to use both the New International Version and New Living Translations of the verse above out of the desire to really bring home to myself that speaking the truth is great, but must be done out of the sincerity of our hearts.  When speaking with God we need to remember that He is Truth and therefore knows if we are being "real" with Him or not. 
I am not a coffee drinker.  As a matter of fact, I even dislike the smell of it as it produces a bitter taste in my mouth.  My parents, however, love(d) the stuff.  As each of my two older sisters and I reached a certain age, we were placed in breakfast-making rotation.  I rarely thought to make the coffee and got chewed out for it more times than I can remember.  It didn't matter if I made pancakes, eggs, biscuits and gravy, French toast or a combination thereof, if there was no coffee I was in trouble!!  Such avid coffee drinkers can tell you, they know if it's "real" or not.  The first time I heard this I was just a child and clueless as to what it meant.  Then one day I heard them mention caffeine.  Real coffee contains it.  Caffeine is bitter... more bitter than the coffee itself, so if it is missing, it is evidently noticeable. It does, however, refresh the one drinking it and makes them more alert to their surroundings.  It is the same with prayer.  Real prayer contains sincerity and a desire to come to the Father's throne to engage Him in conversation.  Sincerity can be bitter.  It takes us places we may wish we didn't need to go, but when we choose to do so it refreshes and makes us more alert to everything going on around us in life.  God knows if our prayers contain caffeine or are simply a hot beverage of comfort, just as my parents knew "real" coffee when they tasted it.
Father, Your children desire a close relationship with You, but many of us have allowed ourselves to be wrapped up in the security blanket of repetitious prayer lives.  To be honest, sincerity can bring real pain, and You know how we tend to avoid pain at all cost.  Forgive us and help us remember that a shot of prevention causes pain as well, but protects us from life threatening diseases.  Help us to remember that You are not only our God, but our Father.  You love us deeper than we are capable, so we have nothing to fear in revealing our deepest hurts, longings and fears.  Your greatest desire is to help us be free of the hurts and fears and to pour Your blessings out on us that will more than suffice where our longings are concerned.  When we come to You in sincerity and truth, You will wrap us in the secure blanket of Your love and wake us with the "caffeine" of real life that can come only from being filled with Your Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Praying Promises

Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.  Isaiah 41:10  (NLT)

This morning I was reading about having children join us in prayer.  It hit me that there is rarely anything regarding prayer mentioned in children's Sunday School literature.  Sure, they tell us to pray with them and we do, but as far as teaching them what prayer is and is all about, I could probably count on one hand the number of times it has been made a prominent part of the actual curriculum over all my years of teaching.  I hadn't really thought about this before, so I was rather startled.  No wonder children become adults that flounder in this area!  I decided that it might be an exciting learning experience to do a promise a week with my kindergarten class and pray with them, using the "promise of the week" as a guide.  I went online to the 365 promises of God blog and wrote down the first promise to use this coming Sunday.  The verse above was first on the list.  I then knelt down to pray.
It is amazing in a rather amusing way how quickly we can be tested when we begin to pray over something like this.  I got out a few sentences and the house phone rang.  My daughter was on the line with the news that our oldest granddaughter was throwing up and, if possible, would be coming to stay with me for the day.  My immediate reaction was, "Ugh!  Throwing up?!  It's the stuff (church family name) has been going through! I don't want to get sick!"  I didn't actually think these exact thoughts, but they are the instant messaging that went through my body. But then the promise I had just written down superseded the other thoughts and I realized that this was an opportunity God had laid in my lap to help me "practice what I wanted to preach" so to speak. 
When our granddaughter arrived I was blessed with the joy of praying for her using God's word as the theme of the prayer.  I prayed aloud, silently asking God to use this time of praying for her as a learning experience for her, so she could know how to pray for her children when/if she becomes a mother when grown. 
Some might call this coincidental, but we know better.  If I hadn't been studying this particular promise at that particular time, I most probably would have become discouraged over having to take care of a sick child when trying to care for a busy four year old and doing his preschool agenda with him.  However, God knew exactly what I would need to prepare me for the day and provided it.  I had to choose to receive it; could have rejected it the moment the call came, but praise God, He gave me the sense to receive it.  I pray He reminds me of it over and over and over again until I no longer need reminding, as it will have become such a deep-rooted part of my life that it can no longer be extracted.
Father, You have told us not to be afraid or discouraged, because You are with us and are our God.  As if that weren't enough right there, You went on to let us know You wouldn't just be standing there next to us watching, but You would give us the strength we needed and hold us up with, not simply Your hand, but Your victorious right hand.  Who sits at Your right hand?  Jesus!!  Our faith in Him makes us victorious, no matter how strenuous, no matter how frustrating, no matter how humiliating or wearisome our tasks may be.  You have already won the war, we just have to put up with the skirmishes, but we never have to go it alone.  Thank You for always being there and always preparing the way for us by going before us into battle.  May we be forever thankful!!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Delightful Discipline

My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.  Proverbs 3:11-12 (NASB)
Studying the love of Father God through discipline this morning brought something to my attention.  Back in the olden days when I was but a small child, most mothers were with their children virtually all day every day.  Because of this, they tended to discipline in frustration or delay it - "Just wait until your dad gets home!"  As I looked back it hit me that my mom's frustration did nothing to deter me from misbehavior.  A good spanking from her might, not out of respect, but out of fear of getting another.  These were rare, however; perhaps too rare? 
Then I thought about my dad.  He came home every evening at 6:00, expected dinner on the table, the house relatively neat and us five children to behave.  I think my mom must have forgiven us throughout the days, because I only remember a couple of times when she actually told Daddy we needed his discipline.  We would line up for our three swats and it would be over, unless we chose to stand in the corner.  This lasted at least a half hour, so why I chose it often is beyond me.  My oldest sister always chose spanking and then would taunt my sister two years older than I and myself because we were still stuck.  We would get so bored we would draw spit (that's right, I wrote spit) pictures on the walls.  If Momma had known, we'd have been in trouble all over again.  If we were blessed enough to be able to see each other, we would converse through our made up sign language and giggle, sometimes causing added time.  Don't I sound like the greatest little blessing?  Thinking back and remembering can be quite entertaining.  Was there any discipline that actually worked with these strong-willed, too smart for their own good little irritants? 
I have written in the past about how Daddy would at times go to spank me and start crying instead.  It amazes me that those are the times that affected me most.  When I looked into Daddy's eyes and saw those tears and heard the sobs that came from him, I really understood how difficult it was for him to discipline his children.  He loved us enough to want what was best and so followed through (most of the time) but it truly made his heart ache to have to do so.  Those are the times I never wanted to do anything to hurt my daddy again.  I remember one time when I was a teenager that I broke curfew.  I was grounded for two weeks.  Daddy made me complete one and then said he thought I'd learned my lesson, so gave me back a week.  I remember thinking, "I'm not so sure I did, Daddy."  If I remember correctly, I even told him I was willing to take the second week, but he told me no.  That made me stop and think as well.  I don't think I ever deliberately broke curfew again.
God really does have all the answers, even when it comes to disciplining our children.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.   Ephesians 6:4 (NLT)
When I was disciplined out of anger or frustration I wasn't really fazed.  However, when I was disciplined simply because I was desperately loved, these times touched, taught and redeemed me out of those particular situations.  This is exactly what God wants for us.  It is why He took the death penalty for us.  He wants us to live!!  However, He wants more for us than simple survival.  He wants us to thrive!!  So He continues to discipline us, but in love.  The angry, frustrated punishment was already given to Jesus for us.  Now the discipline comes strictly from concern for our welfare out of the greatest love possible - God's.  Since He lives in us, let us draw from the resource of His Holy Spirit in us to discipline from the instruction that comes from Him. 
Father, You have not only told us in Your word how to discipline in love, but You have demonstrated it over and over again in our lives, first through sending Jesus, and then in demonstrating patience with us when we make the same mistakes over and over and over again.  Teach us Your ways so our children may grow to understand Your love for them through our actions toward them.  Help us teach them that we delight in them even though they do err.  We are here to show them right from wrong and the joy that comes from living in righteousness through the power of Your Spirit through inviting Jesus to be Lord of our lives.  Thank You for Your delight in me.  I admit that sometimes Your delight is painful, but it always brings great joy and makes me want to delight You even more.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Infinite Love

The love of God is broader than earth's vast expanse; is deeper and wider than the sea.
God reaches out to all to bring abundant life, for God so loved the world His only Son He gave.
Share His love by telling what the Lord has done for you.
Share His love by telling of your faith.
And tell the world that Jesus Christ is real to you every moment, every day.
The above is a song I learned as a youth.  It has an ethereal melody, which was quite common for that time (the 70's) that perhaps some who read this might remember, but then again, it wasn't what you might call a "popular" Christian song.  However, it declares a truth for us that we need to dwell on for a while each day: God's love is broader, deeper, wider, higher and, in every sense, bigger than we can imagine. 
Our imagination is limited.  We are finite beings with finite imaginations.  We can only take that which we have experienced and combine it with other things we have experienced to imagine something we perceive as new.  In reality, it is still a finite thought from a finite individual.  It may be an original thought as far as humanity is concerned, but that is only because each human being has been created unique; the same, but different than every other human being.  Put all of our so-called original thoughts together and we still won't have but a "drop in the bucket" of the available imaginations (and amazingly all of them good) that our heavenly Father possesses.
Think about His vision of creating individuals that He could lavish His love upon.  God IS love 
(I John 4:8) and His heart desire was to express that love to as many as would allow it.  Since love does not demand its own way (I Corinthians 13), He gave us free will and choice.  He wanted us to love Him of our own accord, not because He forced Himself upon us.  Then He created us in His own personal image.  In so doing, we became individuals whose hearts desired they be loved for who they are; nothing more and nothing less.  What a marvelous fellowship that must have been in the garden; taking walks with the Father, talking with Him in person, being loved and loving in return, deeper and with more meaning than we can possibly envision in this fallen world...We can only imagine. 
Then came the dreadful day when man (Adam was man and woman together at this point.  Eve became Eve after the fall. Genesis 3:20) decided it would be a good thing to disobey the one and only rule that had been given him - don't eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It was easy for Satan to fool man, because man didn't even know what evil was.  He had never experienced it up to this point.  It took a little convincing, but being told it would make him more like the One he loved more than anything cinched the deal and he ate.  Amazing.  This is not to make excuses for mankind.  God told him the consequences of eating from the tree, but much like a child at school whose parents are not around to watch, we messed up - BIG time!!  Just as the parent knows their child is going to make mistakes, God knew even more so, as He sees everything, that man chose disobedience and brought sin into being, which in turn brought death. 
I remember as a parent feeling a combination of anger and grief when my children chose to disobey.  The anger was for my own benefit - "How dare they embarrass ME like this.  Poor little me!!  I'm so good, how could they do this?"  Okay, those weren't my literal thoughts, but that is what they boiled down to - self-centeredness and self-righteousness.  Then there was the grief.  God in me grieved that they had done something that would leave a negative impression about them on those who had witnessed the event.  I wanted everyone to love them as much as I.  Not only that, but grief in knowing that their love for self had superseded their love for me and for God at the moment they decided to disregard what I had taught them.
Move forward to today.  There is a big difference in me being a grandmother versus being a parent.  When my grandchildren misbehave, I do not feel embarrassed for myself, but strictly for them.  I hurt for their parents, as I know exactly what they are feeling, but I want to cry out to them to not make the same mistakes I did in feeling sorry for themselves.  What is the difference?  I hope it is that I have grown up a bit as I have grown older.  I realize now that thinking of self in those situations teaches children conditional love.  Since we want them to learn unconditional love, we must set aside our personal feelings.  We must remember how deep, wide and high the love our our Father is and demonstrate that to them through forgiveness and discipline.  Forgiveness first, as that will keep us from anger and bitterness.  Discipline next as to teach them to disregard their will and to seek God's in its place.
Just as the Father continued to love us even in our sin (Romans 5:8), and so sent His most precious possession to deliver us from it, His one and only Son, Jesus, we need to love our children so extremely as to be willing to do whatever it takes, even to the giving up our personal desires, to see them become not just our children, but children of the Most High God.  This definitely does NOT mean giving in to their every wish and whim, but demonstrating discipline in love rather than anger and always, always, always reaffirming our love for them through praise and reassurance.
Father, our love is finite, but Yours is infinite.  Pour out Your love on us and in us that we might love others, especially our children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren with a heart like Yours.  Help us remember that even if we know all there is to know, give all we have to give and have faith that knows no bounds, if we don't have Your love, we are nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. I Corinthians 13  (NLT)