Poetry: The Thorn in My Side


The Thorn in My Side

 

A gentle prick in my holy veneer

Piercing where no eye can see

Ignoring the pain with a candy smile

The thorn in my side is me

 

Pain and grief and shame pour in

Self-mutilation with the sharp point of sin

Sinful desires rise once again

Leading to places I’ve already been

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m missing the point, but it won’t miss me

The thorn in my side is me

I should get paid, but I’m doing the Devil’s work for free

 

God is patient, God is kind

Hoping He can change my double mind

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

 

Can’t blame mom, can’t blame dad

Don’t see anyone holding a gun to my head

Who can save me from this body of sin?

The son of God, raised from the dead

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m getting the point, I’m beginning to see

The thorn in my side is me

Christ paid the price for one such as me

 

God is gracious, God forgives

In Him alone salvation lives

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

Acting Out Our Faith: Influence That Matters


As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. – Acts 5:15 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the only thing of any use my shadow has ever done is keep the sun out of someone’s eyes.  Kind of disappointing in comparison to this passage.  What kind of life convinces people that your shadow can heal?  What past experience promotes that kind of faith in the intangible?  Peter did two things that answer these questions: he followed Jesus and did what Jesus did.

If I want my life to have influence for the kingdom it is good to see how others did so.  Peter may have had a rough start, but when Jesus got him moving in the right direction, not much got in his way.  He pursued the life of Jesus with passion and clear intent.  Peter belonged to Christ and therefore owed nothing to any man other than what Christ supplied.  If I want to influence the world, I can’t do it when other passions and pursuits own me.

It is not enough in this life to act Christian.  Acting Christian can influence others, but usually not in the right way.  It goes much farther to be like Christ and the only way to be like Christ is to follow Him through His spirit.  It is the difference between acting a part and being changed in such a way that you act differently than you did before.  I don’t want to act like anything.  It is tiring and fruitless.  I want to be transformed and be used to transform others to be more like Jesus.  That is the kind of influence that matters.

Lord, help me to be more like you every day so You can use me to influence the world around me.  Draw me further on as I follow Jesus and pursue His life passionately and intently.  Amen.

Life in Community: The Place of Holiness


Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV)

There is an assumption that to be holy, one must be alone or at least surrounded by other people who like to be alone.  When we think of titles like “Holy man” or “Holy one,” images of quiet men in robes living on a mountain top come to mind.  While I would never dismiss the discipline and dedication that is shown by that lifestyle, I am not sure that it is the pinnacle of holiness.

Jesus, The Holy One, was engaged and connected to those around Him.  His moments of solitude and prayer are notable, but they were not where He stayed.  His ministry is marked by movements from isolation to intervention; from stillness to action; from quietness to proclamation.  It is obvious that Jesus did not need His time intervening, acting and proclaiming to spend time alone, but used His time of isolation, stillness and quietness to prepare for moments of engagement.

Our movements should follow the same pattern.  Our solitude, silence and prayers with God inform and transform us to then move into the world.  Holiness may be forged in the disciplines that set us apart to God, but it is expressed in the activities of community and fellowship.  My daughter has been learning to pray regularly, read her devotions, seek God in quiet moments and learn what it is to be His child, but I want her to know that these are just doors to living a holy life with and among others.  She needs to understand that to “Be still and know that I am God” needs to lead her to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV)

Holiness matters to God, but life in community helps make holiness matter to others.  We can be holy in isolation, but it is hard to be salt and light in isolation.  God’s holiness does not stay in heaven, but invades this present life through His kingdom and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  When we are holy as He is holy, our holiness does not stay somewhere inaccessible to those around us.  It is engaged in the lives of others through a mind prepared for action.  It is empowered by the fullness of hope we have through grace.  It is the cure for the sin in our lives.  Holiness together for each other and the glory of God.

Paint on Us


So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

Paint on Us

We are the canvasses
You are the artist
But we keep trying
To take the brush from Your hand
 
We have come with nothing
You give us fullness
Why is it so hard
To be still where You need us to stand
 
Paint on us
Brush us with Your love and grace
Paint on us
While we stand in this Holy place
Cover us with the image of Your Son
Color us until Your will is done
 
Empty us of everything
Then fill us with the truth
Lead us to the rest
That stills our hearts for Your work
 
Create us in Your image
Holy Spirit, make us new
Pictures of God’s grace
On display for all the world
 
Paint on us
Brush us with Your love and grace
Paint on us
While we stand in this Holy place
Cover us with the image of Your Son
Color us until Your will is done

Cure


Your Word is the medicine for my malady
It is the cure for the pestilence of my past.
Your truth lights the darkness of my heart
Filling me with a love that will last.

 

You are the cure
The healer of my soul
You make me pure
Refined like gold
Remove my impurity
Restore my infirmity
Redeem my destiny
Make me pure

 

Your Will is the motive for my mission
It is the way to vanquish all that’s vain.
Your strength heals the weakness of my heart
Filling me with courage once again

 

You are the cure
The healer of my heart
You make me pure
A brand new start
Reclaim my affection
Sustain my direction
Reframe my attention
Make me pure

 

Your Way is the method to my movement
It is the path to holiness and heaven
Your Son walks with us lest we stray
And gives us something to believe in

 

You are the cure
The healer of our souls
You make us pure
Refined like gold
Remove our impurities
Restore our infirmities
Redeem our destinies
Make us pure 

Gardening Tips: Fallow Ground


For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. – Exodus 23:10-11 (NRSV)

In the years before chemical fertilizers and horticultural sciences, it was common practice to let fields rest so that the soil could replenish and recover.  There are still many places that rotate their crops from field to field so that each crop is getting the nutrients needed for a good harvest.  This is something God has wired into us; a need for rest to replenish and restore. For the people of Israel it was a necessary and vital part of their culture; for us it is a necessary and vital part of our spiritual growth and health.

We used planters this year for growing most of our garden.  We used some of the same soil we did the last two years and thought it would be enough to mix in some compost, but we had to use far more fertilizer than normal to keep our garden going.  The soil we used was tired.  It knew it, but we did not.  As believers we need to be attentive to the soil of our hearts to know when it needs to rest, replenish and restore.

One of the most important ways to practice this is holding to a weekly Sabbath.  This is certainly any area of improvement needed for me, but I believe it is endemic to our current American culture.  We have sleep aids, technology that keeps us constantly connected and entertainment that draws us away from rest to busyness.  We need to overcome our culture and claim the rest that God has prepared for us.  We need to make holy for ourselves what God has said is holy.

Rest is not easy for most of us.  It is a discipline because we can always think of something we could or “should” be doing.  This is the handiwork of the enemy and a broken world.  There is never anything more important than doing the will of God and the Sabbath sits firmly in the center of His will.  It is the practice of the Sabbath that prepares our hearts for the fresh crop, for new seed, for the tiller in the hand of God preparing our hearts for the next season.

Lord, help us be a people of the Sabbath, resting in Your presence and power.  Let us cast aside every care and worry, trusting wholly in You to provide all we need.  You are the Lord of the harvest, but also the Lord of the Sabbath and we want to be Your subjects on that day.  Amen.

Read the Directions: This is Not a Step


My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not stumbled. – Psalm 17:5

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways. – Proverbs 4:26

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Setting boundaries can be a tough job.  We are wanderers by default when it comes to doing what we are told.  We struggle to have our own way from the moment we are born. (Some moms I know think the struggle begins in the womb).  As we grow older, we learn about the boundaries and that there are consequences when we push at them or cross over them.  No matter what area of our lives we may discuss, there are always issues on boundaries.  They are a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean we do well with them.

It is clear from the passages above that God knows our propensity for boundary busting.  He has given us clear boundaries, spelled out in the lives of His people, in His decrees, in the life of His Son.  We need to watch our step.

If you search the internet with the phrase “died after falling off a ladder” you may be surprised how many results you get.  Sadly it is a common enough occurrence that it has its own line in the report on accidental death statistics.  I don’t know how many of those are caused by people ignoring clearly defined boundaries: THIS IS NOT A STEP.  There are clear signs on many things in this life that God has put there for good reason – God wants to keep us safe.

I have been foolish enough to use the non-step on a ladder before, but was never injured.  I could take that as a reason to keep on doing it, or I could take it as God’s grace and mercy sparing me and giving me another chance. I choose the latter (pun intended). I need to pay attention to those signs that God has posted.  They are there for my protection and every time I push the limits, I am closer to a fall.

Lord, help me to see, read and obey the signs You have given to us to live holy lives.  Give me the discipline to live within the boundaries You have set.  May I have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart and mind to obey.  Amen.

Read the Directions: Please Wash Your Hands


Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. – Psalms 24:3-5 (NIV)

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NIV)

There is a Seinfeld episode where Jerry is on a date at a restaurant when he runs into the chef in the bathroom.  When the chef, Papi, leaves the bathroom, he does so without washing his hands.  Given Jerry’s phobic tendencies about germs, hilarity ensues when Papi brings their food to the table.  I have to admit my own unease with that kind of situation.  There are appropriate times and places for cleanliness, and preparing food for others certainly fits the bill.

When discussing salvation, I have heard the phrase, “You don’t have to clean up for a bath.”   The idea is that since God will clean you up in the work of salvation that you don’t need to clean up your sin first.  This is a true and correct perspective because we cannot clean up our own sin.  But once saved, we can maintain cleanliness.  It is one thing to ask someone to wash their hands before preparing food at a restaurant, but can you imagine if they had to take a shower every time they came back into the kitchen?

We need to be clean.  It is healthy, makes us feel better and certainly is considerate for those around us with sensitive noses.  In the same way, purity of spirit is healthy, makes us feel better and gives us the ability to “consider others as more important than ourselves.”  There is a cleansing we are given and there is a cleanliness we maintain.  One we receive that removes the stain of sin and one helps keep us from sin.

Too often we wait for the bath.  We wait until the dirt and grime of un-confessed sin has built up and the Spirit convicts us to seek cleansing.  Been there, done that (more than once).  By the grace and mercy of God, we are forgiven and made new, but maturity and purity ask us to grow strong and true so that we remain clean.  We all fall.  We all come short, but in the pursuit of holiness, we can find ourselves falling less and coming closer to the mark.  A daily discipline of cleanliness can help us in this pursuit.

Confession and repentance are the cleansing steps we take toward purity.  When we make them a daily discipline, we set ourselves apart for something better than a cycle of deprivation and redemption.  This is the life I want and hope for and struggle after.  This is the life God’s holiness calls me to.  This is the life God gently reminds me of in the moments I need a bath.  Lord, help me to be holy as you are holy.  Give me clean hands and a pure heart.  Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Minding Our Manners


“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:17-19

Many of you may have heard the name Harold Camping of late, and the repeated predictions of the rapture.  You might have also taken note that the rapture did not occur this past weekend and will not occur on his newly predicted date.  Harold Camping fits squarely into the false prophet category; one that tramples the pasture and muddies the waters.  His hopscotch approach to interpreting scripture has damaged scores of believers, and brings ridicule from those who disdain Christianity.

It is easy to look at someone like this and blame him for the negativity that people we know have toward Christianity.   We may even find ourselves saying something like, “He’s the kind of guy that makes Christians look bad.”  The problem is that your non-Christian friends probably felt ambivalence toward Christianity before they had ever heard of Harold Camping.  The real problem is the sheep in the mirror.

I know that there have been plenty of times, through action or word, that I have trampled the pasture and muddied the waters.  My life did not reflect the shepherd or the life of the pasture He had provided.  I could blame Harold Camping for people not having a favorable view of Christianity, but I’m pretty sure I have done my fair share of making God’s pasture look less appealing.

Do I think that having a bad day in representing Christ is remotely comparable to false prophecy?  No.  But it never helps when we focus on our frustrations with the behavior of others.  God will take care of Mr. Camping, but my life in Christ is my responsibility.  Every day is an opportunity to live life in the pasture better than the day before.  Every day holds the promise of God’s mercy and grace for me to overcome the failures of yesterday.

Lord I pray that I would have eyes to watch my step, ears to hear you directing them and a will submitted to yours that I might walk them for your glory and honor.  Help me live a life in your pasture that draws others to your flock and doesn’t drive them away. Amen.

The Discipline of Presence: Forgiveness


Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV)
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It is interesting that the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus clarifies is the section on forgiveness.  Not God’s will, not daily bread, not temptation – just forgiveness.  It is the only prayer that is answered based on our success in doing the same for others.  Jesus is clearly speaking to the human propensity for holding a grudge that keeps us in our little kingdom-of-me instead of the Kingdom of God.

We have been doing some gardening behind the house the last few years and one thing is abundantly clear: you must tend the garden every day.  We learned this by watching horn worms devastate our tomato plants.  We took this to heart when weeds became so entangled with cucumber plants it was hard to tell them apart.  If we wanted our garden to bear fruit in season, we had to be disciplined everyday in its care and maintenance.

Condemnation, anger, arrogance and even hate can take root in our hearts if we do not tend the soil each day.  God wants fertile ground for the seeds of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (and) self-control.”  If we allow offenses to go unforgiven, our hearts are full of weeds that will not allow the fruitfulness God desires.  The ill-will we hold toward those we think have hurt us is like a worm eating at the vine that keeps us abiding in God.

Forgiveness is a daily discipline like weeding the garden. With God’s help, we can pull out the bitter roots and free up our hearts for the work of the Spirit. Forgiveness breaks the chains of judgment, pride and hate that can choke our growth in the Lord.  Forgiveness gives us eyes to see the wormy thoughts that eat away at the work of the Holy Spirit.  This is one of the ways we remain present in our walk with God.  It allows us to have an attitude toward others that reflects the attitude our heavenly Father has toward us:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

Is your compassion renewed each morning?  Do you begin each day by wiping the slate clean for others?  Maybe it is time to weed the soil of a heart that is broken and weary from the fruitless toil of anger and pain.  Maybe it is the season to prepare for new seeds to be planted, nurtured and watered with the work of the Holy Spirit.  Maybe today you can pull up one of those especially deep-rooted weeds that is keeping you from moving forward.  Maybe today is the day to move from being forgiven to being forgiving.