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He Sees You

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When life is going a bit crazy for us or we are facing challenges that terrify us, we can be tempted to wonder if God sees us and whether or not He will leave us in the place where we are. If we are honest, those times will come to most all of us – times when too many things hit at once or we are weak or tired.

 

When life is humming along pretty smoothly, it can be easy to forget that life is a roller coaster more often than we like. It’s hard, unpredictable (more than we wish), and tests our will, our faith foundation, and our endurance.

 

We read stories in the Bible of how in times past people experienced such times as that as well, but it can somehow miss the mark of putting us right there in their situation to see how powerful the response of God is. Too often we read the Bible abstractly instead of reading it as a personal message from God to us.

 

I recently was reading a wonderful biography of Susannah Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes, Jr. entitled Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon. Most of us know of and have read things of her well-known husband and giant of the faith, Charles Spurgeon, but known little of her. If that is true of you, I would encourage you to read a good biography of her and discover the powerful faith, love, and tenacity of this woman whose life so profoundly impacted her husband during his lifetime as well as extended his influence after his death.

 

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At one point in the biography there was the inclusion of how Susie visualized the passage in Mark 6 after Jesus had fed the 5,000 with the loaves and fish provided by a small boy’s lunch. Jesus has sent the disciples in a boat across the Sea of Galilee while He goes up into the mountain to pray. A storm breaks upon the sea and the boat, but as Susie visualizes it in her writing, she puts you in the scene and allows you to see with fresh eyes what Jesus saw:

 

“Do you see that small ship on a wind-swept lake? Storm and darkness are fast gathering their forces together, the sea is tossing and raging in passionate war-cry of the tempest, and serious danger is menacing the men in the frail vessel.”

 

She goes on to describe the disciples: “straining every nerve and muscle to make for the opposite shore, they labour at the oars with almost superhuman strength but they are no match against the tremendous force of the wind and wave which beats them back continually, and threatens to engulf them. Your heart fails you as you look on their perilous position, and you expect every moment that the sea will swallow up its prey.”

 

Whatever storm of life you may find yourself in can make it easy for you to identify with her description of a passage most of us know well.

 

Does He see them?  He was up on a mountain praying after all.

 

Does He see us?

 

Susannah Spurgeon doesn’t leave us on that stormy sea, but moves our gaze as she writes:

 

“But now turn your gaze land-wards. On the bow of an adjacent hill stands a solitary, but majestic Man. He is intently watching the rowers in that trembling, storm-tossed bark. Not a danger is over-looked, not an effort is unnoticed, not a fear in their hearts does not thrill His soul with pity, and appeal to His tenderest love. He is going to save them, and in the manner of their deliverance will gloriously manifest His own Divine power and goodness. He will presently tread under His feet the waves of that turbulent sea, and compel those fierce gales to quail before Him in silent homage.”

 

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Pexels

The storm, the fear and uncertainty become very real as Susie Spurgeon “sees” the scene play out in Mark 6 and in that same visualization she reveals a key point: In the midst of the gale and stormy sea the disciples could not see the “majestic Man”  on the land looking over them. That truth made it more fearsome and a sharp knife to cut away at hope and faith.

 

Our challenge is to take what we read and see and remember through Susie’s keen insight that while we wonder if He sees us in our difficulty we miss that the problem is not if He sees, but that we can’t see Him for that time so our belief of his care for us can be shaken just like the disciples in the boat.

 

You may well say that even if He was there, He didn’t quell the storm in your life and it’s true that He doesn’t always do that. Our challenge is to know and believe He is there even if He does not stop the raging storm, we find ourselves in AND to know He will go with us through that storm. He wants our faith in Him to be unwavering, the foundation upon which all else is built.

 

“Now faith brings our hopes into reality and becomes the foundation needed to acquire the things we long for. It is all the evidence required to prove what is still unseen.”

Hebrews 11:1 (TPT)

 

He sees and cares as Susie describes.

 

Do you see Him with your eyes of faith even though your natural eyes cannot now see Him?

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Are You Shining?

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Many of you may be thinking that is the wrong question. Life has been hard for months on so many levels. A virus came and upended the world as we knew it, but that wasn’t all. It crashed the economy, stopped every sweet event we had planned or hoped for, and battered us with one negative news report after another. And if that weren’t enough, personal lives were being hit with all manner of diagnoses beyond the virus, cars were breaking down, house repairs suddenly appeared, and the downward tug on our spirits was worse for lack of fellowship in our places of worship.

 

In the midst we have heard reminders that we are in the last days before the Lord’s return and that has provoked fear in some and longing in others. Yet we are called to be light in the darkness because as believers the One who resides in us IS light! He is described shining so beautifully in Hebrews:

 

” He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”

Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)

 

Today I was reading in 2 Timothy and when I came to the third chapter Paul’s words sounded so much like this season:

 

“But you need to be aware that in the final days the culture of society will become extremely fierce and difficult for the people of GodPeople will be self-centered lovers of themselves and obsessed with money. They will boast of great things as they strut around in their arrogant pride and mock all that is right. They will ignore their own families. They will be ungrateful and ungodly.

They will become addicted to hateful and malicious slander. Slaves to their desires, they will be ferocious, belligerent haters of what is good and right. With brutal treachery, they will act without restraint, bigoted and wrapped in clouds of their conceit. They will find their delight in the pleasures of this world more than the pleasures of the loving God.”

2 Timothy 3:1-4 (TPT)

 

We have been living differently for months and most of us thought by now we might be back to what we call “normal,” but we hear more about “new normal” (whatever that is) than we did a few months ago. Some of us might feel a bit like the psalmist when he wrote this:

 

“But how could we sing the song of the Lord
in this foreign wilderness?”

Psalm 147:4 (TPT)

 

Perhaps you haven’t felt like we are wandering in the wilderness during this time, but it’s likely that some of you have.

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Our challenge is that this is the exact time we are to be light – the world is darker than it was when 2020 began.

 

There are lots of things that can cause that light to dim or flicker, but perhaps that relates to what we are watching, reading, and listening to. It can depend on whether we are looking to other flawed humans to find a solution – quickly – for everything that is ailing us. Maybe we are caught up in news or reading books to try to become more enlightened and missing the invitation Jesus offers in Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

Maybe we are relying on ourselves again…

 

Within days of each other, my husband and daughter each had a surgical procedure and our son was diagnosed with lymphoma in a tumor in his deep sinuses and that was not all that was hitting in the midst of sheltering in place due to the virus. I get the challenges. They came to our family and house as well, but they also brought us to our knees and the only source of “good news” that caused our focus to shift from the news and manmade solutions so our hearts’ desires could be for Him above all.

 

Maybe we get more easily disheartened during this time because we don’t know our history or more truthfully God’s history.

 

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I was listening to a sermon by Dr. Mark Rutland while I was out for a walk. The theme was reviewing some historical markers of how God has shown up in the least likely persons at the darkest of times. It served as a reminder that if our focus is on Him, would we not take hope in that and our lights shine more brightly?

 

Dr. Rutland included some of our favorite biblical characters like Moses and Ruth, but he included some more recent ones including an unlikely little man with a high pitched nasal voice who failed as a missionary in America, returned home to England in 1738 and was called to lead a church in the midst of an historic dark time when the “gin craze” was at its peak in an  unprecedented way. Violence and prostitution of all kinds were rampant as bars in London numbered over 65,000 where one could get drunk for a penny. The clergy were impotent in the face of it all. Yet God chose John Wesley whose in the midst with a message that changed the world. An unlikely choice at a time when darkness was very dark. God surprised the world with light and truth and hope.

 

But there were other examples as well:

  • 1798 the American Revolutionary War is over, the Constitution is set and in the wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky all manner of dangers were happening. It was not a time anyone could expect an awakening back then. It was the wild wild west. Yet on the frontier in little churches revival broke out in a place called Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Thousands of people (20,000) came together without any means to let anyone know and the power of God broke out and changed people and that area.

 

  • 1967 Haight-Ashbury, CA was the scene of the riots that were commonplace during that time. Buildings were being fire-bombed, drugs, prostitution were the norm. No hope was there then and people were discouraged that life would ever improve. It was an unlikely place at an unlikely time. It was a time of great division in America. Then in that time an explosion of revival hit that changed the move of God in an unlikely time and in an unlikely place.

 

These reminders should adjust our perspective and the direction of our hope. Let us not forget in these dark times in every corner of the world, God is present and preparing unlikely people in unlikely places to be light.

 

Could that be you?

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Be Thou My Vision

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Photo by Rob Blair

 

If our hearts need to be recalibrated to the Lord’s design and break free of the subconscious influences pulling us down paths we do not intend, James K.A. Smith points to worship as the key to recalibration:

 

“One of the goals of Christian worship is to “character-ize” us…”

 

Most of us immediately think of music when we read or hear the word worship, but it is far more than that and includes the form and flow of the liturgy in whatever format we experience. It reminds us of the “God story” of which we are a part. It reminds us of who we are and who we are to be because of the Lord and where our citizenship is.

 

One of the many losses most of us have experienced has been not being able to participate in community services of worship during the viral pandemic. I believe that has surely affected our difficulty with dealing with all the chaos and challenges we have been living through. Worshipping alone or online does not envelope us as it does when we are in the midst of others worshipping.

 

Tuning out the abundance of news and headlines while driving during this time has become my habit. Instead I have enjoyed podcasts and a smorgasbord of worship music and yesterday I pulled out a CD that I had not listened to for quite a long time for a half hour drive to an appointment. It wove together classical themes and hymns in stunning instrumentation.

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Although I enjoy so much of modern worship choruses and songs, I still love the power and story so many of the classic hymns tell. As I was listening to this CD, I was aware that we have not been in a church that does a great many hymns in the collection of music we use, but after so many years the melodies and many of the words come to mind easily.

 

One of the hymns on the album that stood out to me was Be Thou My Vision  and as I recalled the verses of the hymn I was reminded those words echo a prayer that we all might benefit from – that the Lord is the vision that needs (more than ever) to capture our hearts. Look at the lyrics of this famous Irish hymn once again:

 

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art –
thou my best thought, by day or by night;
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; thine own may I be,
thou in me dwelling and I one with thee.

Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only first in my heart,
high King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

 

Never have we needed more to have Him as our vision – waking and sleeping – providing us with wisdom, being at one with the Lord and reminded once again that it is, He who is to be first in our heart.

 

And we don’t need to sugar coat what we are experiencing in our worship or conversations with the Lord. He wants us to be real, authentic, and honest (even brutally so) and sometimes we forget that unless we have recently read through the Psalms that are very pithy and full of honest expressions.

 

Our time of worship is to be that way – real, authentic, honest. We need to slough off the tendency to wrap our words and expressions with Christian verbiage and clichés’. After all, the Lord sees right through them all to what is really happening in our heart. Using them only serves to delude us and deny the Lord is big enough to handle the war, torment, anguish, and confusion going on inside of us.

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Perhaps we have bought into the consumer gospel focusing on what we want and want to hear. If we do, we miss the power of God’s story throughout all time and miss the role we play in it and his purpose for us as salt and light even in uncertain dark times. That role has been one we have been consistently called to from the beginning of humankind’s creation.

 

James K.A. Smith in the chapter in You Are What You Love entitled What Story Are You In? – The Narrative Arc of Formative Christian Worship writes:

 

“Christian worship doesn’t just teach us how to think; it teaches us how to love, and it does so by inviting us into the biblical story and implanting that story in our bones.”

 

We need that story in our bones resonating above the noise of hopelessness and despair. When we pour out our authentic honest life experience, the Lord fills us with the “God story”and reminds us we are a part of that grand story and He has written the very best ending we can ever imagine.

 

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Calibration – Recalibration

 

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

When the Lord created humankind, he calibrated our hearts to be lovers above all else and to have that love aligned toward Him and his designs and desires for the Kingdom here on earth. But in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve yielded the ground of their hearts to Lucifer when he nudged the desires of their hearts for the forbidden fruit, the hearts of humankind got out of sync. The original calibration went amiss.

 

This loving what was from God should have been straightforward and easier, but from that day forward what we longed for and desired was always influenced by the choices made back then in Eden. The allure of many things could distract us from the best things, and they did. Our sin nature pulled at the threads of our subconscious.

 

The wants, longings and desires of our hearts are what impact everything we do and tend to determine the course we are on. It is the battleground that either helps or hinders the renewal of our minds. And since our loves can be pulled in so many directions from an array of influences (some recognized and others not), gaining more understanding about the ground we are to guard and protect is crucial.

 

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

God knew that we needed a heart fix, a major heart adjustment to regain the clear recognition that He is love and we are made to be lovers of all things godly and good. When Jesus volunteered to come to earth in the flesh, one of the key purposes was to show us what love is, who He is and always was. He wanted to clarify what we wanted, sought, and yearned for as the crux of the matter. John showed us that in his Gospel when we saw Jesus ask the key question, “What are you seeking?

 

When sin had entered in back in Eden, the sacrifices humankind knew from the Old Testament had been an effort to find our way back to God, but the relationship was still damaged because the blood of bulls, lambs, goats, and doves did not change the heart. But there was one thing that could and that was what Jesus intended to do when He chose to lay down his life on the cross and then allow the Holy Spirit to come to speak to us in our hearts so our hearts could begin to be recalibrated to what God planned at the outset.

 

Calibration means to set or adjust something so it works as it was designed to work. If something is amiss from the original settings, then recalibration is needed.

 

The truth is that our hearts need to be recalibrated. The Lord’s love sacrifice at Calvary opened the door for us if we have invited Him into our hearts, but life is still tricky and our adversary stays busy with his old tricks trying to lure us to love other things and distract us from the path our hearts are to take.

 

“While being human means we can’t not love something ultimate – some version of the kingdom – it doesn’t mean we necessarily love the right things, or the true King. God has created us for himself and our hearts are designed to find their end in him, yet many spend their days restlessly craving rival gods, frenetically pursuing rival kingdoms. The subconscious longings of our hearts are aimed and directed elsewhere; our orientation is askew; our erotic compass malfunctions, giving us false bearings.”

James K.A. Smith

 

Those subconscious things have often been there for a long time and they have taken ground because we practiced them as habits, we sought to satisfy longings. What we didn’t recognize at the time was that those things we were doing were also doing something to us and it wasn’t going to be easy to stop doing them. In truth they were affecting what we worshipped as they became idols we yielded to again and again.

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Even as believers at the outset those old subconscious yearnings were not totally tamed, and they would haunt us and track us hoping we would yield. When we tried to think our way through the challenge, we could sometimes see what happened but that didn’t totally quell the heart’s old tastes.

 

Worship as a path to recalibration is a key tool because we don’t think our way toward worshipping God.

 

James K.A. Smith clarifies why worship is essential to the task:

 

“A more holistic response is to intentionally recalibrate the unconscious, to worship well, to immerse ourselves in liturgies that are indexed to the kingdom of God precisely so that even our unconscious desires and longings – the affective, under-the-hood ways we intend the world – are indexed to God and what God wants for his world.

The practices of Christian worship train our love – they are practice for the coming kingdom, habituating us as citizens of the kingdom of God.”

From You Are What You Love

 

I think Paul understood a great deal about what was needed to recalibrate our hearts. Listen to what he said to the church at Colossae:

 

“15 Let your heart be always guided by the peace of the Anointed One, who called you to peace as part of his one body. And always be thankful.

16 Let the word of Christ live in you richly, flooding you with all wisdom. Apply the Scriptures as you teach and instruct one another with the Psalms, and with festive praises, and with prophetic songs given to you spontaneously by the Spirit, so sing to God with all your hearts!”

Colossians 3:15-16 (TPT)

 

Smith echoes that when he writes:

 

“The orientation of the heart happens from the bottom up, through the formation of our habits of desire. Learning to love (God) takes practice.”

 

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Virtue

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Virtue is a word we rarely hear used these days and that is indeed unfortunate since there appears to be a great deal of evidence that having more virtue would be good medicine for what ails society at present.

 

Virtue is derived from the Latin word “virtus” (the personification of which was the deity Virtus), and had the connotations of “manliness,” “honour”, worthiness of deferential respect, and civic duty as both a citizen and a soldier. The word was popular in the early 1800’s and then began to decline in use up to the present time. Perhaps that decline was propelled by more focus on self-actualization and individualism and a disappointment in its absence in the lives of those who were to model it as well as losing track of our heart’s condition.

 

We wanted so many things and we wanted them to diminish the longings in our hearts that had been ravaged by disease, war, economic collapses, and the breakdown of the family unit. We wanted anesthesia for our hearts, and we found many ways to accomplish that whether through work, play, or chasing after some perceived sense of what “the good life” should be. And we paid little attention to how such an anesthetized heart would lose track of God (much like Israel) and began to search for our desires by means of “less wild lovers” as John Eldredge would say.

 

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Some of these paths resulted in greater loss than we could have imagined and discovery that these other loves had chained us to addictions over which we had less and less control.

 

In The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge they describe what happens through the power of addiction of any kind:

 

“Whatever the object of addiction is, it attaches itself to our intense desire for eternal and intimate communion with God and each other in the midst of Paradise – the desire that Jesus himself placed in us before the beginning of the world. Nothing less than this kind of unfallen communion will ever satisfy our desire or allow it to drink freely without it imprisoning it and us. Once we allow our heart to drink water from these less-than-eternal wells with the goal of finding the life we were made for, it overpowers our will and becomes as Jonathan Edwards said, “like a viper, hissing and spitting at God” and us if we try to restrain it.”

 

Our heart is the battleground.

 

When we have anesthetized our hearts, we are desperately in need of the only One who can and did offer an escape – Jesus on the cross. And we need a steady supply of virtue that causes us to look upward and out to others rather than to that nagging wanting that has driven us to the dead-end path we can find ourselves on.

 

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If we are (as James K.A. Smith says) what we love, then what we love and practicing seeking after determines a great deal of how the battle for our hearts will go.

 

Smith makes a great case for what virtues are and what they accomplish in the battle for our heart:

 

“Virtues, quite simply, are good moral habits. (Bad moral habits, as you might guess, are called “vices.”) Good moral habits are like internal dispositions to the good – they are character traits that become woven into the who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be compassionate, forgiving, and so forth. Virtues thus are different from moral laws or rules, which are external stipulations of the good.”

 

Maybe we have missed this crucial understanding as we have passed more and more laws as the answer to helping us all to be better as individuals, citizens, states, and nations. They are all external and we have a plethora of them already that have not accomplished the internal character and virtue we desperately need.

 

Our pastor recently preached a sermon that reflected that noting that the problems swirling around us today (in whatever part of the world we live or find ourselves) cannot be resolved by any means unless we each and all address the condition of our hearts. And that is something we have left unattended for far too long so that we are sometimes caught up in calling evil good and good evil.

 

So, if we need more virtue, how does one acquire it in this postmodern era we live in?

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Smith’s book that I have referenced says it comes from two key things: imitation and practice. Could it be that as believers we are imitating more of what the world around us is saying and doing than the virtues we ascribe to?

 

Smith describes the two things we must do as follows:

 

“First, we learn our virtues through imitation. More specifically, we learn to be virtuous by imitating exemplars of justice, compassion, kindness, and love.

Secondly, acquiring virtue takes practice. Such moral, kingdom-reflecting dispositions are inscribed into your character through rhythms and routines and rituals, enacted over and over again, that implant in you a disposition to an end (telos) that become a character trait – a sort of learned, second- nature default orientation that you tend toward “without thinking about it.” It’s important to recognize that such dispositions are not “natural.” We’re not talking about hardwiring or natural instincts. Virtues are learned and acquired, through imitation and practice. It’s like we have moral muscles that are trained in the same way our biological muscles are trained when we practice a golf swing or piano scales.”

James K.A. Smith in You Are What You Love

 

It may be that we need more time in the spiritual gym to develop those moral muscles to accomplish what we need. To do that we will need to set aside other “less wild lovers” that we tend toward and be more aware of what we are feeding in ourselves by what we watch or read and who we imitate.

 

I think Peter understood that when he penned this verse:

 

“But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world.”

1 Peter 2:9 (TPT)

 

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