Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meaning to Life?

I walk upon this earthly ground
And seldom ponder life
That we should all come once by birth
And then to one day die.
What is this middle ground here for?
That chasm ‘tween birth and death?
A fraction of time, a group of seconds
Until eternal rest.
Should I say what skeptics say,
that this is all there is?
Or should I look to human kind
To explain this vast abyss?
Can a God out there exist who finds
Pure joy in knowing me?
And what does that imply for life
And all humanity?
I don’t think I like this questioning,
These thoughts of life and death
It’s easier to live inside my box,
That doesn’t ponder eternal rest.
But if I ignore that it exists,
It does not go away,
In fact the day grows closer still
That I begin decay.
So should I think about these things,
And decide what I want to be true,
For deep inside I know that I
Was meant to live for you.

Ok, so this poem is not about me, but I wanted to write something about someone who was struggling with the polar opposite views the world has to offer:
1. Meaning in life is only what we decide to create out of ourselves
2. Meaning in life exists for us to find - a truth that has to be accepted or uncovered. 

Thanks be to God that I know the Truth, and it has set me free! ~Karen

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pleasing God (Part Two - Knowing God)

Colossians 1:9-12

"For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects - bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints' inheritance in the light."

We looked at this scripture last week and determined that according to Paul in his letter to the church in Colossae, God is pleased when:
*We bear fruit
*We grow in knowledge
*We rely on His Strength, showing patience and steadfastness
*We joyfully give thanks to God

We discussed bearing fruit and now we can move on to "growing in the knowledge of God".....

Wow. Where do we start with this? Clearly, I am not a biblical scholar. My knowledge of God comes primarily through scripture and my relationship with him (and the Holy Spirit since the Bible states that the Holy Spirit teaches us wisdom). I do not claim to be wise, and I don't have time at this season of my life to research and write a novel on the idea of knowing God, or growing in the knowledge of God. Therefore, I will just expand on that which I was mulling over related to this scripture and the concept of Knowing God.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:8 "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ". Since it appears to suggest that our lives do not have any meaning when we do not know Christ, it must be pretty important. The question is, what does Knowing God mean?

Knowing God Vs. Knowing Of God
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and they ask, "Do you know Sally? You know, her parents are Mark and Peggy. They live over on Maple Drive?" To which you may respond, "Oh, sure I know her." What are you really saying? Are you saying you know Sally in the sense that you know your spouse? Or are you saying you know of her? Clearly, you are saying you know about her, but you really don't know her at all. If someone said they knew you after only having met you 10 minutes ago, would you be slightly bothered by that statement? I would. How could anyone presume to really know me after just ten superficial minutes of conversation? I think I am much more complex than ten minutes of conversation might suggest. These examples bring us to a few main points:

The depth that you can really know someone is limited by the willingness of the other party to disclose information about themselves to you.
Ever tried to get to know someone who wouldn't reciprocate the sharing of information? It is very difficult to establish a connection if the other party will not open up to you. The depth that you get to know them would be very shallow. In essence, you would not be able to say that you knew them, because you really know nothing about them. Even though you may have spent time together, it was not times of sharing, but just one sided. If another party will not allow you to learn about them, you will never understand who they are. It is the same way with God. If God does not disclose himself to you, you cannot begin to know Him. J.I. Packer writes in his book, Knowing God "The width of our knowledge about him [God] is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him". In other words, we can know a lot about him - we can study and memorize scripture to no end, but it doesn't mean we know God, it just means we know about him.

It takes time to truly get to know someone
Ever met someone and assumed you knew them only to find out that who you thought they are is completely different from who they now appear to be? We share ourselves gradually, over time. We develop relationships gradually, gaining understanding of one another. In order to get to know each other, we must spend time getting to know each other. That is one of the things that is so important about prayer. We must spend time with the God of this Universe, talking to Him if we want to get to know him. The lack of conversation with Him or reading his word will have us draw false conclusions that are built on our presumed knowledge, not on true knowledge uncovered through spending time with God.

It takes a personal relationship
Getting to know someone requires both parties to be involved. Just as you are uncovering and understanding the other party, the other party is establishing a relationship with you. It is a relationship that must be built on trust and honesty if it is to develop true knowledge of each person involved. How can we trust someone we do not know? If someone read a biography about my life, they might know a lot about me, but they would not truly know me at all. In order for them to know me, we must have a personal relationship. If someone says something false about me, a friend with a personal relationship might be able to defend me by saying, "I know Karen, and that does not sound like something she would do." That friend can justify her point of view because she actually knows me well enough to assume certain behaviors from me.  In the same way, we need a personal relationship with God in order to discern his will in our lives - how he would have us respond to certain situations, what he would have us invest our time in, etc.

It involves more than just intelligence
You can't only intellectually get to know someone within a personal relationship. When someone really knows you, they are emotionally connected and have a general concern for their good will. Packer writes, "They [two parties in a relationship] have identified themselves with, and so are personally and emotionally involved in, each other's concerns. They feel for each other, as well as thinking of each other. This is an essential aspect of the knowledge which friends have of each other; and the same applies to the Christian's knowledge of God." If we don’t have emotion behind a relationship - if it is only intellectual, it is hard to argue that there is any relationship at all. Now before you start to get nervous that I am suggesting that we should know God based on our flighty emotions - that is not what I am saying at all. But it is true that when we are part of a real relationship, we tend to emotionally care about the other's welfare and those things that are important to the other person. We should be the same way if we have a relationship with God. "Believers rejoice when their God is honored and vindicated and feel the acutest distress when they see God flouted."

Knowing God involves Grace
In order for us to develop a deep, true relationship with God, we must come to terms with the truth of who we are.  It is not as important that we know God, but that we know that He knows us. Obviously, we intellectually know that the Bible states that God is omniscient or all-knowing. We know intellectually that God knows us, but we don't really know within our spirit that God knows everything about us and loves us anyway. We have to begin to acknowledge and disclose the truth about who we are to God, so that there is room for his grace to work in our lives. In the same way that we may know about God, and not really know him, God may know about us, but not really know us. Thus the mystery of Matthew 7:22-23 "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!'" For God to know us, it means that there is an intimate relationship. It is not a factual based knowledge, but a sovereign-grace based knowledge, pointing to God's initiative in loving, choosing, redeeming, calling and preserving us. It is the meaning described in passages like the following "And the Lord said to Moses, 'I am pleased with you and I know you by name' (Ex 33:17). "Before I formed you [Jeremiah] in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart" (Jer 1:5) "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me....and I lay down my life for my sheep hear my voice; I know them....shall never perish (Jn 10:14-15, 27-28). Here we see that when God says he knows us, it is implying a saving grace, a redemption, personal affection, etc. God's love for the Christian whom he has chosen, is utterly realistic, based on fact, but supported with an emotional connection of true love and acceptance. What a blessing it is to be known by God!

Lord, as I go about my day today, help me to remember the importance of prayer, that continual communication within a relationship. Help me to be open and honest with myself before you. Thank you for the real, loving, personal relationship you offer to me. Let it be said on that day that you know me, and that I know you. ~Karen

Know Me
It was summers past in Sunday school, that I first heard your name.
You touched my heart and let me hear, the truth being proclaimed.
I knew the joy they talked about, just simply had to be.
I heard your gentle whisper say, “My child come, know me”

Through different towns and different schools, you protected me from pain
You gave me strength to live for you, in choices that I made.
When faced with friends who’d let me down, a comfort you would be,
And still I heard you softly whisper, “My daughter come, know me”

I went to college and there you put, desire down in my heart
To find out what this task of yours, to “know you” would impart
You used this time to train my mind, you made me ache for truth
I read so many books it seemed, that told me about you.
I sang about a rugged cross, and kneeled on bended knee,
And still I heard you softly whisper, “I want you to know me.”

These facts and figures I have learned, have taught me who I should be,
A Christian walk that’s filled with fruit, that other’s can plainly see.
But in this quest for intellectual truth, I seem to have made an error,
The command you give is still so firm, “Know Me” your voice says clearer.

So today you speak with strong resound, the knowledge that I seek
Cannot be found in wisdom of man, but by bowing at your feet.
A relationship built on opening my soul, to what you have to give
The grace that poured out on the cross, so that I may truly live.
To know you is to be your child, to walk with you on earth
To hear your voice instead of mine, and know my eternal worth.
I long to hear you say one day, when I arrive on high,
“I know that child, I’ve held her hand, as she walked by my side.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Battle

Lately I feel an overwhelming defense growing inside of me - a hesitation to absorb what seems to be a growing deception even among those teachers we trust. Something feels like we are being led astray. I am cautious, not wanting to condemn, not wanting to accept, not wanting to falsely accuse, and not wanting to make my thoughts self-righteous or pretend that I know more than someone else, that I know the truth and others don't. I am hesitant to do anything. I am not sure if this growing hesitation is a true reflection of what is out there, but it feels like the enemy is movng in. Something feels deceptive. I want to be aware. I want to be on guard. I feel the need to be in the Bible and pray. To be wary of all explanations of Biblical truth, including my own. I have never felt this burden of prayer or this vivid, moving concern over this growing evil that is moving. It is so deceptive! I am fearful that I too may be taken captive by some humanistic philosophy shrouded under a cloak of half-truths that I have followed from someone I percieve to be a Godly man or woman. I only have prayer and the scriptures to cling to. Don't get me wrong - I do not feel weak. But I do feel somewhat isolated. How can our society not see this real struggle, this real war that is surrounding us? How do we fight that which we cannot and do not acknowledge? We see the war and deny its existence! We see bodies strewn about, victims of this battle, and we step over them. We act like Satan is not a powerful, destructive, tactical foe. We pretend that we are benevolent Christians, bringing our feel-good philosphies to the world who just wanders about. we want to reach them, but we don't want to be too pushy. We don't want to come off like we have all the answers. We want them to drift towards God. This is not an amusement park, where we call people to our booth to convince them they will win by joining our team. This is a battle! This is life and death! We watch as our fellow Christians are led astray by deceptions! We watch as the lost wander aimlessly an easy target for an enemy who is anxiously, actively devouring! We tell ourselves that we just need to love people, to let them see God in our lives, that our actions alone will be enough to witness to people. Our enemy gives us this tactic. We have to preach the gospel! We have to tell people the truth! Yes, God is love - but not the kind of love defined by the world, which sacrifices itself to make others feel good. This is not about feeling good! True love hurts! True love has truth! True love exhibits justice! It fights evil! It defends righteousness! Our world is infiltrated with lies! Despicable behavior, lack of understanding, deceptive philosophies. True love exposes those lies! It may not feel like love the way it is defined by this world. But the definiton of love is GOD and HIS righteousness, not the other way around! When we say God is love, it does not mean that God exhibits what we define as love. It means GOD DEFINES WHAT LOVE IS! Truth! Righteousness!

Battles are not careful. War does not merge the two points of view. Tolerance is not a reality! It is not possible. In war, there are two ideals being fought for. You have to choose a side! The sides are at complete and utter opposites! We must pray for the success of Truth, of real Love - all of which is defined by God! We must stand for what is right! We don't only play defense, diggin in our heels and ducking inside the trench to protect ourselves from an advancing enemy. We have to play offense! We have to fight! We have to know what truth is before we can put on the belt of truth! We have to know what true righteousness looks like before we can put on the breastplate of righteousness. Our protection lies here! It lies in the truth found in scripture! It lies in Christ! Our protection must be born of Christ, and shrouded in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I cannot fight this on my own. I will be decieved. It is the power of Christ living in me that offers the only hope of salvation through this wasteland of destruction and lies. The smoke is rising. What side are you on? Just so you know, if you feel like there isn't a battle, that what I talk about is not really happening, not really important, then there is a good chance you are advancing the army of the enemy - and you just may be a soldier in that army!

I pray that Christ may reveal this battle to us as we move about the daily routines and activities. I pray that he will embolden us to pursue the Truth and speak about it to others. I pray that God's army might be stregthened - not only to endure the battle, but to overcome. I pray that we may be filled, encouraged and instructed by the Holy Spirit sent to us by Christ. Join the battle. Put on your armor, and fight! ~Karen

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pleasing God (part one)

Have you ever tried to please someone who thought they were perfect?  It's a losing proposition.  No matter how hard you try, you feel like it is never good enough.  Frustration ensues.  For some people, complacency sets in.  They give up, they quit trying.  "Why bother if it never seems to matter?" they ask themselves.  Others may have thier frustration lead them to rebellion.  "If I can't please them, I might as well do what I want to do" they might say.  "At least I will live my life my way, and have fun doing it!" Thier rebellion usually leads them somewhere they don't want to go, and thier happiness is elusive, darting around the next corner, the next road, the next unfulfilling relationship.

We serve a perfect God.  At times, I think our response can be like the ones I described above.  We view God as oppressive, as expecting too much out of us.  We strive for perfection in our own strength, defining that perfection from what we think God wants, and then we give up - tired, defeated, and sometimes a little rebellious.....

Colossians 1:9-12
"For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects - bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints' inheritance in the light."

So what does this mean?  How does this scripture help us to serve a perfect God? According to this passage, we can quit defining our own ways to please God!  It directly addresses this issue. 

According to Paul in his letter to the church in Colossae, God is pleased when:
*We bear fruit
*We Grow in knowledge
*We rely on His Strength, showing patience and steadfastness
*we joyfully give thanks to God

Bearing Fruit - Developing Your Branches
Have you ever thought about planting a fruit tree.  I have.  I always run into the same problem.  It takes so long for it to bear fruit!  I would plant one, but I am not sure I want to put the time and energy into a tree that I amy never enjoy the fruit on.  We might move before then, and then it would all be a waste!  Sometimes I think the same way spiritually.  I know that I have the seed of life planted within me.  It needs to grow, to be nourished.  It takes time.  The payoff might be elusive, and at times, it seems like more work than what I think I might get out of it.  The result is stunted growth.  In areas of my life that should have larger, strong branches ready to bear fruit, I have puny stems with a few leaves on them.  Other branches, I have developed well, but the weight of these branches in proportion to the ones I am lacking in, makes me struggle to maintain my balance.  A proper tree spreads its branches evenly, and grows cohesively.  This allows it withstand wind storms, heavy rain, drought and hail.  When I choose to develop one area, and don't address others, I am weaking my ability to withstand adversity from the devil.  I will spend more time trying to keep upright, trying not be unrooted, trying to bend without breaking, that I lose sight of the fruit I was intended to bear, and I switch to survival mode.  The devil likes this.  I am an easy target for being a dissuaded, complacent, frustrated, tired Christian.  I am not threat.  A single storm might take me a year to recover from.  When instead, I allow each branch to be developed by God, in His time and focus on the areas he wants me to grow in, and the way in which he intends to make them grow, I am firm.  I am unshakeable.  I am mighty.  I bear a lot of fruit!  When the devil tries to attack, I don't fight with my own strength.  I allow God to easily bend and move my branches through the storm.  I maintain my balance, I maintain my peace, and most importantly I remain firmly rooted in Christ.

Bearing Fruit - Different Fruit Types
When you think about a tree that will give fruit, I usually think of an apple or pear tree.  The problem I have, is that sometimes I see a pear tree and I want it to produce apples, and sometimes I may see an apple tree that I want to produce oranges.  Of course, I am speaking spiritually.  God has created me as a special kind of tree.  I bear the most fruit when I join him in trying to bear the fruit he made me to bear.  If I was an apple tree and focused on bearing pears, I would bear very few fruit (apples) because I was so focused on trying to bear fruit that I was not created to bear.  If I accept that I am an apple tree, and focus on bearing superior apples, I may be so prolific that my branches would bend under the weight.  In additon, the number of apples would be so great, that the one harvesting may not be able to keep up!  A few apples may just drop and rot on the ground, and help to produce a new apple tree (spreading the gospel)!  If I am to bear a large quantity and great quality fruit, I need to join in God's purpose for my life, and accept who it is that He made me to be.  I also need to accept that he made others to bear other types of fruit.  Sometimes we look at others and expect them to bear fruit they were not created to bear.  We ask them to assist in projects they don't like, or don't feel especially skilled for.  We want them to act a certain way, to dress a certain way, to share the gospel a certain way, to raise thier kids a certain way, and we deny the fact that they may be created to display different fruit than we do.  In fact, their fruit is unique to them!  Just like ours, thier fruit is priceless to thier Heavenly Father, as long as they too, have recognized how God made them and have joined Him to bear the fruit He asks them to bear.

Bearing Fruit - Different Fruit Purposes
Some fruit is not intended to eat.  Or at least, not intended for fresh consumption.  Take the coffee tree.  It produces a red berry.  Inside that berry, is a seed that breaks into two halves.  These halves are roasted to create the coffee bean.  If you decided to eat a coffee berry in it's raw state, without proper preparation, you would be in for a bitter, deceptive surprise.  Don't be fooled though!  The fruit is intentional. The fruit is created well.  Don't assume it is a burden, or a waste.  From face-value, from the raw state, it may not seem useful, helpful, or a blessing, but sometimes God wants our fruit to be prepared.  He gives us fruit that takes time and energy to develop into a rich aroma!  Our fruit may be intended for a special task, that no other fruit can accomplish.  It may take special preparation.  It may take additional time.  It is worth it.  Allowing the grower (God) to harvest this fruit, to peel away the extra layers (you know - the ones that make it look nice, the layers that protect what he is really after - the treasured core, the heart of us) this pleases God! Let your fruit be useful!  Allow God to prepare it for His service, for His glory!

Lord, help me to develop slowly, and intentionally - the way you created me to be, bearing fruit that you intended for me to bear, and allowing you to develop that fruit to be used for you purpose.  Let my firm foundation be rooted in You, and let your Holy Spirit flow through me so that others may see the security of my branches and the blessings of the fruit you create, and give prasie to the glory of God!  Amen.