Seeking

Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those who seek and require the Lord [as their most essential need] rejoice.
Psalms 105:3 AMP

This morning as my wife read our morning devotional aloud, and Mia and I listened — my waking mind wandered and struggled to maintain focus. As she finished and it was time for me to pray, I realized that I wasn’t sure that I had really comprehended everything that was spoken. But lyrics from a song immediately came to mind that seemed to fit so well with the parts that I had heard — and I prayed about how God is worthy always. I prayed about when our circumstances are challenging, or when we need to let go of things like fear, anxiety, anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, temptations, or sin that poisons our spirit ands hinders our worship– and that anyone can easily see how those things cause hurt in the world — that time worshipping changes that. When we desire to be with the Lord and spend time with Him, He changes us in that intimate time together.

My mom shared with me yesterday how she starts each day with prayer and how some mornings it comes easy and is quick, and some mornings it is more challenging or long, but that it is always good. I shared with her that I’ve had the same experience and that I sometimes mistake “needing more time with Him” with being “my fault” or “something I’ve done” as the reason for the difference. While that can be the case, that my own self can hinder the process of prayer and worship — who is greater, and who is the solution when I need healing? JESUS!

Speaking with mom on the topic, I was reminded of a video that my pastor Mark Pangel shared of a prophet speaking “there is no wasted time, there is no wasted effort” and given instruction “clean the house” and “the lost coin will be found”. And we talked about how our limited perspective just doesn’t see things right.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10221320729860998&id=1030524632

It’s like people who foolishly say “Israel wouldn’t have had to walk through the wilderness for 40 years if they had just obeyed God” and stop there. While the facts of their statement might check out when measured by the law — and their exegesis may check all the boxes — they might have missed the whole point of God’s sovereign will and His purpose to walk close and intimate with them, and that He purposed, designed, planned and allowed that time for a specific reason.

Knowledge is easy for smart people, and rules and laws, and cause and effect makes sense to them — but wisdom is something greater than just accumulated knowledge — and wisdom begins with the fear of God.

I encourage you to watch and consider this wonderful video “He confounds the wise”:

Sometimes God has to break me out of the pattern of “just” reading comprehension, of “just” good hermeneutics, of “just” application, of “just” knowledge, of “just” understanding — to intimate time soaking in His presence.

Whether we need a quick shower to get on our way, or whether He has a long soak in the tub in store for us — whether our prayer and worship to start the morning ends up peacefully finished in our allotted timeslot — or whether it lasts through our morning commute and we must sit in our parked car for an extended time before entering our day’s responsibilities — our time is not wasted, our effort is not wasted. He is working in us to desire and to do His good pleasure, to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, to turn graves into gardens, to turn mourning into dancing, to trade ashes for beauty. Amen.

“Graves into Gardens” is a song performed by American contemporary worship band Elevation Worship and American contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Brandon Lake which was released as the second single from their eighth live album of the same name, Graves into Gardens (2020), on August 7, 2020. The song was written by Brandon Lake, Chris Brown, Steven Furtick and Tiffany Hammer.

We sing this song because we have known the power of taking time to seek the Lord, desiring to know Him better. We’ve experienced coming freely into His presence and letting our hearts rejoice in Him regardless of the circumstances around us at the time because HE IS WORTHY OF PRAISE. when we ate standing upon the Holy Ground of genuine praise and worship, and we breathe in the rarefied air of His holiness, refusing our cars and concerns to rest in awe and wonder of the His glory, His presence envelops us like a big, spiritual hug, permeating us through and through — and He turns graves into gardens, turns mourning into dancing, gives beauty for ashes.

Thank you, Jesus!

Where will we make our home?

And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, Or  to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall  be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything  but death parts you and me.”
Ruth 1:15-17 NKJV
http://bible.com/114/rut.1.15-17.NKJV

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
John 14:21-23 NKJV
http://bible.com/114/jhn.14.21-23.NKJV

We choose each day who it is we are making our home with. Are we making our home with the world? Or are we a traveler here in this place making preparations for our eternal home? What we do today,  how we live,  is the reflection of what our heart truly desires – indicates what we truly believe. What will your life say today about where you have chosen to make your home?

As we make decisions about selling our home and moving to the farm,  I hope that our decisions are not as much about the house that we will be constructing – as about the home that we will be making for our family and friends.

Lord, don’t allow us to be satisfied living a life where you have not infiltrated every area of our life. Lord,  create in us a hunger to leave the temporary and worthless things of this world and to cling to the abundant life of a day filled with the fruit of your Holy Spirit. Teach us to love and serve and honor you in our actions, in our service,  from the time we wake up until the time that we go to sleep. Teach us to side step empty religious practice and to instead, dive into a life swimming in your presence. Teach us to love. Teach us to live. Amen.

Habit or Love?

In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:25 ESV
http://bible.com/59/1co.11.25.ESV

Life Application Study Bible
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Jesus said, “Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” How do we remember Christ in the Lord’s Supper? By thinking about what he did and why he did it. If the Lord’s Supper becomes just a ritual or a pious habit, it no longer remembers Christ, and it loses its significance.

Personal Commentary
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It’s supposed to be about our hearts, not just our minds or our outward actions.

This is why we can’t argue theology hard enough to bring someone to Christ – that will only teach someone how to study religious things closely. That might win what Jesus called a “religious convert” when He was rebuking the Pharisees and explaining that they cross the oceans to win converts who were twice the devil they themselves were. Religious practice, even works, if they are void of love,  if the Holy Spirit is not the one actively manifesting those things,  then they are nothing but empty religious sacrifice,  like filthy rags in the eyes of God.

Practicing religion doesn’t buy you a stairway to heaven. Attending church and tithing doesn’t pave the way to earning God’s favor. Doing great works for the needy doesn’t convince the Lord that you are worthy of His love. Yes, all of these things are morally good, and if a person is Holy Spirit filled and led, these things should be manifest from the love that fills our heart towards God and towards others, our of the grattitude that we have for this gift of grace that we have received.

But if it comes out of obligation to try to meet the requirements of the law,  if it comes from our trying to be perfect,  or our trying to earn honor or respect our titles or position – we must ask ourselves if we are striving in vanity and pride or if we are humbly seeking a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior.

People can trade in their opportunity for the Word of God to bring them closer to understanding and knowing Him and settle instead for intellectual pursuit of high minded theology and understanding. But His resolve is for us to lean not upon our own understanding,  but to trust in the Lord. Do you see that He’s bidding us to participate in a trust filled relationship with Him – not a religious or theological exercise. Isn’t this part of what He means when He tells us that He desires mercy and not sacrifice?

When we look through the repeated examples of those imperfect people mentioned in the Bible,  don’t we uncover a recurring theme that proves that He uses imperfect lives, imperfect people, even people with clear and visible faults and failings – but when they truly desire a close relationship with Him, that His power and His grace and His glory is demonstrated perfectly and clearly as His work and not their own. I wonder why this is such an easy message to overlook? Is empty religious practice maybe one of the most slippery and sly tactics of the enemy use to tempt us to take our hearts and our eyes off of a close,  restored relationship with the only prize worth having?

Isn’t this why even the religious will look at a sold out, Christ loving, life surrendering, self sacrificing disciple filled with Christ the hope of glory who lives in them – and they will be confused about a God that draws near and close to His children and that is involved in every aspect of their lives,  both blessing and disciplining those who are His, and providing for them in every way that is best for their eternal growth, many times at a cost to their worldly comfort and pleasure that the world can’t understand is a blessing of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. The religious happily lift things to their “gods” on occasion as ceremony and practice,  but never draw close,  and are satisfied to put their religion back on the shelf whole they return to their worldly lives until it is time once again to offer sacrifices.

But this is not the story of a Child of God. This is not the description of you who love the Lord. You see, those who know the Lord,  those who love Him, those who truly seek to be drawn closer and closer to Him,  to be reconciled into His presence – those who seek Him not only as Mighty God, those who not only seek Him as Lord, those who do not only seek Him as Savior – but those who seek Him as their love,  as their portion, as their prize – this is us, friend.

Please, do not settle for religion when you can have relationship. Do not settle for practiced sacrifice when you can have presence and mercy and power. Don’t settle for ceremony when you can enter into worship and experience the breath of life touching and moving and stirring your heart. Don’t settle for surface examination of the Word of God,  or even in theological examination,  when you can let the Word of God be written upon your heart and applied in your life as we are changed and revoked in the potter’s hands.

Are you in His hands today? Are you close and in His arms, friend? If not, are you running back towards His house, seeking to return to His house,  His presence,  His love? His loving arms are open,  friend. His forgiveness,  His mercy,  His grace is there for you.

Do not settle for separation, do not think that one day, after you die you will see God – for that is true of many who will meet Him at judgement and who will hear,  “Depart from me,  I never knew you, you workers of iniquity!” Know Him today,  do not say,  “I will tomorrow” – you do not know that life will allow you another breath. Turn now from whatever is capturing your eyes and your desires and your ginger and your thirst for laser things that will only drag you into the pit of flames with them – and know and love the only one that has true, sacrificial,  godly love for you that will fill that emptiness in your heart forever.

Yes, He is your soulmate. Yes, He is the love that is meant to take over your life. Yes,  He is the all consuming fire that is meant to fill our lives to overflowing.

Has His love taken over your life?

Do you want it to?

Or are you “just fine” on your own?

Wake up, or realize today the death that you are walking in. One way or the other,  hear the warning cries of His messengers,  and decide not only who you will serve,  but who it is that you truly love.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:25-28 ESV
http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-28.ESV

Will You Join in my Struggle?

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:30 NLT
http://bible.com/116/rom.15.30.NLT

Do we care enough to join in the struggles of other believers?

I have to admit that for me,  the answer is – “Not often enough,  but I’m learning to change.”

In our Friday night small group,  I’ve explained that one of our key goals is becoming a closely knit group that cares about each other. Not just a group that prays the grocery list of prayer requests,  but that digs into the emotions and spiritual struggles of each others’ situations both together in action and together in prayer – so that we mourn together and we celebrate together.

Unity in the body of Christ,  I have to believe is less about the facts and details of our theology and more about being of one mind and direction, seeking God’s will as communicated in the Word of God, being draw closer to the Lord in our walks, and in turn closer to one another. And when we are in unity seeking first the Kingdom of God and righteousness, all those other things, those things that Christ explains to the Pharisees are the lesser things – they will be added to us.

Doesn’t He tell us that love fulfills the law? Doesn’t He tell us that there is no law against the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t He tell us that we should keep in step with the Spirit and not walk in the flesh?

So why is there so much bickering and argument over these lesser things, over the details of the law? Why are men so interested in learning about God in their minds but refusing to love in their hearts?

And someone might say, but what if I love someone or something that the Lord doesn’t love? And I say, how can this be unless it is sin,  unless it is evil?

And they will say,  but how can I know if someone is evil? And I say,  the Lord tells us that our enemies are not flesh and blood, that He does not wish that even one should perish, that we should love and pray for even those men and women whom we think are our enemies. Not to pray for their evil or wickedness to prevail,  God forbid! But that we pray that they come to know Christ closer and be delivered from those unseen forces that are influencing their lives because of the sin they have not yet released from their clutches.

Sinners cling to sin, that’s what we as men and women of flesh and blood do until it is cast out – until He who is in us overcomes it. But until then, we hold onto it,  we even try to hide it from ourselves. We act foolishly as if we can hide it from God,  like Adam and Eve in the garden. So we all need to be made aware of sin wherever it exists in our lives, and we need to pray for deliverance through His strength,  not just our own striving. We need to be opposed to sin, both in our lives and the lives of others – not so that we can consider ourselves perfect or expect others to be perfect – but so that we can do our part to minimize sin’s affect on ourselves and others.

You see,  God gives us divine instruction because He knows what is best. He wants to protect us from those things in the world that will harm us spiritually and eternally, and lead us into the life that is most rewarding. Now I must mention, that sometimes, worldly rewards, pleasures, and treasures can lie in direct opposition to us obtaining those eternal treasures. The divine instructions are about eternal treasure, not about the temporary things of this world. But the amazing thing is that once we set our eyes upon the eternal,  He provides for the temporary as well.

So this is the understanding that we want each to come to. And it isn’t a logical conclusion that we have calculated in our minds. It is not a theological proof that we are looking to exercise and manipulate within the world for our own profit and gain. It is a divine wisdom and understanding given to those who are unveiled Children of God, who are seeking His will, and not our own.

And it is foolishness to the wise of this world,  and even to the religious, because it isn’t about things that can be measured and compared between men. It isn’t even about something that we can fully lay claim to for ourselves until this race is at its end and we kneel before the one we call Lord.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Matthew 7:21-23 NLT
http://bible.com/116/mat.7.21-23.NLT

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things.
If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.
For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.
Philippians 3:12-21 NLT
http://bible.com/116/php.3.12-21.NLT

It is the most important realization of our lives – that we are not worthy,  and neither are they – but that God in His mercy and grace extends His love to us, who will believe,  and who will follow,  and who will lay down their lives and be raised to a new life in Christ, running this race to the end,  understanding that we are temporary travelers in a strange land, headed along the narrow path back to our Father’s house, where He awaits with open arms.

I’m not concerned with the party. I’m not concerned with the celebration. I’m not concerned with the house that He’s prepared with many rooms. I’m not concerned with the riches and rewards.  I’m seeking my Father’s arms. Set toot eyes upon your destination, friends. Choose today what you are seeking,  for you will receive your heart’s desires – but will your heart’s desires be what you want in the end?

And if we want these things for ourselves,  shouldn’t we want them for others? If we say we love Him,  shouldn’t we love like Him. So go, get to know your brothers and sisters personally, and grow together during this temporary journey, and prepare yourself to return to His arms.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35 ESV
http://bible.com/59/jhn.13.34-35.ESV

Ritual or Remembrance

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”
Luke 22:19 NLT
http://bible.com/116/luk.22.19.NLT

There are things that we do as Christians to remember the Lord,  to learn more about Him, to grow and sharpen and equipment ourselves for His service.

For example, most Christians participate in the Lord’s supper, where we break bread and drink to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins. And the point is to remember and to share a time together where we remind each other what the Lord has done for us so that we can collectively as a unified body of believers worship the Lord and give thanks.

However, there is a danger that comes in group participation if there is not a genuine belief and a focus on drawing near to the Lord. There is a danger that it becomes an empty ritual. There is a danger that it becomes dead religious practice instead of a living relationship with the Lord.

And this can be true of many things that we do when it comes to our luff in Christ. If we are attending a fellowship with each other on Sundays out of obligation, or to appear to others in the community as a person with honor and integrity, or because we know that our children need to learn the lessons to keep themselves or of trouble – then can we say that we are participating in a relationship with a God who lives in us,  or can we only lay claim to dead religious practice?

If we are doing a daily devotional out of habit and practice, and enjoying the knowledge and wisdom in the advice, but it is not bringing us closer to the Lord,  nor is it impacting our daily lives to share the Love of Christ with others – are, we settling for the false substitute of dead religious practice instead of fanning the flames of the fire inside us that is Christ who lives in us and through us?

It is a fine line between religious practice and remembrance. Maybe that’s why Christ said that it is a narrow path and that few would find it. Because we have to ask ourselves whether we are actually seeking Him, or if we are just seeking something for ourselves? 

Are we seeking God in hopes that He will bless us because of our faithful sacrifices?  Are we looking to trade our faithful ten percent for a guaranteed return of prosperity – treating God like our banker or our stock broker and asking Him for our inheritance paid out now upon this earth, or are we seeking Him as our inheritance and our portion? This is the difference between a false gospel of prosperity and worshipping mammon as opposed to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. If we are trying to use God for our own purposes,  or if we are trying to earn our way to heaven through ritual,  we may have missed the very belief and relationship that is required.

If I’m praying at set times out of habit and practice,  but I’m not truly talking to God, and asking Him for help,  and seeking His answers, and listening – but I’m just checking it of of the list of things to do, aren’t I missing out on the very communion with God that we say we look forward to having one day in heaven,  but proving that we don’t want it because we refuse to participate even today when we have the opportunity.

You see,  we have a choice of what we want. And many will choose no religion at all, because they don’t want Good,  nor do they want to associate with those hypocrites that practice religion but clearly hate one another by the evidence of their actions. And many will choose religion that is empty of any real connection or relationship with God, because they want to associate themselves with the hypocrites, but they don’t truly want to associate themselves with God. But there are also the few who are not interested in empty ritual or religious practice,  but they, are eager to participate in anything that brings glory and honor and remembrance to their Lord and Savior.

It is easy to see the visible difference between the one who sits ritually in religious practice and one who does not. But who can know the hearts of men and tell the difference between one simply practicing ritual and one truly in fellowship with the Lord? I can’t know for you,  my friend. But I can examine myself and answer that question truthfully and humbly before the Lord – just as we each should regularly. Not regularly so that we fall into practice,  but regularly so that we remain deeply in love – with our Lord and Savior who is the only portion worth having. Let them have this world, give us our relationship with God,  let us be reconciled to His grace and glory, let us be lifted up from this temporary dwelling place as we travel as foreigners awaiting our return to our home eternal in His presence.

Don’t just practice ritual and religion,  friends. Celebrate remembering the relationship that you now have with Christ who lives in you. Fan the flame.