Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Secret of Standing - Cultivating a secret life with God.
by Bob Sorge

One of the best kept secrets of our faith is the blessedness and joy of cultivating a secret life with God. Imagine the sheer delight of it even now. You're tucked away in a quiet nook; the door is shut; you're curled up in a comfortable position; the living word of God is laid open before you; Jesus himself stands at your side; the Holy Spirit is gently washing your heart; your love is awakened as you meditate upon the gracious words of his mouth; your spirit is ignited, and your mind is renewed; you talk to him, and he talks to you in the language of intimate friendship.

Ahhh, it doesn't get any better than this!

Hell will do everything in its power to misrepresent and distort the exuberant delight of this dynamic reality; this present world system is strategically designed to squeeze out your time and energy for the secret place; the church usually focuses its best energies on getting saints busy; and there seem to be relatively few believers whose secret life with God is so vibrantly life-giving that it kindles a contagious desire in others to follow their example.

I connect viscerally with the pain of countless believers who carry a conviction that the secret place is central to an overcoming life but who struggle on a regular basis to maintain the secret place as a daily lifestyle. I know what it's like to live below what the Christian walk could be and yet feel almost powerless to change anything. I've watched myself return persistently to the sources which are no sources at all. For example, when wanting to get revitalized from a draining day, we look to television, as though its distractions will renew us—only to be left empty for the umpteenth time. Or, we will attend a church service in the hope that the preacher's walk with God will infuse us with fresh energy for the journey. But deep down we know that sermons and teachings, although edifying, can never replace the carrying power we find when we sit at Jesus' feet and hear his word for ourselves.

I don't want to add another condemning word to the berating voices we all know so well. What I want to do is to help encourage you in your secret place relationship with God. I want to strengthen you by sharing with you the secret of standing in your secret place.

When you retreat to the secret place, you are standing in the Spirit together with all the saints on the sea of glass and gazing upon the One who is seated on the throne (Revelation 15:2). Even though your eyes are veiled so you can't see him with the natural eye, you are still standing directly before the throne! The highest privilege of all creation is to stand before the living fire of God's presence and burn with holy affection for your Father and King. Standing here is your eternal destiny, and you can taste a bit of heaven on earth by shutting your door and standing before your God in the beauty of holiness.

Your schedule doesn't want to let you stand here; work demands militate against your standing here. But you are awakened to the beauties of holiness and now you long to come aside and stand in his presence. Just to stand, and having done all, to stand!

To stand, despite the warfare; to stand, despite the resistance; to stand, despite the hassles; to stand, despite weariness; to stand, despite distresses; to stand, despite the temptations; to stand, despite personal failure and collapse; to stand, despite the grief; to stand, despite the loneliness; to stand, even when chained; just to stand!

To stand, because of the cross; to stand, because of the Lamb; to stand, because of his affections; to stand, because of his acceptance; to stand, because of his mighty power within; to stand, because of fountains of living water flowing from the innermost being; to stand, because of his surpassing beauty and greatness; to stand, because of his eternal purpose; to stand, because of his everlasting mercies; to stand, because of love!

The job description for the Levites is still applicable to us today: "At that time the LORD separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless his name, to this day" (Deuteronomy 10:8). One of our prime responsibilities (and privileges!) is to stand before the Lord to minister to him. In the secret place, we simply stand. No great agenda, no mighty ambitions, no rush to move on to the next thing. We just stand before him and love him.

There are seasons when God calls us to simply stand. We might prefer the adrenalin of chasing down a great cause, but sometimes God calls us to stop all activity and just stand. Sometimes, He gives us no choice. Occasionally, circumstances will constrain us beyond our ability to steer a different course, and we become prisoners to the chains that bind us to God's will. Incapable of extricating ourselves and moving on to the next thing, all we can do is stand and burn in holy love for our King.

It is commonly said, "Don't just stand there, do something!" When circumstances in our lives are careening out of control, the great temptation—when you don't know what to do—is to do something. "God can't steer a stationary vehicle," they say, "So start moving out on something, and let God direct your course."

That may be the way to go in some situations, but I've found that the Lord has been working differently in my life in recent days. He inverted that common saying and gave it to me this way, "Don't just do something, stand there!" It came like this: "When you don't know what to do, don't just do something! Wait on me, stand before me, minister to me, until. Until I speak. When I speak to you, then you can move out in response. But until I speak, just stand there."

The Scriptures show us that God has mighty angels who stand in his presence, in some cases for hundreds of years, and wait for his bidding. God doesn't need our strength and productivity; he needs our availability. He's just looking for us to stand in his presence, gaze upon him, love him, and fulfill his word when he speaks.

Are you between assignments? Then just stand before him, enjoy him and let him enjoy you!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Seeking God/Sending a Substitute

Today for my devotions I read Proverbs 26. I'm ashamed to admit that it's been a while since I've spent time with God. I mean truly spend time with Him. Too long. Sure, I've read the Bible but my heart wasn't in it. Many times when I go to God, it's not really me, I send a substitute. That imaginary person that we send to do things that we don't want to do. Like when we don't feel like going to church or spending time with that member that you're not really good friends with, we send the fake person. The nice person, not the real you. And though you're there physically, in reality, you're somewhere else. Somewhere else you'd rather be.

I'm trying to learn the importance of being there. And in that I've learned the importance of seeking God. Yeah, I know it sounds stupid and trite, but it seems like I never learn this lesson. One of the first verses we learn as a child, "Seek Ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." So why do I have such a problem with it?

Maybe I just like to wallow in my own self-pity. Recently things have been a little discouraging at church. I've been criticized, people stand in groups to talk about me and go out of their way to let me know I'm not someone they like or respect.

So what did I do? Did I seek God? Did I take comfort in His Word that I'm not alone? No, I wallowed in my own discouragement. I spent time doing other things to take my mind off of it. I did everything but seek Him, just like we all do.

Why? I think many times it's academic. Some people don't like to read. Reading anything, let alone the Bible, becomes a chore. Some people don't like to stop or sit still for too long. Impatient. It's hard to pray when you're like that. But doing that makes spending time with God a chore and not a relationship. Seeking Him isn't about fulfilling a to-do list. If you read His Word and pray and still walk away not any closer to Him, you haven't truly spent time with Him. You sent a substitute.

So for my devotions today is Proverbs 26. God answered my self-pity with a word about those who hate you.

Proverbs 26:24 - 26

He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself;
When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart;
Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.


It would have been nice if I would have read that a few weeks ago.

Friday, May 14, 2004

What does it take to become the next American Idol?

I was looking through my sermon notes and came across a sermon I did a few months ago on Idolatry. Here is the outline:

Text: Exodus 32

What does it take to become an Idol?

I. Misguided Passion
II. Melted Possessions
III. Molded Pets (Golden Calves/Sacred Cows)
IV. Measured Punishments

Many years ago, A. W. Tozer said, "If the Holy Spirit were taken away from the New Testament Church, 90% of what they did would have come to a halt. But if the Holy Spirit were taken away from today's Church, only 10% of what it does would cease."

WHAT DOES JESUS DO?

Look again at verse 41(Mark 1:40-44): "He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."
Jesus touches him! When was the last time someone touched him? When was the last time anyone put his hand on this gross distortion of a human body?
So humble yourself. Fall before Him. Be healed and cleansed!

WHAT DO THE LEPER'S ACTIONS AND REQUEST TELL US ABOUT HIM?- Mark 1:40-44

The leper falls on his knees before Jesus, and begs him, pleads with him, saying, "If you are willing . . ." These actions tell us that he knows four important facts:

1. He knows he is unworthy. Indeed, he has had this truth drummed into him day after day, hour after hour, for many years. Even looking at himself in the reflection of a pool of water, he sees how despicable he looks. Oh, he knows he is unworthy.

2. He knows he can't heal himself or make himself clean. He probably has never even heard of a leper becoming cured. For years he has lived with no hope at all.

3. But he knows that Jesus can! Note his statement of faith: "You can make me clean!" How he comes to this knowledge, we don't know. But he believes with all his heart that Jesus is the one person in the entire world who can cleanse him.

4. Finally, he knows that Jesus has the right to refuse. "If you are willing . . ." He makes no demands. He has no basis for a request, other than Jesus' mercy.

WHAT DOES THE LEPER ASK?

Let's now return to the story in Mark. Note that the leper comes to Jesus. This was a violation of the rules and regulations concerning lepers. He was supposed to shout, "Unclean!" to keep Jesus away! But instead he runs to Jesus. And Jesus does not run away; like the mother welcoming her crying, mud-covered daughter, Jesus allows the leper to approach him.

Then what does the leper ask? Does he say, "Heal my disease!"? No.

"Make me clean!"

We miss a great deal if we think of this request as the equivalent to "Heal my disease."
The leper is saying:
"I want to worship God!"
"I want to be a part of God's people, in relationship to Him!"
"I want to touch others, to be in relationship to the people of God!"
That is what the leper is asking. Of course he wants physical healing. But becoming clean is much more than becoming healed!

Leprosy

1. In Leviticus, leprosy is the most serious of all forms of uncleanness. Some forms of uncleanness -- such as that which comes from touching an unclean animal or insect -- were cleansed simply by waiting until evening (the beginning of a new day according to Israelite custom) and washing.

2. Other forms of uncleanness, such as that which results from childbirth, required a longer waiting period and the offering of a sacrifice.

3. But leprosy is much different. All other forms of uncleanness require that the person stay away from the temple, but leprosy causes the person to live outside the camp, to be cut off from the congregation of Israel. Lepers had to wear signs of mourning; they could approach no one, touch no one. Whenever anyone began to walk near them, they were to call out, "Unclean! Unclean!" to warn them to stay away.

4. Interestingly, such regulations about leprosy are not specific to the Israelites. In many cultures, there are similar exclusionary rules. For leprosy is a repulsive disease.

5. We don't know exactly what diagnosis a modern physician would give to the disease of this leper in Mark 1, but let's assume he had modern leprosy, Hanson's disease. This is a disease of the nervous system which causes its victim to lose all sense of touch and pain, initially in the fingers and toes, then spreading up the arms and legs. Without a sense of touch, the ill person eventually damages his toes, fingers, and feet. He will knock them, cut them, get infections -- and not notice.

6. As the leprosy spreads, many lepers go blind -- not because of the disease itself, but because, without feeling in their eyes, they forget to blink.

7. So as leprosy advances, the leper hardly looks human. No fingers. No toes. Face disappearing. Isolated from others. No one wants to draw near, no one wants to touch. And in a sense, they can't touch, for they cannot feel another person.

Dr Brand writes this:
The loneliest people of all are the ones for whom leprosy has also destroyed their sight. Like many others in the world, they are blind, but unlike most of the blind they can't use their hands to bring them the sensations that their eyes are denied because they can't feel either. They are really alone

8. So leprosy is a symbol not of the need for preparation prior to entering God's presence, but a symbol of lostness. Leprosy is a picture of sin eating away, going deep into your being, gradually destroying who you are, making you less and less human, destroying all your relationships, in the end leaving you alone, despised, rejected, hopeless.

Excerpt from one of my sermons on Psalm 51, Wash me thouroughly and cleanse me....

Thursday, May 13, 2004

How can I make God's presence real in my life?

Practice worship.
2 Chronicles 29: 20-36

Sometimes you may tramp through your days hoping God will announce that He's with you. While you aren't looking for bright lights or a thundering voice from heaven, you'd like at least some sense of His presence—an inner warmth that says, I am with you; a small symbol that whispers, I am a gift from God. Sometimes, in God's kindness, that's exactly what happens. You know God is here. But other times, when you feel the greatest need, God seems totally absent. What can you do then?

King Hezekiah provides an excellent model. Look through this passage for examples of worship. The people gathered at their place of worship and confessed their sin, asking for God's forgiveness. They made music with instruments, knelt down and prayed, repeated the writings of great spiritual leaders from the past, brought offerings, sang joyful praises to God, thanked Him, and asked His blessing.

It's hard to worship when God seems distant, but God invites you to worship Him anyway. When you discipline yourself to worship (even when you don't feel like it), you sometimes become aware of something you didn't notice before—that God has been with you all the time. (See also Ezekiel 10; Romans 15:14-21; Ephesians 3:14-21; Colossians 3:10,11.)

Good Words to Remember:
They sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped. —2 Chronicles 29:30.

Today's Challenge:
What will you do first the next time you face a difficult situation?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

DO YOU NEED A WASHING?

A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in Wal-Mart. She must have been 6-years-old, this beautiful red-haired, freckle-faced image of innocence. It was pouring outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout. We all stood there under the awning and just inside the door of the Wal-Mart.

We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature messed up their hurried day. I am always mesmerized by rainfall. I got lost in the sound and sight of the heavens washing away the dirt and dust of the world. Memories of running, splashing so carefree as a child came pouring in as a welcome reprieve from the worries of my day.

The little voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in: "Mom, let's run through the rain," she said.

"What?" Mom asked.

"Let's run through the rain!" she repeated.

"No, honey. We'll wait until it slows down a bit," Mom replied.

This young child waited about another minute and repeated: "Mom, let's run through the rain,"

"We'll get soaked if we do," Mom said.

"No, we won't, Mom. That's not what you said this morning," the young girl said as she tugged at her Mom's arm.

"This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?"

"Don't you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, 'If God can get us through this, he can get us through anything!"

The entire crowd stopped dead silent. I swear you couldn't hear anything but the rain. We all stood silently. No one came or left in the next few minutes.

Mom paused and thought for a moment about what she would say.

Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of affirmation in a young child's life. A time when innocent trust can be nurtured so that it will bloom into faith.

"Honey, you are absolutely right. Let's run through the rain. If God let's us get wet, well maybe we just needed washing," Mom said.

Then off they ran. We all stood watching, smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and, yes, through the puddles. They held their shopping bags over their heads. They got soaked. But they were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars.

And yes, I did. I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.