Category Archives: obey God

Love invites us to change

How does healing and transformation come to broken people?

In her novel, Crooked Little Heart, Anne Lamott writes about Rosie. Those watching her play tennis saw a girl “thirteen years old and seventy wiry pounds, hitting the ball as hard as almost any man they knew, thick black curls whipping, Siamese blue eyes steely, impassive, twenty bullets in a row, over the net and in, frowning almost imperceptibly if she missed.”

But Rosie has a secret. tennis line callShe has been cheating on close line calls to win crucial tennis matches. Her shame grows as she is unable to stop herself— she’s trapped by her compulsion to win.

Another character in the book is “a man named Luther who had started following the girls from tournament to tournament.” Rosie soon realizes that Luther sees her cheating but that he will not tell. Instead he identifies with her: “I did what you did.” And invites her to change. As they continue talking, Rosie calls herself a cheater. “No,” he says, “you cheated.” Her identity doesn’t need to be one who cheats. She is one who makes choices and can make different choices.

She begins to change. In a championship game, Luther sees her call a line shot correctly and stands up to leave. “Aren’t you going to stay and watch Rosie win?” her mother asks. “I already have,” he responds.

All of us have places where we are broken, ways we fudge the game of life for our favor at the cost of neighbors. Things we want to hide. Into our world comes one who spends even more time watching us than Luther. He sees all, and the sin in our life. He knows how easy and natural it is, and how destructive and hurtful, and calls us to change, to “repent.” Not with a threat to bring in the sportsmanship committee—“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” But like Luther to Rosie: in love, inviting us to turn from choices that diminish life and turn toward the life that will be lived in the coming new heaven and earth.

Our tendency when someone does wrong is to pressure them, to face them with consequences, make it so they are forced to change. But Jesus looks deeper and takes an opposite tactic. He wants persons to choose the new, to want it from their heart. Love forced is not the love he desires. So he continues to come, even to us sinners. He gives us his Word, teaching us. And gives his Spirit, prompting us toward right choices. When we spurn him, he keeps on reaching out to us. When we turn and confess our sin, he forgives us. And then if we sin again, he in love tries again.

That’s how Jesus brings healing to broken people like us. So should we.

An obsession for God’s presence

When I graduated from high school, I was only seventeen. Thinking I had a year before I needed to head to college, I decided to go to a Bible school where I and others in my church youth group had some peak spiritual experiences. That year at Elim quickly became two as I switched my career goal from biology research to researching the wisdom found in the Bible.

My years there added much to my knowledge of the Bible. light of God's presenceBut the most valuable gift of those years was a sense of the presence of God. This is something mystical and hard to describe. But I’ll try!

Two recurring experiences at Elim raised my awareness of this “presence” and allowed me to sense it often enough that I began to recognize when it was there and to miss it when it was not:

    • During my first semester, two intense personal struggles led me to engage in weekly fasts and spend much time in a prayer room, crying my heart out to God. While in the prayer room this “presence” of deep peace and joy would settle over me. It would remain as I left the room but then evaporate almost instantly at some thought or action—perhaps anxiety or pride—contrary to the spirit (and Spirit) of God.
  • As we gathered for worship at Elim, we sang both hymns and scripture choruses. And generally we were not only going through the motions but singing with full sincerity and meaning. At some point I noticed that this “presence” typically was there after a time of full-hearted worship—an inner glow, almost like my very being was in harmony with the universe (the opposite of the sinking feeling when my conscience bothers me).

This sense of God’s presence has become precious to me; like David, I’m obsessed (Psalm 63:1-7)! I don’t want to do anything that causes me to lose it. There’s a sense of “flow” to my day as I walk in communion with God. It fills me with a sense of buoyancy because I’m delivered from fears of what others might think or do—if God is for me, it doesn’t matter who is against (Romans 8:31-39)! I begin to respond like the early church as they sensed God’s presence (e.g., Acts 4:8,31).

Don’t get the impression that I have a sense of God’s presence all the time. Sometimes it is strong; most of the time it is weak. It disappears altogether when I have unconfessed sin or a broken relationship with someone.

But what a magnificent obsession! It makes my life. I’m communing with someone who loves everybody and this planet, and that love rubs off on me. And as I walk in the spirit (and Spirit) of God, I see the goodness of God’s ways, the wholeness of holiness. Which makes me want to obey more, in a glorious spiral or crescendo! Not every day (Romans 7:14-25). But many days.

I’m not sure if this is something that can be experienced by all believers at all times. Those with a different psychological make-up may perceive God differently than me. Also, some men and women of God recount going through a “dark night of the soul” where all sense of God’s presence is gone. But I do know that we all are instructed to “be (continually) filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and to be “filled” with something (like rage or fear or compassion or the Spirit of God) is to sense it and then to respond to it. May we all sense and respond to God!

I hunger, not for progressive sanctification in holiness but for progressive nearness to God—which does result in sanctification, since delighting in God drives out desire for all that is not of God. What a joy to be godly through freely indulging an appetite for God.

Firstfruits of my mother’s tomato patch

I am my mother’s son in many ways. One is a love for tomatoes, especially vine-ripened ones from the garden. I remember my mother watching the first tomato turn red each season and her joy as she bore it into the house to savor it at our next meal.

Ethel in gardenThinking of mother and the firstfruits of her tomato patch, helps me understand the biblical texts instructing Israel to offer the first part of each harvest as an act of worship to God (eg. Exodus 23:19; Deut. 26:2,10; 2 Chron. 31:4-5; Nehemiah 10:35).

Why did God insist on an offering from the first portion of the harvest? The offering went to feed those who had no harvest: the poor and the priests and Levites. Wouldn’t a dollar from the back of the wallet help them just as much as a dollar from the front?

Then I think of my mother and begin to understand. There would be a huge emotional difference between my mother giving a friend some of her first batch of tomatoes and giving some tomatoes late in the season. The amount could be the same in both cases, but a lot more of my mother’s heart would be in those first tomatoes! Offering to God our firstfruits makes it much more real on an emotional, even visceral, level just how precious God is to us. We may say that God has first place in our life; but giving our firstfruits makes us feel that God is important.

A story illustrates a further reason to prioritize our giving to God. A Sunday School teacher brought a pan of brownies into her class. She gave each student a slip of paper labeled “light bill,” “groceries,” “entertainment,” and so on. Then she picked up the pan and began calling out those things. One by one the students redeemed their slips of paper for a fresh brownie. But the brownies ran out while one student still held his slip of paper. “God,” the teacher called, and the student came forward, hoping she had one more brownie hidden somewhere. But all she could do was scrape the crumbs from the pan into his napkin. She explained, “The brownies represent our money. If we don’t give God’s share first, God might not get anything except the crumbs.”

Firstfruits giving not only impacts our heart but also our priorities. If we give our money to everything else first, it shows that God is less important than all those other things.

Obeying God helps me be an optimist

Many versions of the following story have been told:

     There were two boys who were brothers. One was a confirmed pessimist and the other a blooming optimist through and through. The parents of the boys were trying every way they could to temper the natures of the boys, but with little success.
     One year when Christmas time came around, the parents were very careful to purchase for the pessimistic one something that he had expressed a wish for—a gold watch. But in the stocking of the optimistic youngster, who sorely wanted a pony, they only put some horsehair.
     Christmas morning came. The pessimist, who was the first downstairs, took the watch out of his stocking and said, “Looks like a gold watch—it’s probably brass—it probably won’t keep time very well.” Shortly afterwards the boy-optimist came bounding down; he took one look into his stocking, grabbed his coat, and headed for the back door. His parents called out, “Where are you going?” He shouted back, “With all this horsehair, there’s got to be a pony around somewhere!”

The beginning of a new year is a natural time to take a look at our attitudes toward life. Particularly attitudes that our faith can help us adjust.

For me, nothing shapes my level of optimism or inner buoyancy as much as my level of trust and obedience in God:

  • When something tells me that life is going to get more difficult or be less rewarding, my faith relationship with God affects how I receive that message. If my goal is to love and please God and to hear “well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of my life, then even in the face of any life disappointment, I still have occasion for hope and optimism. Why? Because obeying God is something I can always do! Further, walking with God is an adventure! And thanks to God’s grace, I’m not fraught with the anxiety that I must obey perfectly.
  • When someone whose opinion matters to me makes a comment or an action that implies that they don’t value me, again my relationship with God affects my reaction. I’m listening for God’s “well done,” not for what that person may or may not think.

We’re designed to walk in the Spirit

If you were to give a one-sentence description of human life, what would you consider most important to say? This is the truest and most life-giving description that I see: Humans are designed to walk by the Spirit of Christ.

“Designed” says that we are created beings, not the random product of blind natural laws. Going against our Creator’s intent can only diminish our lives and long-term joy.

“Walk” and “Christ” suggests that we follow Christ who not only gave the greatest moral teaching and example the world has known but also rose from the dead, showing that he is Lord.

At the center is “the Spirit.” Without the Spirit, our efforts at following Christ are limited to intellect: us finding principles in the Gospels, gaining knowledge in our heads of what we are supposed to be doing and then trying to do it. But with the presence of the Spirit, this walk is a vital, living relationship. Those principles we follow are not just in our head but also in our heart, because the Spirit of Christ is in our heart. We have the opportunity of going through life responding to the Spirit’s promptings, obeying them as we are aware of them. (We recognize the Spirit’s nudge by an accompanying atmosphere of peace—the exact opposite of the sensation of unsettledness in a bad conscience.) Our life is now an on-going encounter with Jesus by the Spirit!

Many times we genuinely are not aware of any nudging from the Spirit. We are asking for it and listening for it but sense nothing. But sometimes—quite often, I think—we do sense that God is asking us to do or to not do such-and-such. Let’s respond in obedience rather than be like the first-grade boy in this true story:

Dad: Max! Why didn’t you answer me when I called you?
Max: I didn’t hear you, Dad.
Dad: What do you mean you didn’t hear me?
      [Max does not respond.]
Dad: How many times didn’t you hear me?
Max: I don’t know, maybe three or four times.

Make space in your day to hear the Spirit. And then “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25). And experience life as God designed it!

Getting back to sleep last night

It happened again last night. I woke in the middle of the night and lay there, anxious and restless, fretting over whether I can do some of the things I want to do—and others want me to do.

I knew that I had to say some things to myself and to God so I could settle my spirit and fall back to sleep. Nonetheless, it took me a while! It doesn’t work to just say the right words; there has to be a reality to them, a commitment behind them.

I had to assure myself that I can trust God, that as I walk with God nothing can happen that the two of us can’t handle. Hard times, suffering, difficulties are going to come as I live on this fallen earth among fallen people; bad things may come even as I am obedient. But God is resourceful enough to work all those things together for good; nothing can ever separate me from God’s love (Rom. 8:28-39)! I’ve of course known this for a while. But again and again my heart drifts away from the things my mind believes.

For me there is yet another thing I have to tell myself before I can fall back to sleep: that I will obey God in the next days. There are many things I do not have time, energy, or skills to do. So I won’t be able to do everything, won’t be able to please everyone. But I can always please God, can always do what God asks. Once I know that I will obey God, I find a sense of reassurance and peace building within—and ability to sleep, rather than toss and turn. Others may judge me for not doing something, but God never expects me to do what I can’t do! As I obey God and do what I can do, my conscience is clear.

When we hear that someone is struggling to obey God, we imagine them struggling to keep their life in line with biblical teaching. Thankfully, that’s seldom my battle. My struggle is with choosing the good that excites me over the good that God tells me is best.

As I commit myself to God’s way, I can indeed discern God’s choice in each situation (Prov. 3:5-6). Often that direction comes not only through the Bible but also through nudges from the Spirit: I move toward choices that fill me with an up-welling of hope and wholeness and away from what gives unease and a sense of a bad conscience. I also pay attention to brothers and sisters who know the Bible and sense the Spirit. If uncertainty still remains, God wants me to choose the acts that common sense suggests are best.

Then I get the fun of walking under God’s smile, not needing to fret the frowns of others. And the thrill of the Spirit’s wisdom and power plus love, joy, and peace! And I can rest at night, and in the morning rise in confidence and anticipation.

Bits of wisdom and passion

Enjoy two pieces that I collected over the years. First, some wisdom. Then some Christian passion!

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright, and enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive, and enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting, and enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

[adapted from “I Wish You Enough” by Bob Perks, in one of the many Chicken Soup books.]

Now here’s someone passionate in our faith!

I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith and lean on His presence. My face is set, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, let up, till I have preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me.

[Found in many forms on the web; one site attributes it to “David Guinn, FBC Waco college ministry, 1987-89.”]