The bitter and the sweet

I try my hardest to stay on a daily reading by an old English pastor named Oswald Chambers. The reading is a collection of quotes from various lectures Chambers gave in the early 1900s and is called My Utmost for His Highest. This evening I read today’s entry and this quote struck me:

“We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing— that He is preparing and equipping us for some extraordinary work in the future. But as we grow in His grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, at this very moment. If we have God’s assurance behind us, the most amazing strength becomes ours, and we learn to sing, glorifying Him even in the ordinary days and ways of life.”

Everyone can, or will one day, relate to the idea that, in our youth, we dream of being a part of something magnificent, to conquer a quest so great and marvelous that we will be a part of changing the world forever. Boy, I could fill pages with lists and details of all of the “sparks of genius” I have had that would enable me to impact the world for all of time. I was convinced that God Almighty was prepping me for something fantastic. But I was misguided by my own thoughts and dreams and visions of grandeur.

As I have gotten older and gained more life experience (which I have so much more to gain!), I have realized that God’s idea of important and impacting is quite different than mine. Never would I have predicted a divorce and tearing of my family could bring about a new, more raw piece of me which has enabled me to view people with more compassion and understanding. I received a lot of feedback from my last post, “Divorced people are people too” and I was surprised a bit to be honest. I could speculate as to why, but the ultimate reason is because God is taking what was broken and fallen and is making it into a beautiful and effective tool, useful for His purposes.

I may never be world renowned or a piece of history, but at least I have tasted the bitter and the sweet of life enough so I can comprehend a small piece of God’s greater plan. We are all here for each other, to encourage and to love, to lift up and to celebrate with, to live and to learn together.

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Abandon.

Have you ever gone through times where it seems that every where you turn, God has a common theme He’s trying to teach you?  The past few months a strong one for me has emerged and it has been consuming my mind.  That theme is the concept of abandonment to God.  It is such a beautifully rich concept.

I have always heard teachings on surrender…not to mention the countless songs about it.  “All to Jesus, I surrender…”  For me, that word has become stale.  It’s been taught and talked about so much, it has begun to fall on deaf ears…or maybe a heart that’s calloused to it’s powerful truth.  Enter “abandon”.  Through this simple word God has helped me go deeper then ever before into it.  His desire for me, for you, is that we abandon everything in life for Him.  Just like a child can abandon all care and common sense as he jets down a monster hill on a bike, I’m to lay everything familiar to me down and reach up to my Father in total abandonment.  It is such a difficult thing to do though.

I have spent days trying to figure out exactly how I’m supposed to do that…and of course, God intervened and gave me a new thought to chew on.  If I would simply spend more time today thinking upon Him then I did yesterday, I will find myself becoming abandoned to Him.  Are you following that?  Spend more time today thinking upon God then yesterday and a deepening will begin to occur in the soul.  Jesus simple command in John 15 is to abide in Him.  Psalm 37 instructs us to delight ourselves in the Lord.  Proverbs 3 says to acknowledge Him in all ways.  How is that done?  Very simple.

Paul said in Romans 12 that we are transformed as we renew our minds.  Renewal comes through many different facets, but the common point is allowing ourselves to relax and recharge.  That might be through music, or reading, or hiking, or sipping coffee while enjoying great conversation with a friend.  All of these (and many more) can bring about recharge in our lives.  Thinking more on God can happen in a variety of ways but the common theme is that we’re thinking about Him more.

We only begin to act, think, and live like another through spending time with that person.  And that’s exactly what it means to be abandoned to something…being consumed with Jesus and allowing everything else to fall to the side…

Rising from the Ashes

During the quest to find a name for this band I’m in, we came across an idea that is a beautiful picture of what occurs in our lives as Christ-followers.

The name idea was Rising From Ashes.  It didn’t stick (obviously since we settled on Sole Horizon) but the idea has been stuck in my mind.  If you’ve ever been through the fires of life, then you’ll know that those fires, if we allow them, can burn away the impurities and imperfections in our lives.  It’s God’s holiness coming upon us and ridding us of our past selves.  This allows us to rise from the ashes of the old and live in the new, which is created and perfected into the image of God.  So good to be reminded of this sanctification process in our lives.

The picture that comes to mind is that of a Phoenix.  This mythical bird lives for a long time, 500-1,000 years, and at the end of that life, it builds a nest in which it sits and burns its old body to ashes.  From these ashes, a new life emerges for the Phoenix.  I would imagine this is quite a painful process for the Phoenix, but its one that it goes through so it become better.  To me, this is what it means to leave the old self behind and live in the new self we become through Christ.

It’s a process worth living for.

Our God is Greater

So I’m cheating a little today.  Still got nothing in regards to new posts.  Not sure if it’s time or energy or something I need to plow through, but I revert to something that takes a lot less energy.  A video!

This song is rushing through the church all over the place and it’s got me pumped up!  So here it is…

Oil.

One of the best decisions I have made in a long time has been a commitment to reading the Bible from cover to cover this year.  I have never taken the time to read through the Old Testament like I am now.  The way it has come to life for me and to see how it connects with the New Testament has been invigorating to say the least.  Once I started realizing that everything in the Bible points to Jesus and that He is the intersection between the old and the new, it has come to life.  Here’s a really good example from one of the many things I am learning.

Oil is used a lot in teachings throughout the Bible, from the sacrifices in Leviticus through the Psalms and into the teachings of the New Testament.  Why is that?  Oil is symbolic in the Bible of the Holy Spirit.  Anointing with oil is anointing with the Spirit.  This begs the questions of where oil comes from.  I believe the type of oil referenced in the Bible is that of olive oil.  So my curiosity kicked in and I began researching the process of extracting the oil from the olive fruit.  (Side note.  We tend to miss the deeper truths in the teachings of the Bible because we do not live in either an agricultural or a farming based society.)  So here is what I have discovered…

The traditional method of producing olive oil begins with collecting ripened olives.  The olive fruit must be fresh and immediately taken for processing; otherwise the oil will taste weird.  The olives are then cleaned thoroughly ensuring that the oil will not be contaminated by dirt, leaves, or the steams.

Once prepared, the olives are ground on a mill stone into a coarse paste for 30-40 minutes.  This slow-paced process allows malaxation to take place, which is the joining of the microscopic oil molecules together into larger droplets.  After the grinding is complete, the paste is pressed in order to separate oil and water from the fruit.  From there, the oil and water naturally separate from each other allowing for the oil to be collected, bottled and stored for later use.

What does this has to do with the Christ-life?  A lot and it is quite beautiful imagery.  In Romans 11:11-24, Paul teaches that the Gentiles (that would anyone who is not a Jew) have been grafted into the body of Christ.  The image he uses?  An olive tree.  He refers to the Jews as part of a cultivated olive tree and Gentiles as being from wild olive trees.  The nourishing root of the cultivated tree is Jesus with the branches being God’s chosen people, the Jews.   Through Jesus, Gentiles can now be joined to the tree.  The grafting process is another post itself, so I will save that for another time.  Here is the implication though.

Once we are grafted into the olive tree, the body of Christ, Jesus begins to supply us with what we need.  There is dependency for nourishment since the grafting is not complete yet.  Eventually, though, we become intertwined with Him and then growth begins to happen.  Leaves start appearing, followed by fruit.  Galatians 5:16-26 speaks of a life lived by walking in the Spirit and verse 22-23 list the fruit that grows from the Spirit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Once this fruit ripens, it must be harvested.  What good is fruit if it is not harvested when ripened?  Collect it too early and it is bitter.  Too late, it is rotted and sour.  And what good is the ripened fruit if the oil is not extracted?  (Remember, oil symbolizes the Spirit of God.)  The Lord harvests the fruit in our lives, cleanses it from the dirt of sin, and allows us to be placed upon the millstone of trials and suffering so that, by crushing and grinding, the Spirit-oil within us may be refined.  Think about how joy is produced.  Jeremiah 31:13 says that He (God) will turn our mourning into joy.  Think about patience.  Ever heard someone say that you should not pray for patience because you will begin to encounter situations that require patience?

Let’s be real.  No one wants to go through trials and suffering.  Believe me, if I had the chance to avoid the trials of this past year, I would.  But then, how much would my life, and those around me, be deprived of the anointing of the Spirit that is being refined in me?  I have come to realize that the Lord draws out the Spirit-oil in our lives and bottles it in us for use for many days and years to come.

The question is not if trials and suffering will come.  They will.  The question is whether we will turn to Him during those times and allow Him to refine us so that the Spirit may be produced in us as an anointing for the world around us.

Healing from Divorce

I read recently that divorce brings about a tearing of  heart and spirit that literally rips a person in two.  Marriage, as scripture says, joins two individuals into one, intertwining their lives, personalities, and identities.  So, when divorce occurs, the marriage bond is torn violently apart, leaving the husband and wife as severely damaged individuals.

I have no experienced anything more traumatic and devastating in my life.  Not only have I had to deal with the pain and sorrow of the loss and failure of the marriage, I have also dealt with the loss of who I am as a person.  Any confidence and security I once had is now in question.  I have felt as though I have lost who I am.  And that is where the beauty in the brokenness is revealed.

Psalm 34:18 says that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  What a comfort!  As I survey the Bible, I realize that God specializes in working with broken lives and turning them into wonderful works of art.

So, the hope I cling to is this: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).  He has been healing me and will continue to do so.  I often get impatient and want the healing to hurry up, but just like a deep flesh wound that goes through an extensive mending process, so my heart’s deep wounds must mend as well.  I know that He is faithful and His steadfast love will never fail me.  It is because of that hope that I can rest assured knowing that one day, I will be completely healed.

If you are going through the pain of a broken heart and crushed spirit, take heart and know that God is right beside you, even though it may not feel like it.  Cling to the truth of Psalm 34:18.  As impossible as it seems, press into Jesus with all you have.  He will heal your heart.  And that is something worth hoping for!

There is Power in the Blood

As I was preparing to lead worship last week, an old hymn, There is Power in the Blood, came alive to me so beautifully.  I’ve uploaded an arrangement I did of it here.  Below are the words.

Would you be free from the burden of sin
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood
Would you o’er evil a victory win
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood

Refrain:
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r in the blood of the Lamb
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r in the precious blood of the Lamb

Would you be free from your passion and pride
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood

Bridge (from Fee’s Beautiful the Blood)

How beautiful the blood flow, how merciful the love show

The King of glory poured out, victorious are we now

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood

I’m sure that those who are not followers of Jesus wonder what’s up with this fascination with blood.  Honestly, I can’t explain it.  It’s just something you have to experience being cleansed by to understand.  All I can say is that sin stained my life as black as night and Jesus’ blood washed it white as snow.  

How beautiful the blood.