Friday, January 30, 2015

Preoccupied with Your iPhone?

I don’t have an iPhone. But I’ve been around folks who do have an iPhone enough to see their preoccupation with it.

If two people are having a conversation, for example, and one person is in the vicinity of their iPhone, the beeps, murmurs, and vibrations of the iPhone trump the person physically present in the conversation. The eyes of the iPhone owner quickly go to the iPhone and the hands pick it up, while the owner distractedly mumbles, “uh-huh, yep” to the person who is physically still talking to him.

If I am the person talking to the iPhone user, I stop talking and wait. And I’m not gonna lie, in the beginning I found this amusing. But as time goes on, I find it an irritating intrusion (my marriage mentoring tells me I’m not alone in this).

See, back in my day, when we met socially with people, we left our landlines (known then as telephones) at home on the kitchen wall. If we were home and it rang during dinner, the rule was to let it ring. If we weren’t home when it rang, we would never have a clue that anyone even tried to call because we didn’t have answering machines (I remember a few years into my marriage, installing our first phone with an attached answering machine. I came to loathe that thing because it meant I had to return phone calls!)

But I digress.

The iPhone distraction is an amazing, if not scary, pull; a drug really. I’ve seen parents completely ignore their children on outings for an image on a screen (and vice versa—children, after all, learn what they live), Solitaire played on them during worship services, and ESPN watching and Facebooking going on in graduate level classrooms during lectures. And none of it is seen by the users to be thoughtless or rude, or even, at a minimum, distracting (to themselves or others).

This past summer, as I was walking along the Chicago beachfront, I witnessed something that is playing out across the globe: A dad is playing in the shallow water with his little girl. He keeps looking farther up the beach to where his wife sits texting into her iPhone. Finally, he and the girl walk up closer to the mom, and the dad says something that I cannot hear. But his face says it all. The mom, in utter exasperation, snaps back loudly, “I am emailing my work!” The dad takes the little girl by the hand, returning silently and sullenly back to the water.

All this has got me thinking. If I find it irritating, and the dad on the beach finds it irritating, and the kids on vacation with their disengaged parents find it irritating, and graduate school professors find it irritating, and pastors find it irritating, how does God find it when I do the same to Him? I may not ignore God for an iPhone, but I put Him off and make Him wait just the same.

When I arise in the morning to pray, for instance, I may find myself saying, “Just a sec” to God. An entire morning can go by and I realize my “just a sec” turned into “forgot to pray at all.” When I send the emotionally charged email in spite of God’s quiet voice entreating me not to, I have just ignored Him in lieu of my fleshly desire (which I will, as usual, live to regret). When I drop to the level of a kindergartner in my ongoing dialogue with someone with whom I disagree, and I hear God saying, “Don’t go there,” and I go there anyway, I have just chosen to go it alone in the power of me, myself and I instead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s like dropping God for an incoming iPhone message every time. We are losing the ability to delay gratification (especially gratification that is selfish and inconsiderate).

The draw of the iPhone is the draw of distraction, of self, of instant gratification, of drama, of something going on in my otherwise average life. Those same draws pull us away from God: the God we feel may be rather silent these days, or uneventful, or distant. But the truth is, it is our putting God off that results in the silence, the un-eventfulness and lack of substance in our daily life. Because it is often our willing allowance of distractions that causes us not to hear, not to experience, and not to live out God in our daily life.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.
Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!’” Joshua 24:14-16

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Worship as a State of Being

Two days ago I posted a YouTube video of a young woman singing Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. As I listened to the hymn, I was reminded that the Triune God alone is the source of all blessing. When the words “prone to wander from the God I love” were sung, I knew only too well it described me. And yet, God’s mercy is “never ceasing.”

Sometimes the words of a hymn break through our everydayness, driving home our condition, as well as our redemption, and re-awakening us to absurdly marvelous truths.

In this, I don’t worship God enough. I don't incorporate it into daily life. So when I came across this video, that’s what I did, right then and there. But not only that, I prayed for a continuing attitude of worship; an ongoing joy of living in the knowledge of God, lest my worship end with the last musical note.

To worship God is to have everything else pale in comparison. It is to see Him and His works alone as worthy. Worship, like prayer, can, and ideally must, become a way of living this Christian life. We needn’t wait for the congregation. We needn’t wait for the choir or praise band. We needn’t wait for Sunday. And we especially needn’t wait for emotion.

Worship is more a state of being than an act, a state of, as the hymn puts it, having our hearts tuned to His grace and sealed for His courts above. Worship, indeed, is allowing God’s “goodness, like a fetter” to bind our wandering hearts to Him.

copyright Barb Harwood

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
I'll praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it
Mount of thy redeeming love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I come
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wondering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” Robert Robinson, 1758

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4: 23-24

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing - Covered by Sarah Noëlle

For a time of calm, personal worship of God...

"Come, thou Fount of every blessing,

tune my heart to sing thy grace;"  

Robert Robinson, 1735-1790

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If We Worried Less About What Others Think of Us

If we worried less about what other people think of us, and were more concerned with what God thinks of us, it would go well with us. In fact, if we didn’t worry at all about what people think of us, and were concerned only with what God thinks of us, it would go even better.

We can’t control others: their impression of us, their misperception of us, their presuppositions about us, their wishing we could be different, their lack of respect for our values, etc. etc. But we can control—through a reliance on the Holy Spirit for self-control—a clear conscience before God.

God knows our heart and everything that flows out of it: words, actions, service and interpersonal interactions. God not only knows, He gets it exactly right! God does not misunderstand us or misinterpret. That can only be a good thing—when our hearts are pure—and even when they’re not. On the one hand, we get a “Well done,” and on the other, we get a “We’ve got work to do. But have faith in Me and we’ll get it done.” 

Our precept and prayer is that God will “create in me a pure heart...and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). There needs to be a willingness and agreement on our part for Him to do that.

No matter how right our motives, someone somewhere will get it wrong about us. No matter how sincere, someone somewhere will think we’re not. No matter how troubled or sad inside, someone somewhere will misinterpret that sadness as aloofness, being cold, or not liking them. No matter who we are or what we say or how we say it, someone somewhere will not appreciate it or think it good enough. They have hearts too; hearts that are, at any given time, also tainted with sin. We do well to remember that.

It’s time we stop hoping for and chasing high regard from others and instead focus on becoming Biblically mature in Christ.

copyright Barb Harwood

“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’S anointed stands here before the LORD.’
But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:6-7

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts,
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean.
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Psalm 51:1-12

“For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’
But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2: 11-16

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Galatians 5:24-26

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1: 3-8

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nothing Will Change Until God Changes Us

I tend to get a weird kick out of parents who buy a dog for their child so that the child can learn responsibility, only to see the exercise in responsibility falling to the parent! I’ve listened as these parents seriously and ever-so-earnestly attempt to convince me (and perhaps themselves) that the sole stipulation for getting the dog is that the child take care of the dog. 

Because I am a parent myself, I know exactly how this puppy experiment is going to play out. Sure enough, a week or two later, whom do I observe walking the puppy but the mom. Months later, the mom or the dad continue to be the only ones exercising the dog.

I take it all in, knowing full well that if I had ever allowed a dog in the house, I would have been the one standing outside in below-zero weather, waiting for the pup to do its duty while my kids slept in.

I used to wonder, those times I would implement a new grand scheme for the family, why, after only a few days, the new system wasn’t working? Why wasn’t the chore chart being filled out, or the kids attaining the goal of 30 minutes a day on the treadmill? Why were we not following through? What does one have to do to effect change in oneself or in another?

And the answer, I came to understand, is nothing. We of our own volition and good intentions can do nothing to effect change in ourselves or anyone else.

I have a relative who, out of sheer determination and staying really busy, managed to stop drinking for about 15 years. She worked two jobs and took up piano among other things. And then she began drinking again.

If a treadmill is what we put our hope for new life in, or a diet, new clothes, new car, new kitchen, new hobby, new house, new job, new life not being married—then any newness of life that comes will be precarious indeed. My record for change through sheer determination is 3 months. And then I went right back to the old ways.

We all know this, don’t we? We should, because we’ve experienced failure at change often enough. But there is something that continuously deceives us by saying, “This time, things will be different.”

It’s also really easy to decide to do something without actually doing it, but then feel like we did. 

When my kids were still young, I decided to look online for parenting books. I spent days conducting research. It felt good to be accomplishing something. I was on my way to being a better parent! I finally ordered the books. Boy was I making progress! I spent the next week looking forward to and putting my hope in the books’ arrival. When UPS dropped these tomes at my doorstep, I was invigorated! Wow, look what a great parent I’m already becoming, just by having these books! I’m on my way, taking the steps to effect change! I placed the books in the bookcase. They looked so good, so fresh, so new. A better parent had arrived and was now resting on the shelf. Which is where it stayed until I donated those books, unread, to Goodwill ten years later after my kids had both left home.

See, the act of deciding and then taking steps toward change is so fulfilling, and much easier, than actually making the change.

To be honest, even if I’d read those books, I doubt very seriously that my parenting would have changed. Because I was still leaving the change up to me; putting me in charge of me. It’s as I always say, “How can I change me if I am the problem?” And I can add to that, “How can I change someone else if they are the problem?” or “How can I change this relationship if both of us is the problem?” And finally, “How can I change someone else who does not want to change, or doesn’t even see that they need to change?”

Change takes place in the heart via the work of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t believe this, and don’t want to believe this, we can stop right here and continue on in the pride of believing that we are the greatest thing since sliced bread at effecting change (when the facts clearly prove otherwise).

If, however, we have failed time and time again to change of our own volition, perhaps we might want to humbly consider the work of the Holy Spirit. This requires an act of the will submitted entirely to God, in full repentance that we have been trying all this time to do it on our own.

Dr. Grant Richardson, author of the book, Certainty, writes:

“The Holy Spirit produces in the hearer a conviction from the force of a sovereign move of God, the Holy Spirit.”

This isn’t based on feelings. Richardson continues:

“The concern is in responding to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the objective Word of God. There is a norm, or standard, of truth that confirms the Holy Spirit’s convicting work. That is what Scripture warrants or justifies. This is coming to understand what God wants us to know deductively.”

In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is based on knowing God, first through Christ in salvation, and then in the ongoing process of becoming Biblically mature (also called sanctification). This ongoing work is accomplished via the Holy Spirit through the reading of God’s Word, prayer, faith and trust in the author of that Word and obedience to the conviction we receive.

We can’t stop short of this. It has to be our sole motivation: to please God and Him alone. Who better knows how to please God than the Holy Spirit? And so the Holy Spirit’s desire must be our desire. We must desire to please God and not ourself. We must desire to please God and not someone else. We must desire to take pride in God making the change in us and giving Him the credit, versus wanting to make the change ourself so that we can give ourself credit and boast about our own accomplishments.

Richardson writes,

“The conviction of the Holy Spirit transcends our opinion or the opinion of others. No human system can evaluate the testimony of the Spirit.”

“Paul explains (in 1 Corinthians 2:5) why he rests his case in the demonstration of the Spirit; he did not want to depend on human faculty but on the power of God. Paul came in the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’ rather than in the power of his speaking ability, that ‘faith might not rest in the wisdom of men.’”

“Only demonstration from the Holy Spirit can break through to the soul. Faith comes from Christ, not from the ingenuity of philosophy, oratory, or human persuasion.”

“The testimony of the Holy Spirit transcends the finite world of beliefs and perspectives. He is superior to philosophy and reason.”

The Holy Spirit will break through our finite understanding, our self-determination and self-reliance. 

We’ve been told all our lives that we “can do whatever we set our minds to.” This is a tragic lie. Only the Holy Spirit knows what it is we need to do and only the Holy Spirit can equip us to do it. When we finally submit to that truth, change can then begin.

copyright Barb Harwood

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14: 15-17

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5