Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Keeping House

While staying with my cousin in New York City this past weekend, I spotted a book on her shelves about the science of housekeeping. Not being a disciplined housekeeper myself, I decided it could only help me to glean some tips from this expert who had turned sparkling bathrooms and swept floors into a scientific formula. Within a few pages, her simple message was made clear: Keep After It.

The author recommended spending a few minutes in the morning and again at night straightening the home as a matter of routine. She laid out her Law of Housekeeping: a clean place is more likely to remain clean. Once clutter has begun, it too easily gains momentum. She cited a hallway chair in her home that had remained clutter-free for the previous six months. Then one morning she left a book and a sweater on it. By evening, toys, magazines, tools, etc. had accumulated in a pile atop of her original items. Clutter begets clutter, she cautioned.

Once-a-week cleaning is a must. All washable floors should be mopped once a week. Every surface should be vacuumed, including lampshades and corner cobwebs (although I must admit it is a stretch of the imagination that any cobweb would dare to form in this lady's home.) All appliances should be shined and countertops cleared and scrubbed. Mattresses and pillows should be aired weekly as well.

Oh, boy. I shut the book with a guilty slap. Most of my housecleaning gets done in the hour before guests arrive. I prefer to entertain in the evenings, because dark hides dirt. Someday when I replace the carpet in my living room, it will be the exact color of the dirt in our front yard. (The previous owners of our home carpeted our entire home in off-white. She must have had a maid.)

Just like housework, our spiritual lives can also benefit from the housekeeping law Mrs. Clean set out for her readers. Keep after it. A great biblical example of letting things go and consequently letting them grow is the story of David's sin. His first mistake was to allow his gaze to linger over the beautiful woman bathing on the rooftop below. Then he sent for her and engaged in extra-marital sex while her husband was off at war. Later finding Bathsheba pregnant, he set the wheels in motion to have her husband called home to hopefully sleep with his wife. When this plot failed, David eventually arranged to have the husband killed in battle. One sin necessitated another to avoid consequences. Like the author's hallway chair, soon a pile of trash existed on top of the original offense. The consequences were grave indeed. Bathsheba's baby died as a punishment for David's sin.

What if David had seen the woman and quickly turned away? What if he had prayed for strength to remain sin-free in that moment? Much heartache and trouble would have been avoided. Clutter begets clutter. And sin begets sin.

Jim Elliot, martyred missionary, spent the early hours each day in his young life in Bible study and prayer. That would have satisfied most of us in our spiritual life requirements. Yet at lunchtime, Jim would again spend time in the Word and prayer. Why? He felt his heart had grown cold during the hours he had labored in his job.

It is so much easier to recover from a little slip than from a free-fall. The Holy Spirit prompts us immediately when we sin. That conviction should lead us to instant repentance. Yet too often I ignore the nudge. I rationalize, I excuse. And soon I find myself with a pile of clutter, making an easier fix impossible.

Paul had written the Corinthians about sin in their midst. Though the initial confrontation was painful, the Corinthians responded with godly zeal. Paul told them later on, "Though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it... now I rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance." (2 Cor 7:8).

We have been given everything we need in order to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3). The Holy Spirit, prompting and teaching us as we live, is a huge part of this provision. Staying tuned in to His guidance will go a long way towards preventative maintenance. Jim Elliot had the right idea. Turning our hearts toward God in prayer and immersing ourselves in Scripture renews our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's prodding. Only when our hearts are tuned in to Him can we hope to keep sin at bay.

This post is an article from the Dogwood Digest, a free weekly devotional newsletter. If you would like to subscribe and receive this email on Tuesday mornings, use the link in the right hand column. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Just an Ordinary Sparrow

As I sat eating my breakfast before the sliding glass doors of my kitchen this quiet morning, I watched two sparrows hopping along the deck, hoping for a stray seed. They are tiny birds, unremarkable in their coloring or markings. Sparrows are a common bird as well. Everywhere I go, I see them flitting around, ever-hungry and searching for a morsel. Even their call is little more than a plain old 'cheep'. When it comes to birds, especially when compared to the beautiful but nasty blue jay or the brilliant red cardinal, there is nothing extraordinary about a sparrow. Just your plain, run-of-the-mill kind of bird.

However, the sparrow had its moment in glory when Jesus used it to demonstrate the involvement of God in our lives. As Jesus prepared His disciples for their lives as messengers of the gospel, He knew the obstacles and persecution which lay in their future. He also knew that the future was not to be feared in light of the security of an ever-watchful Heavenly Father.

He told them, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul . . . Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs on your head are numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:28-31)

Jesus was communicating the intimate involvement God has with His creation. Even a sparrow, so common as to be sold two for a penny in the marketplace, was ever-kept within the careful sights of the Heavenly Father. Not one would drop to the ground without Him knowing or even orchestrating its circumstances. Jesus then went a step further to bring home His point: God knows us better than we even know ourselves. Do you know how many hairs are on your head? God does.

I can’t help but be thankful that Jesus used a sparrow, of all birds, to bring home His point. A plain, unremarkable bird, numbering in the millions all around the world. Just like me.

There is nothing that makes me stand out from the crowd. I am not important nor am I famous. I do not have much money or any kind of enviable possessions. I have no remarkable talent or reason people would be drawn to me. If I were to stand in a crowd of Annapolitans, no one would ever pick me out as someone worthy of recognition or even concern.

But I am important to God. This middle-aged woman, with body parts headed south, extra weight firmly attached to her middle, hair that needs a touch up every five weeks to hide the gray, is important to God. He knows how many hairs (in ever-decreasing number) are on my head. He knows my thoughts before I think them. He cares when I am hurting and holds my tears in His hand. I matter to Him.

This is a concept I still struggle to get my mind around. Yet it is truth-- and I count myself very blessed to be regarded as more valuable than many sparrows. That the God of the universe, creator of all things, would bother to know me so intimately boggles my mind. I cannot make sense of it, but I can bask in the fact, knowing I am loved so completely.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions: Lots of Good Intentions

"Guilt drives us to the cross, but grace must lead us from there or we cannot serve God . . . There is no more powerful motivation for holiness than loving God in response to the revelation of his redeeming character and eternal promises." Bryan Chapell, Christ Centered Preaching

How are you at keeping resolutions? I am the world's worst. Mind you, I am full of good intentions. I will keep a cleaner and more organized house. I will lose weight. I will study harder at Greek. At the starting point of a new resolution, keeping it is a breeze. Why did I live like I did before turning over this new leaf? Life is so much better this way. I will never go back. Sometimes I even try to convert others to my cause. How could they not follow in my steps? This way is infinitely better.

But soon, as time wears on, I begin to consider falling off the wagon. This is too hard. I miss the convenience of doing things the old way. It wasn't so bad before. And soon I discover I have lapsed back into my old habit once again.It is often the same as we try to live for Christ. We read or hear something that convicts us to change our ways. So we resolve to act on that conviction. We will be more diligent about reading our Bible. Pray more. Get control of our tongue. But soon the enthusiasm wanes. The high priorities of yesterday diminish in light of the new urgencies of today. And the resolution dies a quiet death.

Where can we find a motivation that will last us longer than our own good intentions? Guilt is usually my chief motivation, a powerful force in my life. Yet in reality, actions motivated by guilt are actually only self-serving. I attempt to change something because I foolishly think that God will love me more if I can get a handle on this thing in my life. This, of course, is a very faulty assumption. He knew me before the foundations of the world, knowing every selfish act I would commit before I was even born. Knowing all that, He chose to love me anyway.

So trying to earn favor from God is a useless motivation. In the end anyway, guilt fails to produce a lasting change, because it is at its roots a serving of self. As soon as I have worked long enough at change to ease my guilty conscience, the motivation is at an end. And I fall off the wagon.

But what if instead I acted in response to the unconditional love and grace God has lavished on me? Donald Miller wrote a great paragraph on this in Blue Like Jazz. The gist of his wisdom was that if an ordinarily lazy man were to fall in love, he could swim the English Channel for the sake of his beloved. Love is a huge motivator.

Our greatest incentive for change comes as a response to the grace and love the Father has already poured out on us. "For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this, that one died for all . . . so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) The greater our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, the greater our motivation to love and serve Him in return.

So rather than focus on my behavior and what I need to accomplish, I will choose to focus on the God that I serve. I will focus on His great love for me and on His perfect character. And my behaviors and attitudes, the ones which so desperately need to change, will suddenly be revealed for the dark, dirty habits they are, existing in a life which has already been paid for by the precious blood of Christ. The stronger my love for Him, the stronger my motivation. Less of me, more of Him.

"We love because He first loved us . . . by this we know we are children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments." (1 John 4:19, 5:2)

This is an excerpt from my most recent edition of Dogwood Digest, a weekly free email newsletter. Please use the box in the right hand column in this page to subscribe-- I would love to add you to my list of readers!