1 Corinthians 3:4-9

"For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building."

1 Corinthians 3:4-9

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sons of oil

"So, he said, 'These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the LORD of the whole earth.'" Zechariah 4:14 

Zechariah chapter 4 teaches us about a vision given to Zechariah by God, after being awakened from sleep by an angel of the Lord. The vision is about olive trees and lamp stands and at our first glance might seem insignificant, but reveals to us the essence of our life in Christ.

Zechariah means "Yahweh Remembers." Zechariah was sent by God to encourage the people in the task of building the temple. At the time Zechariah receives the vision, Zerubbabel, who was the overseer of the building of the temple, has been at the task for somewhere around 17-20 years. He needed encouragement to continue on. Zechariah is sent by the Lord to encourage the people and to remind them that future blessing is contingent on present obedience.

 So, the vision relates to the work the people are in the midst of. Within the temple, there would have been a lamp stand that held the lamps that gave light to the temple. The lamps had to be continuously cared for, as they had to be continually filled with oil, cleared of ash and soot, and the wicks maintained. This would have been a constant, tedious, task for a temple worker, and one that could have been easily despised. Here, however, Zechariah sees not a servant tending to the lamps, and filling them with the usual specially prepared oil, but rather two olive trees as the source of the lamp's oil.

Let's look at verse 6:
"This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts."

Zerubbabel has a great responsibility. One that requires many resources in order to be completed. But here, the Lord reminds him that the work will not be accomplished by tangible, human resources, but by The Resource- the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

The word 'might' refers to the collective resources of a group or army- the strength that comes from a group of people working together to accomplish a task. The word 'power ' refers to the strength of an individual. When we as humans face a large task we generally assess the situation by determining the collective resources available as well the resources available from the individual members of our group or team, right?  Recognizing available resources in itself is not inherently wrong. We are called to be good stewards of the resources the Lord has provided and also we are given gifts of the Holy Spirit to be manifested through the good works He has planned in advance for His people. He orchestrates the uniting of His people in specific ways in order for them to work effectively together using their gifts and the resources He provides to accomplish His plan. But we cannot forget where we must begin all works.

Just the other day, Matt and I visited one of the popular ruins here in Antigua. We have often caught glimpses from the street of the inside of the building, as it is a popular sight for weddings, but we had never been inside. The size and construction of the building were quite impressive. Since the building was built in the early 1700's, its design and size brings about questions of how long it took to build it, the need and use of a building of that size, and how they would have constructed it brick-by-brick. There are elaborate arches and features that cause you to wonder about how the task was ever accomplished in a day when resources were so little and the work so much more difficult.

Here, in Zechariah, we see the people doing just that- accomplishing a great task with little resources. But they have grown weary. And so the Lord brings them a message of encouragement. No matter how long they have been at it, no matter how little the resources may seem, no matter how slow the process seems to be taking- "Keep at it! Press on!" That is the message brought to the people in that day. And that is the message the Lord brings to us today, too! Because it it not a matter of your strength, or your collective resources, but it is by the continual supply of My Spirit that the work will be accomplished. And that is why the Lord gave the vision of the olive trees continually supplying the lamps with oil to remind the people, and to remind us as well, that His supply of and our reliance on the Holy Spirit need to be continual.

Spurgeon says, "O churches! Take heed lest ye trust in yourselves; take heed lest ye say, 'We are a respectable body,' 'We are a mighty number,' 'We are a potent people;' take heed lest ye begin to glory in your own strength; for when that is done, 'Ichabod' shall be written on your walls and your glory will depart from you. Remember, that he who was with us when we were but few, must be with us now that we are many, or else we must fail; and he who strengthened us when we were but 'little in Israel,' must be with us now that we are like 'the thousands of Manasseh,' or else it is all over us and our day is past."

All of our service to the Lord, all of our ministry, must begin with the each member of the body of Christ being filled with the Holy Spirit of the Loving God and depending on Him to equip us to complete the task.

Matt and I just celebrated (actually we are still celebrating) our 17th wedding anniversary. I look back at the past seventeen years and am literally in awe at all that the Lord has done in our lives. We have faced what seemed like massive mountains in our married lives- having no income, no home, and a baby on the way, but finding Him to be our Faithful Provider; having three small children and being called to the mission field; learning Spanish; after two years, finally feeling comfortable and established, then being called to move to an entirely new and foreign part of the country to completely start over; watching the Lord break us down only to rebuild our marriage and our lives; returning to the United States after five years in Costa Rica; then after just 6 short months, moving to Guatemala. And, oh the transformation He has done in our hearts since moving here!

I know that through these different times in our lives, we had moments where we would certainly have chosen to do things in a different way. If it had been up to us, we would have chosen different methods or used different resources. Yet, we can see that the way the Lord chose to accomplish His will was THE perfect way. And on this side of it all, we would not want to change one thing. Because we know that surrender to His will and obedience to His plan and reliance upon His Spirit yield eternal blessings.

David Guzik gives us several illustrations for why oil is a good representation of the Holy Spirit. Here are a few:
Oil lubricates and when used for that purpose there is little friction and wear among those who are lubricated by the Holy Spirit of God.
Oil heals and was used as a medicinal treatment in Biblical times and when relied upon, the Holy Spirit brings healing and restoration.
Oil invigorates when used to massage and when allowed, the Holy Spirit invigorates us for His service.
Oil adorns when applied as a perfume and when asked, the Holy Spirit adorns us and makes us more pleasant to be around.

Verse 7 says, "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of, 'Grace, grace to it!'"

So God assures Zerubbabel here that he will finish the work, by His Spirit, because it is a work of grace, not a work of human strength or might.

That is so true for us who are in ministry today. We might face mountains, things that seem impossible. And if we speak truthfully, we might have resources within our grasp that we might use to make a good size dent in the looming mountain. But the Lord says to us, as He did to Zerubbabel, it is a work of grace meant to be accomplished by a continual supply of My Spirit, so that it is all for My glory. He also promises us, as He promised Zerubbabel, that He will finish the work.

Then he says,
"For who has despised the day of small things?"

That little phrase gets me every time. I think most of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we have despised the day of small things a time or two in our lives, haven't we? I know that I'd be lying if I said I have not. Yet, here we see almost two decades of brick after brick being laid in order to build the temple. We are reminded of the tedious task of tending to the oil and the temple lamps. The people are discouraged and can see no end in sight.

But God.

But God says to not despise the 'day' of the small things. We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and be obedient, especially in the little things. Guzik says, 'In many of God's choice workers He uses a powerful season of small things. Those days are not a mistake nor are they punishment; they are days of priceless shaping and preparation. They are not days to despise.'

The temptation to despise the day of the small things comes directly from the enemy himself. Satan tempts us in this way, because he fears the small things because he sees the great things God does in our lives through them.

Small things or big things- the task is not important- it is the obedient child of God working for His King that pleases the Lord. He sees all, His eyes scan to and fro throughout the whole earth and they see all works, both big and small. Do not despise the little things, for the Lord is the Lord of the little things.

The chapter ends with verse 14,
"So he said, 'These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.' "

This refers to two branches of the two olive trees on either side of the lamp stand in the vision given to Zechariah. The two anointed ones had a God-ordained work to do. The way they would accomplish that work would be through a continuos supply of the Holy Spirit.

Anointed ones literally means 'sons of oil.' David Guzik says of these two, 'They were so characterized by the ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit that they are sons of oil.'

Matt and I appear to be at a crossroads where the Lord is allowing us to begin to see the fruit of our labors in the 'day' of the small things. The actual duration of the 'day' is insignificant, nor is it most likely to end any time soon. However, with eyes fixed on the One who Finishes the work, we press on. The ruins that I mentioned that we visited a few days ago here in Antigua, are called 'ruins' because they are literally what is left of the destruction from an earthquake, rather multiple earthquakes, that have happened over the course of time. It is easy to sometimes allow our focus to shift from Jesus to the 'ruins' in our lives and lose heart and grow weary. Yet, here we are reminded that not even the end result of our labor is what matters, as everything on this earth will one day soon pass away. What is important is that as we do the work of the Lord, we rely on His Spirit, and we walk in obedience to His call, in both the little things and the big things, for His glory. The results are in His hands and for His glory.

What is most important is that the way we do what we do glorifies the work of the Holy Spirit, both His work in us and also His work through us.

I have written in the margin of my One Year Bible that I have been reading for about four years now:
'What we do may seem small and insignificant at the time, but God rejoices in what is right, which is not what is necessarily what is big. Be faithful in the small opportunities. Begin where you are and do what you can, for that is how God will be glorified.'

I remember Pastor Mike Rozell saying those words to a room full of people at Potter's Field Ranch in Montana a few days after we had arrived there to live, just after returning from five years in Costa Rica. We were just starting a new 'day' of small things then. To look back from where we are today and see the great hand of God upon our lives leaves me no other option but to rejoice in the Lord and in His work of grace in our lives.

As we look ahead with eyes fixed on Him, our prayer is that His work and His ministry in our lives be so characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit that our lives would be looked at as having that continuous connection to THE SOURCE of the oil of the Holy Spirit. And that it would be said of our lives that they were a work of grace for the glory of God in the Highest.

Grace and peace to you this Christmas season.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Heart of flesh

"Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgements and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God." Ezekiel 11:19-20

I read these verse today and instantly was drawn back in time to the first time the Lord taught me through them. The Lord speaks of a heart transplant here, but instead of a medical professional performing the surgery, the Lord Himself is the surgeon. I remember well the day I knew without a doubt these verses were true in my life.

As I read through Ezekiel this year, I cannot help but see several things the Lord chose to repeat like the way He calls Ezekiel "son of man," and the way he says "Do not be afraid." Also, the Lord chooses to tell Ezekiel over and again "whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious.." speaking of the Israelites. The Lord is calling Ezekiel to speak truth to the Israelites, knowing that because of their rebellious hearts they will not listen to Ezekiel because they do not listen to the Lord himself. But the Lord tells Ezekiel not to be rebellious and to open his mouth and eat what he gives him. And what the Lord gave him to eat was a scroll- parchment- which in my mind would not taste good at all. But when Ezekiel ate of it it was sweet like honey.

Often we look at our circumstances, our situation in life, our responsibilities and we get stuck on how unfair they are. We allow ourselves to think about what it would be like if this...and if that...

We deceive ourselves when we think like that. You see, what the Lord gave to Ezekiel was a task destined to fail, yet in it the Lord was with Ezekiel. He told him not to be afraid, whether the Israelites listened or refused to listen. Ezekiel was to be faithful. The Lord gave him a scroll to eat.

And when he ate it, Ezekiel realized that it was sweet like honey.

The Lord is reminding me this year as I read through Ezekiel, that no matter how things look to me, the things of the Lord are sweet like honey. Not easy, comfortable, or without suffering...yet because they are His will they are sweet like honey. No matter the outmode of the task I have been given, He is good and He is faithful!

So as I read verses 19-20 in chapter 11 today, I realized how very true it is that the Lord takes from His children the stony hard heart and replaces it with a heart of flesh.

I fought this transplant for so long in my life (and you can read that story below...). We all fight it a little, don't we? Why? Because a heart of flesh feels. It is soft and can be punctured deep. In contrast, a heart of stone is, well, hard. It is not affected by things a heart of flesh will feel.

And all my hard-hearted years kept me protected from pain and hurt and suffering...

Or so I thought.

I am so thankful for the Lord's hand upon my life. I am so thankful that He performed heart surgery on me and gave me a heart of flesh. I am thankful because I now can walk in His statutes and I learn from Him every day. I am His and He is mine.

I am oh so thankful.

Below is a post from May 2012, shortly after the Lord did a mighty work in me. Rejoice with me in His amazing grace, mercy, and love!

Original post from May, 2012 (written while living in Villarreal, Costa Rica)

"Today I met a man whose father turns 101 tomorrow. I was out running errands. I had to run into the video store and drop off movies Matt and the kids had borrowed over the weekend. As I entered the store, an older man cheerfully greeted me. He stuck out his wrinkled hand and shook mine heartily. 

He said, "Do you know what? Tomorrow is my dad's 101 first birthday! 101! Do you wanna come to the party?" 

The woman working in the store explained that the man's whole town was celebrating by throwing the dad a party. 

I told him thank you and then I said "My son's birthday is tomorrow. He is not celebrating quite as many years though- just 12."

"Twelve!" he turns to the wooman working. "Twelve years old! Ya hear that? Her son turns 12 years old tomorrow! Well, ya wanna bring him to the party too?"

The woman began laughing and said, "You're not gonna have enough food for everyone if you keep inviting all these people."

"Do you like grilled pork loin?" he turns to me and asks.

The woman then turns to me then and explained he'd already invited her to come to the party. Then she told him he better not invite anyone else or he'll run out of food. 

"Oh no..." he said, smiling. "God," he said, pointing up into the air, "You know him?" he asks me. 

"Yes, I do." I said, smiling back at him. 

"You do?  Well, God, he multiplies pork! We'll have plenty of food. You like pork?" he asks me.

"Yes, I do!"

"You do? Well great! Why don't you two come together?" he says to the woman and I.

I smiled at the woman and then at this sweet, joyful old man. 

"Well, I'll probably be celebrating at home with my son. But thank you very much for the invitation! Maybe next year," I said.

He laughed and then looked at me and asked, "Are you 40 yet?" 

I coughed, then tried to laugh it off and said, "Well, no, not yet!"

He asked how old I was and I told him "34."

"Ahhhh...34...you're almost to 40! See you have a lot of time left. But my dad- he's turning 101 tomorrow. 101! Only God knows if there will be a next year for him!"

I told the old, joyful man in front of me that it was nice to meet him and to have a nice day. 

And I walked out the door of that store smiling and pondering the source of all joy, Jesus Christ. 

That nice old man was so excited about his father's birthday. He wanted to invite everyone he met to his dad's birthday party. For it might very well be his last. His father had lived 101 years- a long and full lifetime...

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High 
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. 

With long life I will satisfy him, 
And show him My salvation."

Psalm 91:1,16

The Psalmist speaks of the safety we find in the shelter of the Most High. We learn that we can find help, deliverance and honor and abide in Him. We also learn that we are promised long life and salvation in Him.

Wouldn't the world be a different place if we all lived with joy such as the son had inviting me to his father's birthday party?

What would the world be like if we all celebrated our Heavenly Father as much as this man celebrated his earthly father?

This weekend I had the very special blessing of being invited to a women's retreat. The Lord truly had planned for me to be there and I am so very thankful for His provision and nudging to get me there. 

Little did I know that there was major surgery slated to take place at that retreat. The Great Physician was prepped and ready to cut out old, stony hearts and replace them with fleshy, new ones. 

Little did I know, I was one of the many who needed a transplant in a big way. 

You see, there had been a stone wall erected around my heart for so many years I felt that it was part of me. I had long ago stopped trying to knock it down. I had grown comfortable with it there and had learned how to do life with it there. I had grown to like it, as it seemed to me to offer great protection in times of stress or storm. 

But, the Lord Jesus is a compassionate, mighty, powerful, loving, just, kind, and tender-hearted Physician. He has known my heart condition for quite sometime. He knew that this weekend was the time for the heart transplant that would change the way I lived for the rest of my years. He knew it was time that the wall came down and the stone heart was cut out. He has been waiting for so long to give me a new heart, I just hadn't given him the chance. He knew I was finally ready. 

I didn't know quite yet, but I would. 

The speaker at the retreat is a wonderful lady named Debbi Bryson. You can learn more about her here.  She spoke at four sessions on four separate sections of scripture. We went through each section verse by verse and dug into each one and cut them up, chewed on them, swallowed them, and digested them. It was an amazing excerise of study and immediate application. She spoke on Mark 4:35-41, John 15, Mark 1:32-38; 40-45; Luke 8:43-48; and 1 Corinthians 13. 

I listened intently through all of the sessions. I took pages of notes. I prayed and listened and heard God speak to me. I was really digging what He was saying to me. I could feel the pieces fitting together from each of the teachings and I was so thankful for what I was learning. The Saturday night session brought great healing for many women there. So many were broken and had been bound tight from sin or hurt or tragedy in their lives. And many were set free that night. I had been praying for one specific woman that whole day and specifically that session. I hadn't really thought much about any healing I needed. I looked around and watched as many women came to repentance, found forgiveness and then healing! Sweet freedom from the enemies lies. Bondage that had held precious captives for far too long. All set FREE! Beofre my eyes. And I watched and wanted to be a part of it, but I didn't dare ask or search for what I might need to be set free from. No tears came to me, which I found unusual. 

The next morning, Debbi asked who had been healed last night. Hands went up all around the room. I so wanted to raise my hand too, but I knew I hadn't been healed of anything.

Debbis began to speak on 1 Corinthians 13- the love chapter. She taught on each of the aspects of love that Paul teaches on in that chapter. She used examples the Lord has given her in her own life to demonstrate what love is and what it isn't. She went on down the list...Love is patient...kind...does not envy...etc...then she got to it- 

                   not easily angered or provoked...keeps no record of wrongs...

Ohhh...I looked around and so wanted to find a place to hide.

Easily angered? Remembering wrongs? 

I couldn't run. I couldn't hide. Of all the other ways in which the Lord spoke clearly to me through the other sessions, this time I heard His voice more clearly and more directly.

This was the moment that He had planned. It was this moment for which I was there. Because in that moment, I began to remember back some thirty years ago. I began to remember why I had built that wall in the first place.

Debbi continued talking and I listened intently, sweat beads beginning to form on my brow. 

She said, "There is no excuse ladies for being easily angered! No excuse!" And she made us write down several things that are commonly used as excuses by women to justify their short fuses. She said, "NONE of them are excuses!"

"Love keeps no record of wrongs," she continued. "Do not use words as weapons, but as love and truth. Open your heart."

Open your heart.

How could she have known? 

There is no way she could have known. She is simply a vessel you used to bring long-awaited truth to my life. My Lord Jesus spoke directly to me through this tiny little woman who came all the way to Costa Rica to minister to women of all nationalities. 

There He was. Standing at the shore with me. Softly calling to me to drop my nets- let go of it all- and follow Him. It was Him calling to me to come with him to the other side and finally break free from death that had held me captive and find life. "I am willing," He whispered to me. "I am willing to make you clean. I will take your burden. You've carried it for too long."
"I am your true vine," He reminded me. "Only in me can you grow roots," He whispered in my ear. "Come on. Let's get in the boat and cross over to the other side..."

"Open your heart. 

Love is not easily angered. 

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Open your heart."

My sweet Jesus knew how long I've been angry in my heart. My Lord knew how long I've kept such an accurate record of wrongs done to me. 

And that wall around my heart had done some good keeping out what I didn't want in. I had erected it long ago and had come so used to it. I had actually forgotten it existed. 

Until I felt it crack. Until I felt the breath go out of me at those three little words- 

Open your heart. 

But my God is a Sovereign God and He knew that it was time for the wall to come down. He is the Great Physician and He was ready to cut out the heart of stone I'd used to only half-live almost my whole life. He was ready to give me a new, fresh, heart of His own flesh that would allow me to live whole and abundantly for the first time ever!

I had thought I had crossed over the river of anger years ago when I worked through forgiveness of someone in my life. But I had just begun to realize that was not the true source of where the anger came from that had held me captive so many years.

And so I asked Him where had it come from and instantly I wished I'd never asked. Because the wall began to crack even more and I wanted to reach inside of me and hold it up, to fill the cracks because it had been a part of me so long and I was afraid and I didn't know how I would live or survive with out it's protection around my heart. It was the only security I had...I thought.

Oh but my sweet Jesus knew that was a lie straight from the pit of hell and He was standing there with me asking me to crossover once and for all and finally be free. To finally give up holding on to death that had kept me from abundant life for far too long. 

"Let's go," Jesus said...

But I hesitated.

The last session ended without me entering the boat. We went to pack up our things and then went to lunch.  I was quiet. I knew He were urging me to talk with Debbi. Although she sat at the table next to me at lunch, I made excuses. I finally told Him to make it happen if He wanted me to talk with her. 

He so made it happen!

Later, I was sitting on a little ledge and found myself right next to Debbi and wouldn't you know she turns to me and says, 

"So, sweetie, what's your God-story?"

And so for the next 45 minutes or so I shared my story with her...all the way up to the point where the Lord had brought me to in the last session. 

The first question she had asked me was what was the source of my anger...and here I was at the point of no return. If I shared anymore, I knew life would never be the same. I knew I could never hide again if I shared why the wall existed in the first place. I knew that it would come crashing down if I said anymore...

I'd only spoken of it two or three times and even then never to the extent with which I knew I was about to. I had stuffed it so deep and built that wall in an attempt to hide it and to protect my heart...

But, clearly, 30 years is too long to have lived with a heart of stone. It was time for a transplant. 

I had prepped for surgery with Ezekiel 36:26-27;

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

It was time for surgery to begin. It was time for me to get my new heart. 

I had written in my notes, 

"I will never be whole until I learn to love, Oh Lord."

I told Debbi what had happened that day. I told her all I could remember. every part that had made me feel dirty and unclean all these years. I told her that I had stuffed this and hid it for so long it scared the pants off of me to let it out.

She looked me right in the eyes and said, "That is so wrong!"

Then she asked me if I was a person who built up walls...

Hahahaha...such a sense of humor, God...

She said what happened to me was wrong. She said that the lie I had been believing for far to long was wrong. 

But I had to choose life and stop clinging to death. 

I looked the enemy in the eye and spoke the words that released me from being walking dead...I killed the lie and the wall came tumbling down. I spoke the words that released me from deaths grip in an instant.

"That is wrong! I am not your victim of your lies! I am free! I choose LIFE!!"

Debbi and I prayed then and peace and joy filled me and my lungs began breathing a fresh new scent as my new heart pumped life into my body!

And I felt clean! Totally white as snow! 

That day I shared what Debbi and I talked about several more times. Each time instead of pain and shame that I had expected to feel, I felt more and more freedom. I felt like a bulldozer was in my heart working steadily digging out my heart from the rubble the wall had left. By Monday morning, I felt so fresh and new and whole and healed and clean.

The wall was gone...No more rubble. No more dust...Fresh new heart...

"Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, 
and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. 
For why should you die, O house of Israel? 
For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. 
Therefore turn and live!" Ezekiel 18:31-32

 I am rejoicing today and each new day - celebrating my Father and His great work in me. 

Just like the old man I met today was celebrating his father, I too will be inviting others to come and celebrate my Father with me! 

"Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler 
And from the perilous pestilence.

He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

 Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; 
I will set him on high, because he has known My name." Psalm 91:3, 4, 14

I am safe. I am protected. I am loved. I find refuge in Him. I am delivered. I am covered. I know His name. I am loved. I am whole. I am clean. I have a new heart. 

I am whole! 

I am healed!

Thank You sweet Jesus! 

I invite you, too, to come and celebrate my Father with me. Have you met Him? Do you know His Son? Would you like to?"