Sunday, February 22, 2009

Learning His Word "By Heart"

By Charlotte Lowrie
When I was growing up, our rural Oklahoma church was one of a group of German Congregational churches in the central United States. Every year, all the member churches would convene for an annual conference hosted by one of the churches. Each conference included many sermons, business meetings, teachings for all ages, and wonderful combined choirs. One of the kid events was a Bible memorization contest.

Much like a spelling bee, the contest was organized by ages, and each contestant recited Bible verses with Scripture references. Contestants stood in a line and the first child recited a verse. The judges verified the accuracy of the recitation and Scripture reference. Then the next child recited, and so it went until one or another child ran out of memorized verses. The last child standing won the contest.

So every year, well before the annual conference, my parents would get me started memorizing Bible verses. I remember being somewhere in the vicinity of 7 or 8 years old, as I walked from room to room in our farmhouse practicing my Bible verses. Of the two or three years that I competed, I remember winning only one contest. That year the conference was hosted by a member church in Kansas. The contest was held on an exceptionally hot summer afternoon. I was wearing a pretty dress that Mom had made, but suddenly the yards of fabric in the full skirt seemed heavy and close that afternoon. And the hotter I got, the more firmly my curly blonde bangs stuck to my forehead like glue. But I kept reciting verses, searching hard and fast for verses that hadn’t been recited by other contestants.

Then I remember realizing that I was the only person standing on the stage. Mom and Dad were smiling at me, but I was completely mortified to realize that I was on the stage all by myself. (Clearly I was too young and naïve to know what winning a contest meant.) Whether I got a prize or not escapes me, but I remember the great sense of relief I felt when they told me I could go back to my seat.

In the 1950s, we called Bible verse memorization, “learning by heart.” As a child, I always assumed that was just another way to describe memorization. But these days, I’ve learned that it means much more.

The Psalmist wrote, “I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from our commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119: 10-11 NIV)

Just as Jesus used the word of God against satan in the temptation, so the word of God serves as our shield and armor. With it, we can resist temptaton and evil. The Bible says that the word is sharper than a two-edged sword. The Lord reminds us to use His word well, to hide it in our hearts. And when we do that, it will be there when we need it.

Now, at an age when I can neither remember where I last laid my glasses nor see well enough to find them, I’ve begun again to learn His word by heart. Every week I choose a new set of verses and begin the process of learning them “by heart.” Some weeks, I learn two verses. Other weeks, I learn a lengthy passage of six or seven verses. And almost every day, I recite this week’s selection along with the passages that I learned by heart in the previous weeks.

This journey that echoes that of my childhood is rewarding beyond description. The blessing that He gives me as I recite passages is sometimes overwhelming. Other times, my favorite passages bring immediate tears of gratitude and joy. Now, as I learn by heart, I know that His words have become part of the sinew of my heart, deeply and richly embedded within me.

And I’ve found some creative uses as well. For example, I am in the last stages of a multi-stage procedure with the dentist. The dentist’s office is my least favorite place to go, and I cringe at the sound of the drill. But I finally found a good dentist--so good, in fact, that while he drills away on my tooth, I recite my Bible passages silently. If the drilling gets dicey, I just recite faster and mentally louder. And if I forget the sequence of a long passage, the Lord is there to prompt me with the first word or thought to get me back on track.

It seems improbable that it would take me all these years to understand what learning His word “by heart” means, but now I know, and I'll never forget.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ask and You Will Receive. Really.

I want to share a recent experience with the Lord. But first, I need to give you some background so that you’ll understand the story.

I have a morning routine that almost never changes. Here is how the routine goes:
  • First, I read the Bible while I eat breakfast.

  • I make coffee, and then go upstairs to shower.

  • Then I come downstairs and sit at the breakfast table talking aloud to the Lord (conversational prayer).
  • I then kneel to pray to the Father (usually the Lord’s prayer with some daily conversation thrown in).

  • I sit down again and ask the Lord what He would have me do today. (Note: About a year ago, I gave the Lord the responsibility for scheduling my days. So He tells me what to do and in what order. When I do what He says, there is always time to get everything done. It never fails.)

Recently, during our morning conversation (and before praying to the Father), I told the Lord that I was gaining too much weight, and asked if He could schedule in time to start working out again on a consistent basis. He said He could. We continued talking about going somewhere to do some photography that day.

Then He asked, “Why don’t you go clear the snow off the deck?”

“Now?” I asked thinking that we were going out to do some photography.

“Yes,” He replied.

I thought that the timing was odd because it was before the prayer, and we had just talked about going out shooting. I was puzzled, but I got busy and started clearing snow off the deck.

For the next two hours I worked on the deck. The sun was shinning with a soft golden glow that makes all the trees an amazing shade of green. The sky had watercolor shades of Northwest blues and slate-grays, and there were enormous, complex, and stunning cloud formations all strolling from west to east where they eventually stack up on top of the Cascade Mountains. It was just too beautiful for words. And it certainly made walking back and forth across the deck over and over pushing snow seem a lot less like work.

I came back inside and was drying my shoes and socks with the hairdryer when the Lord commented that the job didn’t take very long.

“It was quite a workout,” I responded.

“Isn’t that what you asked me to do?” He asked.

All I could do was laugh.

And, as He pointed out, “It was two days-worth of workouts.”

So then I prayed. Then I went to the store and bought some orchids.

Then I did that shooting that we had discussed.

And, sure enough, there was time for everything.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Learning to Let It Go

A few days ago, I heard something that troubled me. It involved someone close to me who was taking a financial risk that seemed both ill advised and unnecessary. Despite proposing alternate ideas to the person, I failed to convince them. Of course, I thought that I was right, but I decided that I would say nothing to anyone about it. If you’ve ever tried doing this, then you can predict what happened. Eventually, I told someone else. Immediately I regretted it.

As I talked to the Lord about it, He helped me understand that I was relying entirely on self control. My self-control may last for a few days or months, but as long as I'm holding something in, it naturally wants to come out. Plus, if I think that I’m right about something, I also naturally want confirmation from someone else. (I’m not proud of that, but I’m also being honest.)

When I began to follow Jesus, one of the first things I learned was to give Him everything—all of my sins, problems, joys, worries, ideas, plans, work—literally everything in my life. And of course, I should have given Him my concern about this situation as well.

What’s more, I’ve learned that can’t obey the Lord’s commands under my own power. Obedience is beyond our natural ability. Thus I can truly obey only through His power.

I gave the concern to the Lord. And now, instead of holding in situations that bother me, I give them to the Lord. And to remind me about this lesson, I created, or the Lord gave me, a two-sentence summary that is easy to remember. I share it here hoping that it will be useful to you as well.

Whatever you hold in naturally wants to come out.
But whatever you give to the Lord is gone for good.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Inspiring Teachings

I think that Christ followers in the United States in particular are blessed beyond measure. Among the tremendous blessings that we have is our ability to hear the teachings of inspired and inspiring pastors around the country by watching them on television.

During the past three years, I’ve found a group of pastors who continue to help me grow and understand more fully this amazing daily walk with Jesus. As I listen to them, I’ve written down my favorite quotes from them on anything that I had handy at the moment. As a result, I have a stack of yellow sticky notes filled with quotes, as well as a notebook that I continue to fill.

This week, I’d like to share some of my notes from pastors including Casey Treat of Christian Faith Center in Seattle, Kevin Gerald of the Champions Centre in Tacoma, WA
, Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX, and Mark Crow of Victory Church in Oklahoma City.

Here are some of the quotes. Unfortunately, in some cases, I neglected to note the pastor’s name, and I only wrote down the quote. I’ll start with the unattributed quotes first.

“Every problem is an opportunity the Lord provides us.”

“God never performs His best in our yesterdays.”

Re: Joshua 3:4. “God didn’t part the Red Sea until the Israelites stood in it.”

“Worry is faith in the devil. Faith is trust in the Lord. Faith speaks to the storm. Speak joy, life, and prosperity. Believe what you say will come to pass. Speak to your storm or your mountain.” In other cases, we must walk through our storms (Matthew 14), and in still other storms, we “float” through as with Paul on the ship in Acts 13.

“Pray with unwavering faith. Determine that you will not pray wimpy prayers.” And then live as if your prayer is being answered. If you pray for rain for crops, then go out and prepare the fields for the rain.

“We’re blessed to be a blessing.” Ed Young

“What is prosperity? It's being in the will of God.” Ed Young

“What we believe affects what we receive. Don’t go back to Egypt when God has great things in store for you. Famine is temporary. God has something better in store. Believe that God will bring you into a place of favor. God is strong in battle. He is your very present help in the time of trouble.” Kevin Gerald

Re: II Samuel 15: 13-22. “Once you’ve been in or near the presence of God, you want to stay there. The Ark of the Covenant had been with Obed Edom and he was blessed. [When the Ark returned, Ittiai the Gittite followed because he knew what it was like to be in the presence of God, and he wanted to stay there.]” Mark Crow

“There are four foundational truths. 1. Value what God values. Do not love money. 2. Trust in the Lord, and do not worry (Matthew 6:24). 3. Remember God’s ability. Do not give up. God can turn things around. God’s economy never fails. 4. Focus on what God has given you.” Casey Treat

“Operate in faith rather than responding in fear. Don’t curse the shaking. Determine to love, serve, and worship God no matter what—with confidence. The world is looking at us now and at our confidence in God. Before you speak, ask, ‘Does this glorify God?’ When others see hope in you, they will ask how they can also have that hope.” Mark Crow

This may be the greatest hour of evangelism ever—the greatest shaking ever.” Mark Crow

“Make the most of every opportunity. Opportunity comes dressed in work clothes or disguised as problems. Concentrate on adding value, not on being valued.” Kevin Gerald

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Use It Or Lose It

The story of the 10 minas in Luke 19 is familiar. A nobleman leaves his estate to journey to a distant land so that he may be appointed king. Before leaving, he calls 10 of his servants to him. To each servant, he gives a mina, about three months’ wages. Then the nobleman tells his servants to put the money to work until he returns.

On his return, the master calls the servants to account for how they invested the money. The first servant wisely invested his mina and earned 10 more. The master praised his service and put him in charge of 10 cities. A second servant’s mina earned five minas more during the master’s absence. The master commended the servant and put him in charge of five cities.

The third servant hands the mina back to his master. The servant explains that he kept the coin in a napkin where it remained untouched, useless, and dormant. The servant said that he was afraid to invest the mina because he knew that his master was a “hard,” uncompassionate man who required what was not due to him.

By way of response, the master turns the false accusations back on the servant. At the very least, the servant should have deposited the mina to gain simple interest—especially since the servant regarded the master as a strict taskmaster who would demand an accounting from him. The master took the third servant’s mina and gave it to the servant who had 10—the servant who made the greatest use of his what had been entrusted to him by the master.

In this parable, three people start on a level playing field. At the end of the story, one ends with 11 minas, another with five, and another with zero. The only differences are the choices they made.

What's Been Entrusted to You?

Although I’ve read this story many times, I always narrowly related it to the stewardship money. But as I read the story again, the Lord asked me, “What have I entrusted to you?”

The obvious answer, after having just reading the story, was money. But I knew that He wanted me to consider all that He has entrusted to my care. I thought of the valuable gifts that He has entrusted me. Years ago, He entrusted two children to my care, and, more recently, grandchildren, as well as a wonderful extended family. He entrusted me with the talents of writing and photography, with health and intelligence, and a home.

Then I added to the list my gifts of the Spirit, which unquestionably have been entrusted to me to invest in the Kingdom until He returns.

Two Choices

Following the parable, we have a choice. We can use what God has given us or not. What would I do with what the Lord has given me? One choice is to do nothing. I considered the snarly, self-centered attitude of the third servant. Was he fearful, or lazy, or was he simply determined to avoid risk at all costs? In today’s vernacular, this would be the person who says, “Why should I do this—I’m only an employee, it’s not my job?” “What if I make a mistake and lose my job. He’s just looking for a reason to fire me?” Or, “Why try? No matter what I do, it won’t be good enough; thus, it’s better to do nothing.”

The other choice is to get busy and put to work what we’ve been given. We look for ways to invest our money, talents, time, and resources in the Kingdom of God. Whatever we’ve been given will increase the more we use it. John Gill notes in his Exposition of the Bible that the Vulgate Latin version adds, “and he shall abound or have abundance.” In the case of the first two servants in the parable, abundance translated into half again as much and double what the servants started with at the beginning.

The parable in Luke 19 promises us that the Lord will give us more if we choose to put to work what He’s already given us. The only thing standing between us and the promise is a simple choice.