The Joy of Knowing God

Good morning. Friday has finally arrived. And this is a long weekend! Today is Friday, August 31, 2012. Today is “Eat Outside Day.” Okay…does that mean “take your meal outside and eat it day,” or “go outside and eat whatever’s there day?” I think I would go for the former, because you never know what’s out there.

On this date in 1955, William Cobb demonstrated the first solar powered car. I see how well that caught on.
On this date in 1888, Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim, a prostitute named Mary Ann Nichols. He was never caught.
On this date in 1949, the American Gigolo, Richard Gere, was born.
On this date in 1928, The Threepenny Opera premiered in Berlin. It was composed by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. I love Threepenny! Here is a clip of Raul Julia and Bill Nighy performing “The Army Song” in a movie that I didn’t even know existed!

On this date in 1959, Sandy Koufax struck out 18 batters in a single game, setting a National League record.

All that happened in Christi’s doctor appointment yesterday was a referral to an orthopedist. So we had to pay for a doctor’s visit for that? Nothing else much happened yesterday, at least that was worth talking about. The work day was a bit stressful, but I think I handled it okay. Today should be interesting. The manager is taking a vacation day (so as to have an extra long weekend), and my direct supervisor won’t be in, as he is working tomorrow (Saturday) to cover our holiday Saturday deliveries. I’ll be by myself, pretty much. It’s not the first time…things should be fine. Oh, and there’s no work Monday.

Father, I pray that you show me a glimpse of yourself this morning, and fill me with your Spirit as I look into your Word today.

Today, I’m reading Psalm 92. Again, there is no composer listed; it is simply called “A song for the Sabbath.” It is, indeed, “good to give thanks to the LORD.”
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!

As I continue to read Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I stumbled across this line in the chapter on service. “Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to get our own way?” (p. 96 of the version I’m reading) That little sentence shouts volumes across the centuries. In fact, I’m thinking that the entire book could be summarized by that one line. “Life together” works best if one adopts that philosophy. It is better to serve my neighbor, to serve my brother or sister, than to get my own way. May we all remember this, and may we all pray for the Spirit of God to infuse that attitude into our spirits!

My Utmost For His Highest
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

Oswald Chambers says, “It is an insult to use the word happiness in connection with Jesus Christ.” Jesus never spoke of “happiness.” While I realize that the TEV translation (Today’s English Version) of the Bible uses the word “happy” in the Beatitudes, that is quite an oversimplification. One must remember that the TEV has a vocabulary of only about 5000 words. It was translated with the idea of being understood by someone whose first language was not English. Here, Jesus speaks of “joy,” both his joy and our joy. We must never confuse “joy” with “happiness.” “The joy of Jesus was absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice of Himself to His Father, the joy of doing that which the Father sent Him to do.” Jesus prayed that our joy would be the same as his joy.

What should bring me joy in my life? It is not physical health (important as that may be, and I’m certainly still working on improving that). It is not in “external happenings.” In fact, the most joy should not even come from seeing God’s work succeed, according to Chambers. Rather, the “full flood of my life is…in the perfect understanding of God, and in the communion with Him that Jesus Himself had.” That is the goal of my life. It is the sussing out of external circumstances that will hinder this joy. The cares of the world choke out God’s word.

Again, Chambers speaks of being “rightly related to God.” “Be rightly related to God, find your joy there, and out of you will flow rivers of living water.” That sounds familiar…just yesterday, right? Chambers cuts to the chase: “Stop being self-conscious, stop being a sanctified prig, and live the life hid with Christ. The life that is rightly related to God is as natural as breathing wherever it goes.” (Emphasis mine) Think about it…”The lives that have been of most blessing to you are those who were unconscious of it.”

We must find our joy in our relationship with God in Christ, and in no other place. If I can manage that, then those “rivers of living water” will begin to pour through me, and then out of me onto anyone who gets around me. Isn’t that the kind of joy that all of us should desire?

Father, I pray for this kind of joy; the joy that finds itself simply in the relationship with you, for that is the single most important thing in my life. My health and weight are not important (not ultimately…it is true that my quality of physical life has improved as I have been more active and lost weight, and I intend to continue to do so); my “happiness” is truly not important. It is joy that is of utmost importance, and that joy being the joy that comes from knowing you. I pray that I would be “rightly related” to you, so that rivers of living water would flow out of me. May I be a channel of that living water, Father! Make me a blessing! Make this joy as natural as breathing to me. But, here’s the catch. I also pray that I would unconscious of being a blessing to people. Sure, it’s nice to hear it…I won’t deny that I enjoy comments on this blog that tell me that I have blessed someone. But I don’t want to walk around thinking, “Watch out, I’m about to BLESS YOU!!” No. This is why I pray for the characteristics of the Beatitudes to be manifest in my life every day. Meekness, poor in spirit, hunger and thirst for righteousness. I pray for all of these in my life every day. Keep me humble, Father. In this joy, may I also find humility. Give me perfect understanding of you and communion with Jesus Christ.

I also pray for the attitude described by Bonhoeffer…let me be more desirous to serve my neighbor than to have my own way. My way is not important. It is your desires that should be the desires of my heart, and you commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we should, even more so, love each other as Christ has loved us. This requires me to set aside my own way. So my goals for this day are that I would find joy in being rightly related to you, and that I would make service to others a priority.

I pray for this day, Father. I pray for relief for Christi, that she might not continue experiencing this pain. I pray that her work day will be stress free and smooth. I pray that my work day will be smooth, as well, especially as there is potential for carry over from yesterday’s issues. If issues arise, may I look to you to keep me calm. May I not allow my external circumstances to cast a shadow on my joy. I also pray for Stephanie on this day, that she would have a good day and that her thoughts would be drawn to you. I thank you for her sweetness to her mother yesterday evening that helped draw Christi out of a funk.

Look for that joy today…the joy that comes from knowing God.

Grace and peace, friends.

The Communion of the Saints

Good morning. It’s Saturday, June 30, 2012. The last day of June. It’s “National Meteor Day.” Well…guess I’ll have to look for one of those tonight.

On this date, in 1936, Gone With the Wind was published. I’ve actually never read that. But I saw the movie when I was a little boy. I barely remember any of it. On this date in 1859, Jean-Francois Gravelet, professionally known as Emile Blondin, became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. On this date in 1975, Cher and Gregg Allman got married. Shortly after that, the Allman Brothers recorded “Whipping Post.” I’m joking about that part. “Whipping Post” first appeared in 1969. And the spelled Gregg’s name wrong. :p On this date in 1962, Sandy Koufax pitched his first no-hitter, as the Brooklyn Dodgers blanked the Mets 5-0. He would go on to pitch three more in his career.

We had another good workout last night, but Christi is still feeling a bit “under the weather.” She has a nasty cough and says her throat hurts. Stephanie, however, is feeling better this morning. I’m also happy to report that, as of this morning, the Bickley family has lost a total of 179 pounds since January 15 of this year! Go us!!

Father, I pray for some inspiration this morning that will help me to draw from your grace throughout this day. Teach me to pray effectively for others.

Today I’m reading Psalm 30. This is a praise song that was written, according to the title, for the dedication of the temple. However, we know that the temple was not built until Solomon was king. It is possible that David wrote it ahead of time, while he was gathering materials for Solomon to eventually use in the construction of the temple.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
(vv 4-5)

According to the Reformation Study Bible, the word “saints” in that verse refers to anyone who is in “covenant relationship with God.” So, in other words, every Christian is a “saint.”

David finished this song with these words:
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
(vv 11-12)

That is my testimony this morning! I will, with David, give thanks to the Lord forever!

My Utmost For His Highest

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Matthew 5:25

Jesus tells us to do what we know must be done, and do it quickly. If we delay, “the inevitable process will begin to work and you will have to pay to the last farthing in pain and agony and distress.” There is no escape from the laws and principles of God; they are unalterable. “The teaching of Jesus goes straight to the way we are made up.”
A key point here is that we pay our “adversary” what we owe him. Jesus is less concerned about us being defrauded than he is about us defrauding others. In fact, as Christians, we are to be less concerned with our “rights” and more concerned with our integrity. “Am I insisting on my rights, or am I paying what I owe from Jesus Christ’s standpoint?”
We need to act quickly and do whatever it is that we know is the right thing to do. If we constantly insist on proving that we are right, it is “nearly always an indication that there has been some point of disobedience.” God wants us pure and clean. If we dally, the Spirit will work, and it won’t be pleasant. I can speak from experience on this, too!
In the past few years, I have been learning more and more, and agreeing, as well, that we, as Christians, need to be about this work of insuring our integrity as opposed to insisting on our rights. I need not care how I am treated. What I am to be concerned about is how I treat others! Jesus’s second greatest command is to love my neighbor as myself. Beyond that, though, he gave us a “new command.” He told us believers that we are to love each other as HE loved us! That is revolutionary! Yes, we are to love our “neighbors” as we love ourselves, but we are to love fellow believers in the same way that Jesus loves us. Ponder that for a while.

I’m reminded today, by the weekend article in Tabletalk magazine, of the marvel that is the Church. Ephesians 2:19 says this: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… The utter hugeness of that is amazing, if you stop to think about it, which I think we seldom do. When we meet together on Sunday morning, there are thousands of other fellowships that meet at the same time (give or take an hour). I am connected with every believer in every one of those fellowships. We, as believers, are connected with every believer in the world! We are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God!” We are united as one. The implications of that are staggering! It’s easy to understand that we are connected with the rest of our local church body. Sure…I’m connected with Joel Engle and Ben Carr. I see them almost every Sunday. But I’m also connected with Wayne and Diana Rogers, Ken and Bonnie Bickley (my mother and father, true, but we have a greater connection through the blood of Christ), and all of the believers at First Baptist Church in Mineral Wells. I’m connected with Josh Hamilton and David Murphy! (Huzzah!!) I’m connected with Mariano Rivera! (I know…he’s a Yankee…but he’s my brother in Christ, too.) I’m connected with BONO!!! I’m sure we could all do some name-dropping here, right? But I’m also connected with thousands upon thousands of brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, in China, Australia, Germany, England…can our feeble minds even understand the scope of this? We are, by the blood of Jesus Christ, all one, members of the household of God. And to make this even more deep and mystical, we are also connected with Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Mary (Jesus’s mother), Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha…the list goes on and on. Yes. By the grace of God and the blood of Jesus Christ, we are connected with every believer, past, present, and future. We are all members of the household of God.

If I ever get a firm grasp on understanding that, the impact on my prayers will be staggering. Right now, I’m just kind of sitting here shaking my head at it. I knew all of this, and you probably did, too. But did we really understand how big it is? The communion of the saints. It’s huge.

Father, this morning, I’m in awe of your power and glory. I am in awe of the way that you have connected us all together. I am staggered by the scope of the Body of Christ. And I will ponder what effect this will have on me, my life, and my prayers. I thank you for the connection that we all share, being members of your household. The basis of that connection is, of course, the blood of Christ, and I praise you for that. It is foolishness to the unbeliever, but I will gladly be named a fool for your sake.
I pray for integrity in my life. I ask that my actions and words will always reflect integrity. I ask that I will always be more concerned with how I treat others than how I’m treated. My rights are nothing, Lord, I hand them over to you. You are all the “rights” I need. I know that you’ve “got my back.” Yes, that’s a cheesy, trivial statement, but, nevertheless, I know it is true. Over and over in the Psalms, David and other psalmists proclaim the safety and protection we have when we hide in you. We rest in the shadow of your wings, we run to the fortress that is you, you are our rock, our salvation, what can anyone do to us? Therefore, I need not fear, and I am free to treat everyone else with integrity and kindness. That means that I am also free to not judge. The very thought of not being judgmental towards people is freeing. I’m still working on it, though.

As I continue to work toward this idea of intercessory prayer, of pouring my heart and soul out for other people, I know full well that I have not arrived yet. I have far to go. I’m praying for others, yes. But I pray for more identification with their needs. Perhaps the word is “empathy.” I almost want to feel their pain (I don’t really want to feel anyone’s pain…I’m very opposed to pain), their sorrow, their despair, their joy and happiness. May I weep when they weep, may I shout when they shout, rejoice when they rejoice…if this is what you truly desire for me, may I feel what they feel from the depths of my soul as I cry out to you for them.

This morning, I lift up Summer and Bart, as both are still recovering from surgery. May their recovery continue and be complete. I also ask for comfort for Summer, as she had to put down a loved pet this week. We all get attached to our animals, and it’s tough when we lose one. May you comfort her during this time. I also want to lift up a dear friend, Susie, who is also working on fitness, as we are. I pray that you give her resolve, and help her meet her goal for July. As she stated, it is certainly a day to day battle, just like our walk with you is. Give her strength and commitment to stick with it. I thank you, Lord, that our journey to better health has been an inspiration to others. We post results not so much to get pats on the back (although I will not lie, the encouragement we have gotten from friends has had a great impact on us), but also that others might be inspired and see that, yes, we can do this. It’s not easy…it is hard work, we will not lie about it, but it’s possible. You have helped us greatly, Father! I know this, because, when we decided to do this back in January, there was no looking back. Only you could have provided us with that kind of motivation.

I continue to pray for Jeremy and his work situation. We’ve gotten no recent update on that (but then, we haven’t seen him since last Sunday, either), but I pray that you would intervene in the circumstance and give Jeremy the peace of mind to know that you are firmly in control of all things.

Finally, I lift up Zach Schroeder to you today, the youth pastor of The Exchange. He is a great man, Lord, full of passion and compassion for the students of our church. I pray that you continue to give him wisdom and courage as he leads the youth, showing him the best way to draw them closer to you. I pray especially for him for the upcoming week, as he is taking the youth to camp in Oklahoma. I’m not praying because he’s going to Oklahoma…it’s because he’s going with a bunch of teenagers. Keep them all safe, and keep Zach sane as he goes through a week of camp with our youth. I thank you for his ministry at The Exchange.

Give us a good day of rest today, and may we get accomplished whatever we need to do.

Your grace is sufficient.

Ponder the interconnectedness of all believers today. You might need a nap afterwards…

Grace and peace, friends.