Christian Life ...

Christian Life ...
Christian life is meant to be a life of bearing much fruit. What does that look like? How do we get there? This blog will record thoughts and meditations about living a life striving to be a fruitful branch.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My China Shop

Having read the entry for February 10th in Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, I was struck by an idea of idolatry that before I had never completely grasped. Chambers' words always pack a punch when I read them. They always rattle around in my head like a bull in a china shop. Which oddly enough, in this case, is a good thing, and a metaphor I will return to later.

Here's the entry:

Is Your Ability to See God Blinded?

Is Your Ability to See God Blinded?

The people of God in Isaiah’s time had blinded their minds’ ability to see God by looking on the face of idols. But Isaiah made them look up at the heavens; that is, he made them begin to use their power to think and to visualize correctly. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in nature and will realize that it is holy and sacred. We will see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms, and every leaf that fades, if we will only begin to use our blinded thinking to visualize it.

The real test of spiritual focus is being able to bring your mind and thoughts under control. Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification? If so, then your ability to see God is blinded. You will be powerless when faced with difficulties and will be forced to endure in darkness. If your power to see has been blinded, don’t look back on your own experiences, but look to God. It is God you need. Go beyond yourself and away from the faces of your idols and away from everything else that has been blinding your thinking. Wake up and accept the ridicule that Isaiah gave to his people, and deliberately turn your thoughts and your eyes to God.

One of the reasons for our sense of futility in prayer is that we have lost our power to visualize. We can no longer even imagine putting ourselves deliberately before God. It is actually more important to be broken bread and poured-out wine in the area of intercession than in our personal contact with others. The power of visualization is what God gives a saint so that he can go beyond himself and be firmly placed into relationships he never before experienced.

"Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things…" Isaiah 40:26. The devotion points to a moment when the prophet Isaiah literally compelled the people of Israel to look away from the idols they were putting before God, and turn to God who created them, their idols and everything around them. There is such a tendency to look at the actions of the Nation of Israel and more or less laugh at their ineptitude for following a faithful God. Still, in so many ways, Christians today do the same things. 

James MacDonald's book, Lord, Change My Attitude Before it's too Late, is a study about the  grumbling attitudes of the post-exodus Nation of Israel that lead them to wander, stuck in the wilderness for 40 years. The concept is that these same attitudes are what hold us back today from "promise land" living, and leave us wandering in a spiritual desert. As the basis for this idea, MacDonald cites the Apostle Paul. Here is the section he cites in it's full context with some things that stand out to me in bold:

1 Corinthians 10:1-11   Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Warnings from Israel’s Past

Now I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea,  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things became examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did.  Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to play.  Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in a single day 23,000 people fell dead.  Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes.  Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.
These are quite the convicting words, and James MacDonald clarifies they mean we cannot take lightly God's judgement of the Nation of Israel's attitudes that ran contrary to God. Paul declares that these records of Israel's stumbling and God's judgement should be read as examples to us. Of course the redeeming love and sacrifice of Christ is where our redemption comes, but if we continue to live in these same attitudes (covetousness, complaining, criticism, doubt, & rebellion)  we will not live with kingdom freedom and spiritual fruitfulness, but we will shrivel and wither in the metaphorical wilderness. The payment has been made for us to live with the mentality of the Kingdom-of-God-reality that "already is but at the same time is not yet". But God's judgement is still true and still very real.

My last post about little things talked about looking for God's gifts in the small things. I believe this mentality turns our eyes to God. Reading this devotion from Oswald chambers is one of the moments I can look back on as a testimony to the living Word of God. Now while good old Ozzy's writing are not scripture, the spirit used this devotional to highlight this story in Isaiah of Israel's rebellious idolatry and the prophets call to "wake up".

Chambers' words hit me hard. "Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification?" The idea that I could idolize my idea of what a servant should be, or idolize my experiences is incredible.

This resonates with me because I am overwhelmed with the idea of what kind of sacrifice it takes to serve God and not myself. There are times where my brain is bouncing between complications and fear and worry and potential error, about taking a step in the direction of the spirits nudgings upon my life. I'm overcome with doubt, and in that very attitude, I am rebelling against God. I am seeking comfort in my thoughts and comfort in my actions, instead of trusting that God's call is in fact good for me. I complain internally that I'm in the wilderness, moaning like the nation of Israel, when if I  would just look up, I can see how much more I have been blessed. My blessings from God are bigger than small. I am provided with extravagantly more that manna from heaven.

To be a fruitful branch in this world, to produce kingdom fruit, we must see God. The lies, these blinding attitudes that Chambers and MacDonald are pointing to, distract us from our God. The Prophet Isaiah calls the nation of Israel, and according to the Apostle Paul us as well, to wake up,  take off the blinders and look up. God want's our relationship. To see him we must look at the things he's created. We are imperfect people. Our perceptions on what is right service or what our experience of sanctification should feel like is flawed. God has more for us than what we can grasp in looking at ourselves. This is because of God's extravagant love for his creation.

In the words of Oswald Chambers this is the key: "Wake up and accept the ridicule that Isaiah gave to his people, and deliberately turn your thoughts and your eyes to God"

The key here is acknowledging when our minds are on free for all. My mind does this easily. We need to find a way to turn our focus to God. We need wake up calls daily. We need a spiritual alarm clock. For me, words like those of Oswald Chambers and the Apostle Paul can function as that kind of wake up call. My mind is delicate, and for some reason I've placed value upon the idea of considering every little thing and griping internally about every little sensation. I've built a little china shop out of my thoughts. I've adorned my intricate little thoughts, these doubts, personal complaints, fears, and meta-cognitions, with little saccharine decorations, meant to highlight their significance, their value. I've taken my fragility and put it on pedestal to display for others, so that everyone would know how tormented I am by my thoughts. I need let the bull in the door. Exulting and assigning value to my to my struggle is selfishness. Because of this, I didn't mourn the fact that the bull of Oswald Chambers' words turned my china shop into a pile of dust. My only struggle now is to keep it that way and let the wind of God's spirit blow it all away. Look up! Wake up and heed the ridicule of Isaiah! Read the context of Ozzy's quoted micro-verse. It is powerful: Isaiah 40:12-31

Father God,
As we look to you, let us see your love.
As we turn our eyes from lesser things, let us know more of you.
As idols fall to dust, as we surrender our will
give us vision.  

As we look at Your creation let us not forget Your might
As we feel Your power let us not forget your provision.
As we experience that goodness, each breath, each smell, each pleasant touch,
          let us in turn give thanks and sing your praise!   
Lord, in the past you have given the blind sight,
You will do it again now.
You have mended broke bodies,
You will mend wounded hearts now.

          Spirit of God, fall fresh again.