The Problem With Submission…

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” -James 4:7-8

I have a tough time with one word in this passage.
It has nothing to do with God, faith or salvation…it has everything to do with how this word is used in the world, sometimes maliciously, in order to put people in their place.

What is the word?

“Submit”.

I don’t do well with submission.
Honestly, it makes me feel like a prisoner having to obey the warden. (Images of Shawshank Redemption come to mind)…

Perhaps it is because I have personally witnessed that word being used and abused.
Perhaps it is because I struggle with my own need for freedom.
Regardless of the why, there is still the issue with the how…how do I submit…and the ‘who’ – who am I to submit to?

For some of us it is the trust involved in such an act.
Questions like, “what if my trust is betrayed”, and “can I really trust them”?
Many time it isn’t even about submitting to God, but rather authority figures in our own lives; Bosses, business advisors, managers, family members…etc. Then, when we have been burned by submitting to a faulty human-led system, we transplant this disappointment and disillusionment upon God…as if He too is imperfect and will let us down.

I too have struggled with this notion, meanwhile transplanting my own mortal experience upon an immortal God. But have I short changed God when I’ve done this? Do I still struggle with these trust issues? Can I fully submit to God in spite of my past hurts and the numerous failed dumpster fires of attempted human submission?

Maybe I’m overthinking this…have you ever done that?
I’ve counted all of the variables, outcomes, pros and cons way before ever taking a step. My 1st Grade Teacher’s voice keeps ringing in my ear as she said, “look before you leap.” But maybe in this case, it’s the other way round?! Perhaps I just have to go for it and place my all before God when I do.

In James 4:7-8, perhaps it’s more about coming near to God than it is about submitting to Him…because wouldn’t we naturally do that anyway when we really, really know someone? After all, didn’t God come close to us first when He sent Jesus into this messed up world? He met us more than halfway as He hung on a cross for our sins.

You see, I know all of the theological implications of such an act. I know Jesus intellectually, but are there still times when my heart does not know Him…when I’m not near to God, in fact, I couldn’t be further from Him? Have you ever felt like that? We have all of the head knowledge, but when it really comes down to it, there’s a heart issue that still needs working out.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re still trying to reconcile what submission looks like with God. I’ve been on this journey for quite some time, and I feel that the Holy Spirit has led me this far, I’m going to have trust Him in the things I have yet to figure out. He hasn’t given up on me, and I’m positive He certainly hasn’t given up on you either. Perhaps it’s not so much submission that He’s after, but rather a closer relationship with us. After all, doesn’t submission come from a place of trust? I cannot submit to something I don’t trust, and I cannot trust if I don’t come close enough to God.

The trouble with submission is we aren’t close enough to a God who desires a relationship with us…and I’m still working through this. I don’t have a Mary Poppins answer for you, just a notion and a nudge to deepen your relationship with the Almighty…we just might discover that is what was needed all along.

-Something more to ponder today.

Devotional Pondering – A Hard Truth: His will isn’t always our will!

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“May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven-Matthew 6:10

Many times, if we’re honest, our prayers contain a very personal aspect – our will.  There are certain things that we pray for that we want to happen, outcomes and accomplishments, dreams and aspirations.  Often times we want God to answer our prayers in the manner that suits us.  Sometimes He answers the way that “we hope” He would answer, while other times His answer isn’t what we expected.  

When we submit ourselves to Him, we are making a conscious attempt of complete surrender – come what may.  Jesus taught His disciples how to pray.  We call it “the Lord’s prayer”, and yet we should understand that Jesus was modeling how prayer should be.  Sure the words are important but so is the attitude in which we say those words.  The Lord’s prayer isn’t a “magic” saying either, it is not the only way to pray, but it models for us the type of prayers that should leave our lips and hearts.  

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The Danger
Taking our will out of our prayers might cause us some anxiety.  Our will is sometimes (in my case very, very, very) stubborn.  Our will is probably the last ounce of our old selves that remains within the face of complete surrender.  The will of God, however, can be dangerous to our personal dreams and aspirations because He might call us elsewhere…but...if we chose to accept His will over ours, He provides us with something far better than we could have ever hoped and dreamed of.

We serve a dangerous God.  
That doesn’t mean that He sets out to cause us pain or discomfort, but God calls us and prompts us to this attitude of complete surrender.  Faith is blind sometimes.  When we utter the words “Your Will be done” we have released our self-chosen pathways, our wants and our often selfish wishlists in life, which we have clutched tight-fisted and unwavering in resolve.  His will is not always our will, but can we face a simple truth that releases us to see this dangerous God?  That truth – He knows better than we do.  He can and will guide us.  He wants to lead us.  He is prepared to help us on this journey of Holiness, but we must utter those four, sometimes frightening, words – YOUR.  WILL.  BE.  DONE.

Confessions:
I still struggle with those words…do you? 

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Sometimes I find myself fighting against His will.  I think that I know better and so I pray my will into things, people and aspirations once again.  I take back that which I had surrendered to Him.  I take back my trust in His leading.  I take back my faith and choose my will over His..do you find yourself here as well?  I believe God wants us to honestly inventory our lives.  I believe He desires an honest relationship with us and we must actively decide whether or not those four words are true of us.  Are they true of you today? 

 

-Prayer: Dear Lord, I confess that I have not always prayed and surrendered to Your will.  Forgive me when I have taken You for granted and that of Your love.  Teach me to trust you more deeply.  Show me how I can live within Your will more fully.  I know that You long for a deeper relationship with me, guide me, break me, melt me, mold me again.  -Amen.

 

If You Can’t Stand The Heat…No, Seriously Stand it For Just a Bit Longer…

“…so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” 1 Peter 1:7

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God corrects us.  It may be painful.  It may sting a little…but it is always worthwhile.  I recall being corrected and disciplined as a child.  It wasn’t something I ever looked forward to, nor was it something I would want to do again, yet it provided me direction and it refined me as a human being.  

 

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When we accept Salvation for what it is – God’s grace imparted to us by Jesus Christ, we begin this transformational refinement.  Initial sanctification (what we know of to be accepting Jesus at the moment of Salvation) isn’t the end of our spiritual journey, it is only the beginning. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” At the first infant steps of our salvation we are shucking off our old sinful selves.  For some that transformation occurs quickly while others this gradual refinement of the old to the new takes a little longer.  The Holy Spirit does the prodding in us…the pleading, the yearning for us to recognize the unsurrendered bits and the road to complete submission.  The “new life” is not easy, nor is the transformational process.  Yet, through correction, conviction and purification by fire we can become cleansed and washed clean from our old lives.  

 

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There is pain at the altar of submission.  There is heartache and grief as we allow the prodding of the Holy Spirit to take root within us and allow Him to burn our old decay away.   The refinement of gold and other precious metals is hot work.  The solid must be melted down to its basic elements within the fire.  As the solid becomes liquid metal, piping hot and volcanic, the impurities begin to become visible.  Before these metals were melted down, the impurities were hidden and buried somewhere deep within…but now as the flame alters its state, these impurities can no longer be hidden.  These impurities are plain as day, floating on top of the hot metal ore. The one who has melted down the ore will then gently skim the surface of the precious metal and remove the impurities.  

So too the Holy Spirit longs to this work within us.  It is hot work.  It may burn a little.  We may groan under the heat of the flame, but what a difference it will make!  

 

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Questions:

Where are you right now on your spiritual journey?
Is the Holy Spirit trying to refine you?
Are you allowing Him access to you completely?  Or are you holding back? 
The old cannot be skimmed from your life if you aren’t willing to stand the heat of His Holy Fire. 
You are meant for so much more.  You are meant to be refined and cleansed.  You are God’s precious possession! 
He wants you all to Himself, but that cannot happen unless you are willing to be refined, and to do so requires your complete surrender.  

Stand the heat for just a little bit longer.  Let His flames consume you.  
Our purification within His holy fire will be ongoing, and we may have to surrender time and time again but what a peace it is to discover that we aren’t on this path alone.  

There is real peace in our surrender.  
There is real joy in His Holy fire.  
May His loving arms be on us ever
and complete submission – never tire.  

-Just a something more to ponder. 

Truth & Dare: A Confession and a surrender.

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I’ve little strength to call my own,
And what I’ve done, before thy throne
I here confess, is small;
But on thy strength. O God, I lean,
And through the blood that makes me clean,
Thou art my all in all.”

SBS 484 – “I bring to thee my heart to fill” 
-Herbert Howard Booth 

This verse to THIS song always gets me. 
Do want to know why?  It’s because these words strike a chord of truth in my heart.  Everything I do or have done…is small.  It’s vapor in the presence of God…it’s minuscule and in the presence of God, it counts as a teeny tiny drop in a vast ocean.  

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s really not about feeling powerless or unfulfilled…this song is all about surrender.
Sometimes though, I must admit that I go about all of my “works” the wrong way and with the wrong motives.  My attempts are all feeble.  Sometimes, if I were truly honest  it comes back to the notion of waiting on and trusting God.  

I cannot count how many times I speed ahead of God when it comes to my life and my desires.  Did you catch that?  I speed ahead because it’s MY life and MY desires.  When the rug gets pulled up from under my feet I am left on the floor in a rumpled heap and left asking God “why?”  Yet all along I am asking the wrong person “why”…I should be asking myself that question.  Scott why do you always speed ahead?  Scott why do you always attempt to retake control?  Scott why do you always think that your efforts by themselves are good enough? Why do you think that your efforts by themselves will be acceptable when your motives are all wrong.  -Ouch-  That hurt a little bit.  Truth be told that’s a little too revealing.

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Truth be told that’s me…is it ever you?  

Can you identify with this verse too?  Can you see where you left the relationship with God and attempted to “go it alone”?  When you went rogue?  Can you identify with me in how these words strike a heart wrenching chord in your gut; …and as you are doubled over because all of the air has been punched out of you are realize these words are for you…can you relate?  

1 Peter 5:6-7 says; “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  

We need a fresh perspective.
We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves when OUR plans don’t pan out and OUR desires aren’t fulfilled.  
We need to humble ourselves and cast everything back onto Him because He’s the only one who can handle it.  God is the only One who matters and His attempts are never feeble and He will never fall short.  

It is comforting.  It is encouraging, and it should provoke us to get our perspectives and our motives realigned with that of God’s.  
Do you feel feeble today?  Have you been gutting it out?  Arguing with God?  Asking Him “why?”  Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your surrender and consider if there’s more to give to Him.  Your surrender might include more than you think.  Your surrender might also be lacking.  

Give it some thought and prayer, and perhaps God might reveal something to you.  

-Just a thought.  

“Arise my soul”…words to ponder!

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Arise my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice
in my behalf appears;
Before the throne my surety stands,
my name is written on his hands.
(Charles Wesley)

I’ve been humming the tune to this hymn, yet the poetic words are running through my brain like a train that won’t stop churning and chugging along…I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…  Call it the obsessive mind running in a circular motion very much like a NASCAR track…but yet it’s something more…something deeper, more disturbing.

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The words have struck a chord in me.  Plucked the wrong string that kind of stings yet affirms to me that there is something more to give.  Something more to sacrifice.  Something more to surrender and kill that is of the old self still attempting to crawl off of the altar…stubborn as ever!  The words are visceral, bone on bone, marrow sucked out and pain depicted in His suffering.  Am I willing to allow Him in…like this?  Am I really ready to commit to a deeper, more personal relationship that throws open the curtains to my deepest, darkest sins and embarrassments.  As the curtains are pulled back and His light burns and shines upon me, revealing how dirty and filthy this place truly is…  Yet, If I were to reconsider this deeper calling, I will come to the obvious conclusion that I am already naked before the One who shed His blood for me.  That He already sees me for who I am, who I have been, and who I could be.  He already perceives and knows my guilt and shame.  Perhaps I am like the child who is covering his eyes and saying “you can’t see me”, when all along it has been me that hasn’t seen all along.

“Arise my soul, arise
Shake off thy guilty fears…”

What is it that I am afraid of?  That when He finally sees me, the real me, that I he will shake his head a walk away?  Or will he laugh? Am I afraid to let go?  To lose control?  Do I fear for my identity?  Why have I waited this long to get to this point when all along He has patiently waited for me?  These words aren’t so much about my Salvation as it is about my holiness, or lack there of.  Am I afraid to admit that I am a scared little child in the face of His holiness?  Perhaps.

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I am humming the tune…and letting these words slip in quietly and solemnly.  I am pondering His still small voice, and that of His eternal patience with me.  Savior, hold my hand and lead me.

 

I Surrender All?

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.” ― Augustine of HippoConfessions

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Why does it still happen to us, who call ourselves Christ-followers?  Why do we shy away from this disciplined, more refined lifestyle?  God is calling us to something deeper, something far better than what we experiencing in the here and now.  Why do we fight it?  Could it be that we have something more to surrender?  Could it be that we have held back a part of us from Him?  

God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  He did what?  It’s true.  God told Abraham to take Isaac up into the mountains, build an altar and shed his only son’s blood as an offering and as a sign of allegiance to the Almighty.  Scripture doesn’t say that Abraham refused, yet I struggle with this passage.  How could a father follow through with a request like this?  Abraham doesn’t refuse and he does what God asks of him, he goes up into the mountains and takes his son with him.  Everything is premeditated, including the murder weapon.  Yet I know that Abraham must have dreaded what was to come.  He must have mourned and waged within himself over this request from God.  Isaac’s name means “He laughs” and that is certainly what Abraham and Sarah did when they received the news that they would have a son.  After all, Abraham was nearly a  hundred years old when they received this divine news.  But Isaac’s name meant much more then their initial response.  He would bring joy into their lives.  They would laugh until tears ran from their eyes!  He was their answer to so many years of barrenness and familial emptiness.   Isaac was Abraham and Sarah’s pride and joy…even to the point of replacing God.  

We do this sometimes.  People and even things have a tendency of replacing God as top priority in our lives.  We don’t intentionally run from God, but little by little we find ourselves unwilling to surrender everything before Him.  This is a very real danger in our ministries and in our spiritual journey and Christ-followers!  We utter the chorus “I surrender all” with our lips and yet in our hearts we’re holding onto something that needs to sacrificed at the altar of self!  

Abraham didn’t hold back.  He was obedient to God.  Perhaps he understood the message that God was trying to send to him way before he held the sharp blade over his bound son on that stone altar.  He certainly displayed his obedience in his response to Isaac’s questions about where the lamb was going come from when Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  (Genesis 22:8)  Though Isaac had become his pride and joy, and perhaps, for a time replaced God on his priority list, Abraham had faith!  His faith was indeed rewarded when an Angel appeared and stopped him from completing costly sacrifice. The angel said, ““Do not lay a hand on the boy,…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)  

If, today, we find ourselves far away from God because we have run may we return to Him!  If, today, we find that we have placed others of things before God may we be willing to lay them all at His feet in total surrender.  God is faithful and longs for us to return to Him!  He also longs to make us holy people, the very image of Christ for all the world to see.  But that image cannot remain on us if we are unwilling to surrender everything and return to Him!  

Prayer: 

Lord in my returning, make me holy.

Lord in my renewal, send the fire! 

May my life and heart be ever for you

restore me from sin-sick muck and mire! 

 

 

 

Complete Surrender (A Poem)

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When the sails have been lofted

And the gusts of winds,

Not in our favor, have shifted

All of our hopes and dreams

Sometimes finding jagged rocks

Upon distant shores.

As foam and tide clasp

And then collide

We ride on…broken

yet still alive. 

Other times we cling to

These water logged

life boats,

bailing out bucket-fulls

praying in earnest

that we find safe harbor…

we yearn, we labor

savoring these remaining

ounces of courage

all the while

depleted reserves

left in our spiritual storage

of reservoirs are the only things

that have run dry.

The tides continue to

Beat their tribal drums

thumping against our feeble plans.

Could it be, perhaps

The Divine  waiting

In earnest yet lovingly

on our complete and

 utter capitulations?

Rotten from the Inside or Transformed?

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I held it in my hands, not knowing what was underneath it.  It looked like any ordinary branch from the top, wooden and covered in a flaky ashen grey bark.  The grain and color of this branch looked healthy and strong.  But when I turned it over I discovered the reason this branch had broken off and had fallen to the ground.  On the underside the wood was infected and terminal.  On the underside termites had other insects were milling about slowly devouring this branch from the inside out.  Glancing up at the tree, from which this branch had fallen, I quickly realized that this tree was doomed.  It looked sturdy from the outside, it towered over me as its branches reached the sky and stopped at about twenty or thirty feet above me.  The tree wasn’t that old, perhaps ten or twenty years, and it would have continued growing had it not been for the parasite now eating it alive from the inside.

Slowly over the next couple of months, as I would walk past this tree which was situated in a park near my home, I watched in silent sadness as it lost all of its once beautiful leaves.  Now with bare branches it stood ready to be chopped down by the park’s caretakers.  It had gone from a vibrant young tree with so growth to achieve to a dead, hollowed out shell worthy of becoming wood chips or kindling for a fire.

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Watching this foliage of tragedy unfold reminded me of how we are sometimes like this young tree in our spiritual lives.  We attain a certain height in our spiritual maturation process, we look vibrant, hopeful and secure in our faith…but then it happens.  We allow a small portion of our old lives to still exist within us.  Sometimes on purpose while other times unknowingly.

As children of God who are called to be set apart for His purposes, we secretly set apart some of the old self and cling to it even though it could kills us spiritually.  We store it up in our hearts, compartmentalize our “church life” from our “other life” and yet we know somewhere deep down inside of us that we are called to surrender it all.  We are called to one life, not two separate lives.  Either we’re with God as His child or we’re back in the world and in our old sinful, self indulgent lifestyles.  When we cling to these bits and pieces of ourselves, which existed before the moment of our salvation, we are essentially saying to God, “you can have most of me, but I’m keeping this one small thing!”

When we do this, why are we then surprised when we begin to rot from the inside out?  Why are we shocked when we lose our fruit and our branches become bare?  Why do we suddenly realize that our passion for Christ is now gone and yet can’t fathom why it is that way?

If we were to get serious about this faith and about our spiritual survival, we would quickly realize how vital it is for us to face our infections.  These infections are the spiritual parasites or the leftover remnants of the old life.  We cannot ignore them, because they will never go away unless when expose them and submit them to the light of Christ.  To simply ignore their presence only seals our fate of being slowly hollowed out and eaten alive.

From the outside that branch looked healthy, yet when I turned it over and saw what had become of it, I knew that the tree from which it had come was doomed.  It was so brittle and full of holes from which the termites poured out.  The outside looked fine, but the tree had lost that internal battle.

I think there is something to be said about our internal battles as well.  We, as Christ followers, can not afford to lose this internal battle that wages within us.  There is still work to be done by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of us all!  There may be small pockets of the old life still resistant and evident in us.  No one else knows it.  By all appearances we look fine and healthy on the outside, yet on the inside we’re struggling to stay alive.

Two things must take place within our hearts to prevent this parasite of sin to continue to exist within us;

One, we must expose it for what it is.  Don’t hold back or ignore it.  Do not shy away from confronting it, and do not keep it hidden.  The Lord knows its there, yet we keep trying to convince ourselves that it is not.  Expose it to the Light of Christ!  Share it with Him.  Open up the doors of those hidden dark passages of your heart and allow His light to flood them completely!  Without first exposing it to the Light of Christ, we can pretend and ignore it.  But once we’ve opened up the doors completely, and honestly looked in, we can’t help but feel shame and regret.  Let it happen.  Spiritual maturity, also known as Holiness, cannot take place completely without first facing our deepest darkest sins.  Then we get serious.  Then we let it all out and place it in the forgiving nail scarred hands of Christ.

Secondly, once His light has gained access to the abscesses of our hearts, we must be willing to let go of it.  We must relinquish our grip on it.  We must surrender it all to Christ.  Nothing else can grow there, nothing else can change in our spirit if we don’t first surrender those remnants of the old sinful ways.

When we have exposed this parasitical sin to His light and surrendered it into His hands, then we find ourselves surprisingly free of this burden of guilt and shame.  We find that we can finally grow again and allow His very image to be our sole desire.

The tree doesn’t have to die, our spiritual walk doesn’t have to stagnate!  We must be willing to reveal and surrender, then the healing can begin which will give way to this tremendous growth.

-Just a thought for today.

At the moment of resignation and surrender (Poem)

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I want to grasp your hand dear Lord

But my grip is oh so weak

An ebbing strength of childlike hands

dulled senses, calloused and poor.

Yet as fingertips extend to where

They have never touched the heavens

All blood escapes as gravity closes in for a closer look

Kissing the heart strings as I strain

But Lord how feeble I must seem

All the while you, in all your glory

Indescribable in your majesty and might.

Even though I reach and strain

Gritting teeth and labored breath

I am no closer to you than when I started…

It is in a moment of complete resignation

Shoulders slumped, eye lids shut

Bitterness on the tongue pushed back

Swallowed and helplessness in my heart…

It is in this moment of complete and utter

Abandon of self-worth and personal gain

That I feel something.

That I feel a touch.

That I feel a warmth, like never before

As blazing fingertips extend and grasp onto mine

As I pull back in surprise for but a moment

As I recognize that I am in your very presence

Totally lost, powerless and surrendered…

You hold my hands in yours, I can feel your power

I can feel your strength as if it beckons me to

Believe. 

Looking up, hesitant, penitent

I find love.

I find joy.

I find peace.

All of my labored aching ceases

I am whole.

I am found.

I am Yours. 

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