Monday, December 30, 2013

Day 30 (23): If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us? - Scene 3 (52)

HEART HEARING

There is no recording from Wikisource, but here is the Choir of King's College, Cambridge again. This song starts at 2:17:





Scene 3b - "The victory over death and sin"

52. Aria (Soprano)


If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:31, 33, 34)


MIND MEDITATION


Romans 8

Sadly, this aria is often cut out of Messiah performances because it seems anti-climactic after the victorious chorus in the first part of Scene 3, but Romans 8 is a perfect follow-up. We have been given the victory, and this is how you can live in that victory between the "now" and the "not yet"!


In order to understand Romans 8, I need to go back to Roman 6, In this chapter, Paul exhorted believers to "count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God" (6:11); "do not let sin reign in your mortal body" (6:12) ; "do not offer the parts of your body to sin . . . but rather . . . to God" (6:13). 


In Romans 7, Paul taught that believers had died to the Law through Christ, but that our sin nature continues to wage war against our desire to live in holiness and righteousness. Consequently, will-power alone cannot help us to obey God (7:14-25).

The conflict of Romans 7 opens up to present the free life lived according to the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" of Romans 8.

The Christian life is essentially life in the Spirit, that is to say, a life that is animated, sustained, directed and enriched by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, true Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, indeed impossible.  John Stott
This whole process of the work of the Holy Spirit by which we become more and more like Jesus and are being made holy is called sanctification (Romans 6:19, 22; 1 Thessalonians. 4:3, 7; 2 Thessalonians. 2:13; Hebrews. 12:14). In this process, we put to death the deeds of the body and set our minds on the things of God, yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit because we are adopted "sons" with full rights and benefits of a biological one (8:6, 13-14, 15-17). 

Since we are identified with Christ, we also suffer with Him (8:17), but this suffering is only temporary because we will one day be with Him in glory. Right now, we are in the process of sanctification between the "now" (justification) and the "not yet" (glorification, 8:18-19, 30, 1 John 3:2). The process is a long struggle full of suffering (8:5, 10, 12-13, 17-27), but the hope of sharing in Christ's glory is at the end of that journey and the Spirit is praying for us and giving us the power to live (8:27-28).


On top of all of that, God wants us to succeed in this "not yet" time! He is for us. If He gave His only Son for us and had Him die for our sins, He has so MUCH invested in us living in the victory that Christ accomplished on the cross. 
Satan may try to accuse, but we must listen to God alone (8:33)! He wants to give us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) through Jesus Christ! Through Jesus Christ, we have been justified ("declared righteous", 8:33). He died and rose again so that we could live in that resurrection power. 

Even more, Christ is at the right hand of God, in heaven, interceding for us right now (8:34)! Through all of this, we can be assured that nothing will separate us from the unwavering love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:39)!

That is such a comfort to our souls! So why leave it out of Messiah!

SOUL SEARCHING

Romans 8 is my favorite chapter in the Bible. You will see why when you read the reflection that I wrote for a devotional booklet to prepare the participants for a women's retreat. If you have been in the Bible Book Club since the beginning you know the story.

This chapter is so rich and powerful. Listen to the music of Messiah and soak in Romans 8 deeply!


Hearing God’s Voice

"There is therefore now no condemnation 
for those who are in Christ Jesus."
(Romans 8:1)

I quoted this verse over and over as I walked (and cried) along the shores of Lake Washington back in September of 1983. I had burned the candle at both ends and had to leave the ministry I thought I would be doing for the rest of my life. Some would even term what happened to me as a nervous breakdown. Whatever it was, I had no idea what the next step would be. All I knew was to put one foot in front of the other and cry and pray.  This verse kept me going in the midst of feeling like an utter and complete failure.

It seems like the time God speaks to me in the loudest way is when I am stripped of everything. At that time, I had no energy to think about the next step for my life. All I could do was walk and cry and pray. I could not “do” anything.

C.S. Lewis once said:


God whispers to us in our pleasures, 
speaks to us in our conscience, 
but shouts in our pains: 
It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Well, God had great opportunity for shouting because I was in pain. I know, now, I was right where God wanted me to be.

So, I waited on God and walked and cried and prayed and meditated through Romans 8. I got to the end of the chapter where Paul asks this question:

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35)

The answer resounded from the Lord through Paul’s message to the Romans:

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor  angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:38-39)

Not even a huge failure in ministry and a breakdown could separate me from God’s love through Christ. He was not there to condemn me for my failure but to love me and be near to me.

"The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned."
(Psalm 34:18, 22)

In fact, a breakdown was what God used to bring me closer to Him so that I could hear His voice and learn about walking in the Spirit. It is so easy to go fluttering about in the flesh doing good things! We think God wants us to do them because what we are doing is good. 

And I was doing so much good! I was reaching out and discipling women on the University of Washington campus. That was (in my mind) the ultimate in good! Even though it was good, it was not God’s best for me; and it was not what the Spirit was leading me to do, I was just too busy and exhausted in my doing to really listen. Therefore, God had to humble me and shout out to me in my pain: 



"STOP! I have something that is my BEST for you."

So, I stopped, and I walked and cried and prayed and LISTENED to what God had for me in the next step. He had 100% of my attention. 

As I was drifting off to sleep one night, God told me three specific things:
1) Move to Corvallis and live with this specific couple you knew from college days. (That was weird. I had not seen them in years, and they were more acquaintances than good friends.) 
2) There is a group of women there who want to grow, and I will use you as My instrument to help them because of the things you have been through (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). 
3) You will meet the man you are to marry. (No joke, I saw a vision of a tall, dark, and handsome man.)
I had planned to go back to live with my parents, but on the way down, I stopped in Corvallis, Oregon (home of my alma mater, Oregon State University). Within a couple of days, I was offered a job. A couple of days later, a college friend introduced me to the group of women in #2! Over the course of the next year, they each came to me telling me that God told them to tell me of their struggle and to ask me for help.  This led to seven years of ministry with this group of women.

Within a few months, the married couple called and asked me to live with them because the Lord had laid me on their hearts (#1). This led to a center of ministry activity with this group of women because this married couple knew them all!

Honestly, I gave up on the tall, dark, and handsome man because I thought maybe I had made that up in my mind. Four years after this vision, the night before I was to leave Corvallis for a job in Eugene, I walked into the dining room of that married couple to see my future husband, George, sitting at their table (#3)! The rest is history.

God knew that even though the ministry in Seattle was good, He had a ministry that was the BEST! God IS for us!  I rejoice in my breakdown now because through it, He taught me a valuable lesson about listening to Him and walking in the Spirit! Having a breakdown at such a young age (24) was the best thing that ever could have happened to me!

STRENGTH STRETCHING

For the last twenty years, my friend, Teala, and I have welcomed in the New Year with a day of prayer in order to hear from God about goals for the coming year. I heartily suggest doing it even if it is only for part of the day. Taking an extended time with God is so rich and rewarding. In fact, I led a leadership class a few years ago, and out of the entire curriculum the majority said this was the most significant things we did! Here is a handout to help you in that process:


How to Spend a Day in Prayer

I hope you never have to go through a breakdown to get yourself to slow down, but I really and truly believe that we do not hear God because we do not stop long enough to hear His voice. Maybe that is because we don’t believe He really will speak.  I suggest asking yourself the question Michael Card asks in the song I have at the end of this meditation:

Is the reason we're not still
To hear You speak because
We don't believe You will?


Here is an exercise in meditation. You can start with Romans 8 since this was our chapter for today:

1) GET ALONE AND GET STILL – SIMPLIFY: It does not have to be for a huge amount of time. Do what you can do. Remove all things electronic; turn off your cell phone, step away from the computer, get out of the house if you have to do it. Make sure kids are well-cared for by someone else and . . .

"Be still [cease striving, let go, relax] 

and know that I am God."

(Psalm 46:10)

Meditate on this verse over and over again and settle down into the Lord.

2) CLEAR YOUR PLATEBegin your time by praying that God will “open your eyes, that you might behold wonderful things from His law” (Psalm 119:18). Get some paper or a journal and write “On My Heart” at the top, and list anything that comes to mind. Write your burdens, distractions, even your shopping list! The goal is to lay it down on paper as if you were laying it down before the Lord so that you may be free to focus on His Word. Remember: “Be still and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10).

3) MEDITATE: The primary way that God speaks to us is through His Word.  So, chew on a section of Scripture and journal your thoughts. “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19).

4) WAIT and LISTEN: This is always the hardest thing to do. Waiting may mean having to walk away for more pressing matters, but continue to be in a posture of waiting on and listening to the Lord. Try to cultivate this posture 24/7/365! When you hear, write it down. A great book to encourage you in this exercise is God Guides by Mary Geegh.

5) OBEY: If you need to act on what God tells you, do not hesitate! There are so many blessings in obedience to His voice! 

6) COMMUNICATE: When you hear, communicate it to others. It helps reinforce His Word in you and encourages the Body!
As I listened and obeyed today, I heard, once again, how God’s best plan was for me to move to Corvallis to meet my husband! My “I WILL” for today was to tell my husband that and bring him coffee and breakfast in bed while he had his morning devotional time! I am so grateful that my failure resulted in the BEST person to ever come into my life!

PRAYER

In Stillness and Simplicity
By Michael Card
Colossians 3:15


In stillness and simplicity
In the silence of the heart I see
The mystery of eternity
Who lives inside of me

In stillness and simplicity
I hear the Spirit's silent plea
That You, oh Lord, are close to me
In stillness and simplicity

You're the Word
Who must be heard
By those who listen quietly
Is the reason we're not still
To hear You speak because
We don't believe You will?

In stillness and simplicity
I lose myself in finding Thee
Oh Lord, You mean so much to me
In stillness and simplicity

So, seek the One who dwells in you
The kingdom that’s within is true
That innermost reality
In stillness and simplicity

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