Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

This is from a message I shared at my home church a few weeks ago.

It’s my passion.  It’s the reason for the name of this blog.  It’s changed my life.  I  believe it will continue to change my life going forward as well.  I pray it will change yours, too.

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Read Revelation 4.

Here it is in the NIV (thanks to Biblegateway.com):

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[a] of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’[b]

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

Is it just me, or does that all remind you of the scene in the movie The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion enter Oz’s great and terrible emerald throne-room?

Can’t you just hear the booming voice in your head?  “COME FORWARD!”

I have loved that Oz story for a long, long time, and I could spend several blog posts telling you all the reasons why, explaining all the symbolism that exists in it for me (regardless of L. Frank Baum’s intent).  But I won’t today.

Because today the point is this:  most of my life I read Revelation 4 and saw God’s throne through Dorothy’s eyes, and subconsciously played the scene forward to…

DISAPPOINTMENT.  Betrayal.  Confusion.  Despair.

There was no great and powerful Oz.  There was only a man  behind the curtain, a man who hoped we would not notice how small and weak he was…hoping we would not find out that he was a humbug.

This is the experience of so many people who go to church looking for God.

They enter through the glass doors thinking that’s the way to enter the throne room of God.  They have a need that must be met; they tremble in fear of what will happen to them, and they receive orders to carry out difficult tasks so that they might receive blessing and provision.  (Read your Bible more, give to the poor more, bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West…)

At every moment they fear that Toto will pull back the curtain to reveal that it’s all humbug, just a show, and they will be left in despair.

The truth is that many people ARE betrayed…because they don’t realize that they are in the wrong throne room.

The organization called the church is not the throne room of God.  It was never intended to be.  You are no closer to God in a formal church service than you are all the time because the Spirit of God dwells within you if you are born again.  We do not come to church to meet with God.

We come to church to meet with EACH OTHER so that we can encourage one another to stay AWARE of GOD’S PRESENCE in our lives 24/7.

For many people, the confusion over entering the presence of God, His throne room, leaves them feeling betrayed.

If you believe that coming to a church service is the way to enter the throne room of God so that you can be close to the King, you will be disappointed every time the worship team hits a sour chord, every time an elder prays with you and you are not instantly, miraculously healed, every time the pastor’s preaching doesn’t quite touch your heart.

So, what IS the throne room of God?

The throne room of God is YOUR HOME.

It is where you were designed to live.  When you begin to spend more and more time there, breathing as He created you to breathe, you will find power to live like you have never before experienced.

The church will no longer be the place you come to meet with God.  It will become the place you come to encourage your brothers and sisters by sharing all that God has been doing with you all week.

What does Colossians 3 say about this throne-room-home of ours?

(Thanks again, Biblegateway.com.) (NIV)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

If we do not have to come to a church service to FIND the throne room of God, if we actually LIVE THERE, let’s explore it.

The door is open (v.1).  We ask, seek, knock, and the door is opened to us.  There’s a voice like a trumpet – it extends an invitation, a plan.

Immediately we are equipped to obey (v.2).  “At once I was in the Spirit…”

(v3) The Person on the throne is even more riveting than the incredible throne itself.  (Quite the opposite of the humbug of Oz, hmm?)

Who else is here?  If this is my home, I want to be familiar with everyone who lives here.

Twenty-four Elders (v4) who may represent the Sanhedrin…the 12 tribes of Israel….the 12 apostles….WHO CARES?  Regardless of what they represent, they are clearly named “ELDERS.”  They are respected, worthy of my attention, forefathers equipped to direct other younger followers of Christ.  I should learn from them.  I should imitate them as they live in obedience to Christ.

(v5) The throne itself is crazy – lightning and thunder – and there are blazing torches that are the 7 Spirits of God.  Again, there’s hours worth of study we could explore about these spirits, but suffice it to say for now that there is power and life abounding, the presence of God in fullness.

(v6) A glassy sea in front.  That means the floor is a glassy sea.  That means when I stand at the foot of the throne of God I am walking on water.  Too cool for words!

There are the four living creatures.  Again, without digging too deeply into all that they represent, let’s acknowledge the basics:  they are knowledge (eyes all around), personality (faces), power (wings) and voices (speech).  And all they do, all the time, forever and ever is say:

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty

who was and who is and who is to come.

And what do our role-models, the Elders, do?  They fall down in worship, throw down their crowns (their own awesomeness), and cry “Worthy!”

When do they do this?

Every time the four living creatures say, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

And when do the living creatures say that?

Day and night, always; they never stop.

So when do the Elders fall in worship?

Day and night, always; they never stop.

They don’t fall down, hit the floor, get up, pick their crowns back up, sit back on their thrones, then fall again a minute later.

Somehow, unfettered by space and time, they PERPETUALLY FALL in worship.  They never hit the floor.  They never put their crowns back on their heads because they are perpetually taking them off to throw at the feet of the Lord.

And they are my role model. 

I was designed to be perpetually falling in worship.

The throne room of God is my home.

The praise of God is my native language.

There is no man behind the curtain; this throne is the real deal.

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How would your life look different if you meditated on this truth for a moment or two every day?

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Why A Pound Of Ground Beef On My Washing Machine Means I Should Memorize Scripture

It was a typical afternoon activity for me.  I was walking in circles in my house trying to remember something. 

I needed to remember where I had put the pound of ground beef I’d taken out to make stuffed peppers for dinner.  Since we were in the middle of a heat wave, it was REALLY important to remember before the stench of rotting meat jogged my memory.

There it was!  On top of the washing machine.

Yeah, that makes sense.

I’m sure it all had something to do with having the meat package in my hand when I heard the dryer buzz, but the truth is I do stuff like this all the time because I am so easily distracted.  I often tell people that I used to have a brain; now I have children instead.

Which is why I memorize scripture.

Did I lose you along the way?  (Maybe you are on top of the washing machine; did you check there?)  Let me explain the connection:

I need to memorize scripture because my brain cannot be trusted to hold onto things very well.  I may know on some level that everything else I’m doing should be done with love because love will hold the rest of my efforts together, but I am going to lose that knowledge in the mad shuffle of life if I don’t work hard to keep it front and center in my thinking.  If I have chosen to focus my mind on memorizing Col. 3:14, gone over those word of truth again and again and again and again, then I am much more likely to remember to carry the love I need with me into my other activities.

I don’t want to accidentally leave LOVE on top of the washing machine.

 

What Happened While I Was Praying Colossians 3

Last weekend I was with 7 Sisters at the Great Homeschool Conventions Northeast event in Hartford, CT.  We had a vendor booth there, and met the most wonderful folks.  What a blessing to get to sit and talk with homeschool families who are using our curriculum, learning about their challenges, struggles, and successes, and being able to pray with them.  I LOVE my “career” as a BIG SISTER to other homeschoolers; can you tell?

With all six of us on site, we took turns working in the booth and going elsewhere at the convention, to workshops, to other vendors, etc.  I was roaming at one point and felt the Lord tugging on me to get off to the side in some quiet and pray.  I pulled up a chair outside the food court and got as quiet as I could (it was an exhibit hall; the word “quiet” has to be defined in that perspective!).

Immediately my mind went to Col. 3 because I’ve been working with it daily this month.  So I sort of “ran through” the passage mentally for a moment.  I got to verse 12 and pulled up short —

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…”

God said, “That’s the essence.  For right now, grab onto that tightly, Sabrina.  You are not a homeschool curriculum vendor.  You are not a homeschool mom.  These are jobs, but they are not your identity.  Who are you?

I said, “I am Your chosen woman, holy and dearly loved.”

God said, “You forget that way too quickly.  Meditate on that for a bit.  How does that change your actions, your attitudes, your fears, your relationships?”

So I sat with it and meditated on who He says I am.  And then I started to get excited for my sisters back in the vendor booth.  So I began thanking God for them, for who they are even when they are not working shoulder to shoulder with me in 7 Sisters.

“Thank You, God, for Allison.  She is Your chosen woman, holy and dearly loved.  Thank You for Marilyn; she is Your chosen woman, holy and dearly loved….”

As I finished the list of my dear friends and business partners, God ramped it up a notch.

He said, “Look across the aisle.  See the lady with the Art booth?  She could use someone praying for her right now.  You’ve never met her, but who do I say she is?

I said, “Thank You, Lord, for her; she is Your chosen woman, holy and dearly loved.  May she see herself as You see her.  May she find her identity in Christ.”

God pressed on.  “Pray for every person here.  The unity you have in My name is so far beyond what you realize.  You look at each other as strangers, but I have given you My name, and I want you to start recognizing each other as family.  You can start by talking to Me about all of it; keep thanking me for what I have done in the lives of each person here who follows Me.

Wow, what a paradigm shift!  I strolled the vendor aisles passing family after family, vendor after vendor, thanking God for “that mom with the baby in the backpack; thank You that she is your chosen woman, holy and dearly loved Thank You for saving her.  Let her see who she is in Christ Jesus.”  I thanked Him for “that vendor with the cool swords.  Thank You for being his Lord and Savior.  Thank You for choosing him to be Yours, for making him holy, for loving him dearly.”

What would happen to the witness of followers of Christ all over homeschooling if we began to pray this way for one another, to see each other as the redeemed of the Lord, celebrating His work in all of our lives, instead of focusing on labels, externals, and the things that show how different we are on the surface?  Jesus prayed it for us when He was in the garden – “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”  (Jn. 17:21)

What do you think?

 

So far so good….Colossians 3:1-17 Challenge

It’s June 5, and I am pretty solidly memorized on verses 1-6.

First I copied the whole passage into my handy-dandy spiral notebook that I carry just about everywhere with me.  Writing it by hand is a good tool to help things stick in my brain, and having the verses on hand wherever I am is important for quick brush-ups throughout the day.

I wanted to be memorizing this bit-by-bit, incorporating the discipline into my days instead of setting aside a couple of “power-chunks” of time to commit it to memory.  I used to memorize lines for shows and such in power-chunks, and while it works for me, it doesn’t encourage meditation on the Word, which is pretty much the whole point of doing this anyway.

So I found an association and linked working on this with my stretching and core exercises (I use resistance bands and have a simple, gentle routine I do each day to be kind to my back and try to make my tummy pooch out less!).  I run over the verses I’m focusing on first two or three times, then lay the notebook on the floor next to me while I do my mini-workout.  Saying it out loud also keeps me breathing smoothly while I’m exercising instead of holding my breath which I’m sometimes tempted to do.  I’m exercising my body and my spirit at the same time, right?

So far so good on these verses….(I’m typing from memory, but you’ll just have to take my word for it, I suppose):

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry.  Because of these the wrath of God is coming.

Hooray...I think I got it right!  🙂

A Challenge for Me…and for You

I was listening to an old podcast from Dallas Willard, and he referred to the importance of memorizing scripture…not just verses (although that’s helpful), but passages because there’s so much more to really chew on when you have the whole context in your head like a screenshot.

(BTW, until a year ago I had no idea what a screenshot was.  Apparently old dogs can learn new tricks.  Woof!)

So I found a passage that I think is pretty amazing (not that there’s much in scripture that isn’t when you start to get hold of it), and I’m challenging myself to memorize it in the month of June.  I will post a vlog of my recitation at the end of June so you can see if I reached my goal and hear how the passage has impacted me while I chew on it for four weeks.

Here’s my pick:  Colossians 3:1-17

(I’m going with NIV, but I had trouble picking between NIV and NASB. 

What’s your preference and why?)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wanna join me?

You can memorize, too, or you can tell me you’ll come back in a month to see if I have it down-pat.  Either way, you’ll be an encouragement to me…and I like encouragement!

Faithfulness – Verses for praying frutifully

Like the verses on goodness in the Bible, most of the verses about faithfulness are speaking about God’s amazing faithfulness.  News flash:  He is dwelling in all followers of Jesus Christ by His Spirit, so that means His faithfulness is our faithfulness as well!

Faithfulness is not the same thing as stubbornness, determination, perseverance, even though we often play it out that way.  Being faithful means firmly sticking to a person, an idea, a cause, a community.  It means more than carrying out the duties you have to carry out or cause a stink; it means a HEART-level commitment.  It’s more than just not cheating on your spouse; it’s choosing moment-by-moment to love your spouse, to honor him, to desire good things in his life.  It’s more than just doing your job at work; it’s choosing over and over to prayerfully find smart ways to do your work while encouraging those around you, working for God instead of just the boss who signs your paycheck.

That’s why we need the faithfulness of our God to grow the fruit of faithfulness in our hearts….and from there it can spread into the rest of life as something wonderful!

Here are some verses I love about faithfulness (are you writing these down and meditating on ’em?):

Psalm 57:3  He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me — God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.

I can pray it like this:

God, You have never let me slip out of Your loving hands.  You reach out over and over the moment I am in danger of being overwhelmed; You never let me crash and burn.  I want that in my relationship with _________.  I want to be tuned in to Your good plans for her so that I will be actively SENDING FORTH my love in action and word and attitude.  I want to be praying like I mean it for Your good work in her life.  I want to have a heart that’s ready to respond the moment I hear that she needs something from me.  Thank You for being faithful, and for making me faithful like You.

I wouldn’t be faithful to my blogging mission if I didn’t give you some more verses, so here ya go!

Psalm 85:10  Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Psalm 86:15  But You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1  Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.  (That’s a really easy one to pray, huh? It’s pre-formatted!)

Proverbs 3:3  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Proverbs 20:28  Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.

III John 1:3  It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it.

 

Goodness – Verses for praying fruitfully

Here are some verses about the goodness of God.  It’s so cool to remind myself that He is God, He is good and He loves me.  He has placed His Spirit in me to make me over, to make me into the likeness of Christ.  To make me full of goodness, just like He is!

Psalm 116:12 What shall I return to the Lord for all His goodness to me?

I can pray it like this:

Lord, what can I give you in return for all Your goodness to me?  Nothing….I got nothing!  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I do have my will, my choice.  So I choose You and Your presence in my life.  I want the goodness that is YOU to fill up my life. 

Not GOOD enough?  Here are some more!

II Peter 1:5   Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge.

Psalm 16:2   I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord.  Apart from You I have no good thing.”

Psalm 27:13   I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 37:3   Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Psalm 112:5   Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.

Psalm 133:1   How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

 

Oh My Goodness! Where did THAT come from?

Watermelon pic courtesy of Nathaniel Heil

Some of the fruit of the Spirit shows up all over the Bible in commands and instruction to us.  “Goodness” is one of those that we are told is going to grow out of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, but when we go looking for other verses throughout the Bible that have the word “goodness” in them they all seem to be talking about God. 

Isn’t that the point of the fruit of the Spirit, though? 

This stuff – all of it: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – every bit of it comes from THE SPIRIT OF GOD dwelling in us and producing what is eternal.  When we try to get some love-production under-way in our lives, we don’t really end up with anything that lasts.  Maybe some good feelings are generated for a bit, but when they are tapped out we have nothing solidly loving left to offer.  When we face a hard situation and try to look on the bright side, put on a happy face, and focus on the positive, no real joy is forthcoming.  A little denial, a little perspective improvement, but joy?  Nada!

The more I study the fruit of the Spirit, and the more I meditate on scriptures about it, the more I see how FRUITLESS my own attempts at producing it are!  (Sorry…I couldn’t resist.  I need more SELF-CONTROL apparently.)

So how does meditating on verses about peace produce more peace in my life where other efforts fall short?  That’s the crazy, only-God-could-have-come-up-with-this part of it all.  It just DOES.  It doesn’t make sense except that God’s word does stuff to me…to my heart and mind, and from that the changes flow into my actions and attitudes.

Do I understand how and why a sunny day lifts my spirits?  Nope.  I can read articles about stimulating the visual cortex, about serotonin production, about vitamin D deficiencies, but in the long run isn’t it easier to just try sitting on my patio for a bit and feeling the warmth on my face?  I either feel better after a little sunshine or I don’t.  The results will be obvious.

I don’t understand how God’s word is alive.  I have read some very intelligent stuff that tries to explain the effect of meditating on the word of God for a true change from the inside out.  But I don’t really get any answers that satisfy until I simply try it.  And when I do, when I go over these verses of truth again and again, I start to notice love showing up in actions toward folks I find difficult.  I am not thrown into despair when something goes amiss; could it be a deep sense of joy in spite of the sorrow?  I may be blindsided by something tough, but somehow I’m able to peacefully move through it.

Sunshine on my face.

God’s word in my mind. 

Chewing on His truth until it soaks down into my heart.

Where HE causes fruit to grow.