Monday, July 31, 2017

Deep Thoughts Early in the Morning

I will freely admit I have no idea how to expand upon what I am going to say. What I can share is that I am reading Andrew Murray's updated classic Abiding in Christ and that the notion of abiding, and what it means, has always been an elusive concept. I know as Christ followers we are supposed to do it, what I did not know until reading this book is that we are not the ones responsible for making it happen. 

That said, the explanation of why this is difficult for us is two-fold. First, we erringly believe that this is only possible so much as we consciously think of Christ in continuous awareness. From his explanation I now know this is not true. Second, we mistakenly assume that because of our sinfulness we are not able to achieve abiding until we deal with our failures. Again, not true.

Now, we are continually told that God can not be in the presence of sin, which is true. However, if we are in Christ, and covered in His blood and righteousness, our sin is in fact hidden from God's sight. At this point we have to wonder, and I pray we will let these possibilities roll over in our heads today:

What if in our sinfulness, God is not turning His back on us
but we are turning our back on Him, when through Jesus
we can approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive
mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need?

And what if, when Jesus tells Paul that His grace is sufficient and His
power is made perfect in our weakness, it is beyond the mere ability
to help us do what we think we can't, but includes the ability to maintain
us in Him (abiding) because His power keeps us from falling away and
His presence is there to remind us that nothing can pluck us from His hand
because nothing in all creation can separate us from His love? What if His 
grace is not the power to remain sinless but the power to remain in the 
knowledge that we are loved and forgiven?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Growth Chart

"Growth is evidence of grace."

When my kids were little the only time that got measured was at the doctor's office or the school nurse's office. It's not that I didn't care how much they were growing, it's that I was in denial of the fact that they were growing. With each inch gained I knew that it inevitably was taking them one step closer to not being with me all the time. And while selfishly I look forward to the day when it's just my husband and me again, I can not imagine not tucking them in or giving them a good-morning kiss.

As kids get older their growth rate slows a bit. In the beginning it seems like you can't keep up. Then they hit middle school and it's slow, but continual, and you don't see it until the jeans that fit them on the first day look like floods on the last. And heaven forbid they go from a cute kids haircut to more of an adult style. You might as well push the daggar straight through the heart because it'll break the minute you see them look more like a woman or man child than your baby.

And like a good parent, God is continually aware of our growth in Him. But I swear we never see it. We live inside of heads too much, using absolutes that have no business being in our vocabulary. We say things like You will never stop! You are stuck this way forever. You always fail. The mental tirade is relentless, particularly in a season of difficulty.

The problem is we can't chart our growth in typical ways because it isn't measured in inches, and we can't put it on a scale to see if we've gained (in a good way), to assess progress. We are at the complete mercy of the Spirit of God in us to bring our attention to the non-scale victories.

As I was challenged earlier today to look at a series of eight questions that I can use to help me surrender my thoughts, I began to wonder if we could make a chart to monitor our growth in Christ-likeness. Now, clearly we can't make ourselves grow like that because it will be a natural progression of the work of the Spirit. But I think we can put something on paper to encourage us along the way.

What if we honestly took a look at the fruits of the Spirit and wrote out where we are weakest and what those weaknesses look like in our lives. Are we lacking patience and we snap? Are we lacking kindness and assuming the worst about people? Are we lacking faithfulness and not following through on anything? Whatever it is, put it down. Then, what if we looked at it at the end of every week to recall anything we faced where our response was better. Not perfect, but better. Wouldn't that little bit of reflection help us see what we could have done differntly and then pray for ourselves more effectively?

The beautiful part is that when we see the growth, we will be staring at the evidence of God's grace, because it's through His grace that we change into the sons and daughters He intends us to be. And maybe through the glimpses of progress we will begin to look at ourselves the way He has seen us from the beginning: as His precious and loved child.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Everytime I read about Paul's thorn in the flesh I wonder what it is. We are never told in Scripture what it was specifically and there is no shortage of speculation from theologians on this matter. But as I read it again this morning I prayed something over myself that made me wonder even more about it. My prayer was pretty simple: Father, it's difficult to know the difference between a thorn meant to keep me humble and disobedience that keeps me falling on my face. Help me to see which ones I resist Your power in me to display Your strength to be an overcomer by grace.

And then I sat and stared at Paul's words on the page. And while I am not a theologian by any stretch and I have never taken any kind of seminary class, I wonder if Paul's thorn wasn't a physical problem at all, but a spiritual one.

We know that we are to be crucified with Christ and that we must die to the flesh. And heaven knows our flesh can get us in a heap of trouble. So as I thought about all the things that Paul says throughout his letters, I came up with a theory. And again, this is my theory. I'm sharing this for two reasons alone. First and foremost, I know this is what I'm supposed to write about regardless of how unqualified I feel to even broach the subject. Second, if there is any substance to it at all, it is enormously helpful for the rest of us.

What do we know about Paul? Paul describes himself as a Hebrew among Hebrews. He was a Pharisee who oversaw the persecution of Christians and he knew the law well. 

What does Paul write about? Paul tells us that we are made new in Christ and that our old life is gone, that we can take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, that when we are faced with temptation we are always given a way out from under it, that we must consistently have our minds renewed, that all are welcomed through Christ, and that his experience with Christ on the Damascus Road dramatically changed his life.

By his own admission we know that Paul feels his thorn was given to keep him from becoming conceited, and that the thorn was a messenger of Satan to torment him. We also know that what Satan uses to destroy us, God can use to define us by our extreme dependence upon Him. And so because of the thorn, for Christ's sake, Paul now delights in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties.

Finally, from Jesus own words we are told that Satan's tactic is to steal, kill, and destroy.

Now, if I were Paul and commissioned to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, I would struggle with: Pharisaical thoughts and difficulty remaining focused on Jesus because the grace I now know to be true would want to default to the knowledge I've always relied on. #TheLaw Additionally, the friends I've always had (other law abiding citizens) would now be insulting me and making things as hard as they possibly can for me. Plus, considering Paul's background, he is now taking the Gospel to people that previously he would have made them adhere to every law in the books if they wanted to join his group. 

If Paul's thorn was a messenger of Satan, what better way to steal his joy, cause him to sin leading to a spiritual death, and destroy his testimony, than to make him crazy by struggling against who he always was and the way he always thought? Can you even imagine the difficulty he had with the fact that circumcision was no longer required? And to have to stop seeing what you always saw as unclean as clean in Christ?

So why is this so crucial for us and beneficial for us? It's crucial because what we face, particularly as sin that leads down a spiraling path of destruction, starts in the thought-life of our heads and hearts. Beneficial because through Paul's life and inclusion in the New Testament, we see what's truly possible in a life submitted to the strength God provides in keeping our minds focused on Christ in heaven where our life is now hidden.

Until any of us get to heaven and can find out what Paul's thorn was, anything is pure speculation on our behalf. But to even entertain the thought that it was a predisposition to revert back to his old ways should give us such hope that even though the temptation might not go away, the responses to it can. I think sometimes we get so caught up in the idea that becoming an overcomerer or more than a conqueror means that the desire disappears completely. That might not happen. But that's not what being a conqueror is about. Winning the battle means not giving in or giving up, not moving forward unopposed. 

Whatever we face, whatever our individual thorns are, we can rest assured that the grace of God will always be enough to see us through to the other side. May our joy be found in seeking the grace He is extending to get us over the bump in the road and leads us to living a life worthy of the calling we have received.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Good Confession

"All fear is but the notion that God's love ends." Ann Voskamp

In 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul writes, "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." Nothing can lead us farther from God than fear because fear is what drives our attempt to gain control instead of seeking the one who is in control. Our quest for control is most often rooted in the belief that God is not going to take care of us. Why? Because we believe we can outlive the amount of love God has for us, or at the very least, outlive the amount of grace He can give us, based on our sad performance record. Or maybe that's just me.

But is that true, or even a remote possibility? Can we outlive His love or grace towards us? Scripturally speaking, we have to know that the answer is no. 

The Israelites still made it into the Promised Land even if their entry was delayed, David was still king despite an affair and premeditated murder, Peter was still chosen despite denying Christ, and Paul was still chosen to preach the Gospel even though he saw to the killing of Jewish Christians before he accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Now I know we aren't supposed to compare our sins, but surely if God's love did not run out on them, why do we even entertain the thought that it will run out on us?

When Paul wrote that he was the worst sinner, we are never told why he labeled himself as such. And having lived in a time where material possessions aren't what they are today, we can assume it wasn't because he insisted on flooding his facebook timeline with accomplishments, acquisitions, or accolades. What's interesting is that he labeled himself this way AFTER he came to know the risen Lord, not before. Before he was pretty sure of himself and his credentials. After? Not so much.

One thing I have learned is that when we confess what is weighing on our hearts and minds and put it out there in the open, once it's exposed to light, it looses a significant amount of its power because it can't lurk in the shadows or threaten us with false consequences. And if Paul is warning us that he fears our minds will be led astray like Eve's, we almost have to wonder if verbalizing what temptations we face that would threaten our sincere and pure devotion are held up in contrast to Christ, if we would realize that the trade off isn't really worth it compared to His surpassing beauty.

What I see is that if we are honest in our prayers and can admit where our fickle hearts truly stand, somehow through the honesty, God seems to flood us with the peace that He already knows and is working on it. After all, He gets it better than we do because He made it in the first place. And our cardiac malfunction is always covered under the original manufacturer's warranty. We didn't need to purchase the extended version and there are no limits on repairs.

The fact is our flesh is weak and we easily believe the worst about ourselves. So perhaps instead of repeating Satan's faulty messages, we can open God's Word and repeat back to ourselves the things He says about us. Maybe then we'll finally overcome our unbelief and accept that the proof of His love on the cross is all that we need to accept that His love will never fail.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

In Sickness and in Health

"There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health except it be sickness; and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health.... It is a good thing to be without trouble; but it 
is a better thing to have trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it." Chalres Spurgeon

Often in our prayers we pray for things to be easier, lighter, less complicated. And when things are that way, it's easy to get complacent simply because if we aren't in need or going through something unpleasant, we aren't nearly as dependent on God for our next step.

More times than I can count, but not nearly as high as should be, I have prayed that God would not give me anything that would decrease my need of Him. And in the past couple of weeks, I have seen that come full circle.

Step 1. An unforeseen opporutnity that will would be a win-win for all involved.

Step 2. An unexpected (and unpleasant) circumstance that made step 1 a necessity.

Now when things like this happen we are faced with a choice. We can either see God's ability to meet our need through an unlikely source or we can be frustrated that the source is needed. And if we are frustrated that the source is needed, we have to ask ourselves what was motivating about it in the first place. My assumption, is that if we are honest, it will come down to a desire to have more freedom, greater control, and increased independence which not so ironically goes against the prayer mentioned above.

Spurgeon's quote this moring reminds me that as much as I appreciate the times when things don't feel like they are spinning out of control, the truth is, the chaos is where the growth happens because it requires a choice to be made: fight or flight. Fight to stay rooted in the truth and knowledge of who God is or flight from His presence because of irritatation with His methods.

Psalm 107:23-32 depicts this dilemma beautifully.

Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and 
went down to the depths;
an in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at the wit's end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.

Whenever we choose to set out on the waters, we know the risks and decide they are worth taking. And when the storm blows up out of nowhere, it's easy to see that God is in control - until it lasts longer than our comfort levels allow which melts our courage faster than butter in a microwave on high. But as Spurgeon reminds us, it's only in our sickness that we turn for comfort. And that comfort never leaves, never runs out, and never expires. In our cries of desperation, honesty, and gut wrenching pain, the storm calms to a whisper because peace comes out of nowhere to hush the waves and guide us back home to His arms. 

As much as we'd like to be able to predict what's around the corner that we can't see, our success rate is going to be about as accurate as the weather man that sends everyone out to the store predicting 10 inches of snow. And while we might respond to a perceived threat without need, any true threat has to deal with the Creator of the universe that it must answer to anyway.

Wherever we are, we can have confidence in His unfailing love and wonderful deeds. We can always see His goodness clearly when we come to the other side and recognize the growth of our faith and increased trust. Whatever we face today, we must remember that we never have to face it alone. Not only is God fighting for us, but the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside us, giving us the power we need to persevere in full assurance that it's for our good and God's glory. Let's board our vessels today, see the heights of the heavens and the depths of the sea, and praise Him for all He reveals to our hearts, minds, and souls.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tough Questions

Last fall I started a book that I ended up putting down and have now restarted. Having read a few other books between that time and now, I can say that God intervened on my behalf because there were several things I needed to experience and understand before this book was going to make more sense.

Peter Scazzero first wrote The Emotionally Healthy Church in 2003 and wrote Emotionally Healthy Spirituality in 2006 as a follow up for individuals. He discovered through his own life that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. Having found out about this book in 2016 through a blog post and realizing that I was setting off flares in hopes that it would show me where I was going wrong, I can say now, beginning it again, I not only understand it better, but have a greater clarity on what it's really all about.

Peter states, 'I experienced the growing tension of a double life - preaching love and forgiveness on Sundays and cursing alone in my car on Mondays. The gap between my beliefs and my experience now revealed itself with terrifying clarity."

We know that in Romans Paul explains this tension in that we don't do what we know we should and that we do what we know we shouldn't. What Paul doesn't say with any amount of clarity is why. Of course we know that our hearts inherently gravitate towards self-centeredness because of our sin nature. However, the root cause of that, idolatry, is left unstated. I didn't realize that until I read J D Greear's book Gospel. Any sin we commit, at its root, will always be idolatry. We just need to ask ourselves enough questions to work our way backwards to find it.

While the knowledge in Greear's book gave me great insight to a huge problem in the difference between what I 'know' to be true and the way I act (sharp tongue, short sightedness, fear, etc.) I still didn't know what to do with that information. Knowing the problem is one thing, understanding how to begin working on it is another. Enter Scazzero's book.

By understanding that there is a deep connection between emotional health and spiritual maturity, we have the starting point. Ready? Prayer. I know that sounds simple, and it is, but we can't just pray for God to change our feelings and behaviors because that still won't deal with the idolatrous root digging deeper into the soil of our divided hearts.

If we were to take a look at our reactions and behaviors in a moment of reflection and both ask ourselves and honestly answer why we just did or said what we did or said, with God's help we can find the root cause. Once we find the cause, the shape of our idol, we can then effectively pray about getting it removed.

So let's just make this practical.

I explode at a child whom I love because they did not do what I told them to do when I told them to do it. Granted you could easily label this disobedience, and it is. But if I were to be honest, to berate them for their lack of response to my directions makes me a pretty big hypocrite because I often don't immediately respond to other's requests or God's. (I know that hurt, it hurt me, too.) So, if I ask myself why the lack of response set me off I can see the following:

I asked him/her to do this and they didn't. Why do they not listen to me?
Now we are going to be late because that took too long to finish. This is going to make me look bad.
I hate it when people think poorly about me because my child was behind.
I should have started teaching them to do things the first time when they were two.
This is all my fault because having fun when they were little was a bigger priority and now I'm going to pay for this for the rest of my life.


Unless I get to the root cause of the problem, I can't effectively respond to what is setting me off by first starting in prayer. Something along the lines of: Father, it's not fair for me to be angry and short tempered with them when they don't follow my directions when I so often don't follow Yours. And the reality is, I am angry because of how this is going to make me look, which is selfish and prideful. I know that You still love me despite the things I see as mistakes in parenting but I know You are going to use this awareness as an opportunity to move us all forward. Help me to see all of this through the grace You are giving us to take a step back and examine what's in our hearts. Give me Your words to teach myself and them why this matters. And above all, flood my heart with Your peace in this moment of self-righteous anger which is out of place considering all You have forgiven me. Amen.

We could deal with our problems more effectively if we admitted how we are feeling and took it all to God, not the phone, not the fridge, not Amazon. This is going to require intentional work on our behalf but it is also the only way we can unite our spiritual maturity is going to flourish. We can't grow deeper in Christ if we aren't willing to be honest about how we feel to get His perspective as He removes the plank from our own eyes.

I told my husband yesterday that the books I've read so far this year have overlapped in so many ways. There has been a considerable amount of groundwork laid to get me to this point. But that's just how God works.....everything in its proper time. And that is truly the Good News. I could sit here and make myself miserable over the mistakes or I can accept the truth that He loves me despite them.  I could focus on how others see me because of them or I can acknowledge that it's only His affirmation that I need. I can hypocritically judge others of their behavior or forgive them as much as He's forgiven me. And I can choose to see through my own eyes or as He does, someone He died for and wants to spend eternity with.

The narrow road that leads to life is not going to be an easy one, but the yoke that Jesus asks us to wear to get us there is not ill-fitting. It's custom made for the way He's called us to live specifically as He leads us gently to and through it. And while we can't anticipate that this kind of reflective introspection is going to come naturally at first, we are given His strength to persevere until abiding in Him becomes our first nature not our second. The work that He's started He is going to complete and do immeasurably more than all we could ever think to ask or imagine. Because that's the way He loves us and amazes us with His increasing  grace.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Power and Wisdom

Some books can be borrowed from the library. Some books can be borrowed until you realize that you must own them because you are going to write in them or underline the words that shout at you from the page. And some chapters in those books are so full of wisdom that is completely obvious, consistenly overlooked, and so necessary to learn that you might as well highlight the entire thing and commit it to memory.

In 1 Corinthians 1:24, Paul refers to Jesus as the power and wisdom of God. To that end, Andrew Murray writes this:

"......always remember: He knows, all is perfectly clear to Him, and He is your wisdom. Just as much as you need to know, and are capable of understanding, will be communicated, if you only trust Him."

He continues:

"Study as much as you can to know the written word; but study even more to know the living Word, in whom you are of God. Jesus, the wisdom of God, is only known by a life of implicit confidence and obedience. The words He speaks are spirit and life to those who live in Him. Therefore, each time you read, or hear, or mediate upon the word, be careful to assume your true position. Realize first your oneness with Him who is the wisdom of God; KNOW YOURSELF TO BE UNDER HIS DIRECT AND SPECIAL TRAINING; go the Word abiding in Him, the very fountain of divine light. In His light you can and will see light." (emphasis mine)

And finally:

"All that you can wish to know is perfectly clear to Him. As Man, our Mediator, He has access to the counsels of Deity, to the secrets of Providence, in your interest and on your behalf. If you will but trust Him fully, and abide in Him entirely, you can be confident of unerring guidance."

So let me break this down.

First, Jesus knows it all. From beginning to end, start to finish, first breath to last step. And the truth is He tells us what we NEED to know. Not everything we want to know, but what is important or crucial. Sometimes things are withheld because we either (a) might freak out and run the other way or (b) lose the benefit of having our faith built because we went in knowing too much. Sometimes we just need to be blown away to get it. And if you think you need more information, just check out what happened after the spies were sent to the Promised Land to check it out the first time. #DesertLife

Second, when we are spoken to through the word for correction, edification, encouragement, or anything else, we must start accepting two things. One - that this is the wisdom of God, through abiding in Jesus, speaking spirit and life to those who are in Christ and are confident in who He is and are obedient to His leading. And two, we are under His direct and special training. He is taking the time to teach us something because we need to know it. We need to pay attention. He isn't giving suggestions, He's giving assignments.

Third, He is still working in our best interest and on our behalf. Sometimes I wonder if we think that when we find out He sat down at the right hand of God that we believe He stopped working altogether and went into retirement. Because no, He didn't. He is living and active in our lives through the Word that we read and His Spirit that was sent to us. He is working full time, no vacations, no PTO, no sick days, no nap time.

When I read Andrew Murray's words this morning, my heart was crying out and asking why this is so unbelievably hard for me to get and wondering if it is just as hard for others? But rather than dwelling on falling short, what if we are being awakened to the reality of our desperate need for God to renew our minds? What if this is the alarm going off to pull us out of sleep that says we must deliberately and intentionally set our mind on things above where our life is now hidden in Christ? What if this is the lifeline pulling us into a new way of thinking that brings the peace that surpasses all understanding focused on the beauty of Christ and what God in His steadfast love has done for us?

For as many times as I've heard or read about the concept of abiding in Christ, I only knew it was something I was supposed to do. How to do it? Not so much. But as I am starting to scratch the surface of what this means, it is already pulling me deeper into a desire to understand it as best as I can, to whatever degree of understanding Jesus means for me to have. And not because I see how it's going to make my life better, but because the love that this is revealing is so enticing, so captivating, I don't want to go another moment without it.

I pray that wherever you are, in whatever circumstances you find yourself today, that you realize you aren't alone. He is with you, calling you to come and rest in His arms. And that's not a rest of inactivity, unless He calls you to stop; but a rest of trust that He is on your side, revealing what you need to know when you need know it. And maybe, if we can learn to abide in Him as fully as He desires, we will not only be able to say that He is good all the time, but we will understand what His goodness looks and feels like in every situation.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Through The Fire

Refining silver takes an extreme amount of patience and ridiculously high temperatures. It's a process that requires more attention to detail than we realize because done too quickly, the metal that you want to retain, can quickly burn up and turn to ash.

As God sits over our lives, He uses the same process. The fiery trials we face should never be considered strange because we know that His intention is always to shape and transform our image closer to Christ. As you might have guessed, we don't get to choose the areas He chooses to bring the fire to burn out the impurities. From my experience, He picks the ones that are the most damaging to our relationship with Him as well as deeply personal so that it gets our attention.

Several years ago God started me on a journey that took almost 7 years to complete. I will grant you that the length of time had nothing to do with His desire to have it take that long, but rather my resistance to accept the discipline He was trying to instill. I can look back now and see how I fought Him every step of the way. Honestly it was incredibly painful and I didn't understand at the time that what He was trying to accomplish was truly going to be for my benefit. As a result I attempted to maintain control when all I really did was continually put myself back in bondage. 

After yesterday's post I don't think it's a coincidence that today I read that Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but wordly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)  The understanding of godly sorrow isn't an easy thing to grasp. And while I would never assume that I have the most complete answer, this is what God has revealed to me.

Godly sorrow has more to do with the acknowledgement that you hurt your relationship with God by your actions, it's not about being sorry you were caught.

Godly sorrow is meant to get you to move forward making different decisions with the understanding that by alternate choices you will grow closer to Him in the process.

Godly sorrow gives you the assurance that you have been rescued from the pit you put yourself in, that you are renewed and able to leave behind the part of you that made unhealthy choices, and that your relationship has been restored through the blood of Christ.

Godly sorrow doesn't look back and think If only, but rather looks forward and praises God for His love that never stopped, His faithfulness that never waivered, and His presence that never left.

The thing with worldly sorrow, what I have struggled with in my discontent, is that it leaves us with the nagging feeling that things would not only be different, but better, than where God has placed us currently if our circumstances or past were changed. And while that may not lead to a physical death, it most definitely leads to a spiritual death because it decreases our trust in God and diminishes the hope we've been given that promised to never put us to shame.

When we place anything ahead of Him, or insist that our ideas of how it should be done are superior, it never fails that those idols will do nothing but rob us blind of the life He intended us to live. We can't in our limited capacity understand all the ways and reasons God has prescribed life to be the way He has in His word, but we can be assured from our past experiences and failures that when we do things His way, it always gives us greater fulfillment. And while it may not come naturally to our divided hearts, we have the strength of Christ to enable us to do all things, like submitting to the refiner's fire.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Proper Time

Disclaimer: It's going to get real, probably fairly quickly, and it's going to be a bumpy ride.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 NIV

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,
who gave himself as ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed at the proper time.

When I read this verse, the first thing that came to my mind was a question: If God is for us, who can stand against us? Because clearly if God sent Jesus, and Jesus willingly came for us, then it is obvious they are for us. So the question that begs to be answered, who can stand against us, must be answered no one.

If, in fact, no one can stand against us, who is included in no one? While it might seem that the obvious and correct answer is no one, the question then becomes why do we allow anyone to stand against us? What you might not suspect is that the biggest opponent we face is most often ourselves. However, even we can not stand in the way of God.

Therefore, why on earth do we look back at any portion of our lives in regret? I do it. I've admitted to it many times on this blog alone. I have repeatedly confessed that I am trying to make up for lost time by the current amount of time and effort I put in to learning God's Word and more about Him. Why? Because I'm behind. At least in my own eyes. 

But perhaps I'm not alone in this. Perhaps, like me, you see this in other areas of your life. I've also admitted that I struggle with the fact that our son was diagnosed at age 5, instead of age 3, with a form of autism. I have lamented publicly, privately, and in my prayers that I wonder how much further he could be if we had started therapy sooner. But why? I know how far he's come and I know he's far from done. 

Why do I doubt and question when I know that God's Word is true? He said that He will work all things together for our good. So if He sees the course of our lives as slow and steady growth, why are we focused on seeing things as loss? Is there even a slight chance that in His great wisdom, which is so much higher than ours, that what we see as failures are the catalyst to capture our hearts at the proper time and propel us into the future He designed before we were born?

My greatest fear is that this dilema we are in goes far beyond a lack of trust in who God says He is and His ability to do what He claims, and has shown, He can do. I believe this goes back to the garden. It's always been about that stupid fruit that we keep attempting to satisfy our hunger with. The fruit that taunts us with more knowledge, more wisdom, more understanding, more comfort, more ease, more ability. Always more. Because in essence, when we say we want more for ourselves or others, aren't we saying that what He's graciously given isn't enough? And doesn't that lead to the distrust that He is working it out for good with the plan He created before we drew breath?

The good news is we are not without hope. While we look back and see what more we could have done, the reality is God does not love us less because we didn't. And though we are constantly tempted to believe that some earthly change we are anticipating will make things better, the truth says He fills us with joy from His presence and the eternal pleasures at His right hand. He's given us blessed opportunities to take what He's already redeemed in our lives to be a comfort and encouragement to others, and He leaves us with no doubt, based on Jesus' victory over death, that He is always working a way in the wilderness of our hearts and streams in the desert of our minds. It's not up to us. He called us. He keeps us. And He reveals Himself to us to grow our faith. We really don't need more, we just need Him.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Good News

Every time I read that Paul calls himself the worst of the sinners I have a surge of hope rise within me. Not because I feel better about myself in that I haven't done the things that he did, but because I know the depth of my own sin and therefore have hope that I too am not a lost cause.

So far in my walk with Jesus I have learned two pretty significant things about people.

First, if you are honest about your struggles and where things are difficult for you, it frees others up to do the same. This in turn leads to a decrease in feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and shame. This also leads to an increase in accountability, encouragement, and hope. It's truly a win-win for all involved.

Second, if you are honest about your struggles and where you are coming up short, it can make others incredibly uncomfortable. Think about it, if someone who is a non-believer were to hear you call yourself out as a chief among sinners and acknowledge your need for Jesus (and they are banking on their good outweighing their bad and they think you are pretty good), that is a big wake up call. And even among other believers, to admit that your life isn't perfect makes them pretty queasy if they value their life being viewed as picturesque and you're essentially calling their bluff by owning up to your own cracks in the canvas.

But that's why we can't stop there. We have to tell the rest of the story. 

Even as a chief among sinners, God is patient with us and loves us no matter what. That as we seek more of Him, we find our satisfaction in His ways and leave our sinful ways behind. That we don't sit in judgement but rather in places of encouragement to boost others up and remind them of God's great love for them. And that in our darkest moments of doubt, all we ever need to do is look to the cross and resurrection to understand that His love knows no bounds. 

It wasn't until I started reading Gospel by J D Greear that I realized the extent of the cross and resurrection. When you memorize John 3:16 and don't understand the depths the gospel goes beyond those words, you are missing out on the most incredible love story ever told and the amazing supporting role with which you have been cast. There is so much more to the story than I ever realized because I never understood it went beyond my immediate need for the forgiveness of a Savior.

What I can tell you though is this. When you begin to understand the magnitude and implications of what Christ has done on our behalf, and you read the words that God thought to put down on paper that we might remember and never forget, you start to develop a love for God and His message that changed the world. That message continues to raise what appears dead back to life and is the stir in your soul that is whispering "Come to Me" in your ears, removing the veil from your eyes, and opening your heart to the abundant life He promised.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Property of Multiplication

Math class with God is considerably more difficult than any math class in school. Why? Because what He does often does not make sense in our limited capacity to understand His ways. We know that He can take whatever we give Him and multiply it to do more than we could ever ask or imagine. This is clearly evident in the miracle of fishes and loaves. Think about it. Jesus takes 2 fish and 5 loaves, multiplies it (last I checked 5x2=10), divides it by 5,000 and ends up with a remainder? What? It's crazy. Crazy good, but crazy nonetheless.

What I have realized though, specifically this morning, is that I try to manipulate His formula for my benefit.

Now, I heard Beth Moore say years ago that her last name is appropriate because she tends to go above and beyond. As she said it, if less is good, moore is better. I think back to my days in Mary Kay and take that analogy to one of the facial treatments. It might be designed to reduce wrinkles but that doesn't mean you can use an entire bottle at once and make them magically disappear.

I realize this is going to sound ridiculously funny, but I try to obey His directions more, as if you can increase obedience. Clearly this makes no logical sense because if you are adding to what you've been told to do, you aren't obeying in the first place. And the only thing that does increase when I try to do more than I've been asked is my stress and frustration which ultimately leads to a decrease of peace.

Throughout the struggle I have with my health, I have always been of the mindset that I needed to do more to get more results. But the fact of the matter is, God designed my body and He ultimately knows what it will and will not respond to with regards to how it should be trained and how it should be fueled. Anything that I do that goes beyond what He's prescribing or is surpassing the boundaries of safety He's installed, isn't going to blessed and multiplied because that's a plan of my own design, not His.

In the past two weeks I have realized that God is capable of doing a lot more with a 30 minute workout done to my best ability for His glory than He ever did do with a 90 minute workout that was not in my best interest. I might have been able to do the other one, but over time, I was simply not able to maintain it. The idea is to be healthy for a lifetime not fit for a season.

We all have areas of struggle that we want to see God move in massive ways. But unless He is asking for a specific action on our part, He isn't going to speed up the refining process because we're trying to earn extra credit. He gets all the glory He truly deserves when what we give looks like too little and somehow ends up exponentially multiplied. But in order for that to happen, we have to lay down our ideas on how it will work best by putting it in His hands.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Rest Days

A couple of months ago Leigh Anne Tuohy posted a picture on facebook of the contents from her hair accessory drawer. Apparently she had gone to Target a few times (who hasn't) and come home with things she already owned. In her defense, ponytail holders seem to magically disappear. I can only assume they are hidden deep in places unknown with single socks desperately in search of long term mates. And how many of us end up with a disproportionate amount of pencils and pens during back to school season because we forgot we stocked up when it all went on clearance after Labor Day? And while none of these things will go to waste, we are still spending our time and energy getting something we already have.

Growing up I always enjoyed spending time with women who were considerably older than me. The grandmotherly type to be exact. One of my dearest friends in my early twenties had a daughter quite a bit older than me.....with college. I loved Joan for the wisdom she had on life, the things she'd experienced both good and bad, and her incredible sass. There comes a point in life where you just say what you want and don't really care if others agree or disagree with you.

And while I love so many contemporary Bible study teachers, I am slowly learning the wisdom of those who have gone well before my time. I haven't read anything C.S. Lewis has written (I have tried but it takes a crazy amount of quiet to concentrate on his words.....much like Ann Voskamp) and so I am always thrilled when someone quotes him. He has had some nuggets of truth to pass on that are mesmerizing in both their simplicity and beauty. However, someone even prior to his time, who had written several books, have had others rewrite his works in more modern language. If you've never heard the name Andrew Murray, learn it.

The first time I saw his name was in a Cynthia Heald Bible study when she quoted him. The only thing I knew about this man was that he had the same name of someone I graduated with and that he clearly was not the same person. Recently, Rebekah Lyons not only quoted him, but showed the book from which she was quoting. Score! Now I knew how to find this priceless trove of great wisdom. And so, Abiding in Christ, the updated version became mine.

The book is based on John 15 as you might have guessed and it is broken down into 31 days of readings. This is a book that could easily be used month after month after month for years until it is falling apart at the seams and then replaced. You would think that after a few months of reading it one wouldn't need the reminders but I don't agree. Why? Because I think there are very few of us who get this abiding thing that Jesus gave to us as a gift.

Jesus tells us that when we come to Him, He will give us rest. He also says that when we learn from Him we will find rest for our souls. Now, I don't know about you, but I haven't looked at rest like that, ever. My idea of rest has always been a break from the norm. Doing something that takes my mind off whatever is stressing me out or creating tension in my life. Think about the rise in popularity of adult coloring books alone. The purpose of them has been to get us to stop and do something that is relaxing so that we can rest. But rest doesn't come from an activity, it comes from abiding in Jesus. Going to Him repeatedly for what He's already given and promised for a lifetime with Him.

I think what's most difficult about this concept in our lives is that we are continually pursuing things because we believe pursuit is what gets them. And while on the surface that might appear true, it is only through the abilities that God has given us to live, breathe, and walk, that we can get anything. And both rest and abiding in Christ are no different. We can't will ourselves into His rest because we already have it. And we can't force ourselves to abide because it is only Jesus who provides it.

"Abiding in Jesus is nothing but the giving up of oneself to be ruled, taught, and led, enabling the disciple to rest in the arms of Everlasting Love." When I read that, it makes me think of how many deicsions I make in a day. There are times I just really wish I didn't have to think about anything and someone would just tell me what to do to give my brain a break. Ironically, that's exactly what Jesus asks us to do when He tells us to put on His yoke. "It is not the yoke, but resistance to the yoke, that makes the difficulty; wholehearted surrender to Jesus, our Master and our Keeper, is what finds and secures our rest."

And therein lies the whole of my problem. My heart is divided. I want Him to tell me what to do so that I don't have to think and so that I can rest in the knowledge that He's got it all under control, but only so far as He is in agreement with how I want it done and when. Clearly He doesn't work that way.

I will be the first to admit that this theme of rest is getting harder and harder because the stakes seem to be getting raised higher and higher. But like all the difficult things that I have endured in the past, I can be assured that this is in my best interest. He never promised the road would be easy, just worth it. And if struggling through to find the rest I've already been given but have steadfastly refused to accept because I want my way also requires some hard lessons, then I suppose that the rest days following this wrestling match will be worth every sore muscle I have.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Do You Have Any Questions

I just did a quick search on this phrase: Your best offense is a good defense. I'm sure you might have heard that somewhere along the way. The premise is that if you are stopping your opponent who is trying to score or defeat you, that you have a greater chance of success if they can't. It makes sense. Stop them before any damage can be done and be ready for whatever they are going to attempt. Play a solid defense.

However, knowing how I tend to operate, there is a major flaw in this plan. If I am focused on playing the game by stopping my opponent, I am going to get exhausted because they aren't going to stop trying. Eventually I will collapse. And so regardless of whatever brilliant tactics I have at my disposal, chances are they won't hold up in the long run, and I will lose.

This isn't to say I don't need to have an arsenal of weapons at my disposal to defend myself. I certainly do. But I think there is something that needs to be done before they are gathered and stockpiled in various locations. Ask for help.

This morning I read in 2 Corinthians that Paul had forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. Now Paul is talking about division and not allowing Satan to get a foothold through a bad situation that needed to be addressed, but his words carry in them a solid warning. Satan will try to outwit us and we must not be unaware of his schemes.

So what does that mean for us? First, we need to know our vulnerabilities. Do we tend to have a sharper tongue if we are tired? And if we didn't get enough sleep, how do we then guard against saying things we'll likely regret? Second, we know he's going to do things in various ways trying to outwit us. If he usually attempts to distract us with a phone call and it works, then he'll try other attempts if we caught on to that...perhaps email or text messages. Third, we need to look at each situation that presents itself and take a step back and examine the priorities we have (that hopefully we have prayed about so we know God's best for us) and see if this could be a device of the enemy trying to pull us away from what matters most.

As I prayed this morning that I would not be outwitted by Satan or unaware of his schemes, I added that I would be alert to his tactics. I need to know my weak spots to know which areas below the belt he's aiming for. And while that sounds like I've already done what I'm about to suggest, I don't think it really does.

This morning Michelle Myers posted this.....invite God to be a part of your [health] journey today. He will help us make decisions but we must ask.

Now why do I say that's different? Because knowing my vulnerabilities, knowing Satan is going to target me, and knowing I need to look at each situation, are all things that I am going to do. Me.

I am often so focused on playing a good defense with my armor on that I am not asking God for His help before, during, or after. I'm wielding a bunch of good, solid weapons but not asking the one who made them to bless them, multiply their effectiveness, or direct which one I am supposed to use at the time. I just start swinging a sword when I should be putting on a helmet or holding up a shield when I should be focused on the gospel of peace. My cries for help generally tend to look more like post-it notes that say Remind me to instead of Lead me in. Think about it. There's a big difference.

Offense and defense are both critical factors if we are going to live in victory. But I think it's time we let go of the If it's to be, it's up to me battle cry and accept that we didn't pick God to be on our team, He selected us to be a part of His. He delights in leading us but we still have to ask for His directions to be revealed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What Are You Waiting For?

Earlier today I received a phone call for a minor test my husband has to have done this afternoon. I was notified that the facility didn't know if our insurance would require pre-authorization and therefore they could not conduct the test until that question was answered. Unfortunately the ordering doctor is on vacation and so I needed to call our insurance to find out the necessary information. Thankfully because it falls under the category of minor diagnostic procedure nothing further is needed and he can go to his appoitnment as planned.

As I am nearing the end of the book Gospel by J D Greear, he echoed this sentiment when it comes to generosity. While he talks about what is biblically prescribed, he says that we can't stop there because there are times where God delights in our spontaneous generosity. Yes, we are to follow the Spirit's leading to things we are to support regularly, but there is also a place for just because where we don't have to wait for God to give us a green light. Sometimes the green light is the overwhelming need to do it. (Examples might be a family that loses everything in a fire, a sudden expense that caught a loved one off guard, or the story on the news about the medical expense of an animal that had been abused.)

What's interesting is that prior to the phone call this morning and reading J D's words yesterday, was the sermon I heard on Sunday. During that sermon was this tweet worthy comment: Jesus doesn't call us to be roadies but to play in the band. #Boom

So often I find myself waiting and praying for specific instructions. But for what? Some great project that I am assuming God is going to assign? For the direction of what I am supposed to do with the rest of my life? The Bible is full of that information. This morning alone I was reminded that I am supposed to comfort others with the comfort I've been given, rely on God and not myself, rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. What's more, is that in doing those things, the things I am supposed to do that I already have the instructions for, they will directly lead me to anything beyond to which I am to play a part for God's eternal purposes.

Case in point: Years ago I had a retail position. I wanted out and I wanted out bad. Truth be told, the job itself wasn't horrible. My husband and I used to work together but then he left for another company and I was MISERABLE without him there. I looked and looked but to no avail. Then, one day a customer was looking for something for his daughter that we did not carry. I grabbed the phone book (yes, this was a long time ago), called a few places, found what he needed, and sent him on his way.......BUT NOT BEFORE he said he could use someone like me in his company that was willing to go the extra mile. Recruited me right out of my job. If I had the time and space, I could start right there and tell you all the things that flowed from that one conversation that got me to where I am today.....writing about what I am reading in my Bible and books to help me live a life that follows hard after Jesus.

So here's the thing: The Great Commission, along with countless other directives, are our specific instructions. Yes, we need to be aware of the fact that we can't say yes to everything, but we also can't wait for donkeys to talk to, dry fleece on wet ground, or a voice coming from a burning bush to tell us when to hold 'em, fold 'em, walk away, or run. Not that those things can't happen, but there are only so many accounts of them. We've been given the Spirit for a reason and that reason is to walk with it confidently knowing God is leading the way.

Every so often I keep coming back to what Beth Moore asked at the Passion Conference this year. Are we brave enough to do what God has asked without it having a name? I mean, can we just be obedient to the things we know we are supposed to do that will lead us to more? Could it be that God is constantly preparing us and giving us opportunities to show ourselves faithful with little so that we can be given much?

So love your families and friends well. Serve in your talents and expect that God is doing mighty things in and through you that maybe you just don't see. And believe that you do these things in the full authority Jesus gave you, knowing he is with you wherever you go.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's Not Perfect in Australia Either

I remember when I was in college I had to Teaching Children's Literature. While the books I had to read were shorter in nature and some of them had a considerable amount of pictures, they all seemed to have at least one valuable lesson. Admittedly sometimes that lesson was don't ever make your kids read this book.

There was one book in particular that I truly loved: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This book is about a child that is experiencing a freefall of less than pleasant experiences and his solution is to move to Australia. Clearly his logic is that he can distance himself from his problems by moving far away from where they are happening. And while his conclusion is wrong, it's also understandable.

Obviously for me to have thought of this book you know something must have triggered it. Here is a rundown so far:

1. My sweet (annoying) fur baby woke me up by pressing on various parts of my body at 4:00 AM.
2. The workout I did (30 minutes from warmup to cool down) was brutal. I am questioning my sanity.
3. I turned off the air because it was cooler over night and it got really hot super fast. I hate being hot.
4. I took down laundry only to find the 'fixed' washer is broken again and thus ate my quarters.
5. My man-child is undecided about the pool because he is more focused on the x-box until he generally springs it upon me (at the last possible moment) that he does in fact want to go.
6. I can't go to the library until someone comes to look at the water heater.
7. I don't want to move to Australia.

It was when I was walking up the stairs from putting in the laundry that the memory of the Alexander book popped in my head. Talk about a divine interruption. As soon as my thoughts went to If this is how my day is starting, this is not very promising of how it's going to turn out, I immediately shifted my focus and perspective to something that was nothing less than a nudge of the Holy Spirit. The thought? If this is how my day is starting, clearly God has a lot he wants to teach me.

Granted, it's only 9:44 AM and there are a lot of hours left to go before his mercies are new tomorrow morning. And honestly, significantly more could happen between now and then. So rather than staying focused on what I would have preferred to be different, I'm going to think about what's on the list above and ask God to reveal what he ultimately needs me to know. I can only assume it's important because it would appear he's gone out of his way to get my attention. And in the end, I'm certain that if I deal with my irritated feelings and allow him to cover me with his grace, he will undoubtedly restore me back to joy and make all of the ick I felt worth it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bad Company

Did you ever notice that what you are experiencing in your life significantly impacts the way a particular verse hits you? Of course you can't take something and make it say something that doesn't align with the whole of Scripture, i.e. thinking you can head to your charcoal grill and take out the hot bricks and put them on someone's head, but sometimes God will use the words on the page to say something very specifically to you. It's why his word is alive, able to do so much more than we give it credit for, and will always accomplish the purpose for which he sent it.

As I have been working through some issues, reading book after book trying to find the root of some of my deepest struggles, I read a verse today in 1 Corinthians that just leapt off the page and basically flicked my forehead and screamed, "Hello, McFly! Pay attention here!"

1 Corinthians 15:33
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."

Now, in the past I have had to beg my husband to be my system of checks and balances when it comes to the company I keep. Not that I've ever run with the wrong crowd or a rough crowd, but I've learned enough to know from the days when I worked outside the home that if you hang around with negative people, you can very easily become a negative person. It's not that you can't be in the same room with people that are never happy, you just have to cover yourself in prayer a little more.

Anyway, because I am reading a lot about my relationship (as unhealthy as it is) with food, I thought about the bad company I've been keeping. No, I don't mean cookies, chips, or excessively large salads, I mean the emotions that seem to be my BFF's.....fear, anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, and distrust that significantly impact my unhealthy relationship with food. 

The vicious cycle that never seems to stop goes like this: over weight......anger......more food. I wouldn't have even noticed this if I hadn't read a chapter on emotions and how we use 'stress' as our blanket for every emotion we feel instead of labeling it correctly and deciding what would be most beneficial rather than numbing. That information was truly enlightening, espeically when she mentioned that she used food to stop her tears. #MindBlown But hours past that thought, reading this verse, opened my eyes to the company I tend to keep more than joy, peace, patience, and kindness. And that company is not only corrupting my character, it's dismantling my closet.

All too often, I have fallen prey to the schemes of the enemy. We wouldn't think taking the high road is a bad thing, but when the high road leads to denial of what's going on deep inside of us that ultimately leads to unhealthy habits, all in the name of keeping the bonds of peace and unity, that's not healthy.....physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

I don't know what kind of company you are keeping these days, but if any of this sounds even just a little bit familiar, I pray that you will take a step back and figure out who your closest allies currently are. Because if you're hanging out with the wrong crowd, they're going to drag you down faster than the icky mess holding your feet in the muddy pit. Thankfully we have a God that will hear our cry, see us there, pick us up, and set our feet on a rock when we ask for help.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Holiness Does Not Equal Perfection

"Being made strong in weakness is not about achieving perfection, 
it's about getting back up and trying again."

I got a book from the library a couple of days ago called Food: The Good Girl's Drug. I am only a few chapters in, but I am already recognizing some of the long-held conflicting messages I have believed my entire life about food and how each of them have contributed to my unhealthy obsession with it. Because I am sick of this horrid cycle of losing and then gaining back, I have been intentionally seeking God on this issue. It's one of the reasons I ordered the book The Look That Kills by Michelle Myers because she told me it was a book ultimately about surrender. The coupling of those two books with Gospel by J D Greear has been nothing short of amazing in opening my eyes to so many things.

One of the things I did as soon as I finished Michelle's book was write down a list of questions that I needed to answer for myself. I have about 3 solid pages of questions to go through. While she has great questions at the end of each chapter, I realized I needed things that would go deeper into the challenges I am working through.

One of the analogies she puts forth in the book is the idea of getting a new pair of jeans. She talks about how the new jeans are perfect and fit flawlessly and therefore you should never want to put on your old, ill-fitting jeans. She correlates this example with what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation and that the old has gone. So if Jesus makes us new, why would we revert back to our old selves?

However........this example made me realize something about myself that I don't think I would have otherwise.

Most people, most normal people anyway, enjoy getting new clothes. Like really enjoy it. Some people are so anxious about new clothes they have to wear them immediately. Some who have a little bit more patience at least wash them first. I fit into neither of these categories. I like getting new clothes, but I am terrified of wearing them. It's to the point that I will often go out of my way to not wear them, or wear them when I know they will only be on for a short period of time and that there will be no food or drink involved while I am in them. Why? Because I am terrified of ruining them.

It occurred to me as I realized this about myself, that I view my new life in Christ this exact same way. I know the depth of disbelief that still lingers over certain areas of my life and I continually hold them back because I am afraid that my failure, shortcomings, and faults are somehow going to taint him and ruin his reputation because I am not able to hold up my end of being made strong in my weaknesses. But what I'm finally beginning to see is that being made strong in weakness is not about achieving perfection, it's about getting back up and trying again.

There are miracles in the Bible where just the touch of Jesus miraculously healed. And there are miracles where his words alone delivered people from their ailments. But there are also people who knew what he was about and capable of but still struggled with their flesh and what they thought was most important. #Martha And my guess is, that even after that encounter where Jesus told her that her sister was doing the most important thing, she still wrestled with correctly prioritizing her to do list.

Every day I am becoming more keenly aware of how desperately I need to preach the gospel to myself. It's only through the gospel that I will ever be an overcomer of the many things that have been overcoming me. But I am no longer going to focus on achieving perfection that isn't possible while I am drawing breath. Instead, I'm going to choose progress and the truth that God's continual and amazing grace will see me through as I work towards the holiness to which he has called me. Because even if I struggle to believe it with my whole heart, he still calls me his treasured possession.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Hokey Pokey

"If deep in our hearts we suspect that God does not love us and cannot manage
our affairs as well as we can, we certainly will not submit to his discipline."
Elisabeth Elliot, Disciplne: The Glad Surrender

Since I started reading this book last month, I am working through it one chapter per week, reading it a couple times through, so that the principles of discipline will sink in. Discipline is about so much more than I thought. I've always looked at it as being more in line with self-control, but the reality is that discipline has significantly more to do with responding to the love you've been shown by intentionally doing what will make the giver of said love pleased.

As I re-read the words Elisabeth Elliot wrote this morning, it reminded me of something I heard a pastor's wife say many years ago at a women's event. Essentially she shared that we often hold back parts of our lives to God because we are afraid that if we submit everything to him and tell him we'll do whatever he wants, he's going to send us off on some obscure journey or ask us to do something we would never in a million years want to do.

First of all, she was right. Second of all, as right as she was, we should all realize just how ridiculous that logic is. And third, the lack of distrust this reveals in our hearts is pretty frightening.

When I think about the things I am having a difficult time releasing to God's control, it really is evidence of an extreme amount of distrust. And sadly there is absolutely no basis for that response. God has shown himself faithful to me in a thousand different ways through both answered and unanswered prayers. There are things that I could have never imagined would be as good as they are, and there are things that I will forever be thankful he didn't give me because in retrospect I'm certain they would have made me miserable.

So why, when all we need to do is look at the cross to see evidence of his perfect love that casts out fear, do we withold what is sure to bring us the abundant life Jesus came to give us when we release it?  And the answer? I have no idea because it truly doesn't make sense. At all.

But if I had to take a guess, I'd say it's because we honestly think we know ourselves better than God knows us, and that we truly believe we know what we need more than he does. And I say this because we question everything.

The older I get, the more I am coming to realize we simply cannot love God with a divided heart. We can give him 99.9% of it, but until we hand over that last .1%, he will continue to pursue the remaining part with everything he's got. Considering that he's undoubtedly stronger and more patient than me, I don't have a chance. And that's a really good thing. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Special Parts

"But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, 
just as he wanted them to be." 1 Corinthians 12:18

Earlier today I was reminded of a challenge I was supposed to be working on this summer. I'm guessing if you read that statement correctly you know that I forgot about the challenge completely. Sad, but true.

Anyway, I was only reminded of it when one of the leaders in the group asked the members how they were doing. Um, not good. At all. And then I had the saddest realization. Even if I had remembered it, I don't know that I'd be in a much different place. 

If nothing else, I am a creature of habit. While I haven't been setting an alarm this summer (minus the day we had to all be in the car and ready to go by 9:00 AM for an out of town wedding), I am still waking up way earlier than I should be. And even though I am desperately trying to slow down and do things more intentionally, I am still moving at breakneck speeds the majority of the time. And while I am absolutely certain that God knows my quirky ways and loves me anyway, I am not convinced that this is the way he intends me to live the rest of my life.

So, when I read the verse above this morning, I realized that maybe God is taking me on a journey to discover the better way, his way. And hopefully I won't need to crash and burn to get there, but maybe this tiny wake up call is like the snooze alarm that normal people hit, rousing me to become more aware of my less than stellar habits. And maybe as I start to turn back towards him and seek more of his direction, instead of constantly being exhausted, I might actually be awakened to the life he's been calling me to all along.

One of the things I love most about God is that he will patiently watch as I repeat the same mistakes over and over again thinking that I am going to get a different result. And while he could swoop in and zap me with a dose of Holy Spirit power to become more than a conqueror faster than a microwave can burn popcorn, he usually doesn't because he wants me to learn the lesson in a way that will stick for the long haul.

So wherever you are, and especially if it's not where you thought you would be, just trust and believe that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Because while you might be thinking that you are just a part of the general cast, you actually have a leading role for those who are watching your story unfold into theirs. And in the end, the glory of what he is doing in and through you as you influence others, will outweigh anything you could have ever imagined.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Bad Cup of Coffee

I like coffee. A lot. Whenever I make myself a cup of coffee, it has two tablespoons of half and half, two tablespoons of milk, and two little scoops of stevia. I have no idea what the actual meaurement of the scoop that comes in my stevia container is, I just now that this combination makes my coffee perfect. When it's done perking, I mix this concoction in a glass measuring cup and heat it in the mircrowave for 30 seconds. Yes, I heat fresh brewed coffee because I like it a little on the hotter side so I don't gulp it down. You should see some of the looks I get from baristas when I ask for my latte to be heated as high as they can legally serve it.

This morning after my workout I made myself a cup of coffee the same way I always do. I took that first sip expecting it to taste the same way it always does. It did not. It was not good. At all. To say I was perplexed would be an understatement. I thought I was noticing a hint of mint and mocha but I had no idea why because I knew for certain that I did not use my husband's flavored creamer. 

I opened the fridge and realized my mistake. My better half had mixed a small bit of his flavored creamer in the nearly empty half and half container to take to work and left it at home. When I grabbed the half and half to put it in my coffee, it wasn't pure half and half. It was tainted with peppermint mocha creamer. Combined with the stevia, I felt like I had just eaten a spoonful of sugar. 

When you are familiar with something you notice when something is clearly off. You might not be able to determine what is awry immediately, but you know, deep in the center of your being that what you've just experienced isn't right.

While this is a pretty benign example of something being rotten in the state of Denmark, if we aren't immersing ourselves in the truth of God's word, how can we ever know if what we are accepting as truth actually is truth?

J.D. Greear writes, "Satan's primary temptation strategy is to try and make us forget what God has said about us and to evaluate our standing before God by some other criteria." Think about it. His temptation towards Eve starts with, "Did God really say?" If he came at you with, "Did God really say that anything you ask for in my name will be given to you?" and you are not familiar with the context of the statement or the whole of Scripture, what better way to plant a seed of doubt that God doesn't stay true to his word. But let's take it a step further. If Satan came at you with, "God said that if you love him you would obey his commands; and since you aren't doing that, clearly you don't really love him," how would you respond? With shame? Guilt? Self-condemnation?

My greatest fear is that we will become so dependent upon others to teach us that we'll forget the truth that God wants to teach us himself through the words he gave us.  It doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't learn from others at all, it just means that if anyone other than the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are our primary sources of information about God, we are missing out on the deeply personal relationship he's intended for us to have since the beginning. But don't take my word for it, open your Bible and find out for yourself.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Little Bit More

When my kids were little, I remember coaxing them to walk. As they would start to take steps I would cheer them on, clap, and smile. I'd be bent over within grabbing distance and encourage them any way I could to keep them focused on continuing, not how difficult what they were doing felt. As they've gotten older I've maintained this behavior on a much more subtle note, but still pushing the positive outcomes that are sure to result from perseverance.

From a perspective of physical fitness, if you were to go to a gym and pay a trainer to help you achieve increased endurance, strength, and flexibility, you would do what they told you to do, not come up with your own plan and then be mad at them that you didn't get the results you sought. And as they encouraged you with their words, you would push through one more rep, one more second on that plank hold, or one more minute on the treadmill because you would see the exhilration on their face as you crossed a previously unsurpassed threshold. That look of supreme satifaction in your achievement would make the discomfort worth it.

So, if we can agree that this is what we do for others and what others can do for us, why on earth do we wimp out on what God calls us to do when we know He, above anyone else, is for us not against us?

It wasn't until I was reading today that I have begun to understand that the obedience that delights God is the obedience that comes from a place of love, not obligation or self-protection. And it was at that moment I realized that the joy of the Lord could be my strength. If I could just picture His face when I'm being asked to do the hard things, couldn't that be just enough to get me through it? Wouldn't that be Him cheering me on, encouraging me as I crawl to the finish line, never once leaving me to fend for myself, but being there the entire time reminding me how much He believes in me even when I don't believe in myself? Shouldn't that alone be enough motivation to pick up my cross and follow Him anywhere?

But more importantly, if all that's not enough, then what does that say? Why do I hold on to what I know isn't good, or healthy, or beneficial? Do I really prefer being miserable and unsatisfied more than giving up what I know will lead to freedom? How does that even make sense?

It would be great if we could say that we had no strongholds in our lives. But honestly, I don't think any of us can. Oh it might not seem like you have one, but if there is anything you would not want Jesus to ask you to lay down from this moment on until you walk into eternity, you've got one. I've got several. But with His help and His radiant smile, I'm going to push for one more rep, one more second, and one more minute because the look of joy on His face is more than enough strength for me.