Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Waiting With Him

Love is patient.  I've heard and quoted this statement a thousand times when reciting the familiar 1 Corinthians passage. I tend to swiftly move on to the second love adjective because I have no patience to linger here. Oh the irony!  I don't like the word patience because I know me. I worry. I tire. I stress. I'm in a hurry for relief. I want quick clarity and definitive answers and I wanted it yesterday. But when I replace the word 'love' with 'God,' the one who IS love, my focus changes and peace ensues. Why? Because instead of feeling pressure to become something I am not, I realize I can simply rest in what He already is.  God is patient. He is patient with us and for us.  His plans are patient.  He is not surprised. He is not worried.  He is not exhausted.  He is not anxious. He fears nothing.  And if he is my daddy in whom I've entrusted my life, I don't have to muster up a peaceful feeling that will soon fade. I can rest in Him and all he has done because I know who I am in Him.

But we cannot deny the reality of the wait. My thirty years as a believer has been a series of waiting periods in often difficult circumstances.  Why is this happening? What's he going to do? Will he fix this? How's he going to fix it?  Will I like the way he fixes it? I think the problem is that I am waiting ON Him when I should just be waiting WITH Him. Or even better, WALK with him.  If we consider Joseph's life as an example, we see how God was WITH Joseph while he managed Potipher's household as a slave. He was WITH him again while he managed a warden's business as an innocent prisoner. God used the worst possible circumstances to prepare Joseph to later manage the most powerful country and save millions of people including his brothers who betrayed him. All the while he probably just wanted to live an ordinary life with his family.

“Joseph is the foal of a wild donkey, the foal of a wild donkey at a spring— one of the wild donkeys on the ridge.  Archers attacked him savagely; they shot at him and harassed him. But his bow remained taut, and his arms were strengthened by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.  Genesis 49:22-24. 


Although Joseph was faithful to God, he was still a fallen man. While God used Joseph's faithfulness and blessed him as a skillful leader, he still used every moment and every circumstance to sanctify him.  Even after all God had done for Joseph he struggled with his flesh when faced with those who betrayed him before. But Joseph knew that only God could have orchestrated all that had taken place in his life as a result of his brothers' sinful actions. His desire to glorify His all powerful, eternal God outweighed any sinful desire to settle a useless, temporary score. Any tangible desire for the future pales in comparison to all God intends to do in and through us as we walk with Him on this journey. God wastes nothing.

When we set our minds on Jesus and eternity, we begin to see our difficult circumstances through a spiritual lense instead of that of our flesh. Every painful moment counts and every trial or point of suffering God uses to make us more like Him. When we focus on the end game and our ultimate purpose, the difficulties we face in the mean time are a little easier to bear. And if we are willing, we can see there's just as much value in the daunting journey of living, loving, and waiting as there is in our divine destination. 



"But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50: 19&20

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Greatest of These

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions. My life offers endless opportunities for failure without setting myself up and I’m proud to say I’ve been quite successful in taking advantage of them. I jest, but truthfully I see more value in reflecting on the past rather than attempting to resolve the great unknown.  We can’t exactly know where we are going until we fully grasp where we’ve been so reflecting back just makes more sense to me. So far, 2017 has been the most soul searching, faith stretching, heart piercing, and flesh breaking year for me to date. I do not look forward to 2018 being “better” because I’m not convinced that this year was really that bad. I'm positive that both better and worse years lie ahead, but this has been what I believe to be the beginning of a tough spiritual journey. We often hear that trials are blessings in disguise, but I’m starting to think that blessings can be trials in disguise, as well. God works in mysterious ways, right? Regardless of the difficulties we face, whether physical or internal, I believe God can and will use them to teach us more about himself if we let Him.  I’ve learned so much, but 1 Corinthians 13 really hits home and provides the perfect outline to focus my thoughts and reflections.  Verse 9 and 13 says, “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture…..Three things will last forever- faith, hope, and love-and the greatest of these is love.”  

Faith - A few years ago I experienced a difficult season that drew me closer to God, and He was faithful to teach me and grow me through it.  Once the weight of that heavy season lifted, I naively thought that was it. I thought I'd passed the test. I was content with my new found understanding of what it means to walk with God through the messiness of life trusting in only Him. This was all good, of course, but I was wrong about one thing. I was nowhere near finished. I now believe it was merely stepping stone preparing me for yet another difficult journey of faith. This year taught me what it really means to trust God alone. And I mean REALLY alone.  I cannot trust what I feel, what I think, or what others believe.  My faith must rest 100% on the truth in God's word and there's so much peace in that resolve.  Also, I used to believe that trials and temptations require a fence of protection from the world or the enemy, but God never intended us to live inside a fence. We cannot safeguard our hearts and minds by building unnecessary barriers. God never asked us to do that and in my experience they're ineffective. He does ask us however, to take up our cross and walk a narrow and difficult road fully armed for battle and there's so much more freedom walking on that road than there is standing behind a fence. 
Mathew 7:13-14; 1 Peter 2:16-17

"For you are free, yet you are God's slaves so don't use your freedom as an excuse to do evil." 1 Peter 2:16

Hope - In my early twenties God showed me how I was hoping in the things of God rather than God himself.  It's so tempting to place hope in something physical, even good things like a loving, Godly spouse, healthy kids, a strong church family, or loyal friendships. Although it's all good things to hope for, none of this lasts and will fail or end at some point. I still agree with this, but when we experience pain in relationships be it with a friend, a spouse, or a church family it's tempting to self-protect by creating distance between ourselves and others.  We might even disconnect emotionally cutting off ties with others in the name of putting our hope only in Christ, when in reality it's just an effort to avoid further pain.  I do believe that sin breaks relationship and some aren't meant to be salvaged, but this year I've realized that even when placing my hope in the Lord, there is value in the gifts of Godly relationships. They should be desired, cultivated, nurtured, and enjoyed, just not desired more than God. It's OK to hope FOR the pleasure and comfort of community, as long as our eternal hope remains IN Jesus. God used countless relationships in His word to outline his plan to redeem us through His son so it makes sense that He'd continue doing that today with you and me.  Regardless of our situations, married, single, childless, or "child-full", we must remember that there will always be some level of joy and some level of pain no matter where we find ourselves in this life.  I find rest in a healthy balance knowing my hope lies in eternity with Jesus while I enjoy whatever gifts He allows me until He calls me home. Genesis 2:18, Psalm 33:20-22, 41 and 42, Hebrews 10:23-25

Love- Most of my adult life I have viewed love as a choice versus a feeling. Although I still agree with that, recent circumstances have made me see it not merely as a choice, but also a weapon. If the word of God is a love letter to His children and is also referred to as the sword of the spirit, then real love must cut deep. This long, sharp blade was not intended to wage war against another; rather, it should be used to cut away every ounce of flesh that seeks to suffocate the spirit of God inside of me. True love denies self satisfaction in order to preserve what God plans to use for His glory.  The enemy may win my mind and my heart at times, but he cannot touch my soul. It's not on the market anymore. It's signed and sealed awaiting delivery. I belong to God and because of that I refuse to let the enemy dictate my actions. So is love a choice? Absolutely! And I choose to love fiercely like my life depends on it, because it does. 1 Peter 4:8-11

"...love covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Chosen

As many of you already know, Justin and I spent an evening away last weekend celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary early on his weekend off. All of our grandparents were out of pocket, but thanks to 4 very kind friend familes, we split our five children among them so we could get away for the night.  We couldn't justify the extra expense of hiring an overnight sitter so this was our best option. Getting away is already a stretch financially for our large one income family. Don't feel sorry for us though. We make poor money decisions often out of convenience and/or exhaustion.  As a family of 7 most of the time we're just in survival mode which tends to combat financial wisdom more often than not and we suffer the consequences as a result. But God never ceases to amaze me. Despite my poor choices he is still faithful and gracious. I'm consistently made aware of his undeserved kindness in my life and it's quite humbling.

As if having our friends take on our children wasn't enough, last Thursday in a rather spontaneous turn of events a very generous client of mine offered to pay for our weekend away and proceeded to make our reservations to where we were planning to go. In the busyness of life we had not yet made any reservations and this man's generosity far exceeded what we would have been able to afford ourselves. I cried as I continued to mop his floor while listening to him make the call to a bed and breakfast.  I'm humbled by this blessing and I'm really still in shock over what took place.

If you are a regular reader of mine, I'm sure it's no surprise that all of this has spiritual significance for me. Situations like this make me reevaluate my perspective on how God chooses to bless his kids. Before I came to my conclusions I had to first look at how I viewed God's protection.  I've had several experiences in my life that have made me realize how God's protection over me has nothing to do with my goodness or faithfulness. There have been times I wanted to go my own way, but God prevented me from making mistakes that could have changed the tragectory of my life. My heart and mind were in no better condition spiritually than if I had gone through with my own sinful plans. My cup was filthy on the inside, but only by God's plan did it not spill over to the outside. Any good in me is only because of Christ in me making me good. However, there have been other times that God allowed me to make mistakes. I have suffered the consequences of those mistakes, but God still uses those moments to show me my need for Him and His overwhelming love for me.

God has also put me through fire and flood that did not seem warranted to me. I've pridefully cried out to God "why are you doing this after I've been so faithful?!"  In doing so, my "super holy" self was in complete denial of my sinful nature and telling the God of the universe that he needed me and used my services so it was time to pay up.  How ridiculous! Believing His protection is a result of my righteousness also implies that our trials are punishment for wrong doing too. Either way, this type of thinking puts a focus on me and my behavior rather than on God and his faithfulness despite my shortcomings. It's called GRACE!! While there are definitely natural consequences for my behavior, those should not be braided with God's ever-present working hand in my life pruning me to be more like Him. (But don't take my word for it. Go read Romans 11!)

Recently I've noticed how this applies to God's blessings and callings as well. I no longer believe that God blesses or puts a calling on his kids' lives BECAUSE of their faithfulness.  I think God chooses certain ones TO be faithful, TO be called, and TO be blessed at certain times in their lives. We can do nothing without God doing it through us so why would we ever think anything else?  Maybe it's a difficult pill to swallow, but this is all done within His framework for His purpose, plan, and ultimately for His glory. Just as our salvation is not because of our works, neither is any gift we are given by God.  We cannot manipulate Him into giving us anything or preventing strife in our lives because we deserve nothing and are promised suffering in this world. But God is a good father even in the suffering. His grace abounds. He is worth surrendering it all and accepting His plan as we fight through the battles that arise and enjoy His blessings when they come.

"This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” Romans 9:10-12

Friday, June 16, 2017

His Mercy Extends

We often discuss the irony of Paul's call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles in spite of his former position as a Jewish zealot who killed Christ followers. We are in awe of how God used Paul after all he had done prior to believing in Christ.  However, what we do not discuss as much is that Peter, a disciple of Christ chosen to spread the gospel to his own people, also had a significant rap sheet even as a believer. Not only was his faith a bit shaky, he also denied Christ three times even after the time he'd spent ministering with Him.

Reflecting on when Jesus told Peter he would deny him, it's important to note that He didn't tell Peter to deny Him he just said that he would. God's foreknowledge of our sinful actions does not exempt us from the consequences or our responsibility of those actions, but our love for God and desire to live for Him does not eliminate our sinful nature either.  Peter loved Jesus and didn't want to deny Christ, but he did so anyway. Paul writes in Romans 7:18-20 "And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can't. I want to do what is good,  but I don't. I dont want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don't want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is the sin living in me that does it.

God, who is rich in love and mercy, STILL used Peter to bring many to salvation through faith in Christ. I believe God uses Peter's and Paul's differing stories to show that God's mercy extends beyond our past sins to our present and future sins as well and can use us to spread His truth despite them. The apostle Paul gets a lot of attention for spreading the gospel to the Gentiles due to his complete 180° transformation, but I think what God did through Peter after a blatant triple denial of his master displays the love and mercy of the Father even more.

God does not cause us to sin or lead us into sin, but He allows situations in our lives to show us our sin.  Our nature to try and satisfy or protect self reveals our need for Christ when we inevitably come up short. No thing on this earth will ever compare to a relationship with Him and he will use whatever means neccessary to make that known. According to Romans 6, we should not continue in sin so that God can display more of His grace, but His grace and love does abound out of our sin shedding much light on the goodness of the gospel.

"So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." Hebrews 4:16

Monday, May 29, 2017

Living Our History

My kids are always asking me why we talk about history so much. They say, "This already happened! Why do we need to talk about things that happened a long time ago?!" I tell them that everything we have and do today is affected by what has already taken place.  We can't have clear direction for our lives until we understand and process where we've been. We say we shouldn't live in the past meaning we shouldn't dwell on sorrow, pain, or our mistakes. I agree, but with each passing moment history is in the making. The choices we make each day will affect tomorrow so we should live intentionally with this in mind.  The future has never affected the past, but the past will always affect our future.

It is because of history that we celebrate anything. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations are all a remembrance of the past that affects the present. Even the sad anniversaries or memorials are cause for celebration as we relish the wonderful moments and memories of precious lives being lived. History isn't stuck in the past. It is our foudation on which we build our lives with each passing day.

Most days I am reminded of God's sacrifice of his son that gives me freedom from my sin and eternal life. I am also often reminded of the fallen who have given me earthly freedom in this temporary existence and it is because of them I am able to write this without fear. As I reflect on this today, I hope to choose daily to not only exist in this world, but to truly LIVE in all freedoms and grace afforded me in a way that brings glory and honor to God because of these sacrifices.  I hope to teach my children that while our past should not rule our future, their today will affect their tomorrow.  Taking full advantage of all freedom, we should not see the past as a neglected wasteland; rather, we should use it as a springboard to really living for Christ in this broken world and not to merely exist in it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rest for the Weary

As believers, we can get overwhelmed juggling daily tasks and responsibilities while burdened with what we see God doing in our lives spiritually.  As we walk through our lives we carry what is happening inside with us everywhere we go. The internal journey evolves slowly, but for the most part it’s consistent and constant. We wake up every morning with it staring us in the face. God teaches us more and more as we grow and walk with Him.  On the other hand, the external is ever-changing. Our daily tasks may be a mundane routine, but no two days are the same. As time passes, our roads take many twists and turns along the way.  It can be very overwhelming to walk and stay focused on the external when the unfolding of what is happening internally gets to be more than we can bear. This happens because so much of what takes place day to day reminds us of the inner passage.  

We see all of this before us and challenge the old idea that “God does not give us more than we can handle” and we wearily persevere like good soldiers for the Lord. However, if we understand that we can do nothing at all without God’s help, this statement might be partially true. It may be more accurate to say that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle without Him.” That one word makes a big difference.  We feel the heaviness of these burdens, both external and internal, because we have added our own agenda to His plan and we are trying to carry it all alone. Matthew 11:30 says, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

As I currently walk an unusual spiritual journey, I reach moments of unbearable anxiety. The Lord constantly reminds me that what He has tasked me with is quite simple. I believe he has given me three easy instructions. He wants me to love my husband, raise my kids, and follow Him. That’s it. Everyone's tasks may look different, but we do not have to figure Him out or try to make our lives work. We do not have to chase Him down. We simply take up our cross and walk beside Him on the very narrow and bumpy path. We don’t need to run unless we are running from the enemy who tries to pull us off the path. We can slow down. Micah 6:8 instructs us “to do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”  As we walk in obedience with Him, He will guide our steps and help us along the way. We cannot rush ahead of Him nor should we linger behind. The cross can get heavy at times, but if we stay with Him, He will make our burden lighter. As he lightens the load, the joy and peace He gives overflows and with His strength, we can manage the external tasks before us despite what the internal journey unfolds.

“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40:29-31

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Baptist Girl’s Confessional

Confession #1: 

I'm a "scripture scroller." It sounds very high and spiritually mighty, but I assure you it is not. It's quite the opposite, in fact. By "scripture scroller" I mean when I see a single Bible verse posted on Facebook, I tend to scroll past it and not read it. Probably because I'd rather feed my flesh on social media than my Spirit. Because of the latter, I immediately feel shame for bypassing words that come from that which gives all meaning to my life. I have two reasons for doing this. One I like to think is spiritually noble and the other is flat out sinful. We'll start with the noble one. While many single Bible verses are great and can stand alone, some cannot. In many cases context matters so when I see one I cringe a little that it will be applied out of context therefore clouding the glass of my Spirit's beloved living water. Now as for my sinful reason, I just don't like reading Bible verses. Yeah, you read that right. It's not in my nature to want to read the Bible. Ironically, I've been reading it quite often in recent months, but not because I want to. There's something else in me that's much more powerful than I am that has shown me how desperately I need it. I myself would not be drawn to do so on my own.

Confession #2: 

I don’t like to pray. Yep, you read that right, too. Praying makes me feel defenseless. It's giving up control of the issue or situation at hand and I prefer the driver's seat. If I can just think about it long enough and figure it all out, maybe I can bypass the time-consuming prayer session. There's only one problem. This never works. Despite my best efforts to will something to change or happen, I stay stuck in a vicious cycle of willing, thinking, and worrying and cannot find rest. Trying to figure it out on my own creates anxiety. Anxiety is a cold, dark Ferris wheel and there's no end to this circle. Prayer thrusts me off the wheel onto a solid rock in the sunlight. But not just any prayer. Too often I have prayed selfishly and have later realized its destruction. God’s ways are higher than ours so our prayers should reflect that. I stopped praying for others to change into what I think they should be. I stopped praying for God to fix everything in my life that was broken. I stopped praying that He would give me everything I think I want or need. The only prayer that really gives me peace sounds something like this. "God help me trust you and you alone. Give me wisdom and discernment in every situation that I might know your heart and follow you. Guard my heart and my mind from the enemy and empty me of myself so your Holy Spirit can move and work in me." If I'm hurting or sick i might pray "Lord, please take this pain away so that I may be able to serve you fully, but if you choose not to heal me, help me serve you in my pain and use it for your purpose and glory. Not my will, but yours be done." This is my new prayer for myself and for others. We can pray for anything we want, but the point of prayer is bending to His will not getting Him to bend to ours. The point is recognizing his God-ness, surrendering to His plan, and trusting Him with it all. Only here do we find peace. Well, at least until we jump back on that Ferris wheel again. It's inevitable, but God always shows us where the rock is in the sunlight. We just have to jump.

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14

In recent months, God has shown me how much I need to trust Him alone with all things. I've been specifically burdened by the deception that seems to be creeping into our churches. It's put me on high alert and I've stepped back to reconsider many of my own beliefs from past to present. I've spent more time in the Word and in prayer over these last couple of months than I have my whole life and I am not speaking figuratively here. Knowing the Word is invaluable. It is our only source of truth. We cannot trust our feelings to guide us because we risk our minds being swayed by our sinful nature. Knowing the Bible provides a filter when listening to messages or reading articles we are more prepared to distinguish between truth and lies. Without knowledge of the Word, we are in danger of accepting what we read and hear as truth simply because it sounds good or feeds a rooted deception. While we can't know and understand every biblical subject, there are definitely some issues that are clearly lined out in God's Word and it's negligence can be disastrous. Our purpose, however should not be to know truth to work towards perfection; rather, it should be to know God more personally and to join Him in what he's already doing in our lives and in the lives of those around us. In my own experience, studying the Word and spending more time in prayer has affected me in a way I did not necessarily expect. It has made me much more aware of my sin and shortcomings. The more I learn His truth, the more my need for His mercy and grace abounds. This in turn makes me much more forgiving and merciful toward others. It's a game changer.

Matthew 10:38 says, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it, but if you give up your life for my sake, you will find it.” We hold tightly to the things we have in this world and hope in them as if they will last.  The satisfaction we truly desire can only be found in our Father through His son Jesus, but we look for it in many places or our quest is incomplete. Hope without Jesus is hopeless. Jesus without His Word is meaningless. His Word without prayer is powerless. All play a necessary role in intimacy with our Dad. He longs to reveal himself to us and guide us through our lives when we embrace everything He gives us that allows Him that privilege.  

“So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11