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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Salt and Light

I write often, but I do not share everything I write. I hesitate to share when God teaches me something in a powerful way because I wrestle with the voice of pride that says “you just want to share this so people will think you’re super spiritual” or “you just want people to look at YOU and think you’re so good.” I mean let’s face it I AM awesome ;), but I’m also a walking disaster and those who know me well are aware of both things. ;) (wink again) But I loathe the voice. It debilitates me from sharing what God has taught me. God recently helped me determine whether my motives are pure in a different situation and it has given much peace. And guess what?! He used his Word to show me. You know that living and breathing document that collects dust on the nightstand.  In that book, Paul writes to the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians to encourage them after having had to rebuke them over sin they had allowed to take root in the church. Paul wrestled with having to rebuke them and gives a strong defense for his reasons for doing so. It was hard because he trusted them and they brought him great joy, but he knew they needed to feel the sting of correction so they could change.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose then was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. We have been greatly encouraged by this. 2 Corinthians 7:10-13

Satan wants to use every means possible to distract us. He wants to keep us from following Jesus and accomplishing the will of the Father. He not only uses our sin, but uses the fear of our sin to paralyze us so we can’t fully serve Him.  What God showed me through this passage is that the attitude of my heart carries the weight of my motives. Even when the sin nature is present, the heart can be pure because of the Holy Spirit in us.  If an idea to do something out of service to God originates with the desire to help others see Jesus, then it’s most likely from God. The voice of sin and pride may come later which may be Satan seeking entrapment, but we should walk in confidence, free from the bondage of sin, knowing our motives are pure when our original and only desire is to promote truth and to follow Christ.

With that said, I recently started a new bible study called the “Sermon on the Mount” by Jenn Wilkin. During the reading of the passage in Matthew, I came across my favorite childhood verse. You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13 At first I chuckled a little that this was my favorite childhood verse. It seemed an odd choice for a kid with the underfoot trampling part. I can’t imagine reading this as an eight-year-old and thinking “YES! Favorite verse!!!” but I tend to go against the flow and did so even a child. This was what I chose then, but now, nearly thirty years later it makes sense. In the study, Wilkin concentrates on the preservative property of salt, but I see an emphasis on how salt provides flavor. For so long I’ve wasted my time just being a Christian without understanding what it meant to live as one. My fear of pride and a host of many other sins shackled me from living out my faith as God intended.  I have evidence of the Holy Spirit living in me from a young age, but having it and living it are very different. One fear was having too many eyes on me and how that could make me stumble, but we cannot allow the fear of our sin to prevent us from living our faith and accomplishing His will.  On the contrary, we should not live as the Pharisees and season the earth to promote our own righteous living. Mathew 5:20 says "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." We must find a balance.  When we add salt to our food it enhances the flavor of the food in order that we know the flavor of the food. We should not taste the salt, but the presence of the salt helps us taste the food. As believers, we are to live in such a way that those around us can taste the goodness of our Father who sent his Son to die for us. We should neither be tasteless nor salty. We should only be salt so they may know Him.

I’m on a rotation teaching a 1st and 2nd grade bible study class and Sunday was my day to teach. When I picked up the curriculum this week the next lesson was entitled “Jesus Wants Us to be Salt and Light.” (This is what I meant by God showing up, or showing off is more like it. He does it ALL the time. He makes me double over laughing, weep uncontrollably, and sometimes role my eyes similarly to how I respond to my husband’s antics.  God is a perfect mess, if that’s possible.) Matthew 5:14 says “You are the light of the world-like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to the house.” The main tag line for the lesson was “help people see Jesus.”  To exemplify this, we did an activity with a flashlight and coffee filters. The kids gave me ideas of negative behaviors or attitudes that might cause our light to dim or go out. For each example I placed a filter over the flashlight. It occurred to me in the moment that the point of our light is not just to shine, but to shine ON JESUS. So, I looked around and found a picture of baby Jesus on the wall and did the activity with the filters while shining the light on Him. This showed the kids how when our light goes dim people are not able to see Jesus. 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 says, “You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made his light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” Our lights should not shine so people can see us or anything else. Again, we must strike a balance. We should neither be hidden nor shine on ourselves. We should only be a light that shines on Him.  

We witness trials and difficulties in our own lives and in the lives of others all around us. It’s everywhere. Spiritual war rages from our computer screens to our living rooms; from homeschool co-ops to public school classrooms; and from corporate offices to worship centers. It doesn’t matter where you go or how you live your life, thick darkness consumes the atmosphere and we’re all groping for the switch plate.  Unfortunately, there are many switch plates within reach, but only one source of light.  We flip on the switch of social justice, economy, education, doctrine, religion, or selfish ambition, yet still stand in a black room unable to see. We paw and scrape at the wall looking with hope, but nothing we find eliminates the darkness.  The source of light cannot be found with outstretched arms. Until we stop grasping in the dark and fall to our knees in sheer desperation, we have no hope for sight. It is only when we give up and fall at the feet of Jesus that His light begins to appear, but the light is not to remain in the distance. Jesus wants US to be His light in the darkness of the world, but we can only do so with hearts abandoned to His will. Matthew 5:16 says, “…let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Our light exists mainly to shine on Jesus for all to see Him so that when the Holy Spirit moves on them to repentance they will see His glory, accept His grace, and follow Him.

 Taste and See that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8