Thursday, December 23, 2010

Breath of Heaven

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary, a young girl who found favor with God. Mary, a girl who gave her all to serve her Lord. I’ve been wondering if we could be like her.

She had to be living an ordinary life. At home with her parents. Betrothed, ready to begin married life. Friends she laughed with. Her own dreams and goals in front of her. All centered around her love for God. And then the angel came. The angel telling her that she would be with child by the Holy Spirit. She would carry Jesus. Her only question came from her confusion. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Once the angel explained God’s plan, her response was one of total submission. “I am the Lord’s servant.”

In that one answer, Mary gave up everything…

Her relationships: How many friends left her? What was her parents’ response? We know Joseph’s immediate response; he wanted to divorce her. Mary had no promise that God would explain things to her betrothed.

Her reputation: What must she have been treated like? She couldn’t hide her situation for long. I’m sure the people in town must have talked. Is this one of the reasons she ran to Elizabeth and Zechariah?

Her body: Morning sickness. Fatigue. Uncontrollable emotions. Her growing belly. Giving birth. Even physically she gave her all.

Her heart: Her firstborn, yet not her own. She carried him for nine months. She was given the gift of being his earthly mother. She cradled him the moment he was born. She raised him as her own. Yet he was not hers. He had a purpose; to die for our sins. He came for all. What must her love for him have been like? Her son. Her Savior.

Why? Why did Mary give everything up so willingly? Did she count all the costs first? Or did she simply say ‘yes’ because she wanted to follow God and his plan for her. Did she truly know what would come? Did she ever doubt her decision?

I look to her words in Luke. Words spoken while she was at Elizabeth’s house. She glorifies God. She sings of all he’s done for those who serve him. It’s almost as if she’s reminding herself that God is in control. She’s focusing on God and his attributes. She’s drawing near to him and his promises, his goodness. She’s speaking his truths to her heart and meditating on them. It could not have been an easy path, this path that God chose for her, and to walk it her eyes stay focused on him; not the world around her.

I love the Christmas song, “Breath of Heaven”. It’s sung from Mary’s point of view. She’s asking for God’s spirit, the ‘Breath of Heaven’ to hold her. To be near her. She questions if she should have been the one chosen for this job. Yet, even in her doubts, she offers all she is and cries out for the very Breath of God to touch her. What an intimate picture. To feel someone’s breath, that gentlest of physical touches, you must be intimately close with them. This is what Mary longs for as she walks this path. It is what she seeks. She doesn’t back away when it is hard, she draws only nearer to her Lord.

What path has God chosen for you? Are you the only one saved in your family? Is your spouse not walking with God? Maybe you're going through an illness that is taking all you have. Have you been called into the mission field? Into the ministry? Perhaps you’re the only one at your work who’s a Christian, or you’re one of the only people at your school who follows God. Whatever it is, God so desperately wants to be seen through you. Are you struggling with walking the path your on? Are you asking if you even want to? Or why?

Yes, ‘why’? (It’s a normal question). Why did Mary give up everything to follow God’s path for her? Why should we? It’s so very hard sometimes. We open ourselves to ridicule. We pray, and –at times - it feels like nothing changes. We love those around us, yet they hurt us. At times we have to give up our comfort zone. Our homes. Our relationships. Our bodies. Why?

Because, just like Mary, we want to bring Jesus to a hurting world. Messiah. Savior. We carry him with us. If we say no to God’s plan, if we count the cost to ourselves as too high, then who will bring him? In light of eternity, can we give too much?

Mary did not think so. And look, look at how God walked with her. He defended her to Joseph, giving her a husband to walk along beside her on this path. He protected her. Her gave her a friend in Elizabeth, a woman who could walk through the pregnancy with her and all the unknown changes she was experiencing. And, as she gave birth in that stable, he gave her a picture of heaven. The star, the angels and the shepherds; heaven and earth, praising her son – Savior to a lost world; our greatest gift. It was a glimpse of what God had used her to do and Mary took it, treasuring and pondering it in her heart. After all she gave, God gave this back to her, and he had to be smiling when he did it.

God has a plan for you. A path already mapped out. It will take drawing near to God, his very Breath, to accomplish. There will be moments that are hard. But there will also be moments to treasure. Moments where God smiles down on you.

Are you ready to give your all and follow? To bring Jesus into a lost world who so desperately needs him? His gift may have been birthed by a virgin on Christmas two thousand years ago, but it was meant for all, for every day. Will you carry that gift? Will you give it? Will you be like Mary? Let her song, “Breath of Heaven”, become your song. Because the gift she birthed, the gift God gave, it was meant to be re-gifted:)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2egKS4d1oI

Friday, December 17, 2010

What's in a Name?

I think back on how long it took us to pick out names for our children. How hard it was to settle on one name that we both could agree on. Everyone knows the importance of a name; so did God. He wanted His son to be called Jesus (Matthew 1:21). But it was not the only name given to Him…no, not just one name could be given to call the One who would deliver us all. To the One who would meet all our needs. This Christmas, amidst all your searching for the perfect gift, turn to Him who already was and always will be our one true Perfect Gift. He will supply all your needs. He is:


ALPHA and OMEGA (Revelation 22:13)

Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9)

Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)

Redeemer (Isaiah 41:14)

Refiner (Malachi 3:2)

Almighty (Revelations 1:8)

The Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6)

Jehovah Nissi – the Lord is my Banner (Exodus 17:15)

Our Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4)

Our Refuge (Isaiah 25:14)

The Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20)

Jehovah Jirah - The Lord Provides (Genesis 22:14)

The Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6)

Jehovah Shalom - The Lord is Peace (Judges 6:24)

Lamb of God (John 1:29)

Good Shepherd (John 10:11)

Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16)

Messiah (Mark 8:29)

Holy One (Mark 1:24)

Light of the World (John 8:12)

Bread of Life (John 6:35)

Dayspring (Luke 1:78)

Jehovah Rapha – The Lord your Healer (Exodus 15:26)

Anointed One (Psalm 2:2)

Jehovah Shammah - The Lord is there (Ezekiel 48:3)

The Word (Revelation 19:13 and John 1:1)

Servant (Matthew 12:18)

King (Zechariah 9:9)

Friend (Matthew 11:19)

Advocate (1 John 2:1)

Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15)

The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)

Immanuel –God with us (Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14)

Truth (John 14:6)

The Way (John 14:6)

I Am (John 8:58)

Lamb of God (John 1:29)

Savior (John 4:42)

The Christ (Matthew 1:16)

The Beginning and The End (Revelations 21:6)

Unspeakable Gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Jesus (Matthew 1:21)


“Thanks be to God for His Unspeakable Gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Thank you Lord for the birth of your Son. You truly are "The Reason for this season" and the only Gift we'll ever need.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Forgive

“Don’t let them change you.”

My friend and I were talking – okay, honestly, I was ranting. I was upset and hurt by someone and she asked what I wanted to do about it. All I could reply was, “I need to pray about it. I know I can’t change them or what they’ve done, but I’m angry, so I just need to pray about it.” She nodded at me in agreement, “No, you can’t change them. But don’t let them change you, either.”

Her words stuck to me. They were cautionary. And aren’t they true? Too often we focus on the person who’s offended us. Hoping if we pray hard enough, they’ll change. Or better yet, they’ll realize what they’ve done to hurt us and come to grovel at our feet. Ohhhh, wouldn’t that feel good? Wouldn’t that be just the key to release our anger and allow us to bestow our forgiveness upon them? The problem is, that may never actually happen, and we need to be okay with it.

Here’s the reason: Other people’s poor judgments and hurtful actions do not build a platform for our sin ~ no matter how much we want to believe otherwise. We are not justified in holding to our anger or exacting revenge. Just try to stand before God and use this rationalization: “But, God, they did (insert offensive action here) first. So surely I can (insert vengeful response here).” He’ll listen and simply remind us that, “Yes, I told you, you can get angry, but I also said not to sin in your anger, and don't hang on to it.” (That answer was a paraphrase of Ephesians 4:26, go ahead, look it up, it’s there and we’re supposed to abide by it.) We are responsible for our actions, no matter where they stem from or how justified they seem to us while doing them.

See, as much as we may want to, we’re not allowed to get snarky. We’re not allowed to wish bad things on another, or rejoice when they “get theirs”. That’s taking matters into our own hands. That’s looking for revenge. That’s allowing them power over us, and…that’s allowing them to change us. The only person who should be changing us is God. And if He’s doing the changing, here’s what we’ll see: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control…slow to anger, quick to forgive, abounding in love… love….love.

Don’t you see? Anger is only harmful to us. It robs us of our ability to see love, accept love, and give love. It is a draining emotion that takes too much from us and is not worthy of space in our hearts. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is God’s gift to us. He freed us with it, so who are we to bind ourselves again? He paid the ultimate price to cloak us in His forgiveness, making us righteous. Once we’ve experienced that, how on earth can we not extend forgiveness to others?

All right, I do need to put in a side note here. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. In church this week, this point was brought home again for me. Forgiveness is vertical, it’s between you and God. It must happen; for our hearts to be right, we must forgive. However, that doesn’t mean there will be a restoration to the relationship with the person who offended you. Some relationships are unhealthy. Some offenders don’t desire to make the necessary changes in their lives. Some don’t even see they need to. In those cases, the reconciliation between you and that person cannot happen. And that’s all right, as long as you’ve forgiven them.

Yes, forgiveness can be hard. And some days you’re not going to feel like forgiving. Do it anyway. Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Remember what God has done for you. Ask Him to show you the person you’re angry with through His eyes. Pray some more. Because sometimes it takes awhile to talk yourself into a new emotion. Just keep giving it to Him and trust that He will take care of it. Our job is only to forgive, His is to exact payment for the wrong done. And He will, whether you ever see it or not. Trust Him. Forgive. Walk away from your anger.

Don’t let them change you. Let God.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Disappointment

Just a short bit of encouragement that I've found this week and wanted to share.

So I just stepped out in faith this week into something I feel God is calling me to do. It took a lot of prayer on my part and on the part of friends and family who were praying for me, too. What was so interesting is, as I waffled back and forth, one of my friends reminded me of the story of Moses. Well, nothing like having your own words pushed right back in your face. Weeks ago, I’d written on that same story and here she was, reminding me of it. After listening to her words, I sat and thought, “Okay, Lord, I see what you’re saying. But where’s my bush? Moses had a burning bush, why can’t I? I mean, sure, I’ll step out and face my insecurities, if I just know that’s what you want.”

The thing is though, I’ve learned in my life that God doesn’t often speak to us quite as clearly as a burning bush. In fact, for me, I’ve begun to recognize God’s voice as just a quiet, gentle whispering to my spirit; so soft that it requires me to be absolutely still and silent to hear it. A trait – as those who know me – that is not natural for me, and one I find very hard to practice. But one that has continued to grow my faith and deepen my relationship with God.

Here’s the other thing I’ve recently realized. More often than not, I may know God’s voice is talking to me, but I don’t want to risk disappointment. I want to trust in God, trust what He’s saying, but I’m worried if I do, it won’t work out like I thought it would. But you know what? I’ve been confusing Life with God. Life disappoints us. People, situations, love, unfulfilled desires; Life, it disappoints, but - and get this into your very soul - God never does. AMEN!!Isn't that an amazing, comforting thought?

I mean, listen to David as he speaks for us: (just read this, I know I see myself in his words)

Psalm 25: 1-6 (Amplified Bible)
Unto You, O Lord, do I bring my life. O my God, I trust, lean on, rely on, and am confident in You. Let me not be put to shame or [my hope in You] be disappointed; let not my enemies triumph over me.

Yes, let none who trust and wait hopefully and look for You be put to shame or be disappointed; let them be ashamed who forsake the right or deal treacherously without cause.

Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and faithfulness and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You [You only and altogether] do I wait [expectantly] all the day long.


Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercy and loving-kindness; for they have been ever from of old.

And here's what God says in return, when we do take that step and place our hope in Him:

“...Then you will know that I am the Lord, those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” (Isaiah 49:23)

I love that His Word not only shows us that we aren't the only one to struggle with placing our hope in Him, but that it also encourages us. We can put our hope in God. He assures us that we will not be disappointed!

So, go ahead and ask Him to teach you His way, or take the path that He has for you. He will not disappoint. Life will happen around us, we cannot escape the world we live in. Disappointment will come, and we will learn from it. But always, without fail, God’s tender mercy will carry us through. He will always be there to fight for us, to hold our hand, to love us unconditionally. He is constant. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End to each of our stories.

So, trust in Him. Believe in Him. Hope in Him. Every step you walk, I promise - and better yet, He promises - you will find Him there.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Destination: Heaven

I was sitting in church this past Sunday when my pastor referenced a verse in part of his sermon, and there went my mind down another rabbit hole. All it took was him mentioning Matthew 7: 13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Have you ever worried about this verse? I used to hear it and immediately think I was going to miss the turn-off. Or, I was going to think I was on the trail, but be miles from it. Then again, maybe I would, by chance, find the gate but never be able to stay on such a narrow path. Do you see how my mind works? And that verse? It makes it sound virtually impossible to get into heaven.

So there I sat on Sunday, focused on that verse, wondering why Jesus said so few would find the small gate. And I realized, it's not because He doesn't have it marked, it's because so many just don't see it; whether because we refuse to or because we've been fooled into believing something else. The gate isn’t hidden though, nor is the path just arbitrarily narrow, as if He made it that way to have it impossible to find and frustrate us once we do. No, the small gate leading to the narrow road is clearly marked. Jesus dying on the cross is the sign that points us to it, keeping His Word is what keeps us on it. The way we miss it is when we ignore the signs and keep moving on our own path.

John 4:6 tells us about the small gate when it says: “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” See, there is only one way to get on this road – making it a narrow entrance. But, there is only one thing you need to do to walk through that gate. It is something everyone can do and anyone who does it is immediately ushered through. Here it is, Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” No other qualifications are needed, it is that simple. But here is where so many of us mess up.

We live in this world where everything is about show. It’s about how much you do and how well you do it. Well, I’m telling you, to make it through that narrow gate you can live what those around you would call a perfect life, but if you don’t follow Romans 10:9, you’ll miss the gate. You may know the Bible, you may keep His commandments, treat others nicely, and give to the poor. You may even attend church five times a week. These are all great and wonderful things, but none of them will pull you off the wide path, walk you through the narrow gate, and place you on the narrow path. This is why the verse says many enter the wide gate and only few find the narrow path. So many of us fool ourselves into thinking that if we just live a good life, we’re getting into heaven. Let me be blunt. This will never happen. So please, do not be fooled! Our salvation does not come through works of any kind. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

All right, the gate is small, but thank the Lord that He takes anyone who asks right on through. Now what about that narrow path? I guess I see that road like any other you drive on. It’s narrow because of boundaries put in place that keep us safe. What are our boundaries? Just look at the Bible. Things like the Ten Commandment (Exodus 20:2-17) and the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) put up lines on our road to follow. Proverbs is a wonderful read of simple wisdom, some of it so simple you literally wonder, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” Or what about the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and all of Paul’s letters to the churches? (Romans – Philemon, and possibly Hebrews, but no one’s 100% that he wrote that one)

I could go on, but do you get what I’m saying here? It’s God’s Word, in its’ entirety, that shows us how to live our Christian lives. See, when David said in Psalms (another great read, by the way, especially for just about any mood you’re in) “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path”(Psalm 119:105), he wasn’t kidding. God’s word is what guides us, it’s what puts the boundaries up on that narrow road. You would never try to drive on the highway at night without your lights on, would you? Not with the expectation that you could see where you were going and stay safe. No, you'd use your headlights to light the way. So, use the Bible, learn it and know it, and it will light God's path for you. And if you're new to the faith, find a good church where people can help you learn and grow. Accountability will help you stay on that path, too.

Okay, there's one last thing about this road. Sometimes it’s easy to see when we cross the yellow line. We’ve done something and it’s obvious we crossed a line and we need to correct it. Other times we don’t know we’ve done something wrong until we hit the rumble strip. Someone close to us speaks with us (here's where accountability comes in), or the Holy Spirit begins to conflict us. We have a rumbling in our spirit that shakes us awake and tells us to move – quickly – from what we are doing. What happens if we refuse to listen to that? We eventually hit the guard rail doing 70 mph, the results of which are not always pretty.

Yes, the way is narrow. But that’s what keeps us safe. It also keeps us heading in the right direction. There may be road blocks and detours along the way, but keep on keeping on. The destination couldn’t be better. Heaven. No more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. Only laughter, joy, happiness. Only love. Now that's a destination worth traveling for.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Timid

What keeps us from our ‘What if’s’ in life? What keeps us from taking those steps forward? I think it’s that too many of us wear the name tag of Timid, believing we cannot do the task God’s placed in front of us; not because we’re not able, but because we lack the courage.

Have you ever really looked at the definition of ‘timid’? Here it is:

Timid: lacking in self-assurance, courage, or bravery; easily frightened or upset; shy.

Now I am not even going to try and pretend here. That definition is me. I cringe when placed in a group. I cannot remember names for the life of me, even if I have met you more times than you can count. I cannot easily express my thoughts when speaking, and just the thought of having to do so has me quaking in my sneakers. I don't really like attention of any sort. I am shy and if I had my choice, I’d stay well away from new situations and new people. Can anyone else relate? God’s been working on me with this one though, and I hope to be an encouragement today to those of us that struggle with being timid.

You see, there’s a problem with believing we’re timid and it’s put me in a quandary these last few months. For starters, there’s a few verses that I know but until recently chose not to apply to this area in my life. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of sound mind.” Great verses for many things, but I never used them when God laid it on my heart to go talk to my neighbor. Instead, I had to remind God that I’m shy.

Those two words “I’m shy” became like a little sign I hid behind, my finger pointing to the next person so that He’d pass over me. And quite honestly, I was just fine with that! Sure, I’ve always had a burning desire for everyone to know God, I just didn’t want to be the one to tell them about Him. I mean, I can talk all day about His grace and His glory, and if someone specifically asked about God I’d tell them. I just didn’t want to be pulled out of out of my comfort zone to speak with another person. Besides, don’t you have to have some sort of special calling for that?

About the time I asked the above question I received a Love Shove. All of us who are saved should feel a calling to reach the lost, and we don’t need to be a preacher to do that. God also reminded me that He had created my personality. It was of no surprise to Him, and He didn’t create it to be used as an excuse. Once again, while focusing on my label I was taking the focus off of His power in my life and shining it on me. There are people out there who desperately need Him, and my excuse for not reaching them is “I’m shy”. How is that going to hold up someday when I stand before God? I'm guessing not too well.

So listen, we who are Timid cannot continue to define ourselves through that label. There is a lost world out there who needs God and if we don’t go tell them about Him, who will? I am not saying you have to get on a stage and preach this Sunday (though if God calls you to it, you better listen!). But I am saying we cannot live in our houses, saved by Grace and keeping it to ourselves.

Big talk, I know. I cringe even typing these words because if I’m saying them I’d better be willing to live them. It’s a daily process for me. But here’s the amazing thing about God; when you focus on Him all other things fade away. There is a boldness that comes from Christ that is found no place else. It comes through His power in our lives and that’s what we want others to see; Him, not us! Just look at how Paul explained it: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

We may know what it means to be timid, lacking in courage. We can even identify with Paul in his trembling. But we cannot let that stop us from reaching a lost world, especially when God wants to use it to reach them. Remember when we are weak, He is strong!

One day this world is going to end. One day we will all stand before the Lord. Don't let one of your 'What If's' be 'What if I would have told them...' Instead, the next time you feel God nudging you to do something and you believe your name is Timid, I want you to remember these words that David spoke and I’m now speaking to you: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you.” AMEN!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

'Sign'

Have you ever felt not good enough? Like God is crazy for picking you to do something? There are times where I find myself laughing at God as He’s nudging me. The conversation goes something like this:

“Ohhhh, good one God. I really needed that laugh.” My laughter continues until I notice He’s not laughing with me. This creates a bit of an awkward moment as I reel my laughter back in. "Um wait, you were serious? Yeah okay, I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear you on that one.”

And I do. I turn my head, avoid His gaze and go about my day. I do, after all, have legitimate reasons for my ignoring His request. And, as He created me, He should already know them. I mean do I really need to remind him of the names on my name tag? Insignificant. Insufficient. They sit side by side. So just swing that finger around and pick someone else, because I am not your girl.

Well, as you can imagine, that excuse doesn’t work out so well. And, though that answer was never good enough for God, it has only recently become not good enough for me. My hope is that the same thing will happen for you.

Let’s go back to our manual then, shall we? Pull out God’s Word, and we’ll start there because let me tell you, it’s full of people who we would classify as insignificant. And yet, God used them. David to take down Goliath. Mary to birth a savior. Simple fishermen to preach the gospel. And many more who all answered the call. Can you imagine if they hadn’t? Surely they had to have moments of questioning and moments where fear began to overtake them. Yet, instead of stepping into their fear, they turned and stepped into the presence of the One who gives us courage. In doing so, we ceased to see their shortcomings and instead saw God. He can do the same with us.

Still not convinced? Then let’s look more closely at what the Bible says about some of these people who we’ve elevated to a state of near perfection that we like to believe we fall short of. Because when we look more closely we begin to realize that if God can use them, He can also use us.

Did you know that Moses stuttered? That he was afraid to speak in public because of it? Listen to Exodus 4:10. “But Moses pleaded with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” (Exodus 4:10) Yep, even Moses got tongue-tied, but that didn’t stop God. He simply sent Aaron with Moses to be his spokesman.

Then there was Paul. Paul was a force to be reckoned with in the Bible, spreading the message of Christ far and wide. Yet, he was not the dynamic teacher many today see him as. 2 Corinthians 10:10 tells us “for some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’” Wow. Pretty harsh words. Yet, undeniably, God used him.

And for those of us who feel we’re not smart enough. Here’s a verse I love! “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:12) Yep, unschooled and ordinary, yet they had been with Jesus and He used them mightily.

See, God’s word is pretty clear. And do you know what it says about all this? If not, then listen closely. While we’re telling Him our name is rooted in insignificance or insufficiency, He’s ever so gently responding, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) Amen!

People, we’re not perfect and we were never meant to be. He created us with weaknesses so that His strength could show through them. In this, we see our need for Him while others get to see Him at work in us. It was His perfect plan. He didn’t create us with weaknesses so we wouldn’t feel good enough, but rather so He could use us without our getting in His way. That verse in Corinthians goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” It’s through our limitations that He uses us, not in spite of them. (Does this mean we don’t have strengths? No, of course not, but today I’m focusing on how we handle our weaknesses.)

Listen, when all we ever do is focus on our weaknesses we are once again denying Christ’s power in our lives. And let’s think about that for a moment, because as I wrote this I became very convicted over something. Not only am I denying His power in me, but I’m making myself way too large a part of the equation. I may not be educated, eloquent, or creative, but when did this become about me? It’s about God, and I need to get out of His way and let Him work through me. That’s part of the problem though. Stick with me a moment. While there are those times that we’ve truly bought into the lie that we are not good enough, there are also the moments where we choose to believe them because it’s easier. If we believe we’re not good enough then we can use that as an excuse for not stepping out of our comfort zones. We don’t have to risk failure or people seeing us fail. Most of all, we don’t have to risk the disappointment of our failure.

So we have to make a choice. Either stay where we are, believing there is nothing about us that God can use (and who’s telling you that lie?), or step forward in faith to what God has called us to. There is no guarantee that we won’t fail, but even what may seem like a failure to us will be counted a success to God. Remember what He said. His power is made ‘perfect’ in our weakness.

So here’s what I want you to do. Where you’ve written ‘Insufficient’ on your name tag, cross out that prefix and simply write ‘Sufficient’ because His grace IS sufficient. And for where you’ve written ‘Insignificant’, cross out everything but ‘Sign’. As I studied the word ‘insignificant’ I found that it’s base is in the Latin word ‘signen’ or ‘sign’ which meant, “to mark with a sign, especially the sign of the cross.” And that’s what I want to do, don’t you? Everywhere we go let’s leave our mark. The mark of Christ.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Backwards Thinking

We have been incredibly busy here in our household. We started our fall with home schooling for another year, attending my husband’s Ironman, fall baseball, sewing class, small group retreats…oh and all of us getting sick! The last month has been crazy trying to keep up with the additions to our schedule and maintain every day life. Chaos has been in abundance, and here’s a secret…I don’t handle chaos well. (Yes, that is an understatement.)

With all this non-stop running, I’ve been feeling like a failure. We’re not getting as much done as I’d like to with school. My house is in shambles. I have no groceries in my refrigerator, and what amounts to a mountain of clothes is on my laundry room floor. And my attempts at writing? Let’s put it this way, using the word ‘attempts’ is being generous. I can’t even apply that word to my quiet time with God. That has completely fallen by the wayside.

Apparently, in my conversations with friends and family, I am not alone in these feelings, either. Several people have spoken with me in the last week about how crazy-busy they are. They feel like life is spinning out of control, and they are going right along with it. It got me thinking, and today it got me taking pause. Is this how life is supposed to be? I just don’t think it is. So how do we stop it? As I put my screaming kids in their rooms then began to tackle the dishes and laundry, I put on some quiet praise music and began talking to God. I realized, or really God gave me the realization, that it’s time to do things opposite of the way I’ve been thinking. Backwards, if you will.

Allow me to elaborate. You’ve got time, right? (Just say yes) A year or so ago my best friend and I were on a mission to lose weight. And, for once, we decided to take it seriously. We began to watch our diets closely and counted all of our calories. At the same time we began an exercise routine, adding weights, squats and aerobic exercise into our daily routine. At first, the pounds began to come off. Then, as we began to get stronger and exercise longer, we hit a plateau. So, we did what any normal dieter does, we cut our calories even more. Within a week we started to gain weight. It was a complete mystery to us! I complained. She went to a nutritionist. Here’s what they told her: eat more.

Well, of course, I laughed at her. We’re supposed to lose weight by eating more? What kind of backwards thinking is that? Unless, of course, they meant by eating more chocolate, which I was totally on board with! They didn’t. We needed to take in more calories all right, but of healthy foods. Shaking my head, we tried it. And, guess what? It worked!

As God laid this memory on my mind, He attached an insight with it. I need to start thinking backwards in my attempts to tackle the chaos around me. Bear with me a moment as I explain.

You see, God never meant for us to attempt life on our own apart from Him. And, He never meant for us to live in chaos. We do all that to ourselves. Each time we think that if we just get our house in order and have our checklist all ticked off, we’ll be able to breathe. Like if everything was in order around us, we’d be able to smile and laugh and skip through life carefree. Sorry kids, that’s just not going to happen. Just like cutting more calories didn’t help me lose weight, getting my checklist done is not going to bring me happiness and peace. There is only One who can do that. Yet, when life gets frantic, my time with Him is always the first to go.

So here’s where the backwards idea comes in. We need to move contrary to what our mind is telling us. Rather than stealing time from God to pay towards finishing our list, let’s use that time to spend with Him. As I left some of my list undone today and did this, God led me over and over to His word showing me His plan and His faithfulness.

First, my heart was led to a verse that is often used to teach us about being a witness to others. Today though, God placed it in another light for me. In John 15 God tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” Did you catch that? Nothing. When we decide to cut ourselves away from Him, sacrificing our time with God so that we can get more done, it will actually work against us. We believe this will give us the time to get more things done while what happens in reality is different. Our lives dissolve into chaos, anxiety and frustration. We may be able to check a few more items off our list, but we still don’t attain the peace we believe that effort will give us.

Some of us are in that spot right now. I know this past month has found me there, cutting myself off from where I need desperately to be. As I continued to talk with God today He reminded me of two more verses. First from Matthew 11:28 where God beckons us “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” If we find ourselves separated from Him in all our chaos, He reminds us to come back to Him. That’s where we’ll find our rest. God then paired that verse for me with one that He’s laid on my heart all month long. I’ve even added it to my stack of 3x5 cards. It’s from Isaiah 30:15. Here God tells us that “In repentance and rest is [our] salvation. In quietness and trust is [our] strength.” We need to press into the quiet moments. We need to trust that He has it all under control. Not you or me, but God. That is where we’ll find our strength to go on in the midst of the disorder that life seems to thrust on us.

Finally I came to one of the best known verses around, but one we don’t really read. Psalms 46:10 tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” Can you do that? Can you truly ‘be still’? Drop all the items on your list, and simply be still.

Now please don’t read into all this that I think you should throw your ‘to-do’ list out the window, quit your job, allow your home to dissolve into shambles, and don’t sign your child up for another extra-curricular activity. That’s not living the life that God created you for, but hiding from it. What I am saying is when you find yourself twirling in an endless circle, and you can’t remember which way is up anymore, chances are you’ve cut yourself off from the Vine. And you’re going to remain spinning until you do exactly the opposite of what you think you need to do. Stop moving and be still.

So that’s it really. God doesn’t want us running around trying to accomplish everything on our own. Just remain in Him, trust in Him, find the quiet and be still. When was the last time you can remember doing that? Sitting still, listening in the quiet to hear His voice? The last time you let all the endless tasks fall to the wayside and simply spent a few moments with God? He’s waiting for you, patiently sitting there, waiting to calm your chaos if you’ll only let Him. Because life is full of unending lists that you’ll never be able to handle if you don’t put God at the very top of each one.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

IronPrincess

So I’m a little off tangent today. That can happen when you have copious amounts of time to sit and think coupled with little sleep. I was lucky enough to have those things this weekend when I went to cheer my husband on in his first ever Ironman.

I have watched him train all year long. While he got up early to run miles upon miles, I drank my coffee and took long, leisurely walks. While he practiced his open water swims, I rode in a boat next to him to make sure I could rescue him if he sank like a rock. For the hundreds of miles he had to log onto his bike, I got him a bracelet – though he refuses to call it one – to hold all his emergency information should someone find him along the side of the road, unconscious. I, as you can see, was more of moral support than a training partner, which was just fine by me!

The day of the race came and my son and I (our daughters stayed home) wore t-shirts I had made. Mine proudly proclaimed that I was an “Ironwife”, his cleverly said “Ironson.” We had my husband’s number on the back and would frantically call out to him, cheering him on. We wanted everyone to know he was ours and we were his.

As I sat and waited for him at the half-way mark on his run I began to think. I had done none of the training. I did not have to endure a 2.5 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run, but I did get to claim the “Iron” part of his title and put it on my shirt. Simply by my association with him, I got to be an Ironwife. And boy, was I proud of that, as witnessed by my screaming for him, following his course and progress all day, and trying to get a glimpse of him in a crowd 20,000 strong. Of course, there was also my t-shirt, which I wore the entire day (never mind that it was bright yellow and yellow is definitely NOT a color I should wear. But we matched him, and we were visible). All day I’d run into people who’d point at my ‘Ironwife’ letters and smile. I’d smile back, “Yep, #875, he’s mine”, or “Why yes, I am an Ironwife. My husband, he’s #875 and he’s doing the race.”

Here’s the thing though, he was just as proud to have us wear those shirts as we were to wear them. He didn’t say we hadn’t earned that title. He didn’t ask us to take them off. He loved that we were claiming him, making sure people knew who we belonged with. He loved that we were so proud to be his.

And, as I sat and thought, my mind drew a parallel. I didn’t have to endure the cross, but Christ did. And He did it just so I could be His. I get to proudly put on, everyday, the title of “Princess” because He’s the King. He’ll never tell me I didn’t earn it, because it’s not about what I did, but about what HE did. Now that’s something to cheer about! And He wants us to come running after Him, to wear His name, to seek Him out and to be excited, crazy even, in our pursuit of him. He wants us to let others know; I am His, and He is mine!

Of course, my mind didn't stop there, it just continued down it's rabbit hole. I began to really watch the racers. I watched them push on and persevere through pain and problems. Hebrews 12 came quickly to mind. It begins with "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." It goes on to talk about discipline and training, something each of those racers knows a lot about.

What we need to understand, though, is that we're all in a race. One that we need to train for, one that we need to persevere through. One that we need to not grow weary or lose heart in, but rather fix our eyes on Jesus and keep on pushing through. I watched so many racers fix their eyes on that finish line and push through when everything was working against them. It truly amazed me. And, again I was reminded of all that Christ endured so I could have life. The life of a princess. Redeemed, cleansed, beautiful and cherished. I wonder, if while He endured the cross, if His eyes were ever fixed on me. Surely, with all He gave, I can run the race marked out before me and persevere.

So maybe now I’ll make myself an “IronPrincess” t-shirt for the race I'm running in and Who I belong to. Only this one I’m making in pink.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gettin' Ready

So it’s time for a little self-defense. I mean, if we’re going to start tearing down the ‘names’ we’ve believed about ourselves, we’ll need to prepare. You can’t go into combat unprepared, and we are definitely in a battle. Ephesians 6:12 tells us “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Now what do we do with that? I can hardly even defend myself against flesh and blood. I’ve always supposed when my Fight or Flight response kicked in, I’d have some amazing Kung Fu moves to take down any fleshly attacker that stood in my way. But the ‘powers of this dark world’ and ‘spiritual forces of evil’ that we can’t even see? Puh-leese! That’s like telling me to try my non-existent split kick on the wind! Thankfully, God left me with a manual that has nothing to do with my physical prowess or muscles.

If you keep reading in Ephesians 6, you’ll see a whole list of armor that needs to be put on each day. They are all important in our fight, but the piece I’m most interested in right now is our Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Hebrews tells us “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrew 4:12) Sounds pretty powerful and something we should learn how to yield.

Now please note that it’s called the ‘Sword of the Spirit’. This means that we need to have the spirit to begin to know how to use it. If you haven’t accepted Christ as your Savior yet, you’ll never understand how to use this sword. Corinthians tells us that once we’ve asked Christ into our hearts, we’ll have “…not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (I Corinthians 2:12, emphasis mine) There are a lot of things Christ freely gives us: forgiveness, freedom, joy, peace, an endless list of gifts. But for right now, as I mentioned, we’re interested in that sword! And we want to understand it. So if you haven’t done so already, ask his Spirit to live in you and then pick that sword up and come along. He’s only waiting for you to ask. (Yes, asking Him is that easy and it's THE single most important and amazing thing you'll ever do in your life! See Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:8, Acts 17:27, and most definitely II Corinthians 5:17)

All right, the asking part is easy, and everything starts there. However, there’s so much more than just asking God to live in our hearts. Many of us ask God into our lives, and leave it at that. And God does hear us when we call. He cleanses us of all our sins and makes us new. That, in itself, is an amazing miracle and so much more than what we deserved. But God didn’t just want to make us new, he wanted to make us victorious. This is why he left us his Word, and why we need to learn how to use it.

Our Bibles are not just to use for decoration on our night stand. They’re not to simply carry with us so that we look more spiritual. John 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” His word has been around since the beginning of time. God is the Word and he’s already defeated death and the grave. He left us with his Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and his Word to carry, not just in our minds, but in our very hands! That word is powerful, ‘sharper than any double-edged sword’ remember, and it’s ours to use if God dwells in us. Luke 10:19 tells us that he has “…given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” We don’t need to take it from satan any longer. We never did!

So this is what I’m asking you to do. It’s a wonderful habit I learned years ago while taking a Beth Moore Bible Study. Some of you may know it, but do you follow it? If not, I challenge you to begin. Keep a 3x5 stack of cards by your Bible. When you read or hear a scripture that reaches out to you, write it down. Keep those cards someplace that you can get to easily. You can even clip them together with a little ring. Or, keep a notebook that you write your verses in. If it’s a verse that really speaks to something you’re struggling with at that moment, write it on a sticky note and stick it on your bathroom mirror. The idea here is placing God’s word into your mind so that as satan throws his lies at you, you can hit them back with the Word of Truth. Memorize this verse if you haven’t already: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5) That’s specifically what we want to do. Make our thoughts obedient to Christ, no one else.

Here’s what I want to end with today. Many of these names we’re going to start making obedient to Christ began with a hurt. They’ve become a stronghold that is keeping you back from who God created you to be. Remember, he created you with a plan and a purpose. I looked up the definition for stronghold and this is what I found. “Strongholds are walls or fortresses around beliefs and emotions to protect us from further pain.” I immediately pictured an old castle, built rock by rock, that towered between me and God. I wanted to break that tower down, and help others learn to do the same. As I was looking up scripture that showed me the power of God’s word, I came across this one that is going into my stack of cards. “Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)


Yes, not just a sword, but a hammer! I love multi-purpose tools:) And I’m ready to pick up that hammer and start smashing those walls. Aren’t you?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lies

So I talked early on about names we believe about ourselves, rather than the name our Father has for us. The problem with believing these names is that they are lies told to us. We begin to believe these lies, and some of us even use them as excuses to keep from doing what God created us to do.

However, as a Christian, we cannot rely on them for an excuse. Once we have accepted Christ as our Savior, once His spirit lives in us, we can no longer claim to not be good enough. By doing so, we minimize His strength, his creativity, and His redeeming power in our lives. He makes us good enough. That’s our testimony! We came from nothing, we were nothing, but in Him we are everything. Important, treasured, loved, forgiven, and He has a plan for us. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us this, “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God never would have made a plan for you if He thought you couldn’t achieve it.

Why, then, do we believe we’re not capable of achieving God’s plan for us? Satan. He’s ‘the accuser’ – he’s always willing to whisper in your ear that you’re not enough. And sometimes he uses those in our lives to do that whispering. A parent, friend, sibling, co-worker, and the list goes on. We’ve all had someone in our lives, be it on a daily basis or one comment that stays with you, who help stick on those labels we were never meant to wear.

We don’t have to believe them though, and we certainly don’t have to listen to them. Instead, listen to this: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Col. 1:22, emphasis mine)

We are free from accusation! Be firm, hold onto the hope that God gave us through His word and believe it! Stop listening to the lies that, for whatever reason, you’re not enough. You are more than enough in God’s eyes, created with a purpose that He wants to see come to fulfillment in your life.

So over the next few posts, I hope to break up some of those lies we believe. Some we realize and hold to as a comfortable cloak we’ve been used to wearing. Others we may no even see in our lives. Either way, it’s time to stop listening to them and begin to truly see yourself through God’s eyes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Love

So I was working on something else completely last week when God laid the subject of love on my heart. Well, if I’m being honest, I was sitting around after a conversation I’d just had and thought, ‘Can’t we all just love one another?’ And, by ‘we’, of course, I meant ‘they’.

With this in mind, I started to look at the quintessential chapter on love, I Corinthians 13. You know, the one you find painted on signs that adorn our homes and quoted at every wedding? In case you missed it, I’ll write it:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13: 4-8)

So there it was. And boy, did I find that I’m pretty good at it. I mean look at that list. God’s idea on how to love is easy, right? So incredibly natural for us that it should be like breathing: an involuntary response that we don’t have to try at or even think about. (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?) Why is it when you’re trying to pray for others to get things right, God so often reminds you that you’ve still got it all wrong yourself? Yeah, love it when that happens. So here’s what I’ve figured out over this past weekend, and I’m so far from being done. Apparently, I am a work in progress even on the issues I thought I’d mastered.

First off, love is really, really hard. Not that I didn’t realize that before, but maybe I just needed a reminder. Oh, yes, the song says, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing’, and it is, when it’s directed at you. But when you’re the one that has to do the loving, and you just don’t feel like it, well it isn’t always so ‘splendored’ then. I think Jesus felt this when he contemplated dying on the cross for us. Look at Luke 22:44 as he prayed in the garden. At this point, Jesus clearly was warring over what was to come and didn’t necessarily feel like doing it. I mean, the man was sweating blood, trying to figure out another way. So, WHY did Jesus die for us? And we’re not talking a ‘let’s take my last breath and lay here and die’ death. No, we’re talking crucifixion. A nailed to the cross, spit on, beaten, very painful, death. The answer is quite simple: love. It wasn’t the easy choice. He knew we didn’t deserve it. He knew those that claimed to love him would turn away from him, some would even be in the crowd. But he still chose it out of his love for us. Yet, I can’t muster up a loving response to you today because you’re stepping on my last nerve. Oh sure, that’s understandable.

Second, I realized that there are no conjunctions in love. You can’t say you’re going to love someone and then add a condition. “I will love you if…”, “I will love you, but…”, or even “I will love you, and”. It has to just be “I will love you.” Did you catch that period? Yep, that’s how you end it. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Jesus surely didn’t add a condition onto His love for us. Romans clearly tells us; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) He didn’t require anything from us. He didn’t ask us to be perfect. He didn’t ask us to give him anything. He just loved us when we so did not deserve it. He just loved. Period.

That last one alone should be enough for us to love others. It should have us out of our seats, jumping and hugging everyone around us. When we realize that amazing love God gave us, how can it not overflow? Unfortunately, we are stuck in these bodies and war with the feelings that play over us. So we start to make excuses, and that was the next one God called me out on. Love doesn’t use excuses. Just as I said above there are no conditions, well, there are also no excuses either. God called us to love one another. He made it very clear and repeats that commandment over and over again throughout the Bible. We cannot escape it or put it on someone else's shoulders. It won’t matter if they looked a little funny, were in need of a shower, spoke differently or drove their car way too slowly in front of me. I’m supposed to love them. Or, and here’s the harder ones; it won’t matter if they’ve hurt me, disappointed me, or are completely in the wrong. I’m still supposed to love them. When we stand before God one day, I won’t get to use someone else’s actions as an excuse for why I didn’t do what God has called me to do. Love them. (Now, as a small side note: this doesn’t make us doormats. There are some people in your lives who are healthier to love from afar, yet you still must love them.)

As I sat this weekend with these thoughts, I realized they all sounded well and good, but what I really wanted was an out. I wanted God to understand that I wasn’t so sure I could do what He had done. What He does on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. He wasn't going to give me one. Nope, not so lucky. Instead he reminded me of the words I shared a few weeks ago about my genetics. His DNA runs through me, and I cannot escape that nor - if pressed - do I want to. And here’s what the core of his DNA is. God is love (I John 4:16). And if He IS love, and He lives in me, then I should be able to exhibit that love. It’s not going to always be easy. I’m going to be asked to love imperfect people. I can’t use excuses. I don’t get to ask that the other person comes to me first. I don’t get to ask that they love me more, or that they make the first move. I’m just supposed to love them. Period.

So, that’s what I’m going to try and do. At times, it’s what I’ll struggle to do. But, if I want to show others the love of God, I cannot do it without loving them myself. They simply will not be able to hear anything I say. Going back to that chapter on love in Corinthians, it starts out by saying that without love I am nothing but a clanging gong. Every effort I put into life will be nothing without love. Love needs to be the base for every one of our actions. I don’t want to be just some noisy person, clanging about wherever I go. I want my voice to be heard, clearly and full of God’s love. And though I may mess up, if I’m leading with His love first then I have this promise. His love never fails. Thank you, Lord, for that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blahs

So this weekend I’ve been fighting The Blahs. You know, where even the things you like to do you don’t feel like doing. I didn’t dare say ‘I’m bored’ because I still fear my mom will pop out of nowhere and dump a basket of laundry on me to fold. So, I wandered around all weekend, moping.

When I started this blog, I had set a goal for myself of writing once a week. It was a completely self-motivating goal, and one with the purpose of pulling me closer to God. Spend some quiet time in prayer, search the scriptures for ideas He laid on my heart, and practice my writing. All things I love, all things that are helping me to grow in my relationship with God. And just as I’m starting to enjoy it, BAM, the Blahs...I couldn’t even muster up a sentence. I couldn’t even call it Writer’s Block because I didn’t have the desire to write.

So I sat at my computer today, deciding I’d just sit to type and come up with something brilliant. Yeah, I’ve got nothing. How’s that for honesty? I even started to peck away, hoping that something would come, and still…..nothing. Not just nothing, even an absence of wanting something. I had just thought to myself “what would it really matter if this week I didn’t follow through?”, when it hit me - yep, another ‘love shove’. Not following through was exactly what satan wanted. (Yes, I know ‘satan’ is a name, and by English writing standards is thus considered a proper noun that should be capitalized. I however, find him undeserving of such a thing.) Anyway…

There are so many times in our lives where we don’t ‘feel’ like doing what we are supposed to be doing. And, as adults, isn’t that our choice? But, as a Christian we can’t play by those rules. God’s word clearly says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’” (Matthew 5:37). He doesn’t say it only counts when I feel like it, or when I’ve made the promise to someone other than myself.

Then there’s also the point I made a few weeks ago. The spirit of God lives within me. So, I should be exhibiting His spirit, right? When I don’t keep my commitments I’m failing on that, as one of the Fruits of the Spirit is faithfulness (check out Galatians 5:22). When I looked up faithfulness I found this definition: “Adhering firmly and devotedly, as to a person, cause or idea; loyal”. Again, I searched, and nowhere could I find a scripture that says I only have to fulfill that definition when I feel like it.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that there are many, many times where I don’t feel like doing something I’ve already committed to doing. It doesn’t matter how big the commitment or who it was made to, I am called to be faithful. How would we like it if God gave into The Blahs?

“But God, you promised your provision.”
“Hmmm, yeah, not feeling it today. Sorry.”
Or
“But God, you said your angels will guard me in all my ways.”
“Well Gabe and Mike just weren’t feeling it today. Good luck, I’m sure you understand.”

We are a generation locked into only doing what feels good at the moment. What we don’t realize is that puts us right where satan wants us. Not only do we become unreliable to people around us, but we never grow, and we never help anyone besides ourselves. Is that really who we want to be? Is that really who God wants us to be? I realized my answer for both of those questions is NO. And I also realized something else. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but once you’ve taken it you get hungry for more. The Blahs will strike, they always do, but all I need to do is walk away from them and walk towards God. He’ll meet me every time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

God's Beauty Guide

There are beautiful people out there. I’m not even going to try and pretend there aren’t. People with flawless skin, gorgeous smiles, silky hair and figures they don’t even have to exercise for. Women who’ve never had to experience a break-out when they look in the mirror and whose teeth gleam white even with their morning coffee habit. Yep, there are naturally gorgeous women out there. And no, I am not one of them.

Beauty is not just skin deep. At least that’s what we tell each other and our daughters. Being a mom of two little girls, I desperately want them to believe it. I know it’s the state of our hearts that really shows our true beauty, but looking in the mirror I sometimes forget that.

And what do my daughter’s hear more clearly? When I tell them they’re hearts are what make them beautiful? Or, when I stand in front of the mirror and my day turns horrible because of that one hair that will not cooperate, suddenly making it a Bad Hair Day. And ladies, we all know what bad hair can do to our day. God says he gave us our hair as a ‘crowning glory’ but some days I seriously challenge that statement when I see the mop on my head.

Let me give you some background. I am a six-foot, long legged, not small boned, brunette with lily white skin in a land of classic, petite, blonde Dutch girls who get a beautiful golden glow in the summer and have toothpicks for bones. I was one of only two six-foot girls in my high school. The other girl was talented in sports. I trip over my own two feet (ask my hubby, he’s nicknamed me ‘Grace’). And, this was all before they made clothes for tall girls. Oh, let me take that back, I could shop in the Tall Girl shop where apparently only polyester could stretch long enough to cover our bodies.

So, I grew up comparing myself to these girls around me and falling miserably short. You know what happens when you’re insecure? You become a mean person. In my early teen years, I was terrible to people around me, but blessedly God reached down and changed me. It was a painful process, but one I will always be thankful for. He even gave me access to his Beauty Guide. It’s one I still refer to, some days more than others, and would be lost without.

God’s word tells us clearly about what true beauty is. Proverbs 31 starts to hint at it. Yes, I mentioned it. The Proverbs 31 woman. I’ve often wondered if he really needed to put that in the Bible. I mean, how are we ever going to live up to that chapter? But I think God knew what he was doing, (isn’t that a given?) when he made sure that chapter was included. Not to condemn us for not reaching it, but to encourage us and give us something to work towards. It was a ‘must’ when he wrote this Beauty Guide. And, I have to say it’s much better advice than what you’ll find in Glamour or Cosmo.

So let’s get back to Proverbs 31. Here it says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” See, ‘beauty is fleeting’. God shoots straight with us. Outward beauty is not a permanent thing, but the state of our hearts is. These old bodies aren’t going to last forever, so why not start working on what will remain, rather than what is fleeting?

That brought me to I Peter 3. Ohhh, listen to this and let it speak to your hearts!! “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.” I'm sorry, but that just begs an Amen!!

See, we can put all the pretty clothes and jewelry on ourselves that we want. We can have the best Hair Day in the world and lose those extra ten pounds all of us constantly talk about. But, that’s not where true beauty comes from, at least not in the Beauty Guide I’m reading! And the best part is, this Guide gives us a way to ‘unfading beauty’, not ‘fleeting beauty’ (this only means more to me as each birthday passes:) ).

Here’s the thing though. We may know the truth, it may even want to set us free, but it can’t do that unless we believe it’s the truth. We’re like a bunch of Ugly Ducklings, swimming around and comparing ourselves to the wrong thing and thinking we don’t fit in. All the while, our Father is watching us, beckoning us to compare ourselves to Him so we can see our true beauty. Let him be the mirror you use today, you’ll love the reflection you see.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Genetics

So I wrote last time about names we believe belong to us. God’s really been using this idea in my life lately, revealing different names to me in different ways. Guess I’m going to stick with that thought process for a bit. And, I realize that having this blog at times is going to call for some transparency. So here goes nothing.

I am not always such a happy, go-lucky gal. (Cover the gasps that just escaped, people) Nope. You know that verse in the Bible that talks about being ‘slow to anger’? (James 1:19) Yes well, that doesn’t always apply to me. Oh, it should, but it often doesn’t. And, it’s really not my fault. It’s in my genetic make-up…(at least this is what I told myself for a long time, long enough to believe it).

Alright, let’s look at that verse in James that I just talked about. Yes, it does say we’re supposed to be “slow to anger”. It also says we are to be “quick to hear and slow to speak”, and you really need all three. The problem was, this is not the way I was raised. Let me be clear, I did not grow up in an abusive home or one where I felt no love. But, we all have struggles, and a quick temper was one in my home. We are a reactionary family. And if I look back through the generations before me, I can see where this came from. Again, lots of love in my family, but we sure know how to speak first and listen later. It’s a trait many of us have had to work on, mainly me.

This trait does not come in handy as a harried mother of three little ones. Add to this the fact that we felt called to homeschool, and my husband has had to work some extra hours, oh and the family dog who barks a lot, just to name a few. Well, you get the picture that sometimes life can be a bit tense. I love my children, but never have I done anything harder than raising them. And at times, it feels like all three are ganging up, and they’ve honed in on my weak spots. It was on a day like this, several months back, where God again spoke to me with a wake up call.

The morning had been long. Neither of my two who are school age wanted to do any work, and they were very vocal about it. My youngest was clinging to me and whining to be picked up because she was tired. The dog was barking because he wanted to be played with and I had the distinct impression that I was failing as a mother because I could not teach my children – either manners, respect, or their math lesson. I lost it. I was not anywhere near the “quick to hear” or “slow to speak” that my tired children needed in that moment, but I was definitely quick to anger! And when I finally allowed the anger welling in me to spill over, it came out in loud and angry words. No swearing, no calling them names, just good old-fashioned yelling. And by the looks on their suddenly quiet faces, they heard me. Sure, they were finally quiet, but at what cost?

I took a deep breath, told them mommy needed a few minutes in her room, and headed down to my bedroom where I promptly fell on my face before God. It had been a long winter for me, I’d had my thyroid out and my hormones were everywhere. I laid these reasons out before God, along with the fact that my family for generations has fought with this temper issue. I knew it was wrong to snap at my children (we’re not talking about discipline here, which was needed at the time, but my spewing anger all over them). Yet, it was in my genetic code, I couldn’t change it, so how was He going to fix it?

Have you ever been smacked up side the head by God? I’m talking that friendly kind of tap you give someone when you’re amazed they just said something crazy and you want them to see it? Well, I had a mental picture of a ‘love shove’ from God as he said to me, “Wake up! I’ve already done something, when are you going to believe it?” I stopped my blubbering and sat up. He had my attention. Suddenly verses rang through my mind of the characteristics of God. Over and over again in the Bible God is described as “slow to anger”. Exodus 34:6, “…the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger…”, Numbers 14:18, “The Lord is slow to anger…”, Psalm 86:15, “You Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger,”…there are many more, too many to reference, and that right there is where He got me.

You see, I’d been believing that my genetic code predetermined me to be a quick tempered woman. There wasn’t much I could do. I’d slapped the name Short Temper on me and was living it. Only one problem with that, I was also a Christian. The Spirit of God lives within me, and his Spirit has no problem with his temper. I may have health issues, knobby knees, poor eyesight (I’d list my positives too, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now), and a host of other genetic issues that just come with the parents God blessed me with, but they are my earthly parents (a little thanks goes in here that they raised me to know You!). My spirit, however, belongs to my Heavenly Father, and the characteristics I possess in it come from his genetic code – AMEN!! He did not create me to be “quick to anger”. It is not even in his genes to pass on to me, so why was I allowing that belief to have any control over my life? Why did I believe that was who I was? Simple – I was letting the wrong person name me, not the One who’d created me and already knew my name before time began.

Well, I dried my tears and began to give thanks. I already had the tools I needed. I had my Father’s blood running through my spirit, and I was going to start acting like it. Oh, I am far, far from perfect, and thank God He loves me anyway. But I am not going to forget my spirit’s genetic code. I’m going to start feeding it and growing, reading my Bible, praying daily, taking time to listen before I speak, so I can look just like my Father. Amen again!!

Do you see the beauty of this? It’s not just me. We all have struggles, but we also all have the same Father, if we just believe in him. Once we do, his genes run through us, and we begin to take on his characteristics. Our spirit grows, just as our bodies do. Only, one day our bodies will die, but our spirits will remain! And I pray that when all that’s left of me is my spirit, I’ve grown into the spitting image of my Father. How beautiful will that be?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Names

My newly four year old daughter was chattering away in the backseat. I was concentrating on the song on our radio, not completely tuned into what she was saying. It took a second to realize she was calling herself Riley. Not that Riley isn’t an adorable name, but we had named her Raleigh. The problem with that name though is that everyone who hears it thinks we are saying Riley, and that is what they address her as. I however, wanted her to know her name was indeed, Raleigh.

Turning, I said, “No honey, your name is Raleigh.” To which she replied, “No, it’s Riley.” My smart comeback was, “no dear, it’s Raleigh.” Which garnered her loud response, “I’m RIIII-LEEE”, and this argument continued, me trying to convince her what her true name was, her already convinced it was something else. Finally, in exasperation, I turned and looked her in the eye with my ‘mom’ look, and said, “I named you child, and I know your name.” This quieted her, she seemed to take it in, and I believed I had convinced her. I turned my head back and sat for all of two seconds before her sweet voice called out, “It’s Riley.”

In that moment, God spoke directly to my heart. How many times have we believed the names others have given us, or the names we’ve given ourselves? We listen to the voices, we believe we are called something different than we were born to be and all the while God is calling out to us, “I named you child, and I know your name.”

This thought stayed with me, pinging around in my head as I listed names we call ourselves in place of what God called us when he created us. I began to wonder, did our Heavenly Father have a name for us, just as our earthly parents did. Then certain verses started to jump out at me.

Did you know that there are at least four different places where people are given new names in the Bible. In Genesis 17, God renames Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah as he reveals to them His plan for their lives. In Genesis 32, after Jacob wrestles with God, he is renamed Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus tells Simon he is Peter. Each of their new names told them what God planned to do through them. It also revealed to me that God had a name for them other than their earthly name. Maybe he did for me too.

I continued to look and I came to two verses that I saw in a different light. The first was the verse from Psalms 139 of how God knits us together in our mother’s womb, how before we are even born, all our days were ordained for us, written in his book. As someone who loves to write, this verse intrigued me in a new way. When I have a story to tell, I create names for the people in that story. I don’t write them in my book without first naming them. God is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), surely that Author named us when he wrote us in his book.

The second verse that spoke out to me was Psalm 147:4, which says “He counts the number or stars; He gives names to them all.” Wow! Well, back up a minute. Earlier I mentioned some of the name changes that occur in the Bible. One of those was Abram to Abraham, which means “Father of many”. In Genesis 15, God had Abram look to the sky and told him “Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them…so shall your offspring be.” He was making Abram a father to the nations and comparing his offspring to the very stars that He had already created, counted and named.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I believe if God has named an infinite number of stars, if He knows each one and can call them by name, then surely my friend, He has named you, and He knows your name. Isn’t it time you start listening for it?

Monday, July 19, 2010

What If?

Well ok. I’m starting a blog. Why, you may ask, or what will you be saying? Well, I haven’t quite figured all that out yet. But here’s what I have figured out.

I am thirty-six years old. I’ve had many passions in life; singing, writing, ministry….yet I’ve never thrown myself into any of them. I’ve spent the better part of my life thinking, What if? What if I tried out for that play? What if I tried to publish that book? What if I went to seminary? What if I threw out all those thoughts that are spinning in my head? To be followed by; What if they laugh? What if it’s awful? What if I fail?

Never have I asked, What if I succeed? Instead I’ve been ruled by the fear of failure.

It’s funny. When I was young, I was scared of the dark. I was scared to be home alone, or frightened to walk across that dark campus. Those were, in my mind, legitimate fears that I could battle. I armed myself with God’s word. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7)” and from Psalms, “I will not be afraid of the terror by night, nor the arrow that strikes by day” (Psalms 91:5). These verses, and a lot of prayer, allowed me to be free of those fears. Soon, I felt confident of God’s protection in my life. Never did I recognize that spirit of fear was still lurking, and it was keeping me from discovering God’s purpose in my life.

Well, I’ve recently recognized that I’m still allowing that fear to play into my decisions and my thoughts. Along with that realization came the decision that I don’t want to allow fear to stop whatever God may want to do with my life. I’ve given enough years to my What-ifs?

So, will I fail sometimes? Yes! But isn’t that where God teaches us some of our biggest lessons? And has He ever failed to reach down, brush us off and set us on our feet again? No one likes failure, but maybe, just maybe, we can handle it a bit better when we start to recognize that our failures are what draw us closer to God. Without them we would never be aware of our inborn need for His hand in our lives. If we succeeded at everything in our lives, would we ever call out to Him? Not to mention, it sure keeps us humble when we fail.

So, I’m going to start this blog. Will many people read it? Maybe not. I can count on at least three people. My mom, my best friend, and one alternating curious reader (fill in your name, whoever you are). But, I felt the nudge to do this, and just once I want to say, What if I succeed? instead of What if I fail?. I figure just by taking the leap to put this out there, and listening to what God’s calling me to do, I’ve already succeeded. Take that, Fear!