Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Small beginnings

“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

Well, I have begun the process of working on a novel.  It's not something I have ever done before, and it's actually something that feels impossible to me.  Therefore, it actually seems more probable to me that God would use me in this way, since it is a desire of my heart, but I know it can only be done with His help.  So if I am to succeed, I know it will be because God has done it, not me.  I don't expect to be on any bestseller lists anytime soon, lol, nor am I sure I would even write something that would be more than self-published.   But my hope is to write something my children will enjoy, and just because it is another mountain to conquer.  In the meantime, prayers are appreciated.   

I thought I would also share the verse that has been in my mind tonight. I am thinking it's the Holy Spirit's way of encouraging me.   

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.  -Zechariah 4:10

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Putting Jesus in a box

You need to separate your faith from your life, they say.  This Jesus stuff, it's alright on Sunday morning, but come on, Monday morning?  That's the time to live your life and go to work and school kids and do your thing.  God is alright for Sundays, but it's best to just relegate him to weekends and leave the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays for the rest of your life.  Let's just compartmentalize it all, shall we?  Let's put Jesus in the box we like him in, and leave him there, and maybe pull him out on Christmas and Easter, or when tragedy strikes.  Anytime but a normal boring weeknight. 
God doesn't care what you eat or where you work or how you spend your money, so long as he gets the little bit you have leftover after a week of running and doing.  It's like we forget that we're not human DOINGS; we are human BEINGS.

Sometimes, I feel like a freak.  I think of him all the time; by HIM, I mean HIM, the maker of my soul.  The one who formed space and time and put it in a box and presented it to mankind.  The one who loves me and knows me better than I know myself.  I am hungry for him, to know him more.  I am weak and ignorant and helpless, and for the first time in a long time I am OKAY WITH THAT, because I finally see it's HOW it's SUPPOSED TO BE.  I wasn't made to have all the answers or be all things to all people.  I was only meant to know the one who does and is, and share the light he puts inside me.  

I am a mess, let me tell you.  But I am a better woman as a mess than I ever was when I was a woman who thought she had to have it all together.  I thank God that he delivered me from that pit of pride, and that he continues to do so.  It's a beautiful thing to see that even when I stumbled, as I did so many years ago, that even in the stumbling God had my back. 

I know what it is to be 21 years old, to be pregnant outside of marriage, and a youth minister to boot.  I know what it is to feel rejected by people you had hoped would love you, but I also know what it is to be accepted and loved by people you were sure would reject you.  I have felt the sting of wearing my sin like a public badge, a scarlet letter.  Of feeling there is nothing you can do that will ever wash you clean again, and all the plans and purposes you thought God had for your life are so broken and bruised you can never recover them again.  That all of life just becomes this vain attempt to at least not screw things up worse, to just not be any more of a disappointment than you already are.  To feel that you are no longer useful to God or yourself, and maybe if you just keep your head down you'll get through to the end of the song and dance called life without humiliating yourself further.  I have been that woman. 

But praise God, I know now that those are just lies.  Life in Christ is never about being perfect.  It's about being PERFECTED BY HIM.  It's about HIM working in me, setting me free from myself and the prisons of expectations about what I have to be to be loved by Him.  And while I will never say I was proud of my sin, I can say I am proud of my GOD.  A God who redeems brokenness, who took my sin and turned it from emptiness into one of the greatest blessings in my life: my daughter Kate.  To see how before that moment of pain, I would have continued to do my best to minister to people in my own strength.  But after, I was too broken. And though it took years for God to open my eyes to all of it, I see alot of it now.  I see his love and his grace and his compassion and how he takes broken things and makes them strong in Him. 

So when I see how in our culture we want to compartmentalize God, it makes me weep.  NO, I SAY! If God is not God in your life on Monday morning in the office or in your home with small children, then WHEN is he God to you at all?  Sunday is wonderful.  I cherish a day of rest, and contemplation and study.  But it's Monday morning when my soul is thirsty.  It's Thursday night at dinnertime when the kids are whining when I need Him to be real and there and guarding my heart and teaching me what it means to LOVE unconditionally and speak kindly.  It's Friday night, around the dinner table, when I want him there with me, savoring his word as a family or praying together or just laughing together and loving and BEING.  Because I for one am tired of all the DOING. 

And I want him OUT of the box.  I want more of Jesus and less of me.  I want to let go of my idea of what He has to be for me to say I will worship him, and worship him as he IS, which is always better than I come up with anyway.  I want the fullness of His word,and not just the verse that suits me today.  I want to be uncomfortable with the hugeness of God and the smallness of myself and run back to him just the same.  Because he is it.  He is all I will ever want or need.  And he is MORE than ENOUGH.

I want to be like John, pressed against his breast, listening to the heartbeat of Almighty God.  I want to know him and the power of his resurrection, not just to raise the dead in body, but to raise the spiritually dead.  I want to be like Moses, who spoke to him face to face.  Who stood before him, and knew he was holy and trembled.   Like Paul, who was once Saul, but no more.  Who knew that EVERYTHING else, all the STUFF we run after, it's just DUNG compared to knowing HIM. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts 12- The Power of Prayer

This morning my quiet time was in Acts 12.  I am going to post the whole thing, because I see it as a beautiful snapshot of life (Don't bail on me yet. Read it with me, hear me out, and let me know what you think.):

Herod’s Violence to the Church

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

Peter Freed from Prison

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”
16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death.
And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

Herod’s Violent Death

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.
21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Barnabas and Saul Appointed

25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

Did you notice this chapter begins with Herod's violence to the church, but the story ends with God's judgement on Herod?  It seems poetic, almost, in a weird sort of way.  The man who tried to position himself in the seat of God over others, to execute them and bring violence to them, comes to his own violent end when he steals God's glory.  The other thing I noticed is that God did not supernaturally intervene in the deat of the apostle James, but he does supernaturally intervene to rescue Peter.  I don't understand that, but isn't that kind of how it is in life?  Aren't there times as Christians we fellow believers suffer--maybe the loss of a child, maybe persecution, maybe sickness,  maybe financial struggles--and God atleast initially appears to be silent and unmoved?  I say "appears", because, truly, that's all it is.  I don't believe God is ever truly silent or unmoved by any true injustice; the only reason we can arrogantly assume so, is because we live within the confines of time and space, and we can't see the end from the beginning.  I do not believe any injustice will ultimately go unpunished.  I don't believe God even allows tragedy to touch the life of a believer, without knowing it will ultimately work for our good and His glory.  But isn't that how we think sometimes?  In the span of a couple of verses, God allows the martyrdom of James, then he goes on to supernaturally rescue Peter.  And sandwiched between these two events is one key scripture, verse 5:  
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

Now, I honestly don't know how much the church prayed for James before he died.  Maybe there was little time.  Maybe it took them by surprise; often tragedies do.  They never take God by surprise though.  I am seeing that God is good, and I truly believe that if it would have been necessary for the church and better for James, God would have still stepped in to save him.  But God does let us know here that prayer is a powerful thing, because it seems to be a key thing in this situation.  So God's sovereignty, while it's clearly seen in scripture, does not negate God's call to His people to actions of service, including and ESPECIALLY prayer.  God wants to talk to us.  He wants us to talk to him, and tell him our needs and questions. Mostly, I think, for us.  So that WHEN he answers prayer, we can recognize HE is the one who did the answering.  Then, HE gets the glory, NOT us.

And it's reassuring to me to see the church's response.  Did it require great faith for God to answer their prayers?  Apparently not, based on the response of the people when Peter showed up at their door.  The poor guy had the door slammed in his face, while some of them thought he had to be a ghost!  It's pretty comical, actually. But God sobers us pretty quickly, when we realize that the cost of his answering the prayer for Peter's rescue was the lives of the soldiers guarding him.  I know to us, they are nameless, faceless people.  But those were real people, who had families, mothers, perhaps children and wives.  They may have never knew that those lives were the cost of spreading the gospel.  But they were.  Because, ultimately,  that's where this chapter leads us, doesn't it?  It sums it up in  verse 24:

 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

That verse says alot.  All of these events had a purpose, and we can know God's purposes and plans will come to pass.  Good WILL triumph over evil.  We don't have to bite our nails as we watch people hurt each other,or even just endure tragedy,  wondering if there will never be a reckoning for pain.  We can know with assurance that there will be a day when accounts are settled, and all is set right.  God gives us just a tiny snapshot of this in this passage. 

I will say I am NO theologian or teacher.  I have never been to seminary.  I am just a layperson, a saint trying to follow God.  But I know this: God uses His word to speak to His people, and He will never contradict His word.  And what I see here are both the principle of God's sovereignty in our lives, along with the call and the assurance that our ACTIONS have ETERNAL significance.   When we read the story in Acts 12, we see God's judgement of Herod as well as His deliverance of Peter.  There are no petititions or prayers for judgement noted in the text; just God sovereignly acting.  So we can also trust that we don't have to be anxious in our prayers, thinking that if we forget to pray about something, that God will forget to take care of it.  Nope.  We should pray fervently and always for all things, but not anxiously or because we are trying to take control of the fate of the universe, as if we ourselves were God. When we pray, let us pray trusting God, and anticipating the great and mighty things He will STILL do for His people, to bring HIM glory.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ramblings in Acts

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men."
-Acts 5:27-29 

Well, I have begun working my way through Acts, and this was the passage that really grabbed my attention the other day. And even though it's not rocket science, I think it bears repeating:  if you have to choose between obeying God or obeying men, pick God.  Every. single. Time.  Just be sure it's God you're following, and not your own fleshly desires.  

That is what I have been thinking on this week.  It is of the utmost importance in my walk with God that I hear FROM HIM about what He wants from me and for my life, and that I not just take my cues from others around me.  
In this passage, we see Peter addressing the Jewish religious leaders.  These were respected members of the community, and leaders in the synagogue.  If Peter had had anything less than a definitive, divine encounter with God, I think it would have been nearly impossible for him to stand against them in what they were telling him to do.  The Peter we see in the gospels, who denied Christ 3 times, would have cowered under the pressure. But that Peter was gone, and we see here guys that are so rooted and grounded in Christ that nothing will sway them from the Great Commission.  Jesus said to preach the gospel, and they are preaching it.  Whether it is a convenient message or not. Whether it makes religious people comfortable or not.   The message of Christ will not be compromised.

At the same time, they are firm and resolute, but they are NOT meanspirited.  I see here humble men who are obedient to Christ, but not out for personal gain or wordly influence.  Today I was reading in Acts 8 about Simon the Sorcerer, who asked if he could buy the ability to lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit.  Peter's response in Acts 8:20-21 is unflinching:

But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!  You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God...."

So how am I sure it's God I am following?  Well, the biggest thing I see is the most helpful: God has given me His Word, aka the Bible.  The more I read and study His word, the easier it will be for me to recognize when he is truly speaking to me.  I don't believe there is anything God is going to speak to me that is going to compromise His word.  And secondly, I am going to continue to PRAY and to ASK for HELP.   Because I know the word, I know it also says in James that we can get more wisdom if we ask for it.  It says in James 1:2-8:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.   For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

In other words, Count your trials joy, because they are going to produce godly fruit of character in your life.  And if you need wisdom, ASK for it.  But ask with an attitude of trusting God.  You have to make up your mind that God is good, and that He is trustworthy ahead of time if you expect God to answer you, I think.  At least that's what I take away from this passage.  

The third way I know I am following God, after these first two, has to do with my heart attitude, I think.  This is something you, again, have to ask God to reveal to you.  When we are choosing to obey God, we should be doing it in an attitude of submission and love for other people, not out of pride.  I ask God to show me my heart pretty often; I have to say, it's one of those prayers that you can't get mad when he shows up and DOES IT.  I am pretty sure everyone has areas of their heart that aren't pretty---that are under renovation, so to speak.  Or atleast they ought to be, if they are not.  So God will always have something to show us where we can improve in our attitudes, or sin that we should repent of and has no place in our life.   But hopefully, when we face an area of life where we feel we must choose between serving God or man, we will find that our heart in that area is right before God and our attitude toward those we view as opponents of God is right as well.  We are called to love our enemies, even if we have to confront them with difficult truth.

The last passage which really spoke to me this week is the first part of Acts 8, verses 1-4, immediately following the passage discussing Stephen's martyrdom:

Now Saul was consenting to his death.
At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 
 I love what it's saying here:  that the horrible event of persecution was ultimately the way God used to spread the gospel.  It was not an accident.  God only allows that kind of pain when he has a greater purpose in mind.  I am seeing that more and more.  None of our pain is wasted in God's economy, if we consecrate it to Him; ultimately, we WILL have the final victory in Him.  I find great encouragement in that fact.

Anyways, that's what running around in my brain this week that I thought I would share.  I'm still working through my life goals/manifesto, but have nothing more to share with that right now.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Manifesto, Part II: Working through Boundaries

"...You're an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You're not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it's hopeless
That's when He reminds You
That you're an overcomer
You're an overcomer

Everybody's been down
Hit the bottom, hit the ground
Oh, you're not alone
Just take a breath, don't forget
Hang on to His promises
He wants You to know

The same Man, the Great I am
The one who overcame death
Is living inside of You
So just hold tight, fix your eyes
On the one who holds your life
There's nothing He can't do
He's telling You...." -Mandisa, Overcomer

Well, today I finished up my quiet time study in the gospels.  Tomorrow I will start Acts.  I have been frustrated the last two weeks, because it seems I have been moving backwards instead of forwards, spiritually.  I have not been diligent in my study of the Word these last two weeks, and I have wasted more time than I should have just reading things on the internet of no consequence.  I guess it's hilarious that I wrote that post on a media diet, then binged myself on less than excellent time wasters.  I have never pretended to be someone who has mastered all this stuff, though, in my defense.  I have only ever tried to share my journey with others, and I am as much learning and growing as anyone.  

So two days ago, I sat down and made a list of boundaries for myself with regards to how I spend my time online and with electronic devices.  I prefer to use the word "boundaries" over rules, because it has the connotation to me of limits that are to help me, rather than just more rules to hold me back. (That is just how the word "rules" feels to me; it's a personal hang up, I freely admit.  I suppose it just shows how far I have to go with regards to humbling myself in accepting rightful submission, even for my good in certain situations. But I digress.)  Anyway, I talked to my kids, came up with penalties of losing devices for two days, and have humbly asked for my children to help me by calling me out if I cross the boundaries I have set for myself.  All of this, actually goes back to my manifesto.  Here is the beginning of my manifesto, or creed, if you will:  
To live my life in such a way as will bring glory to my Father in Heaven, and that I would reach the end of my life and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”; that by observing my life, those around me would be able to testify that the grace of God was made manifest to them; that I would be faithful with the ministries God has given me, and a good stewards of the talents and gifts the Lord has bestowed upon me, to the service of the Kingdom of God; that my ministry to others would be authentic and true, and that those most deeply impacted for the good would be those closest to me, as a testimony of the work of God in and through my life.

This is what I want for my life.  And that goal doesn't happen by accident.  I see so clearly how all the little decisions we make eventually add up to the big picture.  I can talk all day about writing a novel, and having a vision for a godly legacy for my family, but in the end the actions I make each day are going to determine if I ever grow into the kind of person that I want to be.  So anyways, here is where I am at today.