Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Praise You in this Storm

"Be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Hebrews 13:5

The other day I was sitting in my car and the Casting Crowns song "Praise You in this Storm" came on. It has always been one of my favorite songs since the first time I ever heard it. As I was driving this morning, it came on again. I just love the words.

It also reminded me of something I read lately about the places where God leads us. Usually when we picture the Lord leading, it's in places like mountaintops and places filled with peace and serenity. He leads us beside still waters. But sometimes storms come and He leads us through those as well. Other times he leads us through the wilderness.

Lorraine Ezell of About the Master's Business Ministry reminds, us, "We have to keep three things in mind when we are being led into places that are not of our liking or our desire: 1). All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. 2). He loves us and we can trust His love for us - so it will be well. 3). He will never leave us but will walk every step of the way with us."

I've been led through places I haven't wanted to go many times, often kicking and screaming as I went. But as I look back there has never been one instance where God has left me stranded to fend for myself. He was always right there with me, even if I didn't recognize him at the time.

I wish I could remember where I read this but I read something recently about life sometimes being like one of those abstract pictures that were popular in the 90s. You know, the ones where you didn't really know what it was when you first looked at it unless you blurred your eyes. After a couple of minutes, it would finally come into view and you could see the picture clearly. Like this one:

It took me a few minutes to see it, but I think there is a mama bird on the right looking at several little baby birds on the left. The analogy was that this is what life is like sometimes.

What we see may be a big storm. But if we look closely, sometimes in hindsight, we realize that God was really in the storm, leading us through it. Praise You in the storm, Lord.

Praise You in This Storm

words by Mark Hall (Casting Crowns)

I was sure by now, God You would have reached down

and wiped our tears away,

stepped in and saved the day,

But once again, I say amen

and it's still raining.

As the thunder rolls

I barely hear You whisper through the rain,

"I'm with you."

And as Your mercy falls

I raise my hands and praise

the God who gives and takes away

Chorus

And I'll praise You in this storm

and I will lift my hands

for You are who You are

no matter where I am.

And every tear I've cried

You hold in Your hand.

You never left my side

and though my heart is torn

I will praise You in this storm.

I remember when I stumbled in the wind

You heard my cry to You

and raised me up again.

My strength is almost gone. How can I carry on

if I can't find you?

And as the thunder rolls

I barely hear You whisper through the rain

"I'm with you."

And as Your mercy falls

I raise my hands and praise

the God who gives and takes away.


Chorus

I lift my eyes unto the hills

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

I lift my eyes until the hills

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Chorus

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Gift of Hearing

"But He said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." Luke 11:28

Today's post was forwarded to me by a friend at work. I usually don't open random forwards, however the title intrigued me. What was inside was really good so I wanted to repost it.

Recently a question was presented to me about what I considered my greatest gift. When we think about the "gifts" that God has given us, we usually think about the ministry gifts, spiritual gifts or motivational gifts that are listed in the Bible. But as I pondered the question, the gift that I think is the greatest is not listed among these. For me personally it would be the "ability to hear what the Spirit is saying." Having the ability to hear God speak is a great gift.

The most repeated phrase used by Jesus was, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." It is also the most repeated phrase in the whole Bible. Because it is repeated so many times means that this is something that is important to the Lord and He wants us to know. Hearing what the Spirit says is imperative to not only fulfilling the ministry in which the Lord has called you but also to your spiritual well being. God reveals things to us in many ways, but the most common way is by speaking to us. How wonderful that the Lord will speak to us! He doesn't have to. He could have left us on our own to try to figure out what to do. He could have not spoken to us at all but just sent "signs" to convey what He wanted us to know.

I was recently reminded that sound is light that has been slowed down. We can't hear light because it travels to fast for our ears to hear. God is light and we could not hear him with our spiritual ears had He not "slowed" down so we could. When Jesus, who is the Light, came to earth in human form, the Light was "slowed down" and we could now hear the voice of the Father. ("This is my beloved Son, hear Him." - Luke 9:35). Now the Spirit, the voice of God, has come to be here with us and dwell in us so that we can hear what the Lord is saying to us.

If God would put Himself on a level where we could hear what He was saying, it means He wants to speak to us and us be able to hear Him. Again, I consider that a great gift. The result of having this gift - the ability to hear what the Spirit is saying - will be a fruitful life and knowing what the will of God is.

Have a great day. The ability to hear what the Lord is saying to us is a great gift that we should never take for granted.

For further reading:
Hebrews 1:2
John 1:5, 7, 14; 9:5

Okay, this is me again... Jenny. This is something that someone prayed for me several years ago... that I would have eyes to see and ears to hear. And now I can see that prayer being answered. Because of that, this is the most common prayer that I pray for others, especially non-believers. The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Unless they have eyes to see and ears to hear, it will remain foolishness to them. But our Lord is One that can restore sight to the blind, and make the deaf man hear again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

House Hunters

"You see, at just the right time..." Romans 5:6

Last spring I decided it might be a good time to look at a house to buy. At that time, the housing prices had dropped and there was a tax credit available to new homeowners. I also found out that I qualified for a first time homebuyers program as well which would pay my downpayment for me as well as part of the closing costs. Sounded like a good deal. So I started looking. I found one house that I liked a lot and ended up putting in an offer. But the sellers countered more than I was willing to pay. At that point, there weren't any other houses that I loved at the time so I decided to rent for another year and then maybe try again the next spring.

Well, now it's spring again and I'm debt free and have a little money saved up. I had been feeling like maybe I would still wait one more year but figured I would just look and see what was out there. I found that housing prices had dropped about $30,000 from where they were priced last year and the interest rates had dropped as well. So I decided that if I found a deal that was too good to pass up, that I might buy this year. I found one house online that I absolutely loved and was very reasonably priced, so I contacted my realtor friend to see if she could show it to me. Turned out that it was a short sale and I wasn't sure I wanted to go that route. I was bummed. But that was when the home buying bug bit me. "I'll just see what else is out there," I thought.

I did end up finding another house that I really liked on the first day of looking. But I didn't feel like I should just choose the first house I found so I kept looking. But I kept going back to this one particular house. I prayed about what I should do. God was silent. So then I started thinking again about this devotional that I had read a year or so ago in My Utmost for His Highest that talked about how when you become so intimate with God, you don't always have to ask Him what His will is because you become so in step that you can trust your own senses because He has given them to you and they are His. I wondered if this was the case in this instance and I started trying to find this devotional again. (This is the one I talked about in my post yesterday). I searched and searched but couldn't find it.

Well, about a week ago, I decided to put in an offer on it. I put in my best offer and decided ahead of time that if they didn't accept the offer as I sent it, that it was not the house for me. And I asked God to not let them accept my offer if this was really not what I was supposed to be doing. Well, immediately after I submitted the offer I felt a wave of panic come over me. What had I just done? Am I really ready to buy a house? That is a huge commitment. Should I wait until I save up a little more? What if this? What if that? The feeling of panic rather than a feeling of excitement was concerning to me. Was I just having cold feet? Was this just normal apprehension because of this huge responsibility I was about to take on? Or was I really not supposed to be doing this? I had no idea. And God wasn't talkin'!

A couple of days ago I talked to my realtor and she had found out from the bank (it was a bank owned property) that they were very likely going to accept my offer as-is with the only exception that they wanted the home inspection done within 7 days. So I should have been excited, right? They weren't countering on the price or terms. I had prayed that they would not accept my offer if this was not the right house. But I still couldn't shake this fear that was lingering in my mind. I continued to pray about it. Nothing. I didn't know what to do. I really did like the house and the location was exactly where I want to be.

That was when I found the devotional I had been looking for. Here is an excerpt of what it said:

"Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing...?" Genesis 18:17

The Delights of His Friendship. Genesis 18 brings out the delight of true friendship with God, as compared with simply feeling His presence occasionally in prayer. This friendship means being so intimately in touch with God that you never even need to ask Him to show you His will. It is evidence of a level of intimacy which confirms that you are nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you have a right-standing relationship with God, you will have a life of freedom, liberty, and delight; You are God's will. And all of your commonsense decisions are actually His will for you, unless you sense a feeling of restraint brought on by a check in your spirit. You are free to make decisions in the light of a perfect and delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will lovingly produce that sense of restraint. Once He does, you must stop immediately.

I withdrew my offer yesterday. I had been looking for that devotional even before I started looking at houses again. It kept coming to my mind and I wanted to find it. And then moreso when I started house hunting. But God didn't let me find it when I wanted to. He waited until the exact time that I really needed to read it. It was a complete confirmation to the fear I had been feeling. That was a feeling of restraint brought on by a check in my spirit. Immediately after I withdrew my offer, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

That decision was confirmed yet again when I heard back from my realtor. The bank had come in with their official counter and they still wanted the inspection done within 7 days as they previously stated, but now they also wanted me to bring an extra $500 to closing. I had already determined what I would spend and had told myself if they came back any amount over that, I would walk away. I find it interesting that I didn't find this out until after I had made the decision to withdraw. This is what I had been asking God for... that they wouldn't accept my offer if it wasn't the house for me. But instead, He showed me that we really do have an intimate relationship. And because of that, I can trust my "gut." That made me feel really good that He would see me in this way. He didn't answer my prayer that they would reject my offer until after I had realized this. "You see, at just the right time..."

Who knows. Maybe next year will be my house buying year. For this year, I'm going to enjoy being debt free and the peace of mind that it brings.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recalculating

"The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." Exodus 14:14

There was a new Ikea store opening near my town a couple of years ago and I really wanted to go and check it out. We had one nearby when I lived in Virginia, and I loved shopping there. It's such a cool and unique place! So my mom and I grabbed the GPS one Saturday since we didn't know exactly how to get there and we headed over. Well, it turns out that there is a toll road right near the Ikea and being a cheapskate, I didn't want to pay that hefty $1 toll when we were so close I could almost see the store. Since I knew we were only blocks away I figured we could find our way around the toll road. So on we went.

A couple of seconds after passing the entryway to the toll road we heard the GPS exclaim "recalculating!" I figured the handly little device would figure out a way around the toll and we would be gold. We made a turn here, a turn there and guess where it brought us? Back to the toll road!

We ended up finally making it to our original destination of Ikea but because it was only the second weekend after opening, the line to even get in the parking lot was around the building and they were shuttling people to alternate parking lots. After all that, we decided to just turn around and go home. This time we followed the directions on the GPS!

Why do I always have to make things harder than they really need to be? For the last couple of months I have been thinking of this daily devotional I had read one time in My Utmost for His Highest. But because there are 365 different devotionals in that small little book, I didn't know where to even begin looking for it. I skimmed the index trying to get a hint of where it might be and then I looked up every entry that might be it. It wasn't. Then I googled it. I found some other good ones, but not the one I had been looking for. But I still couldn't get this devotional out of my mind. So finally, I decided to pray and ask God to show me where it was. I knew if He really meant for me to read it, then somehow I would find it. He answered, "Sure, I'll show you." Well, I didn't really hear that with my ears at the time but in hindsight, I now know that was His answer. I had spent all that time searching when all I really had to do was just ask. Like I said, why do I always have to make things harder than they really need to be?

I found it this morning. I read the devotional for today, March 22nd, but then for some reason I turned back to the one on March 20th. I had been up half the night and into the morning of March 20th with a sick child and I was exhausted by the time it was time to get up. I didn't end up reading my devotional that morning. So I read it this morning. Guess what?!! It was that one! The one I had asked God to show me! Cool! Maybe I'll post it seperately because it's a good one.

Doing things myself and of my own will? Costly. That's the hard way. Asking God instead and listening for His response? Priceless. That's the easy way. It just seems like it's the opposite. Asking God and waiting by faith is really hard. But if we could see what God can see, we would realize how that is really the easier way. Doing things myself seems easier, but having to learn from mistakes really makes it harder because then you have to go back and redo them the right way.

I remember Tony Evans gave a really good illustration one time about that. He said that trusting God is like using a GPS. If you're following directions on a GPS, it will allow you to go off course. The GPS will recalculate a new direction but it will still get you to the same original destination.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Valley Girls

"The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him..." Exodus 19:20-21

I love the mountains. I remember one summer my family spent a week in a mountaintop town in North Carolina. It was beautiful. My sister and I had each brought a friend along and we had an awesome time. We stayed in this nice and big log cabin and spent the days playing badmitton in the front yard and sliding down the rocks of the mountain where a stream ran through. And one day, we went to this little amusement park where they had a roller coaster that went out over the side of the mountain! Okay, well that part was a little scary, but still lots of fun! Here's a picture of us from that week.

I would love to live in the mountains of North Carolina someday. Although, while it is physically possible to live on a mountaintop, it's not really true to life is it? The mountaintop is where we hear from God. It's where we learn. It's where we gain valuable insight. But it's not where we live and grow. Growth usually takes place in the valley as God uses those insights and wisdom and turns them into character through our experiences.

Several weeks ago I had this sort of epiphany and it was like insights were flying at me from so many different directions, I almost didn't know where to put them all. And now it's just kind of quiet. In fact, it's been over a week since I've written an original post on my blog. I love writing. I miss writing when I'm not doing it. But I guess after spending that time on the mountaintop, I'm just sort of... tired.

There is a time to stand on the mountaintop, and a time to live in the valley. I would love to live on the mountaintop all the time, but I can't force myself to stay there. So right now I'm just feeling like it's a time to rest. I know God will take me back to the top of the mountain again sometime, but right now I'm fine being a valley girl. Sometimes that's easier to say than others. Resting in the valley is much easier than going through trials in the valley.

Still, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Lord, whatever the purpose of times spent in the valley, I pray that you would be my guide through each one and that my eyes would be stayed on You. I know that You are working everything for Your ultimate glory. I also pray for my dear friends who are going through valleys right now. You know each one by name and each circumstance intimately. I pray that Your presence would be felt, seen, and heard by each one as You carry them (me) through knowing that You who began a good work in me (us) will carry it on to completion. Thank You, Lord for your neverending care.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Trust in Numbers

Today's post is from the March 11th devotional from Proverbs 31 Ministries by Marybeth Whalen.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." Psalm 20:7 (NIV)

Recently my husband and I were discussing our ongoing efforts to build up our emergency fund. A series of setbacks that included car repairs, replacing an HVAC system and my husband's six month unemployment had left little in our emergency savings. It seemed every time we got a little bit of money in, it went right back out. I voiced my frustration to my husband. "If we could just get a certain amount in there," I said, "We wouldn't have to worry anymore."

The idea of not worrying appealed to me. I wanted something to stay the same. I wanted to be confident and stable. This all sounded like a good idea.

A few days later I was reading the story of Gideon, the man God called a mighty warrior even as he was hiding out, scared of his enemies. In Judges 7 God finally convinces Gideon to assemble an army of Israelites to face their enemy. I am sure Gideon was pleased and surprised when 32,000 men responded to his battle cry. I imagine the strength of their numbers was a comfort to this less than confident soldier.

And then God told him to cut the army down in size. Then cut it again. God cut the army's numbers from 32,000 down to just 300. Contrast that with Judges 7:12, where the enemy troops are described as "thick as locusts." I can only imagine what Gideon was feeling. He had to think that more was better, that surely having a large army to count on was a good idea.

As I read this passage I thought of another time a soldier wanted to know the numbers he was dealing with. First Chronicles 21:1 tells us that King David was enticed by Satan to count his men. He knew that if he could get David's focus on the numbers instead of on God, he'd gain access to David's thoughts and trust.

These two biblical examples were a good wakeup call. God was trying to teach me to stop trusting in numbers - specifically in bank account numbers. He was gently reminding me that - as good as an emergency fund is - I can really only trust in Him. I didn't need to worry about my balance or my battlefield. I only had to believe He would supply all I need.

God calls us mighty, even as we are hiding out. God calls us powerful, even as our forces dwindle. God calls us wealthy, even as we are fretting about finances. God majors in the impossible. He can overpower terrible odds because He's free to shine His light on our situation. Are your numbers looking grim? Let your lack invite His might.

Don't trust in numbers that change like the tides. Trust in the unchanging God. Watch Him work against the odds. Just ask Gideon, who won a decisive victory with his 300 men. You can be victorious too, no matter what the numbers say.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Please Heed the Warning

"For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of sorrows." Matthew 24:7-8

Let me just preface this by saying that I do not intend to convey this post as prophetic in light of recent world headlines in the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan this morning (afternoon in Japanese time). But reading the headlines and watching CNN did make me think about life and the ultimate end that this world will face one day, whether that is sometime soon or hundreds of years from now. The Bible says "but of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." (Matthew 24:36).

When I was pregnant with my first son, I had what they call Braxton Hicks contractions for about a month before his birth. They weren't painful, but I definitely felt something. It was just like a quick tightening of my belly. Normally, if you poke a pregnant woman's round belly, it is still somewhat "squishy" feeling. But during contractions, it gets hard as a rock. I had these Braxton Hicks contractions off and on. I knew I wasn't ready to go into immediate labor, but they did signal that the much awaited birth of my firstborn son was not far off. And even then, I ended up having to be induced because he was late. I never really went into real labor on my own.

Now my second pregnancy and labor was different. I had no clue it was coming anytime soon. I never had Braxton Hicks contractions this time around. It wasn't even time for him to come yet. I was only 36 weeks pregnant with 4 more weeks to go. I hadn't packed my hospital bags or anything. Imagine my surprise at 4am one morning when my water broke while I was laying in my nice warm bed! Even when I made my way to the hospital and waited in the triage area for a room to be ready, I still didn't have any pain and not even the slightest of contractions. It was like all was well, life as usual, nothing to see here. In fact, it was a couple of hours before I started to feel anything and even then they had to give me Pitocin to speed things up a little.

Regardless of when it will happen, Christ IS going to return one day. And it is going to happen like it did when my water broke that early October morning in 2007. Suddenly.

Today people in Japan got up, showered and got dressed and went to work as usual. Maybe they were sitting at their desk checking their email. Maybe parents were just picking their children up from school. Maybe they even had dinner plans for this evening. They were completely unsuspecting that suddenly the earth would open up later in the day and all "hell" would break loose. If they had known what was about to happen, I would imagine the airlines would have been pretty busy today. But now it's too late, even for those who have survived and want to get out.

And then there are the people in Hawaii and California and the entire west coast of the U.S. It's still early in the day here and there are now warnings issued. People know it's coming and have a chance to prepare and move to safety. When I gave birth to my first son, it was a scheduled induction. I'd had my bags packed already. My parents made the trip up to prepare for the event. Everything was ready to go because I knew it was coming.

It is a Biblical certainty that there will be earthquakes at the end of this age and that some of these are just the beginnings of sorrows. Is this one of them? Only the Lord knows. Whether it is or not is not the issue. The issue is that we have warning and the opportunity to come to Christ before it is too late. Just like the people on the west coast, we have the chance to move to safety.

I have full confidence that I will be with the Lord on that day He comes to take me home. Not because of anything I have done. Not because I go to church every Sunday, including Easter and Christmas. Not because I'm a good person. Not because I understand everything in the Bible. I have confidence for only one reason... because I have faith that even though all of my questions have not yet been answered, I asked Christ to be Lord of my life one day and I have a living relationship with Him.

Sadly, even though we have warning and the opportunity to prepare, many people will not heed that warning. As I was watching CNN today, they panned to a view of the California coast. The beach was desolate except for one man who was carelessly frolicking along with his dog. And here on the east coast, it's easy to just sit back in our chairs and watch the whole thing on the television. It is shocking, but it almost doesn't even seem real because we are not seeing it with our own eyes. We'll watch the reports and then go on with our lives as usual.

Please don't read this message as one of "doom and gloom." It is not intended to be that. The fact that the Lord has given us time to choose Him, demonstrates His patience and love towards us. 2 Peter 3:9 says "The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence."

Millions of people all over the world have been given the gift of time today. For many in Japan, their time ran out. The Lord knows our hearts and He also knows when they will beat for the last time. What is the state of your heart today?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mr. McFeely

"Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction. A man of great wrath will suffer punishment; for if you rescue him, you will have to do it again." Proverbs 19: 18-19

Mr. McFeely. Does that name sound vaguely familiar but you can't put your finger on where you've heard it before? Here are some clues... Trolley, Neighborhood of Make Believe, Prince Tuesday, King Friday. If you were a hard core fan like I was, you might remember that Mr. McFeely was the elderly delivery man who visited from time to time on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Mr. McFeely was actually named after Mr. Rogers' grandfather.

Fred Rogers spoke of his grandfather saying, "When my mother or my grandmother tried to keep me from climbing too high, my grandfather would say, 'Let the kid walk on the wall. He's got to learn to do things for himself.'"

He's got to learn to do things for himself. This has been a tough lesson for me and I have to make conscious choices to do this because my natural inclination is rescuing and caretaking. I think some of that is probably due to my female nature. We, as women are nurturers by our nature. We were created that way. Just as we were created in the image of God. We see God as just and Almighty, yet gentle and nurturing. He tells us to be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." There has to be a balance there.

I could give countless examples of ways that I have tried to rescue. One being with my oldest son. Because of his special needs, I find myself doing more for him than I really should. Like helping him put his socks and shoes on every day. He is six years old. Now he does have very low muscle tone so it is physically a little more difficult for him to do fine motor tasks like this than typical children, but I am not really "helping" him by doing it for him rather than allowing him to do it himself and build up his fine motor skills. The kind of helping I was doing was destructive helping. Enabling is defined as "doing something for someone that they could, and should be doing for themselves."

Do you know what I was really doing for him? Even though this is just a simple example, it was the same thing I do every time I try to rescue. I am acting as savior. Without saying it in words, I am also asking him to view me as savior. But the Lord says, "you shall have no other gods before Me." Yikes. Now that I am aware of what I was doing, I'm not doing it anymore. We've been putting into practice Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." And guess what?! My son can now put on his own shoes and socks. He says, "Jesus helped me."

Here is another example. I am in charge of timekeeping at work for over 100 people. Part of that resonsibility involves approving paid time off (PTO) requests. I work for a great company that is very generous with paid time off during the year. During the second half of 2010 I saw that some employees had quite a bit of PTO time left that they had not scheduled out. Since we are only allowed to carry over five days, anything over that is lost. It bothered me to see that people were going to lose free days off so I decided to send out several "reminders" so that people could schedule their time and not lose it. Some people still did not schedule. A couple of people even ended up losing some of their time at the end of the year. I just didn't get it. Why would you want to just give up time you were entitled to take off? Obviously it bothered me more than it did them. But then I realized... what is wrong with this picture? Is it really my responsibility to make sure people use all of their time? They have just as much access to see how many days they have left that I do, so why am I taking that responsibility away from what really should be theirs? I'm just making them less responsible and taking on responsibility and stress that is not really mine. Again... doing the same thing I was doing with the socks. Rescuing and caretaking... acting as savior. This year I have decided to put the responsibility back where it belongs and not send out any reminders.

One final example comes from my gracious, nameless friend who gave me permission to use her rescuing story. She said, "I do this all the time with my brother. He's currently separated and living apart from his wife, living the life of a single guy. He does have two kids who he cares for, but when it comes to his personal stuff, he's all over the place so quite often I'm paying bills for him online (his money, not mine) because he forgot, or calling to find out what he needs to do to get flags cleared off his registration, going to motor vehicle for him, or researching his health insurance options - like reading everything, summing it up for him to decide, and then going in and making the changes in his job's benefits system."

Honestly, I think our intention sometimes is that we just "want to help." After all, the Bible says we are supposed to "carry each other's burdens." But what is a burden, really? I think of a burden as something that is literally too heavy for us to carry ourselves. Like when the Amalekites were attacking the Israelites in Exodus 17. Whenever Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning. But whenever he lowered them, the Amalekites were winning. Well, have you ever tried to hold your hands up for a really long time? Let alone the length of a battle? There was no possible way that Moses could continue to hold his arms up that long, so when his arms got tired, his friends held his hands up for him and they remained steady.

The Bible also says a few verses later in Galatians 6 that "each one shall bear his own load." I could give many more personal examples but the bottom line is that each time I help or enable someone by carrying a load that they can and should be carrying themselves, I am actually disabling them even more by giving them the sense that they "need" me and can't do it without me. When you think about it, how much of that really has more to do with my need to be needed? Among other things, I've heard this described as a Messiah complex which is sort of a reverse form of idolatry.

Lord, I've done this. I know I've done this. Thank You for loving me enough to point out any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Thank You for giving me eyes to see what I've done so that I don't have to stay that way. I know that You love me too much to leave me that way. You have looked on me not with condemnation for trying to take your place, but with gentleness and patience in the process. I relinquish this to you. In every instance that I start to rescue, I pray that you would continue to give me eyes to see it and a contrite spirit to give the power to save back to You. You, O Lord, are mighty to save. I trust that this work that You have begun in my life, You will carry on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

White Picket Fences

"Deep calleth unto deep." Psalm 42:7

All my life, I dreamed about how my life would be someday. Married to a wonderful, Christian man who adores me and Biblically leads our family... happy, well-behaved children... white picket fence in the front yard... house that is nicely decorated and clean all the time.

Let's see. I'm not married. My house doesn't have any fences, not even a chain link fence around the back yard. The inside of my house is so-so decorated but right now there are toys on the floor, papers on the kitchen counter, laundry still in laundry baskets, and a few dirty dishes in the sink. I do have happy, well-behaved children, though. Well, I guess if you don't count the screaming fits the little one throws some mornings when he doesn't want to get his shoes on. Or the kicking and flailing about that the older one does when I tell him no. Okay, I have happy, well-behaved children most of the time. Doesn't the Bible say that if I delight myself in God, that He will give me the desires of my heart? Hmm...

So because I don't have all the things I always thought I would have, does that mean it's wrong to desire them or that God hasn't done what He said He would do? I'm not so sure. The other day, I read the best quote that I've ever read before. This is going to go down as my favorite quote of all time, I think. It's deep and I had to read it more than one time and let it sink in, but here it is:

"The yearning to know what cannot be known, to comprehend the incomprehensible, to touch and taste the unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its source." A.W. Tozer

The desire to be married to a wonderful, Christian man... at its source, isn't that really the desire of my soul to be one with Christ? After all, we are called the bride of Christ. In my natural self, that translates into earthly marriage but the origin of that is that I am really longing for God Himself. Not that the desire to be married here on earth is wrong. God did create Adam and Eve after all. But it's important to have perspective. I did not see that before. For so long I have been striving for the natural without realizing the eternal desire.

And if that is true, what about the desire to have happy, well-behaved children... while that desire is valid, deep down isn't it truly the desire to see others come to Christ? Spiritual offspring having life more abundantly.

The desire to have the white picket fence, and a house that is nicely decorated and clean all the time... in dream symbolism, dreams about houses symbolize "where you live," i.e. ME. With that in mind, could this actually be a desire for purity... being made clean? Being washed white as snow?

The thing is that everyone was created in the image of God and He has written His law on the heart of man. That means that everyone has these desires in them whether they realize what the true desire is or not. We are all craving the same thing, only some people have shut out the One true Source. Lysa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries has a new book out called Made to Crave. I haven't read it but from what I've heard, it talks about this same idea. We are all made to crave the One true God, but we fill that craving with other things. Hers happened to be food. Am I looking for a husband, or the satisfaction of raising healthy kids, or material things to complete me? Looking to the natural in place of the supernatural is idolatry. Sorry Jerry Maguire.

Lord, I pray that I would not seek to fulfill my natural desires as a substitution for You, the original and true source of my desire. I pray that as You continue to show me these things and give me "eyes to see" that You would help me to relinquish the areas of idolatry that I have allowed to consume me at times as I have searched to fulfill my natural desires. I pray that any fulfilment of my natural desires that You may choose to bless me with, would come only after my true desire of You has been fulfilled.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Don't Fly Into the Window!

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

There's a commercial out for a brand name window cleaner where the woman of the house cleans the window of the sliding glass door. There are two birds sitting on a tree branch talking to each other, afraid that they are going to fly right into the glass because it's so clear they can't even tell there is a window there! That's how God's confirmations feel to me.

Many days I feel like I'm just fumbling through life. I don't really know what I'm doing or where I'm going, I just know the One who leads me. It may look to some that I know what I'm doing but the truth is, most of the time I don't. So if you look at me and think I have it all together, well, let's just say that "life" is a lifelong process and He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.

One thing I do know, however, is that usually when I'm supposed to do or understand or know something, etc, it becomes clear. It's not always clear when I first start to think about it, but it becomes clear as I continue on the journey. He directs my paths as I continue to trust Him rather than even my own common sense, sometimes.

Take, for example, the time when I quit my job as a single parent with debt and a rental house payment and two kids, without having another job lined up. I prayed for probably a good six months to a year at least about that. I kept wondering if that was what God wanted me to do. But it was never clear and I was afraid. What if it was just me thinking and not God at all? But then one night, I had a vivid dream about it that did involve fear, but it was fear of staying where I was and peace about leaving. Then the guest pastor at church on Sunday preached a message that confirmed everything down to the smallest detail about what I had been praying about. That did it for me.

And then there was the time when I was feeling like a social outcast for being divorced and wanting to date again. "Unclean, unclean!" is how I felt people looked at me. And especially at the thought of remarriage even though I had Biblical grounds for divorce. But then I read the story about the woman at the well and I thought about Christ's death on the Cross. And the next morning, the pastor preached about the woman at the well and Christ's death on the Cross. He talked about how in another world religion, they believe in "god" and that he is one of justice but not one of mercy and grace. Oil and water that don't mix. Our God is just but also merciful and gracious all in one and He displayed that through His death on the Cross. That made the message clear to me.

The same thing happened this morning. God has been impressing on my heart the idea of relinquishment recently. Webster defines relinquishment this way: to renounce or surrender; to give up; to let go.

Recently, God has been speaking to me about letting go of any preconceived notions of how the Lord will speak and reveal Himself to me. And letting go of me in order to be one with Christ. Letting go of sin and the way I look at life. This morning, the Lord confirmed to me that it wasn't just me thinking, but Him teaching and leading when I read my morning devotional. I already had some clarity on this topic, but today's devotional was just another confirmation to help me keep going. Here is an excerpt:

The Surrendered Life (taken from My Utmost for His Highest, of course)!

"I have been crucified with Christ." Galatians 2:20

To become one with Jesus Christ, a person must be willing not only to give up sin, but also to surrender his whole way of looking at things. Being born again by the spirit of God means that we must first be willing to let go before we can grasp something else. The first thing we must surrender is all of our pretense or deceit... We must surrender all pretense that we are anything, and give up all claims of even being worthy of God's consideration.

Once we have done that, the Spirit of God will show us what we need to surrender next. Along each step of this process, we will have to give up claims to our rights to ourselves.

If you are faced with the question of whether or not to surrender, make a determination to go on through the crisis, surrendering all that you have and all that you are to Him. And God will then equip you to do all that He requires of You.

Thank You, Lord for always directing my paths. I may fumble through life, not knowing where I'm going, but You do know, Lord. It is always perfectly clear to You and in time, I am confident that You will make it clear for me, too whether here on earth or in eternity. You know the plans you have for me and You know the direction I should go in every situation. I pray that You would continue to help me let go and relinquish all that I am to You.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Teachable Moments

"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." Mark 10:15

I had the day off work on Friday. I could have chosen to relax, but instead, my day was packed full from 8am - 8pm. Around 2:45pm, I picked my son up from school and the plan was to head to the store to pick up a few things and then pick up my younger son. I needed to stop by the house real quick since it was on the way to the store.

As I pulled into the driveway, I turned off the car and told my son to wait in the car because I was just going to run in and run back out real quick. That is exactly what I did. But things did not go as planned. As soon as I heard the front door to the house slam as I made my way back to the car, it hit me. I had rushed in and out so quickly, that I had left the keys to the car and house sitting on the counter... inside the locked house.

This happened one other time over the summer. Only then I was still in my pj's in the back yard with the boys. I ended up having to walk from my house to my parent's house in my pajamas to see if they had a spare key to my house. Only when I got there (they were out of town at the time), I could not get into their house because their neighbor no longer had a key. That meant I couldn't get inside to get the key to my house. So we walked back home (still in the pj's) as I brainstormed what to do. My cell phone was also locked inside the house. And who knows anyone's phone numbers these days when all you have to do is click a button now rather than memorize a phone number? Thankfully, my friend Joy stopped by after we got home and called her husband who then stopped by and was able to help us get in, with the help of his handy dandy screw driver. Isn't it scary to watch how easily someone can break into your house?

Anyhow, after that experience, I vowed to give someone else a key to my house or hide one somewhere so that I wouldn't get stuck outside again. Yes, it was a great idea. And it would have been an even greater idea if I had actually followed through with it!

So here we were, stuck outside the locked house again. Although, thankfully, I did have my cell phone with me this time. But as fate would have it, my parents - the only ones with a spare key to my house - were out of town again. They need to stop traveling, I think! But I called my mom anyway to see if their neighbor had a key to their house now. I found out it didn't matter, though because she had my spare key with her hundreds of miles away. I really had no clue how we were going to get in this time. This time there was no access to the door that was so easily opened with a screw driver last time.

I was sitting inside my car, not knowing what to do, when I looked back at my son. As he was sitting there, I saw his little lip start to quiver. "Awww, it's okay honey," I said. "Jesus will help us find a way to get into the house." It was then that I realized that I hadn't yet done the first thing that I should have done in this instance. Ask God to help us find a way to get into the house. They say that life is full of teachable moments and this was one of them.

As we sat there in the car, my son prayed, "Dear Jesus, help us to get into the house again. Amen." His lip stopped quivering.

During this whole time I had tried to call my landlord, assuming she would have an extra key to the house... but she never answers her phone which was making me frustrated. So I called several times and ended up leaving her a message. After some time had passed, another friend of the family stopped by the house and was trying to pry one of the windows open when my phone rang. It was the landlord and she did have a spare key and wasn't far away. Hallelujah!

I was thankful that we were finally able to get into the house again, but I was more thankful for the lesson my son and I learned that day. God answers prayer. My son got to see God answer prayer in a way he could understand. That was the best part and made the whole experience worth every minute.

Oh, and by the way, the first thing I did after getting into the house was to grab my spare key and drop it off with my friend a few blocks away. (-:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Very Special Day

"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" Matthew 19:14

This morning I was in the bathroom getting ready for church. I had told the boys to get their shoes on so they would be ready to go soon. As my six year old sat outside my door, he said that it was really hard to get his shoes on but that Jesus helped him. Then he told me that Jesus lives in his heart. And he said that Jesus lives in mommy's heart.

"That's right," I said.

Then he proceeded to tell me that Jesus lives in everybody's heart.

"Well, you have to ask Jesus to live in your heart if you want him to live there," I corrected.

Immediately, he said "I want to ask Jesus to live in my heart."

So we went in his bedroom and sat on the chair and he prayed and asked Jesus to live in his heart. It was the most precious and exciting moment in my life as a parent. I think I had goosebumps.

Because of his special needs, I'm not sure how much he understood what he had just done, but his prayer was sincere childhood innocence. I know that Jesus heard his prayer and that the angels in heaven rejoiced along with me this morning.

God doesn't need fancy words or an eloquent speech. He just wants us to come to him as we are, like a sweet, innocent child who wants him to live in our heart.

Thank you Jesus that I got to be a part of such a special moment this morning.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Praying God's Word

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Last night's midweek Bible study at church was really cool. We have been studying the Psalms but took a break last night to learn about praying God's Word. Beth Moore also has a really good book out by the same title.

I don't have my notes in front of me at the moment but there were two things that I wrote down that the pastor said that I thought were interesting and things I hadn't thought about before. The first one was about the Psalms. He talked about how the Psalms are personal, individual conversations with God, but they are written down for the benefit not only to the individual, but also to the corporate community of worshippers. "Hey, kind of like modern day blogging!" I thought.

The second thing that he said that I thought was cool related to praying God's Word. He said that whenever we pray God's Word, we can be sure of two things:
  1. We are praying words after God's own heart.
  2. We will always be praying within the will of God.

One of my favorite parts of the service came at the end. He had given people yellow slips of paper with a scripture verse on it as we entered the auditorium. He joked that people said, "I don't want that... you're going to make me read out loud aren't you!?" Ha ha. He continued that there would be no compulsion, to only do as God leads. So at the end of the service, we closed with prayer... praying God's Word. People began to pray the verse that they were given. All around the sanctuary, one after another, God's Word was lifted up to heaven in prayer. It was SO cool.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Prize

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

Even as I am typing this now, I am debating on exactly what I want to write and how I want to say it. Mostly because part of the story is sort of embarrassing but at the same time, kind of cool. I have only ever told a few people about the first part of the story for fear that I might just be as crazy as I think I am! But since I just realized the other day that maybe I actually wasn't as crazy as I have thought all these years, the embarrassing part is not as embarrasing anymore... just very human and thankfully, very normal.

It was early December 2007. Another sleepless night in my parent's spare bedroom. At this point, I had not slept in three days after seperating from my then-husband. It was about 1am and I was rocking my 5 week old son in the chair for his middle of the night feeding. I could not take my mind off the pain of the preceeding days but I did not want my son to sense that anxiety as I held him so I sat there and began to pray.

As I was praying, I felt like God said something very clearly to me. It was this... "You are going to be okay and will be reconciled. The way that you will know this is that you will have no more debt and your son will be able to talk."

That is what God said. What I heard was, "You and your husband are going to get back together and life is going to be so great that you will be a great testimony to other struggling couples of God's redemption and you will be able to write a book about it all. And you will know this because you will be debt free and your son will talk. In fact, you should go in his room in the morning and ask him a question because it will be a sudden miracle and he will be able to answer you clearly."

So you can see why I have been embarrassed to talk about this. Because I was delusional! The first stage of grief is denial and that is certainly what I was in three days into this event that changed my life. Yet, over the years I have never forgotten about that night or the clarity in which I heard the Lord speak, even in the midst of my denial. I have prayed about it again as it has come to my mind from time to time. "Lord, I know what You said. I just don't understand it. What I thought I heard didn't happen at all. Did I not hear You correctly? And in fact, now that it is three years later, what I wanted to happen back then... the reconciliation of my marriage... is not at all what I want anymore, nor do I feel that is Your will, either. So what's up, Lord? What were you really saying?"

The whole thing has been foggy for over three years. Until now. Three years ago, I had a good amount of debt. Two days from now, if all goes as planned, I will be 100% debt free. That is a testimony of God's grace in itself. I have had some form of debt, whether it was through credit cards or car loans, etc since I was 18 years old. And now, being able to pay it off as a single mom on top of having a son with hospital bills, I think is just awesome. Thank You, Lord.

In June, again if all goes as planned, my son will have a surgery that will give him the mechanics he needs to be able to speak correctly. It will still take some time with extensive speech therapy for him to fully speak clearly, but he will finally have his voice.

Those second two pieces of the puzzle are now coming within view. However, those two things, God said, would be the evidence of reconciliation. That's the part that has been so confusing to me. What reconciliation, Lord?

Mine.

Peter thought he knew himself pretty well when he said that he would never deny Christ. He was wrong. Oswald Chambers said, "Our natural individuality, or our natural self, boldly speaks out and declares its feelings." That's what I did when I declared my own definition of reconciliation. Chambers continues, "But the true love within our inner self can be discovered only by experiencing the hurt of this question of Jesus Christ [Do you love me?]... Unless we are experiencing the hurt of facing every deception about ourselves, we have hindered the work of the Word of God in our lives."

"The Lord's questions always reveal the true me to myself." Oswald Chambers

That's reconciliation. God created the true me. He knit the true me in my mother's womb. He created the true me in my innermost parts. And now He is beginning to reconcile the true me with the natural me. Making the inside reconcile with the outside. That is wholeness. That is freedom. It is for freedom that we have been set free. It does not mean that I will be perfect or no longer have a sin nature. It just means that I am beginning to realize my freedom.

That takes hard work and a willingness to be exposed to the sinful nature that I don't always want to see. That also means pain. Read how Oswald Chambers continues in today's devotional in My Utmost for His Highest:

Have you ever felt the pain, inflicted by the Lord, at the very center of your being, deep down in the most sensitive areas of your life? The devil never inflicts pain there, and neither can sin nor human emotions. Nothing can cut through to that part of our being but the Word of God. "Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time 'Do you love me?'. Yet he was awakened to the fact that at the center of his personal life he was devoted to Jesus.

Peter was beginning to discover within himself just how much he really did love the Lord... But he did not know it until the probing, hurting questions of the Lord were asked. The Lord's questions always reveal the true me to myself.

This is where I'm at right now. The probing, hurting questions. I prayed this morning that the Lord would allow me to see those offensive things in myself that I may have not seen before. Things like areas where I have tried to rescue and act as savior instead of allowing the one true Savior to do what only He can do. (This may be another post to come later as I have done a lot of this).

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The funny thing is that I quoted this verse a long time ago in my natural self. I didn't pray it myself at the time. I told my then-husband that he needed to be praying it. How self-righteous of me.

I have confidence that God will point out any offensive way in me and that will be tough. But I also trust that He will lead me in the way everlasting. I'm not looking foward to the pain, but I am looking forward to the prize.