Monday, April 29, 2013

The Way, the Truth, and the Life in Me

The Way, the Truth, and the Life in Me
Jesus is creating in me a new life.
One worth living.
One that is filled with love and joy,
with hope and anticipation.
Even when I’m sad and despairing,
His hope fills and embraces me.
His hope is the rock I stand on to gain my footing
and it’s the light that guides me in purposeful living.
Step by step He leads me to be actively involved in my community,
with a servant’s heart sharing my resources, my skills, and my abilities.
He is present in the great celebrations,
in deep devastation,
in every life situation.
He is alive and ingrained in the moments of my day.
He is the spark and the ability,
He is the forbearance and the drive to reach out to the needy,
to comfort the sick and the hurting,
to feed those who are hungry,
to bring peace to the factions,
and cry with those in mourning.
His will brings me to my destination
while His power works through me
to touch the hearts and lives of those I’m meeting.
What a blessing it is when He works through my words, my deeds.
For I too am transformed by those divine interactions.
Still there are times when I am unsure, hesitant.
Do I do this or that?
Do I commit to His will or my own?
Do I ask for courage and believe He will give it?
Or do I make an excuse and retreat?
To often, I go my own way and guilt torments me.
Emptiness fills me causing repentance to rise in me
clearing the way for His forgiveness to cleanse me.
Affirmation resounds that I haven’t lost His love,
His attention,
His salvation.
I don’t need to regain His affection
for He’s already reconciled my sin.
And no matter what I’ve done – I still belong to Him.
I know He will never abandon me
for He has poured His Spirit into me.
Joy is found in the way of Jesus.
Peace resides in the truth of Jesus.
And hope is given in the life of Jesus.
Alleluia and amen.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Who Can You Trust?

This week I spoke with a woman who is facing a difficult life situation which is challenging her faith. When sharing with her how I find comfort in the Word of God in times like these, she admitted that she doesn't read the bible even though she believes in God and attends church. She explained that there are some parts of scripture that she has a difficult time accepting as God's Truth and so she doubts the authority of the whole bible as God's Word. Its word of judgment is too difficult for her to accept and so its word of comfort and grace must also be suspect. First of all, I commend her for being honest about her doubts. Second, I feel really sorry for her because in her doubt, she is discarding the most accessible way in which God speaks his love and comfort to us.
I told her about how I came to know and love Jesus through reading the bible. (To read about how I met Jesus, read this blog from November of 2012: It's not like I knew instantly what to do or what all I believed in my first days as a believer. Life had taught me that I couldn't trust anyone and here I was giving my heart and my life to a God I didn't know. In those first months of my young faith, I heard God saying over and over again in His Word "Trust me" and all I could answer is "How? How can I trust you when I don't know you and when I've already been hurt so much by those I am supposed to be able to trust?" One day, the answer was made clear and I prayed: "God, you know I don't know how to trust anymore and that I really want to trust you. So I’m going to trust you as much as I am able to right now and give you the benefit of the doubt while you show me that I can trust you in all things." God is patient and in those first years of my faith journey, he accepted me as I am, trusting as much as I could, little as that was. He was consistently faithful and I began to see I could trust him more and more. He has shown me that he is completely trustworthy even when I doubt or don't understand. I've come to know that I can trust God even when it doesn't make sense.
My having doubts and difficulty in understanding and living out God's truth in my life is never a disappointment to him. In fact, he welcomes my questions, my working out his truth in my life even if it takes a really long time. God asks me to give all of myself to him - the sure and the unsure, the polished and unrefined parts of my spirit, and my whole heart including the divided parts. What he will never ask for is more than I have to give. So my advice to the woman I spoke to this week, and to anyone else who is wrestling with doubt, is to keep on keeping on. Trust the Lord as much as you can, continue your earnest search for God's truth in His Word and in your life, and allow God the time you need to show you his glorious love and grace. The evidence will be overwhelming and you too will come to trust God even when it doesn’t make sense to because in the end, trusting God in the uncertainty of this life is the only thing that really does make sense.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wrestling with God

This week, I've been looking at Genesis 32 where we are told the story of Jacob wrestling with God. We all wrestle with God from time to time as we struggle with our faith, and while we may not be physically going round and round with an angel of God like Jacob, our struggle is no less real or valid. We are told that they wrestled all night into the morning and Jacob didn't give up. As hopeless as it may have seemed at various points through the long night, as tired as he must have been, as much as he may have wanted to give up, he continued to put his whole strength and will into it. So we too should "continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling... for in that struggle "God works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13) and we know that "he who began a good work in us will carry it onto completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) In other words, it is in our very struggles, those moments we are fearful, hesitant, selfish, unwilling, and don't understand and yet still seek Jesus that he makes us fearless, confident, selfless, eager and wise. And he will not stop growing and maturing us in faith until the job is done.

Jacob's struggle is not without purpose - he seeks the blessing of the Lord as he is about to come face to face with his past and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness is a very humbling thing. There is no way to beg for a forgiveness we can never earn and still maintain our pride. So often, that is the root of our struggle with God-the reality of our humility which is all too clear when in the presence of a holy God verses the pride that builds up in our hearts and minds when we are distracted and lose sight of Jesus. Jacob did receive God's blessing when morning broke, but not before suffering an injury that caused him to limp. Some of the strongest people I know look like the weakest. They have scars and limp or shuffle as if they can't lift their feet of the ground, but they have weathered the biggest storms imaginable. Like warriors who have returned home weary from a long war, they appear broken, but indeed are victorious. They have developed an endurance and been empowered by a courage that others could never know. It is their struggle that has not only wounded them but has taught them how to live and as they celebrate the victory given them by God, they teach us how to face those same kind of struggles in our own faith and life.

I have come to a point in my walk where, more often than not, I can celebrate the scars and wounds from the struggles God has led me to and through and when fresh battles come, I try to remember that, like Jacob, I only have to hang on until the morning to receive God's blessing. Lastly, I rejoice in knowing that it is Jesus, not me, who creates in me the will and ability to serve him. He grows in me an ever increasing desire to seek his will and by his power and grace, fulfills his will within me as I share what He has taught me with others.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Don't Sacrifice, Just Love

I've recently read two books - both by Kyle Idleman: Gods at War, Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart and Not a Fan, Becoming a Completely Devoted Follower of Jesus. They are both excellent books and I highly recommend both of them. However, it is the second that has been rolling around in my mind for the last couple of weeks. The author tells us that many people who think themselves followers of Christ are really mere fans of the Son of God. He shares that in Matthew 7, Jesus himself says that not everyone who calls themselves followers will be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven, but will be turned away even though they preached repentance and performed miracles in Jesus' name. Idleman explains that it is not the things a person does, but whether he has a relationship with God that defines them as follower or fan. The author really challenges today's understanding of what it is to be follower of Christ.
As I put a magnifying glass to my own faith, one part of his book had me stopped in my tracks. He said that a follower sacrifices for Christ, while a fan won't - not really anyway. I began to look at my life and wonder if I sacrifice for the love of Jesus or am I really just a person who knows the right things to say and do to fool myself and everyone else. I grew concerned because I couldn't think of an example of sacrifice for Christ's sake in my life. Then the Spirit gave me a thought - I know I loved my son more than myself and that I had a real relationship with him. So I asked myself, “What did sacrifice look like in my life for the sake of my son?” Again I found it difficult to think of anything and here's why: because I loved my son so much that I didn't mind sacrificing for him. I went without so he could have and that didn't bother me because I loved him. I stepped outside of my comfort zone often, put aside my comfort and fears for him because I loved him. Like any parent, I would have given up my life for him if possible and I gave him my life every day he was alive. He was my first thought of the day and the last before I went to bed. Sacrifice doesn't mean doing something you hate or doing something because you should. You do it without objection because you love. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t sometimes a hard thing to do – just that love overrides selfish instinct.
That's why I had such a difficult time finding examples of sacrifice for Jesus in my life - because I was looking for times when I knew I was giving something up or when I did something because it was the right thing to do when I should have been looking for the gifts of love I give Jesus every day. I mistakenly thought sacrifice was supposed to feel like I was losing out on something but really, it's offering of my heart. I couldn't see sacrifice in my life because I've been so blessed in my love for Christ - so much more than the total of anything I ever "gave up" that I couldn't see it as sacrificial. What I leaned in this examination of my faith is to not worry about sacrifice. The sacrifice takes care of itself if you just love Jesus – love wholly, love daily, and love more.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Courageous Act of Love

It was another frustrating evening with arguments and bad feelings erupting among and between the three of us – my son, my husband and I. We were a newly blended family still working out the kinks and to complicate matters, my son was at the height of those stubborn preteen years. Each of us was fighting with the other two. At one point, my son Bryan crossed a line and I grounded him for the rest of the evening and the next day. Grounding in our house meant room arrest – bathroom and meal breaks only and the only communication permitted was to pertain to the matter of discipline. (This was before kids had cell phones or TVs, computers, and games systems in their rooms!) In our house, there was no time off for good behavior and the length of grounding could be increased at parental discretion if good behavior was disregarded.

After the grounding had been announced and enforced, my husband and I continued to quarrel until he decided to run some errands to give us a chance to cool down. I remember sitting at my computer desk crying. I was frustrated and hurt and clueless as to how to bring peace to my family. I was too busy sobbing, my head in my hands, to notice him leave his room and walk through the house to where I was sitting. My son put his arms around my neck and offered sweet words of comfort. “It’s okay Mom. Please don’t be sad.” I was so touched by the love he offered me, even after all the yelling and hurt feelings. I hugged him back. I wiped my eyes and he brought me a tissue to blow my nose. He hugged me again. I gave him a kiss and thanked him for being such a loving son and then ushered him back to his room. (He was still grounded.)

Bryan was grounded and knowing his actions could get him in more trouble, he chose to bravely walk past the threshold of his room through the house to comfort the woman who had just grounded him – the woman who moments ago was “stupid and mean” and who “doesn’t really love him”.  His great big heart wouldn’t let him stay where it was safe and let me suffer even if there was a penalty to pay.

That’s the kind of courage I hope to have in my faith journey – the kind of courage to step outside my comfort zone and share God’s love with others even if they ridicule and ostracize me. In too many places in the world, there are people who openly share the Gospel knowing that they risk a lot more than scorn and hurt feelings. They risk being tortured, imprisoned, or killed and still they speak out because “God did not give us a cowardly spirit but a powerful, loving and disciplined spirit. So don’t be embarrassed to testify about our Lord…join us in suffering for the good news by the strength and power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:7-8; The Voice)