Monday, January 30, 2012

Finding Love in Strange Places

A few brief years ago, I graduated from a local seminary with a Master’s degree. Believe me, with my aging mind, it was quite the accomplishment. While I felt honored that the Lord had blessed me with this higher education, at the same time, I was often exhausted and anxious at the hectic pace of life.

I recall it taking me three weeks to actually reconcile myself to what I knew had taken place; that my education had been completed. As crazy as that may sound, it is not unusual. I heard this from my husband as well.

While at seminary, I learned a great deal about many subjects. I studied church history, counseling, hermeneutics, philosophy, theology, and missions, to name just a few. But the head knowledge was only a part of the reason I was at seminary.

I know now that the Lord’s plans for me were not to merely educate my mind, but to influence my heart.

My heart had become so hardened because of life’s experiences; I was in need of refreshment. The only way I would receive this refreshment would be to dive in to the Word of God and really get to know him….

….to honestly study his Word in more depth, and to know his heart.

This didn’t happen while I studied at seminary, but in the months following. It was during this time I found I was tested, tempted, and tried numerous times. I failed, I succeeded, I was ready to give up on many occasions. But, in the end I can honestly admit that had it not been for my time in seminary, I may not have understood enough to allow the Lord to continue to heal me. I may not have understood enough to forgive, to love, to stop being offended, and to overlook so much of the ugliness from my past.

I never would have thought seminary would have been the place to learn this. Often, there were times when I was so distraught at seminary, I felt as if I was falling away instead of growing at all. And I probably was, many times. There were days!

But, all in all, I have learned that my time at seminary allowed the Lord to reach into my heart. He took the books, the lectures, the papers, the exams, the research, the professors, fellow students, the late nights, the grueling days…he took it all, and used it to ultimately open my heart towards him….

…which, in turn, opened my heart towards others.

I say these things because I want to share the following with you:

Head knowledge is wonderful and worthy, but if it does not reach the heart, it is limited in its usefulness. Always remember, the foundation of Jesus’ message to us is to love.

I return once again to the familiar Scripture passage I have quoted on my blog before:
1 Corinthians 13: 1-2: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jesus Starved

Some days I am so angry with myself.

It seems like everything that comes out of my mouth is negative.

…and I can’t help myself.

One thing I have noticed is those are the days when I am Jesus starved.

Yes, Jesus starved.

The days when I am just so busy and preoccupied with everything else; the days that I have no time to spend reading the Bible or talking with the Lord.
The days when I send up a quick, “I’m sorry, Lord; I’ve been so busy today. I’m so sorry; please remind me to start my day with you tomorrow.”

That doesn’t cut it.

If I ever hope to grow closer to Jesus; to be more like Jesus; I must feed myself properly and regularly.

I don’t miss meals. I feed my body three meals each day. I don’t care how busy I am…I never miss a meal.

I am hungry, so I eat. I eat to nourish my body and to rid myself of hunger.

Why do I not see the same need to feed myself spiritually?

Truthfully, why do I not see my spiritual needs as more important than my physical needs?

In John’s gospel 4:32 & 34, when the disciples urged Jesus to eat, he responded: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (NIV)

I am here to do his will as well. I am here to glorify him.

My priorities need modification. Once again, I am convicted.

I need to be nourished spiritually; the rest will take care of itself. I hear Jesus speak these words to me. He cares for me.

I am forgiven; I am encouraged.

I can now move forward and begin again, knowing the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. He is here with me now…waiting…for me to turn to him.
Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Becoming a Woman of God

As is often the case, I awoke about an hour before the alarm is set to go off. I have given up on struggling to get back to sleep, so I now frequently use the time to ponder, to speak to the Lord, or to listen to what he might have to say to me.

This morning, the Lord gave me a verse. It’s a verse I am very familiar with, but it took on a new meaning.

Once again, the Lord had spoken to my heart. When he spoke, he addressed not me today, but a smaller version of me. He spoke to the child; the small child who continues to live inside me; the small child who still hurts from years of abuse. These experiences that happened long ago shaped the person I am today. And so in many ways, the person I am today is not an adult, but remains a broken and hurt child.

1Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (NIV)

In many ways, I am still a child. I talk like a child, I think like a child and I reason like a child. And it is not until I overcome my pain that I will be able to put my childish ways behind me. Then I will become a woman. Then I will have grown (up).

We all walk through life with our scars from childhood hurts. But it is when we are willing to face those hurts head on, with the Lord by our side, that we can be healed. It is then that we grow.

All the offences, the sensitivities, the ‘button pushing,’ the misunderstandings, the bitterness, the anger, the unforgiveness…..

…it can all be left behind only after we have dealt with our old pain and healed.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

Children are honest. They speak their thoughts. Children are forgiving. They will fight one minute and the next, they are the best of friends once again. Children forget.

Children cry when they are hurt.

As I continue to heal through the Lord’s leading, I slowly enter into the kingdom of heaven. While on this earth I can experience a portion of the kingdom.

The Lord continues to lead me and to teach me; he heals me and loves me. He shows me how much better life can be when it is lived and viewed through his eyes.

Hebrews 5:12-14: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (NIV)

Let it soon be said of me, that I no longer live on milk; that I have relinquished my past and allow the Lord to use it for good. I no longer allow my past, or the evil one, to influence my thoughts, my moods, or my world.

Let it be said that I follow the Lord. I am steady on my feet and cannot be moved.

I decide to be a woman who desires to be used by the Lord; to be thankful in the many blessings he has granted me.

In this, I can return to that little child and weep with her once more. I am no longer afraid to enter her pain, for the Lord is with me. It is his desire that I learn from her and continue to heal so that I may live to glorify Him.

So that I may touch others lives with love and understanding.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Heaven Feared

She opened her Bible and read. Then, as she normally did, she closed both her Bible and her eyes and began to pray, Bible in hand.

Her thoughts and prayers turned heavenward. There she was reminded of her destiny; her eternal home in heaven.

But as she spoke to the Lord, and imagined herself someday entering heaven, she began to weep.

Her vision was one of loneliness.

The room was bright; so bright it was white. But there was no one there standing with her; she remained alone, as she had felt much of her life.

As she sobbed, the Lord caught her attention.

She heard his gentle voice speak to her heart. “You won’t be alone child; this is heaven. This is where you will never be alone again. There will be no more pain, no more tears; only love…..remember?”

She dried her eyes. Her vision quickly shifted to the reality the Lord had spoken to her. He had put her picture in its proper perspective.

She imagined her grandparents and her mother waiting there for her. The love was overwhelming. She broke down and sobbed once again. Only this time, the tears were tears of joy and happiness.

Her mother, who had recently passed on, had never loved her. There had been so much hostility between the two of them much of her life. There were so many regrets.

In fact, she had experienced peace with her mother’s passing; there would be no more opposition from her. No more memories to live with of angry words and mean glances.

Now, in this moment, she had come face to face for the first time, with a reunion in heaven. A reuniting with her mother.

A reuniting with her mother who would love her. Something she had waited hopelessly for all her life would finally come to fruition.

Her tears surprised her. She had no longer been aware of the pain. It had numbed through the years; the years that had built layers of anger and bitterness.

I should have known better, she thought.

I know God; I love God…and God is love.

I should have known that underneath it all love would be waiting. It would have to.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Looking for Jesus

As a child of the living God, I fail daily.

I know the standards I desire to live, but I fall short of acquiring those standards.
Some days are worse than others. Some days pass by unnoticed, while others require my attention at the foot of the cross….again. On those days I have failed miserably.

I return once more to repent. Tears stream down my cheeks, my heart breaks in the knowledge of who I am. I turn to the Lord and ask forgiveness, knowing I am granted that forgiveness as soon as the request leaves my lips.

I am grateful. Thankful. I have a gracious and merciful God. I have a gentle Savior; one who understands.

I am truly blessed.

I pick myself up and get on with my life. My day progresses.

Later that day, I find myself standing beside a stranger; someone who is ill-mannered.

I make certain this person knows I am displeased with their behavior. I turn away. I emit an aura of self smugness. I am better than this.

Immediately, I am convicted.

I have been forgiven and yet I judge and condemn.

I could have stood there silently and politely. No, I did not speak with words. But my eyes, my contorted mouth, my body language; they said it all.

Me, a Christ follower, who sinned and has been forgiven.

The stranger beside me is not one I believe to be a Christ follower. Yet, he might be. Regardless, I have no right to judge or condemn.

I recall the words I spoke earlier, the words from a broken and repentant heart.

Yet, I refuse to be gracious. I refuse to be kind. I refuse to be silent in my gestures.

It is too easy for me to condemn and criticize; far too easy.

I expect others to live up to the standards that I myself fail to live up to.

Stumbling, I find my way back to the Lord and say a prayer.

“Lord Jesus, forgive this person and help him to find you. Help him to find the acceptance, the peace, and the love, that only you can offer.”

Jesus said in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (NIV)

In John 8:7, referring to the story of the woman caught in adultery; when the people wanted her stoned to death, Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (NIV)

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Love of God

If I expect to experience God’s love, there are conditions.

While it is certainly true that ‘God is love,’ his being love and my experiencing that love are not the same thing.

In John 14:21 Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (NIV)

Therein lies the condition; that I will keep the commands of God. My obedience to his commands will confirm my love for him. In turn, the Father, God, will love me, as will Jesus Christ himself.

This Scripture verse is sobering.

I sin each day.

I am not obedient. While I do have the commands, I do not often keep them.

I do love the Lord, but….maybe not enough? Maybe I love my ways more.

Perhaps I let worldly ways interfere with my daily walk, my commitment, to the Lord. Could it be that I don’t take Scripture seriously enough, or is it simply that I feel secure in my salvation, and that is enough for me?

Is it enough for me to skimp by on my little faith? Do I believe I will confidently stand in front of the Lord someday, knowing my heart was far from him and yet still expect him to welcome me?

Is it not possible for me to try harder?

Is he not willing – eager – to help me? To give me the strength I need in order to follow him more closely? Will he not answer my prayer and provide me with this strength?

I am left without excuse. I am left knowing I am willingly being disobedient. I expect him to do more than he has already done.

My God offered his beloved Son. My Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered beatings and humiliation. His hands were nailed to the cross where he hung, in agony; where he died…for me.

What is left to be done? That is love in its fullness.

John 14:15-17, “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (NIV)

Jesus provided a way for me to be obedient to him. I need to put forth more effort and turn to the Holy Spirit; he is my helper; he can accomplish what I cannot.

Lord Jesus, fill me today with your Holy Spirit. Help me to be obedient to you; empower me to overcome the world and its ways and help me to glorify you. In your name I pray. Amen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living Like Jesus

Brennan Manning quotes John Kavanaugh in his book, The Signature of Jesus: “Our culture fosters and sustains a functional trinitarian god of consumerism, hedonism, and nationalism. Made in the image and likeness of such a god, we are committed to lives of possessiveness, pleasure, and domination.”

I must admit, I am guilty. As much as I try not to, I often turn my head in the direction of my cultures trends. Then I somehow feel trapped to live otherwise.

I am ashamed. I know I can do better. I know these are merely temporary pleasures.

I can only win when I look to Jesus Christ as my example.

When Jesus walked this earth, he taught me another way; a better way. He said things like, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” and “You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus calls me to a life of simplicity. A life I am not familiar with today; a lifestyle where I have little to no teaching. A life I am not equipped to live because I am surrounded by, and immersed in, consumerism, hedonism, and nationalism.

How can I hope to change?

I turn to Jesus.

I focus on Jesus.

I read Scripture which offers me truth. In that reading is where I regain my peace and my assurance.

I am reminded of who I am in Christ.

I am saddened to know how far from Christ the world has taken me; how far the world has taken us all away from who should be number One in our lives.

I read Manning’s book and I learn of a study in New Jersey where polls revealed the following:

A study was done on 10,000 students entering college. The polls revealed this: while 89% were geared towards making a lot of money, 11% vied for positions of power…

This made me want to weep for our future.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Problems, problems, problems....

Greetings ~ Just a brief note to say "sorry" to those of you who may have experienced some problems accessing my account over the weekend. I have been experiencing some difficulty with my blog. I am not greatly computer savvy to begin with, but my initial issue was with the size of the photo on my site. As you can see, that has now been altered, thanks to my husband. But, in the interim, I managed to completely mess my site up, so now it has a different appearance. I need great patience while enduring these growing pains. Patience that can only be experienced through my placing myself in Christ's capable hands. Have you read my latest post that I posted this earlier this morning? I would like to share with you what my husband responded after he read it: "We must live the new life. This life is found in Christ. The battle lies in our refusing to accept His truth. It seems simple enough but only through submission might we enjoy His peace. Let us pray together for this life change. Not for a life that is better but one that is NEW. Thank you for revealing your heart, for it is from the heart that change comes.Love you." Have a great day everyone!

Read All About It!

These past weeks, I have been reading and enjoying a book by Brennan Manning titled, The Signature of Jesus. Last year our cell group decided to do a study on Manning’s book, The Furious Longing of God. Since my introduction to his writings, I have purchased a few of his books and have enjoyed reading both his thoughts and his experiences. The Signature of Jesus, has been working on my heart. Manning is up to his usual flair of convicting Christ’s followers of their shortcomings; their sins. I don’t know about you, but I welcome the convictions. I need the convictions. My heart is constantly tossed hither and yon. My tongue is a fire that corrupts my entire person, as James references in his third chapter. Oh, what a sinner I am; a sinner who, without the grace of the Lord, would surely be eternally damned. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16(NIV) Many Christians believe God to be an angry God. If you are one who believes this, read the Scripture verse above again. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.” God loves you. God gave his son for you and for me. What a sacrifice, indeed! Jesus loves the Father. He obediently gave his life so you and I might be saved from eternal damnation. It was the only way. Mark 14:36, Jesus prayed at Gethsemane: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (NIV) As Manning correctly states, most church going Christians are willing to go half way; we are committed to following Christ…..half way. Beyond that, we fail miserably. To follow Christ is to live a life patterned after his. Christ taught that we are to live a life of simplicity, not consumerism. We are to live a life in love; a life that values all people and does not wait to understand. To follow Christ is to live a life in peace. These are the standards Christ taught. These are the principles we are to live by. I am a half way Christian. I am striving, through the Lord, to live in his teachings. I am working towards becoming more Christ like. Would you join with me? It is far better to battle against the world’s standards and fight the good fight of faith; true faith. Perhaps, if enough of us join in the battle, we will make a difference. It must start somewhere. Manning writes that in the early church community, Christians were known by their love. This was so because there were many many Christ followers who practiced the teachings and the way of life of Christ Jesus. We must deny ourselves in order to do this; we must kill off the flesh. But these will be our most treasured blessings. I believe this because I have experienced it. My prayer is that we will all desire to be more like Christ; we will all desire to truly make a difference in our life and in the lives of those around us.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

It's News to Me

I am in the habit of sitting down with a cup of tea each weekday morning after my husband leaves for work. I sit and watch a piece of news and weather broadcasting on television before I start my day. Today was no different. As I sat down in front of my television with my cup of tea, I heard the announcer asking all viewers to mind their clocks today at noon. Quickly, he continued to give the reason for his request. He said that by noon today, most CEO’s would have made wages equivalent to the average workers full years’ salary. By noon today? How incredible! I immediately became self-righteous and condemned these unknown–to-me people in my mind. Almost instantaneously, I felt the Lord speak to me. He asked how my heart was doing in the area of loving others. It hadn’t taken long for me to fall yet again. My self-righteous thoughts were not justified. I realized I had sinned. Forgive me, Lord. I have no cause to condemn these people. I also remembered something my grandparents used to say. “If you can’t say something nice about someone; don’t say anything at all.” I also remembered that they basically lived by that practice. My heart had once again taken a downward spiral from where it desires to be. The alarming thing is, it didn’t take long, and it didn’t take much. This was yet one more reminder to me of the extent to which I need to remain close to the Lord at all times. Soon after, I did spend my quiet time with the Lord. My heart is back on track…again. Oh, if only I could tame those thoughts my mind entertains. Romans 7:15-25 (NIV) “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Yes, thanks be to God who delivers me through Christ Jesus our Lord! Give me your heart Lord; give me your eyes….for your people. The people you love. All people.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Good Hurt

I said a prayer. I asked, in sincerity, “Lord, please give me your heart for your people. All people. Enable me to see them as you do.”

Soon, I found myself driving into town one day, with tears flooding my eyes. It had happened. I had begun to see people through His eyes.

I looked at them all; and I witnessed the love God has for each one. I prayed for each one as I drove past.

I knew nothing of any of them. But that was all right, because the Lord knows. I felt my prayers were powerful that day, more powerful than they had been in a long time.

God’s heart beat deep inside me. I had never hurt so beautifully; I had never loved so deeply as in that moment. I had never seen so clearly.

Since that day, and others like it, I have entered my church many times. The Lord recently brought to mind how I have often avoided eye contact with one brother in particular because of differences we have.

It is evident that I have not prayed that prayer for some time.

The Lord’s faithfulness reminded me of my prayer. I was convicted. Now, through sorrow and a truly repentant heart, I asked to be forgiven.

Once again I prayed the prayer. “Lord, please give me your heart for your people. All people.”

I now see my brother differently; more clearly. I see a person who is not unlike me; someone who needs the Lord; someone who needs to be loved just as I do; just as you do; just as we all do.

I see a man who desires forgiveness and understanding.

I see a God who offers that forgiveness and understanding. He offers that to all people.

I look at me and I see a woman who professes to follow the Lord. I see a woman who desires to follow the Lord. I see she has fallen, again. She needs the Lord’s forgiveness and understanding too.

I am so thankful to be given yet another chance to do it right; to rely on the Lord and once again experience the good hurt. The hurt that feels good because it grows out of God’s heart. A heart that speaks to us and says, “Love each another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 (NIV)

Lord, help me to love others. Give me your heart for all people. Enable me to see them as you do. I ask this in your Holy name, Jesus. Amen.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Right Fight

I have read a couple of blogs over these past few months that have addressed the subject of infidelity. I decided I would like to say a few words on the topic as well.

To keep it brief and to the point, those who are found judging and condemning others for wrong doing, will likely fall into the same pit themselves. Sadly, I have witnessed this on more than one occasion.

It works like this. When a person credits themselves with a certain dignity, self restraint, common sense, or whatever the case may be, the devil himself positions himself closely, at your right side.

If this does not frighten or concern you, it should. You have already convinced yourself of your human strength; a strength that you profess can and will fight the enemy. You belong not to satan but to Christ, you say.

After all, you have done well so far in this department, haven’t you? You do have your convictions; God is your Lord; what can possibly happen, you say.

Scripture and history are bursting with stories and responses to that loaded question. We cannot rely on our own strength to do anything, nor do any of us have the right to condemn others….for doing anything. None of us are without sin.

The Lord sees all sin as sin. There is no hierarchy.

Apart from that, once you stand tall and firmly commit to your own strength, you have just written your sentencing. Temptation will come; the devil will ensure that, and if he finds you standing on your own strength, which you have professed, it will only be a matter of time before you will fall.

You will never defeat satan in your own strength. Only the Lord can defeat satan. That means you necessarily need the Lord’s strength if you plan to effectively overcome satan’s temptations.

Always pray; always ask the Lord to guide you and give you strength for any and all battles that come your way. Never do battle on your own strength; you will lose.

John 15:5-8:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (NIV)