Monday, January 15, 2018

Little Do We Know...

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar…But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven…’Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said…Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Ge 22:9-13

Abraham was called to one of the most heart wrenching calls that anyone could be called to experience. He was to sacrifice his son as an offering to God. It didn’t make sense…it didn’t seem right…but it was clear what God was asking of him. Little did he know that as he was walking up to that place of surrender, God was leading a ram right into a thick clump of bushes that entangled its horns. Abraham had to experience living in the tension of watching his son die, and the shock of realizing his son was going to live. Little did he know

Mary who had watched her little boy play among the trees had to witness the brutal torture and murder of her son up on a tree. As she awoke the next morning with her heartbreaking duty in front of her of preparing his body with spices she wondered if she had the strength. When she arrived, Jesus was gone but the messengers of hope revealed he was not there. Little did she know as she was walking towards the tomb that held death, Jesus was walking around near her full of life. She had to live in the in-between of saying goodbye and hearing hello. Little did she know

When I was a little girl being saturated with stories of how God loved me, and everything He did for me, I felt safe and wanted to live out right instead of wrong. But somewhere along the way, my pursuit of acceptance and image became idols, and I lost my way. As I was desperately trying to figure out ways to pay off secret bills, God was waiting for the right time to invade my heart. Little did I know that in 2006 I would finally open the Bible again, and it would begin opening me changing my life forever. Little did I know…

There are many areas in my life that are still unknown mysteries. I try to be patient…I try to be obedient…I try to be confident.  I ask…I seek…I knock. But when we see little activity in areas that have big decisions we tend to get discouraged. We see nothing happening on the horizon, but sometimes 'little do we believe’ that God is working relentlessly on our behalf. Little do I know when we will get work…little do I know when God will give us the wisdom we need in important decisions that face us. I’m sure there will be blessings and heartaches that are mine up ahead in 2018. Little do I know…

While we are living in the ‘slow middles’ of life, we can place complete trust in the God who knows everything. He can be trusted with every detail of our lives as we wait for His beautiful mysteries to be revealed.  What I do know is that our God still provides the ram, still brings the dead to life and still invades our hearts. 

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” De 29:29

Thursday, January 11, 2018

God's To-Do List

“‘What can we do to perform the works of God?’ they asked. Jesus replied, ‘This is the work of God – that you believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:26-27.

Well for a girl who loves to check items off her to-do list this passage is not one of my favorites. The people just wanted a list of to-dos to be accepted and favored…what is wrong with that? I love lists so much that I make a list of things to include on my list. I love checking things off so much that if something doesn’t make my list, but I accomplish it anyway I will write it down just to mark it off. I know…I’m a performance junkie and that is why God has given me a life time of things that have yet to get marked off my list…unanswered prayers and an unsettled heart.

Before February of 2006, my spiritual to-do list included serving at church, taking my family to church, tithing when it suited, praying empty repetitive prayers, etc. But once I began studying Scripture and carving out time for prayer in the mornings I realized that what was really required for acceptance and favor was a person, not a to-do item. When all I really wanted was to check something off, God showed me that the only thing required from Him was to believe Him…to believe that Jesus died for me…to believe that every promise God gave will be fulfilled…to believe that the heartbreaking things I have experienced were for my spiritual good. All I wanted to do was perform, and all He wanted from me was to believe Him for everything. It boils down to that for each of us.

We think that if we are good enough, serve enough, pray enough, or memorize Scripture enough that we will work ourselves into His favor. But spiritual check-lists do not bring holiness and certainly not fellowship. There is no easy way to accomplish righteousness but through a life of spiritual decisions we make. The only to-do list that I know is beneficial regarding my relationship with God is anchored in my belief to-do list. And out of that list a new list emerges...the things I need to do to become more Christ-like. My list is my Bible and on its pages, are my items to mark off one day. One item on a page is my belief that God will bring conclusion to 'an item' in due time. Another page boasts of my belief that He forgave me, so I should always forgive others. Hope filled pages of unfulfilled desires that beckon me to put ink to my belief for its fulfillment...I believe God will protect my children and grandchildren. I believe that He will work in the lives of my friends, showing up BIG for them. I believe that He will bring me and Bruce work in 2018. I believe that God is who He says He is, and He will do what He says He will do!

Believing is the work. And that can be hard because we can’t measure belief. We can’t check belief off a to-do list. Belief can’t be seen or praised by those around us. Belief is in our hearts. Only God truly sees what we believe.Finding I Am, Lysa TerKeurst, p. 35. I still make lists for the earthly things, but I hold my days and my accomplishments loosely because I am confident that God intends to direct my plans and my path for each day. Ironically, He has His own to-do list for me, and He will complete what He began the day I was born.

"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." Philippians 1:6.

All in the Family

For wherever there is one who has been obedient to God, there is my brother--my sister..." Mark 3:35

Growing up as one of four girls had its challenges when trying to be your own personality. For my parents I am sure that life was hectic, and the responsibilities were enumerable. I fall into the second position of the birth order which also had its challenges. Becki, my older sister has always been very responsible and chose well in her decisions most of the time. Beth, my younger sister was the tomboy of the family, so Daddy got his ‘son.’ Benay, as the baby of the family, was carted around by all of us like a baby doll. I remember the first day of middle school when we got our assignments. I was assigned to a teacher to whom Becki had been assigned. The teacher was thrilled when she discovered I was her sister. It didn’t take many days before I heard those dreaded words… ‘You are nothing like your sister.’ I knew exactly what that meant. It meant that my actions were not living up to her expectations. It meant I was being silly when silly wasn’t on her agenda for the day. It meant I was talking over the one who should be talking over me. It meant my older sibling was a better example of how to be…how to act…how to navigate. I used to think the teachers were less than loving when they would say this. But looking back I know that they just wanted me to be the best version of myself…to live up to my potential…to grow and mature into a responsible adult.

We also have a beautiful older Brother who went before us in life. He faced many of the same problems we do, no doubt. He made perfect decisions every time. He too had siblings, a few who thought He was crazy once His ministry was in full force. But Jesus walked to the tune of heaven, not earth. He walked out the will of His Father, and because we follow Him we gain the full benefits that we would never be worthy enough to claim without His life. Considering the comparison, I know that God has given each of us a snapshot of Christ. The Teacher isn’t saying, ‘You are nothing like your Brother’ out of frustration or condemnation. Rather, God is saying that to know Him is to understand the walk of His Son. To please God is to transform our hearts into the heart of our Brother. God loved us enough to send His only child down into a cruel world to usher us up into a perfect kingdom.

As believers we have access to a large family, some on earth and some in Heaven. Christ did the work on the cross for us, and as we grow spiritually we develop attitudes like our Brother. I’m so grateful that God doesn’t have favorites, but He does give us a picture in Christ of how to be the best version of ourselves…our God-created version. Let us take our place in the family, and hold each other’s hands as we all mature in Christ.

When a Kiss is Truly a Kiss

While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs…Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.  And Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you have come for.’” Matthew 26:47-50

There is not much written on the disciple, Judas Iscariot except the historical account of his betrayal of Jesus in the garden. But to understand how great the fall came through his betrayal of Jesus, we must understand his prior relationship with Jesus.   Jesus not only hand-picked Judas as one of his inner circle, but he made him treasurer of the group’s financial resources.  Judas not only traveled with Jesus, he studied under him for three years.  It is written in Scripture that on occasion Judas ‘helped himself to the money bag’ for his own gain.  Clearly, he had a weakness and a temptation greater than his loyalty to Jesus.  I gain a great deal of satisfaction and amusement when I think of all the secrecy, plotting and planning behind Jesus’ back.  Judas no doubt thought that his plan would not point the finger at him, since the identification would be made through a kiss.  But Jesus brought down pretense that day as His eyes met the eyes of the one who would betray Him in the garden.  ‘Friend, do what you have come to do.’ That was the signal of betrayal…outward loving affection with selfish inward motives.

Before we judge Judas, we must examine our own actions.  How many times have we said godly things with our mouths, only to hide things in our hearts?  How many prayers have we spoken only to use that same mouth to tear others down?  When our words or actions hurt and wound people we betray Jesus.  Plotting and planning with hidden motives will always plant that betraying kiss.   He has told us that what is done to others is done to Him.  (Matthew 25:45) Loving others well is not predicated with how well they love us.  Jesus gave us an example of complete forgiveness to those who have betrayed and hurt us.  Jesus had complete knowledge of what was in his heart, and what was about to happen.  He still considered Judas a friend, and no matter what we do He will continue to love us too. 

Our responsibility is to examine our walk and our talk, so that when we meet Jesus in the garden of our fellowship a kiss is truly a kiss.  He knows the heart that we bring to Him, and the true affection we have for Him.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Laying Down our Water Jar

A woman of Samaria came to draw water… ‘Sir…you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep.  You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you?’  Then the woman left her water jar, went into the town and told the people.”  John 4:7, 11, 28

This story is very familiar to you I am sure.  It is the story of a woman who chose the hottest part of the day to fill her water jar, when the fewest people would be there.  This is the story of a woman who felt daily shame.  She had discarded four husbands already, and was living with the fifth man unmarried.  As she traveled to the well with the water jar on her head, I wonder what was going through her mind?  Did she have regrets?  Was she really in love with this man or was she just tired of trying?  Were there still dreams in her heart and hope in her soul?  I’ll bet her mind was a million miles away, just like our minds get overwhelmed when looking at our decisions in the rear-view mirror.  Did she feel shame when she realized that Jesus knew everything she had done?  But what happened next was the tender moments she shared with Jesus.  The beautiful exchange between two strangers who ended up connected as one.  The Samaritan woman who had lowered her water jar 1000 different days into the well finally drew water that lasted…water that sustained…water that was a continuous flow of nourishment.  That water was Jesus and she would never be the same.

I remember when one of my children was struggling emotionally, and was lowering the water jar into wells that were dangerous.  I lived in fear and heartbreak for many years.  I specifically remember choosing parts of the day to do errands when I believed the fewest people would be out and about.  I didn’t want to look in their eyes of judgment, sadness, concern or pity.  I only wanted to fill the jar, and quickly close myself up in my house.  But we were never meant to lock up our castles…to lower the gates of our kingdom.  Like the woman in our story, she had little faith in Jesus accomplishing what He said.  She pointed out that the well was deep, and He had nothing to draw with.  The truth is that we will always draw things that do not satisfy until we draw near to Jesus.  He knows everything we fill our jars with, and calls to us to lay it down.  He wants to be our full nourishment and desire, so He can do great things in and through us.

So, I ask you to consider what is in your water jar that never fully satisfies?  What would our lives really look like, if we lay them down and pick up the fullness of Christ?  What did she have to lose on that hot day in the desert, and what do we have to lose today?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Distracted By the Game

Little children, guard yourselves against idols.”  1 John 5:21

I never know what I am going to write about until I have time in prayer, and study my Bible.  Sometimes my topic emerges from my Study while other times God just drops a word or image into my mind.  This morning’s topic dropped out of nowhere like a sudden rainstorm that drenches on a flip-flop kind of day.  There is this beautiful passage of Scripture tucked at the end of 1 John that is describing how complete our lives are when we are in Christ.  It writes an eternal screenplay of the position we have in Him, and the infinite promises that are ours to claim.  And then suddenly, like an unwelcome guest at a perfect party, this little verse abruptly ends the Book of 1 John.  In considering this warning, I really believe that it is cautioning us against the very thing that can distract us from living out what is already ours as believers.

I remember when my son Michael was about 5 years old and we were sitting next to each other on the couch.  We were the only one’s home, and he had just gotten a Game Boy.  All he wanted to do was play that game, exhausting his thumbs and numbing his mind as most children that age.  As we sat there I got choked on something that went down my throat wrong and I couldn’t breathe.  I began making those horrible noises where it is obvious little breath is getting through.  I began to panic, and Michael continued playing the game.  Eventually I was able to take in small breaths and gain the composure I had so lost.  I still am so amused when I remember his statement to me as I was trying to recover.  He never looked up from his game, and with his thumbs madly pressing the buttons and said, ‘Mom, are you okay?’  We still laugh about that as a family.  He was so engrossed and distracted by the game that he almost missed out on what was going on around him.

Aren’t we just like that as we surround ourselves with the distractions of the world?  Aren’t we the little children being warned about allowing idols to control our attention?  We also exhaust our thumbs turning the pages of catalogs, and purchasing things we really don’t need.  We spend hours upon hours numbing on minds on social media, and obsessing on the lives of others.  We eat when we are not hungry, and we drink when we are dissatisfied.  We keep our attention solely focused on the news, and the national division in which we live.  Our children and grandchildren can become idols, and even our guilt can become an idol.   We barely lift our eyes up from our own interests, missing the needs of those around us.  We must guard ourselves against the idols we build for ourselves, otherwise we will miss out on the fullness on earth that we can have in Christ.  The only satisfaction we can find on earth lives in Heaven.  When we seek God with a spiritual hunger Heaven invades earth, and any lack we have God will provide.  Spiritual hunger is that craving that nothing on earth has the power to satisfy.  It is a craving for Who instead of what.  It is a desire to reconnect with God Himself instead of what He can do for us.  When we seek Him with the same passion we serve our self-made idols, we come in for the blessing of fullness.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hilltops of Heaven

Therefore He is able to save completely those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.Hebrews 7:25.

When the kids were young their ages ranged between an 8-year span from oldest to youngest.  There were different things going on both individually for them, and collectively for the family.  There were times when different challenges arose that required us as parents to discuss decisions and the timing on things.  We loved going to Long Cove which was a lake-front pool club to which we belonged from the time I was pregnant with Michael.  On that property was a beautiful hill that overlooked Lake Wylie.  We would go there, spread a blanket and talk about the things that effected our family.  Bruce and I would sit side by side discussing the next step in this or that.  Our dreams for our children were considered, along with consequences we had to lay out to redirect them when they erred in judgement.  Sometimes we disagreed, many times we compromised and most times we became unified on a decision regardless of who ‘won.’  The basic motivation from both standpoints was love and concern that our decisions would work to their good, both individually and collectively for the family.

As I ponder these beautiful memories in my heart this morning, I can just picture Christ and God sitting side by side on that beautiful hill overlooking the lake.  I can just hear my name being raised, as they discuss what is best for me, and what is best for my family.  I can imagine that together they are making decisions that will benefit the whole family, instead of just my desires.  I’ll bet they spend hours talking about their concerns for me and my family…consequences that arise from our decisions…unfulfilled desires that in due time will become our reality in fullness.  It blesses me to know that each of my children’s names are being spoken from the mouth of the Father and Son.  Why should I ever worry about them, since the Trinity sits upon that beautiful hill where the sun never goes down, and the storms never keep them from the beautiful hilltop of Heaven.

I pray that you will be blessed to know that they are sitting side by side, discussing every detail of your life.  You are not alone, and your circumstances have already been decided.  It is our job to find the freedom and joy of this earth in Christ, and leave all of the heavy lifting to the Ones who have the real muscle...the power to accomplish.  When we can live in the ebb and flow of life, allowing God to steer the ship we will experience the beauty of the journey. 

This was our view for 30 years as we considered every detail of our children’s lives.  This is my glimpse of heaven on earth where God and Christ discuss our ‘comings and goings.’  When you feel like you have been forgotten, or feel weary from waiting for an answer, may we all picture this beautiful hill where details are spoken over each of our lives.