Monday, December 26, 2011

Give me Your eyes so I can see

This song has pretty much been the anthem of these last couple months of my life. It's one of my all-time favorites.

Give me Your eyes for just one second....
I feel like I'm looking at the world through a different pair of lenses.  It's still blurry most of the time, but now and then, I get a clear glimpse of the deep-seated heartache of a passer-by, the desperate longing for something more in the eyes of a mother doing her grocery shopping, the attempt to conceal worry and concern in the man selling the Sunday paper in the busy intersection.

I know I miss so much- my mind whirling as I go through the motions of the day, reflexes tuned to my children's moves but not to the hearts around me.  Occupying myself with noise and flashing images, as if I'm afraid of silence and stillness. I'm caught up in myself, and I miss all the people the Lord would have me reach out to, even if it's just to smile and give a friendly hello.

Give me Your arms for the broken hearted....More and more, I see those around me for who they are. Broken-hearted beings in search of something to fill that gaping hole. Burnt out on life- on marriage, parenthood, careers..... The senile old woman- missing her family, feeling abandoned ever since her husband died. The man with road rage- always angry, always at the boiling point, never satisfied, always in a rush and wishing he could just have peace. The flustered young woman who snaps at her child- trying to juggle her roles as wife, mother, daughter, and friend and feeling quite inept.

I remember, in one of my darkest hours, driving down the interstate in my black Nissan Sentra, baby Merika buckled into her carseat, tears streaming down my face and a parade of emotions marching through my soul. I remember coming to that bridge, punching in the gas, determined to crash through the barriers.... end it all.  And then my cell phone rang.....

I think of all the times a friend or family member called at the perfect time, the God-time, the time I needed it most. And that hello on the other end of the phone was like God wrapping His arms around me and pulling me to safety, reassuring me, saving me, loving me.  I thank the Lord for people who listen to the Holy Spirit when He says, "Make that call," or "Stop by her home," or "Write that letter."

Give me Your love for humanity.....
There's something we all have in common- we're all human. And, despite all our differences, preferences, and backgrounds.... we are all made from the mold of humanity.  Lord, it's so easy to point fingers and shake fingers and give the finger when it suits us because we feel (or know) we are right.  We forget how wrong we've been and the mistakes we've made. It's my nature to offer myself more grace than I would someone else.  Isn't that the truth for us all?

If there's one thing I've learned from sticking my foot in my mouth a few hundred times, it's that we rarely know the whole story.  We judge based on actions, what we would do, how it affects us, blah blah blah- but we.... I.... often have a hard time looking at the heart of the person.  I spent a couple years resenting my husband- hating him, really- because I was more concerned about my own heart than his. I allowed myself grace, but him I gave none.  I wanted him to understand my perspective, but I was not interested in his heart, his view, his feelings.  Of course, I don't think I could have verbalized any of this at the time, but it is very clear to me, looking back, that mercy was a tool I used in manipulation.  But grace and mercy aren't really grace and mercy when they are not used in the spirit of unconditional love.  It's easy to do something when it serves me, when it benefits me, when it feels good to me.... when it causes no pain on my behalf.

But then I see the Lord's love for humanity- His own creation.  A love like no other that led the Word of God to become flesh to save the souls of men.  (John 1:1-14)  Not something He had to do, but something He desired to do because He loves us.  A choice.  A choice to endure shame and pain and rejection.  To be nailed to a cross and suffer the sins of the world.  It's hard to understand, to comprehend.  And maybe that's what keeps a lot of people from becoming Christians- they don't understand why this man, Jesus of Nazareth, "had" to die on the cross and how that painful death saves them from their sins. I admit, for the longest time I didn't really understand it either.  Maybe if we understood that we'd have a clearer picture of God's love for us.

I want that love- love that doesn't count the cost to me, but just sees the need in others and reaches out. My hands and feet as Jesus' hands and feet. My heart beating one with His.

Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten....

He wasn't a beggar- he was selling the Sunday paper on the corner.  He was bent over his a stack of papers when we pulled up to the light.  "Is he wearing a woman's jacket?" I noted, more as a comment rather than a question.  His jacket was the sort you see unfashionable old women wearing these days. It might have passed for a man's jacket as it was made mostly of slick black material, the kind "windpants" are made of, except the sort that is poofy like we wore in the 90's with a piece of floral material across the back.

He shook uncontrollably, not because of the cold (although it was a little chilly), but because of some nervous disorder.  Immediately I felt my heart pricked.  He was old, his face weathered.  I'm not sure what nationality he was, and at first I thought he might be Korean, but the wrinkles hooded his eyes, and so I couldn't  be sure. Maybe he was from Honduras or even from India. Regardless, he's a creation of God.
I reached for my purse, then I set it back down. I looked down at it, mouth opened wide, wallet within view. Brandon looked at me, seeing the inner argument unfold. He looked at my purse and at me as I quickly snatched my wallet from the bowels of my bag, zipped it open and thrust a crisp bill his way before I could contemplate it any further.

Brandon rolled down his window, and the old man in the woman's jacket leaned forward, holding up a paper.

"No paper," Brandon said, shaking his head. "Merry Christmas," he smiled as he folded the bill into the man's shaking hands. I could tell he hadn't held many of these.  He stared at it, hand shaking, wind flapping the cash wildly. I was afraid it was going to whip out of his hands and be carried off by the breeze.  His mouth moved, his body shook, and I couldn't hear his words as he stepped away from our van, still staring at the money before he tucked it into the safety of his pocket.

"What was that about?" Brandon asked, referring to the up-purse, down-purse.
"I knew God wanted me to give him the money Mom and Dad gave me as a gift. It was so clear, but I felt like I just wanted to think it over.  Then I realized, no... if I think it over, I'll make an excuse, the light will turn green, the moment will pass, and I'll have ignored that still, small voice which was so definite and sure. I don't know what he'll do with the money, I just know that God wanted me to give it to him."
I spent the rest of the drive wondering about the man.  What is his story? Where does he come from? What are his desperate needs?  Does he have family to provide for? Does he have a home? Does he know the Lord? I should pray for him, I thought.  I can give him money, but what he really needs is prayer.

A week or so ago, I received a book in the mail from our curriculum supplier, Sonlight.  The Holzman's, the family behind Sonlight, had read a book written by their friend, Clare DeGraaf, and found it so moving that they wanted to share it with Sonlighters.  It amazes me how God moves through other people, and I was so thankful to receive the gift of The 10 Second Rule.  
The 10 Second Rule is an easy read. It's not a lengthy book with a complicated, hard to follow message. In fact, the message is rather simple. Do the next thing you are reasonably certain God wants you to do (which, by the way, will never contradict what He requests of Christ-followers in the Scriptures).  It's interesting that this book should arrive at the time in my life when I am really trying to tune into the desires and promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Not a coincidence, I'd say.

It was as if God Himself was saying, "Mandy, stop over-thinking it. Stop. Listen. Obey."

I confess, I do tend to over-think things.  Will he waste the money?  Will that person think I'm strange if I give her a hug? Is God really asking me to do ____?

And, truth is, sometimes there are times when it's me that would like to do something, and it's not God calling me to do it.   When God impresses upon me to do something, it's clear and hard to ignore... even though I may try.  But my husband will tell you that I'm one of those "let's save the world" types who wants to help everyone.  But, I'm beginning to see a difference between "Mandy wants" and "God wants".

Of course, all of this applies within my own family. Do I see their needs? Oh Lord, build within me that discernment- to know when to speak and when to hold my tongue, to know when they need that hug or special Mom-moment, to do things at the right time.  To know when my husband desperately needs that kiss or hug or alone time with me... when he needs me to stop everything and just be with him.  To listen for that prompting to call my mom at "just the right time", when she needs to talk or needs to know she's loved.
Like I said, it's easy for me to wrapped up in the "Mandyness"- you know, the chores that need to be done, daily frustrations, minor irritations, what's going on in my own head. I don't want to be like that. I want my heart to be open and my mind focused on the Lord, ready for the task He has prepared for me.  I don't want to miss those moments.  I want to see others through God-glasses, lay aside my own concerns, worries, and agendas and live for Him- truly taking my place in the Body of Christ, reaching out with Jesus-love.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What I learned from skipping Christmas

 I am really, really glad we decided to do a low-key Christmas this year.  It was truly a relaxed, hassle-free holiday for once, especially since we were able to avoid all the chaos of the stores.
We were able to steer clear of most of the commercial holiday gimmicks (especially since we don't watch television), and no one seemed to miss going sans-trees and holiday decor. (Although, I still do have a fake strand of evergreen above the kitchen windows- it's been there for a year.)  I've read so many posts on Facebook, blogs, and other places in which people exclaim that they are so stressed out.  And, from my current prospective, I have to say that most of that stress is self-done.  I feel we choose to put so much on ourselves around the holiday seasons- we want it to look and feel a certain way, and we think we have to have so many gifts under the tree, and the family meal has to go just perfect and....

Then there's the depression that sets in when you cannot afford to buy very many gifts for your children, and the pretty Christmas picture you have in your mind does not unfold as you wish it would. I know what that's like, I've been there as well.  But, more and more lately, our family has been looking at other families around the world and seeing that, even at our poorest, we are incredibly rich.  

We complain about not having this or that gadget or toy, or not having the best gifts under the tree, or there not being ham at the Christmas Eve dinner (finger pointing at my husband here, ha!) .... and we're so caught up in what we want, what we desire, and things we think we need... when in reality, it's all a cherry on top. I suppose this is one of the big negatives of living in America where wealth is taken for granted and called "poverty", where people who have a big screen television and expensive gadgets complain about not having enough food on the table. I don't think we understand how completely ridiculous that sounds to someone in Lesotho, South Africa where our friend, Nkutu, lives.
Our perspective is extremely skewed, and we call our selfish desires our "rights", and we think we deserve every little thing we desire while people who work harderthan us, live tougher than us, and see things no human being should ever see struggle just to get food on the table

Believe me, I'm preaching to myself as much as anyone else.
And, maybe it sounds like I can say this stuff now because we're doing good financially, but that hasn't always been the case.  And, while the main reason we're doing well financially is because of the grace of God, another reason is because we've learned our lesson in managing money, don't buy anything we can't pay with in cash, and try to keep a savings stored up.  However, all of that is just MONEY and it can be gone in a second.. and someday it will.  (Seriously, all China has to do is cash in on all the debt we owe them, and the people of the United States are going to find that they won't be able to afford a loaf of bread!)

For all the folks talking about the "Christmas Spirit", I really hope they aren't talking about the Spirit of Christ... because that's not what I see this time of year (for the most part). What I see is a spirit of materialism, people concerned about what they are getting, what to get for other people, who got something better than they did.....  and depressed when the "Christmas Spirit" doesn't hit us like we hoped, and we can't smile through the season because the season is a hassle and a hoax and is making us go broke and our kids hardly appreciate the things we spent good money on.
Know what I mean?

I'm not saying we can't have nice things, but man... so often we make life about those "nice things".  This morning, I was looking at my face in the  mirror, noticing the subtle changes that aging brings, and I actually felt okay with that.  It's just a face, it's just skin, it's just a vessel. It's not me... it's just the vessel that contains me.

Lord, I don't want to be so obsessed with how I look, what I have, and my own status in life that I miss the point of it all.  It's not about any of that, yet we spend so much of our time- waste so much of our time- obsessing over it all.
These last half-dozen years of my life have been very interesting to say the least. I had everything stripped away from me, and I had everything "returned" (so to speak) and more. For me, who I was, my identity, was tied to my stuff- the appearance of things, how it looked, how I looked, what I had.  It was very humbling to have that all taken from me. Very. 
I didn't write a lot on my blog in those days, and when I did, I didn't go into much detail about that part of our lives. It was embarrassing. I didn't want anyone to know that we hardly had two pennies to rub together, and were always in danger of losing our business and our home.   But, through all of that, God taught me that it's just stuff.  And I learned to give, even when I had little to give (whether it was of my money, time, effort, strength, love..).  I learned to take joy in those "simple" things, which, in reality, are the big things.
But it's so easy to forget those lessons.

This month has been absolutely amazing as we have leaned on the Lord to show us what to do, how to bless others, how to be vessels of His love. I keep having to remind myself- it is not about  me.  It's easy for me to get caught up in my wants, feelings, plans.... and to ignore God's desires, His will, His hopes for me.

We started out this month with plans not to "do Christmas", and yet I feel that we have "done" Christmas more than ever.  It has been so refreshing to set aside the materialism, the rush and the mental stress of it all, and just focus on Christ.   It's been so great have so many opportunities to teach our children about giving, real giving.  Giving to people who can't afford to return the favor, who won't be able to repay your kindness.  I'm talking about the kind of giving that is not a "gift exchange", but the kind of giving that is as Christ's example- giving to those who truly need and will never ever be able to repay you.  I mean, if we're going to celebrate Christmas, isn't that what it's REALLY all about?

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8]
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  [Romans 5:6] 
That is what it's about, isn't it? That's what life is about.  Sometimes I picture Christ dying for those who had stoned Him, scorned Him, betrayed Him- dying for those who hate Him, blaspheme Him, use His name in vain.  Dying for those who justify sin and love wrong-doing.  Dying... dying for the murderer, the child-abuser, the rapist.  Not just the "good" people, but those society deems bad and horrible and disgusting as well.

This is the kind of love we are called to have. To love the unlovable, not just those we like.  To give, to extend ourselves to the fullest extent.  To think of others, to serve others, above ourselves.

This was the lesson God was desperately trying to teach me when  our friends were living with us, yet I kept thinking about myself, my own feelings, and justifying myself by society's standards.  Afterall, as people kept telling me, hadn't we gone "above and beyond" in inviting a family of six into our home for a month? 

But Christ calls us to go beyond what "good people" do, to stretch ourselves, to give until it hurts.  And, in doing that, there really is no room for this mindset that Imust have, I will have, I deserve....

Like I said, I feel that, in "skipping" Christmas, I have had the best Christmas of all.  I've appreciated my family more than ever, I've enjoyed giving more than ever, I've seen the Holy Spirit move more than ever (not that He wasn't moving before, I just didn't see it).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A sapling grows the way you bend it.

You must start training your children one year before their first birthday, because if you don’t, they will be trained without your input. A sapling grows the way you bend it. But if you don’t bend it, it will grow and take shape just the same, though not as you would have it. It will be shaped by the prevailing winds, which, you can be sure, never blow in the right direction. 
From day one, every conscious moment of a child’s life is training; every event, and non-event, is schooling, preparation for the rest of life. If a child’s eyes can see, tongue can taste, nose can smell, hands can feel, or ears can hear, training is in progress. Parents don’t need to initiate a program, set aside a time, or confront the child in some special way for training to occur. Training and schooling never cease, never rest. A child develops with or without you. If you are not deliberately leaving your imprint on every stage of his development, know that someone is. [Source]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Your Hand is Open

I wrote this song earlier in the month after reading a selection from Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts-

"Joy is a flame that glimmers only in the palm of the open and humble hand. [...] The moment the hand is clenched tight, fingers all pointing toward self and rights and demands, joy is snuffed out. Anger is the lid that suffocates joy until she lies limp and lifeless." 

Voskamp writes about how we clench our fists trying to control the circumstances of our life, as we try to hold on to that joy, that moment, and it really pricked my heart as I know I am so very guilty of this.

Your Hand is Open
Mandy M**** ã 2011

Your hand is open, my hand is closed
In attempt to grasp some sense of control
Fist tightly bound, heart tightly wound
And I’m holding on to nothing at all.

Your hand is open, my hand is closed
You offer blessings, and I say, “Lord, no.”
Fist clenching still, tho’ I desire Your Will
Yet I’m holding on to nothing at all.

Your hand is open, my hand is closed
Shutting out joy that I could have known.
I’m crying inside, dying inside
’Cause I’m holding on to nothing at all.

Your hand is open, my hand is too
Receiving Your grace, Your mercies anew.
Fingers uncurled, heart unfurled
I’m letting go in the arms of Jesus.

I’m letting go in the arms of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Radical Charity

Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.  ~One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp

For many of us, the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear- fear of insecurity. ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we out on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help. ~ C.S. Lewis

We are just a vessel for Christ to live His life through. ~ Terry Stanley

The point of your life is to point to Him. ~ Crazy Love, Francis Chan

Too much of the good life ends up being toxic, deforming us spiritually. ~ David Goetz

We need to realize that how we spend our time, what our money goes toward, and where we will invest our energy is equivalent to choosing God or rejecting Him. ~ Crazy Love, Francis Chan

True faith holds nothing back; it bets everything on the hope of eternity.  ~ Crazy Love, Francis Chan

God didn't just give a little for us; He gave His very best. He gave Himself. ~ Crazy Love, Francis Chan

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave everlasting comfort and good hope by means of undeserved kindness, comfort your hearts and make you firm in every good deed and word. ~ 2 Thess 2:16,17

"Taking up the cross"... is a call to radical faith. Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the gospel. [...] His call is to consider everything a loss for His sake. His call is total surrender. ~ Forgotten God, Francis Chan

In charity there is no excess. ~ Sir Francis Bacon

The charity that hastens to proclaim its good deeds, ceases to be charity, and is only pride and ostentation. ~ William Hutton

Monday, September 26, 2011

A taste of infinite Love

I pull my bible from the bedside table and flip open to the verses I had read just before sleep invaded, the verses that rolled through my mind as I dreamed, as I groggy-nursed my baby, as the first beams of sunlight spilled across the sheets.  With a whole heart. I will praise Thee. I will sing praise to Thy Name, most High. Be glad. Rejoice. In Thee.

I look to the previous page.

There it is again. Praise. Sing praise. His Name. Most High. How excellent is Thy Name!
The children are memorizing Psalm 24:1.   The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.  I put it to my own tune. Yes, me and you... and the ocean blue, all sea and land is in the LORD's hand, it is His. The verses appear on my lips as I sing. The children cuddle on the couch and read Thank You Prayer. "Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you Lord for everything," my oldest reads.

It is His. It is all His.  Formed by His Word, brought to life by His breath. In everything I can give thanks to the Creator, sing praise to the Most High, be glad and rejoice in Him.

Why do we wait for big events to give thanks, sing praise, rejoice? Why not now? Why not in the little, every day events that I so often overlook?  Are they not worthy of praise as well?

He has on his serious face, and he colors with a mission.  It's the first time I've seen him really consider what hue to use instead of scribbling the whole page with one crayon. Brown for the monkey. Blue for the curtains. Yellow for the man. Green for the chair.

He's growing, and it's happening each millisecond.  Some days I miss it because I'm caught up in dishes and laundry, but today I let the dishes sit in the sink. I watch them, all four of them. His chubby cheeks still draw my kisses, but I can see they are starting to thin. He's four, brand-new-four, this-month-four, and my mind rewinds to the day when he was born into my husband's hands in our bedroom.  Husband baptized by amniotic fluid. Baby, born unassisted, child of faith. Total dependence on the Lord.  Just me and my husband and our baby. Alone. The rest of the world drifting away in the moment of joyful tears and gratefulness and praise to God. And now he's four. He calls cereal "city-all" and likes to "take a bathtub".  He calls his brother Nolyn, "Woah-nen." He snuggles his baby Evangeline a little too tight but only because he fiercely loves her. Now he wants big boy haircuts and shoes that tie and desperately wants to be like his older brother.

He is my blessing. Our olive shoot 1. Does that mean I'm a fruitful vine?  I hear the back door slam, and I unfold myself from the couch. I find Nolyn on the small cement slab with a tiny piece of chalk. Itty bitty ants scurry back and forth, and I show him how to confuse them by drawing circles around them with chalk.

"They must be pretty stupid," he states.
I shrug, "Well, they are really small. Imagine how big a speck of chalk dust looks to them."
"Yeah..." he considers. "It's probably like a big rock!"

It's all about perspective, I realize.

The kids panic over a line of ants marching through a hole in the front door seal. "They're in the carpet!" they squeal. I find myself sighing. Ants. Bah. Arg. Bleh. I suck them into the vacuum, sprinkle "ant-be-gone" dust around the outside of the house, and hope they go away. In the carpet. Bleh.
And then I laugh because I have ants in the carpet because I have carpet. I have walls. I have a roof over my head. I have a house for ants to get into. A house with a foundation and carpet and walls. Not dirt floors. Clay walls. Leaf-thatch roof.  I tell the kids. We're so ridiculously privileged and blessed.

It's all about perspective.
Finding a mass in your daughter's brain- blessing because it is the answer to the prayer and questions of her random and odd behavior. Dirty dishes and loads of laundry- blessing because I have loved ones to cook and clean for. Blessings- olive branches around our table, husband who works hard, sweats hard. We have dishes and food and clothes a'plenty.

Husband and I talk about how those of us loaded with stuff find so much to grumble about. We grumble about our stuff and it's never enough. The children have toys and more toys and it's never enough. And we complain about clothes not being stylish or fitting just right and that's so American.


Stuff gets in the way most of the time. It gets in the way because we're so busy taking care of our stuff, we don't stop to count the blessings, don't see the faces, don't cherish the moments.

We see the negative. The chalk on clothes. The peanut butter jelly mess on the table. The van needing repairs. The A/C struggling to keep up with the summer heat. The smart phone acting stupid.

We sigh and stomp and say we need better and new and more and we're unhappy.  We're unhappy because we're looking through darkened glasses.

It's the perspective. Children managing on their own, making sandwiches so Mommy can relax. Having a van, having an A/C, having a phone. Having a house, even if it has ants. A bed to sleep in, a place to come home to. Coming home, period.

Children see the world differently. Breakfast is exciting. Lunch is a thrill. Park visits make it "the best day ever". Getting the mail is an awesome adventure. Reading beside Mom and Dad, climbing in our bed early in the morning, sweet moments that stay pressed to their hearts even when they are grown with children of their own.

He looks at the jug of tea. It's almost empty, nearly gone. "For me? Just enough for alluvus!" Just a sip, just a taste is enough to make his thankfulness bring a smile to his face, eyes light up.

I thank the Lord that I left the dishes in the sink and chose to watch my children. Reminders of His blessing. A taste His infinite love.  He is worthy of praise. Worthy of praise when there are loads of laundry to be washed, dishes to be scrubbed, meals to be made, children to be taught. These are my acts of worship. I can praise His name as I rejoice through the day, sing my worship as I serve my family and reach out to those around me. Even when I'm exhausted, worn. What a difference that would make in my children's lives to see their mother singing and dancing joyfully while cleaning toilets and changing diapers.   What is it that causes her to be glad and rejoice? What an impact that would make on their lives, impressing the beauty and might of an awe-inspiring God upon their hearts through their mother. Yes, Lord. Let it be!

Sometimes the things looming before me look overwhelming. I forget my praise. I see this white wall before me and don't know it's just chalk dust before the Lord. From here it looks daunting, scary.  Fear grips me, and I stop living. I'm merely surviving. Surviving through the dishes, the laundry, the dusting, the errands, the cooking, the bedtimes, the serving. I press my praise into a bag and start thinking about "when". When this happens, when that happens, when life gets better. I'll pull out my praise then.

I forget the here and now. I forget this is the day the Lord made, I should rejoice and be glad in it. I'm weary, and instead of resting in the Lord, I look around me for something else that will satisfy.

Stop. Look. Praise. Worship.
With a whole heart.
My God- my God of marvelous works, righteous, most High.
I am His.  This is all His. The fulness thereof.

1. Psalm 128:3- Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Till you become a burden... do us part.

I thought the vow was, "In sickness and in health."  Evidently, Pat Robertson disagrees. Yet again we find horrible, unbiblical, ungodly advice from a man that people look to as a Christian authority.

I would hope that if I "lost my mind" (whether I was young or old), my husband would love me enough to stick by my side, even if I couldn't even remember his name.  It is godly love that goes the extra mile.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let it rain

Evening rolls in, bringing with it thick, dark clouds.  Could it be? I wonder.
Our land is starved for rain. The grass is crisp. My tomato plants wilty. Allergies are going haywire as the everything turns to dust.  Rain, I pray. Lord let it rain.

The wind howls furiously.  I run outside to drag in trashcans and tuck away plant stands.  My husband helps me remove a sun tarp which violently whips, thwacking the garage door.  The cloud is right over our neighborhood. I fear it will withhold it's rain. Please, Lord.

"Let's pray and thank God for the rain," I hear my eight-year-old say.
But, I think to myself, it hasn't rained yet!
I correct my attitude. Thank Him anyway.

We huddle in the livingroom watching flashes of lightning strike across the sky.  Thunder cracks and echos through our neighborhood. It sounds like a war zone outside.

I hear the clatter of the wind chimes. The kids snuggle close to us on the couch. My daughter is scared. She has all three of her favorite stuffed animals, plus her blanket, pulled close for comfort.  We turn out the lights and I gather all the candles... just in case.  I strike a match and set the flame to each wick.  It's comforting.

My mind drifts as I observe the sky blink and shudder.  When Jesus comes, what will it look like. Will the sky blink and shudder as it does now?  Will it holler and shout out His glory as He rides in?

Rain pours, beating hard upon the windows and the roof.  I awake in the morning to wet ground and light sprinkles.  It is cool and refreshing outside- it hasn't been that way for months.  The earth smells fresh and revived.

Thank you, Lord, I smile.

I see the parallels. I was dry, parched. I cried out, begged for nourishment, life, renewal. And down it poured. Thick and plentiful, soaking the ground just as the rain had my yard.

Ask, and ye shall receive.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Piecing together

Yesterday, my oldest son pulled out a brand new puzzle and asked if we could put it together. I cut open the box for him and watched as he poured the contents onto the kitchen table.  He searched through the pieces, trying to find two to fit together.  Several minutes passed before he asked, "Mom, can you help me?"

I plopped into the chair beside him to show him a simpler way to put together the puzzle.
"First," I began, "you find all the edge pieces."
"Why?" he questioned.
"Well, you see, if you get the border in place, it's much easier to fit the rest of the puzzle together.  We already know that those puzzle pieces with a flat edge are going to make up the border, so we can begin to assemble them first," I replied. "Even if we didn't have a picture of the puzzle to go by, we could still form the border which would give us a guideline to where the other pieces would go."
He smiled, "Makes sense to me!"

This last week, I found myself with bits of scripture here and there, but I didn't realize, until this morning, that God had set those scriptures before me as pieces of a puzzle.  Today He gave me the bigger picture. It was as if He was setting up the border, and today He led me to an image of what it would look like when it was complete.

Previously, I had been looking at a (figurative) pile of pieces wondering how to start and where to place them.  The task seemed overwhelming.

Now I feel like I have direction- I can begin filling in the gaps as I go, depending on the image Christ gave and knowing His power will lead me to completion as I work on what He has already revealed.

Coded post, I realize... but maybe some of you can understand where I'm coming from.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Do I believe God is good all the time?

The thought from William Law's book stays in my mind.  All goodness comes from God.  How many times have those words of the chorus floated off my lips, "God is good, all the time. All the time, He is good."  Have I believed that?  That God is good all the time.

Did I really feel He was good when my daughter was lying in a hospital bed, face pale and head bandaged.  When the doctors didn't even know what that mass was in her brain (and still don't), and we didn't know where that road would take us?  Did I really feel God was good all the time when, weeks after she was discharged from the hospital, we found out this little one in the womb only had a three-chambered heart?

I suppose, with the first blow, it was easier for me to trust in God's plan. I kept singing, "I will praise You in this storm," and I really tried.  The only way I could sleep at night was to leave it in His hands.  Everyone kept remarking at how strong we were.  Were we?  I think we were just trying to survive each moment as it came.  It made me all to aware that God was the giver of life and the taker as well.  I felt so out of control.

Then the second blow, my little baby.  I had suffered four miscarriages before that pregnancy.  We had made it halfway through only to learn that we could possibly lose her shortly after her birth, if not in the final weeks of my pregnancy.

I could hear the pain in my midwife's voice as she called to relate the news.  She knew what we had been through with our oldest child.  She didn't even mention the cyst on the baby's brain.  I suppose she thought the heart issue was enough to handle.

It was then I began to question, "Why us?"  I knew we wouldn't escape our first decade of parenthood without some sort of huge heart-wrenching event, but two? One right after the other?

I recall days sitting on my bed, staring across the room at my reflection in the dresser mirror. Who was that girl? I felt like God was poking and plucking my children one by one.  The future seems so uncertain. Would God heal them both?  Could we be that fortunate?  Why would He do that for me and allow my friend to lose two of her children within two years?  I knew I wasn't more worthy of that mercy and grace.

The story ends well. I have both of my girls, healthy, safe. But now that I'm pregnant again, all those feelings, memories, and emotions are rushing through the cables of my mind. 

God is good, all the time.   Is that what Abraham was thinking when God told him, "Take your son, Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." (Genesis 22:2, HCSB)  Was he singing songs of thanksgiving as he, his son, and his men made their way across the land?  On that third day, as he glimpsed the location from a distance, was his heart full praise?

Did it feel like a punch to the gut when his son asked, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

I've been thinking about this a lot.  What am I willing to sacrifice?  I've come to a place where I feel I could sacrifice my comfortable living, the material things I love.  Could I sacrifice my family?  If God chose to take them away, would my faith remain? Would I still praise His name? Would I still call Him good?

My mind drifts to the author of my favorite hymn [It Is Well With My Soul]. Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer in the 1860's. He was likely more known for his support of preacher D.L. Moody. His testimony amazes me.  Here is a man who seems to have it all- a beautiful wife, five wonderful children, a lovely home in Chicago.  And then tragedy strikes.

Their only son is struck with scarlet fever and dies at the age of four.  (My third-born is about to be four. I can't even imagine...)  A year later, still morning the loss of their loved little boy, the Great Chicago Fire sweeps through the city.  The Spaffords had invested in real estate. Almost everything they owned was ashes.

A couple years later, after the family had pitched in to assist in the restoration of their community, Spafford decided it would be good for his family to take a much needed vacation.  He sent his wife and four daughters to England, as he was delayed in business dealings and planned to follow shortly after.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone."

Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well With My Soul" on this journey. [source: Wikipedia]

The words of his hymn stick with me.

When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul."

I remember singing those words one Sunday as my daughter lay lethargically in the hospital bed. My mom and I wept as we listened to a version on YouTube in that cold, sterile room.

It is well with my soul.

Would it still have been well with my soul if one or both of my daughters had died?

How strong is my faith? I mean, how strong is it really? How strong is it when everything seems to be going awry, when the pretty life I had hoped for begins to make a downward tilt, or the plans I make begin to go askew? Will my faith stand, will praise still joyfully sound, will my hope remain?

Do I truly believe that God is good all the time, even when life has taken a road I'd rather not go down, when I lose those I love, when I'm challenged with sacrifices I'd rather not make?

Oh Lord, help my unbelief!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Worthy of Love

My name, Amanda, means worthy of love.  Strange, since I've spent twenty-seven years of my life believing otherwise.  But, just now, it hit me.  I'm worthy of love because I'm God's creation.  It's not because I'm something fabulous and fantastic on my own or of my own doing.  It's because of Who molded me from dust, Who breathed life into me. Him. I am worthy because of Him.

I was formed by holy Hands.  Pretty amazing to think about.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Power of the Spirit

Some time ago, my husband borrowed the book, The Power of the Spirit (by William Law, edited by Dave Hunt) from our good friend Terry. Brandon raved that it was one of the best books he had ever read, that it had opened his eyes to the truth of the Holy Spirit so many people miss or forget. I intended to read it, but you know how it is.... life gets in the way!

With my hubby out of town, I decided now would be a perfect time to devour it.  With no one to talk to as the household winds down, I can definitely find time to snuggle into my covers with a good book.

If this was my copy, I would have underlined every single word in the first chapter (and likely the second too, but I haven't read it yet.)

Allow me to share some of the (many) points that stuck out to me.  If I were you, I would consider buying my own copy, right now.

"The Spirit of the triune God, breathed into Adam at his creation, was that alone which made him a holy creature in the image and likeness of God. A new birth of this Spirit of God in man is as necessary to make fallen man alive again unto God as it was to make Adam at first in the image and likeness of God.  And a constant flow of this divine life by the Spirit is as necessary to man's continuance in his redeemed state as light and moisture are to the continued life of a plant. A religion that is not wholly built upon this supernatural ground, but which stands to any degree upon human powers, reasonings, and conclusions, has not so much as the shadow of truth in it. Such religion leaves man with mere empty forms and images that can no more restore divine life in his soul than an idol of clay or wood could create another Adam. True Christianity is nothing but the continual dependence upon God through Christ for all life, light, and virtue; and the false religion of Satan is to seek that goodness from any other source."

I should return to a note from the foreword of this book so you can capture a glimpse of who William Law, the man who wrote those words above, truly was.

I have found there were two William Laws: the one who wrote that classic The Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, but who at that stage did not know more than a Christ to be imitated rather than the the Christ imparted; and for that reason John Wesley always had a negative opinion of Law, because Wesley only knew him as the author of that legalistic book in Wesley';s unenlightened and Holy Club days.  But then Law tells many times in his other writings how he later met with the works of Jacob Boehme, the cobbler of Gorlitz, Germany. Through Boehme the midday sun of God's revelation in Christ shone into Law; and while Boehme, as an illiterate shoemaker, could not put his inner insights into coherent German (and his translators into English have the same difficulty), William Law could and did reproduce the essence of Boehme in Law's matchless Spirit of Love and Spirit of Prayer.  [Norman P. Grubb]

I can see why The Power of the Spirit was so passionately written.  When one turns from a legalist sort of life to the power of the Holy Spirit, there is a drastic change within the heart, mind, and soul. As a former legalist, I always struggled with this "freedom in Christ" the bible spoke of. I didn't feel free. If I was free from sin, why did I feel like I was still bound by something else?

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1

I wonder if Law felt the same before he came in contact with Boehme.

I love the point Law makes here:

All goodness comes from God just as surely as all life comes from God. The highest angel has no more of his own that he can offer unto God than the poorest creature upon earth. Were an angel to imagine that the smallest degree of wisdom, goodness, or excellence came from or belonged to himself, his place in heaven would be lost as surely as Lucifer lost his. But songs of praise to their heavenly Father are the angels' ravishing delight, because they never cease to acknowledge God as the source of all good in themselves and in the whole creation. This is the one religion of heaven, and nothing else is the truth of religion upon earth.

This part stings a bit:

Read whatever chapter of Scripture you will, and be ever so delighted with it- yet it will leave you as poor, as empty and unchanged as it found you unless it has turned you wholly and solely to the Spirit of God, and brought you into full union with and dependence upon Him. For delight in matters of Scripture can be nothing but the carnal emotion of a fallen Adam-nature unless this delight finds its source in the inspiration of God as He quickens His own life and nature within the heart.

Wow. Yes. Been there. And I bet William Law had too. For twenty years of my life, the bible was little more than inspirational words and good instruction mingled with fear and horror over what would happen if I couldn't "get it right".  And even still, there are times when I read the bible apart from the Holy Spirit, and while I can take joy in certain verses, I can now tell the difference when it is the Spirit quickening my soul or when it's just my carnal mind taking delight in "a good book".

Law seems to return to the basic, but important truth, that God is the creator of all things.  Each of his points in the first chapter return to this truth- He is the maker.

It is as great rebellion against God to think that your will may ever rightly differ from His as it would be to boast in His universe that you have not received the power of willing from Him.  You are therefore to consider yourself as a being that has no other business in the world but to be that which God requires you to be; to have no desires, to seek no self-ends, but to fill that place and act that part which the divine pleasure has ordained. To think that you are your own, or at your own disposal, is as absurd as to think that you created yourself. It is as plain and necessary a first principle to believe that you are thus God's, and are to act and suffer all in a thankful resignation to His pleasure, as to believe that in Him you "live and move and have your being."

I can just hear the scoffing and see the cringing by those who believe that Christians are a bunch of people who need someone to "control them".  I'm sure there are even a few Christians cringing at these comments.  But they are truth. Law expands on this, and I'd love to share the whole chapter here (but I'm pretty sure that's illegal...)

Here is a great free resource (so I'm told). I've skimmed it. It is based on Law's book, The Power of the Spirit.  Click here to go to the PDF.

With love,

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Struggles: Am I really loved?

Lately, I've been struggling in my faith. Sometimes it is really difficult for me to grasp the love of God.  I've had to remind myself that Jesus died for me. There's never been a bigger statement of love than the Word of God, God in Flesh, taking upon the wrath of the Father as He bore the sins of the world- my sin, your sin, our sin- on that cross.

God really spoke to me through this song this last week. I've posted the lyrics below as well.

Album: A Beautiful Life

You might be the wife waiting up at night
You might be the man struggling to provide
Feeling like it’s hopeless

Maybe you’re the son who chose a broken road
Maybe you’re the girl thinking you’ll end up alone
Praying “God, can you hear me?
Oh God, are you listening?”

Am I more than flesh and bone?
Am I really something beautiful?
Yeah, I wanna believe, I wanna believe that
I’m not just some wandering soul
That you don’t see and you don’t know
Yeah, I wanna believe,
Jesus, help me believe that
I am someone worth dying for

I know you’ve heard the truth that God has set you free
But you think you’re the one that grace could never reach
So you just keep askin’, oh, what everybody’s askin’


You’re worth it, you can’t earn it
Yeah, the cross has proven
That you’re sacred and blameless
Your life has purpose

You are more than flesh and bone
Can’t you see you’re something beautiful
Yeah, you gotta believe, you gotta believe
He wants you to see, He wants you to see that
You’re not just some wandering soul
That can’t be seen and can’t be known
Yeah, you gotta believe, you gotta believe that
You are someone worth dying for
You’re someone worth dying for
You’re someone worth dying for

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Is it okay to watch Harry Potter?

A letter from an Ex-Witch regarding the Harry Potty series:

Obviously, most of my readers (at least the few that commented) believe that movies like Harry Potter (ha, at first I typed "Potty") are okay for the Christian to watch.  Let me just say that I have watched a few Harry Potter movies and other shows which applaud witchcraft in the past.  I was left with the feeling that these movies, books, and shows are enticing children into such practice.  Call me crazy (I'm sure some of you will), but should we really muddy the waters? Or should we do as Philippians 4:8 commands? 

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

I can't be the only child who thought that witchcraft and sorcery was really cool and awesome because of what I read in books, who pretended to have magical powers, and tested the waters of the occult. I had to come to a point of repentance after realizing that these were things God despised.  If God despises something, is it okay if it's only fiction?  I think we're walking a fine line there.

In years past, I did a lot of diving into God's view of sorcery/witchcraft/etc. Should we watch something (even if it be fiction) that is based on something God clearly hates?

2 Kings 17:17
"Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him."

2 Chron 33:6
"He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger."

Galatians 5:19-21
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft (sorcery in some versions), hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

There are many other verses which talk about the occult/sorcery/witchcraft.  I'm not saying that anyone who reads such books or watches these movies is not a Christian, but as Christians, we should really pay attention to what we allow to filter through our brain (and especially what we allow in our childrens' minds, as they soak up everything).

As always, I enjoy friendly discussions on the subject.  Any rude and disrespectful notes will be deleted.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Lord's Holy Name: Reverence and Awe

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28)

The year is 1890, and bible professor Russel Carlisle's new book, which asserts that morality can be taught independent of Christianity, is soon to be published. But a devout colleague, Dr. Anderson, believes that what Carlisle has written will seriously affect the morals of future generations. To prove his theory, he sends Carlisle more than 100 years into the future (using a time machine his father created), offering him a glimpse of where his writing will lead.

Carlisle not only finds himself in a strange culture, but he's also astonished by how far technology has come. He attends a church and is invited to attend movie night. Imagine this man from the nineteenth century snuggled in a theater next to other church members, and watch this:

Later, as he discusses his distress over the people's lack of shock and anger over the Lord's name being blasphemed with the church group, one man whispers to his buddy, "This guy must be one of those legalists that thinks all movies are sinful."

I found myself relating to Carlisle here. The Church is no longer astonished or disgusted when the Lord's name is used in vain.  In fact, I have heard many who proclaim themselves as Christians toss around the Lord's name as if it's a curse word.

The other day, my family and I were hanging with some (Christian) friends when I heard their teenage daughter sigh, "Sweet baby Jesus," in response to something ridiculous someone said.  No one even blinked an eye. 

It's one thing to hear the world mingle the Lord's name with the F-word, but it's even more astonishing and sickening to me when I hear those who bear His name use it so flippantly.

I've been studying reverence lately, and last night these words rung in my ears:
[Says the Lord of Hosts] "My covenant with him [Levi] was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of my Name.  True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity."  Malachi 2:5-6 (NASB)
In the Old Testament, “reverence” occurs as the translation of two Hebrew words: Yare’ (pronounced yaw-ray’), which carries the meaning of “fear.” This word is used to express the attitude toward God Himself, the thought being one of fear, awe and respect. The second word, shachah (pronounced shaw-khaw’), carries the meaning of “falling down” as in the prostration of the body- the thought with this word being honor, submission and obeisance. [1]  [Obeisance -noun: a movement of the body expressing deep respect and submission; acknowledgment of another's superiority or importance.]  In the New Testament, the fear of God comes from the Greek word phobeo meaning to show deep respect, and awe.

Last night, my husband and I were talking about how today's generation does not understand what it is to respect someone.  I have to admit, I myself am still learning what true reverence and respect is because it is not something that is commonly portrayed. It is difficult to see those who say they are Christ's to toss around His name as if it's meaningless or even swear by God [Why don't we let our yes be yes and our no be no? (Matt 5:37, James 5:12)].

We should not become accustomed to hearing the Lord's name used in vain without an ounce of respect, awe, or love for our Creator, Savior, and King.  If we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, it should sicken and sadden us deep within. It should shock us every time!

And, maybe this will make me "one of those legalists that things all movies are sinful", but we should avoid movies, shows, and books that disrespect the Name of the Lord.  We need to remember that His name is Holy. His Name matters. The bible has to say a lot about His Name. His Name is the name above all names (Phil. 2:9). Christ is "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come" (Eph. 1:21) and there is life in His name (John 20:31). It should bother us when His Holy, Great Name is used disrespectfully! His Name is everything!

You know what else bothers me? When people improperly use the word Holy.  Poo is not holy. Cows are not holy. Moly (molé?) is not holy. Don't call them such. Only God is holy. Reserve that description for Him. By His power and in His Name, we are made holy, and I am grateful for that!

See post: A Holy, Righteous God: No Room for Irreverence


Thursday, June 30, 2011

What about Children's Church?

I love this Spurgeon quote Mrs. Fuentes shared on her blog A Wise Woman Builds Her Home:

Let no Christian parents fall into the delusion
that Sunday School is intended
to ease them of their personal duties.
The first and most natural condition of things
is for Christian parents
to train up their own children
in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

-Charles Haddon Spurgeon

My husband and I are not a big fan of Sunday School.  First of all, I don't really care for the way that churches mimic the humanistic institutional method of separating children by age groups.  Secondly, I've seen too many Sunday School classes that look more like playtime with a story of Jesus thrown in somewhere.  I've seen churches put on a big Children's Church production every week (with characters singing and dancing across the stage) that rivals Disney Musicals. The focus is on entertaining the children and keeping them busy- not Jesus.

I've been to churches where children are not allowed in the service.  There have been times when Sunday School teachers have argued with us, making quite a scene as the pastor got up to speak, and have even grabbed our children's arms and attempted to drag them away from us into their Sunday School classes even after we have made our stance known.

I don't want you to think I'm completely against children's bible classes.  Certainly many children, especially those without godly parents, benefit from them.  However, many parents have surrendered this command to disciple and train up their children to the church- some in part, some completely.

I think many homeschool families may use Sunday School as a means of socialization, and certainly it is good for our children to fellowship with other families within the body of Christ, but children also should learn to worship, praise, and learn alongside their parents.  Obviously there may be times when certain subjects will not be appropriate for children's ears.  However, I believe pastors, teachers, and anyone bringing a message from the Lord should keep children in mind and try to present their message in a clear manner.

Somehow people have picked up this idea that children are incapable of understanding such "lofty" things from the bible without significantly "dumbing them down", but I have found that most children are able to understand more than we give them credit for.  Yes, there will be certain things they don't understand which parents can expand on later, but they will soak up quite a bit.  It helps for parents to explain what is discussed within the meetings over the days following. This not only helps the child grow in their understanding, but it keeps the message from evaporating from the mind as soon as the church service or gathering is over (at least, I have found this to be true for me).

I believe sitting within the church meeting, listening along with my parents, and reading the bible at home when I was a kid helped in other ways as well. My vocabulary grew, and I  learned how to define words by the context they were used in.  I grew up reading the King  James Version, which, even at six or seven years old, was not too far above my comprehension.  (We tend to read the NASB or Holman Christian Standard with our children, though.) I also learned how to sit still and be quiet for an hour or two.  I have heard many say this is impossible for young children, especially toddlers, but I can tell you, it is not impossible. Yes, there will be some days when things don't go so well, but children can learn to be still and quiet.  This is easier done when you start from birth.  Children have a harder time doing this when they have become accustomed to playing and being entertained during church meetings and services.

Another issue I have with children's church is that we don't always know what is being taught to our children.  When our children sit in the meeting or service with us, we hear what they hear, but when they are separated from us, we cannot be totally sure what they are being taught, even when we are given an outline or a sheet that explains it. At one church we attended, the only "test" a Sunday school teacher had to pass was a background check.  As long as their record was free of felonies and such, they were allowed to teach children. No one questioned their doctrinal beliefs.

Don't misunderstand me here. I'm not saying you cannot send your children to Children's Church.  This is something you need to pray about and consider yourself.  (I'm not going to judge you either way as it is not my place!)

Some have asked what we do.  When we visit the Church in Moss Bluff, Louisiana, our children attend the Children's Church classes.  When we have a Church meeting or a fellowship gathering in our home, our children often play in the backyard.  When we have a meeting or a teaching at someone else's home, our children usually sit on the floor and color or draw when we are not singing or praying. I believe they are capable of listening and taking in while they color or draw, so this is fine with us.

Most of all, we understand that we should not depend on children's classes, church meetings, services, or teachings to disciple and train our children. That is our task as parents which is to be done daily in the home as we walk together, talk together, and live together.  There are many moments and opportunities in every day life to train and teach them "the way of the Lord".

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christ in Every Day Life

Body life is only as good as your individual life with Christ. Don’t make the mistake of substituting relationships with people for a relationship with Christ.  (T. Stanley)

Fellowship is important. To say otherwise would be a lie, but too often, we put all our focus on fellowship, and we forget about Christ. While we certainly can (and should) worship, pray, praise, learn and grow as a group, it's important to understand that our relationship with Christ is very personal. Our relationship with the Lord must be nourished outside of a fellowship group setting.

A friend of ours used to say (and probably still does), "Revival starts in the home."  People often want to see revival in their churches, but they seem to forget that revival starts within the individual. People want to see revival in their church, but they neglect their families. It starts with you, it spreads to your family, fills the church and floods out into the community.

I've been in groups who believe that it is their fellowship which saves. They don't have a solid relationship with the Lord Jesus, but they have a great relationship with their church community. They don't seek His truth and hold what they hear in their gatherings against the light of Scripture.  They base their whole belief system off a group or gathering or way of gathering rather than Christ alone. It is great to have a "brotherhood", but we must remember:

Just because a group has the "spirit of brotherhood" does not mean they have the Spirit of Christ.

Many groups have a spirit of brotherhood. My cousin onced explained that, as a marine, there is a spirit of brotherhood and unity among other marines.  I have been to gatherings of women where there is a spirit of "sisterhood" in that we are all mothers and have all experienced the trials of labor, birth, and babies.  We are united and have much to share with one another.

So many people believe because they have felt the spirit of brotherhood and have built relationships within a religious atmosphere that they somehow have built a relationship with Christ.  Unfortunately, most of the people who have done this are blind to it, and it will take a revelation of God to open their eyes.

Many have built their fellowship and their idea of salvation around another man's misinterpretation of the bible, and because they do not seek out the truth of the bible and are accustomed to reading the bible through a false filter, they continue to believe falsehoods.

Our relationship with the Lord is our own. If we don't seek Him, praise Him, and spend time with him (which means listening, speaking, and just "being" with Him), we aren't nourishing our relationship.

There may be times in our life when we are not able to fellowship with others for some reason or another.  Will we be starved because we have not built a real relationship with the Lord and do not know how to feed ourselves in Christ from the Scriptures without someone preaching it to us?

Do we only sing songs of praise and worship and really focus on the Lord when we are in a group setting, or do we have these moments when we are alone with God? Do we do this as a family, or do we reserve it only for "church"?  Or, do you not even do such a thing in "church"? I have been to "churches" where they do not understand or know what it is to praise and worship as a group, nevermind as individuals!

What does our personal relationship with Christ look like?  Do we seek Him out, meditate on His Word, sing of His glory and majesty, long for His direction and correction, and allow ourselves to just bask in Him when we go about every day life?

As much as I love to fellowship with others, I should really cherish my one-on-one time with the Lord. This is something I definitely have had to work at through the years since my conversion from "religious" to Christ-follower.

Some years ago, I found myself looking upon some of my Christian friends with envy. I desired to have a relationship with the Lord that they seemed to have.  I would later realize that my relationship with the Lord usually depended on how often I sought Him and poured my time into Him. It's amazing how we often get to thinking that we can have a great, flourishing relationship with the Lord but neglect Him in our personal, every day lives.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday reads

Hey folks!  Today was an exhausting Sunday for us.  I had one of those good long naps that brought back memories of childhood Sundays.  I always thought my parents were really strange for taking midday naps on Sunday, but now I get it!  Whew, did I need ever that rest!  I  pray that your Sunday was been restful and rejuvenating.  It is my hope that you have been encouraged and strengthened in Christ, not only in your church gathering but in your own devotional time with the Lord. 

Here are some blog posts I've enjoyed "chewing on". I've included some excerpts, but definitely check out the full posts! 

Exactly one year ago, today, I left a twenty-five year pastorate and the professional ministry. The move came after a two year struggle of conscience where I tried to do what Wolfgang Simpson describes as “trying to cross the river without getting your feet wet.” After a year of reflection I offer to you the seven worst/best things I did as a conventional church pastor.

1. Took a full-time salary. Until I left the ministry I had no idea how corrupting a compensation package is to the church. It changes the way you think about yourself and changes the way people view you. You become a sort of professional Christian that floats above the unwashed masses of laity. It affects your decision-making almost every day. The Trinity becomes Father, Son and Holy Cash Flow. [.....]
-The 7 Worst (& 7 best) Things I did as a Pastor in a Traditional Church Ministry

In the previous blog post Longcuts, I shared that the expression of faith in simple, organic and missional paradigms of Christianity require intentionality on your part. Nothing is done for you. Your the initiator of the level of intimacy you want with God. Not only the initiator, but also responsible for your own maturity. Maturity is not easily or quickly attained, so the quicker we start on this journey the better. God expects us to mature, and Paul exhorts the Ephesians and us, in Ephesians 4:14-16 with, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature".

Children have everything done for them. We don't expect anything different, and neither do they. Of course, we want them to mature, to become more and more responsible for themselves in all areas. We move them into adulthood. We call this maturity. That is one of our main purposes as parents and adults in their lives.

Unfortunately, we don't have this same mindset in much of the church. The defining of maturity seems illusive, like a target we never hit or sure of where and what it is. We claim we are training, teaching, leading, etc. people into maturity, and yet they never seem to reach it! All through the process we communicate messages like: "you need me for your spiritual growth", or " without my leadership, you and everything else will fall apart", or "your not ready yet, and I'll be the one to know when you are".
-Longcuts , and the following post, Time to Grow Up

This is my hypothesis.  These parents aren’t trying to train their children to obey, they are trying to control chaos.  Their discipline is based on the amount of chaos they can handle at a given time.  Deliberate disobedience is far less of a concern.  Therefore the child learns to monitor their parent’s mood and the situation closely knowing that the things they can get away with are not dependent so much on them and their behavior as on their parents and the environment.  This is a disaster for kids.  It makes the parents patience and tolerance the real trigger for discipline instead of the child’s behavior.  It trains kids less how to obey and more how to manipulate a situation.  This leads the child to routinely push his or her parents to the edge since they have been systematically trained to find that edge of tolerance and keep their parents there continuously.  How exhausting for the parents.  How destructive for the children.  And when they see an obedient child their reaction is, “I wish my child had that temperament”.  So they blame their child when they have spent years training their children to behave in this manner.  There’s a much better, easier way.
- Controlling Chaos VS Obedience Training for Young Children

The author of this post so clearly puts into words what I love about being part of a simple home church that seeks to "do life" together. I truly love the people we meet with and am always looking forward to fellowshipping with them again.  The Spirit bonds us together as we share our heart and our struggles, teach, rebuke, and pray for one another, as well as join together and lift our hands in worship and praise to God.

- Read: I've Got Your Back

One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ character is His radical inclusivity. When Jesus walked this earth, He despised the spirit of separatism, elitism, and self-righteousness (Mark 9:38-40). And He still does today (Hebrews 13:8, NKJV).

Augustine’s famous line still holds true: “In essential, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

These essentials of the faith embody what C. S. Lewis called Mere Christianity—“the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” (An earlier version of the same idea was put forth by Vincent of Lerins: “Christianity is what has been held always, everywhere, and by all.”)

In this post, I’d like to make a few observations about the “non-essentials.”

To put it in a sentence: If the perfect interpretation of the Bible were the standard for Christian fellowship, then I would have had to disfellowship myself twenty years ago! I’m still learning, thank God, and my interpretations of Scripture are maturing. None of us has a corner on the truth. And if a person thinks they do, they’re deluded. In the words of Paul, “We know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9).

I have to wonder what will happen when Jesus returns. I can imagine all the Christians who specialized in “perfect doctrine” passing out after they discover who made it into the kingdom. Angels will be running around all over the place with smelling salts to wake them up!

The church of Jesus Christ is one. But we are called to maintain and guard the unity of that oneness (Eph. 4:2–3).
 - Rethinking Christian Unity

Love and Blessings in Christ,

The More I Seek You...

This is one of my favorite songs. I sing it throughout the day.  It's so simple and soothing yet heartfelt and intense.  Most of all, the words are so true... the more I seek Him, the more I find Him. The more I find Him, the more I really do love Him!

Have a blessed Sunday full of fellowship, worship, and praise!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beware of Pinocchio Prophets

2 Peter 2:1-3
   But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

I live in a city filled with churches, and, sadly, most of those churches are filled with false doctrine.  I know because my husband and I visited many of them and walked out of a few mid-service.  There are many forms false doctrine.

There's the doctrine of uber-grace which says we can be saved yet have no evidence of it in our lives, no victory over sin, no change.  We can live "freely" as we desire, ignoring God, ignoring the Scriptures, ignoring the Holy Spirit but claiming to be "Christians".

There's the doctrine of works, which is the background I come from.  It's much like the Pharisee doctrine which had added to God's word through human tradition and oral law.  There was no room for grace.

I grew up in a group that claimed to be "the only way" and every other Christian group was "false doctrine".  Yet, what I read in the bible clearly says that Jesus is the way and those who follow Him in faith are His bride, the Church.  No one denomination (or "non-denomination") as exclusive rights to Jesus.  He cannot be put into a box.  That is false doctrine.

We need to understand that doctrine is important. Now, there are some things that are not salvational issues (such as where we meet, whether a woman can wear pants or cut her hair, or if one can eat pork or not), but there are foundational doctrinal views that are extremely vital.

While most of modern Christendom has rejected the importance of doctrine and the centrality of preaching in public worship, correct doctrine was an obsession for both Christ and the apostles (cf., Ac. 20:28-31; Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 1:3-4; 6:3-4; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; Tit. 1:9; Mt. 1:9; Mt. 5:21-48; 7:15-27; 2 Jn. 9-11). There are many reasons why our Lord regarded doctrine so highly. (a) Correct doctrine is foundational to biblical Christianity. The system of doctrine taught by Scripture defines God, Christ, salvation, ethics, sin and everything a person needs for faith and life (2 Tim. 3:15-17). Without correct doctrine the object of our faith is false and all is lost. (b) Correct doctrine is crucial because false and man-made doctrine drives out, replaces and nullifies true teaching (Mt. 15:1-9; Col. 2:8, 20-23). The apostles had the responsibility to lay the foundation of the church by planting congregations and by delivering their inspired teachings and writings. If the shepherds became corrupted, so would their followers. Therefore, we can understand Jesus’ very strong concern with purity of doctrine. We hope and pray that some day many of the modern evangelical churches will share that concern.
                         [Christ’s Warning Concerning False Teachers, Brian Schwertley]
Schwertley also makes another great point,
[O]ur Lord’s warning is directed to the twelve apostles. It is not directed to backsliders, new believers, unreliable professors or ungodly persons but to the cream of the crop. The twelve apostles had forsaken all to follow Jesus. These were men who were dedicated to the Savior; who had been under His personal care and training for quite some time. These were men who had absolutely no sympathy for the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. There is no indication whatsoever that the disciples were being influenced by any false teachers. Yet, it is the apostles who receive this strong warning.
            The fact that our Lord’s admonition is directed to the apostles tells us that no one should consider himself to be immune to the influence of false doctrine. There is never a time in our walk with Christ when we can let down our guard. There is not one person who can claim a level of knowledge, sanctification or theological maturity that protects him from the doctrinal assaults of Satan. Even the most godly and knowledgeable believers are able to err in doctrine. In fact, the more we understand about God, Christ, faith and life, the more we realize how feeble our knowledge really is. Therefore, regarding doctrinal matters we must be very humble. We must be very prayerful and careful regarding the doctrinal achievements on which we stand. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pr. 16:18). And it is often pride and arrogance regarding one’s own knowledge, abilities and genius that has caused many a theologian and pastor to be seduced by Satan.
            It is not an accident of history that many dangerous heresies originated with pastors or teachers who were the brightest, most creative minds in seminaries or colleges. Indeed, the greatest heresies that have caused severe havoc in Christ’s church have all come from respected ministers of the gospel; from men notable for their teaching ability or intellectual skills.

How to we protect ourselves from false doctrine? How can we spot it?  We must be as the Bereans who "were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."

If we depend on other pastors, preaches, ministers, and friends to tell us what is false and what is true, we can easily be led astray.  In fact, Paul tells the Galatians, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!"  God will not contradict Himself! Remember that!  The answers are in the bible, and the Scriptures are not open to private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20-21), but a revelation of wisdom according to the Holy Spirit.

Inspect your doctrine. Check what you're hearing in your fellowship gatherings and worship settings.  Test what is being preached to you. Have you fallen for a lie?

Read Christ's Warning Against False Teachers.

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