Thursday, October 13, 2016

1 Peter 1:7 - Proof of Your Faith

So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ...
1 Peter 1:7

Beth Moore was asked the question: "If you could go back, what would you tell your 24-year-old self?" After much thought and soul-searching, her final response was, "I would. Not. Tell. Her. A. Single. Thing."

This connected with me so sharply because, despite my constant longing to know what is coming next, I would also leave my poor 24-year-old self in complete ignorance.

In college, I discovered one of my favorite poems, Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H. It has connected so sharply to most of my own literary attempts and musings, the part that touched me the most dramatically coming right at the beginning of the poem:

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,

But vaster. 

(The whole beginning makes me want to cry at how profound, beautiful, sad and GENIUS it is...)

In that class, we discussed that God makes us walk in faith because our finite human minds cannot bear what is coming next, whether it is something beautiful or something tragic. If something beautiful is coming up, we would not be of any practical good in whatever day-to-day drudgery or pain we may be enduring to strengthen and prepare us. If something tragic is coming, it would be very difficult to fully open up to the joy and blessings that God may have in that prior season.

God and God alone knows what the future holds for each one of us. 

Looking over the good and the bad that I have experienced over the last five years, I feel a strong confidence in God. It is one thing to decide to place your trust in someone. It is something else to see that same person use the brokenness of your worst fears like the most talented artist using their favorite shade of black over a rainbow of all your favorite colors. 

The colors were awe-inspiring before, but with the picture painted in sharp definition over them, they are mind-blowing to you.

With my own choice, I would've kept that black as far from the artist's hand as possible, but that artistic choice was not mine to make.

I'm only glad that I've had the chance to see my faith and strength in the Lord increase. I know that as long as life lasts, trials will come, testing that. But I know who holds my hand, who has the permission to paint with the black ink. And I want proof of my faith to grow....

Vaster.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ephesians 6:12-13 - Not Flesh-and-Blood Enemies

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:12-13 (NLT, BSB, respectively)

With everything going on recently, our problems seem magnified beyond belief. Everyone is politically charged. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone feels that they have the moral high ground. Everyone is focusing on his/her ideals. 

And, as in anything, no one is pleased. 

It's this thing we've fought for in this country so long - the democratic process. It's messy and annoying and frustrating as all get out. Social media further amplifies each voice, sending each message out to others who, inevitably, may not agree. As my husband puts it, what once was just shared over a bowl of cereal is out there for hundreds of people to see. Even the Presidential candidates are using this medium in a very unprofessional way. There is something about social media and something about this election; in my experience so far, no one really has wanted to engage and explore and try to come up with a solution.

Everyone has their thoughts and opinions and beliefs and whoever doesn't agree is a a villain. Attacks instead of intelligent and productive conversations are the rule of the day. 

Do we just stop the conversation and keep to the whole, "Don't talk about money, politics, or religion" rot? I'm an idealist who truly believes that it's part of our rights as citizens to debate, discuss, and grow from one another even if we have completely polar opposite ideas. Maybe I'm just a nerd because I love hearing what others think. 

But....

When did disagreeing with someone's ideas become hate?

When did Christians decide that it was an effective way to show Christ's love by publicly scathing each other in front of all their friends and relatives online? [preaching to myself here, too]

And how do we expect to solve any problems - left, right, or center - by parroting nonsense and telling others to delete their accounts?

How do we show human compassion in the wake of a tragedy by arguing about guns, terrorism, gender issues, and religion?

I'm not advocating relativism, but we have some complex problems and a complex world.

We - as Christians and as humans - do not need to be attacking each other or the people we disagree with or any person. We need to realize that we have a common Enemy. Satan is a destroyer and a deceiver, the source of all evil, and as long as we use human wisdom and point fingers at people we disagree with, we're never going to "get it."

There are politicians out there right now that make my flesh crawl to think about. But they are not my enemy. Those who are trying to equate what this terrorist did in Orlando to what Christians think are not my enemies.

According to this scripture, my only enemies are:
  • evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world

  • mighty powers in this dark world

  • evil spirits in the heavenly places. 

Those are the entities I need to be fighting by using the one offensive weapon that consistently works - constant, constant prayer. Satan probably just laughs to himself when I get all riled up on Facebook. It's just a distraction that pulls more people in, keeping us from doing what we're called to do and not glorifying Christ in the process.

"For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds." (2 Corinthians 10:4)

When I see things online that I disagree with I'm going to try to follow my recent rule to just stay out of it, but if I can't, I am going to remember that I'm truly wrestling with the prince of darkness - not my friends, acquaintances, etc.


Monday, June 13, 2016

John 17:14-21 - They Do Not Belong to the World

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I'm not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one--as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:14-21

When I get to thinking about things going on in the world, it gets to me. As mentioned elsewhere here in my posts, I am the type that just wants to love people, and I have a very live and let live mentality, especially when it comes to politics. But when any type of freedom of expression is threatened, that's where I dig in my heels and turn into someone totally different. This election has had me at my worst on social media and in conversations. Many people this year are likewise as outspoken and passionate because this election is causing people to examine their ideals of what we can and should be as a society.

No matter how much I truly do love people I disagree with, I am still terrified for this generation of children growing up and the kind of world they are going to have. With our freedoms as Christians being threatened by the day by an angry populace that associates belief in Jesus with the crazy actions of the radical, lunatic jerks of Westboro and that now has decided to become the thought police, I see a lot of bad things on the horizon.

Last night, some friends and I were having that discussion, and it got me in a place where I was, once again, feeling like the sky could be falling any second. Right now things in this nation are not dire. We may have some freedom of speech threatened and are being called some silly and inaccurate names by people who don't like us. That's not a big deal. But looking into the future, well, it's not going to get better politically or morally.

However, this morning I feel the need to remind myself that God is in control. Jesus foresaw many bleak, deadly situations for His followers and His prayer above illustrates the attitude He had. He prayed for the disciples with Him in that moment and all who would ever believe in Him. US! And He didn't pray for us to be taken from the world, but for us to be kept safe from the evil one (which in Greek is porneros - and you can tell what that's related to). 

One thing we discussed last night was what to tell our kids about certain things, and in my own heart I wonder how to raise a son in a world that keeps getting darker and darker, a place where a faith in Jesus is now a minor liability and could at any moment turn into a life-endangering ideology. This passage comforts me and informs how I am going to proceed. As Christians we are NOT of this world, and it's natural that we are going to be hated. Our purpose here is to represent Jesus, who Himself was hated and killed. 

Elsewhere, Jesus mentions that the servant is not greater than his/her master... So we can't expect better treatment than He received. Right now, Christians are being martyred around the world for their faith. Can we expect to be next? I believe at some point that will happen here, but that is not something that I need to be fearful of. I need to love my family, friends, and neighbors and remember where my true home is. I need to share Jesus with others, regardless of the cost.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Luke 5:32 - I Have Come to Call Sinners

I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
Luke 5:32
 
 
As Christians, it is our highest purpose and greatest responsibility to display Christ's love here on earth. He is our model for action on every level since He, as both God and man, was the only person able to ever fulfill God's standard of righteousness. Through coming to faith in Him, I have the standing of being right with God without having the actual ability to be perfectly righteous, as Jesus was. It's through God's grace that I can be His child. Not through anything that I have done besides confess Jesus as my own.

The hard part about being a Christian, to me, is walking out my faith in today's world. I take my faith seriously. I want to share it. I want others to love God as I do. Not because of some domineering reason but because I have tasted and seen God's goodness and genuinely believe that a relationship with Him is the best way to have a fulfilled, whole life. In this sense, I view truth as extremely black and white. A relationship with Christ is what is needed for true life in this world and for eternal life in the next.

Period.

Others don't believe this. That is plain to see. The fact that America is no longer a "Christian" nation is a fact so old that I'm surprised that people are somehow shocked by this. That Christianity is being attacked more heavily in recent days is also very obvious. I can feel the hatred directed toward anything having to do with the biblical concept of God and especially even the name Jesus. As an idealist, I could be paralyzed, angered, disturbed, or frightened by this (as I have been at different times), and I could dig in a trench and parrot my (true) black and white views and demand that everyone else see the world the way I do OR ELSE...

But...

Looking at everything that Jesus did, who He was, I simply can't do that.

That's not what He did.

Jesus was completely perfect and sinless. He is fully God. Fully in the right. He had every right to stay in heaven and leave man to their sinful selves. He even had the right to destroy the earth the second the first sin was committed. But that's not what happened. From the foundations of the world, the plan was that Jesus was going to come down into this messy, disgusting world in order to redeem it.

He was inherently misunderstood. The religious rulers who should have been able to pinpoint every prophecy speaking of Him from their sacred texts were the very ones who believed he was a blasphemer, who believed He was sinful because he was too close to those they considered "less than" - the prostitutes, the thieving tax collectors, the adulterers. Jesus spent His time speaking the gospel largely to the most unlikely people who, in turn accepted Him, moved by the love He showed that made them beautiful. The ones who had a price on His head were the ones saying long elaborate prayers in the streets, showing off their piety for all to see.

Jesus said, "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32) and "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you"  (Matthew 21:31).

He ultimately died because He got involved in this world and its messiness. He didn't compromise one ounce of His righteousness to hug, heal, and associate with sinners. He confirmed the glory of who God truly is. Not some distant father who WANTS to fry everyone's shorts. The Bible states that Jesus is the express image of God the father. He displays what God is truly like.

The glory of God, his pure righteousness and pure love and pure grace mingled together, is what makes Him worthy of worship. This is what Jesus's life, death, and resurrection showed.

In many political issues, I find myself pulled in two different directions. To those who believe, it often seems as if I'm caught up too much in shades of gray. To those who don't believe, my views are not relativistic and thus do not suit them. I'm not too concerned with what either side thinks of me, to be honest. I want my life and behavior to line up with scripture, and I want my behavior to be a copy of Jesus.

I ask myself the hard questions every day. Would Jesus be more outspoken about homosexuality than I am? Would he be disgusted that I often argue on the side of gay rights and transgenderism simply because I feel that, in the Christian community, they have no advocates? Where are the Christians concerned with sharing God's love to them. Why is there so much disgust and hatred toward this group when, according to my Bible, we've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23)?

I really have no exact precedent in the Bible for how Jesus would treat these issues. But I know that he did reach out to the Samaritan woman at the well who had had five husbands and was living with someone who was not her husband. He didn't start tearing into her. He acknowledged the wrong of her situation, but then he engaged her in a conversation about worship. And she went away from that well a changed woman who ended up evangelizing her entire city simply because of the love and insight He had shown her.

Jesus was the one that stood between an angry mob ready to stone an adulteress caught in the act. According to the Old Testament law, God's standard, she was guilty and should be stoned. But did Jesus say, "Sure, you guys are technically right on this. Go ahead and kill her?" No. He wrote words in the dust (much speculated over), and told the one without sin to cast the first stone. Did that woman die? Nope. Did Jesus excuse her sin? Nope. He told her to go and sin no more. I can only guess that his grace and protection fused with truth caused a transformation in her life.

So if Jesus walked into a bathroom with a transgender person, I really can't see Him acting disgusted. He knows all of us. All of our sins, imperfections, hang ups. Everything. I can honestly see Him engaging that person for His kingdom - wherever their need is. Obviously, a bathroom is not a great conversation area, but you get my drift.

Politics aside, the actual people who make up the gay, lesbian, and transgender community are not going to see the beauty of the gospel until they see it in the eyes of a Jesus-follower who cares more about a soul (that does not understand the truth about the fierce, impassioned love that God has for all people) than about a label (given falsely by a society that also doesn't understand the depths of his love).

In good conscience, I believe the best thing I can do is treat everyone I meet, no matter their labels, as a fellow traveler in need of God's grace. If this means abandoning politics or angering people who want to raise the mote and live with a sense of superiority, then I guess that's what I'm going to have to do. I'm trying to live for an audience of one.

Again, walking this narrow, narrow road, I still feel uncomfortable and can only pray that God is pleased, or at the very least not extremely offended. Am I denying the lordship of Jesus in this? Am I excusing people's sins? God, after all, does love people enough to have tough love. Am I becoming morally relativistic? Shouldn't I be loudly and proudly affirming that sin is sin? I still believe God's plan for marriage is the way marriage works best and is what pleases Him, but, frankly, I feel that the LGBT community pretty much understands that Christians believe that at this point.

An experience I treasure is when a coworker came out to me, stating that she didn't want to tell many other people at work but that she felt comfortable telling me because she knew I wouldn't start treating her differently. She knew all about my convictions and beliefs. We'd had tons of conversations about faith by that point. I felt honored that she felt being authentic with me was safe. I'd like to think that, at some point, that sense of safety she felt would also be connected to Jesus.

Because He's the one who loves us the way we are - too much to leave us that way.



[Disclaimer: If I, in any way, sound like I think I have anything together about this issue or life, then 1) I failed in what I was trying to convey in this post, so 2) please realize I am a wreck still trying to live life day to day and have absolutely nothing together. 3) Whatever I might happen to have together is because God rearranged it into being into a semblance of not being a crappy mess. 4) If I am in serious error, I apologize to God because I am not trying to misrepresent Him in any way.]

Friday, January 1, 2016

Philippians 3:13b-14 - Forgetting the Past

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:13b-14

One thing has been brought to my attention lately, and it's pretty self-explanatory. You can't move forward into what God has for you if you're always looking back into the past. Even if whatever happened in the past was traumatic and haunts your mind, even if it was angering and that person still hasn't made amends, even if it was wonderful beyond belief, if you plant yourself there, you're stuck.

The freeing thing about looking forward to what lies ahead is that you can, through God's help, free yourself from guilt over past failures. So you totally blew it? Learn from it, and start again tomorrow with that much new knowledge about yourself and what trips you up.

I love the race metaphor in this passage. Just like any good racer, you aren't going to be looking back. You're going to be ever longing to get to the end, but you can't use all your energy in one speedy burst at the beginning and then fall down in defeat because you feel tired. It's about persistence. You train, treading the same path again and again until you master your breathing and your stride and how to hydrate properly.

And it's all about the riches that God wants to give us. It's His plan. 

This year is all shiny and fresh and new. The goals I am continuing are well-worn.

I pray that by God's help I can forget about the failures I have experienced in certain areas in the past and focus on doing the next right thing. 

I hereby strip off any labels I have accepted that are not of God and will determine to view myself as He views me.

We don't need a new year to make new goals. 

We just need a new mindset - that of relying on God to show us what areas we need to change and of trusting that He, through the Holy Spirit, will  complete the work that He began (Philippians 1:6).


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

1 Chronicles 16:11 - His Strength

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
1 Chronicles 16:11



This year I refuse to make a new year's resolution. I can't presume to know if my house will even be standing from one day to the next, let alone know what sort of journey God wants to take me on this year.

I do know that right now I am feeling called to STAY THE COURSE.

I want to remember that the little, daily disciplines in life are more important than can be imagined, not just the big things that get a lot of attention.

I want to make sure I am spending my time with my son in a way that will leave me no regrets when he's older. 

I want to be a wife that loves my acts-of-service dude in a way that leaves no doubt of my love. 

I want to make my house friendly and open and inviting to others so that I can always feel comfortable inviting others over. 

I want to continue my goal from last year to pursue health - mind, body, soul, spirit - however God sees fit to connect the pieces of that journey.

Most of all, I want to seek God's face in whatever situation comes my way. I praise Him for sustaining me through trials in the past couple of years and making this past year one of the best despite some bumps in the road.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

1 Corinthians 12:18 - Members of the Body

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
1 Corinthians 12:19

The passage leading up to this likens each person in the church to a part of the body of Christ and establishes that all are important and necessary - we shouldn't be mourning the fact that we aren't an eye or a foot or whatever part of the body we want to be. Not every person in the church is meant to be a missionary or a singer or an up front person who typically receives a lot of recognition for whatever they do. 

God knows each person and gives them a calling and a purpose that is theirs. Some people have humble callings, things that they or we may never know were important until we see that person being rewarded in heaven for being faithful to the task they were called to do. Each act of obedience and worship creates a ripple effect of fruitfulness that there is no possible way for us to discern from of limited perspective here on earth.

This is really encouraging. After prayer and seeking God's direction, if we faithfully do whatever God calls us to do at any given moment, we are pleasing Him and making a difference in eternity. Seeking his will is not that hard. We start with the Bible, move out in to a more specific area where we are gifted and passionate, and then get to it.

One thing that is difficult in churches sometimes, is dealing with others. We often don't understand others' perspectives or feel that what they are doing is not important when, in fact, we, again, do not have a qualified perspective to judge what a given person is doing for Christ at a given point in time. 

1 Corinthians 4:6 says:
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

We may not always perfectly understand or appreciate the people we rub shoulders with from Sunday to Sunday, but the fact of the matter is that GOD has placed them in the body for reasons of His own. If we find ways of empathizing with each other, of putting ourselves into each others shoes and appreciating the gifts that each person possesses, we will become more effective for the cause of Christ and bring more glory to Him.