Friday, February 12, 2010

Knowing the Enemy

I could be married to the biggest Cowboys’ fan of all time. I really do believe that if you cut Mike’s arm open, he’d bleed silver and blue. You can imagine how stressful this past NFL season was for our household.

We got into an interesting discussion on January 3rd, when the Cowboys hosted the Eagles. Mike was particularly concerned about one of Philly’s wide receivers, DeSean Jackson. His words were, “He’s a deep threat…if he gets past the secondary and catches the pass, he’s likely to score every time.” Then my sweet husband went on to tell me this. “I bet the Cowboys have a man to man coverage on him with a deep safety over the top…just in case that defender got beat. That way there’s someone to catch him.”

In the NFL, coaches and players watch hours of the opposing team’s footage in preparation for the upcoming game. The goal is to learn the opposing team’s every nuance. They counter their strengths, exploit their weaknesses. That day, the Cowboys crushed the Eagles, 24-zip. In my husband’s mind, it trumped our wedding day.

As Christians, we also face an enemy, and need to be equally prepared. It’s a delicate subject. I know many passionate Christ-followers who don’t believe in the devil. They think Satan doesn’t exist…that hell is not an actual place. While that is an attractive line of thinking, it’s also a symptom of what I call “a la carte Christianity.” I like this part of the bible, but not that. This verse makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but this one makes me a little nervous. I’ll put the 23rd Psalm on my tray, and leave 1 Peter 5:8 behind, thank you very much.

That particular verse gives us a glimpse of what we’re facing. “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I find it interesting that Peter chose to compare the evil one to a lion. Lions tend to attack weaker animals…especially the sick, young or straggling. They like their prey alone, and vulnerable. Satan also likes an easy catch.

The enemy has more than one name in the bible, and makes many appearances. I chose verses from Job and Matthew to illustrate who he is, and how he works.

The book of Job is about a righteous man of good character. But God allows Satan to test him. This alone gives us insight into what the enemy can and can’t do. Job 1:6-7 – One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan the Accuser came with them. “Where have you come from?” The LORD asked Satan. And Satan answered the LORD, “I have been going back and forth across the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

You can bet our enemy isn’t happy that this part of the story isn’t lying on the cutting room floor. Because already, just two verses in, we know three important facts. First, Satan is the accuser. Second, he has to account to God. God has complete authority over him. We also know this because Satan was compelled to answer God. And his answer tells us another key fact…the evil one is not omnipresent. He can only be in one place at one time. His demons can and do assist him in his work, but as a created being, he is limited.

Job 1:8-11 – Then the LORD asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.” Satan replied to the LORD, “Yes, Job fears God, but not without good reason! You have always protected him and his home and property from harm. You have made him prosperous in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” So God allowed the Accuser to test Job.

I can almost hear the bitterness dripping from his voice. The enemy hates the Almighty and he hates His people. But Satan unwittingly gives us another piece of valuable information here. He can not read minds. Neither can he tell the future. If he could, he wouldn’t have questioned Job’s motives or his faith. Satan persecuted Job without mercy…and the end result? Job’s faith is strengthened, as is his relationship with the Father.

Matthew 4:1-11 has always intrigued me. Satan and Jesus, face to face. I wonder what that moment was like for our Lord. Was He frightened? Or simply determined? We know He was fully God, and fully man. We know He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. That alone tells us that testing can come even when we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. Matthew 4:2 gives us another clue – For forty days and forty nights he ate nothing and became very hungry. I think it’s safe to assume he was tired and lonely. Jesus wasn’t tempted at the Temple, or His baptism. The enemy waited until He was most vulnerable. Now let’s look at the way Satan tempts Him. Matthew 4:3 – Then the devil came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into loaves of bread.” It’s almost funny…Satan…testing the pride of the One who created the universe, yet chose to wrap Himself in flesh to reach us. “If you are the Son of God….” Christ felt no need to prove Himself to his enemy. We also need to be careful not to led pride lead us into sin.

I want to look at another verse with you before we watch how Jesus responds. Matthew 4:5-6 – Then the devil took Him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He orders his angels to protect you. And they will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone.’” Satan quotes Scripture. He misinterprets it, and uses it incorrectly, but it sounds good, doesn’t? People have been talked into doing great wrongs at the misuse of Scripture. The Ku Klux Klan posts verses from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus on their website, and you’d be hard pressed to say they do anything positive or godly. The point is this. Satan is very smart. And a lie is far more effective when mixed with a grain of truth.

Matthew 4:7 –Jesus responded, “No! The Scriptures also say, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’” Jesus countered him with the Word of God after every temptation. And it’s right there that we learn perhaps the most important thing about our enemy. If there’s one thing that will take him down, it’s the Word of God. When used correctly, and with faith, the Scripture is a powerful thing.

We know that every Christian will at some point go through trials. Where are you strong? Be careful of pride. Where are you vulnerable? Know who you are in Christ! For years I bought into the lie that I was fat, worthless, that no one liked me. Put on the full armor of God. Ephesians 6:14-17 – Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Notice how the Word of God is our only offensive weapon. Everything else is of a defensive nature. What else can we do? 6:18 – Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.
Satan is real. Demons are real. There are points of biblical theology where scholars disagree…interpretations that vary slightly. But there are very few who argue the existence of an enemy. An enemy who knows his time is short. Who knows his best tactic at the moment is to convince the world he doesn’t exist.

How ironic. How this must ding his pride. Lucifer was once an angel who once resided in Eden, whose clothes were “adorned with every precious stone – red carnelian, chrysolite, white moonstone, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald…”(Ezekiel 28:13). He was called the angel of light, who “had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire.” (Ezekiel 28:14).

Our best weapons are our faith in God, and the Word of God. He is powerless against Jesus. Know your enemy, and know your defense. To live a life in fear, imagining demons around every corner gives him power. So does living in ignorance. Know who you stand for, and know the One who stands beside you. Above all else, live in victory…and remember John 16:33 – “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not one scrap wasted...

The idea for this blog came to me while I was picking up dog doo. Let me explain. I was cleaning up after my dog, Jim. I’m embarrassed to say that there was quite a lot of poop to scoop. Since the weather had been so cold, the kids hadn’t played outside in awhile. Therefore, the backyard just hadn’t been a top priority. So there was a lot of doo. Some had just about turned to dirt, and you could scarcely tell it was there.

That reminded me of power walking with my friend Pam. We sped through Highland Park, and you could smell the fresh manure. Manure makes fabulous fertilizer. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “God doesn’t waste a thing. Even poo has a purpose.”

And that brings me to this…even our mistakes can be used to serve God’s Kingdom.
I just love reading the book of Acts. Specifically, Paul’s conversion. He was initially called Saul, and makes his first scriptural appearance in Acts 7:58. This is where Stephen (one of the believers) is dragged out of the city by the Pharisees and stoned to death. The verse reads, “They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Stephen had been testifying that Jesus was the Messiah the prophets foretold. Upon his death, the believers got out of there. Acts 8:1 says “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria.” Now skip down to Acts 8:3, “Saul was going everywhere to devastate the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into jail.”

Saul (Paul) was a scary guy. He was smart. A devout Jew, a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel (the most respected teacher of the Law at the time). He knew the Law of Moses inside out. Second, he sincerely believed that the Christian movement was a danger to Judaism. He persecuted believers without mercy. He tells us in his own words in Acts 26:11, “Many times I had them whipped in the synagogues to try to get them to curse Christ. I was so violently opposed to them that I even hounded them in distant cities of foreign lands.”

Destroying “The Way,” or the Christian movement, became his obsession. “Meanwhile Saul was uttering threats with every breath. He was eager to destroy the Lord’s followers, so he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains.” Acts 9:1-2.

On the road to Damascus, everything changed…forever. The scriptures tell us as Saul and his companions made their way, a brilliant light from heaven flashed…and Saul fell flat on his face. He heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” Acts 9:4. It was Jesus Himself.

You likely know the rest of the account. Saul is blinded by the encounter, so the men he’s traveling with take him into the city. Hesits in Damascus for three days. He doesn’t eat a bite. He doesn’t drink a drop. And Saul, now Paul, becomes the most powerful evangelist in the history of Christianity…writing the majority of the New Testament.

How perfect. Who could be a better testimony to the power of Jesus Christ…than the very man who sought to wipe out His followers? The best witness you can give for Jesus is a changed life.
I can tell you this. People I ran with 10 years ago wouldn’t find me too much fun these days. The girl who was buying the shots is now the girl building a ministry. I’m not better than anyone. I’ve sinned so much I can’t bear to think of it. The good news is this…God doesn’t think of it either. When we repent and turn from our sin, the Lord promises us in Isaiah 43:25, “I – yes I alone – am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” There is so much freedom in that verse! You don’t have to feel guilty! Learn from your mistakes…don’t live in them! Another verse to cling to is Isaiah 43:18 – “But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.” The NIV phrases it this way – “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

I wish I had the courage to tell you how far I’ve fallen, and how far I’ve come. I think the reason I love Paul’s story so much…is perhaps because I relate to him…so much. I shudder to think of the stories my sisters, college room-mates and old co-workers could tell you. But I also realize that because of those same stories, God has a powerful witness in me. You want to see the saving power of Jesus Christ? Just look at me. He lifted me up from the depths of some awful pits. And I believe He will use me to comfort others who reside in those same pits. And lead them to the One who can raise them…and redeem them.

I’ll never make the impact on the church that Paul did. I’ll never make even a tiny fraction of it. But I’ll do my best to make my changed life a powerful testimony. One last thing. I simply can’t read Isaiah 43:18 without reading verse 19 as well, because it’s chock full of hope and promise. Isaiah 43:18-19 – “But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do a brand new thing. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness for my people to come home. I will create rivers for them in the desert!” (Emphasis mine.)

Glory to God! Let the living water quench your thirst.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Leaded or unleaded?

A 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo starts at $85,000. If you want all the bells and whistles, be ready to shell out $230,000. I couldn’t find a review on the 2010 model, but here’s a quote about the 2009 version from Motor Trend. “Behind the cosmetically reshaped nose, between the all new Y-styled, LED head and taillights, is a vehicle truly worthy of such an affected alphanumeric name.”

I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that means. Nor do I care. I’m not a car girl. But I can tell you this. That’s a nice automobile. You own a vehicle like that; you take good care of it. Drive a Lamborghini Gallardo, and you’re rotating the tires, changing the oil every 3000 miles, and buying super-premium unleaded. You’re probably washing that puppy every other day, and carrying around a sham-WOW to wipe off smudges.

Isn’t it funny then, how we treat ourselves? We are the Lamborghini of all life. James 1:18 tells us “In His goodness He chose to make us His own children by giving us His true word. And we, out of all creation, became His choice possession.” The International Standard Version phrases it this way, “so that we might become His most important creatures.” His most important creatures. And yet, we look everywhere else for fulfillment.

I did a little research on gasoline, and whether or not it really makes a difference if you put cheap gas in an expensive ride. Basically, the technology used in cars such as the Lambo and Porsche is advanced enough that your vehicle will still run just fine. Gary Fong, the spokesman for Porsche Cars North America says, “As far as octane level, Porsche has a double knock sensor that will prevent your car from being hurt, but the emissions will be different if you use a lower octane level.”

Interesting. The car will still run, but what comes out will be different…kind of like us. You know, God has pulled me out of some pretty deep pits. It took awhile for me to climb out, because I was in good company down there. I still keep in touch with some of my former pit-mates, and some of them still dwell there. Let me tell you something. There is a difference between them, and the crowd I run with now. You listen in on a conversation of theirs, and a conversation with the gals in my Monday morning bible study, and you’ll hear it. They still run, but their emissions aren’t much better than smog.

That’s how you recognize a true believer. By their fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Here there is no conflict with the law.”

There is a man who goes to my church that my husband and I are friends with. He led a bible study of ours for several years. And Mike and I both agree that Lee is as close to being Christ-like that an individual can ever hope to be. I’ve never seen him ruffled. He radiates love. He’ll help anyone at any hour with a joyful attitude. He has given me guidance and council through a lot of my crazy, and Mike and I both love him to pieces.

Lee exudes the fruits of the Spirit. He is the epitome of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. He is quick to listen and slow to speak. Lee also spends time every day with the Lord. He reads God’s Word, and memorizes. He seeks the Kingdom of God first, and because of that, radiates the joy and peace God promises.

I want that. I want that so much I can taste it. I’m getting there, but slowly. So slowly. The last time my former pit-mates and I hung out it wasn’t ten minutes before I had slipped back into my old role. And by the time I left, I’d decided the label on my jeans wasn’t fancy enough, and the emblem on my car not expensive enough. Praise be to God that I came to my senses quickly.

Where are you getting fulfillment? Or perhaps a better question is “where are you seeking fulfillment?” I can tell you where you won’t find it, because I’ve tried. There is no peace to be found in others’ approval. Money won’t buy you contentment, and a Louis Vuitton purse won’t make you feel worthy. Alcohol only works for a little while, and then you feel worse than before. You won’t find lasting satisfaction in a gym-sculpted body, or a gym-sculpted boyfriend (although my hubby is super hot!). If you’re looking for wholeness through your career, be careful. 2009 showed us that 25 years at a job means nothing during cutbacks, and that you are very, very expendable…no matter what your numbers say.

Jesus is the only way. Everywhere you look in this society, you hear otherwise. But Paul tells the Galatians this, “Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:7-8.

There is peace in simplicity…so what if you don’t have that new iPhone! There is joy in generosity. Forgo the $4 starbucks every day and start helping others in need. You certainly don’t have to look far to find them. “So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.” Galatians 6:9.

I don’t want what this world has to offer, it’s no good! Chasing after worldly things brings stress, anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness. Have you ever wondered why you never hit enough? No matter how many zeros are at the end of your paycheck, someone will always make more. Jesus is enough. His grace is enough. He is all-sufficient, all-powerful. The same God that spoke the universe into existence saw fit to create you, too. Choose Him. He’s already chosen you.

“But now, O Israel, the LORD who created you says: ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1.
Glory be to God.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Love. Serve. Shine.

Love. Serve. Shine. It’s my mission statement for my life, and my daily prayer. To LOVE others the way Christ loves us. To SERVE others, just as Christ washed His disciples’ feet. And to SHINE the light of Christ for all the world to see.

An awful lot of us (myself very much included) lose sight of the most important thing of all, to love. I laughingly remember the day I was cut off by an SUV…with a Jesus fish stuck on the back of it! I would never speak for my Lord and Savior…but I’m pretty sure that’s not WJWD. Lol.

Honestly though…how many of the world’s problems would we solve if we truly loved others the way we are loved by Christ? If we loved each other sacrificially, laying aside our comforts and schedules to help a neighbor…or a stranger?

The book of Mark tells about a religious leader who asked Jesus which of the commandments was the greatest. Mark 12:29-31 - Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Love is the key. Loving Christ first then others is everything. John 15:12 – “I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you.” John 15:17 – “I command you to love each other.”

Love breeds servitude. Is there a greater love than a parent has for a child? From the time that baby draws its first breath, we meet their every need. Jesus, the King of Glory, the Word made flesh, humbled Himself to walk on the earth among us. Instead of taking His rightful throne, He washed His disciples’ feet. John 13:14-17 – “And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things – now do them! That is the path of blessing.”

If you are loving others as Christ loves us and serving with a joyful heart, you can’t help but shine. Live your life so that others will be drawn to your light. There are so many lost…who need YOU to light the way to Christ. I could never say it better than Jesus. Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are the light of the world – like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Love. Serve. Shine.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yea, though I walk through the valley...

When I was in the 4th grade, I played softball. I had to, my dad was the coach. I was awful. Not just bad…really, really awful. During games, I was always in the outfield. When it was our turn to bat, I was always at the end of the line-up.

My poor dad. He was a great athlete in his day…good at every sport he played. Basketball, baseball, track. He’s completed 10 marathons, and were it not for his recently replaced hip, he’d still be running.

He was blessed to have three daughters…never got that elusive son, but never complained. Oh, how he must have wanted me to be the star of that team. And I was just about as girly as they came. Plus, I was really only interested in singing and theatre. But, I played softball (and basketball…another sad, sad story for another time) and I gave it my best. Both of my parents put time in with me at the batting cages and in the back yard…hours of practice…to no avail. I was just bad. Really, really bad.

I learned a few things through it all, though. First, humility, and how to be a gracious loser. Second, to keep my eye on the ball. “Keep your eye on the ball, Rebecca!” I can still hear my dad’s voice. “Eye on the ball, Boo-ba-doo!” That phrase used to pop into my head while studying for finals…when I was so tired my eyes were crossing. “Focus, Rebecca! Keep your eye on the ball!” Even today, as a scattered, working wife and mother. Anytime I need to keep my mind on the task at hand, I remind myself to “keep my eye on the ball.”

Someone should’ve taught that to Peter. You know the story of Jesus walking on water. This happens right after He feeds the 5000 men (not to mention all the women and children – He actually fed anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand) with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Immediately following the miraculous meal, Matthew 14:22 tells us, “Jesus made His disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while He sent the people home to pray. Night fell while He was there alone.” Meanwhile, Peter and the other disciples get caught in a storm, and were struggling terribly against heavy waves. Let’s pick it up at Matthew 14:25 and read through verse 26. “About 3 o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking He was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘It’s all right,’ He said. ‘I am here! Don’t be afraid.’”

That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it? His first concern is to calm their fears. He identifies Himself and comforts them like a mother soothing a child waking up from a bad dream. But it’s what happens next that I really want you to pay attention to. Matthew 14:27, Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really You, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” “All right, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. Ok, PAUSE! Did you catch that? Let’s read it again. “So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around….” PAUSE!! Peter was doing just fine…as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. Notice that. We have the other disciples panicking in the boat. Waves are crashing all around them. Wind is howling. They literally fear for their very lives. And yet with all of this going on around him, Peter is able to step out of the boat…and walk on water. Until he takes his eyes off Jesus. Un-pause. In fact, rewind just a tad. “But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me Lord!’ he shouted. Instantly Jesus reached out His hand and grabbed him. ‘You don’t have much faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’ And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.”

Let that sink in. How many storms, how many valleys have we been through, where we took our eyes off the Lord and doubted? It’s so easy to have faith when our boats are sailing across smooth water. You can be sure when the disciples started out across the Sea of Galilee, they were riding high. They’d just watched Jesus feed THOUSANDS with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish. They personally walked around and collected TWELVE BASKETS of leftovers. And yet…the first wave to rock the boat and they spiral into sheer and utter panic. They most certainly took their eyes off the ball, didn’t they?

You know what used to happen when I failed to watch the ball? I missed. Every time. At best, I hit a wild, crazy fly that was easily caught. And I was out. But when I focused…when I remembered what my father had so patiently taught me…I hit that sucker. My scrawny little 4th grade arms hit that puppy at least to mid-field! I rarely made it to first, because I was slow, too, but at least I hit it! Here’s the thing, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we hit life's fast balls head on…and send the enemy running.

You know what the other team used to do when I went up to bat? They “brought it in.” I’ll never forget that feeling. “Easy out, everyone! Bring it in! Bring it in!” I can still hear them, and still feel the humiliation. It was a pretty effective maneuver. They saw that I wasn’t very strong. Bringing the team in added to my intimidation.

Friends…don’t you think the enemy does the same thing? Don’t you think he knows when you’re in a valley? Let me tell you something. If Jesus Christ is your personal Savior, then you’re saved, and there is nothing the enemy can do about that. But he will distract you every chance he gets. He will tempt you when you’re weak. He will taunt you when you’re frightened. And he will make every effort to take your eyes off of Christ.

If you are breathing and over the age of 5, you’ve traveled through a valley. If you live in the United States of America, there is a very good chance you’re in one now. The latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor show that the unemployment rate is at 10% as of December ‘09. We’re in the worst recession the nation has seen in decades. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. Climate change. Health care reform. Depression and anxiety rates as high as they’ve ever been. We are hurting as a nation, and we are hurting as individuals! Do not take your eyes off Christ, don’t do it!

He wants you to TRUST HIM…He tells us so over and over and over in the bible. And He wants us to look at HIM. When all hell is breaking loose, you keep your eyes on HIM. And let me tell you something…He’s there with you, I don’t care how deep or dark your valley is. John 8:12 – Jesus says to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Psalm 139:3, David writes of the LORD, “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am.” Every moment. You have not breathed one breath without the Lord knowing of it. Every hair on your head is counted, and God is not going to desert you.

Psalm 139:5, You both precede me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” He goes in front of you, with you and behind you. While things are uncertain in your life, He knows exactly where you are…and He wants you to follow Him!

How do you do this? Seek Him. Pray to Him. Learn more about Him by reading His Word. Psalm 109:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” One thing I want you to notice about that, though…it all hinges on faith. He promises a light unto our feet…not a search light to show us what’s ahead. He will guide your every step, I promise you, but He will do it one step at a time.

One thing that just astounds me as I learn more about God through bible study, is how many times He tells us not worry. Oh, He knows us so well, doesn’t He? We’re certainly no better than the disciples who walked with Him on earth. Here in this moment, 2000 years after Christ’s death, He knows our struggles. Matthew 6:31-33, “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” I’m going to stop there for just a second…because it’s so important to understand that. He gives us “our daily bread.” He doesn’t give us the big grocery store run of a week’s worth of grace and strength. When you wake up in the morning, you have everything you need from the Father to get through that day. He has already given you the strength to hit every curve ball life can throw at you. All right…pick it up at verse 34. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Amen. Amen to that.

He hears ours prayers. And He loves us. Seek Him. Cry out to Him. And don’t take your eyes off the ball.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Life God Can Bless...


Here’s a scenario most of you are familiar with…either as a parent, or as a memory from your own childhood. It happens at least several times a week in our house.

Let me set the stage for you. Mike, Caitlyn, Nick and I seated around the dinner table. Dinner is finished, except for Nick. On his round, plastic Elmo plate sit a few untouched pieces of chicken…several mashed up green beans…and a couple bites of fruit. To his credit, the kid is smart. He at least moves them around on the plate to make it look like he’s eaten. The dishes once sitting in front of me, my husband and daughter are long gone…moved from the table to the sink to the dishwasher 15 minutes ago. Caitlyn is now nibbling on a piece of left-over Halloween candy. Mike looks like he might tear out his hair, and then there’s me…trying to talk sense to my two year old son.

Nick: I want chocolate!!
Me: Sweetie, you can have some chocolate. Just eat three bites.
Nick: No…I no want three bites!! I want chocolate.
Me: Honey, you can have chocolate. I WANT you to have chocolate. But you can’t have candy unless you eat some of your dinner.
Nick: I no want dinner, mama! I want chocolate!!

This goes on for a bit, then Mom wins, Nick loses, Caitlyn gloats, and Mike hides under the table (only kidding, honey).

You know what, though? I don’t feel like I’ve won. It wasn’t really a contest. I adore my son. I’d lay my life down for him in a split second. I want to give him chocolate, I really do. He loves it…it brings him joy…thus bringing me even MORE joy. But Nick needs protein, fruit and vegetables first. He doesn’t like them, and given his way, would skip straight to the chocolate. But as his mother, I know what’s best for him. And as his mother, it’s my job to keep his best interests at heart.

Sound familiar, anyone? It sure does to me.

I went walking with a girlfriend of mine earlier today. We laughingly call it exercise therapy, because it’s one part exercise, two parts therapy. Today she told me that sometimes she thinks God has His arm extended…holding His palm to her forehead…and she just keeps swinging and swinging…trying to get things to go her way. All the while God is looking down at her with a smile, knowing that when she gets tired of trying it her way, she’ll come around. I love that, and told her that I was going to steal it for a blog. Thank you, Pam.

But it’s true, isn’t it? If you feel like you are on a treadmill going nowhere, you have to ask yourself a question. Are you living a life that God can bless?

I’m trying to. Lord knows, I’m trying. I’ve had a humbling year, my friends. Because God has shown me…very specifically…things that need to be removed…if He is going to bless me and use me to my full potential. I’ll tell you my story in a moment. First, I want to tell you another one. This is Kim’s story.

Kim is single. Never been married, no kids, late 30s. Beautiful. She is so beautiful that she gets stopped on a regular basis. Kim has never had a problem getting a date. She has a big problem finding a healthy relationship. There are a few reasons why. She has some issues stemming from childhood that are unresolved. Because of this, she has an intimacy problem with men. Deep down, something won’t let her get too close to someone with good intentions. Because that would mean she’d have to be vulnerable. And that would mean she might get hurt.

Kim drinks. Heavily. Every day. Partly because of the depression, partly because of her insecurity. Kim doesn’t think she’s much fun to be around when she’s sober. And when Kim drinks, she makes bad decisions.

Kim is lonely. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, but there is a man in her life. Unfortunately, he isn’t really interested in her as a person. He promises her everything…after two bottles of wine…and always after midnight. The next morning of course, he’s gone. She’ll go two or three weeks without hearing from him. She’ll get angry, swear she’s done with him forever, and then answer a 10:30 pm text message. “Hey honey, want some company? I have a great bottle of wine I can bring.” Cycle continues.

Kim wants to get married. She wants to have children. She goes to church every Sunday. Church, restaurant with friends, margaritas, home, wine, sleep, guilt…..repeat. Kim ignores the voice that whispers, “follow me.”

Kim is not living a life that God can bless.

Have you ever read Matthew 6:33? I love it…and it’s one of the few verses where I prefer the King James version, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

The New International Version reads, “but seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

What does that mean? It means we should seek God’s will before our own. It’s just like me and Nick at the dinner table. I love Nick. I want to give him chocolate. And if he would only seek MY way first, (chicken, veggies and fruit) I would gladly give him chocolate. I’d be so excited that I’d probably give him an extra piece! And…he would have the added benefit of feeling great because he’d be putting good, healthy things in his body first.

You know what we are, spiritually? We’re like two year olds running around. We really are, and I fully include myself in that analogy. We think we know what’s best, we think we know how to get there, and all the while God is telling us this…

Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

In other words, God is telling us, very nicely, that “it doesn’t matter why! Because I told you to, that’s why!” I’m sure He uses a much nicer tone than we do as parents, don’t you think?

Sometimes it’s pretty tough to try to reason with my two year old. And on that same note, our puny little brains are not equipped to always understand WHY when it comes to God’s way. Isaiah 55:9, :As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” We are so rarely told why. We are simply told…to trust. To trust that God’s way is better. And you know what? It is.

Over the past six months or so, I’ve felt strongly compelled to stop drinking. My husband and others close to me were surprised by this. I don’t drink all that much. Maybe one or two nights on the weekend. I sometimes go a few weeks without having a single drink. I don’t get tipsy every time I drink. But I have had my moments. And the conviction is there. God has been crystal clear on this. I am not to drink. It’s not part of what God has in store for me. God wants me to live a life He can bless. I know without a shadow of doubt in my heart that His plan for my life doesn’t include alcohol. That’s my struggle. For others, it’s food. Others, spending money. Promiscuity. Pornography. Laziness. Vanity. Gluttony. Gambling. Pride. Gossip. Lying to get attention. Stealing to see if you can get away with it. Always needing the right label on your clothes. Perhaps you struggle with forgiveness. Forgiving someone else…or yourself. Maybe it’s something from your past…something God wants to heal. He can’t heal it if you won’t face it.

If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, anger, aggression, fear, insecurity, hopelessness or helplessness, there is a very good chance that there is something in your life that is keeping you from enjoying all the blessings God has in store for you. Sometimes these feelings are from a physiological imbalance in your body. That’s not to be ignored. But more often, it’s because we are out of sync with God’s plan for our lives. We are not being all we can be. And deep down…we know it.

The day I realized I could never drink again was a Tuesday. I’d had a few too many a few days before…and justified it to myself. I thought, everyone does it every now and then. I hardly ever do. But the conviction was there. I turned on a Christian talk show that I sometimes listen to, and the topic was Christians living outside of grace. I had never really thought about that before. Christians living outside of grace. Saved…but not blessed. Not living the life God wants them to lead. The passage they were quoting was Galatians 6:19-21. Read it very carefully:

“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except in those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Most people look at that quickly, and shrug it off. But read it again. Especially the part that says “Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” (Emphasis mine.)

If you see yourself in there anywhere, seriously consider asking God for the strength to remove the sin.

Kim wants so badly to have what her friends have. Marriage, babies, a house with a swing set in back. And I have to believe…with all my heart and soul…that God, her merciful and loving Father, wants so badly to give it all to her. That, and then some! The tone Jesus takes in Luke 12:31 is so full of tenderness it melts my heart. Jesus says, “He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

I can picture the look on Jesus’ face as he spoke those words. “Don’t be afraid, little flock.” He calls us “little flock” just as I call my children “sweetheart,” “my love,” or “Nicky Noodle.” No laughing…there’s a story behind the silly nickname. It’s still a term of endearment…just like Jesus uses with us. The point is, He loves us as His own dear children. Just like I would lay down my life gladly for either one of my children, he stretched out His hands on the cross to lay His down for us. We are purchased with His precious blood. He wants so badly to bless you until your cup is running over! Psalm 37:3-4, “Trust in the LORD and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desire.” (Emphasis mine.)

Please, please take this seriously. Whatever it is that’s keeping you from a close relationship with your Father…get rid of it. It’s not worth it. God provides a better way…I promise you. Let my story prove it to you. It was scary to give up drinking. It’s such a way of life. And I have friends who won’t like me as much for it. The only time they knew me to not drink socially was when I was pregnant. But God’s way is better. My life is and will continue to be BLESSED because of this. My children will grow up knowing you don’t have to have a drink to be fun. And let me tell you something….I AM STILL FUN! (lol)

And maybe because of that, my children won’t make some of the mistakes I’ve made.

Just know that if there is something you struggle with, you have a kindred spirit in me. I’m not judging anyone. I have too many logs in my eyes to be too terribly worried about the spec in yours. I just want you take this with you…there is great rest…in laying your burdens at the feet of Jesus.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

Amen…and God bless you. And bless you, and bless you, and bless you…

Friday, November 6, 2009

Soul Food

I have a girlfriend named Lori who makes the best baked macaroni and cheese in the world. I mean it…in the WORLD. It’s just downright sinful, it’s so good. And she will be the first one to tell you that it’s pretty indulgent. We're talking butter, real cream, 3 or 4 different kinds of cheese, home made croutons (made by soaking the bread in butter, toasting it and tossing it into the mix)…it’s just incredible.

And while I’ll mow it down just as quickly as you can blink…I’m feeling it later. Feeling it travel slowly through my body…depositing fat on my hips, arms, thighs…you get the picture. I always think it’s worth it while I’m eating it. The next day…I’m not so sure.

And you know where I really get in trouble? With the leftovers! One serving wouldn’t be such a big deal, but once I’ve had it, I want it again. So I’ll maybe have a bowl for lunch the next day, a little for a snack later on, and before you know it, it’s gone. And I have to run a few extra miles to compensate.

I’ve noticed a pattern with myself. If I don’t eat the macaroni and cheese, I don’t really crave it. And I do the same thing when it comes to what I feed my brain. Here’s a confession for you, and I’m not proud of it. I tivo “The Hills” on MTV. I know, I know. A married mother of two, sings in church, writes a Christian blog, and all the while I’m cramming my brain full of smut tv! I never said I was perfect. For anyone who shares in my guilty pleasure, I even watched some of last season’s episodes more than once (hey, it was Lauren’s last season). I haven’t really been quite as into it this season (with Kristen), but you’d still find it on my DVR if you went looking.

Something happened over the summer, when all the good tv shows took their sabbatical. I had nothing to watch. So I started to read the bible more. And more. And then I started to journal about what I was reading. And then I started to blog about it. And amazingly, I have started to see God work in my life like never before.

Because as cliché as it sounds, we are what we eat. If we’re stuffing ourselves full of Lori’s fabulous mac and cheese on a daily basis, our thighs are going to get bigger! If all we do is read TMZ, watch E! Online and flip through Us Weekly, our brains are going to get mushy! And our lives are going to reflect it.

God talks about this in Isaiah 55…it’s a great passage…and we’re going to break it down. Here we go…

Isaiah 55:1-2 – “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!”

Any athlete on the planet will tell you that a diet of Lori’s baked macaroni greatness would be terrible for performance. I run, and I can tell you that if you want to see your speed pick up and your endurance increase, you need to put yourself on a diet of lean meats, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and good healthy grains.

Likewise, if you are trying to better your relationship with God, you need a steady diet of prayer, worship and scripture. So let’s move on…it only gets better!

“Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!” I love it when God uses exclamation points; it shows that He is very eager…He feels very adamant about soul food. So where do we get it? Let’s take a look at the very next verse…

Isaiah 55: 3 – “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David.”

No exclamation point here. I can almost see God looking into our eyes; hear Him lowering His voice to emphasize His point. “Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake.” That is serious. Now we’re talking about eternity. God wants us to come to Him with our ears wide open. Not like when we come to church on Sunday morning…looking all prayerful and holy…but really thinking about what we’re going to make for dinner. God wants us to come to Him undistracted, and ready to receive His message. Then He will give us all the mercies and unfailing love that He promised David.

And that is where things start to pick up. When you get to a place where you are listening to God, and studying His word…get ready to be blessed. Get ready…to be transformed.

Isaiah 55:4-5 – “He (David) displayed my power by being my witness and a leader among the nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, because I, the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Those words are rich with the promise of the Lord. The Lord’s promise to YOU. God already told us in verse 3 that He will give us all the mercies and unfailing love that He gave to David. Now, He tells us He will give us power, too.

When you witness to the Lord, there is power in that. And God’s power will make you a leader of nations. Stay with me, here. You may not be the president of the United States, or even of your home owner’s association. But if you live your life as a witness to the Lord, people will be drawn to you. Your “nations” are your circle of influence. We each have one. If you are a parent, your children are in your circle of influence. Your co-workers are, too. Are you in a Bunco group? That counts. Anytime you are with people that could be influenced by the way you act or what you say, you are operating inside of your circle of influence. And God will make you a leader.

Some people may shy away from this, but it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. To be an effective witness, you don’t need to stand on a street corner waving your bible and screaming out scripture. That is not a very effective way to bring people to Christ. That is a very effective way to get people to think you have a screw loose. Your greatest testimony comes from your life.
God has recently called me to give something up. I’m not ready to blog about it, but I will be more than happy to tell you what it is in person if we run into each other.

The thing I gave up wasn’t illegal, and not even necessarily sinful, but it was getting in the way of my witness. It was interfering with my testimony. God wants to use each of us, but in order to do that, we have to live a life that He can bless. And to do that…we have to be on a steady diet of good, healthy soul food.

Watching The Hills isn’t a sin. Neither is eating a big, healthy dose of Lori’s mac and cheese. But when that’s all you’re feeding your brain, or your stomach, you start to get soft (literally and figuratively).

On The Hills, the girls get into cat fights, they steal each other’s boyfriends, and they’re out clubbing almost every night. The norm is to party and get drunk, to hold loose moral standards. And you know what? That’s tempting stuff. That is tantalizing television. And pretty soon you’re watching more of it. Hollywood preaches the exact opposite of the gospel. Sex before marriage is expected, affairs just happen, the skinnier you are, the better, and the younger you look the more you’re worth. If your jeans aren’t “this” brand…if you don’t carry “that” phone…or drive “that” car, you aren’t good enough. Funny, though. The people you see plastered across the magazine covers don’t seem all that happy, do they? They need a good, home cooked meal. A hearty dose of soul food.

Isaiah 44:1-4 – “But now, listen to me, Jacob my servant, Israel, my chosen one. The LORD who made you and helps you says: O Jacob, my servant, do not be afraid. O Israel, my chosen one, do not fear. For I will give you abundant water to quench your thirst and to moisten your parched fields. And I will pour out my Spirit and my blessings on your children. “

Do you see how God is pleading with us? Just exactly the same way that I plead with my son to eat his peas. Because they’re good for him. And God’s Word is not just good for us…it’s essential.

David wrote about it in the most well known psalm of all…Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings."

God is extending you a dinner invitation. Will you accept?