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?