Friday, August 31, 2012

That's Not Fair

And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability...” Matthew 25:15

I have read the parable of the talents many times and have also heard many sermons on theses particular scriptures, but this morning I saw the above verse in a new light and felt the intense desire to dig into further scriptures to see what God had to reveal to me in them. In particular, the words “according to his own ability” really stood out to me and made me wonder, “Why does God not make us all equal in our ability? And, why are some held more or less accountable than others?”

There of course are many scriptural texts that talk about the gifts God gives to those who believe in Him and whom have been gifted by the inner-workings of the Holy Spirit. Here are just a few that came to mind to make note of this morning as they also relate to the broader topic of ability and accountability:

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:6-8

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:10-11

In Romans 12 we learn that our spiritual gifts are given “according to the grace that is given to us” which I realize has to have direct correlation also with the ability given to us by God as reference in Matthew 25:15. Also, in 1 Peter we learn that through the ability of our gifts, as we are supplied by God, our purpose in using them is to glorify Jesus Christ – that is our end on the accountability part of this spiritual arrangement.

As I dug even deeper with some cross-referencing, I came upon a verse in Romans 11 that completely took me by surprise – because in all my years of studying the bible and reading through it cover to cover I had never really “seen” this verse.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29

What Romans 11:29 is stating, is that once God decides on the gifts He has chosen to grace us with, along with our related ability and accountability, He does not change His mind about His gift. I have to think that since God is perfect, this is just a confirmation that there is no mistake in how God has designed, gifted, and held each person on this earth accountable from within the context that He has deemed them worthy to be accountable.

I think my oldest son would retort to what I just said above with most favorite phrase, “That's not fair!” But then it makes me recall a conversation I had with my two sons on the way home from youth group on Wednesday night – we were talking about their individual school work loads and about how I teach each of them (actually all three of my children) differently according to their skill sets and abilities. Of course my oldest chimed in and said that he thought my approach was unfair until he realized that his workload, which he considered the hardest (of course being the oldest he is ahead of the other two and he always seems to have more work assigned to him) was nothing close in relative comparison to all the additional subjects his younger sister was required to study - ones that I had never asked him to learn at the same age.   At first my son came back with the response, “But that's because she is Maggie.” (Yes my boys know Maggie is very gifted and also 2 grade levels ahead of her age and at times they dismiss her enthusiasm for learning because it comes so easy to her.) But then he realized how what he said had contradicted what he had said and was in agreement with the reasoning I had just explained. (He usually gets this way when he sees how I have to usually take things a bit slower with his younger brother than I do with him.)   

In the same way as God gifts us to our abilities and then holds us accountable to use the talents/gifts given us, so too do I teach my children in manners that hone their gifts and hold them accountable for learning to use their gifts with wisdom and astuteness. That may not seem equal or fair, but in the long run the methods by which I go about teaching each of my children and distinguishing each of them as individuals, not as just some cookie cutter product of my home school educational program, will allow them to understand who God made them uniquely to be and how they can be most useful in the work God will set before them in their futures.

Yes, life is really not “fair” when you understand the scriptures I laid out before you this morning. But then again who ever said it was? I think fairness is another lie that the enemy would like us all to strive for because in seeking fairness we lose sight of the wonderful ability for us to complement each other and show the watching world how the Holy Spirit can bring peace and harmony through so many diversely gifted parts.

As you go forward today with the Lord, do not look around trying to compare what God has given to you with what He has given to another. Be mindful that what you have been given was the most perfectly suited gift for you. You can't return it because God did not make a mistake and He is not even willing to take it back for a trade in. Instead rejoice in what you have been given and live your life in pursuit of finding out how God desires for you to use what He has given you so that you too can bring glory to Jesus Christ through your life.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Look Up for Help

I will lift up my eyes to the hills — from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

Last night as I caught the above verses on one of my flip calendars a thought just popped into my head, “If my help comes from the Lord and I am supposed to be looking up at Him, why is it that I keep turning back to looking down at my circumstances instead?” I would guess I am not alone in taking my eyes off of God and His faithful provision when the circumstances of life get overwhelming. As I read through some other verses I found regarding this same theme of bring people back to focus on the God in order to remove their focus from the circumstances below, I found my research to be rather bountiful.  Here are just a few things I felt compelled to share from what I found:

Jesus stated the same call to focus on God and not circumstances in the following manner:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’...For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:31-33

And, as the Israelite nation sang in the temple, one of their songs also reminded them that God was the One who did the deeds to save them and it was nothing they did in their circumstances that brought them victory or help:

We have heard with our ears, O God,
Our fathers have told us,
The deeds You did in their days,
In days of old:
You drove out the nations with Your hand,
But them You planted;
You afflicted the peoples, and cast them out.
For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword,
Nor did their own arm save them;
But it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance,
Because You favored them.
You are my King, O God;
Command victories for Jacob.
Through You we will push down our enemies;
Through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us.
For I will not trust in my bow,
Nor shall my sword save me.
But You have saved us from our enemies,
And have put to shame those who hated us.
In God we boast all day long,
And praise Your name forever. Selah”
Psalm 44:1-8

As I look out on the pile of hay that needs to be put up into the loft of our barn today (all 256 bales) and the heat that will more than likely make the working condition for my son and I all the more difficult, I can get rather discouraged. But instead I will look up to God, thank Him for the blessing of the hay we will now have to feed our cows through the winter, the health and strength He has given my son and me to do the job ahead of us, and the provision of the barn where the hay will be kept dry and clean until it is needed. The choice upon where I focus my thoughts and attention are mine, but in focusing upon God and the help He has at the ready is where my fears dissolve in realizing that the task before me is nothing to Him, who made the heavens and the earth.

...we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” Ephesians 3:12

Our faith is what allows us to step out in boldness to face each circumstance that life throws our way. Faith that does not even take the time to contemplate the difficulty of any task, but rather spends its time only contemplating the things of God and the truths He wants to make real to us in and through the circumstances He allows into our lives.  Look up today and your help will be found!  Dwelling on whatever is before you for any length of time will only show the lack of faith you have in Jesus who you profess to be your Lord and Savior.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Speaking Truth

If there is a messenger for him, a mediator, one among a thousand, to show man His uprightness, then He is gracious to him, and says,‘Deliver him from going down to the Pit...'” Job 33:23-24a

With a saddened heart I think upon the words from Job that the Lord put before me this morning. Not because these words of truth are new to my heart or becaue they have convicted me of something I need to deal with in my life (that is usually the case though). No, my heart is saddened because as I read the words of Job 33 and thought about this particular date, August 29th, I was taken back to a time in my life where the truth of what Elihu spoke to Job was a truth I had to consider while I spoke out in love to another - and it cost me dearly. Let me take you back a bit so I can tell the whole story more properly.

When my boys were younger, I did a lot of speaking to MOPS groups because I held a leadership position in their national organization and it was a good way for me to get out into the groups to see how they were doing. For that reason, I needed a babysitter who could be flexible with my schedule and be able to babysit during the morning hours when I needed to be gone. A young girl named Michelle was volunteered by her mother to fill that role for me, and it was a perfect fit (although after her first day with my boys she was rather skeptical I would ever ask her to come back since they had packed up their belongings in their battery controlled jeep and were headed out of the neighborhood when I came home that day). Needless to say, things did get better and having her babysit for us was a wonderful arrangement.

After a while, I felt the Lord tugging on my heart to ask Michelle if she would like to do a bible study with me since I was already tutoring her in math and she was wanting to hang around our home more and more. She was excited and that invitation was the beginning of a deep and wonderful relationship the two of us began to share. Over time, Michelle became more and more a part of our family. So much so, that when our daughter Maggie was born she thought that Michelle lived with us (because she was around so much) and surely she had to be her older sister. Michelle traveled with me as I spoke out of state and she also went on family vacations with us. We often joked that she was to me as Timothy was to Paul, a spiritual offspring – she was the daughter that God had given me.

When I started leading a bible study at my church, I encouraged Michelle to join the group to be encouraged by women other than myself. In that group she became friends with a sweet young mom who was eager to learn as much as she could about the bible. But, it wasn't long after I started this study that they Lord started pressing on our family the need to move and transition to another place He had for us. (By the way, if you want to read all about that journey, you can find it on my blog from the dates February 13th - 17th . Here are the links to the individual entries:  Does Escape Bring Rest?Does Striving Bring Rest? , Where is the Beauty that Brings Rest?, Will Worthy Activities Bring Me Rest?Will Money or Riches Bring Me Rest?).

As we eventually moved, we found out that this young mom and her husband were in need of a place to stay and with our new home having an apartment, we offered it to this struggling couple hoping that we could help them get back on their feet physically and spiritually. But, what started out sounding like a wonderful situation, quickly turned sour rather quickly. Michelle maintained her friendship with this young mother, but all the more started pulling away from me as she felt the need to pick sides as I had no choice but to turn from friend being a friend of this young mother and her husband to their landlord.

Needless to say, my husband and I had many things we wanted to share with this young couple, but they were unwilling to see their need to change any of their ways. As I prayed about the situation God was very clear I needed to confront them, but in doing so I knew I would probably lose what was left of the relationship I still longed to have with Michelle. My fears were realized when the couple finally moved on and Michelle cut off all ties with me – I have not spoken to her since.

The reason today is so difficult though is because it is Michelle's birthday, one I wish I could be part of but can't because of the words the Lord asked me to speak for Him. Am I sorry that I spoke as the Lord asked? No, I would rather please the Lord always in what I do instead of any man. But there still is a part of me that yearns to restore the relationship I once enjoyed so much with Michelle. Speaking truth, as you really know God wants you to, is not an easy thing to do as you can see. We are all fallen, and therefore even though we may speak as God directs us, others still can think that since we are sinful beings and the words we at times utter are words they do not want to hear truth, that the words which proceed out of our mouth are humanly manipulated for our own gain and not the spiritual gain of the person we are speaking them to.

Listen to what Elihu says to Job about how he feels the Lord is using him to utter the words he is about to speak:

But please, Job, hear my speech,
And listen to all my words.
Now, I open my mouth;
My tongue speaks in my mouth.
My words come from my upright heart;
My lips utter pure knowledge.
The Spirit of God has made me,
And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
If you can answer me,
Set your words in order before me;
Take your stand.
Truly I am as your spokesman before God;
I also have been formed out of clay.
Surely no fear of me will terrify you,
Nor will my hand be heavy on you.”
Job 33:1-7

Maybe some day God will restore my daughter Michelle to me. Until then I pray for both her and this young mother that the Lord will work in ways first to restore them to Him. I do not regret my words, although at times I am saddened by the result that came about because I uttered them.  But I have chosen to give over to God what is His and remember how much more He loves each of these young women than I ever could. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Considering the Poor

Blessed is he who considers the poor...” Psalm 41:1

The other day a friend commented on the generosity of our family. I have to say that even though our family loves to give, at times I still feel like we do not give enough. My questioning to God often goes like this, “Why did you give us so much Lord, and give others so little in this world? What more can we do to help out those in need? Where can be take the blessings you have given us, and use them to bless others?” There are endless needs surrounding us, and yet even with the great multitude our family is blessed with, we still have limited resources on what we are able to give.

Only, with great blessings comes great responsibility and much more pressure to listen to God when He asks you to give – no matter the sum, your perspective on the worthiness of the receiver, or your ideas of the productive potential of the gift. 

God has asked our family to give in some of the strangest manners and altogether painful circumstances in the past, so much so that I have stopped trying to reason out why God asks us to give to certain causes or individuals - we have just learned to give and leave the rest in His hands. As a result of our giving, our family has felt both joy and hurt. But in all the ups and downs of giving freely as the Lord has requested, our family's faith has increased and that has been the greatest blessing I could have ever asked for or prayed for.

Of course giving money is not the only way to give to others. There is the value of time invested in people which also adds up even more powerfully than monetary gifts. Read what these two excerpts from Job say about that type of giving to those who are poor in the ways of this world:

How have you helped him who is without power? How have you saved the arm that has no strength?” Job 26:2

I delivered the poor who cried out, the fatherless and the one who had no helper. The blessing of a perishing man came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy...I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame. I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the case that I did not know. I broke the fangs of the wicked, and plucked the victim from his teeth.” Job 29: 12-13, 15-17

For those of us who have been given much wealth, we have also been given rule in this world. Our money and free time have afforded us much power and some day we will be judged with how wisely or how foolishly we have made use of our wealth. To those who have little, they are at the mercy of our rule and our generosity, both areas in which we can either shine the love the Jesus or hide within the shadows of greed.

The rich rules over the poor...” Proverbs 22:7

Conversely, giving all you have out of guilt because of what you have been given is not what God expects of you. Wisely giving in the unique manner and ways God instructs you is the only way to share your wealth responsibly. As I stated above, God has asked us to give in some rather strange ways – ways we did not seek out because we were giving out of guilt, but rather giving out of obedience.  For our own peace of mind we have learned through past experiences our control over those possessions ends at the time the gift is given, otherwise the gift isn't really a gift at all, but rather a means to further control the one to whom you have given the gift.

As you pray about the gifts and talents the Lord has given you, make sure to remember to ask Him where He would like to see you use what you have been given in order to benefit the lives of those less fortunate. We all have a responsibility as servants of Christ Jesus to no longer live for ourselves, but to live for Him and to give ownership to Him all that is His in our lives and all that He has given us the rule over.  When we live and share in this manner, then we are able to perfectly shine His light in this world in ways that are effective and perfect in the eyes of the One who has given us all that we possess in this world.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Contented Dwelling Place

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” Psalm 90:1

This morning as I was reading, I was mentally taken back to the first few years of my marriage when my husband and I were not believers, but we were searching for a way to make where we lived and what we did meaningful and fulfilling. We would spend our evenings dreaming together as we watched the travel channel and at that time we even considered a move to Australia (Yes, we were searching hard). We would watch home improvement shows thinking that maybe it was just a few fixes to our starter home or maybe even a bigger home some day that would ease our seeking itch. Even as we did travel we considered dropping all we were pursuing – careers, home, a traditional lifestyle – to start up our own business in the remotest parts of the country - possibly a camping resort on the road to Alaska.

Our dreaming soon became all consuming, almost a passion to achieve what we could not see and what we dared to reach out for. People often ask us what made us move from Minnesota to Oregon, and our easy answer is that we both finally had bad days at work and decided to leave Minnesota behind in pursuit of something we felt would be better for us in Oregon. In a way that short answer to a more complicated transition is true, but it does not contain the whole story. We really moved because we were looking for a place that would give peace to our souls. The only problem with moving was that our desired peace was not in the place we moved.  But thankfully in our move, we did find the peace we were looking for.

The peace and contentment our souls had been searching for, not just that for our physical bodies or minds as we had originally thought had driven us to Oregon, was found in a body of believers we were led to in Lake Oswego, OR. These wonderful people who became our family as we settled in a place we had no ties in gently showed us how to have a personal relationship with Christ and how to find everything we had been so desperately searching for.

How often do we see those around us searching? Looking for contentment and a peaceful dwelling place amidst the raging storms of this world...yet never finding what they are looking for. Trying to use worldly ways to still their unsettled spirits...and never finding the resting place that they so desperately seek. As Psalm 90:1 says above, the Lord is the only dwelling place and has been through all generations.

I wanted to share Job 28 with you this morning because this book is thought to be chronologically one of the first recorded stories in the history of man (beyond Adam and Eve). The search for something greater than oneself is as old as man as these verses testify.

But where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not in me’;
And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be purchased for gold,
Nor can silver be weighed for its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
In precious onyx or sapphire.
Neither gold nor crystal can equal it,
Nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or quartz,
For the price of wisdom is above rubies.
The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
From where then does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living,
And concealed from the birds of the air.
Destruction and Death say,
‘We have heard a report about it with our ears.’
God understands its way,
And He knows its place.
For He looks to the ends of the earth,
And sees under the whole heavens,
To establish a weight for the wind,
And apportion the waters by measure.
When He made a law for the rain,
And a path for the thunderbolt,
Then He saw wisdom and declared it;
He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
And to man He said,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.’”
Job 28: 12-28

Have you been looking for internal peace? Have you been wanting more in your life than you have been able to achieve from your efforts? Have you felt unsettled in your spirit, but are unsure of what efforts will bring you to a place of contentment? Your search does not need to take you to another country, another state, or even another city. The Lord Himself is where you are right now, and if you seek Him out and fear Him in what He shows you about Himself, then that is where the peace you are searching for will be found.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content...” Philippians 4:11

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Sabbath to Celebrate

It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your shall celebrate your sabbath.” Leviticus 23:32

Today was a very different sabbath for our family – it was a day of sheer celebration. Today was the beginning of our daughter Maggie's 24-hour princess birthday celebration which descended upon our home this afternoon. Fortunately for me this feast of sorts will not go on for days un-end, but rather will conclude tomorrow afternoon. For now all the little princesses are resting and I am trying to catch up with all I have to get done before tomorrow.

I have to think that the wonderful celebration these girls are having in our home today and tomorrow – the fun, the games, and the delicious food – are just a foretaste of what heaven holds in store for all who will enter its eternal gates. In kind, I believe each sabbath here on earth only prepares our hearts all the more for that ultimate celebration we will one day be part of, the feast of the King of Kings. Because what kind of host makes his/her guests prepare and work for the party they are invited to? None, and all the more with God being the perfect host, absolutely none.

As I continue to prepare for the conclusion of our celebration tomorrow I look forward to the joy with which the girls will continue their celebration. I know as I think about what God has taught me about the sabbath and about the need to celebrate, I will all the more desire to be the perfect host and all the more desire these girls gain a taste of what type of celebration God has waiting for them when they place all their trust in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Before Faith Came

But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.” Galatians 3:23

I grew up in a home that was very religious. We not only went to church as many times as the church required in the year, but we also observed the days that the church considered optional, said long memorized prayers at various times through the day, and did many things to “show” our devotion to God. And although I was a rather compliant child when I was younger through all of these religious observations, there was always a nagging feeling inside of me that made me question what I was going along with – it just did not seem right. So, as the years progressed and I started to understand who I was apart from my parents, I started to rebel against those things that did not make sense to me which I had been doing for so long and that had never allowed me peace as I went through the motions of the religious practices.

So, off to college I went and a whole world of opportunities to seek out what was “right” sat before me. And although I could have gone completely off the deep end from the start, I still kept my ties with the denomination of my parents and actually started to work with the church this particular denomination had on campus. The only problem with my devotion being played out in this manner was that it had no foundation. And within a very short period of time I started to see with opened eyes and a distressed heart, that the church I had thought at least held some bit of hope for me was nothing but a front for many more people than even I who was struggling to find connections between the ways of the world and the works within the church. I had never felt so empty in all of my life or had I ever seen how empty the things I had been trusting in for a sliver of faith really were.

From that downward spiral in the church I turned to God and told Him in an audible voice, “I am done with Your ways because they don't work! I am going to find this peace I am searching for on my own!” That is when I left the church and a very dark and difficult existence started for me. I lived in fear and in the shadow of the Lord knowing He was real and yet refusing to come back to Him in the way I had done in the past. I lived my life as I felt was right and in ways that I thought would bring me peace, but in the end I only sank deeper and deeper into a pit of despair.

It wasn't I met my husband and he wanted me to try going to a church like he did growing up that I was willing, and in my willingness God spoke so clearly to me about the difference between the law that shows death and the grace of God that gives life – a message I had never heard about growing up. For some reason the same “law” that had been preached in one church did not reveal grace as a necessary component. I was always told I needed to make up for what I did, that my works would bring me back to God, and that if I just tried harder, prayed more, and lived a more simple life, then everything would be right.  But no matter how hard I tried it was not right. In that instant then of hearing about grace and coming to a place where I knew I needed it and finally had the truth of it opened up to me – it was a teaching I was willing to grasp with all my being and cling onto.

As I read Psalm 40 and Galatians 3:23 this morning, that whole experience I described above was brought to the forefront of my mind in a way I had never thought of it before. What happened in my life was not a mistake to show just how pig-headed I can be (which I can be very much so as those around me would attest to), but rather my experience was a very thoughtfully calculated time which God used to prepare me to have a vibrant faith life with Him. If I had not gone through the separation I had brought about between myself and God, I would have never realized the depth of the grace I needed nor the love by which God was willing to pursue me with to make me His own.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the
Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3

Faith is not just something we learn about by copying others and it is not something we grow in by reading about it in books (or blogs). Rather, faith is something that takes hold of us and presses us when we have gone beyond everything that we can see which has the ability to give us hope for the future. Yes, we may know the “law” very well, but we must be willing to allow the Lord to show us how to really trust in faith those words which He has spoken to us, even if we must go to the “horrible pit” to then see His loving hand reach down and pull us out and place us onto an even greater solid rock foundation of faith.  

Many times I have wondered what it is that makes my faith life so vibrant and long-suffering.  I guess today the Lord showed me a bit of how He has orchestrated the circumstances around my seeking Him to mold my faith life into what it is today.  For all He has done, I am thankful that I did not find peace in something that kept me apart from a passionate pursuit of Him.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Story God is Writing

There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord.” Proverbs 21:30-31

Yesterday as I was discussing with a friend the oath I had taken with the Lord regarding blogging every day this year I commented on how God was intertwining many of my life-long faith stories into the text which I have been compiling since the first of the year – almost a spiritual autobiography of sorts. To that my friend commented on what a wonderful treasure these writings will be to my children if even just they were to be the only ones who would read them in the future. I had to agree – the transformations God has allowed over these years of my life, as I have allowed the sinful and physical representation of me be slowly transformed into the perfected and spiritual representation of me, are not only preparing me for the final battle and my final transformation but they are also meant to be useful in the preparation of others for the same effort.

When I used to think in years past of what I would write about if I were ever to write a large work (like a book), I could never harness in a single topic because there were just too many places the Lord has had to work to reign me in during this process. I now realize that for all of us, this way of God working on us from all angles, is how He approaches this transformation process. To no person is there just one area that needs an overhaul and the rest is good and ready to go for its alteration. God made us all multifaceted and from each of those angles He must cut into our lives taking away the unwanted parts little by little on each side with perfect precision in a perfect balance with the other sides so as not to disrupt the total integrity of the soul that lies within the corruption of the natural body.

I love what Paul has to say about this transformation process and how the work of the Lord and our labors along with what God is doing in our lives are not done in vain.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being.'The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also be the image of the heavenly Man...Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:42-49, 58

All that God does to bring about change in your life may look like a bunch of disconnected episodes that will not amount to anything worthwhile in the end. But as God looks at what He is doing to bring about a transformation in you, His grace and directions in that grace are perfectly planned out and focused on what He has determined as the right way for you to go in achieving His final spiritual modification in you. Do not think the Lord is crazy in calling you to anything new to put your hands to. His grace is sufficient to provide you with all you need for the calling and with all of the wisdom and strength you will only find in Him for the tasks that await you.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain...” 1 Corinthians 15:10a

The most important role we each can play in this process we must endure as Christians is to take our focus off what the products of our efforts are producing in this world – they are only temporary and may only be enjoyed by a few. But rather me must focus on the final product of the labors the Lord has called us to and remember that our transformation from earthly to heavenly is His main goal and His grace will be sufficient to carry us through to the end whenever and wherever that may be.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Redirected Dreams

My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me. Does it seem good to You that You should oppress, that You should despise the work of Your hands...Your hands have made me and fashioned me, an intricate unity; yet You would destroy me. Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay...Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Oh, that I had perished and no eye had seen me! I would have been as though I had not been. I would have been carried from the womb to the grave. Are not my days few? Cease! Leave me alone, that I may take a little comfort, before I go to the place from which I shall not return...'” Excerpts from Job 10

There is a complex paradox we must come to grips with as a Christian – God has made us and He loves us, yet our lives as we see them, He does not love. A difficult understanding indeed to realize that God took the time to imagine all that we are and all that we could be, fashioned us before we even saw the light of day in a manner that would perfectly fit into that image, and then wrote down all of His dreams He decided to make true in the life He wanted to give us – but then forsook all the details in each of our lives so that the final compilation of His purposes could be worked out. And by forsook I mean He looked only at the end product with the eye of a master craftsman, not dwelling on the details of the process by which both He and us would have to undergo to get to the final product.

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16

As I read Job's words from Job 10 I hear the pit from which he is trying to find his way out of in questioning God regarding his very difficult circumstances. He is wrestling with the paradox I just spoke about - “If God loves me so much, and fashioned me with His own hands, then why has He left me to be destroyed?” Destruction is what it does feel like to us when we have lost all hope of what is to come and all our earthly dreams, aspirations, and comforts have been removed from our lives. But just because those things which we have equated to the life we thought God had set forth before us are suddenly and painfully removed, that does not mean God has abandoned us or that His final plan for who He is making us into has been lost.

In talking with a long time friend last night (we worked together over 16 years ago), she asked me the following questions:  Did you ever see yourself with 3 children? Did you ever see yourself desiring to adopt three special needs children? Did you ever see yourself...and the list went on and on. And to each question I had to answer, “No”. But as we continued talking about the ways God has upset my idea of what I had desired my life to look like, I realized that with each upset in my own hopes and dreams came stepping stones (those hurtful, painful, undesirable, and uncomfortable circumstances) that prepared me for the bigger picture God was working to complete in my life as He had always desired for it to look.

It is completely crazy I think how God can use those things that we so much want to avoid (mostly because they are painful and costly to our dreams) to work together in putting a picture together of what He as been working out in our lives to complete - His dream of who He intended for us to be. Job was in that place when he uttered those words above – the place of seeing all his dreams fade before his eyes and thinking God as absolutely crazy in taking away all that seemed to make sense in building his life as something worthy of a God-sized dream for him. But what we consider in our minds as a spectacular dream for God to dream for us is always way too small of a dream compared to what God had imagined for us before we even took our first breath.

Yes, there is a sense of loss when our dreams must be removed so there is room for what God desires to come in. But, that loss needs to be dealt with quickly and willingly so we do not hinder in any way the things God has ready to bring into our lives to work out His plan for our perfected life. Grieving the loss of what we had dreamed could have been for us must be brief if we truly live in faith, because faith is willing to walk that road ahead that trusts alone in the One who has dreamed even bigger dreams for us.

As I look back in my life, I am glad that God did not give in to my “pit”iful grievances against the changes He made in my life to crush my dreams and to make His all the more clear. The pain in those changes faded quickly as I found the faith to continue on and grow into the new dream set before me. So, even though I do not know what the final dream God has for me looks like, each day I am learning how wonderfully suited I am for the dream He pictured for me so long ago - a paradox I have learned brings much joy when the pain of loss is taken as a gift instead of a punishment.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giving and Receiving Encouragement

Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees; but now it comes upon you, and you are weary; it touches you, and you are troubled. Is not your reverence your confidence? And the integrity of your ways your hope?”Job 4:3-6

As I was reading through Job this morning, the above verses pulled at my heart. Here was a man in anguish, who had lost almost all he had owned and all he held dear on this earth and was now covered in sores and living in deep anguish and pain with no hope of a better tomorrow. A man who in the past had been a solid pillar of encouragement to the people in is community who themselves had been through troubled times - people he had been willing to instruct and strengthen by sharing with them God's promises of hope and healing. And yet, when this man of faith was himself hurting and in need of encouragement, the first friend of his to speak up only condemned him for not being strong enough to hold himself up with the faith he had professed in the past to others.

I don't know about you, but I have had the experience of being on both sides of the encouragement scale just like Job. I love to encourage others and to remind them of the promises that I know God has for those who call on Him and follow Him with all their hearts. On the other hand, I love to receive encouragement from others when my heart has sank so low that I have a hard time even remembering those promises of God and when all I can see is a future that seems so unlike where God has ever allowed me to go before. Does that mean though that I have more faith on one side of encouragement scale than the other? Does that mean the people who come to me for encouragement have less faith than I have who I am in the role as the encourager? The answer to both of course is, “No”.

Faith needs encouragement just like plants need sunlight. When we offer encouragement to others we shine the light of God's word and truth into their lives and allow them to continue growing when the light they usually receive from above has somehow been clouded over. And when we receive encouragement from others, we get the light we need.  Light that in that particular moment in our life is unreachable because of the circumstances surrounding us and holding us down from getting into the nourishing rays of light we so desperately need to keep growing.

The problem with encouragement is that some people, like Job's friend Eliphaz who is quoted above, think that those who are strong in offering encouragement should also be strong enough to offer themselves all the encouragement they would need for themselves too. That is a pretty easy mistake to make as we all would think that of the great men and women of faith we so admire would never need anyone to help them stand up when times get tough. But, before you start down that path of thinking, read these words penned by Paul who so greatly encouraged so many:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Romans 1:11-12

Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments...Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick. Do your utmost to come before winter. 2 Timothy 4:9-13,19-21

Even Paul had need of encouragement and he was humble enough to ask for it from those close to him so that the encouragement given him would carry him through the difficult places the Lord had put him. As you think about this lesson I hope it becomes all the more clear to you that there is no one who has faith beyond the need of encouragement. If there is an elder in your church, a beloved ministry leader, your pastor, or a mentor who you know is facing a difficult time or who seems to not have the same spiritual enthusiasm as he/she normally has, then make it a point to do something to encourage that person instead of using your time wondering why his/her faith seems to be wavering.

Just as I was finishing this post I received an email that a friend's husband who is facing cancer needs all the more help as the battle is getting more difficult and the prospects for the future are looking all the less hopeful.  Another opportunity to give encouragement to a friend in need of the hope of the Lord for her family and where God has them.

We all have the calling to encourage one another – to some it is a gift, but that does not let you off the hook if the Lord impresses upon you to encourage someone and you do not feel gifted. Like Paul said, we need to be “encouraged the mutual faith” because that is the way God desires for us to function in humility and love towards one another.  Today chose to give encouragement or chose to ask for it if you are in need, either way you will be blessed in the encouragement of mutual faith.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How Much Blessings Do You Want?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

How blessed do you want to be? Blessed enough to receive all that God wants to shower down upon you from heaven? Blessed enough that you will walk with confidence through the gates of heaven into the glorious presence of God? Blessed enough that you would pray for God to remove all the things in your life that get in the way of your total devotion to Him? How about blessed enough to ask the Lord to destroy all that you own on this earth so He can be glorify in what you do through the destruction? I am sorry. Did I go too far on that last question? In our human sensibility maybe I did, but in the scope of God's sensibility I was headed in the perfect direction in my line of questioning.  If you read on you will understand where these questions originated as I read through the text the Lord placed before me this morning.

I can't say that asking God to destroy all we have is probably the petition any of us woke up this morning requesting  from God regarding how we desired to be blessed today, but then again I don't think Job did either the morning all of this befell him:

Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house; and a messenger came to Job and said, 'The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided them and took them away—indeed they have killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!'

While he was still speaking, another also came and said, 'The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you!' While he was still speaking, another also came and said, 'The Chaldeans formed three bands, raided the camels and took them away, yes, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you!'

While he was still speaking, another also came and said, 'Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you!'

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said:

'Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.'
In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” Job 1:13-22

Job lost the majority of his earthly possessions in a matter of minutes, but yet he still chose to bless the name of the Lord. Not many of us know what our reaction would be if all we had were lost in a matter of minutes. But for those who have escaped with only their lives from terrible natural disasters, forceful evictions brought on my war or persecution, or other similar circumstances the reality of suffering so great a loss is understood. But where is the blessings in being brought into a place of emptiness? Hear what King David said about that very thing: the day of my calamity...the Lord was my support. He also brought me out into a broad place...” Psalm 18:18-19

When destruction comes, it comes with a blessed side, a wide open side, a side that very few of us are given the chance to see – the broad place where only the Lord can occupy. A blessing that God gives to the few who He sees fit to give it to and to whom He knows will bring Him glory through anything they may have to endure. 

I have often wondered as I have read the stories and prayed for the people I read about in the Voice of the Martyr's publication if I could withstand the types of blessings the Lord brings to those chosen people who have suffered so much for His namesake. Maybe you have too. Until we are brought to a place where we must make that kind of decision we will never know, but we can always keep praying that God make us strong enough that if that time were to ever come in our lives that we would be ready to stand firm for Him in our adversity.

If you would like to learn more about how our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for the Lord, take some time to read current day stories about how those who are being persecuted around the world are bringing glory to God through their efforts and through their devotion to the One who has found them worthy of His greatest blessing – to be brought into the broad place of Himself. You can find the Voice of the Martyr's at this link. And then I ask you to pray for those you read about, that God may continue to strengthen them through all they are willing to do to keep spreading His love and forgiveness to even those people whose hands have brought destruction upon them.

You are my portion, O Lord...” Psalm 119:57a

The Lord alone is our portion, and for those who have had every other portion removed from their space they understand that truth so much better than those of us who have our lives cluttered with the things of this world could ever understand. God, I pray that You may continue bringing Yourself glory through the lives you choose to bless beyond our understanding, even if someday it may be my own.