Saturday, December 4, 2010

When God opens a window

I love the little moments when God opens my mind up to something new that I didn't understand before. That "Oh, this clicks" moment. In the last two days, He's done this for me twice.

I think He blesses us in two ways with these moments. The first is, of course, whatever wisdom He allows us to understand. Spiritual growth is an absolutely incredible feeling when you realize it's happening.

The second way is that we're reminded just how far we are from having things all figured out. From knowing everything. We have that sensation of a window opening in our minds, and then realize the excitement of all the windows God can still open.

Yesterday, God opened this window for me: At the church, I am surrounded daily by people with more wisdom, knowledge and experience than me. People who can teach me so much about not only the work I am doing, but also about the way I know and serve God. Instead of trying to impress these people all the time, why not humbly learn from them? The first option preserves my pride, but the second option makes me a person who serves God and others better. And isn't that more impressive in the ways that matter anyway?

Today, I went with Josh and Joyce to the Operation Christmas Child processing center to inspect and package shoeboxes. Now, here's a fact about me, even though admitting it makes me feel like a bad person. Mercy is not one of my spiritual gifts. When I hear a sad story, I am not the first person to cry. It's not that I don't care. I do. It doesn't come naturally to me to emotionally step into others' shoes, especially if it's an experience that's completely foreign to me.

So, window number 2. As I was working with the shoeboxes today, I got so excited about the big picture of what was going on. The 650,000 kids who would get presents and hopefully the message of Christ just from the Denver processing center alone.

As I was filling cartons with shoeboxes according to gender and age, I started praying over them. The more I prayed, the more connected I felt to the whole purpose of what was going on. It was so cool to think about the 5-year-old boys and 12-year-old girls whose lives God will change.

Ephesians 6:18 says, And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

God is showing me, through this experience and other recent ones, that it's not just about serving in the areas where I'm gifted. Maybe He doesn't want me to always be comfortable. Maybe it's not as simple as doing what you're naturally good at. Yes, I can sing and communicate without that much effort, but when He pushes me to pray for people who I would typically never think about, my heart feels so overflowing with God's love!

So, if I had to describe this window more succinctly, I would say this: Don't limit God based on what you have to offer. Realize that He has everything to offer and can grow you in whatever area He wants to.

There's a song by Chris Taylor called Symphony, and this part of the song describes so well the moment of getting a glimpse of God's wisdom:

When I finally see what you see
There's a symphony
I hear a symphony
Words cannot describe
What it means to be
In your symphony
In your symphony

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hearing from God

Over the last week, I've been trying to explain to some of the girls in my lifegroup how God speaks to us through the Bible. It's hard to explain that God speaks to us in totally practical ways through His Word and that it's not a mystical process that we have to do all the right, magical things to enable.

I feel like I can't make sense of it even now.

But really, the best way to get it is to experience it. This weekend, I didn't actually sit down in the morning and have an intentional quiet time. On Saturday night, I was going over some handouts for a new faith and baptism class. I was looking up some verses that I could use to talk about accepting Christ when I saw verses in the handout about daily life as a new Christian and forgiveness. The verse in the handout said:

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:18

That made me think of a verse that I knew was in the letters somewhere about God providing a way out from temptation. So I looked around and found this verse, one I had taken to heart back in high school:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13

I have known this verse for a long time, but it's not until you feel like there is no way you are strong enough to overcome an ongoing struggle that you are truly comforted by this promise: God will not let you be tempted beyond your limits, because you are so valuable to Him. That means that whatever you're going through, you can get through it. Don't give up. And when it gets to be too much, He will rescue you. So have peace.

I am blessed with friends who encourage and challenge me, but I needed to hear that promise directly from God. The Bible is the only way to get that. And He used a completely unrelated study I was doing to point me to that promise.

Today, God led me to the next step. He had promised me that He would carry me through temptation, but then He reminded me that rather than living in frustration with my weakness, He wants me to live in awe of His awesome power! What a difference!

I wanted to encourage a friend, and a phrase just popped into my head: "made perfect in weakness." Thank goodness for Bible Gateway! I looked it up and found this verse:

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

What an awesome God I serve, that He not only walks through the valleys with me, but His power and grace are so great that He doesn't need me to be perfect before He can love and use me.

And what an awesome gift we have in the Bible, that He can use it at any time and in any situation to speak truth and love into our lives.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where is my worth?

I realized yesterday in a conversation with Josh that something deep in me is not necessarily in everyone.

I want everyone to think I'm perfect. It upsets me when people see my faults, and it devastates me when people don't like me. I try to hide my faults and mistakes from Josh as much as possible because i think the more bad qualities he sees in me, the less he'll love me.

I told him this yesterday. I said, "Don't you feel that way?" He said no.

What I realized through the rest of our conversation is that I base so much of my confidence on being "perfect" and being likeable to everyone that when I am criticized, I receive it as a criticism of who I am, my whole identity, instead of a criticism of a behavior I can change.

Josh said, "I am a confident person. When you don't like something I do, I know I can change it."

This isn't how my brain works. I said, if you're a confident person, why are you so willing to change?

He said, "because my confidence isn't in my behaviors. Those aren't who I am." Then he explained it this way, which has been simmering in my head for the last 24 hours:

It's like with our salvation. Christ loves us. We're His. But we don't become His and then never change. We're called to be imitators of Christ. Christ was humble, yet He was perfect. We aren't perfect at all, so we need to be humble and then be willing to change to be like Him. Admitting fault is not the same as admitting worthlessness.

This idea of Christ embracing humility in spite of His perfection is in Philippians 2:3-11.

I think this is a big key to being a good apologizer that I've been missing. Admitting that you're wrong and apologizing is not admitting that you're worthless. It is having enough confidence in what is right that you are willing to change the things that are wrong.

It's not being afraid of being wrong, because you truly want to do what's right, not just "be right" in your mind. It's imitating Christ, not trying to be perfect on your own.

This is going to take a lot of practice for me to internalize. But I feel a little refreshed that I can strive for humility and openness instead of perfection.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Who am I serving?

Several weeks ago, there was a message at church called Greatness Redefined. The gist, to simplify it to the point that resonated with me, was that serving others is greater than being served. In God's eyes, you are "great" if you are a servant to those around you, not if you have certain status or image.

It took awhile for this to sink in for me. In a real way, at least.

It sounded pretty simple, because how I often do I tell people to serve me? I don't seek to be served. Well, maybe not literally, if you're picturing the whole feet-washing scenario or treating those around you like your personal waitstaff. But that kind of serving isn't really the point here. Taking it so literally was really a way of copping out.

When I started to think of it in terms of my spiritual life, things changed for me. How much of my spiritual life is made up of me serving, and how much of it is me being served? When I go to church, I'm served by the worship team, the pastor, the people who welcome me and the people who make and set up the coffee. I'm also served by those who maintain the building, the volunteers who run the sound and slides, and a lot more people who I don't even think of. I don't have to give anything back. I just go and get filled up.

When I go to lifegroup, I definitely spend time encouraging the people around me and building relationships, but for the most part I'm served by the leaders who prepare the discussion and the people who give up their home every week to host. I don't have to put much thought into it; I go, I get filled up.

If I'm really being honest with myself, this is how a lot of things all throughout my spiritual life have been. I'm very involved in church, but how much am I really serving versus how much I am being served?

I knew before we moved to Colorado that one of the first things I wanted to do at our new church was work with students. I've never done it on a really deep level before, and while I knew it would be a commitment and an investment, I didn't really know what to expect.

About a month ago, on a Wednesday when I had worked all day and wanted nothing more than to crash on the couch for the rest of the night, there was a student ministries event. It was only one week until my middle school girls lifegroup was starting up, so I wanted to go and start getting to know the girls. But boy, was I tired. I did not want to give of myself. I did not want to be drained for the sake of someone else.

It turned out that God gave me more renewed energy and excitement and strength through serving that night than I ever would have gotten from a few hours vegging on the couch. One girl who hadn't even heard of lifegroups at the beginning of the night left with information about my group and excited about getting involved. Serving was so much more rewarding than being served.

Since then, co-leading a lifegroup and getting to know these middle school girls is turning out to be one of my favorite things I've ever ventured to do. Besides the fact that I am forced to think about something more important than myself at least once a week, I am inspired by their faith and insights, humbled by the fact that I am an example to other girls who are in the same vulnerable place I was in ten years ago, and so excited each week at the potential for God to use me in big ways.

I don't think I can completely explain it, because I know that before I did this, the thought of "another thing to do" overwhelmed my ability to imagine the possibilities of serving. It's just a matter of stepping out and putting yourself in a situation where God can use your gifts to touch other people. Then watch what He will do!

Monday, September 13, 2010

This is where the healing begins

Sometimes, a song can really hit me right where I am. Not even just where I am in a stage in life, but where I am that day or afternoon. Since we've been in Colorado and have two different Christian radio stations, I've been hearing a lot more good Christian music than I ever did in Florida.

Today I finally faced up to some struggles I've been having and shared them with a friend. Talking to someone who will not only listen when you need help but will also give you godly, wise advice is so important. Knowing I'm not alone and that someone I trust will keep me accountable changes the whole battle. After talking to her and, in the process, coming clean to myself, I felt broken in that I wasn't trying to hide or fool myself anymore. I was ready to trust God for real and start handing myself daily, hourly, minute-by-minute over to Him.

This afternoon I heard Healing Begins by Tenth Avenue North, which I've always liked but hadn't heard in a while. I really listened to the words and just sat for a while thinking on them. It's a really powerful song, so I wanted to share it.

So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you're good
And you can't believe it's not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside

So let 'em fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Afraid to let your secrets out
Everything that you hide
Can come crashing through the door now
But too scared to face all your fear
So you hide but you find
That the shame won't disappear

So let it fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now
We're here now, oh

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you're broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

Sparks will fly as grace collides
With the dark inside of us
So please don't fight
This coming light
Let this blood come cover us
His blood can cover us

Saturday, September 4, 2010

That isn't what you learned about Christ.

Paul wrote Ephesians to believers who were living in a culture of unbelief and sin. As I read Ephesians 4:17-24 this morning, I felt like Paul was writing to me in my culture.
Verses 17-19 sum up the problem:
Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
Here's the turning point in verses 20-22.
But that isn't what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.
Here's how we do that (verses 23-24).

Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God -- truly righteous and holy.

This is big for me not because I forget that I live in a culture that is full of darkness and hardened against God, but because I start to think the goal is to be a little bit better than the world rather than to be as radically different as possible.

As I struggle against temptation -- and wow, is Satan attacking me in this time of my life -- I tend to live in justifications.

Entertaining "what ifs" and sinful thoughts are not as bad as actually acting on my thoughts, right? I mean, t0ns of people do the things I'm thinking about, so I'm not hurting anyone.

Paul says, "that isn't what you learned about Christ. ... let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes." Notice he doesn't say renew your actions, the things on the outside that are exposed. Renew your thoughts and attitudes. Those desires, lusts, judgments and rages that you keep entrenched on the inside where no one can find you out or set you straight. Where Satan can continue to keep you in secret chains.

Jesus said in Mark 7:21-23,

It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.

The only way I can get rid of the darkness that tries to take hold inside of me is to be filled with and renewed by God's Spirit. That means a lot of prayer and honest surrender of the desires that I want to cling to.

Dear X by Disciple describes the constant battle with sins of the heart and has become something of an anthem for me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

True delight

How can I live in abandonment to God for the pure sake of loving Christ, not for getting anything in return?

Even today as I prayed to discover God more and hear His voice and feel His presence, I prayed it more out of a desire for peace and rest in my own spirit, not so much out of a desire to delight the heart of God. What does it mean to seek Jesus purely out of love for Him rather than for the benefits I get?

My Utmost for His Highest says:

We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, not for Himself. It is like saying, "No, Lord, I don't want Thee, I want myself; but I want myself clean and filled with the Holy (Spirit); I want to be put in Thy showroom and be able to say, 'This is what God has done for me' (March 12)."

Right now, I seek God in desire of a job and friends and a church family and more peace at home and a stronger relationship with my husband. I don't just seek God in desire of God.

Psalm 37:4 has been a favorite verse of mine since high school:

Delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

I think I've always focused too much on the promise in the second half of the verse, taking comfort that God knows and cares about the inner desires of my heart. In order to get that promise, I need to figure out how to delight in the Lord without the desires of my heart anywhere on my mind. Maybe I would paraphrase the verse like this:

Lay down the desires of your heart and delight only in the Lord; then He will bless those desires more than you yourself could have orchestrated.

Lord, help me to seek You not because I love Your provision and Your gifts, but because I love You. Let it be as simple as that. Help me delight in You.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From the summit

Wow. Here we are, 1,800 miles west, in Denver. Colorado feels like a world away from Florida.

This morning we took a cog train up to 14,110-foot high Pikes Peak. It's interesting how in the last week we've taken in so many views from summits where you can see everything laid out around you for miles. It's a little hazy, maybe, but you can see. A lot. That's not how I feel about God's plan for me right now. I always have confidence in His plan for us, Josh and me, but my job search here introduces a new reality that God has plans for my ministry and my direction too. I don't feel so confident about that.

When we got here, last Wednesday, I called two churches where I had applied and followed up weeks before. I was anxious and hopeful. Five days went by, and I didn't hear back. I can't say I went through a lot of deep emotions because we have been so busy showing around my parents and getting our stuff moved in, but whenever I had a moment of rest or stillness, I felt overwhelming failure. I felt so much disappointment and so little confidence in myself or my ability to get a job.

On Sunday morning, God spoke these words to me from Psalms:

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:13-14

I prayed for patience and confidence, but felt little comfort. I found an administrative assistant position and applied for it, starting to give up on the other two applications I had been so hopeful about. On Monday, I read this in my devotion:

Never consider whether you are of use; but ever consider that you are not your own but His (My Utmost).

I tried to take that to heart. I had felt very clearly two months ago that God was calling me to find a job in ministry, not in journalism. I wrote in my journal that day:

Because I didn't get either of the ministry jobs I wanted, I feel like God has no plan for me. What is God's call to me? God, I know you will act when we have need. Help me to trust You and put my focus on whatever it is that you want me to. I will try to be patient. I will listen for Your call.

Tuesday morning, I got a call from the church where I really want to work. They want to interview me next Wednesday. Now, I know that there is still a good possibility that I won't get the job. I'm trying to prepare myself for that possible disappointment. But if nothing else, I feel that God has lifted me out of the desert that I felt when I hadn't even gotten a call back. Whatever God is planning for me, I feel refreshed enough to be ready for it again.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

By faith he obeyed and went

We are moving in six days. The goodbyes are in full swing and the packing is halfway done. The stress of everything to do and remember is starting to feel like a looming presence in my life, and so this morning, thanks to a Circle goodbye staff meeting, I revisited some verses that gave me lots of comfort about the move several months ago.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:8-10

God does great things when we step out in total reliance on His plan, not on our plans. When I take each moment to turn back to Jesus instead of making logical decisions and then asking God to bless them afterward. I am scared. I am overwhelmed. But I will make my home by faith in a land where God has called me, looking forward to the city designed and built by God.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It isn't harmless

This is a struggle we don't face much as warm, comfortable, American Christians. It's more than a struggle; it's a fight. So I don't know if anyone will relate to it or not, but I feel led to share. I am feeling strongly in my spirit that God is bringing the fight to my door.

What I mean is evil. Sin. I've been a Christian my whole life, and so when I hear "sin," I typically think of gossip, laziness, losing my temper with a family member. Sins that yes, are harmful, but aren't the kind of thing that keep you awake at night or burden your soul. When I think of evil this way, as little mess-ups that make my life less than what it could be, it's dangerous. Because evil doesn't seem so bad, so much of a real threat.

In our culture especially, we're trained to rationalize and minimize evil. If someone asked you if murder was wrong, you would say yes, without a doubt. But when we want to entertain ourselves, we watch TV shows and movies about cruel, brutal, bloody murders. Adultery is wrong -- we wouldn't cheat on our own spouses -- but we entertain ourselves with stories about men and women who have sex on the first date, who sleep with multiple people without the blink of an eye, who start and stop their marriages based on whatever they feel.

We say homosexuality is a sin, but we laugh at jokes about it and normalize it by watching gay and lesbian couples in almost every TV show and movie. Because it's harmless, right?

It isn't harmless.

God says in Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

It's easy to be entertained by evil when we feel like it's at a safe distance from our own lives. But not all Christians have the luxury of ignoring the spiritual wars that are taking place around us.

So why am I writing about this? Because Satan is fighting for someone I love, and I finally have woken up enough to see this as the spiritual battle that it is. When evil is destroying someone I love, it is not my job to embrace evil so that I don't offend the person. Even if every other person around me wants to call evil good and good evil, my first love is Christ. And if I love Christ, I can't love evil. If I truly love someone, how can I let evil take hold of them and do nothing?

My purpose in this world is not to treat sin as a joke. God did not put me here to tolerate sin and befriend evil. That is not what it means to love.

So, this is a lonely place. Josh and I are going to truly love by loving people and standing up against sin, and that might mean that people don't like us and don't want us around. We might lose a few relationships. The thought of this feels like a huge weight sitting on my spirit. I don't want to lose anyone I love. I don't want to be persecuted. But I can't persecute my Lord by holding hands with evil.

Today I found a Psalm that comforts and strengthens me. I can fight this fight.

Don’t worry about the wicked
or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

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 desires.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.

Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.

Psalm 37:1-9, NLT

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Suffer nothing from laziness

This morning, Josh and the couple we are hosting, Jason and Stacie, left for all-day meetings at Circle. I was sad to be left behind for the day. As I ushered them all out the door to have a great day, it was time to decide how I would spend the next eight hours of my Saturday.

Immediately it crossed my mind that I could watch TV shows and play video games for most of the day because no one would know. Funny how certain things, for me at least, sound perfectly acceptable -- as long as I do them in secret. One of my biggest temptations throughout life has been to waste my time. But wait, is wasting time sinful? The Bible doesn't say that, does it?

Proverbs 12:24 says, "Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave." It later says in 13:4, "Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper" (NLT).

In Proverbs 31:27, the description of a noble wife says, "she carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness."

Why is it difficult for me to take these words to heart in my own life? It's so easy to read "lazy people" and think that is some well-defined, labeled group somewhere else that doesn't include me. How do I make the mental connection? The verses in Ephesians that I read in my quiet time this morning help me to see it a little more personally.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit...
Ephesians 5:15-18

What I take from verses 16-17 is this: Make the most of every opportunity (yes, even "free" time) and be thoughtful about everything you do. How else will you be intentional enough to know what God wants you to do?

The way I've decided to be intentional today is by investing in relationships -- having my grandparents over and making lunch for them. Maybe that way I will leave room for God to show me what He wants me to do instead of hoarding all my time to myself.

God, this day is an offering to You. Let me bless You in it by living thoughtfully and blessing others.

Monday, May 10, 2010

You mean discipline isn't fun?

My memory verse for today:

"You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You."
Isaiah 26:3

I went an entire week without my quiet time with God while we were on our cruise, and I feel so disconnected from Him and unfocused in my life. Not like before, but I am more sensitive now to when my perspective becomes more about me and less about Him. And I see now that it is impossible to have His perspective if I am not spending time with Him every day.

There's something that I was feeling even before the cruise that I kept pushing aside. When the newness of pursuing God fades -- for me, after about a month or so -- it takes discipline to continue the same level of relationship with Him. As much as I hate that, as much as I want to stay in a state of infatuation with my Lord, I think this is a natural order of things.

Prayer and meditation wouldn't be called spiritual disciplines if it didn't take a surrendering of my will and a denial of my desires to do them. Often I say, 'I want to serve you, God,' or 'I want to die to myself and live for You,' and yet, I want it to be easy. If it were always easy, would it really be service? Would it really be death of my selfish desires?

I am tempted to brush this struggle under the rug and deny its existence because I worry that if following Jesus is a struggle against myself, then I don't love Him enough. But now I think I will embrace the struggle, knowing it will produce spiritual discipline in me. How much more genuine will my service to God and my relationship with Him be if I overcome the barriers that make it difficult?

Monday, April 19, 2010

One in Christ, not in me

All weekend, I felt in a state of conflict with other Christians. First it was in a specific relationship, then it was a more general disagreement with something going on at my church. Last night when I realized how close together the conflicts were, I wondered what God was trying to teach me. I looked up verses about discernment, thinking that theme might speak to the situations, but I still wasn't sure what point God was trying to drive into me. I left it to think and pray about till today.

This morning as I contemplated the conflicts from the last two days, the theme of humility came to mind. First, whenever I am in conflict, I have to deny my pride, and second, I think the main thing that upset me recently was feeling a lack of humility in others. I looked up verses on humility and found Philippians 2:2-5. I'll start with verse 2. Paul says:

Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

I feel defeated by the very first command here. The whole reason I get into a conflict is because I can't agree with the other person! Sometimes you disagree with someone and neither person is going to convince the other. And to clarify, I'm not talking about doctrine or Biblical truths. I'm talking about personal disagreements, the kind that involve my opinions and preferences.

How do I still love that person and work together with one mind and purpose if I know I disagree with her? This is what I think God is telling me: The point is to agree wholeheartedly about Christ, not to get everyone to agree with everything I think -- every little opinion I have. Being one in mind can't possibly mean that I cling to my own feelings and preferences, and you cling to yours, and we butt heads to trying to convince each other. How would even two people be of one mind, let alone the whole church? The only way is to be of one mind and purpose with Christ, and that is what unifies us with one another.

I think that's basically what Paul is saying in verses 3-5 (NLT):

Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

If I want people to agree with me, I'll always be in some conflict. But if I focus on agreeing with Christ, and in conflict I point others to His mind and purpose instead of arguing my own, maybe things will work out very differently. I don't need to look out for myself -- I can relinquish that burden and consider others, knowing that Christ considers me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How much more will He clothe me?

The move is less than two months away, and it has been getting more and more difficult to trust God with providing a job for me, and taking care of us and all the details when we get to Denver. I know He has a plan, but the fact that I haven't been able to find a job yet makes me feel like I'm failing, and He won't be able to work out His plan because I'm not doing my part. If I'm not worrying about our future and getting a job, then I'm not putting in my due diligence, right? If people think I'm not stressed, then they will think that I'm lazy or irresponsible, right?

I've been praying about this specifically for a few days and looking for God's answer in His Word, and He has been answering me slowly, which I'm starting to feel is how He usually does. Last night in Psalms I read,

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and He turned to me and heard my cry.
... Many will see what He has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
... O Lord my God, You have performed many wonders for us.
Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
You have no equal.
Psalm 40:1-5

I can't say that I felt comforted, but I went to bed with the peace that sometimes I just need to wait on God. This morning He spoke to me further about trusting Him with the move and not worrying about job, money or relationships. My devotional pointed me to Matthew 6. Jesus describes how God cares for the birds and beautifully clothes the flowers, which are far less valuable than me. He says, "If God so clothes the grass of the field ... shall He not much more clothe you?" (Matt 6:30).

Then Jesus says not to worry about what I will eat or wear -- basically, my survival. My needs.

These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:32-33

Why should I let worries dominate my thoughts when God already knows (and cares about) everything I need? Why not experience the joy of His kingdom, knowing He will take care of me? In My Utmost, Chambers asks, "How much time have we taken up worrying God with questions when we should have been absolutely free to concentrate on His work?" (Jan. 26). How much more will I be free to know Him and do for Him if I don't fill my thoughts and my time with worrying?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cleansed by the King

God allowed Isaiah into his presence in Isaiah 6. God was sitting on a high throne, wearing a robe that filled the temple. He was surrounded by mighty seraphs (fiery beings or angels), who flew around the temple calling out God's holiness. And they did not call him Father or Friend -- they called him Lord Almighty. Their voices shook the temple and their was smoke everywhere. (God's presence is associated with a cloud of smoke throughout Exodus and in Mark 9.)

In response to God's holiness and glory, Isaiah is overwhelmed with guilt for his own sin. He says, "Woe to me! I am ruined, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 6:5).

The presence of God was not a happy, sparkly, comforting experience for Isaiah. He did not meet a jolly, Santa Claus-like grandfather in the sky. He met the glorious, powerful, wholly perfect King of everything, and his immediate response was to recognize his gross unworthiness. But, God did not chastise Isaiah for his sin or send him away because of his unworthiness. Isaiah confessed that he had filthy lips, or in the NIV, unclean lips, so God sent an angel to him to cleanse him.

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is forgiven.
Isaiah 6:6-7

At first I thought, wow, it was that easy? In the presence of the King of Heaven, Isaiah's guilt could just disappear? But it didn't just disappear. It had to be burned away. Touching a hot coal to your lips would not be a pleasant experience. It would not feel good. God never promises that being cleansed of my guily will be easy, or even that it won't be excruciating. But, the amazing thing is, He is the holy King, the Lord of Heaven's Armies, and He is willing and desires to remove my guilt so that I can dwell in His temple.

After Isaiah's sins are forgiven, he isn't sent on his way. That's not the end of the story. Cleansing is not God's whole plan for us; it is just what's necessary to get to the important part. Isaiah then heard the Lord asking, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" and Isaiah said, "Here am I. Send me." God humbled Isaiah and cleansed him so he would be ready for the mission God had for him. In Isaiah's case, the mission was to take a hard message to hardened people.

I feel like over the last two weeks God has been humbling me and cleansing me, and in just the last few days I have felt His presence more and more to the point that I no longer get that embarrassed, am I talking to the ceiling right now? feeling. Feeling that I am truly, really in the presence of the King and of my Savior -- my quiet time -- is not a chore on my list anymore, it's something I love and crave. But He did not call me to Him to humble me, cleanse me and allow me in His presence only. He is preparing me for a mission. He is asking, who will go out for us? Whom shall I send? And it's time for me to say, here I am. Send me.

I don't know where He wants to send me yet, but if the King loves me enough to make me guiltless before Him through Jesus, then I will go wherever He asks me to go!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm not too much

This is something I nervously anticipated when I started my journey to draw near to God: How will I do this during the times when my mood and emotions fight me and try to steal my hope? This time, God used it to give me new comfort about my identity in Him.

Yesterday, I felt as if I was not in control of my mind and emotions. My mood swings were so intense and my crushing, defeated feelings so real that I felt like I didn't fully know myself. I was asking God, feebly, to rescue and stabilize my spirit, but it all just really felt beyond my understanding and control. These feelings, combined with dissatisfaction with my job and no leads yet on a job in Colorado, left me feeling aimless, like I had no purpose. I had been dwelling for a few days on this thought from My Utmost, though, and it was resting in the background of my mind:

Worship is giving God the best He has given you. ... Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love gift. ... God will never let you hold a spiritual thing for yourself; it has to be given back to Him that He may make it a blessing to others (Jan. 6).

These words have given me excitement about sharing God's work in my life through this blog and about some experiences recently in which God has used me to speak encouragement through His Word to someone else. But, in the midst of my emotions and a long day at work, I didn't feel the excitement. But late last night, I got an e-mail about my blog that reminded me that God is using me to encourage others. God, You are so great! When I was feeling useless, You reminded me that You are using me to accomplish Your work. Your timing is perfect!

This morning, my favorite Psalm gave me comfort about the frightening feeling of not fully knowing or understanding my own spirit and emotions. The comfort is: It's OK if I don't always understand, because God does. Nothing about me is too overwhelming or confusing for Him. He doesn't look at me, mid-mood swing, and say, "You're too much! I give up!" He is calm and sticks with me no matter how chaotic I feel. In My Utmost, Chambers paraphrases what he thinks is the idea of Psalm 139. I will paraphrase him further:

You are God of both early mornings and late nights, both mountain peaks and sea floors. But, my God, my soul can be brighter than morning and darker than the night. My soul has higher peaks than the mountains and deeper depths than the sea. You are the God of all of this, so be my God. I can't reach the heights and depths of my own spirit; there are motives I can't trace, dreams I can't interpret. My God, search me out and know my heart!

Psalm 139 has always been my favorite Psalm, and now it reminds me that I shouldn't fear the depths of myself because God knows me perfectly.

O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue,
you know it completely, O Lord.
Psalm 139:1-4

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Refreshing God's people

I have been spending time with God reading, praying and relearning intimacy with Him for one week now, and it has been awesome. Not only do I feel more centered each day and more able to focus on my responsibilities with a positive attitude, but I also have more spiritual strength to be Christlike in hard situations. There have been a few times this week that something has made me angry and I have been very tempted to gossip, hold a grudge or just be grouchy and grumbly. At times when I feel I would have normally given in to those feelings and desires, I found myself going to prayer. Last night something deeply upset me and I said to Josh and to God, "I know the right thing to do, but God is going to have to fill me up because 'me' does not want to do it." I didn't feel capable of what I knew was God's will, but He is amazing; He filled me up and taught me something wonderful through my frustration. And that's not all: He took my anger over feeling wronged and used it to convict me of my own sin. I think this is going to be a pattern.

Here's what happened.

A few times this week, but specifically last night, some things happened that I felt were unfair to me. It involved spending money; whenever I have to spend money on or because of someone else for a reason that I feel is unfair, I get upset. I had told myself, I think, that I had the right to be upset because Josh and I don't have a lot of money. Since we don't have a lot, people shouldn't expect anything of us, right? They should be the generous ones, because their paychecks are bigger than ours. But what God showed me last night was that I have been living with a stingy spirit.

Stingy is such a nasty sounding word. I never wanted to admit it about myself because my Father, God, is the definition of generosity. Christ gave everything to a world that put Him to death! I never wanted to see myself as having a quality so unlike Christ. But whenever someone expects something from me that involves a financial burden, I get angry and resentful. That is not God living in me! If everything I have is God's, including my money, then I should be using my resources to extend love to others. I should look for opportunities to be generous with the money God has generously given to us.

God gives us an example of giving even when our resources are small; I've heard the story a thousand times.

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins."I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
Luke 21:1-4

I never once thought of myself when reading this story. And I think if I were really being honest and I were the one there with Jesus, I would've said, "Yeah, Jesus, but I have rent to pay! And groceries to buy!" But while I would like to reason that my situation is special and different, the fact is that I can live with a generous spirit no matter how much or how little money I have.

One reason I never thought of myself as stingy, and maybe why I never identified with this widow, is that I have always gotten the concept of tithing and giving to God. That's always been easy; God is perfect and faithful, and He deserves everything I have to give and more. But when I have to "give" to someone who I don't think deserves it, my attitude changes. That's not the standard God uses on me, though. I certainly don't deserve God's generosity, and yet God gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7).

So I have been tearfully asking God to give me the desire to be generous and that the Holy Spirit would fill me, removing the resentment and grudges I am holding against those who I feel have robbed me. After praying last night, I decided to look for insight on generosity in the Bible. I found this verse in Philemon in which Paul is thanking God for Philemon's faith and love for others. The wording is a little different in the NIV, but I don't think that the differences here in the New Living Translation alter the message. In fact, I believe God intended for me to read it in this translation first so the words would click in my brain. I changed the name Philemon to my name and imagined if a spiritual mentor was writing these words to me:

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Kelly, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and comfort, my sister, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God's people.
Philemon 6

If I allow myself to have a stingy heart, whether I think I'm right or not, I will not be able to understand and experience all the good things I have in Christ. I certainly won't be able to refresh anyone around me. But once I live with a generous spirit, knowing everything I have comes from Him, I can refresh the hearts of God's people and be known for my love and kindness to others. That's a reputation I want.

This week, I am asking God to give me the kind of faith that produces generosity and to help me understand all the good things in Christ so I can give good things to others with a joyful heart. He has already removed my anger, which yesterday I had felt was impossible, and blessed me with so much peace!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where am I going?

Hebrews 11 talks about the faith it took for Abraham to obey God's call to leave home and go to a foreign land. I've been reflecting a lot on our (quickly) approaching move to Colorado, and this Scripture came just in time.

The New Living Translation says,

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise.
Hebrews 11:8-9

My devotional today in My Utmost for His Highest is based on the second part of verse 8: "He went without knowing where he was going." Basically, God didn't lay out the whole plan so that Abraham could weigh his options, consult other experts, and then decide if God knew what he was doing or not. He revealed Himself to Abraham, who then had to make a decision based on faith. When it comes to this move, however, I have been praying that God would show me His plan and work out all the details. Chambers writes, "God doesn't tell you what He is going to do. He reveals to you who He is." Doesn't knowing who God is sound a lot better when you really think about it?

I have been stressed about finding a job in Colorado. I've been searching and applying for more than six weeks now with no leads. It scares me because I feel so powerless to control our success in the next stage of life. How can I make this move joyfully not knowing what my salary will be or what I'll be getting up to do every day? I can do it because true joy comes from going where God leads you, even when you don't know where you're going. Hebrews says in verse 9 that Abraham had to continue living by faith even once he arrived because he was living as a foreigner in a tent. I think that means that things weren't all set up for him there. And, I'm guessing, his previous setup before the move was better than a tent. But rather than deciding that because he was not prospering, he must've misunderstood God, he lived by faith, waiting to see what God's plan was. So often if things don't work out, we just shrug and say, "this must not have been God's plan. God wouldn't want me to go through this." But that's not God's promise.

I almost didn't read on, because I thought that was the gist of it, but then I found the best verse of all. Because really, if you're not living day to day focused on the job, the house, the bills—what are you focused on?

Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
Hebrews 8:10

I may be moving to Denver, a new city, but my eyes are on a city with eternal foundations, one designed by God. Doesn't that sound like the best place to live?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The beginning

This week, I have been deeply humbled and convicted by the sudden death of Kylee Boden, a dear friend to many whose faith leaves me speechless. I did not know her personally, but she and Matt have been very close to Josh's heart ever since Matt was the campus minister at UCF. Although I did not know her, God has spoken to me through the testimony of her life and over the last few days has laid a very heavy burden on me that I am not living the life I was designed for.

Last night, I cried out to God in my journal:

I know God, and I love Him, but I have not given myself to Him and allowed Him to refine me to be a woman like (Kylee). I have been happy with normal, and I have blended into the world around me. I have been ashamed and timid about my Christ. I have lived my life for myself. I have confined the all-powerful God of creation to worship on Sundays. I have served without passion and I have lived without intention. God has spurred me to the extraordinary.

I grieved over my lack of courage and the way I have slowly compromised my passion for Christ over the last several years to the point that I couldn't find the passion in myself at all. I knew that I needed to seek God fully on my own, independent of Josh, and that my search of God's presence needed to become my life. Not just part of my life. I plucked Josh's copy of My Utmost for His Highest from his bookshelf and put it next to my bed to read this morning. After Josh left for work, I sat on the bed with the book, my Bible and my journal. I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen. Here is what I read aloud on the first page of the book:

My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honor to Christ in my own person by fearless courage.
Philippians 1:20

It took me years to admit to God that I had been ashamed of him; that I felt my courage and will had been depleted. It took Him nine hours to answer the cries of my heart. For the first time in at least three years, I cried at the words of God, which he had spoken directly to my heart. I crawled into the lap of my Father, the Creator, and let Him hold me. That feeling of resting in God's presence is unmistakable, and it reminds my soul of what I was created for. I was not created to be a writer, a teacher, an editor, or whatever I end up doing here. Those things will be part of what I do, but I was created to be God's daughter. Everything else is so secondary. I was not created for this world, and I am not dependent on it or imprisoned by it.

So, my life changes today. I no longer live in consideration of myself. I am not of this world. I keep myself before God for this one thing only: My Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him alone.