Monday, October 24, 2011

the littlest & the greatest

This morning I read from Matthew 18 and came to verses 3-5 where Jesus says, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as a little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me..."

It took me a second to process that.  I mean, I've heard or read this passage numerous times before and have probably heard quite a few pastors speak on it but, for some reason, this morning it stood out to me.  I thought back to yesterday morning at church when I was setting up part of our sanctuary and a little girl named Olivia offered to help me.  In fact, she didn't even say "Can I help you?" she just stood there, expectant, smiling, and willing.  The mental image of her sweet face, ready to do anything and everything, causes my heart to melt with her sincerity.  I was struck by how completely sweet and innocent she went about offering her help to me.  She didn't run up expecting to be given a great task.  In fact, I think she knew I would give her small things in order to see what she could handle, but she didn't complain.  She just waited patiently for me to give her directions and then followed through with what I had asked to the best of her ability.

I look back on the whole encounter in light of the passage I read this morning and am overwhelmed by what an amazing analogy it presents to me of how God views and treats us.  When God asks us to come to him as children, it's because He stands above us in a similar position to what I had over Olivia.  I was the one directing her and, therefore, I was the one who would be held responsible for the tasks I asked her to accomplish.  Understanding her age (about 5 years old) and abilities, I would never have asked her to fill up a 60 cup hot water pot and carry it across the room - it would be foolish of me to even think she could accomplish something like that at her age.  But, having seen her attitude toward service and her attention to the smallest details in the simplest things I had given her, by the end of the morning I was confident in asking her to handle a few "more complicated" tasks.  I had seen and observed her and knew she could handle them.

I feel in His own, perfect way God is like this with us.  He observes us where we are and how we handle the smaller tasks He has asked of us and, when He knows we can handle it, He offers us larger, more challenging tasks.

In light of this, I desire to respond like Olivia did.  I want to come to the Lord and wait patiently with an open heart, asking Him to give me what He will - knowing that He wont give me more than I can handle (1 Cor. 10:13).  And then, with whatever He gives me I want to do my best!  Maybe in the future those small tasks will turn into larger ones but the important thing is that, in whatever I do, I do it for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31).  Here's to turning back the clock a little and remembering what it's like, and how humbling it can be, to be a child.

Friday, September 30, 2011

stop being cheap with God

"I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing."  David (2 Samuel 24:24b)

How often does our worship, does our dedication, does out commitment to the Lord cost us anything?  Maybe it's cost us a little sleep...maybe a few friends here and there over the years...maybe its even cost us a job or a grade...but has it truly cost us anything?  David, in the above statement, was explaining to those around him that he would pay for the threshing floor he would use to offer a sacrifice to the Lord on, because he didn't want to take the easy route and be given the floor.  In his mind, if he got the space for free, it wasn't a sacrifice of praise at all but just a praise of convenience.

So I asked myself: What's my threshing floor?

The answer to that isn't quite as cut-and-dry as I'd like it to be, but that seems to be the nature of most things.  I think my sacrifice will look differently at different times and situations in my life.  On Sunday morning at church, if I'm standing in the congregation and really don't feel like singing that morning, my sacrifice is to take myself out of the equation and sing.  I don't sing because I'm always in the mood to sing (which is generally the case) but I sing to encourage others around me [check out this blog by Greg Gilbert on this subject].  Then, maybe I'm at the grocery store and the woman next to me in line wants to strike up a conversation and I'm just not feeling it.  At that time, though we wouldn't initially say that's a 'worship moment' the Lord asks us to love others and to share Him with them - this would be a perfect opportunity for me to do that if I would, once again, take myself out of the equation and talk to her. The examples of this are endless.

I was intrigued by the idea of sacrifice to God so I looked around and came upon Malachi 1:6-14 which is basically Malachi pointing out the sins of the priests in the way they were offering sacrifices to God.  What they were offering on the alter to God they wouldn't even have offered to their own governor.  He wouldn't have accepted it!  The type of sacrifice they deemed 'worthy' of God were lame or blind animals and defiled food.  I was incensed when I read that thinking, "How dare they offer the least of their things to Him!  Don't they know who God is and what He deserves."

But, as my righteous indignation waned, I realized I'm guilty of the same indiscretions.  There are days when I crave sleep and then force my Bible study into a fifteen minute period where I'm also in the middle of at least three other things.  I sit down to pray and suddenly, a half an hour later, I realize I've been making a To-Do list in my head for at least twenty of those minutes.  I show up to church and allow the stress of my week or personal life to seep into my thoughts so, instead of being encouraged or focusing on areas in which to grow, I come away looking more at myself then at Christ.

How dare I offer myself to God in that way.  Don't I know who He is and what He deserves?

Ah, the painful irony.  But, in the pain is an understanding; an awareness.  These times of selfish interest should propel me to seriously evaluate my heart and where it's at in everything I do.  I desire to "Honor the Lord from [my] wealth and from the first of all my produce"(Prov.3:9) and to offer up to him a "broken spirit...(and) contrite heart"(Psalm 51:17) and ultimately to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15).  I want my worship of Him (really, my life) to show sacrifices for His glory - made potentially at the expense of what's easy.  It's all right there in those verses.  The sacrifice, the author of Hebrews explains, is the fruit (the result) of lips that give thanks to Him.  To sacrifice to God is to give Him the first fruits (the best) of what you have or receive.  To have a broken heart and contrite spirit is to be humble before the Lord.

I pray that these things will define my praise and worship to Him.  That, when tempted to take the easy route and offer up things that cost me nothing, I will resist and instead ask of the Lord what He desires as my sacrifice of praise and then give it gladly, in spite of the cost, and through His grace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

blood on his hands, cleanness in his heart

"He also brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.  The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.  For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not acted wickedly against my God.  For all His ordinances were before me, and as for His statues, I did not depart from them.  I was also blameless toward Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity.  Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness before His eyes." 2 Samuel 22:20-25

Can you believe that King David wrote this? The fact that he was able to say the he had "cleanness" before God's eyes is amazing to me considering the blood that was on his hands.  If nothing else, this should be a huge encouragement to us - especially those who feel like God could never forgive them for their sins.  Need I recount David's sins?  Including (but not limited to) lust, adultery, and murder.  That hits a lot of the 'major' sins we think God could never forgive us from.

As I read this passage I was amazed at David's understanding of God's forgiveness and His grace and mercy.  I mean he was a guy who understood it!  He realized that his standing with God was not based on his sinlessness, but rather on his acceptance of God's grace and an attempt on his part to 'keep himself from his iniquity' (v24b).  David seemed to have mastered the art of repentance.  Just through reading many of the Psalms he wrote, you can hear a cry to God from a deep place in his heart asking God to pull him through and to "create in [him] a clean heart"(Psalm 51:10).  Psalm 51 is full of these pleas that show an understanding which reaches far ahead of David's own circumstances.  He rightly says that, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" and that  God will not despise "a broken and contrite heart" (51:17).  That small statement speaks volumes!  In that day and age, the way in which you came to God was through sacrifices, and here David was saying that God looks on those as a way to Him but beyond that He requires true repentance.  Repentance of the heart and the spirit.

David's view of God creates a deep desire in my heart to know and understand God in the same way.  As I read through the Psalms and through 1 & 2 Samuel and see David's life unfold before my eyes, I see a man who knew God and who loved Him.  He valued His relationship with the Lord above all else.  Sure, David messed up big time (several times) but yet to the very end his relationship with the Lord was held intact because of his view of God.

What is your view of God?  Is He just some dictator who sits in the sky judging and manipulating people?  Or is He only a being of love without justice, loving everyone without judgement which isn't really love at all?  Or maybe, in your mind, He doesn't care.  There are so many interpretations of who "God" really is, but if they aren't founded and shaped by who the Bible says God is, they're wrong.

David knew God because he spent time with Him.  He sought out His presence.  He took refuge in the Lord.  He trusted the Lord.  He listened to His voice.  David's outlook on life was changed because of the time he spent with God and, the amazing thing is, we can do the same thing.

"O love the Lord, all you His godly ones!  The Lord preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer.  Be strong and let your heat take courage, all you who hope in the Lord."
Psalm 31:23-24 A Psalm of David

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

don't miss the forest for the trees

I think back to the times where I'm desperately searching for something that I've lost.  I'm panicked.  I'm frantic.  I'm about to go ballistic because I cannot find my keys!  And then, two seconds later, there they are, sitting peacefully on the kitchen counter right where I left them.  And I was so sure I'd put them in my purse or on my bed... I didn't find them right away because I wasn't looking in the right place.

In Luke we read about the Jewish leaders and how they were desperately searching for the Messiah.  They were panicked.  They were frantic.  They were about to go ballistic because they could not wait for their King to come and take over.  Then Jesus showed up at the temple and was nothing like they'd expected.  They were awaiting a powerful and dominant King and Christ came as a humble servant. They missed the whole point of why He came (and that it was Him) because they were only looking for a Messiah of their own making.

I don't want to do that in my own life.

I'm not afraid of missing Him because I already know Christ, but I am afraid of searching so intently for what or how I think the Lord is going to act, that I actually miss what He's doing.  It's so easy to find yourself looking in one direction, waiting for the Lord to respond in a certain way and getting frustrated when it doesn't happen.  It's the times when your idea of the 'perfect solution' to a situation actually fails and you wonder if things really ever will work out.

But those are exactly the times when it's best to be ready for the unexpected to surpass our own ideas.  We see it in the parable of the prodigal son.  There he was, thinking that the best possible outcome for him would be to come home and work as a slave for his father (because at least that was better than not having food to eat).  He made up his mind and returned home, lost and broken, and what did his father do?  He threw caution to the wind and ran to meet his son, embracing him, clothing him, giving him his ring (like a personal credit card) and on top of that he threw a party for him!  I'm sure that was not the outcome the son was expecting or looking for.

I want to always remember that picture when waiting on the Lord.  His plans are always better than our own.  His way is always best.  His perspective infinitely more detailed and, when we step back and let Him lead us, we can't go wrong.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

renewed, refreshed, refocused

Do you ever have those days when you feel like you're just going through the motions?  Where you find yourself questioning your own motivations, wondering if what you hold so strongly as your beliefs are truth or are maybe founded on something wrong?  I know I have those days...sometimes those weeks, but today, for some reason, I started assessing what founds that initial questioning.  What makes me look around and wonder, "Is this real?".  I'm sure there is more than one answer to that, and yet I think...actually no, I know there is really only one answer to it - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

There are a lot of things we do - as Christians, as humans, as friends, as lovers, as brothers, sisters, mothers, name it, and there is generally something associated with that role.  For me, being raised in a Christian home and accepting Christ as a small child, I felt I was 'expected' to act/live a certain way.  You know, the 'good girl' thing.  It's not that my parents forced this on me, it was just my understanding of being a Christian at that time in my life.  It took me 'growing up' and going to college to realize that my faith couldn't exist just because my parents said it did.  As much as I respect them and look up to them as pillars of faith in my life, I knew I couldn't rely on their beliefs as if it were my own and call it good.  I had to accept my faith as personal; a relationship between Jesus and I.  Recognizing that, I found myself growing in leaps and bounds as I became saturated in His word and spent time with Him in prayer.  I stopped looking to others to gain my faith from and instead turned to God to establish His word in my heart and to answer my questions through scripture.

Years later, I can look back on those initial growth spurts and smile - completely seeing the hand of God through all of those times!  But, I also see times where I struggled.  It wasn't always easy to believe and I didn't always find the answers to my questions right away.  I did notice that in the times where I was struggling the most, there was one thing I overlooked every time.

I forgot who I was.  And, unfortunately, I still have times where forget who I am.

Maybe that sounds a little existential, but what I mean by that is the minute I start looking to myself to try and make sense of life, I forget Who is really in control.  It's so easy to think that the life I'm living is just all a performance when you conveniently forget what the purpose of life really is.  Based solely on a human understanding, life could be about making yourself happy and doing things so that you live your life 'satisfied'.  But then I think of all of the things in my life that are supposed to make me happy and remember that they don't - not completely.  Friends are great and money is nice and relationships can make you feel happy and fulfilled for a time, but what happens when those things don't work out?  When your friends can't hang out with you and your pay check doesn't quite stretch far enough and when your boyfriend dumps you?  Then what?

Then you're left to yourself and your own thoughts and that's a scary place.  No matter the amount of time I could take to 'make myself' be a better person, there is no way that I could actually accomplish anything worth noticing.  Sure, I could give money away, feed the poor, help an elderly neighbor get her cat out of a tree... you name a good thing and I could do it, but doing all of those things would get to be so tiring!  I know I couldn't keep it up for long and then I would be right back where I started - feeling purposeless and hopeless.

The beautiful thing in the midst of all of this is a simple word: grace.  Getting to the place where you recognize that you can't do anything to be good is exactly the place where Jesus meets you and says you don't have to do anything!  In fact, all you have to do is accept that He already did it all.

Maybe it's just me, but this always seems too good to be true.

But it's not!  In the midst of those times of questions and wondering if my life is headed in the right direction the answer to all of this is as simple as reminding myself of the gospel.  It answers every question I may have.  It puts me in the right place - recognizing that I am a sinner and don't deserve to be saved, but then comes along side me and lifts me up saying that I don't have to deserve anything.  And then, at the end of it all, it promises that Christ will always be with me, helping me, strengthening me, and guiding me through all of my life.  Through the good and through the bad.  I'm not alone and I'm not purposeless.

The gospel has renewed me.  It has refreshed me.  It has (and will always) drawn me near to the Lord and that is the best, most peace-filled place to be.  It's what I choose to focus on.

Check out James 4:1-10

Friday, September 9, 2011

learning from a broken man

Have you ever messed up really badly?  I mean, really, really badly?  You get to that point where your heart sinks to the bottom of your stomach and you just know that you've ruined everything?  David was definitely at that point.  There he was: a King, a warrior, a husband (a few times...), even a man after God's own heart, and he'd blown it.  Completely.  He had just been minding his own business when suddenly he was over come with lust for another mans wife and, rather than flee that temptation, he enabled it.  He used his power as King and called her to him, slept with her, then sent her back to her husbands household like nothing had ever happened.  On top of all of that, when he found out that she was pregnant, he tried to get out of it by sending her husband to her so it would look like the child was his.  When that didn't work out, things went from bad to worse as he sent her husband into battle, purposefully, to be killed (2 Samuel 11).

I read that story recently and was again struck by how utterly selfish David's actions were.  But, thankfully, I'm not the only one who noticed that.  In the next chapter (13) Nathan, a profit at that time, was instructed by the Lord to talk with David.  He told him a story, painting the picture of a poor man who could only afford to have one sheep.  This man loved the sheep and treated it almost like it was part of the family.  Then, one day, a rich man entertained guests and, rather than kill one of his many sheep, he took the poor mans lamb and killed it to feed them.  David burned with anger against the rich man in the story and claimed that he should be put to death.  Nathan simply pointed out that David was this man.  

Talk about a revelatory moment.  There David was, thinking he had gotten away with his sin - the woman's husband was dead, she was now his wife, they were having a child - all was well.  But no, the Lord brought David's sin to his attention through Nathan.  But the part that gets me is David's response.  He simply says, "I have sinned against the Lord."  It's short and too the point but I'm sure those words held a lot of weight.  In that moment he was recognizing that he hadn't just sinned against Uriah (the husband) and he hadn't just sinned against Bathsheba (the woman) but that he had sinned against God.  

Unfortunately, as is always the case with sin, there were consequences that came with David's actions.  The child Bathsheba bore became ill.  And what did David do?  He didn't walk away and say, "Oh well, that's what I get for messing up",  thinking his sin still held him captive.  Instead, he inquired of the Lord on the child's behalf and fasted, laying on the ground all night.  When the child eventually died and David found out, he got up, took a shower, changed his clothes, and asked for something to eat.  Those who had wondered at his sanity only a few hours before were amazed at this change.  He replied to their questions by saying, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.'  But now he has died; why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me." (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

In the midst of David's sin and grief, he held fast to the Lord.  He understood that he had sinned against God, and he also remembered that the Lord is in control of all things - his child's health as much as his own eternity (v23).  I feel as if I can look to David and learn so much just from these two chapters.  At Hume Lake this year the theme was centered on David and a week studying that has forever affected my view of this King and "man after God's own heart".  It's not so much that David was perfect and worthy of being in the position he held, but the fact that he understood who he was in perspective to who God is.  David messed up.  Big time.  Yet, in each of those situations he took rebuke and owned up to his sin only to fall on his face before the Holy God in true repentance.  

I want to respond like David when faced with my own sin.  I want to recognize that it is a sin against God and, in turn, repent and move on.  It's much too easy to get weighted down by past sins, allowing them to change the direction of your future, but if we understand true forgiveness and what Christ did on the cross for us, I think we'd think less about ourselves and more about Him.  The beauty of Christ's sacrifice is the fact that it doesn't take anything from us to accept Him.  Not a clean slate or a good work.  All it takes is an understanding of our own sin and an acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf.

A final word from David:

The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The Lord is good to all,
and His mercies are over all His works.

Psalm 145:8-9

Thursday, September 8, 2011

are you yelling? are you seeking? (part 2)

"The gospel view of salvation doesn't just humble you before people who don't believe what you believe....but the gospel version of salvation says serve them...make this a great place for all the people  of the city to live.  Because that's what God is seeking to do - to bring a new heavens and a new earth." - Tim Keller

It's all about the Kingdom.  And I'm not just talking about a Kingdom we'll eventually get to that appears far off and distanced.  It's about the Kingdom of God that's right now - at this moment - existing.  I know I have trouble completely understanding that.  What does it mean when we say the Kingdom is now?? I think some of that is cleared up by a definition of what the Kingdom actually is. 

Jesus uses many parables to describe what the Kingdom of God is, or is like.  He compared it to a man searching for fine pears and, upon finding the finest pearl, he sold all the possessed to obtain that pearl (Mt. 13:45-46).  He compared it to a king who wanted to settle accounts with some of his subjects and one appealed to him asking for time to repay his debts.  The king then forgave him the entire debt and let him go.  But this forgiven man turned around and called in debts that people owed him and showed no compassion.  Jesus then said of this, 
"My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart." (Mt. 18:23-35). Jesus also compared the Kingdom of heaven to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  Some of the soil accepted it, some appeared to accept it but the shoots were choked out by weeds, and some flat out rejected the good seed and died on the rocky soil (Mt. 13:24-30).  He also compared the Kingdom to leaven (like yeast).  He said that it was like leaven a woman placed in flour and set aside until all of the flour was leavened (Mt. 13:33).

That's a lot of weird descriptions for a place, huh?  Well, it would be strange for a place but I like to think of the Kingdom of heaven as more of an all-encompassing idea.  In these instances, and many, many more that Christ gave of the Kingdom, it represents an acceptance of what it means to be a child of God.  As Keller hinted at in the quote above, living out our faith in Christ requires that we live focused on the Kingdom of God which, in turn, compels us to serve others.  We're not just living for ourselves and what we can (or think we should) get, were living together in order to give an example of what Christ's Kingdom looks like, albeit an imperfect one.  

With that in mind, it's refreshing to realize that we should not be alone in attempting to live out this vision.  In fact, we can't live it out alone!  We must be like the man who sold everything he had in order to purchase the pearl of great price but, instead of getting a pearl, we are giving up our idea of what life should be and receiving eternal life in its place.  Eternal life that, in essence, starts right here on earth.  Our hope would be to affect others like the leaven affected the flour.  Just a little bit was introduced but soon all of the flour was leavened!

At my church we focus on living in community with one another.  That could be a strange thought or phrasing to some, but basically it just means living life with one another.  We are trying to live out the Kingdom here on the earth within our small communities spread throughout the valley we live in.  It doesn't mean we seclude ourselves from everyone, but quite the opposite!  We try and live together in such a way as to show our freedom in Christ, our salvation in Him, our hope that is in Him, and our commitment to Him.  It's living purposefully.  It's making the effort to invite neighbors and coworkers over so they can gain an inside view into what the Kingdom of God actually looks like here on earth. I even know people in our church that have discussed the idea of purchasing homes close to each other just to further their involvement within a community!  

Have you ever thought about your finances that way? Living for the Kingdom means that we live like the church in Acts where it says they were, "Continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer...And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need" [Acts 2:42, 44-45].  I see that as a radical way to live for the Kingdom.  Seeing all that we have (not just 10%) as the Lord's.   Making decisions based on what He is instructing us to do, not based on what we think will be the best career move for us.  

A questions I would leave you with (and that I'm asking myself too) is this:  Is your life focused around living for the Kingdom or living for yourself? 

Friday, August 19, 2011

are you yelling? are you seeking? (part 1)

I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller titled "Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion?" It is part of a series on some of the biggest issues people have with Christianity and what the truth is behind those issues.  The part of this talk that really struck me as different started about three fourths of the way through.  I transcribed a few statements that he made that popped out to me the fist time I heard them:

He was explaining the difference between various religions and Christianity.  He was saying that, if all that mattered was getting into heaven (as in the case of Islam and Buddhism etc.), then the thing that propels you and your religion is to convert more people to your"tribe" so you can all escape this earth and go to heaven.  He went on to contrast this goal with the goal of Christianity by saying, "But if the purpose of salvation, according to the Bible, is a new heaven and a new earth - is a transformed world where death and poverty and disease and suffering are gone,  then, for you to be working with God, you are working to make this a good world."

He then said that this type of salvation is exemplified in Jeremiah 29 which says that God commanded them to go into the pagan city of Babylon to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare (v7)."

A misguided view he was trying to get away from was the fact that, by claiming Christianity is the only way, you are automatically putting yourself above others and erring on the side of pride.  His response to that was: "The gospel view of salvation doesn't just humble you before people who dont believe what you believe....but the gospel version of salvation says serve them...make this a great place for all the people  of the city to live.  Because that's what God is seeking to do - to bring a new heavens and a new earth."

The last quote that really hit the heart of what he was saying was this:  "The salvation of God is not to escape this world but to redeem it."

It's been at least a week since I listened to this sermon and that part still causes me to stop and think (so much so, that this will be a two part post).  I can honestly say that I've never looked at the difference between Christianity and other religions in this way.  Yes, I've heard it said that Christianity is the only "religion" (and I put it in quotations because I don't like calling it a religion...but that's another post) that follows a resurrected and living savior, among other statements, but here, Keller is taking it a step - or a few steps - further.

Salvation offered by Christ is about redemption!  It's about making broken things whole.  Old things new.  Dirty things clean.  And when it's put in that perspective, of course what he says about redeeming this world makes a lot of sense.  But, in saying that, I found myself asking a lot of questions after agreeing with that statement.  I'm no scholar of theology but the words "working with God to make this a good world" initially make me think twice.  Work?  But we're not saved by our works.  But if we are saved, we should desire to do good things.  And good?  Can this world be good again without Christ coming back first?  Yes, this conversation goes on and on in a circular fashion that can only truly be explained by giving the balance over to God.

So what does Keller mean?  I think the answer lies a few statements later when he says, "But the gospel version of salvation says serve them...make this a great place for all the people of the city to live."  His focus was primarily on the fact that believing that Christianity is the "only way to heaven" should not fill us with arrogant pride but should, instead, instill within us a driving desire to serve others and to pray for their salvation.  Christ, as our example, said He came into this world to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:20) and to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

Have you ever noticed that, if you are in an argument with someone, yelling at them almost never changes their mind about anything but, if you are controlled and humble, listening to their side of things, they will at least hear you out when they are done? I think so many Christians today yell instead of listen.      "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).  I'm not saying we shouldn't speak up - absolutely not - but the way in which we talk should be affected by what we've heard non-Christians say about Christianity in general.

They say we are self-righteous and prideful.  We should be the fist to admit we're wrong and always act in humility.  They say we hate and condem.  We should be described by love and kindness, not afraid to speak the truth, but to always do so in gentleness.  And they say we are hypocritical.  Every area of our lives should be formed around Christ and the gospel, living genuinely no matter the circumstance.  There should be no cause for non-Christians to say our lives don't match up with our words or actions.

All of this said, I think the other point that Keller is really trying to hit home is about the Kindgom and what that looks like.  I'll discuss that in the next post (the "are you seeking?" part) but, until then, you should really check out this sermon.  He handles these claims and more in such a brilliant way!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

moment creatures

"When You could just be silent and leave us here to die
Still, You sent Your Son for us
You were on our side"
-Bethany Dillon

Lately, these lyrics have been haunting me (in a good way).  Ever since I sang this song with my friend Desiree on Monday I've been thinking of the second half of the chorus.  It's such a heady thought to realize the Lord could have remained silent on our behalf.  He didn't have to save us.  There would be no judgement on Him for allowing His creation, which turned against Him, to perish.

I've been reading a book called Demon by Tosca Lee and, though fictional, I have found it eye-opening in a certain way.  The story of the fall, as well as creation, told from the perspective of a fallen angel (the demon) sheds light on the glory of God as well as His love for the "clay people" (humans).  God didn't give the option for the fallen angels to repent.  He didn't send His Son to them.  It's just such an interesting thought.  I've never considered the uniqueness of our situation as humans quite in this way before.

And yet, here we are, living as if the earth is ours with no consequences.  Seeing it solely for our own purposes and desires.  Running around like selfish children grasping at anything in our reach.  We seek fulfillment but are satisfied with the most weak, unfulfilling things that are sustained mere moments and then gone, vanishing in mid air.

On top of all this, we blame God for our forsaken situation and hurl insults in His direction saying, "If You are real!" or "How dare You do this to me?" because we are such moment creatures.  Feeling and sensation control us and compel us to seek our own good above all else.  Anything with an unsatisfactory outcome is suddenly proof of God's non-existence or His lack of love for us.

But do we even know the definition of true love?

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son..."
John 3:16

"In this is love [true love], not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [atonement] for our sins."
1 John 4:10

"God is love."
1 John 4:16b

God showed us a greater sacrifice of love than anyone or anything in this world has ever portrayed or ever will.  He has never asked us to repay Him.  He has never asked us to commit the same act either (as if we could).  And, He has never required us to be worthy of accepting Him.

We only need realize that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus."  Romans 3:23-24

With the death of His Son, He not only showed us what true love is and does, He made a promise.  He said that with belief in Him, we would always have His love and forgiveness; His grace.  No constraints.  No clauses.  No requirements other than to set up a lifestyle of love for Him and, in turn, for others.

Now that is true love.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Paul - why so serious?

To me, Paul (the apostle), seems so...serious.  And I don't mean that to sound as if it's a bad thing, so much as its just something I've observed as I've been reading through Acts recently.  I have a feeling most of the disciples were actually this way - not all the time, I'm sure, but in general.

When I ask myself why that is, I'm faced with a hard truth.  I believe the main reason is because they understood the gravity of the gospel.  They saw and experienced its miraculous, transforming power and felt an urgency that most of us can't even grasp.

We are so caught up in "us".  Faced with the idea that the gospel means more than "our next thing" doesn't shake us.  I sometimes think it doesn't even touch us.  Paul was ready to die "for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13) and nothing - not his closest friends or co-workers in Christ - could convince him to choose himself first.  And they definitely tried (Acts 21:4,11).

How different that is from us.

What price have we (or have I) paid for the gospel in our lives?  What hard decisions have we let ourselves get out of by the convincing statements of our family or friends?  Have we allowed ourselves to slip into complacency with regards to the truth?

I hope not.

I don't want to be that person!  I want to understand that there is nothing more precious, nothing more valid, and nothing more relevant than the gospel and what that means to our world.  I want everything in my life to be ordered in such a way that it all reflects and revolves around Jesus.  I guess, in a word, I want to be totally surrendered to Him.

I'll leave you with a few lines from a wonderful hymn...

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live

I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Apparent Project: helping feed Haiti one necklace at a time

Tonight I had the incredible joy of helping several women (and a young man) in Haiti.

No, I didn't go on a mission trip.  And no, I actually didn't go anywhere near Haiti, but I helped the poor there nonetheless.  What I did do was attend a jewelry party sponsored by The Apparent Project and bought a few birthday gifts as well as a few necklaces for myself.

This jewelry is beautiful, handcrafted, and stunning with creativity!  The beads themselves are made by taking cereal box cardboard and rolling it up very tightly to form a bead that is then glued and lacquered creating a unique and (in most cases) multi-colored bead.  These hand-made beads are then strung along with other seed beads and are formed by the imagination of the artists themselves into colorful necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.

I cannot explain the feeling of seeing the smiling face of the artist who created your special treasure and being able to read their story on the small card attached to the jewelry.  For example Rosaline's story:  "Rosaline is a single mother living in a tent with her two girls.  She has had to give up several of her children to adoption and is now learning to work and save money to rent a house and care for her remaining children."  You can see for yourself exactly who your money is going to and how it will help.  Its a powerful thing.

The best part is that it is so easy to be a part of The Apparent Prjoect!  My church (Cornerstone-SCV) supports Three Angels Children's Relief in Haiti and Three Angels has now come along side with The Apparent project to further the opportunity for the poor to learn ways to suppor themselves.  It's like the old idiom says, "If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish you feed him for lifetime."  The Apparent project is teaching these young women and men to 'fish' and we can be a part of this here in the US!

Check out the website and contact The Apparent Project if you are interested in hosting your own party.  You can make a difference in Haiti too!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

sucker for a happy ending

The other day I started my fourth novel.  I'm pretty excited because the idea for the plot has been ricocheting around my head and finally came to rest in one place long enough for me to pin it down with words.  The first few chapters came followed by the rest of the plot with me holding on for dear life hoping I could write it all down in time!  Its a new thing for me, writing the entire plot out first, but I think it's helped in keeping my writing more cohesive.  If I know where I'm going, I know how to get there (hopefully).

When I wrapped up the ending I got to thinking how cliche it was.  But, upon further reflection, I realized I liked cliche.  Ok, in all honesty I don't like it to the point where you can guess, nearly word for word, what the plot will be and by the second chapter you have the book wrapped up in a pretty bow of understanding. That is just boring.  I thought over the many books I'd read recently and summed them up in my mind, bringing them to reckoning.

Of each of them I asked, "Plot, what makes you so good?"

The answer came in the form of a happy ending.  I love a happy ending.  Sure - give me trial, give me temptation, give me pain and hurt, but you'd better give me a happy ending to look forward to.  I know this is not true for everyone.  Some enjoy pain and strife.  The muck of life.  But I've come to terms with the fact that I write not to say something that's never been said before in a profound way, but instead to remind my readers that God's way is best with a more simplistic representation.  Hum, maybe simplistic is not the right word, but what I mean is that I'm not writing from a platform.  I'm writing from a place in our minds and hearts that desires love and happiness and, in this way, pointing to the fact that God is the only True Giver of these things.

Sounds like a lofty goal, I know.  I'm not saying that I have achieved that or even hope to in this lifetime, but it is my goal nonetheless.  I want nothing more than to point to the Lord in my writing.  In the case of this book, my theme is the fact that God works everything (even the most random, painful details) together for His good.  It sounds simplistic but yet is so much more difficult to show than you'd initially think.  Yes, the plot may be something you could guess at, but I hope (and pray) in the end it comes to a conclusion that, though expected, satisfies.  And in that satisfaction, I hope that it points to God.

On a side note, I'm currently inspired by Beautiful Things by Gungor.  AMAZING!

Friday, March 4, 2011


We live in a world that leaves scars.  Scars on our person, scars on our psyche, and even scars on our hearts.  I looked down to my hands the other day and saw the remnant of a scar from a long time ago and instantly the entire scenario that surrounded me getting that scar was playing vividly before my eyes.  I remembered the area I was in, the feeling of the day even, and the moment that I realized I had injured myself pretty badly.  The tears that poured from my eyes at that moment were pretty intense, though the memory doesn't bring up the physical pain, just the memory.

Why don't scars heal completely though?  I know there's a scientific/medical response to that question, but I'd like to go more deeply than that.  Every scar that I have is tied to a memory, and instance, and with those scars I am also able to remember growth!  They may lessen in appearance as they heal, but the passing of time doesn't make the memories go completely.

I have to wonder about emotional scars.  There are the small ones that cut you to the heart but are able to heal within a short amount of time - possibly 6 months to a year (this is short within in respect to a lifetime).  But, there are also the more deeply wounding scars.  The ones where it felt like the person ripped you heart apart, spread it out bare for all to see, and then poured salt on top of it with vengeance in their eyes.  Those scars take a much longer time to heal, if they every do completely.  A lot of the time these scars can only come from people that are close to us.  From those we love.

There are also scars associated with times in our lives.  These wounds are scrapped across our souls at a time when we feel like we cant move on.  When all that was light around us is swallowed by darkness and we think there isn't a way out.  We begin to heal when we come out from under the weight imposed by those deep wounds.  This is when we are able to see the reason for those wounds in the first place.

Each instance of scaring involves pain.  The healing process is different with regards to each as well, but I think the telling thing is the scar itself.  What you do when you look at a scar is what matters.  For instance, the scar on my hand, I look back to the time when I got it and smile now because I see a foolish mistake I made but how it has made me much more careful in the future.  Or maybe an emotional scar that has now healed - when you look on it, do you only rememberer the bad times? Or can you rejoice in the fact that you are now past that hurt and on to a new life?  Even the deep, soul-wounding scars that ripped you apart when they happened can be turned into something positive.  The goal is to be able to look back and remember where you were, what the situation was, and how God brought you through the trial.  

I think we have scars of all forms for the simple reason of remembering and then turning that remembrance into praises of thanksgiving.  God created our flesh, hearts, and minds with the ability to heal for a reason, but He also created the simple reality of scars.  The crucial element is in the way we remember those scars.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

thoughts on love

I've been thinking about love recently. It's a tricky thing, isn't it? I think it's safe for me to assume that the majority of humans desire love. Whether it be love from parents, friends, a spouse, children, or even animals - we love love!

But why?

There are a lot of things we think will satisfy us and make us happy. Sometimes that takes the form of money - if I just get xxx amount, I'll be happy. Sometimes it's things - if I just get xxx thing, I'll be happy. But, more often than not, I think we actually convince ourselves that if we just 'get' love, we'll be happy. It makes me think of a song on a live John Mayer album I have. It's in the middle of a song and he starts talking about life and his 'philosophy' on things and he says, "I've messed with all the approaches but one and it's gonna sound really corny but that's just love...I've done everything in my life that I wanna do except just give and feel love for my living." He goes on to describe the love he's not talking about by saying its not a "roman candle firework hollywood hot pink love" but instead he's talking about a "I got your back" kind of love.

Sure, that sounds great! Let's all give and get that kind of love...

But wait - how do you do that?!

This is the crux of the matter. We dont know what real love is! You could ask fifty different people and get fifty different answers based on what each person feels is the most loving thing. A mother of five might say the most loving thing is when her husband gives her a night out with her friends whereas a herion addict might say the most loving thing is her boyfriend giving her a needle. Obviously, these are two drastically different ideas but both portray the fact that we dont know what love is because we're basing it on the wrong things.

The Bible says "God is love" (1 John 4:8b). Wow! So, God is love but what does that mean? It goes on in that same chapter to say, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Propitiation basically means an atonement/making amendes/restitution for the sin that we have all committed.

That thought should completely blow our minds.

This love - the true love - of God is so big, so wonderful, so infinite, so powerful, that when a sacrifice was demanded, God made the conscious decision to sacrifice His own Son - not someone else's son. He had originally (in the Old Testament) set up a way that sins were atoned for (through sacrifice Gen 3 & 4) and, rather than change that principle, he followed His own rules and sent Christ to be the perfect sacrifice to shed blood on our behalf, freely giving us a way to come to God. God loved His Son. Jesus wasn't some pawn that God used to fix everything because it was easy. No, Jesus was God - in a way that our minds can't completely understand - and He laid down His life for us willingly because it was the only way. "By this [Christ's sacrifice], love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgement..." (1 John 4:17a).

Back to my first point. Everyone loves love. Why? Because God is love and even when we are lost and dont believe in Him, He created us in His image and therefore we have within or very being a desire for love which, in essence, is a desire for God. We'll keep searching for the perfect love until we realize that it is only within God that we can truly find satisfaction. Only God can show us and give us genuine, lasting love.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"pour yourself out"

To me, Elizabeth Elliot is one of the most incredible women! She has lived through singleness, marriage, death, being a widow and single mother, marriage again, death again, being a widow again, and then marriage one last time. Add to these credentials the fact that she has written numerous books that encourage and strengthen women from a Christ-focused perspective, and you have a winning and quite formidable combination. She is an amazing woman.

Currently, I'm reading "Let Me Be A Woman" which is a book that she wrote to her daughter a few months before she was married. It's not just focused on those about to be married but on women as a whole. I've read it before and I'm finding more and more gems within it this time as well. In a chapter I recently read she explained that single women have found full and filling lives from the simple truth of learning to "pour yourself out". I want that. What better thing than to be about the work of God?

I think this has to be taken into careful consideration though. I mean, a single woman could become so focused and so busy that she could become overwhelmed or that she could find herself as self-sufficient when the Lord would not desire that for her. I don't want that to be the case, of course, but I do want to be so focused on the Lord that He is what is filling me. I desire for His purpose to be my purpose. For His love to be what I show to others.

Within the context of all of this, another book that I'm reading entitled "Becoming God's True Woman" is also helping me to see that, no matter where I am or may be in my life (single, married, widowed) I am to seek after what God calls me to be as a woman. I think of 1 Peter 3:3-4 that says, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." I desire for the Lord to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit within me now. I don't want to wait for some appointed time or marriage or anything but instead be about His work NOW. As Elizabeth also says, singleness is a gift (and she reminds us that we do not choose our gifts) and that while you are gifted in that way, you must use the gift and exercise it to the best of your ability until God sees fit to change your situation (and gifting).

I may become weary at times and I may have a lot on my plate, but I wouldn't give any of it up for a more comfortable existence filled with a lot of free time and no direction or purpose. I know that God will give me strength to make it through and that is what matters.

Make sure that, in whatever situation you are in, you are learning to "pour yourself out".