Monday, August 24, 2009

An Invitation To Rest

"Come to Me, all you who weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30


Jesus spoke these words after He had been teaching and performing miracles in cities--cities that didn't repent and didn't receive Him. He had denounced those cities and turned to the crowd following Him and invited them to come to Him. This was a new message the crowd was hearing. It was the first time they were not given more laws and traditions to obey. They were simply invited to follow Him and to rest. How foreign this message must have been for those who had been bound by the laws and the traditions of the Pharisees. When Christ invited them to come to Himself, it was an invitation to come to a person, not an ideology, not a philosophy, and not an ever growing set of rules. It was an invitation to enter into a deeply intimate relationship with Him. The Jews who labored hard to keep the law had to have been touched by His invitation. At the same time, the invitation also had to be strange because many greatly feared God and didn't view God as personal or approachable. I so get that. As a child, I had a distorted view of God. I knew He loved me and died for me, but I also pictured Him as distant angry. I believed He was waiting for me to mess up so He could zap me. I didn't know what the zap would be, but I was terrified of it. While fear was a strong deterrent from sin, it kept me burdened down with the weight of trying to earn God's love and approval. It kept me from resting in His love and enjoying the opportunities I had to worship Him. 

Notice the word picture of the "yoke" used in the verse. A yoke is a molded piece of wood attached to two animals so they work together and go in the same direction. We are on one side of the yoke and Christ is on the other and we are going through this life with Him. He is bearing the brunt of the weight and leading us in the right path. Just as a yoke was custom made to fit each particular animal, our yoke with Christ meets our specific needs and helps us to do the work we have been specifically called to do.

The verses also tell us that Christ was "gentle and humble in heart." The Jews did not see Him that way, yet the gospels show those characteristics consistently. He left heaven and lay in a bed made of a feeding trough. He grew up the stepson of a Carpenter. He ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and disabled people. He spoke with love and respect to people bound by sin. He intermingled with the despised Samaritans. He touched people who were sick with leprosy, blind both physically and spiritually, and those paralyzed and deprived of hope. He approached those bound by demons who were extremely different. Yet, His people rejected Him and He died the death of a criminal to demonstrate God's love to a broken, fallen world. I know when I am accused of something I've not done, my pride rises up and I'm ready to fight. Yet, He took our sin and died in our place on the cross to give us an eternal and abundant life.

I love His invitation to learn from Him. We can follow His example to learn to love with a love that requires humility and grace. Humility brought us to the Lord. We came empty handed, depending only on His mercy and grace. One way to tell if we are walking in humility is to examine our attitudes. Do we look down on those who don't have money, use vulgar language, are disabled, or who have chosen a sinful path? Could we dine with various people and not worry about what friends might say? Hopefully, we can see past someone’s dress, language, race, sin or disabilities and see people God created and loves. During His life, Christ loved broken, selfish people like us. He wants us to do the same. Are we available and humble enough to allow Him to love through us? 

I love that He promises us rest. We can be free from our sin to focus on God. We can be free from legalism to walk in love. We can be free from people pleasing tendencies, relying on His love to empower us to love others.. We can be free from bitterness, experiencing peace that comes with extending grace and forgiving. We can be free from anxiousness, finding God's perfect peace. We can be free from discouragement, having hope. We can be free from hurt, experiencing healing. We can be free from fear and have Christ's boldness. We can be free from the weariness of self as we are transformed into Christ's likeness. We can be free of trying to earn acceptance and enjoy the acceptance that we already possess. We can be free from a lack of purpose and fulfill our God-given one. We can be free from trying to earn God's love and enjoy the love already poured lavishly upon us. The verb "take" implies something has been offered and that we must receive it. Christ has offered His teaching. It was not like the teaching of the Pharisees who added burden to burdens and guilt to guilt…it gives relief. It gives hope. It cleanses us. Our burdens become lighter as His love fills us and we live the life He created us to live.

Prayer: Father thank you for inviting us to come to You and for taking our burdens and our vain toil. Thank you for teaching us. You are gentle and humble…you washed feet, rubbed shoulders with the poor, touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, and taught the masses who were so hungry to learn. Thank you for your peace. We so need it in the face of storms. Thank your light and your truth, we need it desperately in this dark world. Thank you for loving us with an eternal pure love. It is so refreshing in a world that often hates. AMEN.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Obligations that Come with Privilege

"May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your, O Lord, my Rock, and my redeemer."
Psalm 19:14

Several years a go a great movie came out that was called, Ever After. There is a line in the movie that I believe illustrates an important Biblical truth. Danielle says to her beloved Prince who hated the obligations that came with being a prince, "You have been born to privilege and with that comes specific obligations." There have been times I've rejoiced in being born again as a beloved child of the King of kings. There have been other times I haven't liked the idea that as a believer I'm held to higher responsibility. Over the last several years God has been convicting me that being His child comes with specific obligations, especially when it comes to the words that come out of my mouth and the thoughts I think that no one sees.

To me, it is very scary to think my words not only have the potential to promote healing, encourage, or build up others, but they also can deeply wound hearts. It's even scarier to think the inappropriate thoughts I don’t take captive could rise to the surface and crush others’ souls. It is sobering to think I can choose to either speak a lie or choose to share God's truth. I can choose to damage someone's reputation by broadcasting faults or I can preserve their dignity by pointing out their strengths. I can push a brother who's stumbled away from God with judgmental words and attitudes. or I can get between him and the sinful path he is headed down with loving confrontation. But, scarier is the realization that my words can either draw nonbelievers to the Savior or they can drive them further away.


Even though our salvation is totally based on God and His grace, I believe, as God's children, it is imperative for us to assume responsibility for our thoughts and our words. Matthew 12:36 says that we will give an account for every word that comes out of our mouth and James 3:10 tells us that that we should not be both cursing man and blessing God with our mouths. Paul, in his Epistles, tells us to put away evil speaking, filthiness, and foolish talking. Proverbs also contain many principles about our words. For example: "A worthless person, a wicked man, walks with a perverse mouth"…"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but they that deal truly are His delight"…"The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts."


Several conversations I've had with people over the years have reminded me we live in a brutal world. Students walk halls of schools in which vile language is accepted as the norm. Both teachers and/or parents tell them they will never amount to anything. Peers add to their pain by telling them that they are hated, stupid, or ugly on a regular basis. Women are sexually harassed in the school's hallways and in the workplace on a daily basis. Employers degrade employees with harsh words that tear at the heart. Hate is spewed in internet in posts for which their is no accountability.


As a parent, I wish I could take back words I hurled in anger at my children. In a world that is so perverse in its speech and in a world that takes delight in hurting others, we as children of God have an obligation as people born to privilege to make a difference in the lives of others with words carefully chosen that can be a soothing balm to wounded hearts. Our words carefully chosen can preserve another's dignity. Our words carefully chosen can provide correction while building others up. Our words carefully chosen can draw others closer to the Savior and to the heart of the Heavenly Father. Our words carefully chosen can allow us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created and to which we were called at salvation. Our words carefully chosen can save us from a whole lot of shame, grief, and regret later. 


It is important to realize the following verse is is more than a command. It’s an issue of the heart. Matthew 12:35-36 says "…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things." What would it take for us to be a people whose hearts bring forth good and refreshing words? It would take us spending time in God's word and letting His Truth correct our thinking and softening our hearts with His love. It would take us sitting before God and asking Him to look inside and purify our thoughts that we may be afraid to face because they reveal the depth of our depravity. It might require letting God uncover buried hurts so He can heal them, because hurting people are people who usually hurt others. It might require we let Him heal our hearts so we aren’t so inclined to spew bitterness we feel on others. It may take us sitting quietly before Him and letting Him cut away our envy, desire for strife, and our pride. I don't think we can imagine the impact we could have in this world as God's Ambassadors if we became a people whose were passionate about honoring The Creator who purchased us with His own Son with our thoughts and with our words. If we become a people who seek to honor God above all else, we can become a people whose words reflect His heart, His love, and His hope. We can be people who cease to wound others, facilitating healing and reconciling a world broken and hurting. Are we willing to face and confess ugliness we hide and allow God to transform us? 

Prayer: Father, place in us a passion to honor You with our words. Give us words that facilitate healing rather than wounding people. Give us words that convey love, not hatred. Give us words that speak hope into lives of other people rather than robbing them of it. Give us words that will reflect Your love and Your truth rather than Satan's hatred and his lies. Father, look deep down into the deepest part of our hearts where only You can see. So often that is the place that our most shameful thoughts and attitudes reside. These are the thoughts that have the potential to overflow into our words and our actions. Look in side of us and examine our heart and reveal to us everything that is not Holy, that does not reflect Your character, and does not speak of your love. Purify us to be Your instruments of reconciliation, hope, and healing. Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Finishing Marathons

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, 
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, 
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, 
scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:1-2

I have a friend who loves the word of God and with every letter from her I receive at least 3 verses. A couple of weeks ago she sent me a reminder to read these verses again. At the time, she had no idea how much I needed her reminder, but I know that my God did. When I got her letter I was burdened with unnecessary burdens and was struggling with my weaknesses and a terrible fear. My eyes were firmly focused on my circumstances and myself rather than on God and His power. But the verses brought me back to that place where my focus and my dependence were on God.

The word "therefore" always tells us to notice what was previously said in the text. The chapter before these verses contained a list of believers who trusted God and, as a result, had experienced great things. Enoch walked with God and skipped out on death. Noah built a ship and weathered a God-sized storm that destroyed the whole earth. Abraham left the security of home to live in a tent as he waited for the city God promised him. His wife Sarah's unbelieving laughter turned to joy as she nursed a baby when she should have been rocking great grand children. Moses' parents saved his life by floating him in a basket in alligator infested waters to grow up and to lead a nation through a sea without getting wet. An army flattened the walls of Jericho by marching and shouting while Rahab and her family’s safety hung on a crimson cord hanging from her window. Daniel slept peacefully with lions while his friends danced in a fiery furnace with out even smelling like smoke. Still others had great victories--victory over sin and others being made strong through weaknesses. Some were rescued and escaped death while others died leaving tremendous testimonies of faith. 

To live the exciting lives like these people did, I must be willing to lay aside every weight and the sins that entangle me. In the original language the author used an athletic term to paint a word picture. I mentored girls who were are swimmers and added resistance by letting the hair on their legs grow and wearing loose fitting shirts that caused drag during training sessions. Then for a race they shaved the hair off their legs, wore swim caps, and removed the big shirts so they had less drag in the water, having the benefit of stronger muscles produced in training. Here the author is telling us the Christian life is like being in a race and we need to get rid of anything that drags us down. That could be habitual sin, friends that distract us from God and His will for us, material things that draw our focus away from God and His will, selfish attitudes that display pride, or business that leaves no time for God. 

At the root of our weaknesses, our fears, and our sin often lies the sin of unbelief. When we are struggling, we might want to ask ourselves questions like: "What do I really believe?" "If I believe God is the comforter, why do I turn to other things to numb my pain?" "If I believe we are ambassadors for Christ, why am I surprised I don't feel at home here?" "If I believe God has forgiven me, why do I not forgive myself?" "If I believe God will never leave me or forsake me, why do I feel so alone when I am struggling?" "If I believe God is my strength, why do I not call on Him more?" "If I believe God has given me spiritual gifts with which to serve, why do I succumb to fear when faced with the opportunity to minister?" Doubt is not bad when I deal with it in the light of God's truth. In fact, the most dynamic faith is faith exercised in the face of doubt. Faith is a choice that gives me the opportunity to see God's power.

The author reminds me to run the race before me with endurance, keeping my eyes on Jesus, the very one who can mature faith. Christ has determined my path and has planted seeds of faith in me and is using the race to strengthen that faith. I want to set my eyes on Him for He is at the finish line, cheering me on. He is not waiting to see me fail. He is encouraging me! Does He have the right to tell me to endure? Yes, because He endured the cross and the shame of my sin for the joy of presenting me to His Father a child purified by His blood!

Everyday I want to pause and reflect. Where am I in the race that God has set before me? Have I laid aside the weights that can drag me down? If not, the race is a lot harder than it needs to be. Have I laid aside sin that hinders me, especially the sin of unbelief? If not, I'm missing out on experiencing God in so many ways it would take a book to describe them. and that book, the Bible, has already been written. Are my eyes on the author of my faith? If not, I miss seeing God cheer me on! I don't want to veer off course. His course is the quickest and most sure way to the finish line! I want to remember Jesus is the finish line. He is cheering me on with arms wide open--waiting to take me home.


Prayer: Father, thank you for putting the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11. Thank you for the witnesses you have placed into our lives that have remained faithful and worshiped you even in the most difficult of circumstances. Thank you for enduring the cross and our shame so we could know you and live for you. Please help us to lay aside the weights that hinder our relationship with you and our service. Help us in times of unbelief to fully trust your word and your character. Thank you for setting our paths. Thank you for being at the finish line to both cheer us on and to receive us with open arms. Thank you that we all can be winners in this marathon called the Christian life. Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stuck by a Thorn

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, 
there was given me a thorn in my flesh, the messenger of Satan, to torment me. 
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 
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. 
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, 
in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:7-10


God gave His Apostle, Paul, visions of things to come. Those visions were so wonderful Paul found them impossible to describe. Visions could have become a source of pride, but God allowed Satan to give Paul what he called a "thorn in his flesh." We assume that the thorn was a weakness that was designed to keep him humble. We can better understand this passage by looking at the definitions of two key words. The first definition of a thorn is "a sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone" which could imply that Paul's "thorn" was a physical pain, causing him great stress. The other word is "torment" which comes from the word "buffet" which means "to beat, to strike with the fist." When Paul was feeling the affects of his affliction, he literally felt like he was being pounded with a sharp stake. This description would indicate that Paul found it uncomfortable experiencing his human weaknesses. Other's believe his thorn was a weakness in his flesh. This makes sense, too, for when a person loves God like Paul did, besetting temptations are painful to the soul and can come upon us so quickly we feel we are being punched in the gut by pressure to sin. 

Sometimes we suffer because of our sin and at other times we suffer because of the sin of others. We may suffer because of God-allowed or God-orchestrated trials. We want to remember God uses trials to build godly character. My grandfather used to polish rocks to make jewelry. He put them in a tumbler with some water and sand and the rocks tumbled over each other and the sand for weeks. When he took them out they were no longer just ordinary rocks. They had become shiny, smooth rocks full of beautiful colors that weren't observable before. This life is God's tumbler and the sand is the various trials we experience in life. He is breaking away all that is not lovely or holy as trials and other people bump into us. As He wears away fleshly parts, it can hurt because He's deflating pride and putting us in the position to see how much we need Him. We want to remember difficult circumstances are always an invitation to intimacy with God, who delights in us and desires to bless us. One of the most significant blessings is His Grace, which doesn't just remove difficulties or just forgives us of sin. Grace is also the promise that God is and will continue to purify us from the inside out. 

Paul asked God to deliver him from his "thorn" three times, but the answer was "No"! However, God promised Paul His grace would be sufficient. Amazingly, Paul knew God had not deserted him. Maybe because of his heavenly visions, he understood this world we live in is a temporary home and would include pain and suffering. Paul didn't sin by asking God to remove the thorn; he obeyed Him by casting his cares upon him and asking others to pray for him. He had churches to visit, missionary journeys to take, letters to write, dangers to face, counseling to accomplish, sermons to write, and conflicts to settle. We can't blame him for wanting to be free of his “thorn.” However, maybe it was his " thorn" that commanded his continual dependence on God and intimacy with God that flowed from it that allowed God to manifest his power in Paul's weakness. Out of his dependence on God, Paul's letters were penned and those letters would not have been as rich and full of God’s mercy and truth had Paul not depended on Him. His sermons would not have had the same impact on the early church had he not been transparent in his walk. Paul’s words would not have had the same comfort for those suffering had his life been trouble free. Paul understood "thorns" served a purpose, while knowing the same God who can heal or remove them is the same God who has the right not to. Paul recognized in his weaknesses, he experienced God's glorious power. He faced weaknesses, insults, hardships persecution, and difficulty. 

I can so relate this to difficult relationships I've had. I can relate it to painful circumstances that left deep wounds now turned to scars. I can relate it to painful memories of failures that occasionally still haunt me. I can relate it to the times people misunderstood my heart and my motives and accused me of things I never thought of doing. I can relate it to the ever presence of an eating disorder that still at times beacons  me to follow it instead of God who I know loves me. I can relate it to the pain that rises in my bones that is a constant reminder of painful breaks and isolated months of healing. 

But this I know...when my body hurts, it is an invitation to receive God’s strength. When I am feeling depressed, it is an invitation to hang on to His joy, so that I don't despair. When I am feeling stressed, it is an opportunity to let Him give me His peace. When I am grieving, it is an invitation to let God turn my mourning into dancing. I know I when I struggle with physical weaknesses or with spiritual temptation, I can let Him walk me through it with His strength. God's power and peace and grace can only be comprehended in the backdrop of weaknesses, trials, and need. I am so thankful for intimacy with the all-powerful, holy, and exalted God who has invited me to call Him Abba—Daddy! I am thankful He is true to His Word.

Prayer: Father, suffering is so hard to write about. For me, it has been an invitation to intimacy with YOU! I am also fully aware that others suffer in ways I have not and in ways I never will. I don't want to be pretentious or discount pain, but I want them to know You are there. You promise You will be sufficient for them. Please wrap your arms around those who are hurting. Please open the eyes of those who are hungry to be loved to your pure and holy love and teach them to receive it and be satisfied with it…even during the briar patches of life? For those who serve You and struggle with the flesh, will you draw their minds to you when they are tempted so they experience victory? Please comfort those who are weeping and speak hope into their hearts. Teach us to glory in our weaknesses, to turn to you to be content in Your Grace and Your comfort. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Sacrificial Love

"My command is this: Love each other, as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:12-13


Under the Old Testament law people were required to love others to the extent they loved themselves. In John 13:34 Jesus gave a new commandment to love other as He loves us. He reiterated it fully in the above passage. When Christ stated something more than once we know it was something He wanted us to understand and apply. Within the context of the passage, the church was released from having to focus on obeying the law to focusing on loving God and others and it is in that love that obedience to the law is fulfilled. What an awesome freedom God gives us in that we do not have to focus on a list of do’s and don’ts. All we have to do is focus on Him. 

As we experience His love and understand the sacrifice behind His love we will be able to respond to Him in love. We will also be empowered through His spirit to love others sacrificially as He loved us. I often ask myself if I would really be willing to lay my life down for Christ or my friends? It is hard for me to even think in those terms, because in our country we aren't often persecuted to that extent. I realize one of the ways I could test myself is to look at my life and my attitudes in the here and now. In doing that I determined I would never die for a friend…
  • I wasn't willing to defend when if she is being slandered.
  • I wasn't willing to give of my resources if she has material needs.
  • I wasn't willing to risk anger in confronting when sin is sinking its talons into her soul. 
  • Which I wasn't willing to listen when she's hurting. 
  • I wasn't willing to protect friendship at the risk of losing other friends.
  • I wasn't willing to love when I am not loved in return.
  • I wasn't willing to forgive when I am hurt.
  • I wasn't willing to be transparent at the risk of seeming imperfect.
  • I wasn't willing to love when it inconvenienced me.
  • I wasn’t willing to give up my tendency to broadcast another's faults, choosing to affirm her virtues instead.
  • I wasn't willing to seek forgiveness from whom I wrong. 
  • I wasn't willing to help carry heavy burdens.
  • I wasn't willing to stop and pray as needed.
As we look through the gospels, we see Christ gave up everything to rub shoulders with people like us. He loved people bound in sin, ravaged by illness, brokenhearted, impoverished, and full of emotional needs. He loved people in the face of extreme opposition, petty criticism, radical misunderstanding, and even in humiliation. He loved people in the face of hatred, when He was being beaten, had a crown of thorns slammed onto His brow, with each blow of the hammer that nailed him to the cross, and with each insult hurled as they spat in His face and as His blood stained the cross. He loved people even when the weight of our sin was placed on Him. He loved in the heartbreak of His Father's wrath being poured out on Him and He loved in His death. He loves us just as His Father has called Him to—sacrificially and completely.

If we are willing to die to ourselves and live unto God, He will love those He puts in our paths through us. We will find ourselves loving sacrificially and completely. We will find ourselves loving with a love that loves in the little things as well as in the big. If we love in life, we can rest assured we will grow enough to love in the face of death. 

The questions we need to wrestle with are: Do we truly at a core level believe Christ loved us fully and completely? Do we have the desire in us to love as He loves? If, not what is holding us back from having that desire?

Prayer: Father what an awesome calling…to love as Jesus loved has loved us. Please help us to learn more about the height, the depth, and the breadth of your love that we might be able to reflect that same love to those around us. Please give us the desire to love as you love and your strength to love as passionately as you love in life. Please also give us the courage to love as passionately as you did in death. Amen.

Introduction

Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!