Monday, January 31, 2011

Suffering Produces True Hope

"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know

that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by

the Holy Spirit, who He has given us."

Romans 5:3-5

There are times that I read a passage over and over and somehow miss the rich treasures of truth it contains. I did that with this passage. When I have been dealing with something hard, I have complained to God that I would be able to stand up under the trial if only He would give me some hope. The same type of thought occurs to me when I am watching a friend go through a trial that I am not sure that I could handle. Meditating on this passage gives me such a new perspective. A friend once told me that rejoicing can be looked at as return to your joy, which for a Christian is always going to be centered on Christ. So when a trial comes my way I need to make a conscience decision to return my focus to Christ. Sometimes He will lead me to take action in the trial, and sometimes it may be something He will lead me to patiently wait through the trial. That is hard, because in my tendency towards black-white thinking I want a formula for enduring trials that works every time. If I pay attention to His leading and do what He asks of me, I will see that He has allowed the trial for a purpose. That purpose is always so that I can grow in Him.

The reason God allows suffering in my life is to teach me patience or perseverance. As I stay focused on Christ my character is molded to be more like His character. Think back on His life. What did Christ do when he faced trials? He turned to His Heavenly Father and He prayed. Maybe, just maybe I would do well if I did the same. If I seek Him, He will faithfully reveal His will in each situation. Maybe He will lead me to continue loving someone who is acting unlovable. Maybe He will lead me to confront sin. Maybe He will call me to praise God in the midst of pain. Maybe He will ask me to trust the Father's sovereignty when circumstances are confusing. Maybe He will ask me to become bolder in the face of fear.

The last thing that is produced after godly character is hope, which is what amazes me the most about this passage. I have always wanted the hope -- the firm confidence in Christ -- to come first. This passage makes it clear that we don't need to ask God for faith or hope but I need to choose to obey and trust the Lord in trials and that He will then produce hope in me. My perspective needs to be that God is good and faithful and I can take Him at His word. When He allows something to happen to me, He is also doing something in me and hopefully doing something through me. In that process, as I persevere God will develop His godly character in me and then I will have hope! In other words our faith will become mature. It is a neat concept that God is developing and maturing the faith He has planted in me.

Finally, the last part of the passage promises that I will not be disappointed in hope because God sheds his love into our hearts via the Holy Spirit. Several years ago I shared this passage with one of my discipleship groups. Some of the girls have expressed that they do not feel close to God. The truth is that we are all close because He lives inside of us. The way we get the feeling of being close is to choose to obey and trust Him through trials. As we obey our hope matures. Then we are confident in the love He has put inside of us and it isn’t something we muster up.

One of our sons is allergic to soybeans and when he gets some in his system he will double over and look like he is dying. One night he had eaten something that had soybeans without knowing it and his girlfriend's family called us because he had doubled over. They checked him into the Emergency Room and he was there when we got there. We were stuck there for about 6 hours. In the mean time the pain subsided and he was merely drained. I looked around and asked the Lord in my heart why we were really there. I noticed a young girl who was crying, and pretty soon her siblings and grandparents were there with her. Her mom was critically ill and had been rushed to surgery. Several times during that evening I felt led to pray for them. The next week a friend of mine canceled a Bible study that we did together to go to a funeral. Later when we talked, I found out it was for the mom of the girl I had seen. She shared with me that the lady was her daughter's best friend's mom and her daughter was having a hard time dealing with it. I told her we were there when they brought the lady in and had been praying for her throughout that night. She shared that with her daughter and it seemed to help her daughter to know that God had provided special care for them. I will be honest, it was frustrating to be stuck there once my son felt better, but at the same time I really felt God had brought me there to pray for this family I didn’t even know. I also know that it also taught me to be more patient, to be less self-centered, and to love strangers by praying for them. I was so thankful that it ended up being an encouragement to my friend's daughter in the midst of tragic circumstances.

I invite you to join me in practicing rejoicing in our sufferings. They are never fun and I definitely would never purposefully seek them out. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to waste suffering by having the wrong perspective and attitude about it. I would like a hope-filled, love-filled heart…if suffering produces that, maybe going through trials is worth it after all.

Father, so often I think if I could handle things better if I just had a little more faith. But in truth I am to choose to obey you and abide in you in the trials and you will develop our character and mature our faith so that we have hope. Thank you for your precious Holy Spirit who fills us with your peace that passes all understanding. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Soul Thirst

"O God, you are my God, early in the morning I will seek you; 
my soul is thirsty for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, 
where no water is, to see our power and your glory, as I have see you
 in the sanctuary. Because your loving-kindness is better than life, 
my lips shall praise you. Thus, will I bless you while I live 
I will lift up my hand in your name. My soul shall be satisfied 
as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips, 
when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches."
Psalm 63:1-5

It is my desire to have a heart fully devoted to Christ. Yet, sometimes as I read how the prophets, David, Paul and others mentioned in the Bible were satisfied by their relationship with Christ I sense there is something missing in my relationship with Him. The feelings described in this passage are more in line with my emotions at times–emptiness, restlessness, loneliness, uneasiness, discontentment, or dissatisfaction. I think in my tendency to judge myself harshly, I tend to misinterpret what those feelings mean. After all, God created me to need to have a relationship with Him. When I forget that, I know it is easy to turn to worldly things to have those needs met. The "instant" society in which I live stirs up such a strong desire to have instant relief for uncomfortable feelings I experience. I don’t even realize sometimes it is God I am so desperately hungry or thirsty for. When I begin to grasp my deepest need is God, then I need to accept the desire for instant, forever satisfied feeling isn’t going to happen. As I am writing this, I realize what they penned was what they experienced and I know from reading David’s writings he felt both the hunger and the satisfaction. The question to be answered is: “How are we filled in our relationship with God to the point of satisfaction?”

Today’s passage gives us some answers for that question. The first thing David did in the morning was proclaim God is His God and then He went about His day looking for Him. There is something powerful about taking that ownership of his God. It makes it personal. It makes it real. He didn't see God as some lofty being high in the heavens God. David knew the things of the world would not satisfy him and he longed to see God's glory as he had in that past. It is the same way I feel when I think of mountain top experiences in which I was so filled with His love I was overwhelmed, when I was being gently convicted of sin by His Sweet spirit, when I was being blessed by someone’s words that were words I needed to hear. when God answered prayer so specifically it showed both His power and His intimate involvement in my life. I also see His glory through the scriptures or when I see His image in others. It is important to realize God is not just at church, at camp, at retreats, or on mission trips--He is in my every day mundane life.

The times I find it the hardest to realize I am thirsty for God is when I feel discontent, lonely, or anxious. It's easy to look at what is visible to figure out what I need, than to go to the invisible things that touch my heart. Yet, that is when it is most important for me to declare that He is MY GOD! He is found even in the mundane–in changed attitudes, Christian fellowship, exchanges with friends, in trials, and small spiritual victories.

I will be filled if I greet God every morning with Praise. I so often overlook His loving-kindness, but His mercies are new every day. As I declare His praises, I defeat the enemy who wants me to neglect my relationship with God to live in a state of half way believing God. If I praise Him for His holiness, I will be less likely to play with sin and develop an ever growing desire to be holy like He is. If I praise Him for His love, I won't believe I am not loved or accepted. If I praise Him for His mercy, I won't think God can't forgive me when I confess sin. If I praise Him for His strength, I will let His strength overcome my weaknesses and develop a special intimacy that comes with depending on Him in times of temptation.

If I praise Him for His creativity, I will seek to be more creative in the things that I do. It is important to understand God’s gift of appetites that need a daily filling are a gift. I used to feel so sinful if I felt satisfied one day and not the next. He wants us daily to seek Him daily and He daily wants to fill us. It is possible that when He fills me and I feel satisfied today, that He truly meant that filling to be only for today and that it is so I will approach Him with my hungry heart tomorrow! It isn’t a sign of defective Christianity, it is a sign of humility to recognize my humanness and go to Him daily.

Finally, the last part of the passage is David claiming his soul will be satisfied and he will praise God with JOY! We need to notice why that is possible. Whether David went to bed or stayed up for some reason He meditated on the Lord. I know I would benefit from trying to meditate on Him and His word before I go to sleep. This equates to putting the "mind of Christ" in my mind and then moving it to my heart by meditating on it. I would benefit in hard situations by asking myself how different scripture or God's character affect the situations. I can make the scriptures personal, by praying about what I read and how it affects me personally and having a two way conversation with God. If I would take the time to ask myself questions and take the time to thoughtfully answer them it would help. For example, “What does it mean to you personally to be a child of God? As you answer it, think of His character and the things of the scripture that you know. What does it mean that you are one of His sheep and that He is the good shepherd? If I don’t know much about shepherding, would it help to do a word study or read about the occupation of being a shepherd?”

Sometimes I have an unfulfilling relationship with God, because I don't think what I have read or about the Lord Himself. It is no different than having a human friendship become estranged because I don't spend time nurturing or appreciating it. Relationships can be transformed with a commitment to love, appreciate, and relate to each other on a consistent basis…the same is true with my relationship with God. Now in closing, let me ask you what is the last thing you think about before you go to bed and the first thing that you think about when you wake up? What is it you are truly hungry or thirsty for? I hope that the answer is to see the glory and power of God and to have Him be the one who satisfies your deepest needs…anything less will be counterfeit. Can you hear Him calling you? Can you see His open arms? Can you hear the love song He is singing over you?

Prayer: Father, there are times when life is truly like being in the middle of a desert. We are so thirsty for You and don't even recognize the thirst for what it is. We keep reaching for something and don't ever feel satisfied. You are the one who created us and You know our deepest need. Help us to trust you to meet each need abundantly. Draw our thoughts and our hearts toward You when we first rise up and when we are lying down to sleep. We praise You for You are life. You are Holy. You are loving. You are kind. You are our God and we declare Your name unashamed! Teach us to sit at your feet and let you fill our needs. Forgive us for looking to things in this world to meet a need only you can meet! Amen.

The Greatest Command

"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself:'"
Matthew 22:37-39.

I find it interesting that this is this called the greatest commandment. It must be because the God we serve is a very relational God. It is also important because a person cannot sin by doing an unloving act at the same time that they are doing a loving one. No other commandments would be needed if we tried to do the most loving thing every time. We will not lie if we are trying to show love. We will not murder if we are trying to show love. We will not kill while we are showing love.

When I first read this passage I felt guilty. It was right after my first two children were born and I was passionately in love with my family. I told my pastor I was afraid I loved my family too much. Thankfully, he told me, "You don't love your husband or your children too much, maybe you just don't love God enough. If you keep getting to know Him, you will come to love Him as you should." Several years later I asked God to teach me to love Him as these verses describe. I expected His answer to come in the form of admonitions, but in the next 3-4 weeks I received daily lessons about how God loved me. They came in the form of scripture, sermons, books, encouragement notes, and praise music. The lessons to this day still continued to come.

The first lesson He taught me was that loving Him with all that I am depends on me first receiving His love. As I began to see that He loved me personally, not because He had to, I began to love Him. I realized the word "love" has been many distorted by our culture’s shallow meanings and selfish acts. "I love God" is said as flippantly as "I love pizza." In our society "love" has many depths. It can mean anything from "I don't like you, but I am supposed to," “I am interested in you,” “I enjoy spending time with you,” “I like you” to "I am consumed with passion for you."

There are so many descriptions of love in the Old Testament that can help us understand His love. It describes God as One who rejoices over us with singing. It describes His love in terms of intimacy like a mother has for her child and a husband has for his wife. He is even jealous for our loyalty and devotion. The Psalmist, David, found freedom to pour out his heart in pure honesty knowing God had His ears turned toward him. Christ also showed us the Father's heart. Something about Him invited people to live transparently even with their doubt, pride, and ignorance and yet He continuously demonstrated His love. He always looked past sin to the people He had come to redeem and change. He made loving choices in the face of adversity, hatred, misunderstanding, denial, and death. Even today, His love still invites us to come to Him.

It seems like to me that loving God and loving people are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. In Matthew 25 He equates loving people by meeting their needs to loving Him. He also calls us to love our enemies. He even went past telling us to love others as we love ourselves. John 13:34 says we are to love others as He loves us. That is definitely a higher calling. It means to love even when there is nothing loveable about the other person. It means to love in the face of rejection, in the face of hatred or coldness. To love like Him is to love with a perseverance this culture has lost. It means to love both boldly and tenderly.

I can't love like He does in and of myself. One year I was going to work in a Christian Camp to work for three weeks. The week before I left, my stepfather died while my husband was out of town and our oldest son had a motorcycle wreck. My son asked me to leave him in the emergency room and go upstairs to be with his best friends as they gave birth to a stillborn baby. I had not been home more than a few hours when a girl I was mentoring came by to tell me she was leaving the church and God to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. I left for camp feeling empty, knowing I had nothing left to give. As the band warmed up the first night, I was alone in the chapel and prayed, "Father, I have nothing left to give -- I need YOU." He filled me with such joy and love that I was overwhelmed. Through His love being shed abroad in my heart, I was able to love and serve those He had sent me to serve. I know it is God who gives me the love I have for students I work with. I have such a passion for them to know God intimately and to demonstrate their love with their lives. This "love thing", is in no way simple. In fact, it is a huge mystery! This awesome God we serve tells us to love Him with all that we are and to love others as He has loved us. Yet, without an understanding of His love for us, and without our lives being intricately intertwined with His we are incapable of doing so. Furthermore, we cannot love God without loving people, nor can we love people without loving God. I admit I am not fully "there" as far as loving God with all that I am, but I am humbled by His consistent love for me and comforted by the fact that the desire to love Him continues to grow with in my heart every day. How about you?

Prayer: Father, thank you for loving us with unconditional and sacrificial love. We don't deserve it. We can't earn it. Even more importantly there is nothing we can do to lose it. We thank you for sending your son to bridge the gap that our sin caused so that we could receive and bask in the warmth of your love. May we never grow cold towards you, but always passionate and ever pursing you with all that we are. Amen

Thursday, January 6, 2011

His Food

"In the meanwhile his disciples besought him, saying, "Master, eat." But he said unto them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about. Therefore said the disciples one to another, "Hath any man brought him anything to eat?" Jesus said unto them, "My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." – John 4:31-34

When I read this passage, I started laughing because it reminded me of my husband. One of his secretaries told me that he gets so busy she has to remind him to eat lunch. He does this at home as well when he works in the yard or a project that he is enjoying. He enjoys what he is doing so much that he is energized and doesn't need to eat. Christ, like my husband, enjoyed doing His father's will so much that He was energized by it. When He taught, witnessed, and reached out to people He was so content in doing what He was sent to do that it was like food to His soul. The disciples were showing concern for his health and his need of food when they told Him to eat. I don't think His response was a rebuke. I think He was simply telling them that He felt energized by obeying His father and doing the work God called Him to do.

Because the verses following this passage have Christ comparing the crowds following Him to fields that are ready to harvest, I would say that the obedience and the work that Christ is talking about is more than obeying His commands to not sin. It is using our spiritual gifts to build up the church and to edify and exhort each other so that the church is healthy and functioning the way it should be. It is not an accident that the individuals that compose the body called the church are from different schools or jobs or neighborhoods. God, in his sovereignty, has placed us where He has to be a light. The concept of some sowing and some reaping gives us more freedom and less pressure in witnessing in the realms we move in. Evangelism sometimes is taking them through all the steps at once, but evangelism can also be looked at as bringing them one step closer to God. We sow by both our lifestyles and our words. When we lovingly and humbly live a life that is holy and pleasing to God we witness to those around us by giving them a taste of what God is like. If they see that we don't gossip, that we don't pilfer from our boss, don’t vindictively compete, but encourage those around us they see that God is love. If we invite conversations at lunch and listen to another’s problems and encourage her with the truth she will see God is both full of grace and truth. When we are in tune to those around us and give an answer for the hope that is in us, others will look to God and wonder if He can give them hope. We should always be about the business of sowing or reaping, but at times we forget or neglect that responsibility. We need to be sure we are sowing seeds of righteousness and love so that we are pointing others to the Savior. Are we looking constantly for people with whom we can share the gospel? Are we using our gifts to exhort each other to love, to do good deeds, and to be about the Father's work?

Some people walk away from church and go after a sinful lifestyle for a season because they have not entered the Father's work and bored at church. It is not boring when we let God work through us. Just as Christ was energized and strengthened when He did the Father's work we will be, too. I experience that when I write, pray with someone, or when I share Christ. I experience that when a student I have mentored shares with me how they shared Christ with a friend or ministered to a Christian friend. I am energized by the fact that the person I mentored is walking in obedience. Notice joy comes in obedience, not in the fruit! In 2 John 4 John tells the people that he is writing to that he rejoices that he has found his children walking in truth. That is the way God is toward us!

Sometimes in dealing with personal issues we think we need more strength to obey Christ. Sometimes we think we need more knowledge about God, before we witness. Sometimes we think we need muster up more courage to speak God's truth to our friends. However the truth isn't that we need those things. We simply need to be willing to obey. In his book, Finishing Touches, Charles Swindoll puts those thoughts in their place, "We don't need more strength than the strength God gives us. We don't need more knowledge than we already have. All we need is the will to do what needs to be done."

Do you want an exciting life like Christ had? Do you want to be so excited and so energized about life that you forget to eat? If so, notice the fields around you that are ripe and enter into your Father's work. Does He want you to sow seeds of love, encouragement, truth, or exhortation? Does he want you to enter the harvest by sharing the gospel with someone?

Father, I love the fact that Your son came became a man and walked through life just like we do. Thank you for demonstrating Your heart to us through Him. Help us to see the field with Your eyes and put in us the same kind of love You have. Put us in the schools or the jobs or the mission fields as You wish so that there we are a light and there is a witness to those who need You. Amen.


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!