Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's been a while...

... and I don't want to bore anyone with the details of the last 3 months. So let's just say, Isaac graduated, I did virtually nothing all summer, Isaac moved to college, and I am not considering re-entering the real world. I am not fully committed to that yet. Summer is so fun for me. Doing nothing can be so entertaining. But that's not the point of today's blog. I have something far more important to say.

"Historical Jesus"

In my quiet time this morning I was rambling on about all sorts of issues in my life when it dawned on me that if I were really in the presence of Jesus, would I really be able to just keep babbling like this? Wouldn't I be a bit more awe struck and perhaps silent? It would certainly take Jesus to hush this girl. So I confessed right away that I was allowing insignificant stuff to hinder my time with my Lord. I remembered the Psalm that says Jesus - even in a crowd - is enthralled with me. So I paused to soak all this in and to give proper respect and attention to my Jesus.

Now, I have been doing a Bible study on 1 John. I'm really only at the beginning, but I have already learned so much. Did you know John was the last living apostle? People sought him out from all over the Roman Empire to hear him tell his stories about Jesus. He was the world's last connection to Christ. Ok, don't read anything into that. I don't mean that when John died, we lost our way to God. I just mean, he knew the stories and by the time he was in his 80s he probably told them in such a way that people hung on his every word. Church officials would interview him to ensure their practices were in line with Jesus' teachings. He was a strong link between Jesus and the new church.

In his first letter, John wrote to dispute the claims of the Gnostics. Who would name themselves that? Anyway, do you know what they believed? Here are a few things:
1. Jesus was not a man. He looked like a man, but he really wasn't. Why not? Because they also believed
2. Flesh is evil and spirit is good. Jesus could not have had flesh and been good. In following that logic, the also concluded that
3. Sins don't affect the flesh, so they don't really matter, and from that they decided
4. Sins don't really exist. So they did what ever they wanted.
I know you are thinking they were crazy, and they were. What's the point of a Savior, with or without flesh, if you don't sin? They talked themselves out of needing Him. And still they were influencing the church. They were leaving congregations, and causing real believers to doubt their salvation.

Don't lose me here. I know this is a lot of head stuff, but hang tight. I have a point.

So John wrote 1 John to assure the believers that they were saved. He said there were two tests to prove it: 1. They had a proper view of the nature of Jesus. John reminds them that he saw Jesus, he touched Jesus, he studied Jesus. Jesus certainly had flesh. The recipients of his letter had received that truth and believed it.
2. They had a proper view of sin. They acknowledged that they had sinned. Therefore, God, who is faithful and just, had forgiven them.

Now this is where it gets fascinating. I started contemplating John's relationship with Jesus. He had been a fisherman and left his occupation to follow Jesus. He lived with Him, he ate with Him, he fished with Him. He even saw Him die on the cross. He saw the blood flow. Not only this, but John alone got the task of taking care of Mary after Jesus died. John certainly knew the humanity of Jesus.

But that's not all. In Matthew 17, we're told John saw Jesus transfigured. That means he saw Jesus in His glory, as He was in heaven before He came to earth. Veggie Tales says it like this: He was real shiny! John saw Jesus as Abraham did when Jesus came to tell him Sarah would have a baby, as Hagar did when she thought she and Ishmael would die in the desert, as Joshua did before he went into battle. John not only knew the humanity of Jesus; He knew and experienced the deity of Christ as well.

If that doesn't make you want to knock on John's mansion door some day, I don't know what would. I, for one, have lots of questions.

It's plain no one was better qualified to speak with authority on the nature of Christ than John.

At this point, the history buff in me was tingling all over. Call me weak in my faith, but I get excited when I get historical proof. Sometimes I just need the boost. I need to see the scars and put my hand in the wounds. So when my study led me to two other historical references to Christ, I just nearly came unglued.

1. Tacitus wrote around 109 AD, "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus..."
2. Josephus wrote in 90 AD, "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

Are you not blessed by this? As early as 60 years after Christ's death and resurrection, a historian, who never became a believer, made mention of Him. If you wanted to write down what happened 60 years ago, would you not find someone who was alive then and ask them? Wouldn't you expect a relatively accurate account of what went on in that time? This is like getting it straight from the horse's mouth. In courts, hearsay is not admissible, but witnesses are often called to testify on subjects that they are considered experts. Here we have 3 men, John, Tacitus, and Josephus, giving either their own expert witness or the written version of someone else's expertise. As my Bible study author said, "JESUS WAS A MAN IN HISTORY."

I still haven't made my point. I still haven't told you how He really led me this morning to worship. I sat in my bed pondering all this. Some of it I'd been digesting for a week; some of it was fresh on my mind. And here's what came to me:

Jesus must have been a huge deal. He worked miracles. He opened eyes, He raised the dead. Sometimes I think we dismiss those because we don't see them happening. We read Jesus' story like it's a fairy tale, but Josephus said Jesus' works were so wonderful he doubted calling Him a man did Him justice. Jesus stopped people from working, and they followed Him. He entered villages, and everyone stopped what they were doing to see Him. People crowded into strangers' houses to catch a glimpse of or to touch Him. Crowds of thousands followed Him for days without food. Don't overlook this. What if someone came to Austin and life as we know it stopped? What if Dell and Google employees walked away from their desks to see the newcomer? What if 5000 men were sitting on the shore of Town Lake, not for a concert, but for a sermon? What if they sat there 3 days? What if their kids weren't in school all that time? Would it not be on the news?

Jesus was a big deal. He was real. He walked on earth and dramatically rocked people's worlds. He altered history. He changed the calendar. He took over the Roman Empire. No one like Him ever existed. He is God eternal. He was a man so we could know Him. He alone is worthy of our praise.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Monday, May 2, 2011

I'm busy, but I can't remember with what!

If I could focus long enough to write a "to do" list for the next 3 weeks, it would have things like: mail the last graduation invitations, grade the final school assignments, register for summer activities and Bekah's SAT, spray for poison ivy, buy tissues for graduation, and on, and on, and on. (In case I haven't been outspoken enough and drawn enough attention to myself for everyone to know, Isaac, my firstborn, graduates in two weeks. There are related events this week, the next and the next. There is also real, ordinary life happening simultaneously.)

Today I had the kind of morning when you wake up, knowing there are at least one million things to do, but you can't remember any of them, so you nervously pace the house and dabble here and there. Meanwhile, your heart races and your head hurts, and at some point you realize you are getting absolutely nothing accomplished.

I knew when I woke up I'd be most productive if I had a quiet time first. Some famous theologian once said he had too much to do in a day not to begin by talking to the Lord. In my head that makes sense. Still, I took time to get a few obvious and simple chores done, I read all about Osama bin Laden and checked the weather, and I spent time on facebook. Then, when it dawned on me that I wasn't making progress, I finally sat down to have a little talk with Jesus.

"Savior, I come. Quiet my soul." And He did. Of course. Almost immediately, He began to show me two ways the next few weeks could go.

The first way looked familiar. I could be busy with tasks and make lists and cross off duties as I get them done. I could race around like a chicken with my head cut off, asking the Lord to bless my efforts. I coudl boss my family around and lose my temper when they don't assume correctly what I am thinking or what they should be doing.

OR I could do something new and profound. I could put relationships first. I could spend the next 3 weeks focusing the bulk of my attention on my husband and my children. I could be attentive to their needs and trust God to be attentive to mine. The Lord spoke very specifically to me about my marriage.

Surely I am not the only wife who gets so consumed with life that she conveniently and habitually puts her husband on the back burner. It's easy to believe a grown man can take care of himself while I tend to the rest of the world. Maybe you find it odd that when I come to Jesus in prayer and ask for help, He speaks words like, "Tend to your husband." I do too. The only thing I can think of is that He's trying to make sure that I don't panic and allow the things that seem urgent have tyrannical rule over my life. Stay focused. Continue to invest in what matters. Why should the events of the next few weeks take precedence over your family and over relationships? What is so important?

The interesting thing to me is that in His mercy, He showed me this at the onset. In kindness, the Lord spoke to me before I even stepped into the water. He didn't wait until I was knee deep in a whirlpool to say, "Shoulda, coulda, woulda."

To confirm for me what He was talking about, He took me to Zechariah 4 today.

 1And(A) the angel who talked with me came again(B) and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. 2And he said to me, "What do you see?" I said, "I see, and behold,(C) a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and(D) seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3And there are(E) two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." 4And I said to(F) the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" 5Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me,(G) "Do you not know what these are?" I said, "No, my lord." 6Then he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to(H) Zerubbabel:(I) Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. 7Who are you,(J) O great mountain? Before(K) Zerubbabel(L) you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward(M) the top stone amid shouts of 'Grace, grace to it!'"
 8Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 9(N) "The hands of(O) Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also(P) complete it.(Q) Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

There is so much in these 9 verses for us to learn historically and spiritually, but here's what I got out of it that relates to my busy-ness:

The lampstand is God. The bowl is the Holy Spirit, full of oil to anoint the saints and to empower them. The olive trees represent the lawgiver and the priest. Jesus fulfills both of those roles, and by the pressing of those olive trees, the bowl is filled. In other words, Jesus supplies the oil (salvation) that the Holy Spirit pours out on us to be and do what we are made to be and do.

And the angel used this picture to show Zechariah that in human power the task of building the temple was impossible. It would require the Work of God. The people must put their faith in Christ and be filled with His Spirit to do what God was asking them to do. And as the mountains were leveled, as the work was completed, the people would acknowledge that it was all because of GRACE!

Oh, sweet readers of this blog! We must understand that the very breath we take in this instance is an act of grace. We must depend wholly on God, not just for salvation, but for every minute of life and every task we take on. We cannot get to a point where we have learned enough or have enough power to stand on our own. We can only become more and more dependent on grace. Today, my prayer for myself and for those that read this (bless you for taking time to do so), is that we would stand under that lampstand and allow the Holy Spirit to anoint us with the oil from Christ. That we would rely fully on His work in us. And as He completes the tasks before us, may we stand up and shout, "It was grace!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Falling Flat on My Face

It's often that it happens that I read something, catch on to an idea, and spread the word without really allowing the concepts to penetrate my own heart. I'm quick on the pick up, and I get excited about something new, and my first instinct is to share it rather than learn it.

So just as often, God graciously backs me up with some words like, "Let's put into practice what you just put into words."

This exact scenario played out in my life last week. I sat in my chair at the computer and typed all about looking ahead to Christ, even in pain and trials. And no sooner was the blog posted than I got my feelings hurt and felt threatened and looked right down at my own belly button. I shrunk into self absorption.

Take a minute to stand up and try to retain your full height while looking at your own stomach. It's impossible to be all we are meant to be if we're all wound up in a ball of self. That picture just came to me, and I am sitting here, bending my neck toward my belly. The kids sitting behind me must think Mom's really lost it this time.

Carrying on, I fell flat on my face last week. I ate my words. I got called out on being a hearer and not a doer. I am so glad I did. I think I mentioned the last time I blogged that I was looking for ways to usher in true, authentic and sincere worship this Easter season. Well, there's nothing like getting caught in sin to remind you of the work Christ did on the cross. To think that I am forgiven! To consider His love for me when I behave like this! I am overwhelmed!

Don't mishear me. It's not like when God first said, "Excuse me, Teresa, I need to correct your attitudes and behaviors. You're a ways off track," that I replied, "Really, God? That's great! I was hoping to mess up so I could realize the full extent of Your love for me and understand better why Jesus suffered and died."

My reaction was more like, "Uh-uh. It's not my fault. I was prompted by so-and-so. Plus, hormones."

I love hormones. I blame them for everything. They take the fall when I break out and when I find new grey hair, when I lose my temper, and when I feel fat. Sometimes I think hormones are just a nick name for sin nature.

But now, a week later, in hind sight, I can see that God was up to something good. It is always His kindness that leads us to repentance. I heard a song this weekend that said something like - What if rain from the skies is really Your mercy in disguise? - Geez, if that doesn't grab your heart and make you take a closer look at what's going on, I don't know what will.

So I spent the better part of last week wrestling with God, sometimes on His team against myself, and sometimes against Him. I nursed my stiff neck and finally surrendered. And then you know what I needed? Some love!

I read a long time ago that after you discipline your child you should hug them and remind them you love them. Don't end with the spanking, but with a hug. I don't always remember that, but I did this weekend. I had been disciplined and corrected, and I wanted to crawl into my Father's lap and be held and rocked. So He let me up, and He spoke the most amazing words to me:

Jeremiah 31:20 Is not Ephraim my dear son,
   the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
   I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
   I have great compassion for him,”
            declares the LORD.

I could feel my broken heart being stitched back together. I am no different than Ephraim. God delights in me. He remembers me. God's heart yearns for me. He has great compassion for me. AND FOR YOU! Can you believe it? Could we be more loved and treasured?

I hope this week you are able to sense and experience the depths of the Father's love for you. Even if He speaks against you and corrects you, nothing will separate you from His love and compassion. He sees where you are and what you are battling. He sees your hurting, and He cares. He cannot forget you. He cannot give you what you think you deserve. He already gave that to Jesus on the cross. All that's left for you is His wide open arms for you to fall into and be held.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blessed Redeemer!

Believe it or not, I'm home alone. That doesn't often happen to a mom of 6. So I took full advantage of my time. I ignored dinner and laundry and the floors to play the piano and sing at the top of my lungs. Truly that's a noise only Jesus could appreciate, and even He might plug His ears on some notes. I wouldn't blame Him.

Anyway, being that Easter is coming, and I am trying to focus my heart and mind on Christ's sufferings and death to usher in appropriate and sincere worship on Resurrection Sunday, I sat down to play a few hymns.

A line in Blessed Redeemer struck me like a slap upside my head:

Father, forgive them
Thus He did pray
Even while His life-blood
Flowed fast away
Praying for sinners while in such woe
No one but Jesus ever loved so

The idea that while He was suffering He was praying for someone else just sent my head spinning.

I workout. You know, sit ups, pushups, running... I exercise. When you do a squat, so I've been told, it's proper form to look straight ahead or a little upward. When you do a plank or pushups, I believe you are supposed to look straight down. But a while back, I noticed something about my form. I could look ahead for the first few squats, but when my legs started hurting, and I started questioning if I was doing them correctly, I would look down. Same with pushups. As soon as I felt pain or the pulling of muscles, I immediately dropped my head and looked at myself. It really frustrated me, and so I asked God about it one day while I was working out. He said, point blank, "When it hurts, you quit trusting, and you get self focused." Say what? I thought about it a bit, and I realized it was true. I couldn't see the squats I was doing looking up at the trees. I couldn't tell if I was doing them correctly. I had to just assume that since my back was straight and my eyes were up, that I was doing well. When my legs started aching, I started doubting, so I needed to see with my eyes if my form was right. But then, by looking down, I bent my back and started using incorrect form.

Can you see where I am going? We walk by faith. We keep our eyes focused on Christ. But when it hurts, when we get offended or tired, or when we aren't sure we're doing right, we take our eyes off Christ and look at ourselves. We get absorbed in our pain and forget where we're going. Not only that, we stop trusting that Jesus is going to see us through the pain. We try to become self reliant. We want to decide what our walk should look like and where we should go and how it should feel.

The interesting thing about proper form is it's injury prevention. If I stay with my head tucked to my belly while I do pushups, I will end up with knots in my shoulders and neck that keep me stiff for days. You know what a stiff neck means, don't you? According to 2 Chronicles 30:8 ("Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the LORD,"), stiff necks are a result of rebellion and lack of submission. Stiff necks mean we lack proper form. We aren't bending the way God is asking us to go.

What does all this have to do with Jesus? Well, the way I see it is He was able to pray for sinners while on the cross because He had proper form. He kept His eyes on the Father.

1 Peter 2:23 says, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." Jesus trusted the Father to take care of Him. He didn't decide He hurt too much and was just going to come up with another way. He didn't for a moment lose sight of the mission He was on. His thoughts were beyond Himself and on to bringing glory to His Father and salvation to you and me. His pain was real and intense, yet He kept His focus on the task at hand. He finished the job.

What could prove His love for you more than this? He is a Blessed Redeemer!

P.S. If any of you that read this have a verse from Scripture or a line from a song that is helping you preprare spiritually for your Easter celebration, please share it by commenting on this blog. I'd love to see us encourage each other and together consider all that Jesus did for us at the cross.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Kernel of Wheat

For 3 years, Jesus had ministered to people. He had taught; he had healed. He was sought after for His miracles, and an awesome silence struck crowds when He spoke. His audience was often in the thousands, but occasionally he met privately with people in pursuit of truth.

But now it was the week of His death. A new day had dawned. In this last week, His ministry took a turn. His focus was changed.

John 12:23-24: Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

Jesus knew the things He had done to this point were good. His miracles were important. He had changed lives. He had abided in the will of the Father and accomplished all He was to do up to this point. Now, the climax, the ultimate purpose of His coming, was at hand. It was time for Jesus to die.

It must be so. His death was the only way to win our salvation. He would fall to the ground, and we would become the fruit of His obedience.

Yesterday, as I heard this story on the radio, I was on day 4 of wrestling with the Lord on a particular issue. My will vs. the will of God. To some of you, a wrestling match with God seems pointless. Why would I stand up to someone who is so strong and so right? Frankly, because I'm stubborn and foolish. Anyway, immediately, I thought to myself, "I also must die for God's full purpose in me to be fulfilled." I even said it outloud to one of my kids. I must completely lie down my own purposes, my own plans, and my own will. Anything "my" must go. And to the extent that I surrender all that is "mine," I will produce fruit.

Therefore, I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship...

A Second Look at Trials

Since it's been a few days, and life has bombarded me with many things to think about since I last posted, it would be easy to avoid writing the rest of my thoughts on the subject of trials and skip right to what's on my heart today. However, I've decided to add just a few more thoughts on my last posting because I really do think it's important that our perspectives get adjusted, especially mine.

Sometimes, I think we are weak in the area of trials. We consider inconviences and annoyances to be monumental sufferings. If I think about the things that bugged me yesterday - slow drivers, errors on the baseball field, oak pollen, a lack of caffeine and chocolate - those things were barely trials. When we talk about circumstances that build perseverance, we really aren't talking about taking the time to bake a potato in the oven instead of microwaving it. In our society, it's easy to feel robbed of time, our most precious resource, if things don't happen immediately and continually. Boredom and frustration set it very quickly. Do you get what I am saying? We are a bit soft and perhaps, forgive me if I offend you, a tad spoiled.

When Peter wrote to the church "scattered throughout..." it was around 63 AD. Nero was Emperor of Rome. He was an outlandish ruler. It was during his reign that persecution of the church became severe. Nero had Christians used as tiki torches for parties! Living as a believer under that kind of threat is a real trial, wouldn't you say?

I want to interject something nagging my mind. Cancer is not an inconvenience or an annoyance. Neither is any other life threatening or serious illness. I do understand that we face real trials in our world, but I am admitting that most of what I consider trials and sufferings are mere irritations. I certainly don't mean to downplay anyone's real struggles.

The early church knew a lot about genuine struggles. And Peter wrote to them about them. "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1: 6-7).

Paul referred to suffering in a similar manner 9 years earlier, just after Nero came to the throne."For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

Let me break these down for us:

1. Trials cause grief, but from the right perspective can be seen as light and momentary troubles.
2. Trials are real, but so is faith.
3. How we live through trials and sufferings proves our faith.
4. Faith is more valuable than even pure gold because it lasts. Gold can be destroyed. True faith cannot be.
5. Our troubles accomplish eternal purposes. The means are worth the end.
6. When our genuine faith is displayed in trials, we reveal Christ in us, and somehow, in some way, He is praised, glorified and honored.
7. We are not meant to be mastered by our trials, but we are to master them by focusing on the unseen and the eternal.

What if we greeted every struggle with a thank you to God? What if we welcomed every hardship with an expectation that God was up to something eternal and good? What if we cared more about glorifying Christ than having an easy day?

This rebuke is not intended for anyone but myself, but if it helps or encourages anyone else in some way, I'll be thrilled to know I'm not alone. We cannot escape trials, problems, issues, stuff... but we can face them head on with eyes up and focused on Christ.

Be blessed today!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Give this girl a pulpit; she's got a sermon to preach!

That's a fair warning that this blog is going to be a bit lengthy. The Lord just blew my mind with some ideas this morning, and I must share them. I hope and pray this encourages everyone who reads it.

Every morning my quiet times consist of some prayer and some Bible reading or study. Lately, I have journaled everyday to keep track of my prayers in hopes of being more consistent with my "thank you's" to Jesus. So this morning I was journaling, praying for several friends that seem to be dealing with "stuff." If you know anyone at all in the world, you know someone dealing with "stuff." So I was praying through my short list of stuff-dealers and asking God to work miracles in their lives. I thought I was praying in faith and believing for big things, and I was reasonably sure God was pleased with my boldness and my willingness to pray.

Then I opened my Bible study book: The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindoll. I've been reading slowly through this book for months now. I love it. Grace could actually reform the church. In fact, it was supposed to, but somewhere along the way we got hung up on religion and laws and outward appearances, and we stifled grace. When grace awakens, beware. The church will be who she was destined to be and the world will never be the same. I write all this, but believe you me, grace is a hard idea to grasp, especially if you're a rules and regulations kinda girl like me. Still, my mind and heart are awakening to new ideas, and in God's timing they'll click and hopefully make something beautiful happen.

Of course, I've bunny trailed during a blog that's already going to be long enough for 3 days. Ah, maybe I'll lure you back by creating cliff hangers. I love just thinking onto a computer screen. You smarties out there will diagnose me with all sorts of mental conditions if I stay this raw and unedited.

Here's what I read when I opened my book today. The section was titled: Claiming the Grace to Learn From What I Suffer. And immediately I had this idea. Praying in faith for big things to happen was great, but I was missing the point. God wants to do great things in people's lives, but what He really wants to do is produce something beautiful from our sufferings. It's part of our sanctification process. I can pray for quick, easy, miraculous fixes, and I will keep on doing so, but I must also pray for the lessons that are being taught are actually being learned.

This isn't a new idea to me, but I had forgotten it for a while. It's easy when you have a list a mile long of your own issues and requests and the requests of friends and loved ones to just read down it, asking God to save such and such, heal so and so, help this one, etc... We lose sight of the big picture. We forget (or we never know) what God might be doing with all this so called trouble.

So I asked myself: what's the point of all this suffering if something beautiful isn't coming out of it? I know God isn't just allowing these circumstances and trials in our lives to frustrate us. I know He's able to turn them into something good. Am I asking for that? A picture came into my mind: childbirth. The pain of labor is by no means something to scoff at. It's real. The bravest and strongest of women at least flinch. One thought makes it bearable, though, and that is knowing that at the end of the pain, the most beautiful, precious reward will be laid in our arms. Our suffering produces a treasure beyond compare. The pain is quickly forgotten as that sweet newborn lies across our stomach and begins to take notice of the world. Any suffering we endured becomes obsolete in light of that tender cry and soft skin.

That is how God is looking at our sufferings. He sees what they are producing in us. He sees the character being shaped. He sees beyond the temporary and into the eternal. So should we. We all have struggles and weaknesses that some days seem unbearable. Physical ailments, broken relationships, busy-ness and high demands - you name it, we are burdened with a lot of junk. It's easy to be beaten down by our circumstances. What we need is the grace to learn what the Lord is trying to teach us when He allows these things to come into our lives. We need the grace to be content in our weaknesses. Lord, help us. Like Stephen when he was dying, we need to look up and beyond ourselves to see the glory of God (Acts 7:55).

Look at James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The challenge from these verses is to consider our trials tests of faith. Really? Yes! We are saved by faith. Scripture is clear on that. James points out in his book that the kind of faith that saves us is the kind that produces good works. (Hear what I'm saying. We are saved by faith. Faith produces good works. I did not, nor will I say, that good works save us.) So this faith thing is a big deal. Time and again in Scripture we see people's faith being tested, and we are told ours will be. Why? James says so we can be mature and complete, not lacking anything. That's a pretty good reason. So when my day isn't going well or when someone is driving me crazy or my plans aren't working right, I must remind myself that my faith is being tested. If I believe and smile and act right when life's going my way, what testimony is that? It's when everything's topsy turvy that my faith really makes a statement. That's when people take notice. Tests of faith teach me to press on toward Christ. They cause me to pray more and depend more on Him. They prompt me to set aside myself and make room for His Spirit to work. If those things happen, I pass the test. I develop perseverance, and I get one step closer to maturity.

The other idea I pulled from this passage is that God wants us to be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Do you hear that? He wants us to have all we need and be all He made us to be. He wants His best for us. He wants to give us abundant life. He is good and kind, and I marvel at His desires for me. In ancient Rome, the gladiators fought in front of crowds that longed to see blood and death. They oo-ed and aw-ed over the suffering and the cruelty of the events. It was all part of the show. They were being entertained. God is not like that for a moment. We aren't actors in some sitcom He watches from a recliner in heaven. He isn't cheering for one of us and boo-ing the others. We are His children, and His desire is that we lack nothing. He wants us to persevere and learn from our struggles and fights. He's cheering us on to victory. God wants us to succeed.

I have more to say. I'll write again soon. In the mean time, take time to think about what trials you are facing. What are you struggling with? If you are breathing, something's pulling at you. It's just the way life is. Ask God what He's trying to teach you. Open your heart and mind to learn from your circumstances. And when you are praying for someone else, ask God to show them what they need to learn as well. Ask God for an eternal perspective on these puzzle pieces...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Risk Taker

I am not a risk taker. I don't ride roller coasters, and I can be pretty terrified of doing something wrong or failing. Only occasionally, I'll walk on the wild side. Every now and then I'll put myself out on a limb. I hope I do it more than I realize. I think taking risks can be a good thing. Risks, while they may expose vulnerabilities, can also create opportunities and expand possibilities. I guess the wisdom lies in deciding if the favorable outcome is worth the risk. Is what I am aiming for worth possibly missing the mark? I know someone who is a risk taker. He has an important goal in mind, so important He's taken enormous chances to achieve it.

God took a risk on us. He gave us a choice: to love Him or to reject Him. He took a big risk in the Garden of Eden. He put a tree there. He said, "You shouldn't eat from this tree." God gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey and show love. Why? Because when someone chooses to love, it's stronger, it's more authentic than someone who's programmed to love. I use this example with my sons. I tell them that when they were babies they loved me, not because they knew me or my personality or anything about me, but because I met their needs. I provided food and security and all they needed. It was a robotic and somewhat selfish type of love. As they have grown up, that love has progressed to a more sincere love. Now they know more about me. Now they choose to love me with their attitudes and actions and words. Yet, another even stronger love is around the corner for them. Someday a young lady will come into their lives, and with no obligation to do so, they will completely surrender themselves to her. They will make a choice to love her for the rest of their lives. The Bible describes this love as so powerful that a man will leave his parents and cleave to his wife. This love is strong enough that when it's chosen daily, repeatedly, it can cause a relationship to not only last a lifetime but to thrive for a lifetime as well. Do you get what I am saying? God didn't want to program us to love Him; He wanted us to choose to love Him because that's the better love. His goal was authentic love, and love was worth the risk of rejection.

(You theologically minded people, this is not meant to turn into a freewill vs predestination discussion, so don't go there. Let's save that for another day.)

God took a risk at the cross too. He exposed His heart and He sacrificed His Son. Those are two extreme choices. The Bible says that when Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple tore in two, revealing the Holy of Holies. This small room at the back of the temple was where the Ark of the Covenant stood. And this ark was the throne of God. In it were symbols of God's love and provision for His people. This room was so holy, so set apart, that only the high priests were allowed in it, and they could only go in once a year. But all that changed when Jesus died. The veil was ripped apart, and the throne of God, indeed the very heart of God, was exposed. Wow! What a risk to take - to share that much of yourself with the entire world, knowing that not everyone would believe and receive what you were offering.

When I thought about that this morning, I was reminded of a time I took a risk. I was single, working, and I had my own apartment. Stephan and I were dating, and he was over, but about to leave for work. I walked him to the door and very casually, without even thinking, I said, "Goodbye. I love you." Neither of us had ever said those words before. I immediately realized what I'd done and slammed the door. My heart was racing. I had just made myself vulnerable. I put my true feelings on the table. I couldn't take them back. They were there to be received or trampled, the choice was Stephan's. Fortunately for me, he chose to receive them and love me back. The reward was worth the risk.

God took much bigger risks that I did. His goal is much bigger than mine. He wants to shower us with love and affection and kindness. He wants us to know Him and to love Him and be satisfied by Him. He took some risks to make that kind of relationship between each of us and Him possible. He knew some would say no; He knew some would not believe. Yet, God considered the love from and the relationship with those that said yes worth the risks.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! 1 John 3:1
It was a few months ago when the term "Puzzle Pieces" popped in my head. I was sitting in my bed, trying to pray, but for some reason, thoughts of the puzzle I worked over Christmas break kept sneaking to the front of my mind. That puzzle had been a nightmare. It was supposedly 3-D, but really, all the pieces were rough and blurry, and when I looked at them from different angles they appeared different. Lighting had a bizarre effect on the pieces too. To complicate things, Bekah, my daughter, had just gotten a kitten: Kate. She was, and still is, about the cutest thing God ever made. She loved to play puzzle. She'd attack my hand and the pieces on the table, and when she was done playing and making a complete mess of things, Kate would curl up in the box and fall sound asleep. A cute distraction and a complicated project do not go well together. Nevertheless, I did complete the puzzle. And about a month later, try as I might to have something spiritually significant to say to God, all I could think about was this silly puzzle. And that's when it hit me! Life is like working a puzzle. Bit by bit, piece by piece, it all fits together to make something grand, a picture that makes sense and makes you smile. But while we hold individual pieces in our hands, it's easy to get confused, frustrated and lose sight of the big picture. Ah, I wasn't wasting time with the Lord. He was giving me a name for a ministry. He was saying, "Puzzle Pieces."

It took a few days before I told Stephan any of this, but once I did, I could see the idea of a blog taking shape. I got up my nerve to ask Bekah to get me started. I didn't have a clue about how a blog works; I still don't. Then I let it sit. Blank. Many times in the morning I would be inspired and hope to remember my thoughts until a less busy time of the day, but I never did. Then a friend told me I better hurry up and obey the Lord. So here I am.

My hope is that this blog will reach people, especially women, and encourage them. I want us to relate. Women have a lot in common, but busy-ness and insecurities, among other things, keep us from reaching out or sharing our lives. We can become lonely, discouraged and frustrated. I'd rather laugh and learn together. I'd like to inspire and encourage readers to live life and love life. I also hope this blog points people to Jesus. He's the reason I'm doing this. He's the brains behind the operation. If any good comes of this at all, even if it's just me organizing my own thoughts and no one else ever reads Puzzle Pieces, Jesus gets the credit. He started this, and He has purposes for it. I hope those will be accomplished.

May the Lord richly bless you as you walk the journey of life. May you find love and joy in Him.