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.