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!