Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year: Smile on, my friends...



Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Today my husband and I were discussing the blessings of 2010 month by month.  It was amazing to relive some of the greatest moments of our lives- from the small blessings of an incredible concert, to the miraculous gift of our baby girl.  


I don't take it lightly that there are so many blessings to count.  I don't take for granted the ability to look ahead at the future with anticipation.  But today, a little old lady changed my perspective.

I was making a quick Walmart run with my baby today, when I ran into an elderly woman.  I, of course, was in a hurry.  She, of course, wanted to chat.  "That's a beautiful coat you got on there" she said.  I politely said thank you, and made my way into the store.  Getting into line at customer service, guess who I see standing in front of me?

"Why hello again" she says.  "Look at that beautiful bundle of joy you have!"

And there began our 15 minute conversation, as we waited in line to make our returns. 

She told me about her family, her children and her grandchildren.  She shared about her journey as a mother, her struggles with almost losing one of her children, and her joys.  She wished us a Happy New Year....and told me to make sure I enjoy every moment with my little one, because they go by so fast. 

Everyone seems to say that, don't they?  But coming from this woman, it made all the difference.  You see, in our conversation today she also shared that she had just lost her precious husband just two few short months ago.  She told me of her grief and how some days were harder than others.  But all the while as she shared, she had an un-erasable smile on her face, and overflowing joy in her heart...

She blessed me.  And in her blessing me today, she challenged me.  

Just a few short hours ago my husband and I were counting our blessings, but what we SHOULD have been counting is HOW WE BLESSED OTHERS in 2010.

That, my friends, is really the question.  God's blessings on his children are inevitable...there will always be blessings to count, and we should always count them.  But that should not be the end of it.  There must be a response, on our part, to the blessings that we receive.  How did we give back?

How did we reach out to those around us?  How did we spread our smiles and our joy?  How did we invest in people's lives- our neighbors, our friends, the person standing behind us in the Walmart customer service line.  Who did we love and how well did we love them?  Did we reach out to the poor, the broken, and the needy?  Did we give to those who couldn't repay us?  Did we love those who didn't deserve it?  Did we bless others to the proportion that our Lord has blessed us? 

May God grant us new perspective as we enter into this new year.  May He challenge us to take our eyes off of ourselves as we make our way into 2011.  May we learn to go beyond counting our blessings, and begin to become accountable to how we have blessed others. 

I'm grateful for this perspective as I enter the New Year.  I am grateful for a sweet old woman, who even in her grief, took the time to smile on me.  My prayer is that her smiles will also bless you.  

May this be the year of spiritual change.  May it be the year of giving, and loving, and blessing.  Happy New Year Everyone.  Smile on, my friends. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Contentment Day 12: Christ.



Philippians 4:12-13
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength. 

Maybe some of you have noticed...Bible Gateway, along with other companies, have updated the NIV to the 2010 translation.  Essentially, you'll find the same messages at the root of every passage, with slight elaborations on some of the content. 


I chose to use the 2010 version in today's passage, because I think it describes so beautifully the foundational ingredient of reaching true contentment.

Paul is explaining all the things he has been through in his life.  And if you know anything about Paul's life- you know his struggles and challenges can be compared to some of the greatest in history.  He was a man who saw the bitter sting of imprisonment, hatred, and an early death- all for the name of the one He loved, all for the sake of the One who had changed his life. 

But at the end of it all- Paul was able to achieve true contentment.  He was wholly satisfied in his life, and no one could take that away from him.  And at the end of it all, his secret to contentment boiled down to one thing and one thing alone: Christ. 

It was Christ that saved this man from the pit of materialism, arrogance, hatred, and selfishness.  It was Christ who gave him purpose, a calling, and a reason to live.  It was Christ who filled him with compassion, love, and mercy.  It was Christ who took the nagging hole at the pit of his heart and filled it with His love. 

Paul found the secret to contentment that he had been searching for all his life...because Christ found him.  

Maybe you, too, have an aching void in your life.  A hole that you have long tried to silence with the things of this world only to find yourself frustrated and empty.  A hole that reminds you with each and every passing thought that your life is not as it should be.  Maybe you too, like Paul, have reached a point in your life where you are realizing that the only thing left to try is Jesus.  It's true, as the songwriter wrote: There's a God shaped hole in all of us.  And that's a hole that only He can fill. 

And I am so thankful He did.  I am so thankful that we serve a God who is gracious enough to find us, knowing that we aren't always able to find Him.  A God who humbled himself to the point of becoming one of us in order to help us know Him, in order to give us the chance to be loved by Him.  A God who gave His life so that we could fill the void in our life...and finally find the secret to contentment.  Finally find Him. 

This Christmas, may we understand the gift of Christ.  A God who became a man just to chase after those He loved.  Just to remind us that the hole in our heart is really perfectly made for Him. 

Let us allow Him to fill our hearts and our lives with that love...and truly find what it means to be content. 

Merry Christmas everyone.  May God grant each of you with the gift of contentment...the gift of Christ. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Contentment Day 11: Cognitive Therapy at its Finest...



Philippians 4:8
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

2010 (Part I): As the year 2010 comes to a close I realize that it's brought with it many challenges.  After finding out I was pregnant early in January, we soon found out we would also be moving as my due date approached.  My husband would be starting a new job half way across the country.  That meant one transition after another...and if you know anything about me, you know I hate change.  Not only were we expecting a little one, but we had to uproot our entire lives.  New job, new city, new baby...and a lot of boxes to pack.  I hate packing up.  All the boxes, and disarray...and try moving while you're entering your 3rd trimester of pregnancy.  So we make it to the big move and start our new life in a new state...only to find out that due to some state-to-state complications with my license...I can't start working!  Now I'm stuck with day upon day to just sit around and wait for the birth of my baby...with absolutely nothing to do.  And just when I finally get used to being unemployed...the baby decides to come along.  So then I go from having nothing to do, to having something to do every second of every day....with no breaks!  Being a mom has been quite a challenge...with little appreciation.   I've gone through some of my lowest points this past year.  What a year it has been.

2010 (Part II): As the year 2010 comes to a close I realize that it's brought with it many challenges...but those challenges have also ushered in some of the greatest joys I've ever experienced.  We were so blessed to find out we were expecting a baby at the start of the year.  And not only that, a baby girl...I had always dreamed of having a little baby girl.  Not only that, we found out we were moving half way across the country...closer to my family!  God was setting us up for the support he knew we would need when our little one came along.  Although moving can be a tough process, we were glad to watch it go smoothly.  John even ended up having some extra time off to help with all the packing.  Everything just fell into place, and thankfully a very-pregnant Deb was able to safely make the trek cross-country!  One blessing in disguise was when I found out I wouldn't be able to work right away.  I was stressed out at first, but soon I was able to see and appreciate that I really needed the time to rest.  There was a little bundle on the way and I needed to save up all my energy!  And God provided miraculously financially...we were thankful for that.  Right now I'm the mother of a beautiful, amazing, steal-your-breath-away baby girl who is the joy of our lives.  Watching her grow up has been a miracle to me, and has made me appreciate life in a greater way.  Being a mom has been a challenge, but every challenge is worth the joys that follow.  This has been a a year full of blessings undeserved.
____________________

Let me explain.  Today's post on contentment is centered around one topic: how we think.  

I read a book once in which the author was talking about the power of our thoughts.  She wrote two entries about her life, both of which were 100% true.  One positive, one negative.  She then challenged the reader to take a look at both entries and ask themselves the question in their own lives: Which entry do you spend the most time thinking about?

What a much needed slap in the face for most of us.  The reality is, each of us could come up with two separate stories in our lives...each story being 100% true.  One story- the list of positives.  The other- negatives.  Each story meshes together in a beautiful way to make up the threads of the canvas of our lives.  But for some reason...most of us have a tendency to really zoom in on one side and neglect the other.  The unfortunate thing is, the side we magnify is almost always the negative.

This bible passage, my friends, is cognitive therapy at it's finest: the challenge to take a look at our lives from the vantage point of the positive.  The call to totally rearrange the way that we think so that we can also transform the way that we live.

This mental renewal of the mind doesn't always come easy.  Our minds are like computers...and we program them to think a certain way.  We teach them.  And slowly these thoughts and patterns of thinking make their way into habits of thinking...sometimes permanently.

Changing these patterns takes work.  It's not easy to wake up everyday and "look at the bright side of things"...and that's not the point.  We aren't called to be optimists who forget reality, we are called to be optimists who create reality.  We get to pick the ending to our story.  You see, we're all offered the same plots in life- with joys and struggles, with sorrows and triumphs...but the ending is up to us.  And the ending is always created by the thoughts that rule our minds.

For me, I want the ending to be good.  I want to be able to look back at my life and see the mountain tops rather than linger in the valleys.  I want to learn how to take my thoughts captive and really hone in on whatever is true, noble, right,  pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy.  I want to train myself to think the way God calls me to think.  The way He thinks.


This is the way to contentment, my friends.  No matter what your story, no matter what you've been through or how you've lived your life, it's not too late- you can't go wrong if you follow that rule.  God can take your story and allow you to see it from His perspective...as a masterpiece.

May He give us to wisdom to live our lives in truth, in righteousness, and in purity.  May God give us the strength to see our lives as beautiful. And may we respond with a heart of contentment. 

**Response: I'd love to hear from you.  Take some time to share your stories with me- your positive and your negative one...and then ask yourself, which one do you make your home in?  Comment below!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Contentment Day 10: Connect With God (The Meaning of Weak Prayers)



Philippians 4:6-7
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

I'm reading a book about prayer right now called "Too Busy Not To Pray".   In this book, Bill Hybels confronts the reader with the idea that prayer isn't a problem of time, it's a problem of theology.  I mean, if you think about it, anyone who TRULY believed in the power of God and connecting with Him through prayer would either be ignorant or arrogant in their prayer failures.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense.  I mean, If we really believed in who God was, and really knew what He could do...imagine how that would change our prayer lives.  The funny thing is, most of us actually think we believe.  "I know God can do these things" we may say with our mouths, but our lives tell a whole different story, don't they?

And I guess this is why I believe this scripture is most important when we're looking at the topic of contentment, because it is when we CONNECT with God through prayer, that we give Him the authority to have His way in our lives.  

God has power over nature.  He has power over our hearts, our emotions, our minds.  He has power over our situations and our dilemmas.  And He even has power over our perspectives.  God takes the lame and makes them walk.  He brings joy to the depressed.  He gives direction to the lost.  He brings hope to the hopeless and peace to the restless. 

You say you believe this, but does your prayer life speak the same?

Praise God that He is faithful.  Praise Him that He hears us though our prayers are weak, selfish, scattered, and few and far between.  May He grant us the faith to believe in Him with our words and with our actions.  May He give us unwavering belief in who He is and what He can do in our lives.  May He teach us how to pray. 

The Lord's Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Contentment Day 9: Citizineship (Appetizers Aren't supposed to Fill You Up!)



Philippians 3:18-21
18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 

A few months ago I wrote about "The Gift of Unhappiness".  The post was a discussion of Max Lucado's idea that we will never be TRULY happy here on earth because we weren't made for this earth.  He eloquently reminds us that because this world is not our home, we can't get too comfortable here.  Our hearts should always be longing for more.

I have always loved this concept, because it has truly helped me get through some difficult moments in my life.  I love this concept so much that I thought it was worth re-posting about in this series on contentment.  The reality is, to reach contentment in our lives we have to remember that this world is not our home.  Like Paul explains, our citizenship is in heaven. 

Max Lucado puts it best in his book Heaven, God's Highest Hope:

"Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land...We are not happy here because we are not at home here. We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here. We are “like foreigners and strangers in this world” (1 Pet.
2:11).


Take a fish and place him on the beach.2 Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not. Then how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach simply because he was not made for the beach.


And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. 


Oh, you will have your moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead....
 

Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come."

And that is the key to contentment.  Remembering that this world is but an appetizer for what is to come.  It is not supposed to fill us up because it can't.  Too many of us put our highest hopes and expectations into this world, only to be let down time and time again.  Contentment is found when we let go of our expectations of what this world can offer us, and remember that the best is yet to come.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  


Thank you Father that the best is yet to come.  May we never be so satisfied with this world that we cease to long for more.  Give us contentment in our lives as we journey toward greater and greater things. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Contentment Day 8: Compared to Knowing Christ: (On Spiritual ADD)



Philippians 3:7-11
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Day 8 of contentment.  I don't know about you...but the road to contentment hasn't been as easy as it sounds.  There are so many components of selflessness and trust on this journey- and our flesh rages against those things. 

Today's lesson is no less difficult.  Today's lesson challenges us to take a look at our life from the bigger picture.  Paul challenges us to consider what really matters in this world and turn our backs on all other things.  

Paul starts off by discussing all the things that he can boast in...all the amazing things in his life, all that he had earned, all that he hadachieved.  He lists these things and then he says that compared to knowing Christ- all that stuff is just garbage.  What a perspective.  To him, knowing Jesus was so much greater than all of that "stuff".  He had learned not to get caught up in the things this world had to offer- and look up and something even greater: his God. 

I don't know about you, but for me that is a hard perspective to graspIt's hard to wake up everyday and remember that this life is just the background.  All this stuff get's in the way.  All the things we have and all the things we want.  All the things we strive for in this life.  And not just the good things, but even the bad.  I might even be able to say, especially the bad.  It seems as though that when I am going through something difficult, it's even easier to let that thing take up my entire vision. 

You see, I'm easily distracted.  At times, it feels as though I have a form of spiritual ADD.  It's not natural for me to live my life remembering that nothing matters more than knowing Jesus.  And not just to remember it, but to live that out. 

Paul had learned a contentment that could never be taken away from him, because he had learned to compare everything he went to in his life to that which was even better.  He didn't settle to live for that which was good, he lived for the greater things.  He lived to know God each and every single day.  In the triumphs and in the suffering- he allowed God to take center stage in his life. And from this he was never distracted. 

That perspective will bring us to true contentment.  When God is magnified in our life, all of a sudden things don't seem so bad.  

May God grant us the the gift of whole-hearted focus on who He is.  May He give us the desire to know Him more, and may that desire supersede any other thing that may distract us from this calling.  May we learn to consider everything in our life as garbage, compared to knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Contentment Day 7: Company- Stay Away from Grumpy...



Philippians 3:2
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh...

In yesterday's post about complaining, I was talking about a friend I have who never seems to be happy.  He's always complaining about something.  In fact, it kind of reminds me of a funny comedy bit from one of Conan O'brien's shows.  The discussion was about how everything around us is truly miraculous, from cell phones, to flight....yet we always have something to complain about. 

Today, we pick up where we left off...but on a whole new level.  The reality is, one way to purge ourselves from the trap of discontent is to check out the company that we keep.  Hang around complainers and you will find yourself molding into one. 

In today's text Paul is giving a warning about the kind of company we keep.  He was giving warning regarding the Judaizers of that day- people who were so stuck in religion and wrong beliefs about the faith.  They were always bringing down the people around them, making them feel as though their relationship with God was not enough, as though they needed to add to grace by "doing" rather than just "being".  Spending enough time with them was sure to be devastating to the life of the believer- and Paul warned them to watch out!

What a contrast from the company he was discussing in the previous chapter...people who lifted him up in encouragement and love.  People who came along side of him and of others with genuine affection and concern. 

But that is the sad truth of the matter...the people we spend the most time with will eventually infiltrate our lives with their attitudes and their beliefs.  Time and time again scripture discusses this concept:
Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character;
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. 

This is serious stuff here.  God knows how impressionable we are.  He knows that our flesh is naturally drawn to that which is negative.  He knows the power of personal relationships and the effect they can have on our spirits.

So take a look at your life today.  Take a look at who you are spending time with, and what you are allowing your ears to hear.  At the end of the day, you are the one who is responsible for the kind of things you allow to fill your heart and your mind.  Learn to keep good company.  Learn to be content.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Contentment Day 6: Are you still Complaining??



Philippians 2:14-16
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars int he universe...

If you are joining us for the first time- you're catching us on day 6 of a 12 days series on contentment.  Each day we have uncovered one step toward achieving a content life.  Day by day we've seen the secrets to contentment that Paul learned in his journey of faith.

Today we look at a difficult passage.  It's a difficult passage because it's something that each one of us struggles with on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  Complaining.

I have a friend who truly complains about everything.  He has a beautiful house, wonderful wife and child, a steady job and is in good health...but you'd never believe it by talking to him.  Every conversation we have seems like a list of all the terrible things that are going on in his life.  So much so, that he's started actually believing that list.  His negative attitude has made it's way into his heart...and frankly, he's not much fun to be around.  

I read a book on contentment by Linda Dillow.  In her book she talks about a missionary woman who passed away after many fruitful years of ministry in Africa.  She had lived a full life, serving God in the hundred-degree, no air-condition, jungles wih very miserable living conditions.  After she died her daughter found hidden deep in her journal what she called the "Prescription to Contentment":

-Never allow yourself to complain about anything-not even the weather.
-Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
-Never compare your lot with another's.
-Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
-Never dwell on tomorrow-remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours.
 
I love this list because it perfectly describes all the things that tend to drag us into the pit of discontent.  Just like my friend, the reality is, that which we fill our minds with will eventually seep into our hearts.  The toxic seeds of complaining will eventually take root in our lives and we will find ourselves living in a forest of despair, misery, and depression.  

Another reason I appreciate this prescription to contentment is because it points out some of the things we as believers do so innocently sometimes.  I mean, who of us hasn't complained about the weather?  The list could go on and on.  
 
The truth of the matter is, each one of our lives are filled with both positives and negatives.... complaining is simply the habit of choosing to spot-light those negatives, magnifying them to ourselves and to those around us.  In other words, it's the prescription for pain. 

Not only are we left in a state of misery, when we allow our mouths to complain we are portraying our God in a misleading way.  We are failing to shine like starts in a depraved world, but rather, conforming to it. 

Take inventory.  Out of all the words you speak in a day: what is coming out of your mouth these days?  What are you sharing with the world around you?  It it something that will lift up and encourage others?  Or is it something that will plant the seeds of bitterness and discontent in your heart and the hearts of those around you? 

I'll be the first to confess...it's time for a major change. 
 
Contentment:

 
 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Contentment Day 5: Considering Others (Hyu-mi-le-te)



Philippians 2:3-4
"...but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of other.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant..."


Yesterday we took a look at the Messiah complex, and the dangers of conceit which robs us of our ability to love and serve and strips us of our contentment.  The thing is, it doesn't end there.  Once we are free of conceit we are able to move into the next step of contentment: considering others.

Paul takes it one step further as he talks to the church in Philippi about joy and contentment.  He challenges them to put some walk to their talk by not just saying they are selfless- but by showing it.  The thing about true humility is that it is only proved in a persons life by their actions.  You can't proclaim that you are a humble person.  That doesn't work.  In fact, the ironic thing about humility is that by proclaiming it, you are acting out the very antithesis of humility.  *"One of the hardest things in the world is to stop being the prodigal son without turning into the elder brother"

And Paul calls us to do just that.  To live a life of love, service, and compassion as we exist with those around us.  Considering others.  In my opinion, this is the fifth step to contentment. 

There is truly something about considering the needs of others that draws us miraculously outside of ourselves.  There is something freeing about stepping out of our selfishness and stepping into the role of a servant.  Just like our Lord, who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant...just for the sake of love.  *"When Jesus came in the form of a servant, He was not disguising who God is....He was REVEALING Him...."

And this is what we are called to do.  To reveal God to the world around us. 

Paul is calling us to this kind of life because he knows that it is only through service that we will truly find the way to contentment.  Only by stepping out of ourselves will we be able to find the joy that we were looking for.  *"The reason we help others is not because we are strong and they need us; it is because if we don't help them, we will end up a hopeless relic".  We will end up selfish, cold-hearted, and blind to those around us.  Spiritually, we will end up dead. 

May God give us the strength to take our eyes off of ourselves for just a second, and look around to the needs of those around us.  May He free us from the addictions of self and usher us into the humility of our Lord.  



*Appropriate Smallness: The Practice of Servanthood.  The Life You've Always Wanted, by John Ortberg.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 4 of Contentment: Conceit- The Messiah Complex


Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…

One of my favorite stories is cited by John Ortberg in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”.  In this book he exposes the story of three chronic psychiatric patients at a hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan
Each one of these men had the steadfast belief that they were truly the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.  They all maintained the fact that this world revolved around them.  

Ortberg discusses the research and treatment that went into these men, with a so called “Messiah Complex” .  In an attempt to bring them back to reality, Dr. Rokeach confined them all within the limits of the same walls and watched them as they ate together, slept together, and communed together.  These findings were recorded in his book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti”.

Crazy, isn’t it?  To think that humans could live with such a delusion.  To think that people could actually believe that the world revolves around them.  To think that there could be someone who actually carries selfishness and conceit everywhere they go.  To think that the bitter root of pride could find its way into their hearts and slowly begin to seep into their lives.  

Well…when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound so crazy after all, does it?  I think that’s one of the reasons I love this story, and the commentary by John Ortberg.  It is an incredible reminder that we are all victims at some level of The Messiah Complex.  

God knows this about His people…and this issue is addressed time and time again in Scriptures.  We are challenged as children of God to run from pride and conceit, to consider others better than ourselves, and to put others first in our lives.  Paul reiterates in Chapter 2 of Philippians by calling us to do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Nothing…

And this is why I believe that the fourth step to contentment is truly that: striving to live a life free of conceit.  A life where, as Ortberg puts it, we learn to be “appropriately small”:

“The bitter irony is, the very delusion they clung to so tenaciously is what cut them off from life.  To stop being the messiah sounded terrifying, but it would have been their salvation if they had only tried.  If Leon, Joseph, and Clyde could have stopped competing to see who gets to be the messiah, they could have become Leon, and Joseph, and Clyde…

Your world could grow infinitely bigger if you were only willing to become ‘appropriately small’”.  

The danger of pride is that it inhibits our ability to love, to serve, and to give.  It sets us up as “greater than” and eventually sets us apart from both God and man.  We find ourselves alone…isolated…and inaccessible to those around us.  And at the end of that lonely road we find that we are starved of contentment.  

"God's great, holy joke about the Messiah complex is this: Every human being who has ever lived has suffered from it- except one.  And He was the Messiah"

May God save us from the prison of conceit.  May He open our eyes to the pride in our hearts and teach us to live a life of humility.  May He show us Himself in such a powerful way that we cannot be confused as to who the true Messiah really is.  

Lord, save us from ourselves. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 3 to Contentment: Courage (Why Paul was NOT a Scaredy Cat)



Philippians 1:20
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Courage.  That is the definite theme of day three of contentment: because it is courage that gives us the strength and power to move forward in times where the temptation is to cease, and it is courage that allows us to look ahead even when this moment is all that can be seen.

Paul was a man of courage.  Courage in his life, but even more so, courage in his death.  Courage that stemmed from the fact that this life was not the end of the road, but only just the beginning.  Courage that understood that though this world may fail him, there was a God who never would.  Courage that believed that the joys of this world were nothing in comparison to what was to come.  And that the suffering of this day would soon be drowned out by the beauty of the days to come. 

Because he always knew there was more to this life, Paul was able to really live.  Ironic, isn't it?  When you can see this life as just the journey toward the final destination, all of a sudden things look brighter.  All of a sudden you feel stronger.  All of a sudden the glimpse of the eternal erases the woes and worries of the temporal.  And you find yourself filled with an unexplainable strength.  Unfathomable joy.  Unexpected contentment.  

This is true courage.  The ability to live this life, content in the face of whatever comes our way...content because we see this life as but a moment in the scope of forever. 

May God grant us the ability to see past that which is temporal and look toward the eternal.  May He give us the grace to remember that this world really is not out home.  And may He give us the courage to live this life to its fullest- realizing that death is only the door to our final destination.

“Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” -St. Augustine

Follow along on our journey to contentment: 
Day 1:  Confidence

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Contentment Day 2: The Sting of Competition





15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Welcome to Day 2 of our study.  We’re studying the book of Philippians for the next 10 days toward Christmas, in an attempt to grasp the lessons learned by Paul on his journey toward living a content life.  Through this study may God grant us the ability to see past society’s obsession with commercialism and materialism.  From wanting more of things, to wanting more of Him. 

Our first day took a look at the confidence Paul had in Jesus Christ and how his life was founded in that stability.  Today, we look at something a little different- something we need to purge from our hearts and from our lives: Competition. 

This passage has always struck me as peculiar.  Paul is discussing those who preach the gospel out of rivalry rather than love- the very opposite of what the gospel stands for.  I never understood why anyone would share God’s word with others out of a selfish heart…until I grew up into a woman, and began to see the twinges of competition and selfishness in my own life.

It’s true, like it or not, you at some point in your life have struggled with the idea of competition and comparison with those around you.  We are all chronic victims of this terrible disease.  And it is this disease that will lead us directly into the pit of unhappiness. 

Whether competing toward “winning souls” and preaching the gospel like those Paul mentioned in this chapter, or competing for the highest scores, best physique, or popularity…comparing yourself with those around you will either lead to destruction & misery or vanity & pride.  There is always someone greater, wiser, and more beautiful than you - and there is always someone less than. 

The sting of competition is so deadly because it causes us to live our lives passively: out of reactions rather than actions.  And, ironic though it may be, reaction (by the very nature of the word) always comes in second.

God calls us to live our lives proactively, based on the individual calling He has given each one of us and the deliberate way He has made us.  He calls us to revel in who we are rather than rival at the lives of others. 

May you have the strength to close your eyes to the lives of others, and open your eyes to live the life God has given to you, to be present in it, and to be thankful for it.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Contentment Day 1: The Gift of Confidence


…being confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.

Intro: [The book of Philippians is a beautiful letter written by the apostle Paul during his arrest in Rome as he awaited his trial.  The ironic thing about this book is that though he is in chains while writing, and after beatings and humiliation, the ongoing theme of this book can be summed up by one word: Joy.  

Paul was a man who had learned how to live a life of contentment- no matter the circumstances. 
As we dig into these words, I pray that his spirit of joy and peace will also saturate our lives, allowing us to take in our lives with contentment and satisfaction.]

In reading the book of Philippians, I’m struck by the many things Paul learned on his journey to contentment.  The reality of contentment is that it is just that: a journey.  It isn’t a magic potion or a miraculous gift.  Like Paul points out, it is a learned trait.  It’s a habit…and a habit of unhappiness in a person’s life can only be overcome by a habit of contentment.  

It seems to me that one step toward learning contentment is found in the concept of confidence.  Paul had an unwavering confidence that stemmed from outside of his-self.  He stood on the solid ground of what Christ could do in his life and in the life of others and nothing could shake that belief.  

No matter what he went through, or what others around him went through, Paul was sure that Christ would carry him through…He would finish what He began, there was no doubt about that in Paul’s mind.  And it makes sense.

I mean, after such a miraculous interaction with the power of Jesus Christ, Paul was changed in an instant.  That powerful moment ingrained in him a confidence that could not be moved.  

I want that kind of confidence.  I want to believe that no matter what is going on in my life, that I serve a God who will carry it to completion…and not just any kind of completion, but something that ends in good- because that is who God is.  

I want to believe with all my heart that God is able to complete even the most difficult of situations and bring me through to the end.  I want a confidence that stems outside of my own power and will- but that is grounded firmly in the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done and will do in my life.  

And why not?  Paul’s transformation is not any more miraculous than my own.  A blind woman who now can see.  A lost soul who was compassionately found.  A dying spirit that was rescued from the grave.  I have seen that God is good, and I have seen what He can do…so why is it so difficult some days to have confidence in what He WILL do in my life and in my situation?  

When our eyes our fixed on Him, when we are confident in what He can do…no situation or circumstance can take away our joy.   

This is why I believe that the first key to contentment is found in confidence in Christ.  Because in this, we lay down our power and our pride, we lay down our trust in ourselves, we lay down what we know to be true and what we can see with our eyes in the moment- and proclaim that Christ can and will complete all that is good in our lives. 

Be confident.  He who began a good work in your life WILL carry it to completion…so step out of the way, and let Him.  

May God grant you the gift of confidence in who He is this Christmas season. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Praying to Moe, Curly, and Larry:



Philippians 4:6
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

A few months ago, I was having a chat with my cousin CharleneWe were discussing some issues that were going on in each of our lives, sharing our struggles and our concerns.  In the middle of our conversation, she stopped mid-sentence and said something that really challenged me and has caused me to be more deliberate in my life.  


"Debs, I want to stop praying to people"....


It was such a profound thought that it actually caught me off guard.  

I want to stop praying to people.  What she meant by that is something that we are all guilty of.  How many times do we take our needs and pour our hearts out to others...neglecting at the end of the line to pour these things out to God, the only one who can really do anything about them.  

Don't get me wrong, I believe there is something powerful about connecting with others in an intimate way, sharing struggles and allowing others to walk by our side through them.  But so often, we allow our venting to others to take the need of speaking to our Lord. 

We are so "talked out" by the end of the day.  And many times, all that talking actually makes us feel better....temporarily, of course.  Because when the line of people comes to it's end, we find that our problem is still lingering...

I was challenged that day to take my words more seriously, sharing them with a few selected friends...but more importantly, I was challenged to be deliberate in bringing my needs to Jesus.  I want to learn to vent to Him more than I vent to others.  I want it to become a natural and even necessary part of my life.  Because at the end of the day, He is the only one who holds the keys to healing, power, and change.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The One Thing I've Learned From Skipping Church:



Romans 1:20
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 

Okay, I'll fess up.  I haven't been to church in over a month.  Having an unpredictable newborn has made it difficult to get to church these days...and the times that we do make it, the little bundle of crying distraction that we face is too cute to ignore.  Though before I go on I have to say, I am really looking forward to getting back to church (hopefully you who have judged my absenteeism will continue on with reading now...;) 

But I must admit, taking a break from church has really opened my eyes to one thing: God is everywhere.  Somehow, He's been showing up outside of the boxes I tend to confine Him in...and He's been surprising me.

The beautiful thing about our Lord is that when we invite Him into our lives, He promises to make His home within us.  Church or no church.  He's alive and living within me.  And if I allow Him to, He reaches out and connects with me everyday. 

This has been the greatest lesson I have learned while being absent from church.  I have been challenged to see God beyond the four walls of a building, but rather, to see Him every day, in every thing.  And trust me, He has showed up.  In the autumn leaves, in the quiet and stillness, in the smiles of my baby girl, in the conversations with friends, in the words of Scripture, in my prayers. 

But one thing is for sure, I only find Him when I seek Him.  I guess that's the main lesson I'm learning in my life right now.  I'm learning to seek Him more...not on Sundays, Thanksgivings and Christmases....but every day.  In the mundane.  In the routine. It's sad that there are many who attend church every week, twice a week, and at the end of it find themselves full of religion, but never really having found God. 

This is the one thing I've learned from being absent from church: That church is really in my heart.  Lord, make your home in me again and again.  Give me the courage and the motivation to find you there.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why Everyone Thinks Christians Are Crazy:



2 Peter 2:1-3
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. 

I was flipping through the TV channels this morning and came across a show titled "Religious Program" in the TV Guide I decided to take a look.  Unfortunately, what I came across was far from religious.  


A Reverend (he has the nerve to call himself that), by the name of Peter Popoff was selling his "Miracle Spring Water" , claiming that this water would help you wipe away your debts by the "supernatural power of God".


I couldn't believe my eyes.  Here is a man, absolutely abusing his authority and misusing the name of God for spiritual gain.  I don't know about you, but in my opinion, this is a clear example of why many people think Christians are totally crazy.

Let me clarify by saying- this is not true Christianity. 

The word Christianity when pulled apart means Christ-likeness.  Those who know anything about Christ know that he was the furthest thing from a lying, stealing, fire-breathing evangelist out to make an extra buck.  In fact, Jesus Christ was nothing short of pure love.  He came as an advocate for the weak and the poor.  He came to heal the sick and mend the broken-hearted.  He came to love unto the point of death...and even then, to love more.

I find myself angry.  Less angry with Petter Popoff (although he did tick me off) and more angry with the Christian subculture at large.  Though you and I may not be guilty of TV scams, we have not always represented Christ as we should.  We have been greedy, arrogant, and prideful at times.  We have been harsh, judgmental, and straight up mean.  We have represented our SELF, far more than we have represented our Savior.  And though our sins may not be plastered on national TV, they still grieve the heart of God.  It's about time things change.

Christians, we can only do so much in preventing the misrepresentation from others- but we can do incredible things as a body if we will each take a look at ourselves and ask Jesus to give us direction in how we represent his name.  Ask him to open our eyes to the poor, the broken, and the needy.  Ask him for humility, love, and compassion. 

It's not too late, for there is still time for our Lord to save us from ourselves



      

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Husband Made Me Cry:



Ephesians 5:1-2
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved Children.  And live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

We started a new tradition in our family every thanksgiving since the death of my Uncle Abe.  Each member of the family draws two names out of a hat, and publicly shares the things they are thankful for about the name that they drew. 

This year, I got lucky.  One of the names I happened to draw was the name of my beloved husband.  It was my turn to share, and as all the things I wanted to share swirled around in my mind- I found myself choking up, tears streaming down my face, unable to say one word. 

You see, my husband made me cry. 

He made me cry because I am married to the most incredible man I know.  Words don't begin to do justice to the way he loves me and to the kind of man that he is.  He has a huge heart, overflowing with love and affection to those around him. He is truly an "imitator of God" in how he lives his life toward me. 

I visited Cornerstone Christian Fellowship one Sunday, and Pastor Jay happened to be sharing on the topics of love and marriage.  Something he said that day has profoundly impacted the way I live and will never be erased from my mind.  He challenged us as married couples to be the "closest thing to Jesus that your spouse will ever see". 

Now any of you who are married can understand what a feat that really is.  I mean, your spouse is one of the only people who experience you at your "finest"....when you're angry, hurting, worried and absolutely irritated.  They see you at your lowest points in life- as you take down the mask and show your true self to them.  And some days, that true self can be pretty ugly. 

I was challenged that day to really take a look at how I love my husband...and how I love others.  I want people to look at me and be able to say that I have lived my life as a reflection of the love of Jesus.  What an incredible honor...what an amazing challenge. 

I'm thankful for a husband who is truly a reflection of Christ...and more so, I am thankful for a God who gives us the greatest example of what it means to truly love.  May we be imitators of God in how we live and how we love. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

In God We Trust...Or do We?



Isaiah 26:3
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on Thee, because they trust in you. 

"Habit is overcome by habit.  A habit of worry must be replaced with a habit of trust"-Thomas A Kempis
It's sort of ironic that I carry around a purse full of coins that loudly proclaim my undivided trust in God...because the reality is, trust is something I struggle with each and every single day. 

And on top of my own trust issues...there's nothing more difficult than trusting God with your life...than trusting Him with the lives of others.  I've always struggled with this.  Anyone that knows me well will tell you - I tend to be a worrier.  I find myself particularly worried about things that are completely out of my hands, which in most cases, has to do with the people I love.

I worry about my husband, driving home from work on a snowy day.  I worry about my parents, their health, and the future.  I worry about my brother, hoping he makes all the best choices and decisions in his life.  I worry about the patients I see as a counselor- the difficult journeys that they face. I worry about my loved ones who don't know Jesus and the path their lives will take.  And now that I'm a mom, I find myself worrying about my baby girl...her health, her safety, her needs.

I know, I know...there are hundreds of verses in the bible about worry.  In fact, God clearly tells us not to worry about our lives, what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear.  And most days, I can ultimately grasp that.  I can hand Him my life.  I can face my fears.  I can trust Him with my future...

But what about the ones I love?  For some reason...for me, this kind of trust takes a greater faith. 

I'm learning to trust God with others.  It's been hard for me, but I am learning to let go and realize that He loves and cares for each and every one of them in ways I can't even comprehend.  I'm learning to hold those I love dearly with open hands trusting that there is a God who knows them far beyond my most intimate moments...and that He knows what's best.  He has their days numbered, their decisions guarded, and their lives protected.

He takes care of what I can't. 

If He really is God...He can be trusted.  And when we trust Him...we will finally be in perfect peace.  

So let's take some time to asses our beliefs: In God we trust...or do we?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The Everlasting Manna"- (Willy Wonka's Got Nothing on this One)



Exodus 16: 4
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread [manna] from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

I was talking to a friend the other day who was discussing how incredible it has been watching God provide for her.  Every day- somehow and some way- she gets through.  Her days have been hard...dealing with some incredibly difficult things...yet, everyday God pours down the grace she needs for that day.

Maybe you, too, are going through a trying time in your life.  There may be moments, or even days when it seems like your body is ready to shut down and you wonder how you will make it through. 

What I find astonishing is that for many Christians...getting to that point in life brings with it a sense of shame and humiliation.  Christians somehow have believed the lie that we are supposed to be strong, smiling individuals 95% of the time.  As if God requires his children to be perfectly happy and strong every moment of every day. 

If you think about it, that is exactly the opposite of the truth.  What makes a Christian truly a Christian comes down to one basic thing: their need for a Savior.  This need doesn't end at the point of salvation- it begins there. 

All throughout scripture we are faced with men and women who are crying out to God every single day...crying for healing, crying for hope, crying for joy...and even crying out for food.  The bible talks again and again about a God who comes for the needy and the sick....a God who answers those who are broken and hopeless....a God whose strength is offered once our strength begins to run out. 

And that is where we should find ourselves day after day...crying out for our daily bread.  Crying out for our Savior.  There is something terribly wrong if you find yourself as a Christian with little need for God's intervention on a daily basis. 

But for the rest of you....rejoice.  Rejoice because the quantity of your needs will never supersede the quality of his desire to quench and fulfill your needs.  Every last one.  And He will always be just in time. 

You see, Heaven will be filled with needy people....people who have finally made their way to the ultimate fulfillment of their every need.  The one true source of everlasting manna.   

Monday, November 8, 2010

White Noise:



1 Kings 19:11-13
 11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” 

   Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. 

   Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

Noise.  There is never a shortage.  Even right now as I write I hear music playing in the background, my baby cooing as she plays, the sound of the tea kettle boiling water, construction outside my window...we're constantly surrounded by noise.  Beautiful noises at times, annoying ones at others- yet no matter where we turn we can't escape it.


Last night at church we were discussing the topic of hearing God...listening for His voice in our lives.  We have a tendency to try and speak over Him in how we live.  Our prayer lives are reflective of that to be sure.  Lot's of talking going on...with very little listening.

But even for those of us who are desperately trying to listen- it doesn't always come easy.  We are bombarded by the loud hush of noises...each one doing its part in drowning Him out.  And as Elijah found out, His voice doesn't always come amongst the loudness of this world.

Wouldn't that be just like our God?  He comes in the quiet.  He comes when no one expects it.  In the quietness of a gentle whisper, in the subtlety of a little babe in a manger, in the humility of an uneducated carpenter.  No parades.  No banners.  No trumpets blaring.  He comes to the silence...hoping to find us there as well.  Hoping that we will leave the seduction of all the noises in our lives to meet Him.

I don't know about you but I find this a very daunting task.  It's hard to get away and get alone.  Sometimes entering the silence can be a scary thing...we're so comfortable with the noise.  Because sometimes, the silence can bring out in us things we were hoping to muffle through the noise in our lives.   

Join me in taking the risk of entering the silence...away from the distractions of this world.  Join me in taking steps into solitude and peace...watching, waiting to hear His voice.  Join me as we let the winds, the fire, and the earthquakes pass...and wait for His gentle whisper.


---

Check out Rob Bell's video and his thoughts on tuning out the noise in our lives: 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lessons from a McDonalds Drive Through: On Real comfort



2 Corinthians 1:3-4
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 

I was having a particularly difficult week.  My situation seemed quite over my head, and I wasn't sure how I was going to come out on the other side.  I didn't feel like I had the strength...nor was I sure if I even wanted the strength to get through.  Sometimes it seems easier just to give up, doesn't it? 

I had a short break in my day, and felt my stomach growling in hunger.  It was the first sign of hunger I had felt in many days, as my situation seemed to overwhelm even my natural desires.  The closest stop?  McDonalds.  Good ol' comfort food, maybe that would make me feel a little better.

As I pulled through the drive through and placed my order, a young man greeted me at the next window.  His dark, braided hair flowed in dread locks, tucked away in a ponytail behind his work visor. 

"How are you today, ma'am?"

"Doing well" I lied, "How about yourself?"

"I'm hanging in there."

We could have stopped there, and my flesh really wanted to.  I wasn't necessarily in the mood to have a chat...but something inside of my soul begged me to press on...

"Just hanging in there?  Well, is there anyway that I can be praying for you Ryan?" I chose to step outside of myself as I read the nametag on his uniform.

"I got lots of people praying for me, but sure.  Tomorrow is my birthday...and I'm working.  I have a job interview for a new job too.  Seems like all I do is work these days.  You see, life has been hard for me.  My dad died, my grandma recently died...and I'm just trying to make it through.  Their deaths really took a toll on my life, but, I guess I'm proud of myself that I've stayed off the streets and outta drugs.  I'm trying to get through, and go to college..."


We spoke for a good five minutes.  He shared some stories from his life and some of his struggles.  And believe it or not, there was not a single car waiting behind me in this usually busy location. 

I encouraged Ryan the best I could, and as I drove away, I prayed for him....that God would bless this young man, that he would strengthen him.  That God would work miracles in his life and most importantly show Himself to him.  That God would comfort his heart...and that he would bless him on his birthday, his job interview, and for the rest of his life.

I don't know how to explain it...but my interaction with Ryan that day was just what I needed to take my eyes off of myself for a moment.  I was able to comfort him...and in comforting him, I felt an overwhelming amount of peace, joy, and comfort.  I was able to step back and take a look at the purpose of my life...a purpose that had been buried by my emotions...a purpose that had taken the back seat to my anxiety and fears.   The purpose?  To love God...and to love others.  A purpose that overwhelms me with peace and grace every time I choose to accept it. 

I can honestly say, the greatest lesson I learned this week took place at a McDonald's drive through...one of the most unexpected places.  And at the end of the day, my comfort came not from a by then cold burger and fries....but by the precious love and grace of my Savior...a grace that floods my heart and carries me through: when I let it. 

Thank you God for your overwhelming comfort...help us to comfort others. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

For Anyone Who Thinks They're a Saint (Cuz you probably aren't) Revisited



As some of you know, I've been too busy to blog these days while juggling being a first time mom.  So October has been a month of blog revisits...taking a second look at some favorite posts.  Enjoy!

Philippians 1:6
He who began a good work in you will carry it into completion…

I met Tanya last year during one of our visits down into the project housing one Saturday morning.  Tanya is a 17 year old African American girl.  She’s had a hard life.  Most likely, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you some of the difficulties she’s been through. 

All that to say, there was something special about Tanya, something behind her loud-mouthed personality that rang with genuine passion.  Something behind her tough exterior that exuded with strength.  There was something, just something that drew me to her.  Tanya and I began a really unique friendship.  We started hanging out on a regular basis and little by little she began to entrust me with the pages of her life’s story; some pages sad, some exciting, and some that made me sick to my stomach just hearing about. 

One day last year, outside of her downtown neighborhood, in my car parked on the side of a one way road, Tanya decided that she needed something more.  Right there in my car, she and I prayed, and she gave her heart to Jesus, and her life to the will of God.  It was a beautiful moment, a moment I will never forget. 

I saw Tanya this weekend.  My husband and I took her out to lunch to catch up with her and spend some time with her.  We had talked over the phone, but I hadn’t seen her in over two months with the business of the holiday season. 

As we talked, she told us the stories of how she is changing her life around.  She’s making decisions to take school seriously, to quit the drug addictions that have been holding her back, to focus on restoring her self-esteem and body image, and frankly, to stay away from the friends that had once held her back.  She’s learning to control her anger and forgive.  She’s learning to love herself.

She told me once, “I never really knew how to care about myself til I met you and you showed me how to care…”

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a saint.  And most likely, neither are you.  I’m realizing this more and more and that is the purpose of this post.  So many times we get fooled into thinking that only certain people have the “gifts” of reaching out…as though doing God's work has something to do with us.  I am here to remind you that that is a blatant lie.  I did nothing for this girl but lead her to true Love…and each and every one of us is called to that.  Because at the end of the day, ministry has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God.  HE is the one that must work in hearts and lives. 

Beyond ALL our gifts and ALL our love, what I’m amazed by is the fact that in two months….I had absolutely nothing to do with this girl’s spiritual growth and maturation.  I wasn’t even aware that it was happening.  It was entirely, completely, 100% the work of God’s spirit in her life….God’s spirit, who entered her heart a few months ago one evening on the side of the road.  God’s spirit who comes with power, reminding us that He is the one who started this…and He is the one who will finish it.

He who began a good work will see it to completion.  Read that.  Get that.  Understand that.  You who may doubt the salvation of your loved one, you who may cry yourself to sleep for fear that your son, daughter, husband or wife will never know the love of Jesus, you whose faith is wavering because you are not seeing the kind of changes you wanted to see…He who began a good work will see it to completion. 

Let down your pride, and put down your human expectations.  You're not a saint.  This is not your work and it never was.  The only thing asked of you is obedience….the rest is entirely up to Him.  Let him do His job because, I guarantee, the end result will be far more glorious than we could have ever dreamed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Faith Til Death Revisited:



[Some thoughts on faith: Still haven't really grasped the full meaning of these verses, but here are some of my initial thoughts.  Would love to hear your thoughts on what you take from them.]

Hebrews 11:39-40
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.  

My definition of faith has been put to the test this year.  The main contributor to this challenge has been the list of unknowns that are constantly looming.  It’s hard to have faith in the unknown, in the unseen.  But on the other hand, as I’ve been learning, faith can only truly exist when there are unknowns…when things are unseen.  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (vs. 1).  Once what is unseen becomes what can be seen, it no longer requires faith.  Once what is hoped for becomes what is actual, faith no longer has a function.

That perspective changes things for me.  I’ve always just assumed that faith brought with it proof- the moving of a mountain, the raising of the dead, the healing of the sick.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe all those things do require true faith…but the height of faith comes in the moments before those things occur.  The power is in the hoped for rather than the actual. Waiting for the mountain to move requires more faith than actually watching it move because faith is birthed in the moments of the unseen.  Faith is birthed in the unknown.

That perspective changes things for me because, now, I survey my life with a different measure of faith.  Rather than count the miracles I have witnessed (which I can maybe count on one hand) or the answered prayers…I now look at faith in a new way…I look for the "moments before".  I look for the fertile soil in my life in which God may plant His seeds of faith.  The vague future…the unanswered questions…the prayers still waiting to be crossed off the list…a faith that stands sure in what is hoped for, and certain of what is still unseen.  A faith that continues to believe, even in the face of death.

That verse never struck me so much as it did this time around.  I’ve loved chapter 11 of Hebrews- the “faith hall of fame” as they called it.  The stories of heroes of faith.  Heroes who saw God at work and gave their all for His name.  What solidified their faith even more to me was when I grasped that small verse at the very end, those few words that finally made so much sense in light of the definition of faith: “yet none of them received what had been promised”.  Men and women who were so certain of the unseen that even in their dying moments- having never seen- they held on to their faith, because they knew their God.  And with the voice of Job I hear these faithful say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

I want this kind of faith.  A faith that is not rooted in the end result, but rooted only in Him.  A faith that doesn’t end with the miracle, but is fueled by it.  A faith that holds fast in the face of the unknown, in the face of the uncertain, and even continues in the face of death. 

Lord, thank you for the unknowns, creating fertile soul for our faith.  We put our hope in You.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beer and Pizza Revisited:



[As some of you know, the past few weeks (four to be exact) I have been preoccupied by a beautiful little baby girl who has taken every waking (and sleeping) moment  I have.  Inevitably, my time for blogging has decreased, and my posts have been few and far between.  For this reason, and until I can find some extra spare time, I am dedicating the next few blog posts to revisiting my posts from the past...some old thoughts that are worth taking a second look.  May you be encouraged by the past as you look toward your future.]

1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

Since listening to John Piper’s sermon last week, my perspective on things has begun to slowly transform.  He challenged Christians to live this life with one focused pursuit- doing the work of God; pointing others to Him through our love.

He reminded us that this life isn’t for “vacation“, that in fact, we will have eternal vacationing- or as he put it, “eternal TV watching” when we enjoy that which we were made for one day: reveling in the presence of our Lord. 

Ironically, the week after I heard this message- John and I were headed for some of our own “vacationing” in San Francisco.  Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think there is anything wrong with vacationing, in fact- I believe we need it.  I sure did.  We need time built into our lives to enjoy relationships, to enjoy our surroundings, and to simply rest.

But, I believe the underlying question John Piper was addressing in his message is this:  what do we live for?  What do we spend our lives in pursuit of?  Unfortunately, too many times the answer is not the glory of God, but rather a long list of meaningless things. 

So for me, this week, I asked God to change my perspective.  I had asked Him to give me a renewed desire for His glory, and a preoccupation with His work.  And here’s what happened:

___

The streets of San Francisco are always in a hustle.  It’s a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people.  On our last evening there, John and I decided to have a picnic at Union Square, the park in the center of the city.  We got our Blondie’s pizza, found a table to sit, and sat to enjoy one another’s company and take in the sights of the city.

As we were eating, I noticed a man sitting in a bench beside us.  I couldn’t help but observe that he looked somber.  He sat alone, and every few minutes, he would pick up his wrinkled brown bag, and take a sip of the drink inside.

I couldn’t get his sad look out of my mind.  No matter what I tried to do to distract myself, I found my eyes would keep wandering back to him, wondering what was causing this man to look so serious.  I felt the prodding of the Holy Spirit getting stronger and stronger, the nagging preoccupation that I had asked God for was being birthed inside of my spirit.  So much so, that I couldn’t make it go away even when I tried. 

I turned to him and said, “Sir, are you hungry?  Would you like a slice of Pizza?  We’re going to have plenty left over.”

“I’m not really hungry, but sure, I will take a slice.”
And so our conversation began.  With one simple slice of pizza, Howard entered into our worlds, and we entered into his.

“Are you from the area?” we asked.  “No, I am from Manhattan, visiting San Francisco because my mom is very sick.”

Through the course of the conversation, we learned many things about Howard.  We learned of his deep concern as he watched his mom suffer through a merciless bout with cancer.  We learned of his many regrets- regrets that he had never invested in her life until now.  We learned of his deep worries, worries that she would soon be gone from his life, though she was the most important thing he had.  We learned about his struggle with religion, knowing a God who only loves when we are good- when we obey the rules.  Howard had broken the “rules”, many of them, he said.  In fact, he even said that he was breaking one of the rules in that  very moment, as he sat there with us, washing the last bite of his pizza down with his beer. 

We learned a lot about Howard that day, and then we shared with Him about the love of the God that we knew.  A God who deeply hurts when we are hurting.  A God who cares greatly for our loved ones.  A God who has the power to heal bodies and repair broken relationships.  A God who forgives us even before we ask.  A God who’s lavish love alone brings us to repentance…not the other way around. 

We prayed with Howard that evening, before we said goodbye.  It was a wonderful moment, and afterward he looked up and said, “Wow, that was a powerful prayer”.  God knew exactly what Howard needed to hear that day, and He gave us the words to convey those things. 

I learned a powerful lesson this week.  First, I learned that I am not diligent enough in doing God’s work.  How many Howard’s have I interacted with- not giving a moment’s thought to their spiritual needs?  How many days have gone by where I have not asked God to give me a preoccupation with His work?  How many opportunities have been missed because I frankly didn’t care enough to take the time. 

Secondly, I learned the important truth that no matter what we are doing- we can be used by God.  We don’t have to be at our Saturday morning church ministry.  We don’t have to be at a homeless shelter feeding the poor.  It doesn’t have to be a special moment.  We don’t have to have special words.  And we certainly don’t have to be a special person.  In fact, He is glorified more because we are not.

The truth is, God can and WILL be glorified in every part of our lives- whether or not we take part in that is our decision.   So this week, friends, whether you eat, or whether you drink, whether you work or stay at home, whether you go for a run or to the grocery store, whether you attend a church service or visit a friend, whether you meet a Howard or an old friend- remember this: do it all for the glory of God.  Amen.