Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Money on the Mind: A Lesson on Daily Bread

Proverbs 30:8-9
Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

My husband and I were reading through Proverbs last night when we came upon this thought provoking verse.  The words of the writer have since then echoed in my mind, "Give me only my daily bread...."

The interesting thing about this passage is that it's probably a phrase that we say fairly often.  In fact, just this week I remember uttering these words at a prayer meeting as we were led in saying the Lord's prayer..."Give us this day our daily bread". 

As I think about this phrase, I'm afraid I've lost the full meaning of these powerful words.   I may utter this request in my prayers, but my life tells a different story. 

When I think of the term "daily bread", I think of the idea of "portion".  Requesting for my daily bread, then, is asking God to give me exactly what I need for that day- no more, no less.  I'm reminded of the story in Exodus, when God provided manna for the Israelites on a day to day basis.  They were commanded to gather only what they needed to eat for that day.  They were challenged to trust God even in this season of famine, that He would provide what they needed from day to day.  This required them to deny logic, to say no to the comfort of surplus, and to fully trust that God would be their provider.    They were asked to trust completely in their daily bread. 

Lately, daily bread is the last thing that my life seems to be asking for.  I long for surplus, for excess, for riches.  Many times, my peace seems to be rooted in these things, rather than in the sheer knowledge that my God will provide. 

The author of this proverb was truly a wise man.  Not only did he understand the struggles of poverty, he also recognized the danger of riches.  How many Christians can say the same?  How many of us have prayed against riches because we saw the great responsibility that came with surplus?  How many of us have asked God to give us only our daily bread, so that we could learn to trust Him more and more? 

For me, that prayer has been no where near the forefront of my mind. 

I am challenged by this passage to truly change the way I see blessing.  I want to live a life that pleads with God to give me nothing more than my daily bread.  I want to have a heart that can say with no hesitation that I trust my God to be my portion and my satisfaction through the richest and the poorest seasons of my life.  My God, who knows my needs.  My God, who knows exactly what is enough for me.  My God, who alone can provide my daily bread. 

Give us this day our daily bread. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Calling All Control Freaks: A Lesson on Trusting God

Isaiah 55:9
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I don't know about you- but I'm a control freak. I like things done how I want them, when I want them, the way I want them. Interestingly enough, that doesn't always mesh well with Christianity. In fact, Christianity tells us just the opposite. It reminds us that we, in fact, know nothing when it comes to what's best for us. It reminds us that God's ways are so much higher than our own. It reminds us that His plans will always lead to a better outcome.

There have been many seasons in my life where I have doubted that. I've doubted that God's plans were best. There were many times in my life where I felt my world was crumbling before my eyes- with no hope in sight. In those moments, it's hard to believe that God knows best. It's hard to continue giving him the reigns to your life when it seems like He doesn't know what He's doing.

And you know, sometimes no matter how much I hear the truth about what's best for me- I need to experience it before I will learn to believe. Sometimes I am like Thomas, looking to feel, to see, to touch in order to believe. For those Thomas' out there like me, let me tell you a story that has really moved my heart and brought me one step closer to trusting.

My cousin Hany was born with a degenerative eye disease. In his late 20's, he was already facing legal blindness, which impaired his ability to drive and to work, and ultimately- impaired his self esteem. Hany lives in Egypt, and had little access to the kind of specialized care he needed to find a cure for his eyes. Ultimately, what he needed for healing was cornea transplants.

He spent the following years crying out to God for a miracle. He needed money, and most importantly, he needed a Visa to America. Month after month he applied for his Visa. Month after month he faced rejection upon rejection. He decided to try one last time...give it one final push...and pray for the best. Again- rejection. He had reached his emotional limit. There was no hope in sight. It seemed as though God had forgotten him. Or frankly, it seemed as though God didn't really give a rip.

We've all had moments like Hany, haven't we? We've all had moments when it felt like God wasn't listening, that he didn't hear, or that he really didn't care. We've all had moments when we got sick and tired of trusting in His plan, ready to take back control and live life our way. Life gets difficult sometimes...and we're desperate for answers.

Answers didn't come immediately. They don't always.

A few months after Hany's rejection- a tragedy occurred in his life. Hany's father was suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer- and only a few months left to live. Hany spent the rest of those months by his father's side, loving on him, taking care of him, and enjoying the last few months of his life until his father went to be with Jesus.

God had a plan. He always does. If Hany had gotten what he originally wanted, he would have missed the last few months of his father's life- precious moments that could never be relived. Even though Hany thought he knew what was best....God ultimately knew what was best for Hany. His ways were greater; His thoughts higher.

The following year, Hany applied once more for a Visa- and this time he was accepted. He was able to come to America and have the surgery on his eyes- and received two new corneas which restored his vision.

I hold this story dear to my heart, because I see it as such a challenge in my life. It reminds me of how absolutely clueless I am when it comes to my life and what's best for me. It reminds me to let go of my control and cling to nothing else but God's sovereignty in my life. It reminds me that even though I think I know what I need...I serve a God who mercifully says no to me, because He knows the end result.

Now that, is a God I can trust.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Good Lookin' Dead: Seeing Ourselves As We Really Are

Matthew 23:27-28
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

So, I can't seem to get this stuff off my mind.  If you gritted your teeth through my last Christian-bashing post, be prepared for another rant.  But remember, these rants are more for myself than for anyone else.

I mentioned in my last post that a pastor by the name of Frank Damazio came to our church last week for a conference.  Really, his message was a challenge toward reaching our city with the love of Jesus.  But there is one thing he mentioned briefly that has not left me.  It challenged me, and I just can't get it off my mind.

During one part in his message he asked everyone to think of three words that described their church.  Then he polled the audience.  The main word everyone raised their hand for was the word "Evangelistic".  Then he asked: "So, how many of you came to know Christ because of this church?"

Silence.  Maybe two, three people raised their hands.  "Not very many", he said, "according to the numbers, your church is not evangelistic.  You may think you are- but you're not".  Ouch.  Straight-forward.  Sobering.  But real....

I was challenged that evening, more than anything, to learn to see myself as I really am....not as I think I am.  That's difficult when you've spent most of your Christian life building up an image for yourself.  An image that looks good on the outside, but deep down on the inside- God knows the truth.

I believe I am ministry minded.  I believe I am focused on Jesus....that I give Him my all.  I say I have a passion for the poor and a desire to serve the broken.  I talk about my love for reaching the unsaved with the love of Jesus....but is that the reality?

How many times have I shared the gospel this year (the gospel I pretend to be so passionate about)?  Three.  How many days do I spend serving the poor lately (the poor and the needy that break my heart)? Once a month.  How much of my money do I give to the cause of Christ (I say I give everything....) but in reality- 10%....and maybe, on a good week....11.

I'm exposing myself right now....and it doesn't feel incredible, let me tell you.  I'm exposing myself right now because I want to learn to be real.  I don't want to be a white-washed Pharisee, pretending to be amazing on the outside, but really hiding the selfishness and sin within. I don't want to be a good lookin' woman who is really dead and unclean deep down inside. 

What good is it to appear like a beautiful Christian on the outside?  What do I get for it?  The praise of man, maybe....but even that only lasts a little while, and at the end most people can probably see right through it.

I want to be a Christian that is REAL.  But in order to get that way, my outside has to match my inside.  I want Jesus to "whitewash" my heart.  To get expose the sin and the selfishness that lies within.  To uncover the self-righteousness that gives me a false sense of security.  To teach me how to really walk the walk before I start to talk the talk.  I want Jesus to make me real, to make me clean, from the inside out.

I challenge you, see yourselves for what you really are.  You say you have a heart for missions?  What are you doing to serve the many different ethnicities in your community?  You say you want to give God your life- how much of your wallet are you giving to him?  You say your heart breaks for the lost?  How many people have you shared Jesus with this month?

Let's get real with ourselves....and let's get real with each other.  But most importantly, let's bear our vulnerable and naked hearts before the Lord and give Him permission to clean us from the inside out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Don't Waste Your Life: Because You Probably Are....

Matthew 9:37-38
Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

John Piper speaks a convicting sermon called Don't Waste Your Life.  He talks about a couple who decides that they will retire to the collect shells together until the day they die.

Sounds romantic, some would say.  To that, John Piper would say- what a complete waste of life.  Take your "sea shell collection" to God when He asks you what you've done with the precious time you've been given.  Show Him all the different colors and shapes and sizes while He grieves over the souls that have yet to hear about His love for them.  In other words, don't waste your life.

The funny thing is, this couple may be the center of our scoffing as we listen to his sermon, but truth be told- many of us aren't walking too far from their footsteps.  It's easy to get wrapped up in life, all the while missing it's true purpose: reaping the harvest.  It's true that the harvest is's ripe....but the workers are few.

That explains why on a given Saturday morning, in one of the most broken neighborhoods in our town, only 5 volunteers show up to visit and love on hurting people.  That explains why churches are so desperate for volunteers, and that 90% of the ministries are run by the same 10% of the people.  That explains why it's so much easier for some to write a check and stick it in a bucket than to actually go and do....(if we can even get them to write the check, that is....).

A pastor by the name of Frank Damazio from Portland came to our church this week to discuss reaching our city, reaching the harvest that's ripe for picking.  I can't say I know much about this guys or his background, but I do know one thing-he's definitely not wasting his life...

He told stories of the things his church is doing for the poor and the broken and the needy.  But best of all, he told stories of average men and women who were making HUGE strides in the Kingdom of God. 

He talked about a lady who baked cookies and sat downtown for days, until the skater kids started paying attention to her....befriended her....accepted her love, and came to know the Lord. 

He talked about the young 20 something year old girl who decided to go downtown and make a difference in kids lives, now reaching more than 300 with the love of Jesus. 

Average people....who decided to make a difference.  Average people, who felt led to follow the call to reach the harvest.  Average people, who committed to using their life rather than wasting it.

What about you?  90% of the people reading this post are not living what they preach.  90% of the people reading this post do not even have one individual that they are deliberately loving on right now.  90% of the people reading this post have not had one significant spiritual interaction with anyone this week.  90% of the people reading this post don't remember the last time they shared the gospel, brought someone to church, or led someone to Jesus.  90% of the people reading this post have big plans this weekend...nothing to do with the harvest.  Sounds more like picking up seashells to me.

Don't get me wrong...I write this post for myself as much as I do for everyone reading this.  It's a challenge.  It's a call.  We need to look at our lives differently.  We need to reassess our goals and priorities.  We need to see our lives for what they really are, not what we wish them to be. 

In the end, we need to make the decision that with every passing day we will NOT succumb to the self-serving culture that we live in....that in the end, we will not waste our lives.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I own six Bibles, but who really cares?: On Delighting in Gods Word

Psalm 1:2
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night...

I am re-reading one of the most incredible autobiographies ever written, called The Heavenly Man.  It is truly a remarkable story about a young Chinese man named Brother Yun, and his incredible journey of being used by God to spread Christianity and expand the Chinese underground church.

The first chapters of the book open with Brother Yun as a young child in his poverty stricken village.  As a new believer, he was desperate to own a bible, having never even seen a bible in his life as they were forbidden by the Chinese government.  For 100 days he fasted and prayed that God would give him a bible...and God miraculously granted his request [you'll have to read the book to find out's incredible].

After Brother Yun got his bible, he spent every day from morning until evening completely devouring the words of God.  Having only received a third grade education, he read slowly, using a dictionary to help him along.  After he had gotten through the bible once, he decided he needed to memorize these powerful words, and began memorizing Gods word one chapter a day.

After 28 days, he had memorized Matthew chapters 1-28.  Shortly after, God called this young 16 year old boy to the villages of southern China to "preach".  Not even knowing what preaching was, he made his way to these villages, stood before hundreds of spiritually hungry Chinese men and women, and did what he knew how to do: recited the bible. 

It's amazing how many souls came to the Lord that year...hearing only God's words coming out of Brother Yun's mouth.  But even more amazing to me, is Brother Yun's passion for God's word.  His passion puts me to shame.

You see, I, like many other middle-class, American, Christians...own about 6 bibles.  I have a study bible made of leather, my name inscribed with gold.  I have a couples devotional bible, also inscribed with my name.  I have a pocket bible, to carry in my purse in case I am traveling.  I have an online bible, to use while on my laptop sipping on a Starbucks cup of coffee.  And that's just to name a few. 

I am sad to say it, but in my affluence and abundance I have lost something.  I have lost the passion for God's words.  The bible has become so common place in my life that I take it for granted day after day.   Don't get me wrong, I read my bible every day....but you see, that's just where my problem begins, I settle for that.

I check my daily bible reading off my list, find a little lesson....and move on to the next task. I have lost my passion.  I have lost the desire that cries out from the bottom of my heart to hear God's word, to be in His presence, to listen to His voice.  I no longer hunger and thirst after Him, desperate to hear what He has to say.  The sad thing is, I have lost something....maybe something I never had to begin with. 

It's disappointing when American Christians have so much on their minds that there is no room left for God's words.  Our minds are wasted with meaningless facts, song lyrics, sports statistics and random trivia.  And sadly, we make more and more room for these things while God's words slowly get's pushed back where it came from.  I don't want to settle for this kind of Christianity anymore.  I don't want to settle for six bibles and a lack of passion. 

I want to have a love for God's word that compels me to it day and night.  I want a desire so rich that I can't get it off my mind.  I want to delight in his laws with a delight that is rivaled by nothing else in my life. 

And to be honest, I suppose it begins with shutting off this little computer monitor, and getting into God's if you'll excuse me, it's time to get my priorities straight.

Monday, March 1, 2010

God, is That You? (On Hearing God's Voice)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

We’ve all wished we could hear God.  We’ve all wished we could sit and talk with Him, pick up the phone when He calls, or write notes back and forth.  We’ve all wished for intimacy with Him in that kind of way.  In a tangible way.

I myself have wished these things.  In fact, I’ve attended seminars, listen to speakers, and participated in conferences aimed at “finding God’s will for your life” and “learning to hear God’s voice”.  Each time hoping someone would offer me three magical steps to getting in tune with God.  Each time hoping I would leave those places somehow able to tune into God’s wavelength. 

Sadly, that never happened.  In fact, there have only been two or three times in my entire life where I was almost sure I had heard God…so clear that it was almost audible.  But you see, 3 times in 26 years isn’t a whole lot of hearing, is it?

But ever since I’ve been married my perspective on hearing God has changed.  I’ve come to understand the concept of hearing God as a synonym for knowing God. 

In marriage, I have gotten to know my husband in a deep and intimate way.  I know what his favorite books are.  I know which air freshener scent he would choose, and which he wouldn’t.  I know the kind of things that get on his nerves…and I even know HOW to get on his nerves.  I know exactly what food he would order at each restaurant we go to.  I know his goals, his ambitions, and his dreams.  I know what he spends most of his time worrying about, praying about, and thinking about.  I know his heart.  The deeper I get in my knowledge of him, the closer I feel to him.  There is something sacred about that level of connection with another human being. 

If you were to ask me a list of questions about my husband…his hopes, his future, his likes and dislikes….I could answer.  If you were to ask me what he would choose, what he would will…I would know.  Without a shadow of a doubt.  Because I know him.  Deeply, intimately.  I know him well.    

Therein lays the secret to hearing God’s voice.  It’s as simple as that, yet as complex as that.  Simple because He allows for anyone to draw near him in such a way.  He allows for anyone to get to know him deeply and intimately.  Complex, because it requires so much.  It requires a heart of passion and commitment.  It requires a dedication and love that exits the world of religious obligation and enters the realm of intense relationship.  It requires getting to know Him; reading His words and obeying his desires.  It requires allowing His presence to permeate every part of our lives.  It requires asking Him those questions and taking the risk.  It requires investing more of our heart and even more of our time. 

It requires getting to know him…and getting to know him well. 

May you, believer, be drawn into an ever-increasing intimacy with your Lord.  May you be encouraged and inspired to desperately fall on your face before Him…asking Him for more of Him.  May you invest your heart and your time to get to know your God in such a deep way, that you come to know every part of his desire and will for your life. 

May you know Him, and may you know Him well.