Monday, April 25, 2016

focus on the grace...

I like a good debate. A good debate gets people thinking. It makes them dig deep and really focus on what they think about a topic and why they think that way. It gets you to truly listen to someone who is one a different side of the issue and lets you hear their point of view. To have a good debate, you have to understand your opponent. You have to be able to see where they are coming from so that you can present logical, well thought out arguments in the hopes of getting the other person to start seeing your side of the issue just a little bit more. A good debate challenges those involved, both the people actually debating and those who are simply observing the debate.

The problem is, right now we aren't seeing good debates.

Instead, our world is full of people whose idea of debate is pointing fingers, slinging insults, and pouring hatred into already tense situations. People get on facebook to "debate" an issue with people they know nothing about, yet it seems like those "debates" always turn into insult competitions. We are presented with the new fad in the online world: open letters. These open letters are typically nothing more than a way to bash someone, usually someone who did nothing other than hold a different opinion than the person writing the letter.

Stop using hatred as an excuse for more hatred.

Stop pouring gasoline on the fire, or we're going to watch our entire Republic burn to the ground.

You will never be able to change someone's opinion by telling them how stupid, hateful, uninformed, illogical, bigoted, old-fashioned, immoral--or whatever other word you want to put in there--that their thoughts are. You won't draw someone to your side by arguing against their character. You won't convince someone that you're right and they are wrong by making your entire argument a personal attack against their integrity, beliefs, or choices.

So here's my own "open letter": As a follower of Christ, you are called to something higher. You are called to step above the fray, to be different. Matthew 5:13-15 says,
"You, beloved, are the salt of the earth.
But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness,
can anything make it salty again?
No. It is useless.
It is tossed out, thrown away, or trampled.
And you, beloved, are the light of the world.
A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden.
Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and hide it under a bowl.
When someone lights a lamp,
she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair,
and the light illumines the entire house.
You are like that illuminating light. 
Let your light shine everywhere you go,
that you may illumine creation,
so men and women everywhere may see your good actions,
may see creation at its fullest,
may see your devotion to Me,
and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it."

So stop stooping to the level of those around you. Stop using their hatred as an excuse to be hateful. Instead, be the light that you are called to be in this dark world. Make your actions and words a testament to the One you follow, so that the people around you will start wondering just what it is that makes you different.

And don't think you get away from here without hearing something from Peter:

"So get yourselves ready,
prepare your minds to act,
control yourselves,
and look forward in hope as you focus on the grace
that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns
and is completely revealed to you.
Be like obedient children
as you put aside the desires you used to pursue
when you didn't know better.
Since the One who called you is holy,
be holy in all you do.
For the Scripture says,
'You are to be hold, for I am holy.'
If you call on the Father who judges everyone
without partiality according to their actions,
then you should live in reverence and awe
while you live out the days of your exile."
(I Peter 1:13-17)

Be different. Don't be like those who don't know better. Be more--be what God has called you to be. Be an example of His love to a fallen world.

That's not to say that we shouldn't debate. Jesus had debates on multiple occasions, and He didn't back down. He wasn't afraid to say the hard things that people disagreed with, and He didn't sugar coat things to make them easier to swallow. He did, however, make sure that in all things, He was pointing others to the Father. He made sure that grace was the focus of all He said and did, the kind of crazy grace that God pours out on us--imperfect people--despite everything we do that should drive Him away.

Speak the truth. Don't back down from taking a stand for what God has said is right and wrong. But in doing so, don't forget that you are representing God. Don't forget that when people look at you, they are supposed to be seeing a reflection of Him. Be salt and light--both of which can be overwhelming if not used the right way.

focus on the grace...be holy in all you do...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Your heart's desires...

What you're about to read wasn't written for this blog. It is a prayer, my private attempt to work through my confusion and fears and questions. In the interest of being transparent on this blog, it's presented here just the same way that it's written in my notebook.

I'm putting this here because--just maybe--somebody out there is struggling with the same things. And maybe, when you see my struggles laid out--my heart laid bare before God and now you--you'll at least see that you're not alone.

"When Christ calls a man,
He bids him come and die."
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God, You know my heart. You know my longings and desires better than I do, because You're the One who made me. I dream of doing what I consider "big things" for You, things that I think will matter. I think it's my pride, this crazy thought that somehow I'm supposed to do more, that You've made me to do something more than just exist in this life.

So where is the line between ambition and pride? When do my thoughts about the future cross that line? Is it possible for me to chase my dreams and still be chasing after You? Or in chasing my dreams, am I running the other way? Because the thing is, I'm afraid that chasing my own dreams is putting myself ahead of Your plans for my life.

Or maybe, if I'm honest, it's just that I'm afraid. I'm afraid of failing, because I'm pretty sure it would break my heart. Because I'm afraid of being hurt. I'm afraid of trying something--again--and it not working--of me, failing again.

You said in II Timothy that the spirit of fear doesn't come from You, and yet I find myself floundering in fear so often. I talk about faith, about stepping out of the boat--
but then I see the waves.

I see the storm that just might be blowing in, and I say, "I trust You, but..."

And it doesn't matter what the rest of that sentence is, because anything that follows "but" discredits the "I trust You."

God, I want to trust You. I don't want to just say it, because I know that words don't mean anything until they are put into practice. I want to follow You unquestioningly, not just because I can see where You're leading me--or because You're leading me where I want to go.

I want to learn to be content, but it's so hard to feel like You created me to fly and still be content while I'm standing in what feels like quicksand that's pulling me down.

Please help me. Help me to chase You, so that somehow I find my dreams in the process. Help me to see that thin line between ambition and pride. Help me to fulfill Your will for my life, because it is You who knows the true desires of my heart, it is You who created me, it is Your purpose I am here in this world for, and it is only You who knows how my heart's desire fits into Your purpose.

God, help me to let go. Help me to release the death grip I have on my dreams so that I can open my hands to receive Your plans--and to give back out of Your blessings. Over and over again, You say that You are holding my right hand, but if my my hand is holding tightly to what I'm trying to do, I'll miss out on so much of what You have for me to do.

Help me to trust, because it doesn't come easily to me. Help me to give up my need for control so that I will truly give You control of my life.

Forgive my unbelief.

God, make Your desires take the place of mine. Show me this world through Your eyes so that I can start to see my place in it. Replace my heart with Yours, so that when I follow the desires of my heart, I'm actually following You.
 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

risk it all...

OneWordCoffee Linkup
I was over at Bonnie Gray's blog today, checking out the collection of posts that have been linked there. She mentioned risk, and it reminded me of a verse I read earlier this week.

By the way, if you're like me and you have a daily planner lying around that you don't use because you're incredibly disorganized...or something like that, because of course you're not disorganized, right? I've found a great use for one. I got a beautiful planner from Fair Trade Friday in one of my monthly packages, and I'm using it as a place to write daily verses. I'm not 100% on top of things so I've got a few blank days, but for the most part I have to tell you--it's a wonderful use of a beautiful product.
Picture from https://www.facebook.com/fairtradefriday/

So, now that that little side trip is done, back to what I was talking about.

Here are the verses I wrote in my planner-turned-scripture journal yesterday:

"If any of you want to walk My path, you're going to have to deny yourself. You'll have to take up your cross every day and follow Me. If you try to avoid danger and risk, then you'll lose everything. If you let go of your life and risk all for My sake, then your life will be rescued, healed, made whole and full. Listen, what good does it do you if you gain everything--if the whole world is in your pocket--but then your own life slips through your fingers and is lost to you?"
~Luke 9:23-25 (VOICE)

Our Christian walk isn't meant to be easy. It's a risky thing to follow Jesus. It requires denying yourself on a daily basis--turning away from your own desires, your own wants, and your own ego. It means risking everything for the sake of gaining eternity.

It means turning away from what the world sees as important and running after God.

That looks different for each person, because we all have a different walk with Christ. For some of us, risk might mean selling everything and setting off to somewhere on the other side of the earth. For others, it may mean taking that new job that would be fulfilling God's purpose but isn't quite as comfortable as the current job. For someone else, that risk could be taking the time to listen to a toddler chat about his day instead of getting that sink of dirty dishes washed.

Whatever the risk, if God is calling you to do something, you need to take that first step of faith out of the boat--even if it means stepping out of safety and into the waves.

Taking the risk will be worth it, because losing yourself for His sake guarantees that your life will be saved, because it will belong to Him.

Take a risk. Move your focus from yourself and your own plans to God and His plans. Stop thinking about what the world sees as successful and important, and turn your attention to what God sees as important.

Take a leap of faith.
The risk will be worth it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

are you a failure?

We live in a world that is constantly pointing out all of our failures, telling us, like Ghandi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." When we're being reminded of how we fall short, how we don't measure up, it's easy to start feeling ashamed and guilty.

It's easy to look in the mirror and see all your flaws, just like it's easy to look at how the world sees you and start seeing only the negative.

Look closer, though, and you'll see something amazing.

You'll see someone who is imperfect, yes, someone who fails God on a daily basis. But more importantly than that, you'll see someone whose every flaw--every sin--has been covered by grace. You'll see someone who can stand before God not in their own right, but in the redemptive light of the Son of God.

You'll see someone who fails God on a daily, but you'll also see someone who tries on a daily basis. You'll see someone who is weak, because it is in your weakness that God's perfect strength is made the most visible.

You'll see someone who has stepped from darkness into light, someone who doesn't have to hide and cower and beg because you are the child of the King. You'll see someone who the world condemns, maybe--but you'll see someone who has been redeemed.

"Therefore, now no condemnation awaits those
who are living in Jesus the Anointed,
the Liberating King,
because when you live in the Anointed, Jesus,
a new law takes effect.
The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and
liberates you from the law of sin and death."
~Romans 8:1-2 (VOICE)

It doesn't matter how the world sees you. Let them see you as a failure, as someone who simply never measures up, as less.

We're promised that the world will despise us. Jesus said, "If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, ad it despises you for that very reason." (John 15:18-19, VOICE)

How the world sees you? That's nothing compared to how God sees you. Strive to live for Him, to love like He loved, and to follow in His footsteps. If the world tells you that you keep falling short, go ahead and do something that surprises them--agree. Yes, I fall short, because I'm nothing more than a sinner saved by grace.

Because you know what's the most important, amazing part of that admission?  

...saved by grace.

"There is a sure way for us to know that we belong to the truth.
Even though our inner thoughts may condemn us
with storms of guilt and constant reminders of our failures,
we can know in our hearts that in His presence
God Himself is greater than any accusation.
He knows all things."
~I John 3:19 (VOICE) 


Monday, April 4, 2016

a nation in distress

As much as I wish it weren't true, America is traveling down a dangerous road.

We, as a nation, have turned away from the values upon which our Republic was founded. We have turned away from everything that made us strong in favor of "political correctness" that silences the truth to keep from hurting anyone's feelings.

We fight for the so-called rights of animals, fight to save every obscure butterfly or frog or bird, yet say that it's okay for a woman to snuff out the life growing in her womb to make things more convenient.

We fight over who hates who more, over who is the most oppressed and the most oppressive, over who is the most mistreated and who is the most cruel.

We cry about being offended, claiming to need a safe space where nobody will hurt our feelings. We give out trophies for participation, trying to ensure that no one is seen as better than anyone else, and then wonder why no one tries to better themselves.

We've accepted lies in place of the truth, and we wonder why everything is falling apart.

We've turned our backs on God, and wonder why we've lost His blessing and protection.

As Christians--people who claim to follow Christ--we are just as guilty as everyone else.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."

To many of us are standing by and silently watching as our country falls apart, as our friends and neighbors fall off the deep end because they aren't being shown the truth.

We do it out of fear. It seems like every time someone stands up for what is right, someone shoots them down with accusations. They are called bigots and pointed out as being angry, hateful people who just want to judge everybody else. We are told that people don't follow God because of us. Like Ghandi is quoted as having said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

The thing is, being despised and hated by the world is not being unlike Christ. Jesus Himself said, "If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason." (John 15:18-19)

So stand up. When the world hates you for it, know that you're in good company. I hate to say it, but I'm afraid things are going to get a whole lot worse. We've been protected--coddled, even--in the United States. We haven't faced the persecution of our brothers and sisters who are tortured, imprisoned, and even killed for their faith in Christ. We haven't had to make the choice between our families and our faith. But we might be faced with those decisions sooner than we think.

Take a stand, despite what it might mean and despite what will be said by the people around you. "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes." (Nehemiah 4:14b)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

for this I have been born...

"For this I have been born,
and for this I have come into the cosmos:
to demonstrate the power of truth.
Everyone who seeks truth hears My voice."
~John 18:37

For this I have been born...

Waiting. It seems like so much of life is just waiting. I don't know about you, but I don't like waiting. I've spent a lot of time--years, even--waiting for my future to come, waiting to find out what God has in store for me.

Jesus was waiting His whole life, but He wasn't waiting for His plans to all work out.

He was waiting for the cross.

From the moment Jesus came into the world, His purpose was to face the cross--to take the punishment we deserve onto Himself.

Jesus spent His life waiting for an excruciating death on a cross which came after mockery and humiliation. He had the power to walk away from the cross, to call down legions of angels and have the armies of Heaven wipe out all those trying to kill Him.

But still, He chose the cross.

He chose to bear the humiliation of a crown of thorns placed on the head that rightly bore the crown of Heaven. He chose the agony of the cross, of separation from the Father, when He could have been seated on the throne beside Him.

And though His entire life was leading up to that moment--a time of unimaginable sorrow--in the midst of His own agony, Jesus was still focused on us.

If you know me, you know how much I like Peter. As Jesus was being mocked and beaten and falsely put on trial, Peter was fulfilling what Jesus had said. He was denying even knowing Jesus, let alone being His follower. With Peter's third denial, before the words were even out of his mouth, a rooster crowed.

And Peter knew what he had done.

There was Jesus, in the middle of a crowd of people who were mocking Him, beating Him, and spitting on Him. Yet when the rooster crowed, Luke 22:61 tells us "The LORD turned toward Peter, and their eyes met." While He was waiting for His death, knowing what He was about to face, Jesus made it a point to find Peter in the chaos, to look into the eyes of the friend who had just denied even so much as knowing Him.

Jesus spent His life waiting for the cross to save us from having to pay the penalty for our sins. He chose to suffer so we wouldn't have to.

The story could have stopped there, and it would have been enough. With His death, Jesus paid the price for our sins. He took our punishment upon Himself, which was more than any of us deserves. But that's not the end of the story.

"So we stand firm in the conviction
that death holds no power over God's Anointed,
because He was resurrected from the dead
never to face death again."
~Romans 6:9

Our sins were crucified with Christ, but that's not where God's mercy and grace stop. Instead, when we join with Him in the crucifixion, we also join with Him in the resurrection. When the stone was rolled away and the empty tomb was revealed, Jesus gave us the gift of eternity.

We're waiting. That's a big part of life. The thing is, since Jesus chose the cross we're not waiting for death. Instead, we're waiting for Life.



Saturday, March 26, 2016

broken people

How many times has it happened? Everyone gets up late, wanting to sleep in instead of getting up and around but knowing that they "have to." One kid complains about not having anything she wants to wear despite all the clothes hanging in the closet, another wants to wear his rainboots even though he's dressed up. It's time to walk out the door, and the kids still don't have shoes on their feet. The ride in the car is full of "Don't touch me!" and "Just leave each other alone if you can't be nice--I'm tired of all the yelling!" being yelled out. Everyone is fuming, mad at each other and frowning out the windows.

Then, you get to church.

Everyone plasters on a smile as you walk through the door, and answers all the "Good morning, how are you?"s with the popular answer-- "Great, how are you?" or the even more spiritual answer-- "We're blessed!"

Too often, when we walk through the doors of the church all our struggles are ignored. We tend to pretend like life is all daisies and butterflies, like we never have any problems that we don't immediately turn over to God. We have the Monday-Saturday version of ourselves, and then we have the version reserved for Sunday morning. That version has it all together, never gets frustrated or disappointed, and faces the day with nothing but a song of praise.

What would it be like, I wonder, if we as Christians started being real with each other?

What would happen if we shared our struggles and stopped pretending?

What would our love look like if we stepped into the middle of each other's mess and chose to love?

What would the rest of the world see then? Would they still see us as fake, angry hypocrites? Or would they see us as God sees us--imperfect, broken people who have been saved by nothing more or less than grace, people who are covered by the blood Jesus shed on the day of His crucifixion.

I'm blessed to be part of a church that is a family. We know each other's messes, because we don't hide behind fake smiles on Sunday morning. We're a small group at Living Word Fellowship, across the street from the sale barn in Green Forest. We're a family of broken people trying to learn together how to do this thing called life, trying desperately to figure out what God wants from us.

There's a song called "Broken Together" by Casting Crowns. Though it's about a husband and wife, I think it applies to all of us who are called to walk through life together under Christ. The chorus goes:
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I'll bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we'll last forever is broken together

 As God's people, we were made to walk through this life together. It wasn't so that we could be fake with each other, pretending not to have any issues that weigh us down or problems that we struggle to face. Instead, it was so that we could have someone to safely share with us in our brokenness, someone who could walk with us through the messy parts, rejoice with us during the amazing parts, and generally "do life" with us.

Besides my church family, I've been blessed with a cousin I get to do life with. Christy and I don't get to see each other very often, because we're both moms with all the chaos of life that that brings with it. Still, though, through texts and occasional "dates" we get to walk each other through the messy parts. We can let all the frustrations and disappointments show without worrying about trying to be fake or trying to smile through the ugly times. The amazing part is, though, that God's grace keeps pulling us through everything. We kick each other in the seat when it's needed, we remind each other that God's got this, and we de-stress together. I'm truly blessed to count her as both family and friend.



My own mess is about to be out there for all the world to see-- life. faithful. is about to become a book. I've taken a few of my posts from this blog and combined them with the messy parts I've left out. It's in the final editing stages right now, but with God's grace it will be out soon.