Monday, January 21, 2019

Are you perfect?

"You're enough! You don't have to be perfect."

The words are all over the place today. You hear them in podcasts, from the pulpit, and in everyday conversation from well-meaning friends. They are feel-good words, the type that make us feel better about ourselves. People tell us to stop the "negative self-talk" and focus on all the good. And while there's some truth in that, those words irk me.

Because, you see, if I'm enough, then what was the point of the cross? If I, in all my humanity, am enough, then I don't need a Savior.

And if we don't have to be perfect, then what do we do with Jesus's words in the Sermon on the Mount:

"But you are called to something higher:
Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Matthew 5:48 (Voice)

His words, calling us to be perfect. They aren't easy words to swallow because they mean that we can't just keep doing what we've always done. We can't keep living in the sins that make us so comfortable. When we are God's children, we are called to emulate Him--and that means perfection. These words come after Jesus was talking about fulfilling the Law. He was telling people that just following the letter of the law wasn't enough--He extended the commandments to encompass even more:

~"Don't murder" became "don't even be angry with your brother"
~"Don't commit adultery" became "pluck out your eye if you even look at someone with lust in your heart"
~"Divorce fairly" became "if you get a divorce and remarry, that's adultery"
~"Keep your promises" became "don't ever swear an oath, because you don't have anything to swear by"
~"An eye for an eye" became "turn the other cheek"
~"Love your neighbor" became "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"

You aren't enough. That's the truth that's sometimes hard to swallow. Or at least, I know it's hard for me to swallow. I pride myself on being enough. I want to be able to do everything on my own, and I want to do it to the highest possible quality (unless we're talking about housework, but that's a different story...). I want my life to be enough. To be more than enough, actually. I want to make a difference.

But the truth? The truth is that I can never be enough because I can never be perfect. But the rest of the truth is that God knew I couldn't ever be enough, so He made a way for me. He sent His Son, the only perfect one, to live up to what I never could, and then die in my place.

I'm not enough.
But He always is. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Blood Covenant

I've been blessed with some amazing teachers in my life, from kindergarten through to grad school and everywhere in between. My favorite teacher, coincidentally, has been there since the day I was born--Pop. Though I never sat in his school classroom, he's been teaching be since the very beginning. Sometimes the lessons were easy and sometimes they were hard. Whatever the case, though, I can say that Pop has taught me well through the last 34 years (although whether or not I've learned well is sometimes debatable). Today, I want to share the lesson he taught Sunday morning.

On a side note, if you're around Green Forest on a Sunday morning at about 10:15, come visit our little church. We meet in the little white building across from the sale barn, right next to the car wash. And yes, those are sufficient directions to find us even if you've never been to Green Forest. It's not a big place, but you'll get to learn from one of the best teachers around. We're a pretty casual bunch, and we'll welcome you with a hot cup of coffee, breakfast, and a lot of conversation.

Okay, so back to the lesson :)

Sunday morning, Pop took us to the book of Leviticus to talk about Jesus. I know, I know--that sounds a bit strange. I told you that he's a great teacher, not a conventional one. If you aren't familiar with it, Leviticus definitely isn't one of those books I would suggest starting with if you're looking to get into Bible reading. To be honest, it's a great one to read if you're having trouble getting to sleep at night.

In the first few chapters of Leviticus, God is teaching Moses all about the sacrifices Israel is to make. Let me backtrack a bit first, though. God had made a covenant with Israel. He promised to make them His people, a great nation among all the peoples of the world. They had to hold up their end of the bargain, though. That meant they had to follow the law He gave Moses, down to the last letter. This was sealed with a blood covenant, where Moses poured half the blood from the sacrifice on the altar and sprinkled the other half out onto the people of Israel.

Wait a minute--sprinkled them with blood? That sounds incredibly morbid, right? Well, during that time a blood covenant was common. I'm definitely not an expert, but here's a very quick rundown of my understanding: If two people wanted to seal a really important deal, they would do it with a blood covenant. Part of the ritual was to sacrifice an animal and then use the blood as a symbol. If someone broke the covenant, the other person was justified in demanding the payment of blood. That means if you broke the promise, the person you made the covenant had the right to kill you.

So here's Israel, making a blood covenant with God, telling Him that they would follow His law down to the smallest detail in exchange for His protection. If they broke their promise, He would be justified in demanding their lives.

Pretty weighty stuff, right?

Part of the covenant they instated was the rite of sacrifice. Pop pointed out 4 types of sacrifices: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, and sin sacrifices.

The first three could be seen as "optional" sacrifices. They are sacrifices of communing with God. The burnt offering is for being in God's presence;
the grain offering is the sacrifice of your labors;
and the peace offering is simply doing something to make God happy, something not required.

The last is the sin sacrifice, and it's the only one that's required. You see, sin demands death. Through the sin offering, God gave Israel a way to pay the price for their sins. He put it in the contract, because He knew His people--He knew they would mess up, and He gave them a way to pay for that right in the contract. Sin demands a spotless sacrifice.

The problem is, God's people broke the covenant. It didn't take long for the promises to follow God and to do whatever He said to turn into griping and complaining about things God wasn't doing for them. In the midst of the wilderness, the Israelites quickly lost sight of everything God had done to pull them out of slavery in Egypt. They forgot how His power had been shown through the plagues. They forgot how the Egyptians had basically paid them to go away, desperate to get on God's good side by freeing His people. Things started to get rough, to not go according to their plans, and they blamed it on God.

Sound familiar? As much as I hate to admit it, it's pretty familiar to me.

So here we are, broken people who broke a blood covenant with God. According to the terms of the contract, He's fully justified in demanding blood to cover the broken covenant.

But God? He knew we would mess up. He knew we would break the covenant. He knew we would owe Him our very lives to cover the debt of blood. Instead of demanding payment from us, though, He took care of it Himself. Remember, sin demands a spotless sacrifice. That means that no matter how much I want to, I can't offer my own life to redeem my kids from the price of blood demanded by the blood covenant. I'm not perfect (big surprise there...). There's nothing I can do to redeem anyone, not even myself.

So God? He provided the contract, gave us a bunch of ways to hold up our end of the bargain, and then provided a sacrifice to cover the demand of our blood for when we failed. He sent the only perfect man, Jesus, to serve as the spotless sacrifice for all mankind.

All we have to do in return is accept that Jesus paid the blood price for us.

Sacrifice wasn't an impersonal thing. The people of Israel were commanded to place their hands on the animal they were sacrificing, to be there with it as they killed it to cover the blood price. Have you ever killed something you were going to eat? It's a totally different thing to buy meat at the grocery store, already cut up and neatly packaged, than it is to harvest a deer after a hunt. You truly see the cost of the sacrifice when you see that one life has been given for another.

The sacrifice of Jesus wasn't an impersonal thing, either. Even though I wasn't there that day, God saw me there. He saw me driving the nails into the hands of His Son, sacrificing Him so that my own debt would be paid.

He saw me,
and He loved me,
and He forgave me.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

One Word 2019--Believe

"You just have to believe."

Just. It's a tiny word with big implications. Just believe. It sounds so simply--just believe, and everything will fall into place. Just believe, and it will all work out.

Sometimes, though, "just" is a really big hurdle to get over. It becomes a mountain looming over me, in between me and... well, whatever lies ahead. Because it seems like that "just" is blocking my view of the road God has laid out for my future.

Don't take this the wrong way. I believe. I believe in God, and I believe the promises that tell me that God planned my place in this world and in His story long before I ever drew my first breath. Sometimes, though, my prayer has to become the desperate prayer of the father in Mark 9:24.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

It's a short prayer, but I've found that sometimes those are the most meaningful. For me, it means something along the lines of the following:

Lord, I know all Your promises to me. I know You are faithful, and I know that Your promises can't ever fall through. I know You have a plan for my life, and I know that Your timing is perfect (even when it doesn't look anything like I think it should). I know that You are always at work in my life, even in the midst of what I see as chaos. I know You can take all my mess ups and failures and mistakes and use them to orchestrate my life, to turn it into something I could never imagine. I can look back and see how You've pulled everything together for us, how You've worked things out for us by weaving circumstances together in ways that seemed totally random and unworkable at times. I know Your plan for my life is best, and I know that You are still at work.

I believe in You, and I believe that Your words are true. And yet, sometimes my unbelief gets in the way. Sometimes, my doubts and fears creep in and make it hard for me to see all the wonderful things You've done, and that makes me question what You will do. I believe You have plans for my life, but sometimes I start to wonder if I've messed them up. I believe that Your plans are so much more perfect for me than my plans could ever be, but sometimes I wonder if I've gotten in the way and pushed my own plans so much that I've pushed Yours out of the way.

Lord, I believe--but help me to see when my unbelief is clouding the picture. Help me to realize when my doubts and fears are putting hurdles in the way. Help me to get past my focus on my own story so that I can play my role in Your story. Help me get over myself so that I can truly focus on You.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. 

Friday, November 9, 2018 comes the rain

When we first moved to the farm, I tried to grow a garden. I had big plans for fresh veggies, and I planted a lot: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and honeydew. The lady we bought the property from had scattered seed for lettuce.

I harvested a handful of tomatoes, a single head of broccoli, maybe two honeydews, and a lot of the lettuce...the one thing that I didn't plant.

I guess I should have known how it would work out. When I was in school I helped my mom plant flower bulbs along our front walk. Not a single thing that I planted even so much as sprouted.

Mom told me that I have a "black thumb" instead of a green there's that.

It hasn't changed a lot as I've gotten older. I killed a cactus. I've had a peace lily and a pothos both die at my hand (yes, I know--the easiest house plants to grow).

I don't know a whole lot about growing plants, but I do know one thing: if you want a plant to grow, you need to water it.

Growth. It is something all of us want. We want our faith to grow stronger, but we tend to want that to happen through times of ease and peace. We want the sunny skies to make us grow, but we forget that the rain is required every bit as much as the sun.

"Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith,
we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God
through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.
 Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace
where we are able to celebrate the hope
of experiencing God’s glory.
 And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering
because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,
 which shapes our characters.
When our characters are refined,
we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 
And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need
because the Holy Spirit that was given to us
has flooded our hearts with God’s love."
Romans 5:1-5

"Seasons of suffering"--the rain in our lives that lead to growth. It's the hard times that sink into us, that get to our roots and sink into our core. When the rains come, they teach us to endure (or persevere, which is probably the word you're more used to hearing in that passage).

When we learn to endure, that's what changes our character. I don't know about you, but I haven't mastered the concept of celebrating in my sufferings. I struggle with my focus--I see the storm instead of remembering that the rain brings growth.

I want to be someone of character, someone who can be counted on to do what God wants no matter the circumstances. Here's the issue, though--to make sure you will do what God wants in every circumstance, you have to actually be put into those circumstances and required to make a choice about what to do.

That's the part that's not so much fun.

It's easy to say that I will trust God with my life when I haven't had to rely on Him to preserve it. It was easy to say that I trusted God's plan for my brother in Iraq...before that plan was revealed to those of us who were left behind here. It's easy to say that I trust God to have a plan for my life until my future doesn't play out quite as I expected.

The only way I can be known for the character I want to be known for is if I develop that character. As Helen Keller said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

And here's the real kicker: the development of our character isn't even the end goal. We learn to endure so that we can develop character, but then we still have to go a step further.

Character has to be refined.

When you refine something, you get rid of any impurities in it. For a lot of things, that means putting it through the fire.

Even after I develop the character that I want to be known for, that character still needs to be refined. God wants to rid me of all the impurities in my heart and mind. He wants to burn off all the doubts, fears, and self-reliance. He wants me to fully trust in Him, no matter what gets thrown my way. He doesn't want me to be swayed by my circumstances.

Dear God, help me to remember that rain leads to growth. Help me to see the challenges in my life as opportunities to endure and to develop the character You want to see in me, the type of character that points to You. Keep me on my toes, so that I don't slide into complacency. Remind me that You are there with me, even when the refinement fires come. Keep me focused on You, no matter my circumstances...and thank You for not giving up on me when I mess up.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Do I know God?

Dear God,

I hear You--really, I do. I'm sorry that I haven't been listening, but thank You for repeating Yourself over and over (and over...) so that it finally got through my thick skull.

Remember, I tend to be a "lesson from a 2x4" girl. The subtle stuff tends to get lost on me, even though it would be a lot easier if I could just learn to hear You when You whisper.

You keep telling me to let go, and I don't know why I find that so incredibly hard to do. Everything and everyone around me lately is reminding me that I need to stop worrying and start trusting.

I know You're greater than anything I can imagine. I know that Your promises are true. I know all the right words and all the Sunday School answers...

...but I've realized that I must not truly know You, because I haven't been truly trusting You.

If I knew You, I would know that my fears are pointless and unfounded. I would know that You have me--You've written me on the palms of Your hands--and there's nothing that can pull me away.

If I knew You, I would know that Your plan will be accomplished in my life (in spite of my efforts, as the case may be). I would know that Your words do what You say they will do--You aren't just speaking to hear Yourself talk.

If I knew You, I would realize that if You know when a sparrow falls, You know all the difficulties in my life. I would know that if You take the time to keep track of how many hairs I have on my head, You will keep track of me.

If I knew You, truly, I would stop wearing myself out with stress over the day-to-day struggles of my life that are so insignificant in the long run. I would stop worrying over all the things that are so far out of my control--but firmly in Your hand.

So God, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for doubting Your power and Your plan. I want to know You. I want to draw close to You. I want to trust You.

*I don't own this song or the pictures...

Friday, October 12, 2018

Let go?

I'm a stubborn and highly independent person. I want to always be able to do everything myself, and I've been that way since I was little. I hate having to rely on anybody else for anything--if I'm not capable of taking care of whatever needs to be done on my own, then I make it my goal to figure out how to do it.

Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes, though, it gets me into trouble.

I've talked quite a bit about how I have a hard time trusting. The thing is, lately I've realized that my issue isn't with trust, exactly. Instead, what I have a hard time doing is giving up control. When things start to go wrong, I grab on a little tighter. When life knocks me for a loop and I slide down to the end of my rope, I put all my strength into holding on with everything I've got.

But what if I'm not supposed to hold on?

We drive by Rule Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, and last week this is what their sign says:

At the end of your rope
is the hem of His garment.

If you don't remember the story about the hem of Jesus' garment, here's a quick reminder: Jesus was in the middle of a crowd of people when He stopped and asked who touched Him. I'm sure the disciples thought He was being a little crazy. After all, there were people all around them. So you've got Peter (I brought him up again, I know) who opens his mouth and says, "Okay, Jesus, that's a pretty weird question. You've got this huge crowd around You, and all of them are bumping up against everybody. What do You mean, who touched You?" ...okay, so I paraphrased a bit.
Jesus, though, says, "That's not what I meant. Somebody touched Me, and I felt power flow out." ...again, a bit of a paraphrase.

So this woman speaks up. She knows she's been found out, so she steps forward and falls at Jesus' feet. She tells Him that she had been bleeding for years, and she knew that if she could just touch the hem of His robe, He could heal her.

Down in the dirt, at her lowest, she stopped trying to control everything herself. She stopped searching for the next cure, and she reached out for the hem of His robe.

Maybe, when I'm at the end of my rope, I'm not supposed to be desperately struggling to climb back up. Maybe I'm not supposed to be focusing all my strength on getting back to where I think I'm supposed to be.

Maybe, when I'm hanging by a thread and straining to maintain my grip--maybe that's when I'm supposed to let go.

Maybe I'm supposed to let go of my desperate attempt at holding on to control and reach out for the hem of His garment.

"When struck by fear, I let go,
depending securely upon You alone."
Psalm 56:3

Friday, September 28, 2018 of little faith

The first time I ever remember Pop getting mad at me, I was sitting in a tree. I can't tell you exactly how old I was, but it was early elementary school some time. I was on a limb, wanting to get down, so Pop reached up fro me and told me to jump.

I wouldn't.

He kept telling me to jump, assuring me that he would catch me--I had nothing to worry about. All I needed to do was let go of the limb and push myself forward. Instead, I was in tears, sitting in a tree. No matter how many times Pop assured me that he would catch me, I couldn't do it. He had never let me down, never given me a reason to think he would let me fall.

I couldn't just trust him.

Trust. That's something I still struggle with, despite all my efforts. I know that God is worthy of my trust. I know His promises are true, and that when His word says that He guides my steps--well, that's true, too.

The problem is, I just can't get my feelings to line up with my knowledge.

We just finished talking about Joseph at church. A few years ago, Pop sent me a sermon series by Tony Evans about Joseph called "Detours to Destiny." It was 2014, and I felt lost. Grad school wasn't going according to the way I had planned. I felt like somehow I had messed up God's plans for me, and I was going to miss out on His purpose. I felt like a huge failure. I had uprooted my family and moved them to Toledo, Ohio, to pursue what I thought was God's clear plan for my life. I was going into Medical Physics, which seemed like the perfect fit for me.

Until life happened, and I couldn't make myself fit.

I can look back throughout my life and see how God has worked, even in the hard times. I can see how things that I thought were going all wrong worked out to put me right where I should be at the right time.

So why in the world do I still think I'm messing up God's plans?

There's a quote I ran across a while back:

"If you think you've blown God's plan for your life, rest in this.
You, my beautiful friend, are not that powerful."
~Lisa Bevere

When Joseph's brothers decided to sell him off into slavery, they were pretty sure they were keeping him from a destiny they didn't like. They didn't want to bow down before their little brother. They sold him off, and that was the end of things.
Here's an excerpt of the post I wrote when I finished listening to that sermon series:

"He wouldn't have been able to provide for his brothers if he hadn't been second in charge in Egypt.
Joseph wouldn't have been second in charge over all of Egypt if he hadn't interpreted the Pharoh's dream.
He wouldn't have interpreted Pharoh's dream if he hadn't met the cup bearer and baker.
He wouldn't have met them if he hadn't been thrown in the dungeon.
He wouldn't have been thrown in the dungeon if he hadn't been falsely accused by Potiphar's wife.
He wouldn't have been falsely accused if he hadn't been put in charge of Potiphar's household.
He wouldn't have been put in charge if Potiphar hadn't bought him.
He couldn't have been bought as a slave if he hadn't been sold to Egyptian slavers.
He wouldn't have been sold if his brothers hadn't thrown him into a pit.
He wouldn't have been thrown into a pit if his brothers hadn't been jealous of him.
His brothers wouldn't have been jealous if he hadn't been showing off the coat his dad gave him."

God works out all the details of our lives, even when we can't figure out what's going on. Proverbs 16:9 says,
"We can make our plans,
 but the LORD determines our steps."

I don't know why trust is such a hard thing for me. I get so hung up on trying to control my life, and I forget that control is just an illusion. I make plan after plan, searching for purpose, but I lose sight of the fact that God is the only One in control. He has a plan for me, and who am I to think that I can change that?

"So it is when I declare something.
My word will go out and not return to Me empty,
but it will do what I wanted;
it will accomplish what I determined."
~Isaiah 55:11

I wonder how often He looks at me, shakes His head, and says, "You of little faith. Why can't you just trust me? Why do you always try so hard to control everything, despite all the times I've shown you that you can't? When are you going to learn that My plans are best for your life, and I will make them happen? Just jump when I tell you to, and trust Me to catch you."

Are you perfect?

"You're enough! You don't have to be perfect." The words are all over the place today. You hear them in podcasts, from ...

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